Or Why Millennials Shouldn’t Be Homeowners...
A day or so after my last post I posted a link to /r/TinyHouses and got a good amount of interest. Again, nothing Internet-shattering, but a quite a few more people now know what I’m doing, and that’s awesome! The comments were great — some more critical than others, but still supportive- and it was fun to find out how people from all over the place responded to the idea. So I want to yet again thank everyone for their support, comments, and questions. Keep them coming!
As a special thanks (or maybe I was already planning on posting this; you'll never know) I've got a story for you — a story I'll introduce in the form of a video.
So yeah, that happened.
Let's go through the evening, step by step. First though, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am both incredibly stupid and incredibly lucky. I know. This shouldn't have happened, and however "easy" an oversight I can say this was, it was still a careless mistake that could have been avoided. And could have been infinitely worse than it was.
That evening — the one-week mark from when I started living in the trailer- I got home after work. It was a nicer evening by comparison to how cold it had been. While it was still cold, it seemed temerate enough that I could use the alcohol stove rather than the propane heater. So I lit the little fellow and got to work settling in for the evening.
The alcohol stove is great because it burns inexpensive denatured alcohol and will burn for days without producing much waste. Compare that to my propane heater — $5 propane canisters last about two hours, and then that's it; you'll accumulate propane cansiters faster than a bachelor accumulates empty beer bottles. Whenever possible, I opt for the alcohol stove and usually use the propane heater only in the mornings when it's mind-numbingly and literally frigid.
The only real downside to the alcohol stove is that it's an open flame — a small, very tame one. But still, an open flame.
As I was going through my evening routine and about to watch some TV, my dumb, dumb brain chimed in and was all like "Hey Derek, you should switch out the propane canister so you don't have to fumble with the thing in the morning." And I'm like "Hey Brain, yeah, great idea!" Now just imagine me high-fiving my brain and you've got a good picture of how this went down.
I unscrewed the empty canister, and began to screw on the unused one. Unfortunately the gasket on the heater or the canister was damaged, and propane began spewing out so quickly I could actually see it condensing in a turbulent cloud.
When people say things happened in slow motion, they're right. It did. In a span of under two seconds, my thoughts went from "oh, propane, this isn't great" to "too much has leaked out, I need to knock out the side of the trailer (the door was too far away) and toss this like Batman and his bomb" to "oh crap, duck —"
Here is a blurry picture in lieu of a picture of what actually happened:
BOOM. Two seconds, that's it. The propane reached the open flame from the alcohol stove, ignited, and blew hard enough that it knocked me back and shattered off one of the plastic panels on the trailer. After a moment, I sat up, did a quick mental check to make sure I was lucid, and began to inspect what had happened.
Oh wait, gotta put out the fire that's — AHH GAHD NA MY LEG IS ON FIRE! Actually, my pants were ever so slightly on fire. A quick smothering put that out. No burns, not even on the pants.
I reached up to my eyebrows. Still there (mostly), that's good. I ran my hand through my hair. A nice crispy wad became entangled in my fingers. Oh that smell of charred hair... it's not a great one.
My whiskers looked like melted nylon, though I suppose I can thank them for buffering my skin from the explosion.
It was only when I looked back that I realized a whole side of the trailer was now missing, and my little home was entirely exposed to the raw Brooklyn wilderness (I think that's the name of a new Bushwick bar.) Honestly, it was only around then when I started to realize how lucky I had been and how bad the explosion was. I stepped out, recorded the video you just saw, and got to work figuring out how to patch the damage.
To complicate the situation, my girlfriend and I were leaving the next day to New Orleans for a week, and I really didn't have time to fix this properly. I settled on reattaching the shards with duct tape, and figured this would be a good test of whether someone would break into the trailer or not.
After that was all done, I called a cab, hauled out any of the valuable things, and went to my girlfriend's. She responded with a very appropriate mix concern and amusement.
What a night. I was stupid. I was dumb. And I was very lucky.
The Adventure Begins...
My last posted covered a lot of the details about living in the trailer — the "hows." I tried to answer all the questions I had been receiving, so now I'll talk about what the first month of trailer life has actually been like.
Remember, I'm basically camping in Brooklyn. Or as one Redditor said, I'm "just 1 step up from being a regular homeless person." Especially in this first month, there have been quite a few adjustments to make.
Last Round of Construction
I designed the trailer in the evenings leading up to my apartment's lease ending. That didn't present any particular challenges, as I could dabble for an hour or go all night modeling each component in the computer without worrying about making it work the next morning. When it came time to start constructing the beast however, I had to drive a little over and hour out to the shop in New Jersey. I ended up just going out there on the last few weekends before move-out and working straight through until Sunday evening.
The movers came on a Friday, and I was out in Jersey Saturday morning. The trailer was close to finished, though it was still missing the entire concept of a door, the panels weren't fully screwed in, and the box wasn't mounted onto the trailer just yet. I had a lot of work to do to make the trailer livable, and that was it — I didn't have a home anymore. It had to get done.
I'll cover construction in a later post, but there's one thing I want to touch on that's important. When I set out designing this, I really didn't want to use plywood for the outside panels. My justification was weak: it doesn't seem high-tech enough. I found an inexpensive, lightweight plastic that I could buy in 4x8' sheets; expanded foam PVC is often used for in-store displays. It's lightweight, easy to work with, and quite tough for its usual applications. It seemed like it was worth a try.
Unfortunately, in this scenario, the PVC sheets were quite fragile. At one point, I gave the surface of the door a firm push to close it and cracked the plastic. In larger surface areas, it was less brittle, but still far from a long-term solution. Oh well. Don't keep anything valuable inside until you place the plastic...
That fragile sheets were the only barrier between me and whatever was outside.
The First Night
After a mad weekend and an extra day rushing to finish everything, I hitched the trailer to my car around 11pm on Monday. However exhausted I was was largely trumped by how excited I was to be finished and sleep in the trailer for the first time. Driving carefully, I got to Brooklyn and crawled into my new home a tad after 1am.
It was very cold that night, and I used the propane heater to warm the space as I was getting ready for bed. It was great. I was so excited. "Wait, you're actually doing this. Like, actually — right now!" I started to record a video to capture the excitement:
Oh yeah. Right. I'm inside in a box that is all but exposed to the street and whatever is outside. And those fragile plastic panels aren't doing anything for my feeling of security. Crap.
Especially that first night, I got to be so terrified of every little noise that I could barely get to sleep. In retrospect, that was part of the fun of the adventure, but in that moment, just no. The first noise I heard was, I think, someone walking their dog in the parking lot. In my head, it was obviously a crazed lunatic with his multi-headed dog-beast out for my blood; I sat dead still for what must have been ten minutes, a not-so-sinister bludgeony thing in hand, ready to make a valliant attempt at saving myself from the afformentioned creature.
As the nights spent in the trailer accumulated, I became more and more comfortable in my little space. At this point, I'm quite fine. Just the other night as I was starting to write this very post, someone was walking around the parking lot and ended up making several slow circles around the trailer, pausing for a while — no doubt in confusion- by the door. I was more ready to greet them with an enthusiastic "hello" than fight for my life.
Replacing the plastic panels with plywood has helped a lot for a feeling of security as well.
I have yet for someone to knock while I'm in the trailer, though I suppose it will happen at some point. We'll see how that goes — let's just hope I have my reaction on video, whatever happens.
The explosion led to several positive things. First, I learned the valuable lesson of "don't be stupid." That's a good one.
Second, I learned that even if there's a friggin' propane explosion in a parking lot right next to a residential loft building, no one cares. Seriously. I expected someone to wander out and see what the noise was or for the cops to show up — something. But there was nothing. To be honest, that, more than anything, has led to me feeling a lot more comfortable being in the trailer even with weird noises all around me.
I also learned that the second iteration of the trailer's design needs to incorporate vents that will release pressure in the off chance that something like the explosion happens again. If the plastic panels weren't so fragile as to blow off, pressure would have built up inside the trailer, and the explosion would have been much worse than it was.
I'm not a morning person, especially on the weekdays when my commute crammed into a crowded subway car awaits. It's never been easy for me to get out of bed, but in the trailer with the cold weather, it has taken tremendous effort to crawl out from the surprisingly cozy sleeping bag of joy and goodness. I'll tell you though, changing out of my pajamas into my clothes, being shirtless for just those few brief moments when it's that cold — that'll wake you up very quickly.
Something I didn't anticipate about living in the trailer is what it feels like to be around other people before the day has really kicked in, when I'm walking to the subway station, still cold from having essentially slept outside. I don't quite know what words to put to it. I feel a slight instinctual jealousy when I see the residual heat wafting off of everyone else's bodies, left over from their warm apartments. But at the same time, I recognize how unexpected what I'm doing is. Every slightly freaked-out night and every cold morning is part of this strange and unique adventure. This is more fun than a cozy apartment could ever offer.
Spring is Here
The weather has been getting nicer very quickly. Most nights now, I don't even have to use the heater. I'm looking forward to being able to just wear a t-shirt and not crawl inside the sleeping bag as quickly as possible. When summer kicks in, I know I'll have a whole new set of challenges around cooling my box. But spring is gonna be great. As soon as it's consistently warm, I've promised some friends that I'll have a "trailer-warming" party. Very quickly, this little trailer is becoming a very comfortable home.