Lucy consults with Builder Nic Howell on float house construction issues. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Lucy consults with Builder Nic Howell on float house construction issues. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Planet Alaska: A float house named Sea Pig

“I’ve always had a fascination with float house life.”

“I’ve always had a fascination with float house life. Living on the water, watching the seasonal on-goings in the harbor, sitting on the back deck on a sunny afternoon – enjoying a bevy with pals, leaning into the ebb and flow of harbor life.”

The ebb and flow of building a float house in Wrangell is challenging, but Lucy Moline-Robinson is doing just that. In fact, this Wrangellite’s dream is to live a different kind of life. “Living in a float house creates a bit of inconvenience, and I like that. I don’t want to live a life of convenience. I want a challenge — it reminds me that I’m alive.”

Fortunately, Lucy is familiar with a life reliant on living by the sea. Lucy was born in Washington state and spent her first 10 years living in logging camps throughout Southeast Alaska, with her dad, Steve Moline, and later in Wrangell with her mom, Deb, and adopted dad, Tyler Robinson.

Though Wrangell Island has always been home, after high school graduation Lucy left the island for college life in Colorado and Oregon but returned home to Wrangell to raise her young children. She’s now the recreation coordinator for the City of Wrangell Parks & Recreation Department.

Wrangell is the perfect place to build a float house, which is considered by some as alternative housing. Though small, the float house she’s building is 520 square feet and is not considered a tiny house. As far as construction, Lucy says, “She’s a bit heavier than we intended, so her name is Sea Pig.”

Not everyone can live in a floathouse or build one either. Lucy claims, “I will say that I’m pretty terrible at construction.” Her main role has been project manager and coordinator. She’s working with local businesses to ensure the float house project has the right equipment and services to get the construction completed. “I’m also paying the bills, making treats for those that lend an extra hand.”

One of many hurdles to building the Sea Pig is finding a place large enough to complete the project. Lucy doesn’t own property so she’s using Wrangell’s boatyard, Wrangell Marine Service Center, which is conveniently located in downtown Wrangell near both hardware stores. Once the float house is complete it’ll be launched with one of their two large travel-lifts. Though Wrangell has a large and accommodating boatyard, you pay for the space you utilize, including storing building materials. If you’re building on land, you must figure out how the float house will be launched.

Lucy says, “Finding a contractor in Wrangell is incredibly difficult. There is serious need for skilled labor within our community.” She eventually found Nic Howell and with his direction and skill the float house is taking shape. “Nic allows me to do a few things here and there, but I stay out of the way.” Also helping with the float house construction are her sons, Laven and Logan Ritchie.

Lucy’s float house was originally designed by Chris Buness and Steph Hatton, with Stik Build Homes. Envisioning her dream float house was a process. She spoke with locals who had experience living on a float house and spent hours researching sanitation systems, designs, floating systems and more. The float kit she eventually chose was constructed by Water and Woods out of Everett, Washington, and had to be shipped to Wrangell by barge and then constructed in the boatyard. “My floats are a plastic foam filled floats from Scottco Marine.”

When considering building a float house, weight and waterproofing are some of the most important factors, plus sanitation, plumbing, heating and electric. And that all depends on where you plan to locate the float house, because in a harbor you’ll have access to power and water and if you’re planning on towing the float house to remote areas, you’ll need a self-contained system. Lucy claims that having a combination of systems works best. The Sea Pig is wood construction with both rigid and batt insulation and inside it’s tongue & groove and ultra-light drywall. The exterior is tin, vinyl, and cedar siding with a deck made of treated lumber.

Lucy’s decision to build a float house evolved over time and eventually it became a philosophy about having less possessions and more experiences. She’d noticed that as people aged, they accumulated useless stuff which they shoved into their extra bedrooms, or garages and even in storage units. She liked the idea of owning very little. “In the end, it’s just crap that would have to be dealt with by my friends and family members when I die.”

Locals dissuaded her from taking on the challenge of building a float house. “People tend to shy away from challenges,” Lucy said. “They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to buy a big house or more property.” People also wondered where she was going to put all her things, but that was the point of the float house, to get rid of excess things and live simpler. The float house concept fits her lifestyle. “I’m passionate about staying healthy, finding ways to challenge myself and continued personal growth.” Lucy loves the outdoors and spends most of her time adventuring in the Tongass with friends and her dog, Chuck.

In fact, she sold her house to invest in building the Sea Pig. Some considered it a terrible investment, but Lucy sees it as an investment in a good life. “For me, it was the draw of living on the ocean. I love it, so it makes sense. I have also reduced my annual living expenses so I can afford to travel.”

Folks also tried to discourage her housing choice in other ways, mainly advice about what will happen when you grow older. “I was discouraged from building a loft because it would include stairs and I couldn’t put a bathroom right next to my bed.” Naysayers said she wouldn’t like walking up the dock in the winter, or she simply shouldn’t live in a float house because she was getting older. Lucy is in her 40s and makes it a priority in her life to stay fit and take good care of her health.

Despite all the obstacles and stresses of building a float house, she offers some advice for those seeking a different type of home. For those considering building a float house, first you should determine your living preferences. Is this going to be a main dwelling or something seasonal? Consider alternative ways to heat and power your floathouse. Also, the weight of every material you choose needs to be considered as does waterproofing. After all, it is a home on the sea in a rainforest.

When building a float house, every choice is crucial: “I chose the siding based on the resiliency of the tin, vinyl, and cedar. The float timbers are durable and waterproof, along with the treated decking. The large deck will be covered in the very near future, and I’ll eventually cover the back deck, to reduce the impact of rain and snow. I considered entrances in relation to the dock. Exterior lighting, as well.”

Also, when designing your float house, you have to consider how you’ll dump your waste. Lucy says the sanitation system was a major factor and she didn’t want to transport and dump waste, so she chose a macerating toilet. “The waste is chopped, then filtered through a saltwater brine before it’s eliminated, which means I don’t have a tank to dump.”

Throughout the construction Lucy has gained a solid set of project management skills. She’s especially more realistic about estimating the time it takes to do anything and the actual cost. “If I’m estimating the price of an item or supplies, I triple it, just to be safe.” She’s problem solved a lack of contractor, float house design issues, shipping issues, increased cost of supplies, the building location, floatation issues (She ordered more floatation due to excess weight), building material storage issues, and supply chain issues incurred due to the pandemic.

Fortunately, living on an island in Southeast Alaska makes one sensible. She chose an apartment size fridge and nixed the idea of a dishwasher. During the construction she made a few other changes, including adding a few more windows, and increasing the bathroom size to accommodate the hot water heater, washer dryer.

One of the main things you need to know before building a float house is that typically harbors in Southeast Alaska limit the number of liveaboards and float houses, so you must consider if there’ll be space for your dream float house. Lucy has a slip at Heritage Harbor. The Sea Pig will fit right into Wrangell’s character and lifestyle, and of course, the harbor life. “I love Wrangell for its quirky characters, immense beauty, and small-town charm. This community is resilient and gritty, and I admire that.”

Even the naysayers and the looky-loos have followed the float house’s progress. It certainly does look like a dream float house. “This project is a bit unique, so I think it’s drawn interest from the get-go.”

So, who’s planning on living in the float house with Lucy? Chuck, her old dog, and Mr. Buns, her house bunny, will both be living with her.

“They’re getting older and slowing down, so I think it’ll be a reasonable transition. The beach is nearby, which Chuck will love. Mr. Buns will enjoy exploring the new space and spending time on the covered deck.” The ebb and flow of float house life is about to begin with a launch date at the end of February or sometime in March. Soon, Lucy’s dream of living in the harbor on the Sea Pig is about to come true.

Lucy Moline-Robinson begins her dream float house construction in the Wrangell Boatyard. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Lucy Moline-Robinson begins her dream float house construction in the Wrangell Boatyard. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Mr. Buns, Lucy’s house bunny and dog Chuck wait for their new float house home. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Mr. Buns, Lucy’s house bunny and dog Chuck wait for their new float house home. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Float house supplies arrive in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

Float house supplies arrive in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Lucy Moline-Robinson)

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