When it comes to tiny houses when is small too small? 50 square feet? 100 square feet? 200 square feet? A lot of it has to do with individual circumstances, needs and number of people living in the space. After over a year in La Casita Cedric and I have come to the conclusion that as cozy as our home is, 98 square feet for two people and a stocky corgi is pushing some limits. We need more room in order to work on hobbies, store our bulk items and fulfill our need for independence. In the South it seemed a lot easier to fulfill these needs. We didn’t worry about freezing hoses, there was no need to store bulky winter clothes or gear and going outside was bliss in the winter months. Now that we live somewhere with a serious winter, we have more gear, more clothes and less and less space to put it in and as a tiny house fills, the more claustrophobic it feels. So how do you figure out how small is too small before you’re already living the tiny life? Here are few suggestion from our experience.
First, carefully consider needs. For example, we did not thoroughly consider the impact a tiny house would have on our social lives. We would host 30+ people a year in our apartment and threw lots of social events and fundraisers for different project we were a part of. While I’ve found lots of solutions to the issue of hosting events and entertaining, it’s difficult not having a place for family and friends to stay if they want to visit us up North. This has been one of the hardest parts for me and it wasn’t even something I considered as seriously as I should have. Also, my crafting time has diminished due to lack of space for supplies and the room to actually do projects. My advice is make a list of what is most important to your happiness in your space. Is it being able to cook delicious meals, soak in a tub, host potlucks or a space to do hobbies and crafts in? Number your list with 5 being most important and 1 being least. Make compromises from this list, tweak it as you build and use it throughout construction to remind yourself of your needs and how you plan to meet them.
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When Cedric and I started looking for design inspiration for La Casita there were a lot of ideas out in the internet. Thanks to great blogs like this one we were able to implement ideas from other tiny houses on wheels but we also looked to alternative dwellings to complete a design we were happy with. We were especially influenced by the sailing community and we definitely looked to the RV community for ideas on how to implement certain systems. The folks who travel and live year-round in RV’s and sailboats understand the challenge of mobile living and have great solutions to common problems and challenges faced by living the tiny life!
Cedric comes from a boat building background and I always tell people that if it ever flooded where we live, La Casita would probably float. He incorporated a lot of different styles and techniques inherent in a sailboat. When people enter our home they often mention the fact that it feels like being on a boat, without all the rocking. Our built in furniture was influenced by the seating Cedric had on his live aboard sailboat and our counter top has a lip to it, a common element on boats to keep items from rolling off. Our electric system is marine-grade tinned copper wire and our electric box is made for life on the water. We have DC outlets from West Marine and pretty much everything about our house is built with sailing in mind sans a keel and actual sails! We love the cozy aspect of boat design, especially in the sleeping cabins so we built our loft with that coziness in mind and angled the roof to give it that cabin-like feel and appeal.
Sailboat weren’t our only inspiration. I checked out RV blogs and forums as well! I found a lot of insightful and helpful information about keeping hoses from freezing, general moving tips and even wood stove recommendations. This community has been around for awhile and the veterans of recreational vehicle living are full of excellent advice.
Another source of inspiration came from folks living in yurts and teepees. Blogs were really a great source of information from folks living this type of mobile lifestyle. We entertained the idea of buying a yurt for some time but ultimately a tiny house was a better option for our lifestyle. We didn’t feel like a yurt would be as comfortable in the hot climate of the South and friends up North had said that they were difficult to keep warm in the winter. Plus, after putting one up for some friends, we realized they aren’t as easy to construct as we thought. They also aren’t built for modern amenities and we (read me) weren’t quite ready to give up a fridge and electricity.
It was infinitely helpful to read about other people’s experiences and get a better understanding of just what these different aspects of tiny living offer. Comparing the challenges faced by different communities living a lifestyle with a smaller square footage was essential if designed what was best for our needs. I recommend reaching out to these different communities via blogs, forums, conferences or just go up to a sailor or RV’er and ask what’s up! Most people enjoy sharing their many experiences and animatedly discuss just about everything from waste management to the challenges of wintering in a mobile structure-trust me I’ve asked!
- Have any blogs, forums or other recommendations for design inspiration?
<This is my favorite, no fuss project in terms of interior design! It takes about 20 minutes to do and can be completed with simple tools on a small budget. Until recently most of our books had still been in storage due to limited wall space in our tiny house. We put in so many windows it left little space to put up book shelves. We have installed a few over our windows which work nicely but too many of them create a crowded feeling in such a small space. I’d seen floating bookshelves on a few different design sites and decided to make a couple for the house so we could unpack some of our books. They’re great because they don’t take up much space and it’s a fun way to keep our favorite reads handy.
First I headed to my local library and checked out their sale section and bought two hardcover books for a dollar. These are the books that will act as the shelf so best not to spend much money on them. I then went to the hardware store and bought L brackets and a few screws. Some folks use metal bookends instead of L brackets but I didn’t have either and I thought the brackets would be stronger and better able to hold more weight. Next I marked where the wholes would be and started the rather mundane work of getting the screws through all the pages. This could be done in 20 seconds with a drill but when I pulled out our trusty Hitachi the battery was dead. I was feeling impatient, so I pulled out a phillips and it took a few minutes longer but was fairly quick and easy.
I tried hiding the bracket in the inside cover of the book but it didn’t look quite right. It doesn’t make much of a difference whether you put the bracket, or bookend, on the inside or outside cover. The way I assembled it I thought you’d be able to see the bracket easily, which would defeat the ‘floating’ purpose, but it didn’t make much of a difference. You can also use two brackets on either end of the book and create a more stable base which I might do for my next set of shelves. I’ve noticed they’re slightly wobbly with only one but it’s held up no problem (so far).
Once you get all the screws in it gets even easier. Just pick a spot on the wall, mark the holes and screw it in to the wall. Voila! Stack you favorite books on top and you’ve got yourself a stylish and functional storage solution.
Note on Assembly: Don’t drop your screwdriver where playful puppies might try and “help”.
- What are you favorite interior DIY projects for small spaces?
Top question when someone hears we live in a tiny house? What do you do about the bathroom? Everyone is curious what the is deal with waste disposal. We use a composting system-some folks buy incinerators, others buy fancy compost toilets and then there are those on a budget who use the bucket system. After taking a permaculture course I became fascinated with going a step beyond the composting system. We had a lecture on biogas systems and the biofuels made available by the anaerobic decomposition of waste. Since that day I’ve been researching systems that have been widely used throughout India, Africa, and Latin America. In the US these systems have been used for some time by water treatement plants as an alternative form of energy for generators in the case of emergencies.
Biogas systems take waste and capture the methane from the anaerobic decomposition of the effluent and supplies you with fertilizer and fuel when the cycle is complete. A digester is the apparatus that controls the decomposition and consists of a sealed tank or pit and a means by which to gather and store the methane. I’m so interested in these systems for reasons of sustainability and efficiency. Composting waste is an alternative to the current system of polluting a finite resource but biogas systems take it a step further by gathering fuel that does not require invasive collection from the depths of the earth. It takes toxic waste, keeps it out of the environment and allows it to be used in multiple ways to human benefit.
There are many different shapes and models of biogas plants but by far the most popular and wide spread design is the Indian cylindrical pit design. It has proven to be reliable in many different environs and it’s widespread use dates to the 1970’s. There are two basic parts to the design, a tank that holds the slurry (manure and water) and a gas cap or drum on the tank to capture the gas.
My dreams were dashed for building one of these for our tiny house when I discovered that two people don’t make enough poop to fuel even a small system. You need around 6 people and 6-8 cows for the system to function in a way that meets fuel needs. The first step of building such a system is getting community support and finding other folks who want to use such a system together. In a city this would make a lot sense but in our current situation out in a rural area, just me, Cedric and the pup it’s not a realistic option.
This technology is one that I will keep on the back burner for now but if this article has peaked your interest at all then definitely check out the via link at the bottom of this page. There is a detailed construction manual for the Indian cylindrical pit system that provides advantages, disadvantages, considerations, costs, labor input and more excellent graphics as well as charts on building this biogas system. I hope to be assisting with the construction of such a system in the near future so until then share you interest and experience if you have it with biogas and biofuel systems. I’d love to hear what folks think of the implementation of these systems and how the social perspective on waste treatment can be altered toward regenerative design.
- How do you see alternative systems fitting in to the philosophy and living of the tiny life?
Spring has sprung up here in the Northeast! While Ryan huddles in the wet and chilly weather that has descended on the Carolinas I’m getting sunburned in Vermont! (Sorry Ryan!) The weather has been amazing the past couple weeks and we’ve been relishing sunny, mid-70’s days as the buds on the trees explode in a panorama of green! Folks are out in their gardens working away, tulips are blooming and bees are buzzing. This is my favorite time of year in a tiny house because you can really get outside, enjoy the weather and take a break from the cabin fever that winter can bring.
This was a tough winter for Cedric and I, mostly because we wrenched ourselves from the balmy winter weather of Charleston, South Carolina to the frigid northern landscape of Vermont! The sudden change and necessity of staying indoors for extensive periods took their toll but now all is green and right with the world. As inspiration for the season, I want to share with you this incredible garden shed created by German designer Nils Holger Moormann. He calls it Walden after Henry David Thoreau’s story of life and his relationship with nature while living a simple, more self-sufficient life in the woods. I think Moormann’s interpretation of simplicity is stunning and as a tiny lifer and gardener, I have to admit some envy for the efficiency and beauty of this project!
This design is my dream guest house. To me, it’s the perfect tiny house extension. The description on Moormann’s site explains how he looked to the concept of simple life as well as creating a space that invited you outdoors. There’s no doubt you’d be invited by it’s cozy, convertible indoor/outdoor eating area, easy reach of garden tools and sliding sunroof that beckons you to experience the sky! There is an upper level with a double bed for those mid-day, summer siestas and space for a campfire or cooking on a hung grill. He includes lots of space for storage of tools and materials, including firewood, a wheelbarrow and garden hose to name a few. In our tiny house we struggle with storage as well as guest space and this design is one of my all-time favorite answers to those predicaments!
- What tiny house accessory unit do you wish for?