Author Archives: Donna Boyle Schwartz

About Donna Boyle Schwartz

Donna Boyle Schwartz is a well-known home furnishings writer and editor, working with leading magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years. Donna is vice president/creative director of DDS Enterprises, a consulting firm concentrating on editorial projects and original research; the company also operates a full-service recording studio specializing in archival audio restoration. An enthusiastic DIYer, she has a shed full of tools and a house full of projects. Check her out on Google+!

Bath Fans Do More Than Clear Odors

Since the bathroom is the most humid room in any house, a ventilation fan is the best defense against moisture-related problems—namely, mold and mildew.

Bathroom Fan Installation


Humidity is not only uncomfortable, it is damaging to your home, particularly indoors where it can lead to peeling paint, warped wooden doors and floors, and the potential for mold and mildew. Nowhere is the humidity problem more evident than in bathrooms, where bathtubs, showers, sinks and toilets all contribute to the release of moisture into the air.

Fortunately there is an easy solution within reach of most do-it-yourselfers: installing a bathroom ventilation fan. Bathroom fans are designed to promote positive air movement, bringing fresh air into the bathroom and at the same time, removing steam, humidity and even foul odors from the area.  In short, improving the overall air quality in your home.

“Since the bathroom is the most humid room in a house, having a ventilation fan is a no-brainer,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer Ventilation fans are designed to solve air movement problems and improve indoor air quality in homes and buildings. In many cases they are required by local building codes. “In the bathroom, a ventilation fan can quickly and efficiently whisk away odors, along with steam and moisture to reduce the potential for mold and mildew,” he adds.

Bathroom Fan Installation - Components

PB110 Premium Bath Fan (One Grille/Vent Only) from

Bathroom fans come in three basic types: ceiling-mounted, which are installed directly into the ceiling and ventilate into the attic or through the roof; inline/remote fans, where the actual fan unit is located in the attic and connected to a ceiling grille in the bathroom with ductwork, venting to the outside through the attic roof or wall; and wall-mounted/external fans, which are mounted on the exterior wall of the house.

Inline/remote fans offer several advantages over ceiling- and wall-mounted fans: because the fan unit is located in a different location, inline fans tend to be substantially quieter. Also, one inline fan can be connected to several ducts and therefore can be used to ventilate multiple locations—a shower and a tub for instance—or even multiple bathrooms.

The main goal of bathroom ventilation is to change the air, and most experts say an efficient fan should produce eight complete air changes every hour. Therefore, the capacity of bathroom fans is rated in cubic feet per minute (CFM), indicating how much air a particular fan can move. According to the non-profit Home Ventilating Institute a good rule of thumb is to use 1 CFM per square foot of bathroom area: for example, typical 8-by-10 foot bathroom comprises 80 square feet and therefore needs a ventilation fan rated at 80 CFM.

For bathrooms larger than 100 square feet, the HVI recommends installing ventilation based on the number and type of bathroom fixtures: for example, showers, tubs and toilets all require a fan rated at 50 CFM, while a whirlpool tub requires a fan rated at 100 CFM. Therefore, if you have a large bathroom with a whirlpool tub, shower and toilet, your total ventilation needs adds up to 200 CFM.

Bathroom fans come in varied models and sizes, and typically are rated for continuous duty. Since many homeowners today are concerned with energy efficiency, there are numerous fans that are rated as part of the U.S. Energy Star program; Energy Star-compliant fans use approximately 20% less energy than standard models. Some bathroom fans also come with timers, humidity/moisture sensors, motion sensors that turn on when someone enters the room, heaters and decorative lighting kits.

Online retailer has produced some helpful videos that can provide more information about how to choose the right product for your needs:

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Create a Restful Refuge with a Traditional Sleeping Porch

Though popular in the Victorian age, the sleeping porch had been virtually forgotten by the postwar period. Today, homeowners are rediscovering this practical and utterly charming architectural tradition.

Sleeping Porch

Photo: Seth Benn

As a youngster, one of summer’s great thrills was “sleeping out,” usually on someone’s deck or porch, but sometimes even on the garage roof—any place where a gaggle of girls might giggle into the hours past their regular bedtimes. All these years later, adults across the country are rediscovering the simple joy of being lulled to sleep by cool night breezes and chirping crickets.

Sleeping porches were extremely popular at the turn of the 20th century, when health professionals advocated sleeping outdoors as a way to bolster the immune system. And prior to the advent of air conditioning, sleeping porches were especially popular in the South and the West; it was cooler to sleep outside at night.

Sleeping Porch - Kids

Photo: Lands End Development

Queen Anne Victorians and Arts & Crafts-style homes both typically featured sleeping porches (in effect, screened decks or balconies). You’d often find sleeping porches adjacent to second- or third-story bedrooms, located on a corner to receive breezes from all directions. But many rural farmhouses had sleeping porches on the ground floor, and even some city apartments contained such spaces.

Today, sleeping porches are making a comeback. According to a 2008 survey from the National Association of Home Builders, 63% of new home buyers consider a screened porch either desirable or essential. Whether they wish for it to be a nighttime escape or a daytime refuge, homeowners are indeed returning to the comfort afforded by the once-abandoned sleeping porch.

Transforming a deck, balcony, or porch into a sleeping porch is a fairly simple project. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

• The space should be covered against the elements and for safety, it should have at least a low railing around the perimeter.

• If you live in an area where bugs abound in summer, it probably goes without saying that screens are essential. Many choose also to integrate fabric shades or awnings, which can be lowered for privacy.

• Furnishings should be casual, comfortable, and resistant to the effects of water and sunlight.

• Since sleeping porches often serve as living areas during the day, fill these spaces with versatile pieces that perform more than one function. One idea: A suspended bed doubles as a porch swing.

• Since the key to a comfortable sleeping porch is air circulation, consider adding a ceiling fan. For indirect lighting, you may want to include some table lamps or flameless candles.

The most important thing to remember about sleeping porches is that they are for rest and relaxation. So grab a good book, a cup of tea, and a soft pillow, and curl up for a calm, peaceful, and soothing respite from the stresses of the day.

Versatile Carpet Tiles Combine Convenience and Fashion

Long popular in office and industrial applications, recent years have seen carpet tiles appearing more and more fequently on the floors of homes around the country.

Carpet Tiles


Looking for an environmentally friendly floor covering that is fashionable, easy to install, and suitable for any room? Two words: carpet tiles.

You can lay these versatile modular carpet squares over almost any smooth, dry surface—sealed concrete, plywood, you name it. Unlike traditional carpeting, tiles do not require the use of nails, glue, or padding. Offered in a rainbow of chic colorations, trendy textures, and dazzling designs, they are washable and affordable to maintain.

Since their introduction in 1973, carpet tiles have come a long way. At first, they were only popular in office and industrial applications for many of the same reasons that homeowners and renters have grown to love them: less carpet cutting is required for installation (resulting in less waste); worn areas can be selectively replaced, and an integrated backing makes separate padding obsolete.


Carpet Tiles - Installation


In early 2000, Greg Colando, then president of a company specializing in carpeting for businesses, identified a need for a similar product to serve the consumer market. The company that emerged to meet the demand, FLOR, launched in 2003. Today, it provides smart choices to design-savvy, environmentally conscious consumers.

“Today’s carpeting and rug options are largely lifeless and unadaptable,” explains Colando, who now serves as FLOR’s president.

“FLOR carpet squares present a dynamic and vibrant alternative to conventional floor covering that offers endless possibilities for an earth-aware, transformational, and striking design.”

The company’s manufacturing processes use renewable energy sources and technologies; use a large percentage of renewable and recycled raw materials; and construct the product in a way that allows FLOR tiles to be taken apart so that face fibers and backing materials can be recycled.

Related: 10 Reasons to Love Bamboo Floors

FLOR also has an innovative Return & Recycle Program in which consumers return products for recycling. Translation: No FLOR product needs to end up in a landfill.

In addition, most styles meet or exceed Green Label Plus emission standards for indoor air quality from the Carpet and Rug Institute.

“Environmental consciousness is built into every sourcing, design, and production decision FLOR makes,” Colando says. “The company has developed ingenious ways to keep many discarded materials from ending up as trash and are finding new ones all the time, such as working with local partners from around the globe to turn discarded fishing nets into 100% recycled yarns for use in all new FLOR styles.”

19.7 inches on each side, these carpet squares may be installed in a wall-to-wall configuration or cut to virtually any shape or size. Both online and in stores, FLOR offers its own design services to help customers develop custom creations.

Ditch the Hose with a Drip Irrigation System

Conserve water in the garden with the installation of a time-saving drip irrigation system.

Installing a Drip Irrigation System


Tired of standing next to your planting beds, garden hose in hand? Concerned about getting too much water where you don’t need it and not enough where you do? The solution is simple: install drip irrigation.

Drip irrigation delivers water slowly and steadily to plant roots. It’s a system that, while discouraging the spread of weeds, prevents many of the problems that commonly result from overwatering, including soil erosion and puddling, plant disease and fungus growth.

You also save water; compared to conventional watering, drip irrigation uses 30% to 50% less. Best of all, drip irrigation means you can stop worrying about remembering to water. Set up your system with an automatic timer, then go out and enjoy your summer!

The basic components of a drip irrigation system are:

  • Faucet or valve tap that connects to a water source (e.g., an outdoor faucet or even a rain barrel)
  • Pressure regulator to reduce pressure so that water drips rather than sprays
  • Backflow preventer to keep water from returning to its source when the irrigation system is turned off
  • Filter to prevent dirt or particulates from entering the drip system
  • Hose/faucet connector to join the header hose to the water tap
  • Header hose or PVC pipe that brings water to the valves and drip hoses in the garden
  • Drip tubing or hose to run from the main line to the plants
  • Emitters/soaker hoses to deliver water to plants (alternatively, run soaker hoses from the main header hose or PVC pipe)
  • End caps to maintain water pressure and keep excess water from leaving the system
  • Controller/timer if desired to automate your irrigation system, if desired
Install Drip Irrigation - Diagram


If you wish to install drip irrigation, the first step is to plan out the placement of drip lines. Measure how much tubing you will need, for the main header hose as well as for the tubes that will run to the plants.

In addition to tubing, you must also account for the number of emitters and end caps required to achieve your site plan. Depending on what types of plants you have and their respective watering preferences, it may be wise to use different shut-off valves for different sections of your garden.

Most of the components needed to install a drip irrigation system are readily available. There are also many different kits you can purchase. A basic one typically starts at about $35 and will cover from 25 to 100 linear feet. More elaborate and larger kits can cost up to $300, but given the many benefits of drip irrigation, that seems like a small price to pay.

Use Awnings to Reduce Energy Costs in Summer

Reduce air conditioning costs, and beautify your home exterior in the bargain, by adding fixed, retractable, or portable awnings to your windows.


Homeowners looking to reduce air conditioning costs and shield interior furnishings from the sun’s harsh glare may want to consider adding awnings.

Fixed or retractable awnings can significantly reduce a home’s air conditioning usage in the summer, saving an estimated $200 or more annually, according to a study from the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA).

“The sun’s rays through glass are responsible for almost 20% of the load on your air conditioner,” says Michelle Sahlin, managing director of PAMA. “Awnings reduce direct solar gain through windows.” The study found that awnings not only save money for homeowners but also contribute to a reduction in demand for energy, making them an environmentally responsible choice for homeowners concerned about greenhouse gas emissions.

Related: Beat the Heat with These 10 Cool Outdoor Umbrellas

“People don’t realize that there are more eco-friendly ways to stay cool,” points out Byron Yonce, chairman of PAMA. “While turning up the air conditioner results in higher energy bills, awnings and shades work with the air conditioner to keep your home cooler and reduce the need for additional energy.”

The American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends that homeowners use “optimized and/or moveable external shading devices, such as overhangs, awnings, and side fins” to minimize a building’s heat load. A fabric awning reduces heat gain by 55% to 65% during those hours when the sun shines directly on southern-facing windows or glass doors. That figure jumps to between 72% and 77% for western exposures.

Photo: awninginfo.cocm

Several different types of awnings are commonly available, including portable, fixed, and retractable designs. One important benefit of the latter is that they can fold up in winter, allowing the sun’s rays to penetrate through windows and glass doors, reducing energy usage by contributing to the temperature indoors.

Some retractable awnings are motorized and can be retracted or extended with the push of a button. Manual styles use a simple pulley-and-cord system. Most awnings have variable settings, so they can be opened partially, fully, or halfway.

Awnings can be aesthetically pleasing, especially as homeowners may choose among an array of fashionable fabrics (woven, coated, laminated and mesh) and trendy colorations (solids, stripes, and patterns).

Most awning fabrics are treated with water-repellent, plus soil- and stain-resistant finishes. Some are treated with a flame retardant. Awning frames are typically constructed of either galvanized steel or aluminum.

If you are looking to cut down on air conditioning costs and beautify your home’s exterior, add an awning… and beat the heat!

Keep Your Home Cool, Dry, and Energy-Efficient With a Dehumidifier

Sure it's uncomfortable outside, but if you are sensing damp, sticky conditions indoors, it's definitely time to consider the benefits of a dehumidification system.

How Dehumidifiers Work


Hot and muggy summer weather outside can mean excess moisture inside. Mold and mildew, musty odors, condensation, warped wooden surfaces, and cracked, peeling, or blistering paint can all result from elevated humidity levels inside your home. And, when the air is damp and sticky indoors, you’re not the only one who senses it—so does your air conditioner.

“Excess moisture in your home can cause major issues over time,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert at online retailer “It can promote mold growth and the potential for respiratory ailments, and make your air conditioner work harder by having to cool damp, heavier air.” By removing excess moisture from the air, a dehumidifier can level the playing field and improve the overall comfort and health of your home. Because a dehumidifier uses significantly less energy than an air conditioner, installing either a whole-house system or a smaller unit can cut cooling costs; not only does the air conditioner not have to work as hard, but it also may run less often or at a higher temperature. According to the U.S. Energy Star program, a homeowner can save up to 6 percent on cooling costs for every degree the thermostat is turned up.

How Dehumidifiers Work - Diagram


Indeed, rising energy costs are one of the primary reasons for dehumidifiers’ growth in popularity: To conserve energy, today’s homes are built more tightly, but with less air exchange comes the potential for moisture buildup. By reducing that moisture, dehumidifiers can ensure a continuous flow of cool, dry air.

How does a dehumidifier work? A fan draws warm, humid air over a cold coil, which condenses the moisture into liquid; the water is removed via a drain pipe. The dry air then passes over a warm coil and is added back into the room. Dehumidifiers are controlled by an instrument called a dehumidistat, which turns the unit on and off depending on the amount of moisture detected in the air.

Dehumidifier capacity is measured in pints of water removed per 24 hours. The appropriate capacity for a dehumidification unit or system is determined by the size of the space and its conditions. For example, a closed, damp room, such as a basement, will require a bigger capacity unit than a large, open room with good air flow.

How Dehumidifiers Work - Honeywell

Honeywell's TrueDRY DR120 Whole-House Dehumidifier

Dehumidifiers come in a variety of models and sizes, ranging from large, whole-house models to smaller, portable units designed for individual rooms and problem areas, such as attics, basements, and crawl spaces. As with any appliance, the key is to look for an Energy Star-rated, high-efficiency unit that is sized properly for the space and conditions.

Honeywell’s TrueDRY line of dehumidifiers are all Energy Star rated and come backed by a five-year warranty. They can be centrally ducted for whole-house dehumidification or unducted for moisture control in attics or smaller crawl spaces. They also carry a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 11. (MERV ratings, which measure filter performance, range from 1 to 16; the higher the number, the better the air filtration.)

For more on the Honeywell TrueDRY Dehumidification system, including a video demo, visit


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The Meaning Behind GREEN

What do all of the green certification labels mean? Here's a helpful guide.


Our childhood pal, Kermit the Frog, had the right idea when he sang, “It’s not that easy bein’ green.” While Kermit may have meant being green literally, today his mantra takes on a whole new meaning, as environmentally-conscious consumers seek products and services that are better for the planet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being a “tree-hugger” from way back: so far back, in fact, that my first grade-school environmental cause—saving the wild mustangs—pre-dates the establishment of Earth Day in 1970.

But even a veteran environmentalist can run into a classification conundrum when confronted with today’s myriad claims. What, exactly, does it mean to be green? Fortunately, there are some umbrella certification agencies that offer home building and renovation guidelines for projects large and small. Consumers looking to “go green” can identify environmentally-friendly products by seeking out items with these logos or certification labels.

green labelThe first place for an ecologically-conscious do-it-yourselfer to begin is with the product category, as environmental certifications vary depending on the industry. Lumber and wood products, for instance, are certified by two primary agencies, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI.) Both of these agencies provide third-party certification that wood products come from forests that are managed and harvested in a sustainable way.

The FSC is an international organization founded in 1993 by a group of more than 100 environmentalists, land owners and manufacturers. FSC certifies and establishes guidelines for forests and how they are managed. Similarly, the SFI provides lumber producers with a set of forest management standards, and tracks lumber from the forest to the end use; there are currently more than 400 SFI-certified locations across North America.

Green Seal Certified LogoAnother widespread program, the Green Seal, is a certification program that covers a variety of home improvement products, including paints, coatings, stains and finishes; windows, doors, awnings and related adhesives; and household cleaning products. Green Seal certifies that products meet the highest standards of environmental quality and performance; the non-profit agency operates under the international guidelines for environmental labeling programs, ISO 14020 and 14024, set by the International Organization for Standardization.

Green LabelOn the softer side, the Carpet and Rug Institute features the Green Label and Green Label Plus certifications covering carpeting, rugs, cushioning materials and related adhesives. Products bearing these labels have been tested to ensure that they have very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can adversely affect indoor air quality.

Other home textiles products, including curtains, draperies, furniture coverings and mattresses, are tested and certified by the European testing organization Oeko-Tex. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is an international testing and certification system limiting the use of harmful chemicals in textiles products. Two organizations are helpful when dealing with large projects, such as whole-home renovations or new construction: The U.S. Green Building Council and the National Association of Home Builders. Many of the current environmental certification programs are an outgrowth of the efforts of these two groups.

Green LabelThe U.S. Green Building Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. LEED-certified buildings are designed to use resources more efficiently and provide healthier living and work environments when compared to conventional buildings simply built to code.

Founded in 1998, the USGBC has nearly 20,000 member organizations and has certified more than 7,000 projects in the U.S. and 30 countries, covering more than 1.501 billion square feet of development. According to the group, LEED arose from building owners and developers’ desire to have a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. To this end, the USGBC established the Green Building Certification Institute, which offers a series of exams allowing builders, contractors and other individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system.

Somewhat more recently, in 2007, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a nationally recognizable standard definition of green building, the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. This standard defines green building for single- and multi-family homes, residential remodeling projects and site development projects.

Green LabelThe group also offers NAHBGreen, a comprehensive set of educational resources, advocacy tools and standards. Certification is provided by the NAHB Research Center, a qualified and independent third party. The group offers Certified Green Professional (CGP) and Master Certified Green Professional (MCGP) designations for home building professionals who have demonstrated expertise in green building.

These certifications and the accompanying labeling can help consumers sort through sometime-confusing environmental claims and hopefully, make it just a little bit easier to be green… just like Kermit.

Care and Cleaning Keep Wicker Wonderful

A popular choice for spaces indoors and out, wicker furniture and accessories can provide years of comfort and enjoyment if properly maintained.

Wicker Care


Wicker furniture and accessories are very popular choices for living spaces both outdoors and in. Comfortable, sturdy, and attractive, wicker comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, making it complementary of countless decorating schemes.

A natural product, wicker is a weave of reeds and plant fibers and as such, it requires specialized care to looks its best. Some approaches may be used on all types of wicker, while others are suitable for either outdoor or indoor pieces only.


• Remove any cushions and clean them separately, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, as proper care varies by fabric type.

• Regular dusting with a soft cloth, microfiber duster, or feather duster helps keep any type of wicker looking great.

• For heavier dust, use a small soft-bristled paintbrush; to remove dirt from those crevices where wicker meets the furniture frame, switch to an old toothbrush.

• Regularly clean wicker furniture with the brush attachment of your vacuum, being sure to set the suction to its lowest level to avoid causing damage.

• Wicker pieces need a more thorough cleaning once or twice a year. Moisten a microfiber cloth or terry towel (or even a clean sock) with warm water, then gently rub the wicker surface, top and bottom.

• For heavier dirt and stains, wipe with a cleaning cloth that’s been lightly moistened with warm water and mild soap; wipe again with plain water.

• To eliminate mold or mildew, wipe with a mixture of 25% white vinegar and 75% water, then wipe again with plain water.

• Before replacing the cushions, allow wicker to dry thoroughly in the sun; alternatively, use a hair dryer to hasten the process.

Wicker Care - Detail



• An effective all-purpose cleaning solution for outdoor wicker furniture is 1/4 cup of liquid dish soap and two cups of warm water. Wipe the wicker with a soft cloth or sponge, then rinse away the soapy suds with a garden hose. For mold and mildew removal, add one cup of white vinegar to the solution.

• For tough dirt and stains, use the same solution in combination with a soft brush; an old toothbrush will help you get into the nooks and crannies. Afterward, make sure to rinse thoroughly with plain water and dry thoroughly.

• When outdoor wicker is extremely dirty, use a hand steam-cleaner. Once you’ve steam-cleaned the entire piece, dry it thoroughly with a hair dryer (otherwise, wicker might bend or become deformed). For the very best results, steam-clean wicker furniture on a sunny, windy day to ensure quick drying.

Related: Wicker Gone Wild: 10 Easy Ways to Transform Old into New


• Avoid damaging wicker furniture by being careful not to press too hard on its slats.

• If you have damaged or broken slats, make repairs with wood glue, allowing ample time for the glue to dry before continuing to clean. Of course, if the damage is extensive, you may have to take the piece to a professional.

• Do not use a stiff brush, a steel wool pad, or any harsh abrasives on wicker. Doing so could severely damage unfinished, natural wicker and could remove the protective finish from a lacquered piece.

• Never saturate or let water pool on wicker, as moisture can result in either spotting or deformity, or both.

Just a modicum of regular maintenance and cleaning will ensure that your wicker furniture and accessories provide many years of comfort and enjoyment.

Would You Live in a Tiny House Village?

The tiny house movement is poised to make a leap forward, with a village development planned for Sonoma County, CA.

Tiny House Village


When is a trailer park not a trailer park? When it’s being designed and developed by nationally recognized small-space living pioneer Jay Shafer. Shafer and his Four Lights Tiny House Company are currently planning a “tiny village” development for Sonoma County, CA.

“The best way to have and use a small house is in a community with other small houses, because that way you can take advantage of many shared amenities,” Shafer explains. “Not everyone needs to own a washer and dryer, for instance, or a lawnmower. It makes a lot of sense for owners of tiny houses to combine resources, which is what we are proposing.”

Related: 11 Tiny Houses We Love

Shafer has been an advocate of the tiny house movement since 1997, when he founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, a firm that designs and builds homes as small as 65 square feet. The planned village extends the tiny house concept to include shared amenities and a close sense of community.

[Ed: In July, 2011, we covered Shafer's Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in Downsizing with Style.]

The development, whimsically dubbed the Napoleon Complex, takes inspiration from quaint old-world villages. Shafer describes the design as having “a very organic layout, featuring winding paths and winding streets.”

He adds, “We are trying to create a sense of community and containment, a sense of being protected, similar to being in a small village in Tuscany.” All of the homes will face the walkway-lined interior of the development, while parking and delivery areas will be located behind the homes.

Tiny House Village - Plan

Village Plan from Four Lights Tiny House Co.

Upon its completion in 2015, the complex will feature 12 to 20 tiny homes situated on a total of two to five acres. Each home, ranging from 120 to 400 square feet, will have a private garden plot and private storage area. Lot sizes are expected to be between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet.

Smaller units are expected to sell for approximately $35,000, with larger units priced up to $90,000. Owners will pay a fee to maintain the shared spaces and amenities.

“The concept is very much based on the idea of homeownership, with everyone owning their own tiny house and their own piece of property,” Shafer says. “People always take care of a space better when they actually own it.”

Local officials have expressed enthusiasm for the project, according to Shafer. To be in accord with zoning requirements, the development is to be classified as a trailer park. “Housing regulations typically require homes of a certain minimum square footage, while the trailer industry does not have these minimums,” Shafer explains. “By designating this as a trailer park, we can work with local zoning to make sure that the community is in compliance.

“Yes, we are calling this a ‘trailer park’, but it will be like no other trailer park you’ve ever seen,” Shafer adds. “Most trailer parks are built fast, cheap, and out of control. Here, we are taking the concept and making it a high-end location for people who want to downsize their homes and simplify their lives. We are not just creating a place for people to stay; we are creating a beautiful community.”

Let the Sun Shine In: DIY Solar Projects for the Average Homeowner

If you're intrigued by the prospect of powering your home at least partly via the sun's rays, experiment with smaller DIY solar projects to get familiar with the principles and technologies involved.

DIY Solar


Interested in solar power but not sure where to start? Solar panels are becoming increasingly available to the average homeowner. To integrate solar energy into your personal power grid, there are a number of easy and inexpensive projects you can undertake.

Related: 12 Ways to Put Your Home on an Energy Diet

Perhaps the most accessible is creating a small backup power system, the type of contingency you might use to run lights and small appliances in the event of a power outage. The basic components are:

DIY Solar - Home Depot Kit


  • a photovoltaic panel to collect the sun’s energy and generate the electricity
  • a storage battery
  • a charge controller to keep the photovoltaic panel from overcharging the battery
  • an inverter that converts the battery power into usable, 120-volt alternating-current (AC) power

Components may be purchased separately or bundled together as part of a complete kit. On sale from speciality online retailers and major home improvement chain stores, kits run the gamut in price from $300 to $6,000. If that seems expensive, consider that for the average household, a whole-home solar array usually costs between $20,000 and $30,000.

You can put together a small system to generate 800 watt hours for approximately $250. A setup of this size will power a 7-watt LED light for more than 100 hours or a 20-watt LCD television for 40 hours (or both the light ant TV for 30 hours). Under direct sunlight, the battery fully recharges in 16 hours.

A larger solar kit, one that generates about 2,200 watt hours, sells for just shy of $1,000. It will power a 7-watt LED light for 314 hours, a 20-watt LCD television for 110 hours, or a 50-watt refrigerator for 44 hours (or all three appliances for 29 hours). Charging takes about 7 hours in optimal conditions.

Most backup solar power systems use 12-volt lead-acid batteries. Always charge them in a well-ventilated area, using the same precautions you would with a car battery (i.e., protective eyewear and gloves are recommended).

Another inexpensive DIY solar project is a passive solar water heating system. You can assemble one from easy-to-find recycled components: a discarded electric water heater tank, an insulated plywood box (to house the tank), used window glass or clear plastic sheets, along with some pipe and insulation. Plans are not hard to come by, and the total price for the project typically does not exceed $100.

DIY Solar - Water Heating System


Passive solar water heaters are great for outdoor applications, such as outdoor showers. A salvaged water heater tank is set into an insulated plywood box. The box, in turn, is covered with recycled window glass or molded plastic, either of which focuses the sun’s rays, warming the water in the tank. An incoming water hose goes into the bottom of the tank, while from the top of the tank, an outgoing hose draws off the sun-warmed water. And there you have it—for virtually pennies, a terrific way to rinse off after a dip in the pool!