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Posts Tagged Tiny Houses

Tiny Houses Are Hard, But So Is Everything That Is Worthwhile

The truth is that when it comes to tiny houses, there are many things that will be difficult.  No ShortcutWe all love to dream, we all love to imagine what could be, but when it comes time to actually pull the trigger you need to grapple with some of the realities.  This isn’t to say you can’t live tiny, it is to say that it comes with a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.

More and more I have come to realize that the things in life that are the hardest are the most worthwhile.  If you think about it, what I show you how to do on this blog or at the Conference is changing the trajectory of your life in such a radical way that it boggles my mind even today.  So when faced with having our lives change in such a dramatically positive way, it makes sense to put a lot of hard work to make it happen.  So here are three reasons why tiny houses are hard, but really worth it.

1. Its a lot of hard work

It takes a lot of really really hard work to build a tiny house.  It’s not scare anyone, but I think people don’t always grasp this fact.  While the process is easy, the scale is approachable and the learning cure made easier with the awesome resources we have now, it doesn’t make the work any easier.  So the process is easy, but the work is hard.

2.  Tiny House Bring An Inherent Risk

When you build and live in a tiny house, you’re taking a risk.  You will most likely need to do it under the radar.  In the ebook mentioned below, I show you how to mitigate the risk of flying under the radar.  In the end, when it comes to codes, people’s perceptions, dealing with neighbors, and much more: its messy.  There will be drama, sleepless nights of worry, having to move and convincing the guy from the power company that you need a panel setup in the middle of the woods, but “I promise I’m not building a meth lab” type of talks.

Our Writer Andrea had to move three times in a single year because of various things beyond her control.  I thought I found land only to have it pulled out from under me.  There is an inherent level of risk that comes with tiny houses and you need to be able to deal with that; if not, then tiny houses might not be for you.

3. Building Codes Are Sticking Point

No matter what anyone tells you, getting your tiny house legal with codes is rare and if it happens, it took a ton of legwork. I see it in the comments all the time “all you have to do is X” and while we want to to believe that its “just that easy”, it is not.  If you doubt this fact, give your code enforcement office a call and try out that person’s magic phrase or loop hole, make sure you mention you want to LIVE in a house that is 150 square feet, see how that works out.

That said if you put in the hard work, you can find solutions to building codes, but it will take a lot of time, piles of paperwork, getting variances, and maybe even go to court; only then you can get it done…. maybe.  I talk about this whole process in my ebook, so I’m not going to belabor this point much more.

 

So while these three things a very tough, they are very much worth the time, effort, and hard work that comes with it.  Tiny houses have the ability to change you life, isn’t that worth some toil?

 

Your Turn!

  • What are the tough points for you and how are you trying to overcome them?

Tiny House Weekend

So last week I had a crazy tiny house adventure.   It involved a potato, a few tiny houses, building codes and a lot of meeting tiny house folks.

I started off staying with Laura and Matt, two tiny housers in Asheville, Laura blogs at 120squarefeet.com (she also has a new book out – click here).   I have gotten to know them pretty well and always enjoy hanging out with them.  Not only do we talk about tiny houses, but we get to nerd-out too.

From there I met up with my brother and went to my favorite breakfast spot, Sunny Pointe.  After an amazing locally sourced organic breakfast we headed out.   From there we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the fall colors.  I love driving the parkway, its winding roads and amazing views, it’s pretty hard to beat.  I dropped down from the parkway down into Brevard, saw looking glass falls and grabbed some lunch.

The next day I was off to Dan’s workshop where we talked about tiny houses.  I gave a talk on building codes and zoning.  After lunch Matt and Laura talked about their tiny house and living in it.  There were a lot of great questions for both presentations and the workshop allowed for us to chat with a lot of the folks.

 

Tiny House Preppers & Prepping

It is interesting to see the different types of people that are drawn to tiny houses, they come from all walks of life, all political leanings, religions and nationalities.  We are read in over 160 countries so we get quite the mix.  Over the past few years we have seen a lot of interest coming from the prepper community, the survivalist community and from the homesteaders.  While each unique groups in their own right, they all have a good bit of overlap.

fdgfdgI’ve come to know people from these groups and while it’s true I get the occasional “the sky is falling, put on your tin foil hat” email or phone call; by in large these folks are very normal people that have a practical way about them.  I don’t particularly subscribe to prepping mentalities, but I thought I might share some of what I have learned over the years from talking with them.  I do spend time on various prepping, homesteading and survivalist websites because they typically are the best source of information on things like off grid living, practical solutions to modern day problems and other useful skills.  There is a strong overlap between between my interest in permaculture and tiny house living, and these schools of thought, so its an interesting topic to me regardless.

Preparing for what might come, whatever it is, seems to be a balancing act; everything in moderation right?  I like what Jack Spirko says about preparing “everything you do to prepare should help you today, not just in a disaster”.    So whatever you do, should improve your life and situation now.  Along with this, is enjoy the life you live now, don’t spend it worrying about what could happen later.

Another lesson I learned from studying permaculture and the Transition Town Movement is that there are simply too many possible things that can go wrong and while you can make educated guesses, even those are just guesses and how they actually play out will vary wildly.  Take the email I got recently that sparked the idea for this post.  The person that emailed me was worried about hurricanes threatening the coastal town where she lived.  It is true that a hurricane could rock their world, it’s happened plenty of times before, but how the aftermath plays out could vary.

So the take away that I gleaned was that there are any number of things that could happen and each of them could have a wide array of outcomes, meaning an almost infinite possibilities; including the possibility that nothing will happen at all.   So how does one prepare for that many events?  The simple answer is that you don’t.

32366bb40d9ae2b8fdac1c506156b3f7Preparing for all those things isn’t practical, so the only thing we can do is to become resilient to changes that will come at us.  Resiliency is the ability to react to changes in our system, adjust our environment, behaviors and systems to then rebound from that.  Our ability to recover from the shock to the system is key, the faster we can recover, the better we will be.  We start with being resilient as an individual and then grow it to our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  We can achieve this by generating our own power, growing our own food, building community and other proactive steps.

So how does this all tie into tiny houses?

Tiny houses present an unique set of hurdles because of the space that we live in is so small.  While many peppers focus on gathering and storing things that they might need in an event, this doesn’t work well with limited square footage.  So how does a prepper manage this?

The likely hood that of a long term event is generally pretty small and most of them will be localized.  Most events will disrupt things for only a few weeks at most and if we are in good financial shape, we can recover quite well even if we loose everything.  The likely hood of a long term event that is wide spread is significantly less likely to happen.  Equipped with a few tools, a knowledge base and a plan, we can be pretty resilient to most things.  So if we can prepare for a 3 months disruption we can either last the event or move to an area that was effected and since we have our ducks in a row, we can start a new life.

That isn’t to say there aren’t considerations to be made for longer term events that are wide spread, take the great depression, it affected millions and lasted over a decade.  The point is, plan for the most likely events first.

The one big thing that we have to our advantage with a tiny house is that it is mobile.  If the SHTF we can pack up and move on, maybe even before the event with enough warning.  The only flaw to this is if roads become blocked and/or lawlessness spreads; but these are things we can plan for and develop contingencies for.

Another obvious thing is that most people opt for off the grid solutions for their tiny houses, so this is naturally a happy coincidence when it comes to prepping.  The one thing to consider is how you move these capabilities if you need to bug out.

Bug-Out-Bag-home

A good portion of people also look to the famed “bug out bag” or “go bag” which is simply a bag that is all set to go at a moments notice that contains most of what you need to immediately leave.  Most of these bags are setup to only last short time frames, they are self contained kits to keep you alive if all else fails.  Its a great place to start and I know of several tiny house dwellers that have them in their tiny houses.

Another thing that a lot of tiny house dwellers do is garden.  The ability to grow and store your own food has a ton of benefits right now for your budget and health, but with the added benefit of you being able to keep yourself alive if food becomes in short supply.  While I have seen a ton of people store a lot of food, the truth is that you need to be grow your own because it could be lost and will always run out.

Now growing food is one thing that I know very well, in fact I do it professionally.  I am literally a sustainable urban agriculture professional/farmer.  Here is a sobering truth, even though I do this almost every day of my life, even though I have grown literally tons of food in a given year, if things got really bad for a long time, I’d most likely starve.  This will improve dramatically when I shift to a perennial food forest, but even then it will be tricky.  It’s because growing enough calories for a person, which is expending a lot of energy farming,  365 days a year is a really hard thing. Don’t forget that if food is in short supply, so is gas, materials, seeds, amendments etc. There are many people out there that can grow a few things really well, but can they grow a full diet of crops without any machines or amendments?

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My experience focuses on sustainable agricultural systems, meaning I grow a diversified group of perennial crops organically with on site nutrient sources in a way that cycles through the system.  The problem is that sometimes you don’t have a good crop, sometimes you need something that is from an off site location.  It can be tough to produce enough calories  The point is in a survival situation there is no store to go to and if you can’t grow enough because of a disease or bug, you’ll starve.

So when it comes to food production, start now because it will take a lifetime to get good at it and focus on perennial organic crops.  Taking lessons from permaculture will go a long way to meeting this need.

Finally the greatest asset you can have outside of a few basics, is knowledge.  Knowledge can’t be lost or stolen, it doesn’t way anything or take up space,  it is always with you and it can be shared or traded.  Skills that you have can be practical for everyday life such as food preservation, bartering, fixing things, growing and gathering food, etc.

The one parting thing I will say is that in my opinion, whatever that is worth, is that the ability to take care of one’s self is a powerful thing.  It is why many of use come to tiny houses, because it enables us to live lives that are more practical, purposeful and to live the life we want to lead.  I also feel like your ability to help yourself and your neighbors in tough times is more than just a moral obligation, but should be seen as a civic duty, one that is generally missing from our society today.  Not only does it help to do some of these things in the good times, but it will help in the tough times; even if nothing happens saving money, eating good food, and connecting with neighbors are all things we can benefit from.

Your Turn!

  • What are things can you do that improves your life now, but also increases your resiliency?
  • How do you handle prepping in small spaces?

What Tiny Houses Mean For Urban Density

Yesterday I was talking about tiny houses with another tiny house aficionado when the topic of how do tiny houses intersect with the need in the future for more urban density.  There have been several studies suggesting that in order to meet the needs of the future, more and more people are going to have to live in cities.  The land around cities will also have to be shifted to agricultural spaces to support these cities with food that can be produced within a few hours travel time.

nrdc-vancouver

So what do tiny houses mean for this potential future?  Tiny houses provide a living laboratory for people to try out different design ideas, utility systems, storage solutions, and learn lessons that can be taken and applied to small sustainable housing of the next evolution of the city.  I have been asked many of times: “how do you think you’ll get the same density with tiny houses as you do apartment buildings?”  The simple answer is I’m not.

In a city setting essentially you could have same interiors, but the outside form would be one that is stack-able.   Since you can’t have side wall windows or a sky light, we are going to have to make the end walls floor to ceiling windows to get enough light in.  We will need to design as part of the master plan, outdoor living spaces that people actually want to hang out in, with roof top gardens, building courtyards, local community gardens, and great parks.

In the suburbs and rural areas I’d expect to see more mini villages pop up in the form of co-housing projects.  These villages would most likely allow people who want to live in the country do so, but also be the hubs for agricultural activities for themselves and the cities.

I struggle personally with the notion that we may be faced with living more and more in dense cities because I am one that likes room to roam, a quite place to sit and think and green space to be in.   Here in Charlotte, while it is a very sizable city, I live on several acres. I have been fortunate enough to travel a good bit and even cities that have done a really good job with their parks and green spaces, I still find myself feeling smothered by tall buildings and concrete.  Cities certainly offer a lot to do, but there is something deep inside of me that resonates with being outdoors in the woods.  Something that I fear no high density city will be able to provide me with.

Your Turn!

  • How do you see the future of housing?
  • What will the cities and country look like for a sustainable future?

Tiny Houses and Pets

One of the first questions my friends and family asked us when we announced our intention to build Big Red was, “What about Angel?”

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Angel is our 50 lb pit mix, and as you can tell from the question, everyone who meets her becomes a big fan. She’s a rescue, who came to us as a foster with six puppies, all since successfully adopted, and is now a certified therapy dog. She’s the sweetest, most lovable… sorry, I’m sure everyone thinks their dog is the best dog. Angel has papers that say she is, though! She passed tests and everything!

I digress. And I will take this opportunity to post as many Angel pictures as possible.

Pet ownership poses a special challenge for Tiny House aspirants. How do we best accommodate the needs of a pet or pets who did not actively choose the tiny life, the way we did? Possessed of both cats and a dog, I see the challenges of both audiences. Not owners of birds or reptiles or rodents, however, but seeing as how those are mostly stationary animals, all that entails is carving out a single location for them, and perhaps a single trade-off: Bird or Fridge? Snake or Toilet? Fancy Rat or Fancy Wine Cooler? Dogs and cats (and, I suppose, other larger mobile companion animals such as pygmy swine) need room to roam.

Now, I’m mainly addressing urban and suburban pet owners, like myself here. I’ve lived in the country and met many a wonderful yard dog in my time, so if your pet is mostly unfamiliar with the inside of a house, there really isn’t too much to adapt. Also, I make the assumption that the owner and pet are separated for part or most of the day, similar to my situation. If you get to be or plan to be home with your pet, it will be easier to accommodate mid-day walks.

phooIn the same vein, our two cats are semi-outdoor animals (that’s Phooey to the left; Shucks is camera-shy). Please don’t be mad at me. I’ve had many friends, back when I was a park ranger, who insisted all domestic cats should be strictly indoor animals due to both documented increased cat health and feline avicidal tendencies. Domestic and feral cats kill a shockingly large number of songbirds every year. I kept them indoors as long as it was just me and the cats, but Alan does not enjoy rambunctious felines at 3 am. Since my marriage is apparently more important to me than all of bird-dom, out they went.

I’m not too worried about how they’ll adapt to Big Red, since they’ll have regular, unsupervised access to the Great Outdoors, where they will hopefully adapt to using the Great Outdoors as the Great Litter Box. Otherwise, I’ll place a litter box under the house for occasional use, because Big Red is too small for stray litter to be flying around. I think it’s important to accustom all pets to eating on a schedule (I’ve had a vet tell me this), so there won’t be food left out for raccoons, either. I can have them in when I want a snuggle, or when the weather is bad. I don’t think they’ll have trouble with the confinement for short periods of time, as they also enjoy tight spaces and the security of cubby holes when indoors.

Angel, on the other hand, spends the majority of her day indoors, preferably on our bed where where she is absolutely prohibited. Angel-shaped divots in the comforter reveal she does not observe the prohibition. However, this also tells me that she doesn’t spend her day wandering the house, taking up space. The key is, she’s a low-energy, almost zen-like dog. She’s The Dude of dogs.

Breed and personality is critical here. If you have the choice, and you are considering a joint dog-and-tiny-house project, please think about the type of dog that would enjoy small living spaces. Often, it’s not the size of the dog, but the energy level that dictates it’s space needs, and energy level can vary within breeds, so get to know your new friend before deciding your lifestyle will be a good fit.

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If you already have a dog, and that dog needs 2 miles of running and 3 hours of ball-chasing a day to stay sane, you might want to consider alternative daytime arrangements for your pooch. I will not personally advocate outdoor kenneling, because many more experienced dog experts have told me it’s bad for them, but the most luxurious kennel probably beats many places I’ve lived myself, so I’m not sure I can judge, given some thought to climate control and socialization. However, dog sitting and doggie daycare are other possible options.

Outdoor  fencing is also important for your dog’s safety during supervised playtime, especially if you are near roads or other hazards. Angel is not the type to go more than 50 feet from the house, unless the neighbors are grilling, but if your dog is the adventurous type, put some thought into containment of a physical sort. The size of one’s house does not necessarily dictate the amount of outdoor space you might have at your dog’s disposal, but adequate play-n-poop, non-concrete ground is pretty important, and that area should be fenced off if at all possible.

Food storage will also be an issue. Just like tiny house dwellers have to think creatively about buying other staples in bulk, pet food is most economically found in large quantities. I’m not yet sure how we’ll tackle this problem with both cat and dog food, but it may involve Rube Goldberg (dog food falling from a ceiling hopper through a feeder tube? Via remote control?).

P1060266Many people have planned for their pooches’ sleeping arrangements to be under a window seat or chair, but Angel has yet to ever sleep in a planned spot. She’s had a number of beds given to her, from my parents or from the rescue group, that she has politely ignored. Therefore, we plan to not have a plan and let her find her favorite spot via her patented decision process of, “Am I allowed to sleep here? No? Ok, perfect!”

We’ve found Angel to be an excellent Tiny House ambassador in our neighborhood as well, so she’s contributed to our house-building efforts by making friends and influencing people. For example, it turns out one of our neighbors is an independent construction contractor who happens to also own a pit bull mix just like Angel. So he’s always happy to see us and answer the occasional question about framing. Tiny house building is community building, even for people who are not actually building a tiny house, it seems.

Pets are a wonderful addition to any life, no matter the size!

Your Turn!

  • How does your pet like tiny living?
  • What changes have you made to accommodate a simpler lifestyle for your pet?
  • Where do you store your pet’s food and supplies?
  • How cute/smart/awesome is your pet?
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