A little over a week ago I finished up a 2-week intensive training in Permaculture Design. It was an awesome learning experience and got me thinking about tiny house design in new ways.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of Permaculture, it is a term coined in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison that follows a core ethic: to care for the planet, the people who live on it, and provide equal distribution of surplus. Permaculture design encourages folks to look to biological processes as a means of solving environmental problems and creating regenerative sources of energy, building materials and edible as well as medicinal plants for all peoples.
To be able to discuss solutions we had to go over the issues. Many of our lectures over the course of those two weeks had a lot to do with toxicity and public safety & health. It gave me pause to think about the quality of life provided by living in a small space. I find my quality of life to be equal and/or greater than living in a larger home. One thing we definitely considered when building La Casita was material off-gassing. That’s one reason we really looked to reclaimed material but also a reason we tried not to use chemically produced paints, inks, varnishes or lacquers. We definitely used Great Stuff and the adhesive on the sheeting off-gassed. We attempted to balance that with the use of milk-paint and no-VOC paints indoors as well as tung oil on the Cyprus siding. Check out Ryan’s list of best low-VOC paints and non-toxic paints!
There’s a lot of toxicity to battle in daily life I had no idea about such as trichloroethylene (TCE) which is considered a potent liver carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute. This chemical is in lacquers varnishes, paints, printing inks and adhesives. Benzene, a chemical in gasoline, plastics, oils, paints and rubber is known to cause skin irritation as well as many other health issues such as leukemia and bone marrow diseases. Formaldehyde is a third common chemical in products including particle board, facial tissues, grocery bags, natural gas and nail polish to name a very few. Exposure has been linked to asthma and cancer.
The good news is that these chemicals can be absorbed by house plants! NASA conducted a study that explored the abilities of plants to provide better air quality. That research consistently showed that certain plants remove toxic chemicals from our indoor environments. In a tiny house carbon monoxide is an added concern. We have fans and often crack the windows but there have cold nights and we’ve noticed we aren’t getting enough air in our loft and wake up groggy and disconcerted. The top five plants that they found to clear the air of the three chemicals above and reduce carbon monoxide levels indoors are bamboo palm, chinese evergreen, english ivy, gerbera daisy and Janet Craig. To learn more, find the full report here.
There is a lot to consider when building and living in a small space but for me indoor air quality ranks as one of the most important changes I can make to my overall well-being living the tiny life. Living in La Casita I’ve definitely learned that it’s the smallest of changes that make the biggest difference.
- What concerns about living the tiny life do you consider most important?
- How do you limit toxicity in your daily life?
A few years ago I met Rhodes Waite when we attended a tiny house group talk hosted at a Permaculture gathering. She was in the beginning stages of designing her own tiny house. We fell out of touch but just recently ran in to each other at Yestermorrow Design and Build School in Vermont. She happened to be at the school for a week-long tiny house design workshop and I was there on a work-study for Permaculture design! It was great to catch up and hear about what she was learning in the class and see her completed tiny house. Below are pictures of her home in Asheville, North Carolina and her thoughts on tiny living and the workshop she took at Yestermorrow.
How do you power your tiny house?
It is wired just like a “normal” house, 12/20 wiring and a small breaker box. I have a female recessed outlet in the exterior wall that an extension cord plugs right into. So I run it to the house who’s yard I’m in. I set it up so that an inverter and solar panel could be added in the future, but for now it’s on the grid, so to speak. Electric bill runs $5-$10 a month.
What is the biggest challenge for you living in a tiny house?
This is probably the hardest question you asked, as nothing comes to mind right away. Hmmm…it’s probably that I haven’t been settled in one location long enough to really feel stable as I’d like to. That’s more of a life circumstance and choice thing than a tiny house thing, but ideally I’d like to live in a tiny house in one location (I’ve moved it twice in 6 months). Other than that there aren’t really any challenges. I find myself wanting more space sometimes just to be able to stack a few boxes or get into projects, but it’s not a big deal.
What are some of the advantages?
I love it, I love it, I love it!!!! I have no mortgage or rent (just a tiny tiny house payment), and I own my house! Wherever I go my space stays the same, and it’s an amazing space. It feels so good to live so small, because it doesn’t feel small at all. The title of the class I just took at Yestermorrow sums it up well…”Less is More”! There’s really not a way to describe the feeling of lightness and freedom that comes with simplifying one’s life. I love knowing where everything is all the time. I love being able to clean my
entire house in 5 minutes. I love feeling so connected to the resources I use and don’t use to live my life and power my house. I love the simplicity of where my “wastes” go…to the backyard. I love the life and character my home holds, it feels great. I love everything being within arms reach.I love the coziness. I love loving where I live.
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To build off of Andrea’s most excellent suggestions for entertaining in/around a tiny house, I’ve been thinking about my personal Tiny House Playlist. And since I’m still knee-deep in creating the time-lapse video of our floor build, I wanted to do something fun here in the meantime.
Here’s my anthem for building and living in a tiny house. Old Man Luedecke is an amazing blue grass banjo player and songwriter, and I highly recommend his music if you like that sort of thing, but all of us can identify with the message in this particular song, “I Quit My Job,” even if you happen to like your job right now.
Also, I like to think about how a place can affect your state of mind, like “Up On The Roof.” I’m partial to the Drifters’ version rather than James Taylor.
Alan suggested Less Than Jake’s “Science of Selling Yourself Short,” mainly for the ska-like vibe. Plus, I think he knows what a klutz I am (“my own worst enemy…”).
He also said, when he’s building on the house, he likes to go old-school. A little Led Zeppelin, perhaps?
Is he saying he’s building by himself too much, or that he likes to build by himself? Am I psychoanalyzing his song choice? Yes, yes I am, poor guy.
I would love to make a full official playlist for us here at The Tiny Life so…
- Spit it out, what are your Tiny House Songs?
- Which artists/songs represent the freedom of tiny living, or the fun/trials of tiny building to you?
Today we have another for the tiny house family readers, a Japanese house that is 678 square feet for a small family on a very narrow lot. What I really like about this house is the central part of the house is flooded with natural light through all the floors, while at the same time almost becoming an architectural focal point itself with the natural wood shelves.
When it comes to living the tiny life which is better? The city life or the country life? With the ability to move your home the possibilities are endless. Having recently made the switch from urban to rural tiny lifestyle, we’re assessing the transition. Here are some advantages and disadvantages we’ve experienced in La Casita.
The majority of folks I’ve talked to who live in a tiny house do so for economic reasons as well as ecological ones. Those were the big motivating factors for Cedric and I. Living lighter on the earth is of great interest to us as is meeting our needs with less money so our recent move got me thinking: is living the tiny life in the country greener and more economically sound than living in the city? In the city we rode our bikes to work, the grocery store, the bowling alley, restaurants and most of our friends’ houses. Now that we’ve moved to a more rural area I find I’m driving a lot more. I definitely feel dependent on our vehicle rather than my bike. For me, living the tiny life isn’t just about houses, it’s my intention in everyday experiences. Being dependent on a car does not satisfy my need for a more intentional, regenerative existence.
There’s also the added expense of car dependency. Gas is more costly here than down south. Plus, with winter still in full swing we had had to buy a set of studded tires so we could get out of our driveway! We’re both feeling as though it takes a lot more stuff to live the country life in the north than it did the city life in the south.
When it comes to aesthetics living rural has living urban beat-even in the winter! Life out in the country is proving exceptionally beautiful and much more quiet than our life in Charleston. There’s also a lot more privacy. Walking out the door in the city often met with someone staring at the house and wanting to know more about it. I loved talking with passer-bys but when you’re getting stared at on the regular, it starts to feel invasive. Plus, being packed in next to other houses does not provide the most scenic view. Here in Vermont we look out to the woods and up to a mountain and at night the stars are stunning. I’m definitely sleeping better at night without my next door neighbors yelling and drinking in to the wee hours of the evening!
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