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Tiny Houses Aren’t For Kids….are they?

“Can a family live in a small space?” It is a question repeated on forums, posts, discussion boards, and chats, all over the Interwebs. The answer is (sometimes surprisingly so), yes! And there is nothing more gratifying than seeing a small space that incorporates intelligent design and smart solutions. Such is the case with the children’s room Heidi and carpenter husband Thomas have created for their little girl, Alberte. With no less than five kid-tested and kid-approved design elements this is one small space that is just for the kids!

Perhaps the first and most obvious element is the stairs leading up to the sleeping loft. You may also notice the railing to keep a sleeping child safe and secure. It appears to be made of melamine or some other sort of veneer to match the rest of the decor. With wide treads made of birch wood and a bit of an unusually high rise, the steps double as ample cubby storage for toy trucks, dolls, and books. They also encourage walking (by steadying the daughter with a reach rail) and toddling.

A bit more juvenile than some of the ideas found on an earlier post, Alberte’s room is still fairly sophisticated. The round, black pieces of art are actually circular chalkboards for her to write on, doodle on, or have a guest leave her a greeting. It capitalizes on both penmanship learning and creative arts.

Tucked behind the stairs – as kid’s seem to love nooks, crannies, and hiding spots – is the wardrobe area either for daily clothes or fun costumes for make-believe sessions.

And not to be missed, of course, is the wonderful cube that serves as a sitting area, a work area (with dropdown desk), and overall separated space. Because it and the wardrobe are built out their ceiling acts as the foundation for the sleeping loft! But perhaps most fun of all is the wallpaper or vinyl adhesive art that covers the back wall of the built-outs. Encouraging both color and shape recognition as well as being 100% funky, the design is too cute for this too cool tiny design!

Your Turn!

  • Is this the coolest kid’s tiny house within a tiny house?
  • Do kid’s need their own space even in a tiny house?

 

Via

 

My First Winter In A Tiny House

After getting back from Croatia I’ve been learning a good bit about living in my tiny house in the winter.  This December in Charlotte has been breaking records left and right for how cold it has been.  Most mornings when I wake up it’s been in the 20’s which is very cold for this time of year.

The real issue for me has been right now I’m running off a generator and propane heater for my heat.  Soon my solar panels will be installed and I can shift to my mini split.  The generator has been working well, but because of how energy intensive the heater is and how cold it is, a full tank will only last about 3-4 hours.  The propane heater works great too, a 1 lb propane tank will last about three hours.

My strategy has been mainly to heat the house up for about an hour while I get ready for bed and then shut things off.  With the propane heater, its a “catalytic” heater that while is technically a flame, it is more efficient and doesn’t use up as much oxygen as a open flame would.  I don’t want to leave it running when I sleep because of it being a flame and also the danger of low oxygen.  The heater has a low oxygen detector that will shut it off if it comes to that, but I don’t want to chance it regardless.  Once I fall asleep, I’m fine until I wake up anyway.

One thing that I’ve learned is that the floor is always cold.  Being on a trailer there is obviously an air gap below the trailer.  I know a lot of people have used skirts for their house, but I’m not a fan of the look and its not windy in my location, so I’m not sure how effective it would be.  It may come to be installing a skirt of a sort, but I think I’d like to start with trying an area rug.  I think this might be an easy way because I noticed that when I stepped on a piece of cardboard that I happened to have on the floor, it seemed to do a pretty good job of feeling warm on my bare feet.

So far it’s been a pretty cold winter in my tiny house.  That’s about to change.

Very soon a solar panel system is going in that will change my heating situation drastically.  I will have a huge battery bank that will let me run my mini split and keep my space heated and on a timer, without the danger of an open flame or running the generator.  The timer will be really helpful because I can drop the temperature when I’m asleep nestled under my covers, but then ramp back up right before I wake up and have to get out of bed.  I’ll also be able to set it to maintain a minimum temperature, which will be nice because I can keep it a reasonable temperature, but not draw a ton of power.

The other thing I’ve noticed is since its been so cold outside, I’ve been inside my house more and wanting to go outside.  Nothing really bad, but I’ve been so used to be going for long walks and just enjoying the weather since its so much warmer in Croatia, right now its a little too cold to just spend time outside.  I have been spending some time at the gym, at cafes and I also went out and bought an outdoor fire place to have a fire pit at my tiny house.  All of these have been great for handling this need to get up and do something.  I think this will subside when I get power setup because I can then get internet hooked up and set up my desk.  That will help a lot.

The Next Housing Crunch May Be Here Sooner Than We Thought

One of the big questions when it came to tiny houses was “is this just a fad because of the recession of 2008?”   Now that we are out of the slump and down the road to recovery we are able to see that it is certainly not a passing trend.  If it was because of the recession, we’d see a slump in metrics, but in the past year the traffic on The Tiny Life has doubled, houses are being built at an ever increasing rate, and media attention has been strong.

One thing in the back of my mind during the whole recession is will we learn our lesson?  While there lies much blame with banks, lenders and Wall Street, the collective population also played their part.  In the end, I don’t think Americans in general have learned much, their actions tell a story that isn’t much different from life leading up to 2008.  I think if you’re reading this blog, you’ve woken up from the “American Dream” to find a nightmare; you get that we need to make changes and by living tiny, you’re taking significant steps to that end.

In the past few months I’ve been following a large number of stories pointing to another recession coming sooner than we expected.  The most recent I saw was this article.  Places like Forbes, Bloomberg, and other big names have spelt out why they think we’ll see a downturn soon.  Estimates range from end of 2015 to early 2017.  Reasons are varied, but all seem to point to the same thing: recession.

Now I’m not going to claim that there will be a recession sometime soon, obviously at some point there will be another, but I think the message is still the same: we know there will be ups and downs in life, how can we best setup our lives to make the journey smoother and less likely to get ourselves into a bad situation?

Hope for the bestPrepare for the worst

With wages stagnating, costs rising, wage gaps ever increasing, wealth concentrating into a scant few bank accounts and our economy being based on an ever increasing capital despite living on a finite planet, something has got to give.   We see these forces in play and know that they aren’t sustainable, we know they will catch up to us at some point.

So far in this life of mine I’ve discovered a few truths:

  1. Building in resiliency in your life will help you today, but also in bad times
  2. Peace of mind is something that is invaluable
  3. The more control we have over our life, our money, our decisions, and our time the better

So what can we do to prepare for a potential slump? 

1. Get into your tiny house

2. Get out of debt

3. Consider your employment, how stable would it be in a downturn and what can you do now to build your network

4. Can you make the jump to solar, partial food production, or other self sustaining practices

5. Can you put away more money for the rainy day we know is coming

 

Your Turn!

  • What are you doing to prepare for the next slump?
  • How are you becoming more resilient or self sufficient?

Paul’s Wofati: the 2nd winter

On November 2, 2013 we first talked about Paul’s Wofati and its permaculture design and building standards. But who is Paul?

Paul Wheaton is a contemporary permaculture theorist, master gardener, software engineer, and disciple of natural agriculturist Sepp Holzer. Geoff Lawton has called Paul Wheaton “The Duke of Permaculture” for being known as the founder of websites forums, articles,videos and podcasts such as Permies.com which is believed to be the largest website devoted to permaculture. And that is where the Wofati was found.

So is this house a log cabin? Is it a turf shed? Is it a earth berm? And why all the trees scattered about? Just imagine living in something that looks like a log cabin from the inside, but:

  • it has more light
  • it doesn’t need heat or A/C
  • it is three times faster to build
  • it costs about five times less

In the fall of 1970, Mike Oehler lived in a run down shack and constantly struggled to stay warm. During the winter he spent an enormous amount of time crafting better designs and calculating heat efficiency. He also had a goal of keeping material costs low. That next spring he did just that and built a home in 1971 for just $50. The initial home was just 120 sq.ft.  (one of the only existing photos of that first build is shown below, taken with natural light)

1980house

Mike’s design – which heavily influences Paul Wheaton – eliminates many of the complexities of conventional, sticks ‘n bricks construction. Basically, Mike’s design is a pole structure with a green roof. A green roof is usally more expensive than a conventional roof, but, if you can follow one simple design principle, you can dramatically cut the costs of the whole structure! The one simple design principle is:

Every drop of rain must always have a complete downhill soil path. Encountering the edge of the roof is not okay.

Last we left the Wofati at Wheaton Laboratories it was being framed out using just natural logs.

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Since then quite a bit of work has been done including bringing up dirt to the top of the house, cobbing up gaps in the logs, building out a kitchen and main living space, and adding the green roof.

Wofati Top

Wofati Cobbing

Wofati kitchen

At the current time the owners/builders of the home are living in it in Missoula, Montana and documenting interior (and some exterior) temps over the winter. They are living without a centralized heat source but rather a localized heater combined with the body heat of three adults and heat “storage” from the actual home. The dialogue around this method is intense and can be found over at permies.com.  The build will continue after winter and more photos will be added. Stay tuned for a third update as information becomes available.

Your Turn!

  • Have you experienced permaculture first hand?
  • Would you live in a berm-style home?

Via

 

Welcome To The Tiny Life

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I thought today I’d do a post to introduce myself to all the new readers we have received.  It’s been a while since I’ve done this, several years in fact, so I thought I’d say hello!  In this post I’ll share a little bit about me, about my tiny house and how it’s all setup, what this website is all about and other things people have asked about.  I have a FAQ at the bottom of this page too.

Ryan Mitchell Tiny houseFirst off, my name is Ryan Mitchell, I run The Tiny Life.  I’m a 30 year old guy from Charlotte, NC, but originally from New Hampshire.  I never expected to be writing about tiny houses, but back in 2009 I started this website just to have a place to keep all my design ideas and musings.  Over five years now, it has grown beyond my wildest dreams.

 

My journey started like this:

It started one Friday afternoon, my coworkers and I stood on the sidewalk outside our old office with the contents of our desks now residing in a cardboard box; the whole company had just been laid off and a million things were swirling around in our heads. How will I pay my bills? Rent is due next week! How am I going to find a job in a down economy?

I knew I needed a change, a drastic change, one where I could take control of my life and its destiny.  I soon found tiny houses and realized the potential.

It took me 4 years of working, planning and saving to make my dream a reality.  Those years were tough, with the recession in full swing and me trying to find my way into adulthood, I had a lot of ups and downs.  I started with pretty much nothing, no savings, a bunch of debt, and a very low paying job.  Over those 4 years I worked my way up, tackled my debt, sacrificed for my dream and in late 2012 I started building my tiny house.

This is my tiny house that I built with my own two hands, this is a photo of me the day I moved my house from where I built it to where I’d be living in it.

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floor plan

Once I built my tiny house I started to live the tiny life.  It has been amazing! When I started this website I wanted to talk about more than just tiny houses.  The truth is tiny houses are just a part of it, I may even go as far as saying a small part of it.  What I’ve found is that changes in my life were the real impact.  While the tiny house helped me with this, I see it as a beautiful place to live and as a tool that made the rest possible.  So when I talk about the tiny life, I generally mean these topics:

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Since moving into a tiny house I decided to leave my old job and start out on my own, I’ve been self employed for 1.5 years right now.  This was a huge shift because not only did I have more control over my future, but I also designed my business to be location independent.  That means I can work from anywhere.  At the time of this post, I’m actually living in Croatia for 3 months because one of the things on my bucket list was to live in a foreign country.

Life in a tiny house has been great and really opened up a lot of possibilities for me like it has so many others.  My financial situation has changed drastically, because my cost of living dropped so significantly.  I then took that money and started paying off the rest of my debt.  I’m almost there and hope to be debt free in a year.

Time wise I have a lot more of it and even better, I have more control over it.  I now can spend more time with my friends and family.  Right now I’m single, but I can’t help but think that having time to spend focusing on a relationship with a girlfriend would be rewarding.  I think what I like most about my time is I can take long walks most days, take more vacations, and have lunches and dinners with family more often.

Peace of mind and lower stress has been another outcome of this journey.  With less debt (and soon no debt), money for a rainy day fund, a house paid for powered by solar panels, and time to think, I feel that I can weather the ups and downs of life better.  I can sleep better knowing I will always have a roof over my head.

The land that my tiny house is parked on is a 32 acre parcel only a few minutes from down town.  I give some details about how I found it below.  In order for me to setup my land I had to run a water line, fix up the road and have a gravel pad installed.  In addition to my tiny house, I also have an enclosed trailer which I use for my camping gear, tools and some equipment for my job.  I also keep some bulk items like toilet paper and the like in there.  You can read more about how I setup my land and those details by clicking here.

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Beyond my tiny working on The Tiny Life I also have a few other projects that you might have heard of.  The Tiny House Conference is my favorite tiny house event of the year, I am the organizer of it and I love getting to spend time meeting and talking with other tiny house folks.  I also wrote a book called Tiny House Living, which is a great book for those wanting to know more about and get started; it focuses more on the lifestyle and less on how to build.  Writing a traditionally published book was on my bucket list and I’m so excited that achieving that dream can also help others live the tiny life.  Finally I do a podcast with Macy Miller of Mini Motives, this is a great way to learn more and you can get the episodes for free over at www.TinyHouseChat.com

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People always have lots of questions about my house, so I figured I’d share some answers here:

Q: How big is your tiny house?

A: 150 square feet, plus a sleeping loft.  The house is built on an 18 foot trailer, but the house is 8.5 wide, 20 feet long and 13′ 4″ tall.  Inside the house is 11.5 feet tall in the main room, in the kitchen which is under the loft, its about 6’4″.  The loft is about 4.5 feet tall.  My trailer from ground to top of deck is about 17 inches.

Q: Who made your trailer and was it new or used?

A: I purchased a brand new 18′ utility style trailer from Kaufman trailers, I strongly encourage folks to go the new trailer route.  Read more here

Q: Did you build it all yourself or did you know how to build before?

A: I had never really built anything before my tiny house, I also didn’t have anyone I knew that had these skills either.  That said, I did build this house by myself with my own two hands.  The exceptions would be I hired an electrician to wire it, I paid someone to do the roofing because I didn’t have the equipment to bend the metal for the roof, and I hired someone to help me hang my front door.  Other than those three things, I did it all.  You can see my build videos here

Q: What would you change if you had to do it all over again?

A: I think I’d opt for all casement windows,  most of my windows are awning style.  I’d also purchase a door instead of building on.  The main reason I had to get some help hanging my door was because since I built the door from scratch, I also had to build a custom door jam and that was tricky to get the door just right.  I think I’d also go from a 18 foot trailer to a 20 or 22 foot trailer.  I think that two extra feet would be ideal for me.

Q: What appliances do you have? Heater? Water heater? Etc?

A: I have a gas stove top made by Suburban specifically a RV Camper Cooktop LP Propane Stove 2 Burner 2937A, it cost me $90 new.  My water heater is an RV500 by PrecisionTemp it is a tankless model because I really love my showers, it cost me about $1,200.  I choose it because it was tankless and also very very small (1 foot cubed) and the venting was simple.

My fridge is a basic bar fridge: specifically the Danby 4.4 cu. ft. Energy Star Compact Refrigerator because it was about the biggest fridge that came without a freezer section.  My heating and cooling is handled by a mini split: the Fujitsu 9rls2 which is 9,000 btu’s max wattage of 800 watts on high heat that can handle a few hundred square feet.  This was the most efficient mini split when I bought it with a seer rating of 27, it cost me $1,400 for the unit and another $400 for the install.  I also use a standard toaster oven.  I don’t have a microwave or standard oven, I just don’t have much use for them personally.  I wish I had a washer and dryer, but don’t; right now I just use a laundry service.

Q: Where do you get your power, water, sewage, internet.

A: Initially I was going to be grid tied, but the city wouldn’t allow it.  So I had to at first rely on my generator which is a Honda EB2000i which is an amazing generator, if you need one, I can’t recommend it enough.  At $1,000 it’s very pricy but it’s super small and on eco-mode it can be running and I can’t hear it in my house at all.

Come January 2015 I will be installing a solar panel array.  The array is 1.65 KWs, 9 solar panels and 8 batteries.  The batteries are AGM, 740 watt/hours 6 volt.  The system cost me $14,500 for parts and labor.  The reason it is so high because I want to heat and cool with this.  If I where to cut out heating and cooling with my mini split, I could drop down to a system that was about $6500.

My internet is standard cable internet.  I have no cable TV. My cell phone is my only phone.  My water is city tied.  For sewage I have a composting toilet (following the humanure composting handbook).  I also have a grey water system to hand water from my sink and shower.

Q: How did you deal with building codes?

A: For me, after several lengthy talks with the building code enforcement folks and going around and around with permits and inspects.  The main code enforcement officer told me to “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  That combined with me trying to be a good neighbor and having my tiny house nestled out of sight in the woods allows me to live in my tiny house.  It is technically illegal.  It built to code, but not inspected.

Q: How did you find the land that you are parked on and do you lease or own?

A: I currently lease land from a friend.  The property is in the city, but on a very large parcel of land, 32 acres to be exact.  I found the because I was looking for a place to park and I had a friend who I thought might know of a place I could rent.  Turns out he had an empty parcel that he wanted someone to keep an eye on it.  I pay $1 a month plus help him do some website work every now and then.  I did a video about it here.

Q: How long did it take you to build your tiny house?

A: I typically say a year of nights and weekends.  Technically on a calendar it was about a 1.75 years, but I took a 3 month break at a point and once I was held up for 4 months waiting on a window.  In general a professional could build a house in 2-3 months, an amateur 1-2 years of nights and weekends.

 

 

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