Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

5 Things I Got Totally Wrong About Tiny Houses

Having been involved with tiny houses for over 6 years now, having built my own tiny house, and now living in it, I’ve realized something: I got a few things really wrong. Some were assumptions I made about living in them, some of them were about the lifestyle, and some of them were about building them. So here are 5 things I got totally wrong.


1. I thought it was about the house, it’s not

When I first started with tiny houses, I was in love with the house, the design, the materials, and all the appointments. Now that I’m living in my house I realize that was so wrong; it has absolutely nothing to do with the house. It has everything to do with the lifestyle. The truth is, a tiny house is just another thing you buy, under the guise of breaking away from consumerism. But the break is not from the diminutive dwelling, it is in the mental separation from conspicuous consumption.

2. I thought I couldn’t buy things

Long before I found myself in the tiny house realm I was a big consumer. I loved gadgets and tech. Once I started going down the path of tiny houses I thought that portion of my life – and somewhat, my identity as a nerd – needed to come to a close, but I was all right with that because the benefits outweighed the “costs”. But then I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t have the things I wanted, I just needed to be more intentional about them; in reality, I’m able have the things I want more readily because I have the cash to buy them.

3. I thought money worries would be a thing of the past

I crunched the numbers, made spreadsheets, and had a budget, all things pointed to me not really having to worry about money. The truth is that my tolerance for how close I was running to zero just changed. Before a tiny house if I had less than $2,000 in the bank I’d be nervous. Now that I live in a tiny house that anxiety hasn’t gone away, it’s just at a different level.

These days I freak out when my bank account drops below $20,000. I know what some of you are thinking, “$20,000! that’s a ton of money, you have nothing to worry about!” and 3 years ago I’d be in the same place, but it somehow is still just as real, just as scary; I can’t quite explain why, but the truth is that angst will never go away.

4. I thought my tiny house would be perpetually neat and tidy, just like all the tiny house photos

AHAHAHAHHAA! Boy was I wrong! There are many times my house is very tidy, but there are times it gets way out of control. I always keep a clean house, it just isn’t always neat. The truth is your tiny house will go from tidy to way out of control in about 5 seconds flat because it’s so small. It’s not that you’re a messy or dirty person, but if you put a single thing down, it starts to add up quickly due to the small space you’re living in. The other day I walked into my house, dropped my work bag, my gym bag and took of my shoes… it looked like a bomb had gone off and I had to move stuff out of the way just to open my closet to drop my keys and wallet.

5. I thought I’d be done building

When you build a tiny house, you’ll never be done. There will always be a few things that you want to improve, to try, to fix, etc. That is not to say that your house won’t be livable, you’ll most likely move in and keep doing things. There will always be a board to fix, some more trim to add, or a new shelf to build into a nook. Another part of this is you’ve suddenly acquired a new skill set – woodworking – and even though most of us are still newbies to it, you don’t go out and build a whole house if you aren’t one who likes building things. I’m really excited about the prospect of starting some smaller woodworking projects that I get to flex my fine woodworking skills with.

Putting A Tiny House On Jack Stands

I wanted to do an updated post today on an older topic that I briefly touched on in this post, but have since had some lessons learned. A tiny house is a very heavy thing, and my tiny house is around 6,500 pounds. Having your tiny house mounted on jack stands is very important for a number of reasons:

  1. You can more easily level your trailer to make building things square and plumb
  2. You can avoid tire shock from your trailer resting on the wheels in one spot
  3. Walking in your house will be more stable
  4. You can remove your wheels from the hubs to dissuade theft


jack-stands-tiny-houseInitially, I had put my tiny house on jack stands that were seated on a gravel bed, with a paver on top which I leveled with sand. This didn’t go so well. The pavers kept cracking and I had to replace them several times. It was obvious that the pavers weren’t going to be a good option. I knew wood was an option, but I was worried that even with treated wood, they’d eventually degrade, mold and rot – not something that you want in your foundation.

This picture is of the cracking pavers and you can see the wood on top that I added as a stop gap as I came up with plan B; it was bad enough that even the board started cracking. I decided to upgrade the foundation and put in cement footings right next the current stands so I could quickly move the jack stands.

If I were to do it all over again, I would have installed a concrete slab with self leveling concrete, and built in some drain lines into the slab. It would be a simple affair to roll the house onto it, set all my jack stands to the same setting and it would be instantly level.

As I mentioned, I decided to put in the footing just in the spots I wanted to seat the jack stands. With just a quick hole in each corner plus some high PSI Quikrete, I had my footings. I let the footing sit for a while to cure and harden up, then carefully jacked up the house with a bottle jack. On the rear of the trailer I had to add these cement footings to gain more elevation because there is a slight slope to the ground. So the front of the trailer (the back of the house) is just on jack stands, but the rear is on blocks. The footings were about $7 and gave me an additional 8 inches of height.

jack stand tiny houseHere is the new setup.  It’s hard to tell in this photo, but under that footing block there is a hole filled with high PSI Quikrete. Getting your tiny house seated on the jack stands is really hard work; it takes some serious elbow grease and you have to be really careful.

My house weighs in at 6,500 lbs and if a stand tips, or if a support plate slips, there is nothing you can do other than get out of the way and watch it fall.  I really don’t like lifting the house alone because I’m afraid that if something were to happen, my arm would be trapped and I would either pass out from shock or couldn’t reach my phone to call for help. It stresses me out.

So the lesson learned is to take the time to install serious footings that your jack stands can sit on. Make sure the stands are perfectly level and the base they are sitting on is level and sound.



Living In A House With Wooden Walls & No Sheetrock

It took me a while to figure this one out, because I’ve always lived in a house with standard Sheetrock walls, but a mystery came to light when I noticed something strange…more on that soon.

fir interior no sheetrock

I have never been in a house will all wooden walls like in my tiny house. For the inside of my wall I opted for 1/4 inch Douglas fir tongue and groove siding. I’ve personally seen several tiny houses now that have used Sheetrock and it works beautifully, but I wanted the look of the fir. The fir was very easy to work with and the stuff is very light (only being 1/4 inch thick after all).

oscilating saw

A few quick tips for working with 1/4 inch T&G interior siding:

  • Most commercial packs come pre-scored on the backs so you can snap them quickly with just your hands
  • Choose packs deeper in the pile and check for the grooves for damage
  • Use an oscillating saw (pictured above) to cut notches around openings such as windows, doors and outlets
  • Tung oil is a non toxic treatment for your interior

So now onto the mystery.

When I first hooked up my mini split, which does both my heating and cooling, I turned it on and cranked it up. Later that night I noticed as I climbed into bed and noticed that my sheets felt almost damp. I was perplexed by it and then started to worry that the dehumidifying part of the mini split wasn’t working. I checked the drain hose and a steady stream of water was coming out from it, so I knew it was working and not clogged. I decided I had just let a bunch of humid air into the house when I was going in and out and the mini split was just recovering.


Over the next week I kept finding the same thing and I began to worry that I was going to have a moisture problem. My sheets always seemed damp and I knew over time that could mean one thing: mold. I started thinking about how I could combat the problem, going over options in my mind for the better part of two weeks.

I was wondering if it was just so humid here in the South, was I in trouble? Was it that in such a small space, a human breathing put off too much moisture? These were the things swirling in my mind. Then I noticed something: my sheets were suddenly not damp any more. In fact they were perfectly dry.

This was very perplexing to me. Why was my house all of a sudden a very normal humidity, and suddenly the moisture in the air was so low?

I thought about this for a while, when all a sudden, it hit me!

It was the wooden walls! Unlike Sheetrock, Douglas fir has pores, which were used to transport water when it was a tree. Before I had installed my mini split, I left all my windows and door wide open to keep cooler, but with that came the moisture of humid NC summers and my walls drank it up.

Then I turned on the mini split and the dehumidifier started removing that moisture in the air. The wood naturally wants to equalize its open grains with the moisture in the air, so it released moisture back into the air. So essentially it took about 3 weeks for my house to breathe out all the moisture my wooden walls had taken in. My house breathes!

So the mystery is solved and my house is nice and dry. It’s interesting what you learn when you live tiny. In a larger home I’m not sure I would have noticed.


Things That Will Happen To You Once You Move Into A Tiny House

It’s a funny thing. You work for a long time to make it to living in a tiny house and then, one day, you do. The big question that I had and many of you will have is…now what? While that will be different for each of you, there will be some things that will most definitely happen to you.

Things That Will Happen

1. You will forever be introduced as the guy/girl who “lives in a tiny house” in every social situation

2. Half of people will tell you that they could never live in such a small space

3. The other half will tell you that they totally could live in a tiny house, but you can tell they never really would

4. You’ll begin to ask bigger questions of yourself, your life and its meaning

5. You’ll become way more laid back and find yourself just enjoying the here and now

6. You’ll own a nail gun and aren’t afraid to use it

7. Everyone will compare your house to their bathroom or closet and all you can think is, “I get it, it’s small”

8. You’ll go to the grocery store or farmers market a lot. Tiny fridges only hold so much

9. People will email you telling you what’s wrong with your house and how you should fix it, without you asking

10. You’ll find dinner parties seem way more intimate and interesting in such a small space

11. You’ll notice that conversations with other tiny house people seem deeper, richer and more valuable

12. People will point blank ask you about how you poop or other intimate details

13. Your bank account will grow and it feels good!

14. After taking on building a tiny house, other things just seem easier

15. Trying new things won’t be as scary

16. You’ll still feel like you have too much stuff

17. You might just end up leaving your job to start your own thing

18. Living in a tiny house will feel normal and you might start to feel like your house seems big

19. There will be days you don’t like living tiny and that’s okay

20. Many days you’ll be grateful


Your Turn!

  • Which do you look forward to most?
  • What else would you add to the list?

Why Your Tiny House May Pass Inspection, But It Isn’t Legal

For a long time I have been thinking about how tiny houses should pave a path to legality, but it has been very difficult to have a quality dialogue about it because there is so much that is misunderstood.

The question of how to become legal is a contentious one.  Most of that contention stems from the following elements:

  1. Less than honest building companies telling half truths when it comes to legality just to make a sale
  2. People calling their tiny houses legal, when in reality the building inspector didn’t want the head ache of filing paperwork to condemn the house, so they just pretended like they didn’t see it.  If that inspector had to go on record about it, they’d never allow it.
  3. The fact that most folks don’t understand the nuances of most building codes
  4. People assuming because one person did it a certain way, that it will work everywhere

I think number two is pretty big and is the main point of today’s post.  There are many people claiming their house is legal when it is in fact not legal at all.  The truth is that building inspectors are people who are often overworked and are in desperate need of more staff.

How this plays out is that there are a variety of things that happen where a tiny house breaking codes will go unchallenged by the inspectors and the city, but if it were to be brought up in court, if neighbors made too big of a deal of it, that house would be condemned in a heart beat.  It’s an important distinction: legal or not contested, I would assert that anyone who says their house is “legal” is in fact just not contested.

A few reasons your house could “pass” or not be challenged:

They never even came to your house:

There are times that an inspector will say they visited the site, but didn’t have time, so they didn’t show.  Most cities require inspections to happen within a certain time frame, but with fewer inspectors and the city continually raising the number of inspections per inspector, stuff just doesn’t get done. Their work metrics makes it so they literally don’t have enough time to do it all.  This plays out where they have to fudge the numbers and just approve stuff sight unseen.  There are even some cities, if they don’t get to your site within a certain time, the city website auto approves the permit.

They don’t want to fill out the paperwork:

There are times where busy people will make decisions based on not making more work for themselves, this equally applies to inspectors or municipal workers.  When they see the house they make a judgement, is this worth the paperwork?  Will people make a fuss over this house?  Will approving this now save me time and work?  In man cases they’ll just sign off because they don’t have time to fill out all the paperwork that goes with condemning the house.

They’re having a good day:

After working with the city on getting thing permitted and past code I’m floored at how much is left up to the whim of the inspector.  If they had a great send off from their spouse that morning, they are happy with their life, or are just having a good day that day, they’ll approve stuff just because.  Catch them on a bad day, they’ll spread that misery around in the form of failed inspection stickers.  We’d like to think the code is black and white, but in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth.

They like you:

When I had my water meter inspected I just happened to at the bottom of my driveway when the inspector pulled up.  I walked up to the guy in his truck and began chatting with him.  I don’t recall what we chatted about, but we hit it off pretty well.  Twenty minutes later he said “alright, things look good here, take care!”  He literally never even got out of his truck and he approved the install.

I even have had one friend had an inspector approve their tiny houses and then the next day got a call to ask for a date.

It would cost too much to pursue

I have had two instances where I have seen an inspector approve a tiny house for one reason only: it would cost too much of the city’s money to force a person to get it to code or condemn the house and drag it all through court.  When the city condemns a house, it triggers a whole line of actions on the city’s part and in some cases the inspector will size up the person who owns the home: are they likely to take this decision to court?  Typically the person who is able to afford a tiny house, is also able to afford a lawyer, so the inspector does some mental math.

In one of the instances that I was present at, the inspector confided in us that he wasn’t going to condemn the tiny house, because it would cost the city about $30,000 to do all the things required by law, to fight it out in court, and all the staff time it would eat up;  He said they had a budget for such things, but he picked and choose when to use that money to condemn homes when he saw parents he suspected of neglecting their kids: If he condemned the home, he could instantly get full access for a social worker to make sure the kids were being taken care of.  So when it came to a tiny house with a owner that was proud of their home and a chance to end abuse of children, he passed on the tiny house every time.

Their time is better used elsewhere:

If an inspector has to make a decision on whether to hassle you on your tiny house or chase down the builder of an entire neighborhood, it becomes a numbers game.  An hour with you is an hour he could be getting a large scale home builder to be safe across an entire neighborhood.  It literally comes down to if the tiny house owner burns to death in their home, that’s one person, if he instead makes sure the electrical work is done well with a bigger builder, he could prevent hundreds of deaths.

They actually like tiny houses:

A surprising number of inspectors really like tiny houses.  It’s a breath of fresh air when a homeowner takes such pride in their house, when a home is built well, when it looks great.  Many inspectors work hard to keep big business builders and lazy sub-contractors honest; the less than honorable ones will purposefully cut corners to save money, inspectors spend a lot of time trying to prevent that.  So when a home owner is trying to make the best house they know how, some inspectors will go way beyond just enforcement and instead educate.

They’ll talk you through how to safely ground your house, what is the purpose of different nails, how a $.86 huricane tie can make your house much safer, or remind you to put a smoke alarm in.  It isn’t their job to do this, but they like talking shop and a tiny house is something new and exciting.  If you’re the person that’s listening intently or jotting down notes, your chances of getting a pass on paper is much higher.

They couldn’t find the house when they showed up:

By their nature, tiny houses are… tiny.  So they don’t stick out like normal construction sites do.  In the case of my house, I live on 26 acres, my house and gravel pad takes ups a very small portion of that and I barley cleared trees.  If you drive down my driveway you can’t even see it until your right on top of if, not to mention you can’t see it from the road.

This came into play with me, I had put in to not have a “storm water” fee on my water bill because under a certain square footage they will remove the monthly charge.  I didn’t know they were going to send an inspector until he called me.  When he called he said “I went to check out your house, but couldn’t find it, do I have the correct address?”  I was shocked that an inspector was at my land, but just told him he had the correct address, the water line was for spigot (a half truth for sure, neglecting to mention the tiny house attached to said spigot).  He said “great” and he’d approve it.


What all this means is that tiny houses that are often called legal is in fact not, they are simply not pursued or an inspector choose to not condemn the house.  It’s a huge difference, but people often confuse the two, which makes for a difficult conversation when it comes to building codes.  In many ways these things are good news, they allow tiny house people to live out their lives in peace having the city inspection behind them.  The unfortunate factor here is that if city officials were pressed on the matter, if they were to be called to give an on the record approval, they’d condemn the house instantly.



Page 212345...Last »