Monday, October 15, 2012

Capes The New England Vernacular

The Cape house started out in the 17th century and before as a single rectangular room(called a hall) with a large fireplace (with perhaps a beehive oven on one side or inside the firebox itself.) at one end of a rectangle.  Early buildings were made by driving the upright posts of the house into the ground and building the rest of the house around it.   There might only be a hole in the roof to let smoke out and rain in.  A fire was kept going on the ground. The clay in the soil would eventually fire into a soft ceramic.  Later a raised hearth of stone or brick would sit on the floor in the middle of the room.  Beyond the fireplace was a narrow hallway or just a door leading in from the wide side of the building at one end.

Later there were two rooms of nearly equal size with a fireplace and a partition between them.  There might be a large cooking fireplace facing one side and a blank brick side facing the other room, or there might be a second smaller fireplace facing the second room.

As time went by, and houses got larger(see note below) the configuration changed again.  The front center of the house would have the door and entry hall.  This would be about as wide as the fireplace mass which was often as big as a small room on its own.
 To each side, left and right, was a room which would be nearly square and extended to the back of the fireplace mass.  The back walls of the two rooms formed a long wall across the length of the house.  A door from each side room would lead into the back room.  This is sometimes referred to as a keeping room. This was basically the other half of the house.
 Along with the front rooms, the footprint of the house was close to a square or a not too elongated rectangle.  28 by 39 was a not too uncommon size. 
Remember that the closer to a square you get, the more efficient you are at conserving heat. 
This last room usually had the narrow end against the wall partitioned off to make a small, perhaps 6 foot deep, room called by many, probably incorrectly, a "borning" room. 
The back corner of the house, behind this room sometimes had a tiny spiral stair with high risers that went to the second story under the roof. 
There was often a staircase in the front hall that had a landing on the right and rose to an upper room from right to left.  It might be exposed, with a newel post and spindled rail or hidden behind paneling with a door leading to the landing from the hall.

Take a look at the Space Saving Partition Walls, posted elsewhere, for simple interpretations of these partitions.

The fireplace would be huge in these back rooms, perhaps a dozen feet or more!  Sometimes they would have a huge beam supporting the front of the firebox opening, an arch of brick or later on even a forged iron bar.  The early fireplaces might have an oven built into the back wall of the firebox.  You would step right inside the fireplace to bake.  When you wanted to rake out the coals from the oven, they just fell onto the hearth.  Often you would sit right inside the firebox on your little stool or chair while working all day.  Later the firebox was a bit smaller, and the oven moved outside the firebox to one side, though the decorative mantle still extended over the oven opening.  The oven often had a wooden door panel just pushed into it to block the heat in(often replaced as you might expect), and later on, they might have an iron door on the front.

There would be a huge panel of cast iron standing at the back of the fireplace if you could afford it, to reflect heat into the room and keep the heat from damaging the brick or stone of the back wall of the firebox over time.  Sometimes they were very simple or they could be great works of folk art with figures and dates cast into them.

One might be surprised at the size of homes of this time period.  These people were only limited by their time set aside for food production and desire to set aside building time.  The lumber was free.  Much of the house was joined using square Black Locust(where available) or Oak wooden pegs, and local people often were able to mine iron and make nails(the only purchase other than window glass if you wanted it).  You could actually build an entire house with just wood.  Only the clapboards had to be nailed on,  If you have plenty of time, even the siding can be pegged on.
Instead of window glass, you could use oiled paper, or nothing.  Often there were wooden bars that kept intruders out and eventually evolved into mutin bars to support glass panes.  Shutters closed at night or on cold days.
Back to the size....there was fuel everywhere early on, and other than inefficiency and drafts, there was no reason at all to be cold.  Fires were small, usually, just because wood was a lot of work, and fires became smaller as towns grew and the forests receded.  Basically, however, if you did not mind the work, you could heat large houses easily.

In Europe, people had depleted the forests centuries before and had to rely on dead, fallen wood for heat. (Forests were often the property of the lord or landlord.)  Coppiced twigs, grape or other woody vines and peat were used in some areas.  You could also burn dung from your animals, though you had to have dry conditions to get it to burnable and low odor condition.  Cold was your constant companion in the winter.

The Cape house was easy to expand into the next big trend, which was simply the Cape plan or an existing Cape that you wanted to alter, with the roof raised up and another floor inserted under it.  You might go without fireplaces upstairs, relying on heat's habit of rising, or smaller fireplaces would be added to the extension of your central chimney.

Thatch was a common roofing material(again requiring no nails), bark could be used in big sheets as roofing, but split shingles were most common.

Siding was sometimes just a matter of filling between the beams with mud and woven twigs plastered over (with true plaster or with a mortar or plaster made from shells) bricks and mortar or mud filling.  both could be seen alone, plastered, or covered over with split oak clapboards.  Later came wood plank sheathing, either vertical, fitting into grooves in the beams, or nailed on horizontally.  Then they were clapboarded over.  Much later came board and batten siding.

Professional house-wrights made pretty regular, cookie cutter houses that were similar except in size, but any good craftsman could build a house.  There were design trends, sometimes published but you could have many variations in houses of the period, that might look very similar outside. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Mental Exercise

I generally try to do the blogs as a service to others.  I would like to give others a chance to make a little house of their own as a result of these pages,,, there is an outdated term with these days of computer books...posts...that is better isn't it.
I would love to fantasize with you about my favorite form of house for my retirement.  I know it will not come to pass, because I do not have the resources to buy what I would want to furnish it with.  I do have some fabulous antiques to work with, but not in a consistent style.  I have a Sheraton chest of drawers, a pair of 17th century candlesticks , early American rocker,French Bergeres...nothing blends well.  that is OK if you have several rooms, but a consistent style is best if you are talking about this particular project.

Even though it is in a palazzo, it is not appreciably larger than the room I am discussing

I have long felt that I would only need a house the size of my living room to be completely content.  Well, I was wrong.  I have been researching my needs and wants and this week I have finally looked at a building that gave me the inspiration I was looking for.  I have settled on a rather opulent Palace room in Italy.  Now, I am actually approaching this subject with the idea of using any one style in this type of house.  I like the Italian Palazzo, but this would be a good thing to do with 18th Century American Furniture, or all American Empire, French Provincial or Craftsman.  You choose for yourself.
My living room is about 16 by 24.  I have a hard time decorating this because we have different takes in my house in how to do it, so as a result, we have all sorts of stuff jammed together in an inharmonious mess.
Ideally this should be thought of as two distinct rooms.  Well, I could get along fine with just that, but it would not include a kitchen and a bath.  So, I thought the best idea would be to increase the length of the building to 32 feet, just twice the width.  A good, compact bath can be put into just under 8 feet, and a kitchen in galley style can as well. 
So I am now thinking of my 16 by 24 room for living(the attic can provide sleeping lofts for guests) and the end of the building would house the bath, closet  and the kitchen.  If more utility space is needed, a lean-to could be put along one side of the house for rough storage, furnace etc.  this could be added later, especially if you use a fireplace, electric heat or woodstove.
In many styles, 2x6x8 would be fine for the wall studs, but in my particular style, I would increase the studs to 10 feet.  More storage room, more height for a feel of space, etc. plus I love chandeliers, and they are best with a high ceiling.

In a small building, wall space is critical.  Since one wall will have the utility rooms, one wall,( the North) with possible access to store rooms and perhaps the fireplace, and the third left fairly un-used for balance, that would mean that the last wall would be all glass!
I love light, but I am not so hooked on light and bright as others are.  I would likely put a loggia or pergola along the glassed wall for vines to provide summer shade.

In the 32 foot room, I would like to put a partition at the 8 foot mark, with a center door.  The center door would lead into an antechamber with a door to each side.  One would be for the bath and one for a compact kitchen.  This would end up being a bit under 8 by 6  The anteroom would house a closet against the outside wall for linens or pantry.

The rest of the room might be all french doors along the south and longest side, or a combination of french doors and floor to ceiling windows.

The opposite long wall would house a classical design fireplace, with a door to each side or a wall of bookcases surrounding the chimney breast made of kitchen cabinets on the bottom and simple shelves to the ceiling.  One end of the room would be for a showy bed, the rest for a living and dining room combination.

Make all finishes from the finest sources possible.  Silk drapes, oriental carpets over hardwood or marble floors, heated from below of course.
Sell everything I own and buy the best antiques possible to fill the space, except for dining room chairs and chairs meant for lounging(we do not want antiques for the items that get the most abuse and use).

Above there should be venetian glass chandeliers or period brass or bronze.  All can be had reasonably if you search carefully.
An added bonus would be a very deep bay window in the middle of the glass wall, to accommodate a relatively small round dining table and chairs.
As impractical as this seems, I guess I am trying to emphasize that a small house can be decorated as a jewel box, and you can have a tiny house that can be a source of pride even when you invite the snobbiest people to your house.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


There are some options that are particularly well suited for a small residence, though they may not be immediately apparent.  Seattle and some other areas of the country have neighborhoods that are moored at docks.

Thank You Wikipedia for this photo.

There are size restrictions in many of these places that would make a large building difficult to find a home for, and expensive as well.  However, a small houseboat, no larger than an average boat would be fairly cheap to keep at a marina, and certainly far cheaper than buying a lot and erecting even the tiniest house.  Many marinas offer water connections, TV, electric connections and sewage disposal.
If you go to the Netherlands, there are whole towns built on canals and sheltered waterways, including in some cities like Amsterdam.  The barges in Amsterdam are much larger than anything we would be discussing here, and in many cases are truly built on boats.  There are barges and arks as well, and these would be much more stable to live in.  Consider a well designed building towed on canals in Europe.
It seems to me that in these days of tough economic conditions, that it would be easier than ever to find someone who was trying to get rid of watercraft.  Construction on a boat would very likely be top heavy, so do not count on taking one of these out sport fishing in the Atlantic.  Most could in reasonably calm weather be towed to new locations seasonally.  It might be possible to tow for long distances, even along the inter-coastal waterway of the Atlantic, as long as reasonable weather and wave action were present.
Contact your local authorities for information on mooring in lakes for say the summer, your local marina may be able to offer advice on requirements in similar facilities.
An ark would be most likely to fit into our tiny house scenario.  In this, a floating dock structure is constructed of treated timbers.  The framework is filled with foam pallets made for floating structures..  Then a deck is constructed on top, of either water and salt(if on sea or brackish water) resistant woods like Teak(no small expense and a very heavy wood), and a house constructed with water resistant, or marine grade materials.  There are plenty of  materials out there that are virtually impervious to weather, which might not be a good idea or even attractive for a standard house, but would be fine for this application.  Extruded PVC comes to mind. 
One thing you have to remember with artificial materials like this is fading.  Color is very hard to maintain in direct sunlight, so stick with white.  Touches of color can be added on trim, outdoor grade fabrics or stained glass panels etc.  You might explore mahogany, cypress and cedar as alternatives.
Think summer house in Cape Cod, downtown marinas in Boston, Miami or somewhere on The Gulf(if you dare).

Thanks to Wikipedia for a picture of an Amsterdam houseboat, though this would really qualify as an ark.

Make sure that you build small.  Do something that can be lifted completely off the foundation so that the "raft" can be replaced periodically.  Also, consider bolting rooms to each other so a larger house can be disassembled and pulled off the barge and reassembled on land or on a replaced or refurbished raft.  No plasterboard!  Wood panels, pickled, if you want light colors would be a better choice.

If salt spray is not a problem, you might consider large planters with flowering vines etc trained over pergolas, made of extruded steel stock, welded into a framework or build a lattice of water resistant woods.  I'll bet a scarlet trumpet vine would do well in this environment, forming a leafy roof.  Use plenty of Pearlite or foam peanuts mixed into the soil to lessen the weight of the soil.

A small ark would easily be dragged onto a flat bed trailer and used in the winter or put into storage as well.

In very tidal locations, one might have posts pounded into the mud.  Several feet of steel pipe would then be placed on the bottom of your ark, and slipped over the posts.  The sleeves and the ark would then ride up like pistons in high tide situations and lower down to rest on the posts when the tide is low.  This would be good in places where you plan to be on stilts for much of the year, but still want to be close to the water level.  You would not be inundated during high tides.

Friday, September 28, 2012

I have noticed.

I have noticed a lot of interesting searches ending up here on my site.  Lots of things that I know a lot about, especially about old and antique houses.  I was a museum curator for old houses for several years and worked in historic communities.  Please feel free to email me with any questions you have.    This is a part time labor of love for me, and I cannot always devote enough time to it to answer all your questions in the text, so just ask, and I will help you.
I have a modest background in all types, both modern and antique building, historic restoration, colors and decorating, both modern and antique.  So, if you are getting less than satisfying answers to your questions, please contact me.
If I do not know the answer, I will certainly do my best to direct you to the proper person.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


As I add new posts, they will appear at first in the beginning position, then as new posts appear, they will move to their permanent position in the correct order of construction and interest.  Please contact me at the profile email if you have any questions or comments.  I would be glad to help.

About my spelling and punctuation.

I study French and Italian, and read bits and pieces of Greek and a couple of other languages.  I do none of these well, but just by studying them, I get very confused in my spelling and in my punctuation.  This is a sure sign of my age I am sure.  So, bear with me.   I try to catch all of them, but not always.  You will also notice strange sentence constructions...same issue.  At least I do not roll my Rs when I speak to people in English.

Friday, August 10, 2012


There is a trend now toward tiny...tiny houses.  So many people are in foreclosure.  So many have outspent their retirement income...already!  I am just planning for my retirement years.  They may never truly come as our country's economic problems are escalating.  My dream is to move to Italy, give tours for tips at a local archaeological site, paint in oils and watercolor and come home once a year in the months of July, August and September, when you don't really want to be in Italy because of the throngs of tourists and the outrageous temperatures.  Good tips though, I suppose!

I would love to find a small, wooded piece of land in Maine, near my sister.  It would be great if it was near the water, but not essential.  It would be wonderful if I had a place with a stream.  I would dig a big pit, and line it with clay and huge pink and gray granite boulders and sand.  Then I would channel my stream through it and out again to it's original course.   I would plant ferns, rhododendrons and mountain laurel all around it.
Electricity would be wonderful, but like my sister, I could do quite well with a couple of solar panels.  Just enough to run a reading light and to charge my computer for a movie each night.  My sister and her husband spend all winter reading, snowed in twenty-five miles from town and five miles from the road...Sublime.
Those are not stones.  They are cordwood ends,
 just like the wood you would burn in your fireplace or woodstove.

They sit by the french doors and watch the moose and bear forage around the yard. They fill the bird feeders every day, and shoot the chipmunks that scare the birds off. Don't worry, there are dozens who mind their manners on their fifty acres on a boulder dotted lake. 

My sister's land in Maine.

I will discuss their house at some later date.  Just let me say that my sister and brother-in-law were both over 60 when they started this house.  They had help with a few of the things that were simply beyond their ability, but most of what they did, they did on a budget, using local materials, and their own hands. 
My sister had a disability that forced her retirement.  She had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Chronic Tendinitis in both hands.  My brother-in-law had Emphysema, and was several years older.  Neither are big, husky people, and in fact, my sister is not the type with a history of heavy work.  But they both grew stronger, and healthier as they worked.  I was shocked when she said that they were slowing down a bit now.  She just turned 72.
They still bring in the wood, have built a woodshed and workshop, and are always planning new jobs.  The fact that they were so remote meant that they had few people around to give them colds or the flu, and they are incredibly healthy for 72 and 76.
They burn wood that they harvest from their land, have gas delivered to a huge tank in the summer, when they are accessible, for the refrigerator and cooking.(I would prefer a wood cook stove or Italian fireplace and outdoor kitchen, but that is just me.)  Though many think they are NUTS, it is a wonderful life for them.
The solar panel in the front yard.
People lived simple lives, with much of their lifestyle supported by the land itself for century upon century.  Just because we are living in the 21st century, does not make that lifestyle invalid or impossible. 
I am not writing this as an escapist or an apocalyptic profit of doom.  Of course either of those mindsets are valid reasons for building something like this, but I am just not into that.  No concrete lined holes in the ground for me!
I am not a construction expert.  I have always been handy.  My father and brother have always been builders and worked easily with plumbing and electricity.  I guess that in restoring buildings as I have and loving to research, I have continued that legacy.  I currently work for banks as a preservationist.  I take a property that has been forclosed and bring it back to life...that is when the penny pinching banks will listen to me and spend the money.
I have worked on houses from virtually all periods of our history, and have worked in living history museums.  I have learned to blacksmith before a crowd of kids and parents, have taught museum employees to cook in the colonial manner on the open hearth, and know about house frames from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The house my father and mother built in the woods with their own four hands in 1937.

I will try to pass some of this information on to you, and I will help to inspire you to your own little project... A house just for you.

Before You Begin.

The first issue you must contend with is what you need versus what you can stand to live in!  I think that a good idea would be to empty your kitchen and perhaps dining room or other attached room and live in it for a week or perhaps two.  See if you can perform all your activities without accessing the rest of your house or apartment.  Try to make use of outdoor space when possible, because that will always be a help.  If it is not snowing like hell, or 20 below outside, there are plenty of activities that can take place outside.  My brother and I used to go out and just cross country ski(something we did not really know how to do) and build a fire in a sheltered spot to have a barbecue in the forest.  As it happened, we were on what was our parents' old farm, where we sheltered inside a hedged garden that had become overgrown over the years.  Winter or summer, make use of outdoor spaces.  Why relegate use of a patio to the summer months.  This may be crucial to your ability to live in a small space.  My sister and her husband spend long hours in the morning, walking in the woods and along old logging roads both summer and winter.  Those days when it is too cold to feel your nose after ten minutes will make you grateful for the warmth and cozy space that you have created inside.
Will you be off grid when you build your house?  If so, pile a few books on a side table, bring in a few games and perhaps a puzzle or two.  Write letters, begin that novel or genealogy project you have been planning.  Live in that small space for a long time before you make a final decision.
The fact is, that if you can stand that, you will probably do even better in your new house.  Your kitchen and dining room were not meant for total living, but your well designed compact space will work much better.
In browsing the Internet, you will see whole houses on the back of a pick-up truck or on the bed of a horse trailer. In those spaces, clever people are able to carve out private study spaces, bedroom lofts, kitchens and bathrooms.  Surely if you are not restricted to 8 by 12 feet you can make a perfectly functional home.
I have a real problem with my perception.  I absolutely cannot concentrate on anything if there is significant noise around me. Someone plays a radio in another room and I have to close up my book and toss it aside after reading the same paragraph four or five times without comprehension.
The real question is: Can you spend the rest of your life in the same small space with another person, or even with a family?
The solution is to build bigger.  An extra 10 by 10 space may make all the difference in the world.  The Italians have tiny wood stoves in their houses.  Soooo cute.  There are also wonderful tiny propane heaters available that would heat up a space like that in minutes.  There is something alluring about the idea of a tiny pavilion in a picturesque spot or at the end of a garden path lined with shrubs, and it would cost almost nothing to build, using Craigslist salvaged windows and shingles etc.  A tiny wood stove with a finely split hardwood woodpile outside the door(Stove wood they used to call it when Mom had the wood cook stove.) could turn an intolerable living situation into a real retreat.  You just have to live with the fact that you will have no water or other facilities there.  There is always a Lavabo set-up or pitcher and bowl from the 19th century(see notes on ceramics later) for a quick wash of the hands after peeing in the snow, but you could easily spend a creative day in your private retreat, or run your accounting business or write lesson plans from your desk in your pavilion. 

Just a quick caveat.  Do not store cord wood or stove wood against a wooden building.  Beetles and vermin love woodpiles, and that would be an open invitation to start spending time in your retreat.
I would perhaps keep the woodpiles at least ten feet away, though you might get by with less.

Your new home will have to be neat.  Can you get rid of most of your STUFF?  What will you take with you to your new home?  Certainly there will be family antiques or keepsakes that you can pass on to children or siblings.  But, do not think that you will have to get rid of everything and start over.  I have wonderful 17th and 18th century French brass candlesticks and wall sconces that belonged to Roman aristocracy.  I will certainly use those, but I may pass the dozen or so 19th century ones on to someone else. 
I will have to decide if my new house will have some sort of temperature and humidity control in it.  If I am going to be rustic, I will probably  pass my 15th century manuscript pages on to someone else.  They will not fare well in dampness, heat or cold.  My Staffordshire plates will build up expansion and contraction stresses if my house will be hot or cold for long periods.  I was once in a friend's antique shop soon after they reopened in the spring.  It was a very warm June day.  We heard a PING and a bit if rhythmic scraping from a high corner of the shop.  A huge Leeds platter had been standing against the wall on a high cabinet for several years.  The ping was the platter splitting entirely in two across the narrow axis of the oval and the scraping was the two halves rocking back and forth against the wall.  When we tried to put it back together, the two halves did not fit anymore.  They became tiles in a garden wall.
I was working in a fine jewelry store some decades ago, when a woman entered the shop in tears.  She was carrying a twisted and crumpled piece of gray metal.  She had left an 18th century pewter Revere style bowl in her attic.  It had belonged to some great great great grandparent, and the heat had softened and sagged the bowl into the packing material in the box.
Likewise, textiles can become mildewed  and moldy in the presence of dampness
Wood can split in heat and dry, and swell and crack in dampness.(There are little chemical filled plastic tubs available that pull the moisture out of an enclosed space)  I have seen many tables that have been moved from England to Arizona and on to New England.  They cracked in the dry southwest, leaving a half inch gap between the halves and then they swelled shut again in the move to New England.  Problem solved?  Not really.  There were ugly splits in the finish, and they never quite resume their original shape.
Be critical in your editing.  Choose things that will stand up to the new environment for your new home.  If you will have access to electricity and the house will not be empty for long periods, then you can probably take anything with you.  But remember that many things should do double duty.  A dining table will also be your desk.  Candlesticks may be stored away for long periods, but will be essential when the electricity fails. have been in your tiny space for a couple of weeks now.  Do you still think you can do this?
Now you know if that will be enough space for you.  If not, then you know you will have to think a little bigger, or think about private and separate space for your poetry writing.

Location Location Location and Systems

First of all, do research in the town and state that you are locating in.  Find out about zoning, if any.  Find out about property line setbacks, minimum lot sizes for various constructions and growing zones.  Find out about waterfront setbacks for construction, roads and septic systems.  What animals may you keep there?  What restrictions are there in that area on plants, native versus imported, or nuisance plants.  Find out if there is a county extension office and DEP you can tap for information.

Check out your potential neighbors.  Will they be receptive of your project?  Will they be raiding your gardens at night or burglarizing your property when you are away?  Will they be a danger to you in a remote location?  Not everyone is as nice as I know you are.

There are many things that will determine the correct location on your property for the house and many things that you should be looking at before buying a property.
Planning on solar heat or solar panels?
The best exposure is South South West. Try to imagine, or if possible, visit a piece of land in several seasons.  First of all, you can tell if the land turns into a quagmire in the spring, or if that beautiful stream dries up completely in the summer. Can you actually get to your property in mud season or in the winter?  Try not to site your house below the level of the road.  Try to be level or just above.  Once it gets icy, you have to be able to get out in an emergency, and you do not want road run off or snowbank melt heading toward your house.  Most important though is to hang around through a day in autumn, winter and spring to determine if there is nice clear sunshine(or phone reception) once the leaves are down in the fall.  In summer, the sun is usually pretty high and you will LIKELY get enough from many sites.  A mistake could mean that you will need to put your solar panels on a telephone pole!

For solar gain in a heating or hot water systems, you want those cold month windows and rooves to get as much sun as possible.  If you do not take this precaution, you may end up cutting down huge swathes of trees to get enough sunshine on your house. 
You must also pay attention to the growth of trees, especially evergreens.  You may not have to worry so much about deciduous trees blocking you from the sun in the winter, as so much of the potential shade will have dropped to the ground by October.  Pine, Spruce and cedar, among others will grow quickly, and you will have a solid shadow anywhere they grow.  Call in an expert if you are unsure.  Also, if your are planning on much of your heat coming from the sun and you live in a cold climate, get a solar heating expert or do extensive research into heating systems before you break ground.

Waste disposal.

 My sister and her husband have lived for ten years now without a septic system.  If they were not afraid of their health and ability to continue with that disposal, they may never have even thought about one.  They are now at an age where they do not want to be running outside for an outhouse.  They do not want to be carrying waste out into the woods and burying it(which they have been doing quite successfully all this time).

Septic systems are expensive.  There are alternatives.  If your town of choice is not following your actions too closely, you can do many things.
Use a five gallon bucket(the kind plaster patching material comes in).  Fasten a toilet seat to the top that will remove easily or construct a box cabinet with a toilet seat on it to cover the bucket.  Line the bottom with newspaper.  Use the toilet.  Cover each deposit with newspaper, cat litter, dirt or sand.  when the deposits are getting too close to the top for comfort, empty the bucket into a trench, far from the house, well, road or property line.  There are spray foams that seal in each deposit as well.

Composting toilets.  Find them on line.  They may not work well if you do not have a full family there, as volume is an issue.  They can be quite bulky.

Gas toilets.  Make sure that you have an iron clad guarantee, and buy good quality.  Corrosion is an issue, and keeping the incinerator in good order can be a hassle.   But with caution and good research, they can be a good alternative, as can composting toilets.

Septic systems come in all shapes and sizes.   There are some that can be carried into remote locations on your back and look like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. You can even do much of this work yourself if you are into heavy labor, saving thousands.  Get a soils test.  Get government approval before installation to avoid expensive alterations once you are spotted.  Read up on regulations.

With State approval, install a holding tank that will be pumped regularly.
Carry small holding tanks out to transfer stations like people with trailers do.  The containers are called honey buckets or honey wagons.

 In fact, the trailer supply centers are an invaluable place to start looking for almost anything that involves compact operating systems in a little house.  Tiny sinks, toilets, showers and appliances may also be available there.  Also, they are an invaluable resource for winterization equipment.

Drill your well and be assured of a good water supply.  Consult with experts at every stage of planning and installation. 

Do not even think about getting water from streams or ponds.  It might even be dangerous to water food crops or wash clothes with them.  There are parasites in almost every body of water in the US, that will ruin your health.  We are not living in the pristine 17th century anymore.  Also, these can contain animal feces, fertilizers and dangerous minerals and heavy metals, leeched from the soil on the banks.  Don't even drink there once, unless your life is in danger if you don't.

A dug well should be uphill from any septic system within 100 yards, and if they can be above all septic systems and cultivation in the area, so much the better.  Test the water ALL THE TIME, or just use it for bathing, and drink and cook with bottled water and other sterile sources. You are not just avoiding bacteria etc these days.  You are also avoiding chemical contaminants as well.  Farms, gardens, factories and animals(domestic and wild) all contribute to ground water pollution.  Save liquids from canned foods, the end of wine bottles and juices to cook in, but do not add salt without tasting it first.  Pour out your cooking liquids into your garden to help with watering needs in dry spells.  You can also channel shower and kitchen water overflow to the garden if you use organic products for washing.

Start a compost pile, but be sure to avoid the well area.


There are any number of tools that are common in any household, that will be necessary in building your mini castle. 
Just about the most important tool will be a generator.   I bought a little used Toro that had been reconditioned in a little shop on Route 53 in Weymouth.  I paid $125.00 and have not had a moment of trouble with it in over a year.  A larger generator, and a more efficient one would be good for regular use when your house is finished.  But, this one is great when a little extra power might be needed just for the vacuum cleaner or the computer when the sun has not been cooperative in generating power.  It runs my compressor and would power a nail gun, circular, table or chop saw.  It will keep your lights going into the evening if you want to work late.

Hammers.  They come in different weights.  There are large framing hammers, tack hammers, and the one you see everywhere that is just for general use.  The general rule of thumb is big hammer for big nails and big jobs.  Yes they are heavier, but you will ultimately use less energy and suffer less strain if you use a bigger hammer.  21 ounces is great for framing.  You may however opt for a pneumatic nail gun.  I rather like using a hammer and nails, especially on small jobs...something familiar and Zen about it.  Also I resist innovation...a sign of my age no doubt.

Tools for basic construction of the building.  Tools for electrical and plumbing discussed elsewhere.

A framing square,

A combination square

An angle copier.  A wooden handle with a tightening nut and a sheet metal blade that slides in and out and to various angles to copy or repeat angled cuts.

The longest level you can afford or have space for.  The longer they are, the more accurate they are.

A clear plastic tube at least five or ten feet longer than the longest measurement likely on your project. Filled with water, the water seeks its own level no matter how far apart or how you hold it or coil it on the ground.  Great for leveling your foundation, sonotubes, sills, ridgepole, etc.  This will be more accurate than the best and longest level.

A ten inch circular saw for rough cuts.

A table saw for rip cuts.

A good quality chop saw for complex angle cuts and for accuracy that cannot be achieved by a circular saw.

There may be instances where you do not want to be handling a power tool.  the following hand saws will help.:

A crosscut hand saw.  You will recognize a crosscut saw by balancing a pencil along the length of the saw blade on the teeth.  A crosscut saw has splayed teeth so there is a place to for it to rest.  It cuts easily across the grain of wood.

A rip hand saw.  The teeth are in line so you cannot balance a pencil on the teeth.  It cuts along the length of the grain of a piece of wood.

Tin snips for cutting sheet metal, mesh, screening etc.

A razor knife.

A chalk line.

A crow bar or cats paw or flat wonderbar,

A six foot iron pike(a little hard to find) will help you jockey large stones or even the entire building into place inch by inch.

Flat carpenter's pencils.

A good quality metal measuring tape.  25 feet is good.

Two  25 foot aluminum ladders

A Plastic cement mixing tub or rented cement mixer.

A long handled round nosed shovel,

A Short handled shovel with D handle.

A Post hole digger or gas powered auger.

A Heavy duty wheelbarrow.

A Hacksaw

A mason's trowel

A 1/4 inch power drill and drill bits.

Philips and flat screwdrivers in various sizes and/or screw bits for the drill.

Several heavy duty extension cords.

Wire cutters and pliers.

Staple gun and 1/2 inch staples.

1/2 and 1 inch wood chisels.

Foundation Notes

Some of the most fascinating buildings are on a steep slope, straddling boulders or some other location that might startle the viewer.  I can think of no more interesting a house than one perched across a stream with glass flooring. 
The issue is, that you need some kind of foundation under your house, and an inexperienced person could find building in such a location extremely challenging.  Also, Frank Lloyd Wright did his "Falling Waters" house in just such an extreme location, and now they are spending many times the original cost of the house to correct the mistakes this great architect made, as well as the ravages of time in such a location.  If  Frank can foul it up, think what you can do.
If you are truly going to make a small house, there should be no reason that you cannot find a nice flat spot in even a dramatic location where you can site the house.  Even in a featureless location, you should be thinking about a place where the land falls away from the house in all locations.  A high spot on a flat lot is always possible, and even a few inches can make the difference between a rotting sill and solid forever.  You can raise your foundation slightly and use the excavated material from the prep work to make a slope all round the foundation.   Even pressure treated lumber will not save you forever.  If you are building to last you through your last few years of life, or a few years while you do a temporary job or attend university, then...just keep the water out of the house and don't worry about it.  But, if you are twenty to sixty, that is a long time for an ill sighted house to withstand moisture.  Even masonry has water problems...Ask anyone in England with "rising damp".
One could conceivably, run a couple of huge "I" beams across a gorge or from boulder to boulder on a forest location.  Just drill holes in the rocks and put cemented in or epoxied in bolts down to secure the beams to the rock.
If you live in the northern tier in the US or in Canada, You will want to go down about four feet.  This will get your foundation below the frost line. 
When the ground freezes in the winter, it will freeze right down into the earth.  The water in the earth expands and will lift a house right off the ground.  You might of course build on skids or on rocks or blocks directly in the ground.  A building will just float on the freezing and unfreezing soil.  There are problems with this though.  If you have systems that go into the ground, your house may be moving in relation to pipes, electrical wires, septic/sewer pipe, or anything else you may have.  All of this may crack or stretch, causing more and more problems as the house ages.  A very small house might be made rigid enough to survive such movement, but lumber, as it gets longer, may flex or crack.  You may never notice this in your foundation, but you would eventually see your doors and windows going out of square and refusing to open and close with time.
Your little poet's pavilion will probably be just fine resting on the ground or on pads or blocks, but anything larger will have to be on a good foundation. 
One option is to build with a minimal foundation when you have no money and need to get shelter, and then just drag your tiny house onto a great foundation when you can afford one.  This will work, and it was certainly not uncommon.  My uncle had a series of beach cottages joined together and placed on foundations after they had been around for years to make a large house.  The only issue is that a building can be dragged out of square in the moving and plaster board, plaster and tile can all be ruined as they flex.  Plank paneling, on the interior can take a lot of flex however.  I hate wood interiors myself, but it might be just the thing for many people.  I do like nice wood paneling...that is raised paneling like in the colonial period.  Even knotty pine is beautiful when done this way.  I will discuss colonial interior finishes later.  Note the post on Feather Edge Paneling under "Making Space Saving Partition Walls"  that follows this one.

Option one
Dig down four feet for the entire perimeter of the house.  Remove even huge stones if the bottom of the stone is above the four foot mark. It may rise with the frost and crack your foundation.  Check with your town or with a county extension office to see what foundation depths your area may need.
Make certain that the bottom of the trench is broad and flat.  Weight of a building may drive a pointed bottom deeper into the soil.  Build a wooden or a foam double wall on top of the footing, and pour concrete into it.  Alternatively you could use concrete blocks, field stone, brick or dressed stone to raise the walls of the foundation.  It should rise several inches above ground level at least.  Local codes may dictate how far above the ground it may need to be.  Colonial period houses were not very high off the ground, but wooden sills at the time were often more than a foot thick and resisted rot for centuries.  Back fill the excavated soil, trying to return the subsoil to the deeper areas and the topsoil to upper levels.  Plants will love you if you do not try to plant them in subsoil.
Specifics of dimensions and method will be discussed later.

Note that unreinforced masonry, in brick, blocks and stone will literally fall apart in earthquakes.  You may think your area is immune to such events, but don't you believe it.  Some of the seemingly most stable areas are most at risk.  The lower Mississippi Valley, New England, etc. may be ticking time bombs.  Poured foundations may crack, but they are less likely to turn to mounds of debris. 

Option two
The first colonials just arranged their post and beam house frames on a number of large stones.  Again, sills were enormous, and Post and Beam frames are exceptionally flexible, as are all the interior and exterior finishes.  Planks and shingles glide past each other much easier than plywood.  Plywood is a great stabilizer, good in many applications, but it has it's drawbacks. 
In the period, a large stone was situated beneath each post in the house frame as that was where the weight was concentrated.  A great drawback was that the building was raised off the ground.  This exposes the underside of the house to cold and vermin.  I often thought this would be overcome by screwing overlapping aluminum to the underside of the floor and filling the cavities with insulation.
Another drawback is the difficulty of getting all the stones at the same level.  Do not "Bank" your house with bales of hay or straw, or attach tar paper or plastic around the foundation of the house as many people did in the north when I was a child.  This traps moisture against the building and could rot your house sill and lower portions of wall studs.
A modern dimensional lumber building, would need to have the concentrated points of weight identified and supported, and the sills would have to be thicker than average to remain stiff over the gaps between the stones.  I will eventually discuss Post and Beam construction in detail.  If you love being the consummate craftsman and are patient, this could be a wonderful alternative for you.

Remember too that your wood does not need to be in contact with the soil to rot.  It is also easy to initiate deterioration just from the splash of rain, even if the wood dries soon after getting wet.  Rain falls and the drops hit the soil.  Soil is a diverse mix of elements.  It can be sand, gravel, any number of minerals, but what we see on top is usually a compost of vegetation that accumulates over the centuries.  In that vegetatation are all sorts of funguses, bacteria(both good and bad) etc.
When the raindrops hit the soil, they Splash, and over time, those splashes will transfer some of those funguses, etc. to your wood.  ROT!
I have included a picture in my crude sketching style of a colonial solution to this issue.  Of course the higher off the ground that you build, the less likely this is to be a problem.

The Right Size

With a building that has a timber foundation, sitting on piers etc, you can easily make alterations to your original house cell as your needs change.  If, however, you decide you need more room than you originally planned, and you have put your original cell on a full foundation, whether it be a slab or full basement, you will run into problems. 
Additional rooms attached to your original house will have to have a foundation joined to the old one.  It would be difficult to add to a foundation seamlessly.  You will likely have air infiltration, a seam in your slab etc.  Plus, a full foundation will probably be better if you can move from one part to another, meaning that you will have to cut a doorway into the old foundation. 
The best way to avoid growth problems is to be realistic about your needs in the beginning. Young people need to amuse themselves in long winter months which sometimes leads to additional members of the family, grandchildren come to live with you, children move back home or you need a caretaker or caregiver, etc.
There are several ways to head off or cope with this eventuality. 

Consider moving some of your activities to a new building, freeing up space in the old building.  You may have built  a studio or office in your original house.  Move it to a separate structure, which may need only a minimal foundation and few amenities.  Minimal electric service, no bath etc.

An entirely separate house for In-laws or children.  Keep them out of your hair by building a new building from scratch.  This will mean that you have thought about property line setbacks, septic systems etc in advance.  Planning for the eventuality of adding a building, and siting your original in such a way that you will not have conflicts will save you lots of headaches.

Design your original house with a summer kitchen, porch etc. that shares your original foundation.  This will allow you to simply upgrade the structure for full living space.

Design in pavilions.  Plan on a central building, with dependencies in a logical arrangement around it.  Perhaps covered walkways will connect guest suites, or board walks will wander through the woods to private accommodations.  A bridge may lead you across a gorge or stream to another building.  Again, setbacks will have to be kept in mind when you make your original plan.  Keep in mind too, that zoning, property line setbacks etc. may change over time.  Leave plenty of space, especially if your lot is not large, or the population is growing rapidly in your area.  This may force your town to rethink their plan.
Your little house may be necessary for a time when money is tight, but as your needs change and money issues lessen, you may add buildings to eventually become a large compound.

One of my favorite memories is a retreat that I attended as an art teacher in Maine.  A large group headed for Haystack on Deer Isle.
Glacier scoured granite islands have a thin layer of soil on them with wind stunted fir, spruce and pine crowning the level areas and clinging to the crevices down cliffs that descend steeply into the sea. Beneath them is a forest floor thick with ferns, mounds of peridot and emerald green moss, lichen and blueberries.
A main building and several studio buildings occupied the high ground that had most of the flat land on the site.  A large deck occupies a central position with a flagpole and benches.  From the deck, a wide staircase, broken by landings descends down the granite slope toward the sea.  A couple of landings down, boardwalks turn off to either side, snaking through the woods.  Along the boardwalks were tiny guest cabins, and one shower and bath.  There were several of these side path levels, each lower down the ever steeper hill.  At the bottom, the stairs ended in a landing, from which you could clamber down to the water.  Icy cold in October, when we were there, it was a rite of passage to go down to the sea and skinny dip in the frigid water in the wee hours of the morning.
Everything shrank of course.  My room-mate at the time met me on my way back to our room and poked me in the arm and hip.  "You skin," he said.."its all....consolidated."  Indeed, I bet I could have fit into a much smaller outfit after a dip in that water.
This wild and difficult location made for spectacular views, interesting and charming guest accommodations.  Sometimes the most difficult sites result in the very best living spaces.


We have a friend in Florida.  She worked hard and accumulated a good nest egg.  But the current economy was not kind to her, and the insurance rates after hurricanes made it worse.  She had to sell one of her houses there.  She had rented one and lived in the other.  She did not have a lavish lifestyle, but she did live well.  Her house was always clean and attractive with a number of family heirlooms.  She could not sell her house for a long time, and it was weighing on her budget.  She did not know what she was going to do if she did not get what she wanted from her house. 
My advice to her was to build small, or find a tiny house with a beautiful  little garden.  She would not have the square footage, but she could lavish the best finishes, the finest furniture and the most elegant decorations on a very small space.  She could live like a royal in a small space in that way, and her friends would always enjoy visiting there.  Also, the maintenance would be minimal as she got older.
This is also my advice to you. 
Remember that a big Italianate house with rooms the size of a small house or a big suburban modern house, costs a fortune to heat.  You would spend a year's salary to put up Gracie hand painted oriental wall paper in a room that size, but if you are looking at 12x12 rooms, even the most precious silks and hand made furnishings and antiques and floor coverings suddenly become possible because the scale is so much smaller.  Remember too, that if you want to live in an elegant space, you only need one beautiful object to set the tone of a space, while filling the rest of a space with basic and utilitarian furnishings using good neutral colors etc. to blend with your treasures..

Lets just build something, shall we?

There is a ton that we should talk about before we get to a serious house.  But, I think that if we just forge ahead, we can do a little, or in this case a not so little project to get started.  We can discuss new issues as they arise, and perhaps that is the fastest way to learn.  I think we should start with the little woodland pavilion.  This would be a great start for someplace to sleep while getting your real house together or a place to store tools while you work on other projects.  It could be a little poet's house, where you could write or draw, or even make music in privacy.  It could be a romantic woodland bedroom, with a large branch hanging from the ceiling, wrapped with Christmas lights to be a chandelier.  Put a lovely canopy bed out there with candle sconces on all the walls or on candle stands like 250 years ago, or put all you need for a simple lifestyle- get away from it all for the summer(or winter) or the school year away at university.  It could also be a place to get your kid out of your house because all he wants to do is sit and play video games at full volume.
I will make a plan that will have three variations.  In one there will be a window on the side and back walls and a glass door on the front.  In the second, you can put a stationary window in the back, like a salvaged church window, or modern stained glass panel.  In the third, there will be just a plain solid wall to place a bookcase or headboard against.
Thomas Jefferson lived in a similar sized house on his Monticello for a couple of years while he built his famous mansion there.  I have no idea where he stored his electronic equipment, but surely you can find a way with all our modern advances.  He installed a tiny spiral staircase in one corner to access the basement which, since it was built on a slope, was a daylight walkout.  But he brought his wife to live in this tiny space.  If he could stand it,(or perhaps the better phrase is: if she could stand it.... so can you. 

 Take a look at this tiny house on Youtube:

Begin with your site and foundation.

Take note of drawings of all steps included below the text.

You have chosen a site which is higher than the rest of the terrain on your land.  As we are going to build this 12x12 foot "house" on Sonotube or several stones in the colonial manner, you should not site this on a precipitous slope, cantilevered over open space etc, unless you are prepared to put in the appropriate foundation.
I do not like high posts supporting a house.  It is a good idea to have access to the underside of your building, but building too high off the ground, especially in areas where there is plenty of wind, can cause severe strain on the concrete posts from twisting and buffeting.  I will talk about building off the ground slightly and back filling and using a colonial style perimeter to the house site.  That will give you easy access to the underside of the house while keeping you close to the ground as possible.  Also, when you are close to the ground, it is wise, if you live in termite areas, to take appropriate precautions.  See your county extension office.
We in the north-eastern part of the country have deep frosts.  While there may be a trend for warmer winters, it is best to work with the worst case scenario.  Plan on 48 inches deep for your foundation footings.  Again, local county extension offices will help you adjust for your area.  When in doubt, always error on the side of caution.  Soil type will also alter the requirements.  You may be trying to avoid local authorities, so again, always error on the side of caution and go deep, then you cannot be challenged if discovered later.  Do your best to build to code or better.

You need to plan on support under all four corners, and along the walls under each side of the windows and doors. They need not be directly under the windows and doors, but spaced evenly around the perimeter of the sills so that those locations are well supported.  Since the openings will be centered on each wall, I would place the posts about at every third of the distance.  The center of the corner support posts should be just in from the actual corner, and the centers of the side Sonotubes should allow for bolting through as well.  You should place anchors protruding from the concrete in such a way that they will extend through the sills in order that washers and nuts can be screwed on to hold the building down.  If this is a building that is likely to be moved, this may not be an issue, but I am afraid that building inspectors will insist.
We will be building a 12x12 building, and it is probably heavy enough that only a tornado would move it, but better safe than sorry.  If you omit the anchors because of plans to move the building, you should anchor it as soon as a permanent location is chosen, and access to the sills for this purpose should be planned on.  Tall baseboards (a good idea for a nice interior look anyway) and a border of planks picture framed around the perimeter of the floor as a decorative feature will cover any work you have to do to access the sills.  The floor planks would be a wonderful place to splurge on fabulous hardwoods...Birdseye maple and walnut alternating would really make the room. Plain hardwood, cork, bamboo or tile would fill in the field.  Small tiles will be better than large if the possibility of movement is there.  Large tiles will crack with just the slightest movement of the sub floor.

Dig down 48 inches at each post location. Use an auger, back hoe auger, post hole digger, shovel etc..  I am planning on 12 inch Sonotube for each post.  If you have spare lumber, you can construct square forms to pour the concrete into.  This would absolutely require you to remove the wood before burying it as the wood extending right up to the sill might encourage bugs.  Sonotube can be peeled back or left to rot off in time.
You may build a form on the bottom of your very flat bottomed hole, 2x2 feet, and about 10 inches tall.  Alternately, Sonotube and competitors sell forms to make a footing in sort of a squared bell shape.  Once concrete is poured and just starting to firm, for the footing, immediately put your Sonotube in place and fill that as well.  Work quickly. Be prepared.  Make sure that the tube is vertical using a level and it is a good idea to secure the tube in place by burying it while it is held in place, or a couple of lengths of wood are nailed or stapled horizontally to the outside of the tube and extend to the surrounding ground to hold it in place with stakes.  Two people working together will help.  As the footings are being poured one by one, the second person might be preparing the Sonotube or forms for the next step as you progress around the building.

Note:  Do not put a pier under a door.  You might try putting a pier under each side of the door if you wish, for stability.  If you do have some sort of foundation under the door, do not put an anchor bolt or threaded rod under the door as it will only have to be removed to put in the door sill...

As you finish pouring the first post, a mark should be made on the outside of the tube to indicate the level of the concrete.  As soon as the form for the second is prepared, your home made TUBE LEVEL or very long level should be held between the two Sonotubes to determine the correct filling height for the second post, and so on.  You could of course, fill the tube to the very top, and make each form exactly level with the others before you pour. Always check back to the first post as well.  Tiny errors get worse and worse if you only check against the last one poured.  If you are using a long level, check level twice.  After the first try, turn the level over (end to end) so you discover if your level is off a bit.  This is quite possible, especially if your level has had a hard life.  Also the shorter the level, the less accurate.
Starting with the footing, you may stand rebar into the wet concrete in such a way that it extends up into the future location of the Sonotube.  Perhaps three or four would be good.  Do not place these in such a way that they are exposed to the air or soil.  This could start rust on the rebar.  Rust expands metal, and the expanding rebar could crack your foundation in time.  You might also bend a piece of rebar into a square, and submerge it into the footing horizontally while still wet.

Notice the void and seams from pouring improperly

Remember that as you pour cement, you must poke down into the mix with long sticks or a piece of rebar as you pour to encourage any bubbles and voids to fill in or rise to the surface.  Try to mix enough concrete to fill an entire tube at a time if possible, if you must break the pour, work as fast as possible to mix more so that there will not be a seam dividing the two pours.  If someone is helping you, they should be starting the next batch as soon as the last batch is in your wheelbarrow and heading for the pour.  If you have to leave a pour un-finished  I would say it would be best to dig it out and start over unless it is in an unimportant and light weight location.
When the pour is complete, place anchor bolts into the concrete, 5 1/2 inches from the outside edge of the pier,  just as it starts to firm up a bit, or suspend the bolt into the concrete by screwing it at a right angle, through a drilled hole in a piece of scrap wood that will rest on the top of your form as the concrete hardens. Then, just unscrew the piece of wood to free it when ready to continue.
Cover the exposed part of the concrete piers with plastic sheeting squares or garbage bags upside down over the tops of the forms to allow it to cure slowly rather than drying quickly, and to avoid heavy rain or freezing.  A little dampness is a good thing as it cures, but not a beating rain while it is still early in the process..
Be patient.  The inside of the Hoover Dam is still curing all these years after the pour.  It takes time, and will become stronger if you give it that time.  Perhaps this is a good time to finish your work for one weekend, and do the next stage the following week.  Alternatively, since we know the exact dimensions of the wall panels, you could construct them on the ground over a few days while you give the concrete a chance to cure without weight on it.
If you have a yen for the colonial way, but want the stability of deep footings, fill your Sonotubes to just above ground level, plus or minus a bit for the varying thickness of the stones you plan to use under the sills, then lay the stones on top before constructing the sills.  If the stones are large, you need them off the ground slightly so that frost will not lift them off your posts.  Grass and low plantings will cover the gap, and it will look like the building is resting just on the stones.  Be prepared with a cold chisel to chip off layers of stone to lower it to level.  You will not have the option of using anchors in the concrete unless you are into drilling through the stones.  You can purchase ground anchors as a substitute.  These are a bit like the anchors that you use to tether a dog on the lawn etc.  This will absolutely be inferior.  If you are doing a larger building and want the stones to be visible, you may have to rig something up yourself that will do both jobs.  Email and we can discuss it.

When your foundation is in, strip off the upper ends of the Sonotube paper, or remove the board forms for the cast piers.  After back filling the holes, fill the entire area under the building to the top of the piers with coarse gravel.  The closer to the bottom of your sill and floor joists, the less likely an animal is likely to try to get in.  You cannot make this fool proof.  A mouse will get into a hole the size of a dime, and if it is not provided with a hole it will make one.  But raccoons might say: "This is just too much trouble for me."  I have often thought that a layer of flashing on the under side of the floor joists, sealed with silicone, or sheets of galvanized metal or even copper if I was rich, might just keep most pests out of the insulation under the house.  Spray foam insulation might work out well too.  Allow the gravel to spill out onto the surrounding earth on a slope.  When construction is complete, flat stones laid on this slope will allow water to drip from the eaves, then bounce the droplets outward instead of back up onto your sills and wooden trim.  This is an old colonial trick, and it works too.

Just an aside....
Another colonial trick is to build a series of X shaped crosses of wood that will straddle the ridgepole of your roof.  A "V" troth made of lumber is laid into the resulting cradles to form a sort of gutter. The ends of the troth are blocked with wood as well.  Fill this troth along the ridgepole with lime.  The rain will over flow the troth on a regular basis, dissolving a bit of lime and allowing it to soak the wooden roof shingles as it trickles down.  The roof will last much longer, look fresher and lichen and moss will hate it.

Making Space Saving Partition Walls 1

Just a little warning.  When this or any joined wooden construction is assembled, leave the joints a little tight in the Summer as it is likely to have expanded in the moist atmosphere.  In the Winter, make sure the assembly is quite loose as the winter dryness makes the wood smaller.  The length of a piece of wood does not change dramatically, but the width and thickness can change significantly.  Keep tabs on the humidity trends before doing fine construction in wood.  Also, very wide boards can split out nails and pegs as the expand or contract.  It is wise to minimize nails and pegs in very wide boards.

Anyone who has worked with a small space will realize what a blessing it would be to reduce the thickness of a wall from 4 1/2 inches to 3/4 of an inch.  Cut door openings out of it, and simply put door casings on either side of the opening like bread on a piece of cheese in a sandwich.  Use a thin door made from the pieces you carefully cut out of the opening, with beveled battens screwed to one side to keep it rigid and to hold the panels together.
A jointer would make this a much easier job, but those are not an easy purchase to make.  You might try applying to an industrial arts teacher at a local school.  Curiously, specialized hand planes would also make this easier though hand work is increased.

Here is a quick sketch....Sorry I don't have a drafting table set up...I think the boards are a bit warped!...of how to make Feather Edge Paneling.  In old houses, especially from the 18th century, these might have been applied as a wall covering, as the paneling horizontally or vertically under the chair rail, or vertically as a true partition wall.  We are using slightly thinner wood these days and if a true colonial look is desired, the planks would be better if the surface were planed lengthwise with a slightly curved blade.  That is probably impractical for most people today.
The tongue should be nearly a sharp edge, and the tongue should fit loosely into the groove.  When the wood expands and contracts, you do not want the swelling tongue to split off part of the plank that it fits into.

1.  Start with random width pine planks.  I would think that you should use the widest you can lay your hands on.  Nothing less than 8 inches up to the widest possible.  Do mix the widths, they would have. Keep in mind that the planks must be securely fastened no matter where you apply them as the wider ones will want to warp a bit as they dry.

2.  Start by ripping a 1/8 inch deep groove about 2 inches from the edge of the board. Try all these measurements on a scrap before doing it with your good boards.

3.  Standing the board on edge, and getting another set of hands to keep it steady, bevel cut from the depth of the groove to the edge of the plank at about the 3/8 to 1/2 inch mark.  Build a jig to steady the plank at the correct angle.

4.  On the opposite face of the plank, plane down the edge or use the saw again, to form a nearly sharp edge.  It may be as little as an inch from the start of the bevel to the edge, as this side is the less decorative side of the panel if it will show at all.

5.  Start with the opposite edge of the same boards.

6.  On the other edge of the board, use a quarter inch bead router blade to cut a bead the entire length of the plank.  Clamp a few boards together to form a flatter surface for the router to ride on, just to keep it steady.  Notice the detail in the drawing even if it is amateurish.  That is the correct profile, though others did appear and would look just as nice if not trying to be historically correct.

7.  Stand the board on edge again, and rip a 1/4 inch deep groove in the edge of the plank with one pass on the saw.  you may also run the groove at just a bit off the mark, then turn the plank around to run it through from the other direction to get it slightly wider.  NOTE...Do all of the boards you intend to use at once.  You do not want to be trying to reset these angles and widths for more boards and have them look exactly the same. 

7.  The top of a partition was often not finished at all, just nailed to the unseen side of a beam, but you may secure them the same way at the top and bottom if you like, and even finish them off with crown moulding and baseboards.  Nail a simple moulding to the floor, following the line of the intended partition.  You could use any moulding you like, keeping in mind that you will be washing floors, banging a mop against them etc.  Half round will do, a simple ogee or shoe moulding...whatever you like.  Secure to the floor with finish nails, or use reproduction cut nails.  With cut nails, you must pre-drill the holes, and perhaps wiggle the drill bit along the length of the grain so the hole is oblong at the surface, and the wide part of the nail must follow the grain of the wood if it is not to split the moulding.  Space them closely together as this will strengthen the wall.  Stand the planks up from ceiling to floor against the first moulding, making sure the tongues are engaged into the grooves.  Place and nail the second moulding, baseboard etc. on the opposite side.

If you have cut the groove properly, the inside or less decorative side will be almost flush, with just a bit of the bevel showing that leads into the groove.

Correct fit and two variations.

These walls were almost never raw wood or stained etc.  They were almost always painted with flat milk paint.  However since this is your as you please.  Use wood with a minimum of knots along the worked edges, but they would have ignored a couple of small knots here and there in an average house.
You could also do this in a nice native hardwood if you have the skills...walnut...cherry...birdseye maple? figured hardwoods can be a nightmare to work, so be careful.

Space Saving Partition Walls 2

Just a little warning. When this or any joined wooden construction is assembled, leave the joints a little tight in the Summer as it is likely to have expanded in the moist atmosphere. In the Winter, make sure the assembly is quite loose as the winter dryness makes the wood smaller. The length of a piece of wood does not change dramatically, but the width and thickness can change significantly. Keep tabs on the humidity trends before doing fine construction in wood. Also, very wide boards can split out nails and pegs as the expand or contract. It is wise to minimize nails and pegs in very wide boards.

I get some great ideas from Alfred Hitchcock.  This has not resulted in any murders...YET, but time will tell. 
If you have ever seen the movie: "To Catch a Thief", with Cary Grant and Grace Kelley, then you will perhaps remember the villa on the hillside above the Riviera coast where Cary Grant lived.  In this villa, there was a wrought iron staircase leading to a landing.  On this landing was a wall that separated his bedroom from the rest of the villa.  It was no more than a raised panel wall, of only one thickness.  Raised panel woodwork is done no better than in France.  This particular wall was probably made from Chestnut, though Pecan and Fruit wood come to mind.  Unfortunately, fruit woods are rare in wide boards. In this country we could use Walnut or Cherry, or Birdseye, Curly or Tiger Maple.  I go for the medium browns myself.  If your pocketbook does not stretch into the hardwood range, knotty pine would be wonderful if stained to a nice Punkin orange(a colonial and 19th C product) or even pickled.  Paint with diluted white paint, allow to sit a moment and wipe it off.
Well, why not put this to use here in our limited space.

Now is a good time to discuss the Golden Mean.  this is a ratio of length to width of a rectangle, building facade, etc., that is particularly pleasing to the eye.  Basically, if you are making a book case to stand against your wall, the ideal proportions would be: (if you are going to your 8 foot ceiling, just choosing a round number for conveniences sake,) 8 feet high by about 5 feet wide.  the ratio, rounded off to a convenient number is 1 to 1.61 as an ideal relationship of height to width.  This can be applied to many design decisions.  How about height of chair rails in relation to wall height, shapes of panels on a door or a wall in this case, window height to width...all sorts of things.  keep it in mind when designing this wall. 
Also, it is a good idea to look at all sorts of old paneled walls and doors in antique houses in your area.  And remember too, that such research issues should be a pleasure to research rather than a chore.
If you have the resources, do not forget that you could easily go to a building materials salvage yard and buy half a dozen identical doors and make a wall from them!  this is true of all sorts of building materials, from fireplaces and windows to sinks and toilets.
Draw a design on paper of the size and shape of panels and how the wall will fit into the wall opening.
the ends will be an issue if you make a mistake, but remember you can place mouldings in the corners next to adjacent walls to fill gaps or to minimize a too wide board.
Basically, this is a very simplified paneled wall.  I do not intend to teach you to make the real thing here.  That is just beyond my powers of description, and there are a number of sources for designs for fine woodwork.  No, this is a Pseudo raised panel wall.

Just a snip of the wall from "To Catch a Thief"
The panels are large full height rectangles probably in chestnut wood. 
The door is the panel on the right.

You will need an upright board for the ends of the wall at right and left,  there will be upright boards dividing the raised panels all along the wall.  you will have to design this wall and determine the correct number for your wall once you know how this works.  there will be top and bottom horizontal panels in each gap between the upright boards, dividing horizontals between each raised panel, and finally the raised panels themselves.

You must be very careful, though not anal about you design, as it must really all be cut out before you assemble it.  The end boards can wait for last as they might be the parts that have the greatest variables.

The upright boards will have a groove cut the length of the edges of the boards.  This should be about 1/4 of an inch wide, and about as deep.  Try to make this dead center on the edge.  You can do this by setting your rip fence on a table saw 1/4 of an inch from the rip fence with 1/4 inch of the blade exposed.  Test on a piece of scrap wood.  (if you live in a very dry or damp part of the country, or in an area where humidity varied wildly, you may want to do this 1/2 inch deep and alter the rest of the boards accordingly.)
Run the edge of the board through the saw with an extra pair of hands to help, then turn the board around and run it through with the other face of the board against the rip fence.  This should give you the 1/4 inch groove, centered.  Do this on all edges of all the upright boards.

Make a wider board for each end of the wall, but only groove one edge of each board.  these end boards may be shaved down a bit to fit as necessary.

If you will put a door in one of these walls, you will do a one grooved edge board for each side of the door, except from the top of the door to the ceiling where a solid board will fit above the door.
Make the door of a single raised panel framed by four boards.  See illustration.

Now you will have to measure the intended gap between the uprights, and add 1/2 inch.  these boards should be about the same width as the width of the uprights, or a bit narrower. 
using the same set up of the rip fence, run the ends of the boards, lying flat on their sides through the saw.  This will begin cutting the shoulders of a tenon on either side of the board.  See illustration.  Run the board through again, this time pulled slightly away from the fence to remove any remaining wood from the end of the tenon.  See illustration.
Now turn the boards on edge, and run them through as you did the uprights to make a groove on the edge of each, both edges.

Make a panel just like the other horizontals, about 1 1/2 times as wide for top and bottom, work the ends the same way, and do only one edge groove in each.

Now the raised panels.
Cut the panels 1/2 inch wider and 1/2 inch longer than the allotted space, to fit onto the grooves.  Set the rip fence 2 inches from the blade.  Run all four sides for the flat surface of the panels through the saw to form a sort of tic tac toe pattern of grooves.  now set the rip fence less that 1/4 inch from the blade, and tilt the blade away from the fence.  Measure the edge of the panels so that the blade will cut from the bottom of the groove you already cut to the edge of the wood, leaving a thin edge to go into the grooves of your wall boards.    Do at least one entire panel as a test before committing a good piece of wood to it. See the illustration. 
Run all of the panels on all four sides till the bevel of the edges are completed for all panels.

Note that doing the entire wall in the same size panels will reduce the headaches in designing this wall, but varying the sizes, like square at the top, rectangular in the middle and very long rectangular at the bottom, will make a very pleasing wall.

Sand everything then assemble the wall.

Using a moulding of your choice, glue and/or nail a moulding to the ceiling or a beam following the course of the intended wall.  Use a plumb bob or a washer attached to a thread to hang a line from the top moulding to locate the position of the floor moulding.  The flat sides of the mouldings should face the intended position of the wall.  Start at one end of the wall, but placing the first end board snug against the wall.  If the wall is uneven, you have two choices. 
1. You will either use a level to find the straightest upright course possible, and tack it in place top and bottom.  Later you will put a moulding over the gap against the wall. 
2. The second choice is to use a level to tack the upright board in place temporarily.  Using a compass, lay the pin side against the wall, and drag the compass down along the wall while the pencil side of the compass draws a line on the board.  Then cut the board to match the line, but work as close to the edge of the board as possible. 
If you are using the second method, you should be starting out with more board width than is needed to complete the entire wall.   When you cut the boards down to fit against the wall you should come close to the correct measurement for the wall width.  You can always take a bit more off either side or one to make it fit.  Good planning!!!

Now push the board as snug as possible to the wall, and against the mouldings top and bottom.
Tack in place with a couple of thin finish nails, partly driven through the board and into the floor and ceiling(or overhead beam), at an angle.
Next begin with one of the bottom horizontal pieces.  Slide the tongue into the groove of the upright and push it down against the floor.  Add a raised panel to the grooves in the bottom board and side board.  
Next add one of the two grooved horizontal boards.  Continue to the ceiling, ending with one of the single edged boards with the solid edge toward the ceiling.
Add a double grooved upright board against the stack of smaller boards, working the tongues into the grooves of the new upright.  Continue across the wall, ending with a single edged board against the opposite wall.  You may need to trim the last board or add a moulding against the wall as mentioned at the beginning of the wall. 
Make sure, if the weather is humid, that you have pushed everything as tightly together as possible.  If the weather is dry, do not push as snugly to allow for expansion in damp weather.
If all is together properly, finish nailing in all the finish nails that have been holding the boards in place.  Add a second moulding on the back of the wall at the floor and ceiling of the wall, and glue and/or nail into place snugly against the wall.
This will create a raised panel look at the front of the wall, and a more Shaker panel look at the back of the wall.
Sand everything and paint, varnish or wax.

If you have decided to put a door in the wall, end the wall with a single sided upright on either side of the future door opening.  Add a filler piece in the space over the door opening.  You may also have a transom window made to fit in the opening with four or five panes of glass, or even a single piece of stained  or textured glass or crafted stained glass panel. 
To do this, you must cut a groove in just the portion of the side boards that will hold the cross board, cleaning the groove out to fit the tongue at the bottom with a narrow chisel.  See illustration.
Put the three boards of the door casing on the side of the paneling that does not have the door swing.  The casing should be smaller by half an inch on the two sides and the top of the door, creating a lip for the door to catch on when it is closed. 
On the swing side of the door wall, just trim the edge with moulding or casing to fit exactly around the opening.
If you have good woodworking skills, make the door with the same panel pattern as the wall, using through tenons and and mortises.  If you do not have such skills, you may make the door to fit using two single edge grooved uprights and the panels and rails as you did with the rest of the wall.  You will then have to glue and nail solid boards, to the back side of the door to fit inside the casing of the back of the door.  This will hold the rails, panels and uprights together.   Rout a moulding around the entire back side of the door brace, either before applying it or after.  See illustration.

To be continued