All the things I would do differently if I were to build a house again
Last week marks the anniversary of the start of the Meraki Tiny House build. We kickstarted the build in September of 2017, after approximately 1 year of doodle sketching on my own and another 1+ year of actual serious planning with actual professionals.
The skeleton of the house was completed in late September of last year, and the finishing work has been sporadically ongoing since then.
Now, a couple hundred days after the build, seems like a good time to reflect on the journey!
GOALS FOR THIS BUILD
Because I have Type A personality, I naturally had a list of goals that I wanted to achieve with this particular project.
Have a place to call my own
Learn new skills
Find like-minded people
For the most part, all of the above were achieved. I did end up missing a lot of the the last stages of completing the finishing work on the house because I was stationed abroad for work. That meant I didn’t get to witness how the plumbing was done or how the house got wired or how they sprayed the entire place down with anti-termite stuff.
My FOMO aside, it’s been a spectacular journey, which I hope I captured well in the video compilation - if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now!
Click to watch video
Ever since the house was sort of completed, I’ve gotten a number of curious visitors. One question I was recently asked was this:
"What would you do differently if you were to do it again?"
I have yet to live in this little house full time, so it may be a little early to be able to comprehensively list down all the mistakes I made. But at this point in time, at least, I could only think of five things I would do differently:
Lesson #1 : Plan the land shaping better
“Flat land is boring”, one volunteer quipped at me, “Sloped land is much more adventurous!”
It is an adventure, indeed. Choosing to put a house on a sloped land comes with complications that you wouldn’t have to face with a flat land. Complications in clearing the land, complications in building the house, complications in managing the risks of erosion and flow of rainwater, complications in drainage, and most importantly, complications in the ever-present risk of falling on your butt every two steps.
I don’t regret putting the house on a steep piece of land, but if I could do it all over again, I’d do a better and more thorough job of shaping the land so that I won’t have to keep coming back to fix it over and over again, which does cost a lot in both time and money.
Lesson #2 : Use better flooring wood
The house uses Balau hardwood for pretty much all of the wooden components, including the flooring. A year after we finished the build, the wood on the floor have shrunk and distorted themselves over time, leaving rather unsightly gaps as opposed to a clean straight finish.
Part of this, I was told, is because Balau is less suitable for flooring to begin with, and another part is because during the build, the wood had been left out in the rain and sunshine for days. They didn’t cure enough by the time they were installed as flooring. The excess moisture in the wood that evaporated over time caused the shrinking and bending.
So, if I could do it all over again, I would look into better, more suitable wood, or be a bit more careful with how the wood was handled.
Lesson #3 : Better clean-up habits
A year after the build, I’m still finding bits of construction trash and human trash around the property that are buried in the ground and take a bit of work to clear. Amusingly enough, I even found a half-burned rice pot and an abandoned pair of pants.
A lot of the litter were from the various contractors who passed by to do their respective parts in finishing the house, and who may have forgotten about their plastic cups or their ten billion cigarette butts. But a large part of the litter were also the construction materials that were dumped and left haphazardly against a tree or two.
Upon retrospect, I would institute rules and habits on cleaning up after ourselves, and better manage the trash and waste that were produced. That way, I won’t find myself having to dig out Coke cans and styrofoam bits from the bowels of the ground months after.
Lesson #4 : Do not underestimate the monkeys
I’ve had people email me asking how it is living in the jungle. Just to be clear, the house is not quite in the jungle, only in the outskirts of it, and am actually closer to civilisation than you may think.
That being said, I do have unusual neighbours that only come by and party when no one is around. I don’t know how drunk monkeys can get, but just like overenthusiastic frat boys, they have definitely caused some unexpected damage.
Some of the shenanigans the monkeys got into include:
throwing raw eggs (that someone had brought with the intention of cooking them) on the wall, causing a mess on the freshly painted interior that had to be painted all over again,
Tearing open a large bag of ponchos and opening each and every poncho up before proceeding to spread the poncho all over the property - I found one floating at the top of a tree,
Deconstructing the clerestory louvres that we had painstakingly screwed in one by one, which gave me no choice but to fork out more money for stronger, metal-based louvres that were monkey-proof.
Louvres ripped off by the friendly neighbours
The replacement came in the form of monkey-proof metal
Lesson #5 : Calm the eff down
Being a Type A also means being riddled with anxiety, sometimes for absolutely no reason at all.
So it’s no surprise that I’ve had various anxious moments over this house: Am I doing enough? Are things going well? Should I have done this differently? Is it too slow? Is it too fast? Is it too cheap? Is it too expensive? What if [insert any and every horrible scenario] happens? There’s so much to do, OMG how am I going to do all of them, what was I thinking…etc
Where is the lie?
Even now, I am reminding myself to calm down. The only deadlines I have are my silly self-imposed ones, and the truth is, I have all the time in the world. This is meant to be a lifetime’s worth of work, not a weekend project, and if I’m stressing out and not having fun, then what is the point?
Fun is the point.
*OWNERSHIP IS OVERRATED*
On a side note, I’ve also learned that owning things is actually a big overrated headache. Why people scramble to own ten cars and five mansions is beyond me - even this one little house is stressing me out beyond belief!
At one point, I started dreaming about replicating this whole project by the seaside, or on a mountain top somewhere. That is, until my father (infamous for his quip about shoebox-sized houses) came through with yet another piece of his wisdom:
“Why must you go and build houses all over the place?” He sighed at me. “Why can’t you just go to a hotel?”
The house is currently a ways away from being complete - there is plenty to be done to make it more liveable. As it is now, it is simply a bigger glorified tent, without power and running water (though that will hopefully change very soon!).
If you’re interested to be part of future projects in getting the house up and running (with plenty of learning to do!), do join the Meraki FB group where I post updates on working trips and activities planned!