I suppose it has been over five months since the Matchbox’s last build update, so now that I’m back and well-settled in from my recent cross-continental scooter adventure, let’s just go ahead and get right into it: what’s new (and what’s still-to-do) in my effort to build an off-grid, self-sustaining tiny house.


The Matchbox’s nearly-finished façade, September 2013.


When I last reported, siding was nearly done. It’s now totally done—thanks to some tremendous help from Tony once I left—and after a few months of weathering, the charred shou sugi ban cedar looks terrific.

Rain catchment

A few cedar boards, some EPDM rubber, and twenty feet of double-looped aluminum rings later, the Matchbox is now sporting a fully-functional rain catchment system. Here’s how it works:

  1. First, it rains. Precipitation hits the roof and gently runs down the house’s two-percent grade toward the front of the house.
  2. The runoff falls into the gutter, an 8′ x 6″ x 6″ box of red cedar planks with an interior wrapped in EPDM rubber, and drops into one of the three-inch holes drilled into the bottom of either end.
  3. The rain then works its way down the rain chains, an old Japanese technique of funneling runoff that is far more minimalist and beautiful—particularly the dynamism of the chains as they catch a little breeze—than traditional gutters.
  4. The rain chains drop the water into a pair of planters, where it trickles through a few handfuls of sea glass and a mesh screen before entering the plumbing underneath the house. Immediate overflow is pushed into the other side of each planter, which houses a variety of herbs.
  5. Underneath the house, the rain slides back to a pump, which then shoots the flow right up to the conjoined twenty-gallon tanks in the microshed ’round back.
  6. Shower water is then run though a small water heater (more on this part once the shower is up and running), and sink water is filtered through a double-cartridge micron filter before emerging from the pedal-operated sink faucet.

Note: There will be a few enhancements made to the rain catchment system, such as a pre-pump holding tank for downpours, so don’t consider this a definitive system explanation. More details (including photographs) to come.

Lusby (left) and Matchbox (right)

Lusby (left) and Matchbox (right)


Natural, bright beech wood butcher block does wonders in brightening up the very neutral-toned space. They’re not yet permanently installed (nor oiled), but that’s high on the to-do list.

Matchbox interior (under construction) from front door.

Matchbox interior (under construction) from front door.

Decor and furnishings

Jar racks installed, photographs hung, and other cosmetic touches on the interior are making the space feel a lot more like home. There’s still lots to be done, but it’s getting there.

Also: curtains! Designed and sewed by a good friend, the billowy drapes do a great job of keeping out light and providing a little privacy when needed.

Additionally, the loft skylight was letting in a lot of heat this summer, so I went ahead and ordered a solar-powered skylight blind from Velux that opens and closes at the touch of a button. The navy blackout blind does fabulous work of keeping out early morning rays and as much as forty percent of the heat hitting the glass.

Air conditioning

To make it a little easier to power the Matchbox on nothing more than rainbows and sunshine (precipitation and solar energy, that is), I was hoping to get away with a simple fan for all my cooling needs. Alas, I returned to DC after my two-month sabbatical in the dead of a heat wave, and a ninety-degree breeze did little to keep me feeling refreshed. So I broke down and purchased an adorably small window unit, tucked neatly away on the floor at the back of the house, which performs admirably—in partnership with the curtains, blackout blind, and skylight vent—in cooling down the small space.


I had also aimed to get by without a refrigerator, but after growing spoiled by a mini-fridge on loan from Lee, I decided a tiny cooling chest couldn’t hurt. The fridge I ended up with is small—at 1.7 cubic feet, really small—but for the rare items my vegan diet requires it for, it should provide more than enough room.

Matchbox interior from underneath loft.

Matchbox interior from underneath loft.

Still to come: A bathroom, installed countertops, rain catchment updates, a couch, a bench, a few more miscellaneous furnishings, lots of seating, and a solar array. Expect more soon!

Jay, The Houses

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Jay,

    Quick question what will you do for water supply once the winter arrives?


    • Hey Aja,

      I’m not sure I full understand your question, but I’ll try to answer it both ways. If you’re asking about dry, rainless winters, we fortunately get enough rain here in DC to fill those tanks each month. If you’re asking about the water freezing, the back microsheds are actually insulated, and the pump should be able to keep the piping pretty dry underneath the trailer.


  2. I love …… I mean LOVE! tiny houses! And even though I live with my wonderful family in their HUGE house I can’t stop wanting a “tiny house” of my own. At 65 with a few recent illnesses and some severe problems with short term memory. I would have to deal with major arguments from them about my safety. But I still dream of it regularly. Dreams are lovely things though many can’t be realized.


    • I love tiny houses too. I too live in a house probably a bit less than 1500sq. ft. with my 3 children and husband. I am at the very beginning stages of getting rust off a trailer to prepare to build a tiny house. Although I likely won’t live in it except part time when I retire, I still will build it to have a space to call my own. Many men have workshops/sheds, but often women don’t think they too deserve to have that space of their own. I hope you get your tiny house. You deserve it too….all of you.


  3. I would love to see pics of the rain catch system.


  4. […] Saw significant progress and near-completion of the Matchbox: siding, floors, cabinets, a rain catchment system, and more. […]



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