Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

If I Had $1M To Further The Movement

what if questionI was sitting on the porch of my tiny house the other night thinking about tiny houses and the movement when the question floated into my mind: “If I somehow became the steward of $1,000,000 to further the tiny house movement, what would I do?”  It’s an interesting question and I really like thought experiments like this.  So, here is what I’d do:

I think an important first step would be to establish a tiny house proof of concept with a city and create a model that other cities could follow.  I would most likely start in my hometown of Charlotte, mainly because I know the codes better and have some good connections with folks that I’d need to leverage in order to make my plan successful.

I’ve had some preliminary conversations with some community development leaders, developers, lawyers and a few political figures at the point, but have yet to take it much further because the later phases of execution would require funds that I simply don’t have.  So I’d start a dialogue with some key people and then also contract the services of a few people, primarily lawyers that have experience doing community development.  I don’t think things would need to get pushed into the court room, but a few of the lawyers I have in mind know the landscape better than I do, they have the personal connections, they know what meetings you need to show up for, they know who other follow on votes and they know the process.  These things are valuable to the execution of the plan.  I figure it will take about $50,000 in contractor fees, mainly because most of the people would be lawyers ($200-$300 an hr).

Running Total: $50,000

From there I’d work with these people to start conversations with the city about getting a program started where we would essential do a trial run on a particular piece of land for a tiny house community.  I figure about $5,000 in fees, filings, paperwork, etc.

Running Total: $55,000

land_for_sale_29cConcurrently I would be shopping for land, somewhere in the 10-20 acre range of which I have about 5 locations that would be ideally suited for this project.  The key here would be land that could be rezone for a cluster housing setup and located within a 30 minute drive of downtown Charlotte.  The location would be key.  Most people today want the amenities of a city and Charlotte is a decent sized city to meet that need, plus land is relatively cheap and still available.  For the land I’d be looking to spend up to $250,000 which would be the home of the community and a common house that would also later be used to run training events, meetings, etc.

Running Total: $305,000

Next once we had the land and the city’s support, I would work the land (grading, access, roads, parking), install infrastructure (water, sewer, solar, internet, gas), then begin construction.  For this I’m assuming $75,000 to meet city requirements.  I’m also assuming they’ll require us to install storm drains, side walks, and a retention pond because of the number of people, it would be similar to an apartment complex in their eyes.

Running Total: $380,000

How-To-Build-a-Great-Team

Once I had the land secured, I’d put out a call for residents.  There would be an application, interview, and selection process.  The goal would be selecting people who would be good stewards of the first location, would have the ability to interface with the public and the media very well, and people who could help us put a good foot forward in the community.  The group would also have to function well as a team, because I would want a community, not disparate individuals that just want a place to put a tiny house or live cheap.  I envision the people selected would go through a lengthy interview process, jump through a lot of hoops and prove that they are the right people for the mission.

With that group I’d want to do some team building, some communications training and community building.  There will also be some media interface training, so that they can keep calm when a reporter tries to pull a “gotcha”, when a detractor speaks out, or when something goes wrong and they need to operate under pressure.  For that I’d budget about $5,000 for various activities and facilitators.

Running Total: $385,000

 From that point I’d design the houses with each of the people using some tiny house designers I know.  The plans would be used to build the house and then either given away or sold as a revenue generator for the non-profit mission of this incubator.

Established Revenue: $1,000 / month

Each house would be designed, built and paid for by this project, but each person would enter into a 2 or 3 year lease on that house.  I’d guess between $200-$400 for rent and utilities a month.

It might be possible that some of the paid work needed to be done by this project could be paid to these members if they had the required skill sets for the job.  This could also aid in keeping the project accessible for low income individuals.

I would want 10 houses to on the property, half to be people bringing their own house, half built onsite built with about half the labor done by the people themselves.  I figure total cost per built house would be $40,000 for the five built on site for a total of $200,000.

I would also have a common house built (about 2,500 square feet).  I figure about $200,000 for that building.  That building would have a large room, community kitchen, a guest bedroom, laundry and toilets.

In this space I’d tried to save a lot of costs here by doing workshops where people come for the week and get hands on with building a tiny house.  Tickets would be pricey because of the time, meals, organizing etc.  I figure $1500 a person.  This would help offset the costs of the houses.  For the common house I’d try to do that with straw bale or ob and again, make that an event that we would sell tickets to.

Worst Case Running Total: $785,000
Target Running Total: $600,000
Established Revenue: $3,500-$5,000 / month

 This would close the initial phase of the first location.  From here the idea would be to document the entire process and produce some high quality materials, media, and website.  These could be used by tiny house people and by municipalities.  I figure there will be some coding, design and material fees with this $5,000.

Running Total: $605,000
Established Revenue: $3,500-$5,000 / month

The next phase would be taking the revenue generated and building that revenue to become a self sustaining non profit.  The hope here is that with the initial $1M we could build an engine that could pump out tiny house havens and develop training for DIYers, Builders and cities to elevate the community.

The remaining funds to kick off the next location and essentially do lobbying on behalf of tiny houses.  I would also look into tiny house financing, developer partnerships and tiny house insurance.  We would develop tiny house codes that municipalities could plug and play for cities and we would help them in that process.

I’m also playing it safe with the budget because things will inevitably be more expensive, unexpected costs will come up and there will be some staffing costs.

Final Total: $850,000
Revenue: $13,500-$15,000 / month

So that is how I’d move the movement forward with an infusion of $1M.

Your Turn!

  • How would you use the $1M differently for the movement?

The Octagon Tiny House Is At Least 8 Shades of Amazing

Yurts are typically thought of as Mongolian round huts that can easily house a family through the harshest of conditions. But there are a new breed of yurts that appeal to those looking for luxury in a smaller size. One of those is Maui’s ‘Octagon Studio’ at the Aromatherapy Foundation of Maui. How are they different? Unlike the Nomad Yurt the Octagon Tiny house has no wooden bone structure and the roof is made of wood and shingles rather than a roof covering with a compression ring to keep it tight. In fact,  the one room yurt in Maui is more of a cottage or tiny house or even a studio than a true yurt. No matter though as it The provides guests with a charming accommodation and an incredible opportunity to get away and escape from reality. Coupled with sensational views from each window the beautiful wooden house is nothing short of relaxing and rejuvenating.

Yurt 1The cabin, if you will, accommodates 2 people in a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom setup. The bedroom features wood ceilings, a wooden bed frame, nature inspired linens, wood flooring, and an incomparable set of floor to ceiling windows that overlook beautiful fragrant and edible gardens. In addition the bedroom has drapes that surround the bed acting as more than mosquito repellants but rather as privacy curtains from anyone passing by in the gardens and potentially looking in.

Yurt 2While the studio cabin is in a rather remote location removed from society it does has electrical outlets, WiFi, a pool, and a hot tub. It also feature a small kitchenette that allows for food preparation and basic sustenance. It includes a small fridge, a 4-burner range, and a small sink. But with so many exotic fruits and vegetables as well as native meals available cooking may be the last thing on the mind of someone in Makawao (the Upcountry where the studio is located).

Yurt 3As with all houses though – small or large – the room most asked about is the bathroom and this Octagon does not fall short.

Yurt 4With appears to be stained and finished Oak the bathroom is spacious with its almost overly-exposed views. The only thing separating the person bathing and Mother Nature is glass and some beautiful white drapes. It allows for a true natural feel with access to unlimited hot water, great water pressure, and rainfall pressure.

NOTE: The Octagon Studio is located in the beautiful area of Olinda just a few miles above the quaint cowboy town of Makawao. The air at three-thousand feet is fresh and vibrant and the pine and eucalyptus forest above the house provide great hikes and adventures. The cottage is located on an aromatic farm and the mesmerizing scent of rose geranium and lavender is always present. A beautiful 20 minute drive down the hill will bring you to Baldwin Beach near Paia for swimming and beach time and two miles north of Paia are the famous windsurfing and kite-surfing beaches of Hookipa. Both Makawao and Paia provide excellent shopping and dining experiences.

Your Turn!

  • This studio brings up the question of how small is too small? Could you live in this size space?
  • Do you like all the floor-to-ceiling windows?

 

Via

Mississippi Tiny House Could Be Your Next Vacation

Located in the Boise-Eliot neighborhood and bordering on the very cool and very modern Mississippi Street, this luxurious, single-living tiny space has ideal access to some of Portland’s best shops, restaurants, microbrews and pubs, music venues, boutiques, cafes, and studios.

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The space itself is a clever mix of textures featuring primarily wood, metal, and concrete, giving the one and a half bedroom house an Old World sensibility with an infusion of modern and a splash of eco-consciousness! It is at once beautiful, comfortable, and functional. At first glance it is difficult to look past the craftsmanship and hand-shaped details. Just the garden-level, private entry alone seems like an art installation with its oversized glass insert in the front door, its brick flooring, and it subtle use of old wood for the exposed footer.

Miss 1

The invite of the entry is continued in the use of concrete in the main living area. With a much warmer and inviting feel that it would lead on to have the handcrafted Japanese carpentry space is much like the Andrew Reeves designed (for client Patrick Flynn), 566 sq.ft. house in Toronto with its mix of otherwise cold materials: in this case, wood and concrete.

Miss 6Once inside the front door there is overwhelming warmth of the natural including clay walls, wood beamed ceiling, an infusion of natural light, rough hewn furniture pieces, and neutral seating, all set against the backdrop of a gourmet kitchen.

Made to cook in the house boasts a Viking 6-burner stove and convection oven, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops with ample work space, and handmade cabinetry. The subway tile backsplash and open shelving only add to the contemporary achievements of the unit.

The bathroom – with its separated shower area and bathroom area – are perhaps the hidden gem of the space though.

Miss 4The shower comes across as more sauna and massage spa than it does rain locker. It features cedar siding, walnut, elm and cherry shelving, as well as a very artistic and smart mix of tile and glass giving a very bright and open sensory experience. Because the bathroom is separated it is useable while the shower is also in use.

The living room is more a gift than a necessity in this home. It is well appointed and cozy including fir flooring, handmade furniture, a Danish-modern sleeper sofa, and a gas stove/fireplace. There is even a flat screen TV for those who desire more modern entertainment!

Miss 1Directly off the living area and through what appears to be a built-in cabinet is a hidden bedroom. Reminiscent of a traditional Asian pagoda room but taking cue from an Old World Norwegian box-bed, the doors of the cabinet slide open to reveal a very private sleeping nook perfect for complete privacy.

The main bedroom however has a large closet with a queen mattress and frame. All of the linen is natural cotton in the house and the bedding has goose down fill. To add local flavor the walls of the house are appointed with original art from local artists.

Miss 2A beautiful home with handcrafted charm, luxurious amenities, and ideal location, the Handcrafted Japanese Carpentry tiny house is intelligent, inviting, and serene.

Your Turn!

  • Do you like the use of concrete for flooring?
  • Does the mixing of wood types inspire you?

 

Via

One Tiny House Is Never Enough

Perhaps better known online as the tiny house prairie girl or that girl in Idaho, Kristie Wolfe has become an icon in the tiny house world having designed and built not one, but TWO tiny houses. The first is her home in Idaho which she documented and continues to build and share on Tiny House On The Prairie. At just 97 original sq.ft. her THOW took just 30 days to build and only cost a few thousand dollars as she used 80% reclaimed materials. But in 2014 her ambition to build a tiny house in multiple locales around the world and help motivate others to live a more sustainable life, took her to the Big Island in Hawaii and her tiny treehouse which she will be talking about at the 2015 Tiny House Conference in Portland, OR.

THOPUpon purchase Wolfe had not once actually seen her future building spot. Rather she had found the listing online and toured it via Google Earth. She knew the basic topography of Kona and felt confident in placing a down payment. A calendar year and dozens of sketches later and she was ready to go begin the building stage.

Kristie had a few months off between her seasonal job(s) to get it done. She flew to Hawaii with her parents and began almost at touchdown with clearing a spot for a tiny house, purchasing an old truck, and buying materials.

KristieThe property itself is nearly a half-acre of dense rainforest about 12 miles from Volcano National Park, on a dead end street. The weather is about 78 degrees with a chance of rain day in and day out. This worked to her advantage as there simply is no need for insulation, heat or even air conditioning. With only a $15,000 budget, Wolfe and her mom worked tirelessly for an entire month constructing what would become one of the Internets most popular tiny house image searches.

Everything in the house is custom-designed, and the home is entirely off-grid, capturing rainwater and solar energy to run. For anyone who has visited her website, you know how industrious and creative Kristie is. Incorporated into the tiny house are some remarkable things including a DIY toilet and sink combo, a DIY hanging bed on the lower floor, and a beautiful DIY tropical chandelier!

Tiny House Big Island

Kristie's BedroomWolfe completed the majority of her build in April 2014 and almost immediately began offering it for rent on AirBnB. The entire effort was a labor love and industry. The income gained from rentals will allow Kristie to begin a potential third tiny house as well as recoup her initial investment. In the meantime she is living in Idaho again and speaking at workshops and events like the 2015 Tiny House Conference.

Wolfe Living Room

Your Turn!

  • Where in the world would you like to build a tiny house?
  • Is multiple tiny houses a wise investment?

 

Via

NOTE: Tiny Treehouse Photos courtesy of Julie Harmen

Tiny House Solar

I know many of you have been wanting this post for a while, but it’s finally here: my solar panel system for my tiny house.  I wanted to get the feel for what it is like to live off the grid so I could share more details with you all about what it’s really like.

Tiny House solar panels

So first, the high level details of my system:

  • 2.25 Kw panels – Nine, 250 watt panels
  • Batteries 740 amp/hr total – Eight, 370 amp/hr 6 volt Trojan L16 flooded lead acid
  • Cost for parts about $10,000 (excluding tax and shipping)
  • Off grid, battery bank, plus 5,550 watt backup generator
  • 24 volt system

Specific Parts:

  • (9) Canadian Solar CS-6p 250 Watt Poly Black Frame  (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider SW 4024 (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider MPPT 60 Charge Controller (Spec Sheet)
  • (8) Trojan L-16 6v 370 AH Flooded Lead Acid Batteries (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider System Control Panel (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider Interconnect Panel (no spec sheet)
  • (1) Midnight Solar MNPV 80AMP Dinrail Breaker (Spec Sheet)
  • (2) Midnight Solar Surge Protection Device AC/DC (no spec sheet)
  • 50 Amp RV power Inlet (Spec Sheet)

Before anything I needed to determine the best placement for the solar panels to make sure it had good solar exposure and didn’t fall into shadows too much.  To do this I used a tool called a “solar path finder” which is a semi reflective dome that you position at the location, then snap a photo.  The photo is then loaded into a program and spits out a whole bunch of calculations.

Solar Path Finder

Solar Path Finder

So once you upload the image into the software and then trace the treeline outline, you enter in your location, date and time.  It then can calculate how much power you’ll produce based on 30 years of weather patterns for your exact location and tree coverage.

My reading with the pathfinder

My reading with the pathfinder

Then it spit out all the calculations:

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With that in mind I knew what I could expect out of the system I had designed.  It also was a way to verify my assumptions.

Once I verified that the system was going to be well suited to my needs I had to build my panel support racking.  I did this out of pressure treated 4×4’s that were each 10′ long.  These things about about 300 lbs each so I don’t have to worry about wind picking up the panels.  I opted to build them because it was cheaper than some of the turn-key option out there and most of the for purchase ones required me to cement in the ground; I rent my land, so I wanted a mobile solution.  The racking is technically mobile, but not easily so.  If I remember correctly it was about $500 in materials to build this part.

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Next we installed the panels.  This part was pretty quick and the stands worked out perfectly.  The panels are 250 watt Canadian solar panels.  They are wired in groups of three, then paralleled into the system.  To give you a sense of scale, these panels are 3.3 wide and about 4 feet tall.

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Now I know many people want to know why I didn’t mount these on my roof or could they mount them.  You technically can mount on your roof, but honestly the number of panels that you need to practically power your house is too many for the roof.

There is some other major bonuses of being on the ground:

  • Much cooler, roofs are very hot places in the summer and solar panels drop in efficiency when hot
  • I can put my house under deciduous trees, this means in summer I’m in the shade, in winter I get the solar gain
  • Way easier to clean and monitor

Cleaning your panels is pretty important because you loose efficiency as residue (bird poop) builds up.  Also as I learned just a few days ago, when it snows, you need to clear your panels.  Cleaning becomes super simple and a lot safer when you don’t have to climb onto a roof via a ladder.

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Just this week we got a decent snow, 3 inches, which is quite a lot for Charlotte.  The first thing I had to do when I woke up was clear off the panels because with the snow, they made no power.  This was compounded because since it was cold, I needed more heat.  I can’t imagine having to drag the ladder out and try climbing on a icy roof… No Thanks.

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Next I built a cabinet to house all the gear.  I wanted a stand alone space because the batteries are so heavy.  At 118 pound each, plus cabling and other equipment the whole unit is over 1,100 lbs.   The top and bottom sections are divided so that the gasses from the batteries don’t go up into the electrical section and explode.  More on that later.

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The batteries are wired in series parallel.  The batteries are 6 volt each, in series of 4 the create a 24 volt unit, then I have two of these 24 volt units in parallel.  The reason I choose to go 24 volt over a 48 volt (which is more efficient) was because the equipment was a little cheaper, but also it allowed me to select components that I could add more panels and batteries very easily without doing equipment upgrades (just a factor of the abilities of the units I choose).  This way I can add up to 15 panels and a lot more batteries without upgrading the electronics; I can also stack these inverters so if I ever go to a normal sized house, I just add another unit and it just plugs into my current one.

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In this photo going left to right: Din Breaker Panel, Charge Controller, Interconnect w/ control panel, inverter.  In general the power flows in the same manner (but not exactly).

  • Breaker Panel: manages power from solar panels
  • Charge Controller: manages power to batteries etc.
  • Interconnect: a main junction box and breaker, holds control panel interface
  • Inverter: takes power in many forms then outputs to they type of power you need

Once the power goes through the system it outputs to a huge cable that you can see sticking out of the bottom of inverter then goes right.  From there it runs to this:

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This is a 50 amp RV style plug.  The reason I did this was two fold.  City inspectors are less picky when it comes to non-hard wired things.  This setup also lets me roll into any RV campground and hook up seamlessly.

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The plug goes into a 50 amp RV female receptacle.  This is important that you don’t have two male ends to your cord.  This is dubbed by electricians as a “suicide cord” because if you plug in to a power source, you have exposed conductors that are live; accidentally touch them, you complete the circuit and zap!

suicide-cable

You want a female end to your cord so that you reduce the chance of being shocked.  I also turn off my main breaker at the power source when I make this connection, then turn it back on.

SimpleElectricCover

If all these mentions of watts, volts, amps, amp hours etc are making your head spin a little, you may need to go back to the basics.  I have an ebook called Shockingly Simple Electrical For Tiny Houses which guide your through all the basics.  As of now, it doesn’t go too deep into the solar aspects, but the basics of electrical, wiring, power systems and determining your power needs are covered in depth and designed for those who are totally new to the topic.

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So once the power passes through the power inlet it goes to the panel.  Near the bottom you can see the backside of the power inlet, it has a large black cord coming out of it, into the box and ties to the lugs.  From there it goes out to the house.

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Back outside now, looking at the cabinet, on the sides of it, you can see the vents.  When you use lead acid (LA) batteries you have some off gassing as the batteries discharge and recharge.  These gasses are volatile and can ignite, possible leading to an explosion.  So to take care of this I installed two vents like this which provide adequate venting.  As mentioned before my battery section is isolated from the electronics section where a spark could occur.

This off gassing is a concern with Lead Acid Batteries, but other battery technologies don’t have this issue.  I choose LA batteries over AGM (absorbent glass mat) because LA’s have more cycles and cost a bit less.  Lithium Ion at this point is cost prohibitive.  My batteries should get about 4000-5000 cycles (11-14 years) before I need to replace them.  I figure in about 5 years battery technology will have progressed so much I’ll change early.  New batteries will cost me about $4,000 of the LA variety.  IMG_3123

Here is my grounding wire for my system.  This is actually one of two, another is located at the panels them selves.  My house is also grounded to this through the cable hook up and to the trailer itself.  A really important note: ground depends on a lot of things, one of which is if you house electrical panels is bonded or not, if you don’t know what that means, read up on it, its very important.

The other component of this system is the generators.  In the winter months I may need to top off my batteries every now and then, basically when its been really cold and very cloudy for a week or more.  I had a Honda EB2000i already which I really like.  It’s very quite and small.  The one downside to the Honda is that it only does 1600 watts and only 120V and I needed more power and 240V.  So I picked up another generator, a 5500 watt 240 volt Generac for $650.

generac

Here is a video that compares the two generators in terms of size, noise, output and price.

So that’s the surface level details of the system, I’m going to be doing something in the future which will be a how to size, choose parts, hook up and all the other details of doing solar for your tiny house, but that is a longer term project, most likely will take about 6 months to pull together in the way I’d like to do it.