I realized that I couldn't stay in that place another day. But a neighbor's guest house in the process of remodeling proved even more toxic. After one night here, I began having bad neurological symptoms. That started me on a summer of sleeping on porches, in performance spaces, un-carpeted offices, and couches. One afternoon, while venting to a co-counselor about the challenges I faced, and all the investment in my old apartment that I was abandoning, I said "I wish I could live in a Romany wagon." That way if a neighbor started spraying poison, I could drive away and take my house with me.
In the five years since then, I've done massive amounts of research. I learned about designing small spaces from tiny house pioneers at Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, and pored over floor plans, and books full of small shelters of every kind. But Tumbleweed's houses are build with standard materials: plywood and fir and pine boards, and they rely on propane for heat and cooking. Plywood outgasses formaldehyde, pine and fir have terpines, that nice piney smell of fresh cut wood that can cause respiratory irritation, and I don't tolerate propane.
While I began researching alternatives for the basic structure, I was also wrestling with the many possibly ways to move a small home around. The tiny house builders I consulted were designing homes that would move every so often, but I wanted to be able to travel, and it was clear to me that pulling a tiny house with a regular trailer hitch is not a safe way to live on the road. I looked at the motor home option, but it's very hard to strip all the toxic materials out of a motor home, and having the living quarters and the driving mechanism all in one unit means that some leakage of engine fumes is almost inevitable. The same went for bus conversions.
My next idea was to build inside a box truck. The motor would be more separated from the home than in a motor home or bus, and more stable than a trailer. But as I started looking into sustaianable fuel options, that became less and less appealing. If I built inside a box truck, I'd be stuck with that vehicle, and none of the current alternatives are practical for a big heavy truck. Electric vehicles don't yet have the horsepower or charging capacity to haul big loads long distances. Vegetable oil is for the young and able bodied. It takes a lot of work to make the oil into a fuel that won't gum up the engine, and I don't have the capacity. Biodiesel is not really available. What's marketed as biodiesel is usually 20% vegetable oil and 80% fossil fuel. And in much of the world, the idea of feeding corn to engines instead of people is akin to a war crime.
Vision Corp makes a hydrogen fuel cell big rig truck, (for $175,000) but although there's a tipping point in sight, no one has a functioning solar powered hydrogen generator yet. In the future I may be able to use a fuel cell truck with an on board solar generator, but that's not now.
So I finally decided on a 5th wheel or gooseneck trailer. It's more stable than a regular towing hitch, but has the advantage of being separate from the engine, has a bunk that sits over a pickup truck bed, adding a sleeping space to the original 24' floor plan, and the truck I use to pull it can be switched out when a more sustainable option comes on the market.
And rather than buying a flatbed trailer and building up a structure from scratch, I can buy a gooseneck trailer shell, made of 100% aluminum, with no structural wood at all. Stay tuned to learn the thinking behind my other decisions, and some of the choices that are still pending.