Archive for the Essentials Category

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 2

So now that we have already established a system of ongoing motivation and made your psyche a bit more resilient to setbacks, we are ready to learn some things.  Like I have said in the past, we are starting small and simple.

When you start to build your home, it is probably going to require some new skills that you might not have yet.  Many people who endeavor to build a tiny house haven’t ever swung a hammer before, let alone installed a gas line.  So where to start?

First off I suggest going and grabbing the basics from your local hardware store (craigslist), even if you don’t build a Tiny House, these are really useful and pretty cheap.  Go out and pickup a

  • 16 oz claw hammer
  • tape measure
  • screw driver (Phillips and Flathead)
  • utility knife
  • small level
  • wire cutter
  • vise grip pliers
  • needle nose pliers
  • combination pliers.

If you have no idea what this stuff is, print this list and just hand it to a sales person at the store.

Tools are one of those things that can go from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars, while there are different levels of quality, you can do well by most any brand.  If you go to a Harbor Freight, Walmart, Northern Tool you could easily do this for under $50.  I typically go to a chain hardware store, spend a few extra bucks, but they are better quality and will last a long time;  Going the route of the chain store will run you about $75. Whatever you decide, make sure you have eye protection and ear protection, it is worth it, trust me.

From there I suggest you look up your local Habitat for Humanity and sign up on a work crew.  They specialize in taking people who don’t know anything and getting them up to speed, to eventually build a house!  The advantage to this route and why I promote it is first off its good to volunteer, second you gain real world house building experience for FREE.  The other things it affords you is that you can also get some insights to local building codes, meet people (who might be willing to come help you frame your house) and it is fun!  Now sometimes with Habitat’s program they only take groups, if this is the case see if you can start a group or push them to let you on a team or get the names of team leaders for you to call.

If this isn’t available in your area, there are other options.  First off many of the chain stores like Home Depot or Lowes have free DIY classes, call your local store.  You could also spend some time watching some of the DIY TV shows, but that is only so helpful, learning by doing is easier.  Finally you can look up a local community college / trade school, most all of them have classes on wood working or DIY home repair theme classes.  Here in Charlotte this would cost $115 for 8 weeks of classes.

The other option is to help out a friend who is doing some home repairs, remodel etc.   If none of this is available, you can learn some basics off of youtube and you’ll need to bring a friend or family member to help you out on your first few days building.

Once you have the basics down of how to hammer, screw a screw in, measure and level you can look to expand your skills.  I suggest you do this by going to the library and taking out a good do it yourself book, a book on framing (how to build the walls), plumbing, and electrical.  At this point don’t worry about remember too much of this stuff, you are just getting a general overview on this, later when it comes time to wire or plumb your home, you will take this book out again and do it step by step.  When it comes to wiring I’d suggest focusing on breakers, junction boxes, determining what system load you have.  For Plumbing focus on venting, draining, material types, also remember your house will be a different setup because it might be on wheels.   Now depending on your comfort level you might feel the need to hire a person to do this for you, which is up to you, but have a basic jist of these skills will still be valuable in repairs and – hate to say it – check the work of the professional.  Depending on the professional he/she might be willing to come in and just give a safety assessment where they review your work and tell you how to fix it, this can be cheaper, but not all professionals will be comfortable doing this.

Tomorrow we will talk about nailing down your finances.

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 1

Starting out on the path to build a Tiny House is can be daunting, difficult, frustrating and a whole host of other emotions, but it is also paired with hope, dreams and the promise of a better tomorrow.  Let’s no sugar coat it, it will be difficult, but what in life that is truly worth it isn’t and this guide will get you there more easily.

At this point I have been blogging about Tiny Houses for almost 2 years, learned a little bit, so I wanted to put together a practical guide to building your Tiny House.  As you read my posts, my approach may seem a bit out of order as I lay it out here in subsequent posts, I have a very good reason for my method.  While I try to do things in logical order I also work under the assumption that starting need to be small, simple, and successful.  From there we work up to longer goals that increase in difficulty.   So the order is more dictated by level of difficulty and ease to make it more likely that you will actually achieve the goal rather than give up.

When you stand at the beginning it can be difficult to know where to start.  I have found a few simple ways to start right now!  The building of a Tiny House or purchasing of land takes time, some can lose interest or get disheartened, so what I recommend is do simple things right now that can let you build up to it.

Finding your motivation outlet is a key step.  For me it is this blog, I invite you to submit stories of you on this journey, this blog keeps me plugged into my dream, and it allows me daily exposure to it.  In short, it keeps up the motivation.  Now this motivation can take any form, in the beginning it was sketching floor plans, then it was an insatiable reading of every blog on the subject (I literally have read every post on almost every tiny house blog), then I found myself standing in a Tiny House in Philadelphia, which prompted me to launch the blog.  It could be painting, photography, finding other who like Tiny Houses too (big help!)  I find methods to keep up motivation work the best if I can see them, if they are visual.  I talk more about this topic in this post: Seeing is Believing

Now many will point out “how is doing this going to build my Tiny House?”, the truth is, it’s not.  But what it does is maintaining the motivation, keeps the dream alive and  more importantly, it allows us to be more resilient to a setback, which is huge.  It also is simple; you can grab some paper and a pencil right now and start now.  Subconsciously this gets things rolling; I have seen this work, essentially it is a small and guaranteed to succeed, which means somewhere in your mind it keeps your motivation up.

However you do it, start now!

What is next?  Gain the skills to build your house, come back tomorrow for the post!

Top 10 Tiny House Questions

I realized the other day when I speak about Tiny Houses I almost always get these questions and figured people coming to the site might find useful.  So here we go:

1. What is a Tiny House?

A Tiny House doesn’t really have a definition, which is one of its strengths, it is a creative and flexible concept.  The general gist is that we are looking to design and construct a dwelling for one or more people that is proportional to the number of people who live in it, but is smaller than the typical American Home.  I generally classify a Tiny House as under 200 square feet and a small house 200-400 square feet for a single person.

2. Why the hell would you live in a Tiny House?

There a are a whole slew of reasons why we want to live in smaller spaces.  Most people will point to three motivations: Environmental impact, financial reasons and life simplification.  I am not going to argue about environmental issues, but the fact is we need to live smaller in all meanings of the word.  We have to reduce our impact, our waste, our inputs, our outputs, our footprint and shift to a resilient and sustainable future and that isn’t a “sustainable” future like the commercial interests want to sell you.  There are also many who look at the current true cost of homes today and question the wisdom in purchasing such a large investment that is seen as a debtors prison.    Finally, living in a Tiny House allows you to bring focus and intentionality to your life, allowing you to focus on what is important in your life.  When you aren’t tied to a home that you owe on, when you don’t have heaps of clutter you can focus on things like relationships, yourself, learning, etc.

3. How much does a Tiny House cost?

I have seen people who have went through great lengths to recover materials from dumps/Craig’s list/etc and already had the tools, they built it for under $3000.  On the upper end, using top shelf materials and paying for someone to build it for you, $50,000.  The average Tiny House person spends around $20,000 and does the work themselves.

4. Isn’t a Tiny House on a trailer really just a trailer home?

I would say no, but other disagree.  Trailer homes often are much more expensive, the ones coming out of the factories have next to no appreciation for aesthetics, they often don’t focus on minimizing environmental impacts and often are made of low quality materials.  There are a whole host of social consciousness issues surrounding Tiny Houses.

5. I have a family, you’re crazy to think that it is a practical option!

The Tiny Houses I typically talk about are around 150 square feet, but what people seemed to have selective hearing on is when I talk about the definition of a Tiny Houses is that a Tiny or Small House is respective to the number of occupants.  A small house for a family of 5 might be 1000 square feet.  I also write from the perspective of a single male who doesn’t wish to have kids, but would probably build a bigger house when I get married.

6. Aren’t they dangerous, what about tornadoes or hurricanes?

We work to make our houses to be as safe as possible, there are codes which promote safety, but sometimes codes lag behind and out of date.  Building Tiny House can adhere to most of the same codes or even exceed them.  Since many Tiny Houses are built on trailers, they have to be road worthy, which means it can tolerate stresses far beyond those of a traditional housing.  For high winds, we use hurricane strapping which anchors the house to the ground more strongly than most houses are built today.  The use of higher quality materials and better construction means you are better protected.  Finally, in the event of serious danger, you are able to hitch your house to your car and drive out of harms way, which is pretty useful for flooding, just drive to the high point.

7. Are they legal?

In many cases they operate in gray areas.  There are some municipalities that will work with you and I encourage you to do so, but sometimes they simply won’t.  Having good relationships with your neighbors, large enough land to hide it, use loopholes, and flying under the radar is sufficient for most.   Often it comes down to semantics:  it is not a dwelling, it is a storage shed; it is a trailer, not a home.

8. Where do I put all of my stuff?

When you move to a smaller home you need to weed through your possessions, many of us find that there are many things that we haven’t used or needed in years!  It really starts with an understanding of consumer culture, the problems it brings and the benefits you gain by at least partially removing yourself from it.  We are always going to need things, we will always need to purchase things, but the differentiation between needs and wants is a difficult thing to start doing.  We also need to be cognizant about how our culture influences us in this aspect, because it has a strong hold over many of us.  I am still in this process of myself, getting rid of what is not truly needed and reducing my possessions to the basics. There are those who try to do the 100 thing or 300 thing challenge, I don’t necessarily do that, but I have been able to shift my mind set to really question my stuff and my purchases.

9. Do they have running water, flushing toilets and lights?

Yes and no.  It depends on the house, there are many people who live in Tiny Houses who have all the creature comforts of modern society.  At the same time, there are those who bring in their own water, use composting toilets, and capture their power from the sun.  Many call this “off the grid”, my hope is to design my home to be able to tie into the grid fully, but can also operate off the grid.

10. Awesome!  How do I start?

My post on Monday will outline how to get started moving towards living in a Tiny House!


What Do You Need?

This weekend it was cold and dreary out, so I decided to tackle all my belongings, start to thin things out in preparation for moving into a Tiny House.  While I am about 1-2 years away from such a move (purchase the land and build my house), I knew there was a lot of things that I could get rid off.  I was able to reduce my belonging by about 50% by removing unessential things, junk and stuff I didn’t need anymore.  I should note I first donated, then recycled and finally if I had to, threw away.

The exercise got me thinking about what do you need?  I started a Mind Map (using xmind, a favorite of mine) to consider how I would integrate my tiny house, my stuff, food production, water, and energy.  When I got to stuff, I started to think, what does it mean to live simply?  The idea came to me, it’s a lot like going to college, simple, small etc.  When you move into a dorm room you have next to no space, but you need to have everything you need to live.

Now some will be quick to point out often in college you have a cafeteria, a gym, laundry facilities, etc.  I agree, but I really like what Gregory Johnson  over at Resources For Life says about this, living in a Tiny House means you need to “outsource” things.  So instead of a bowflex, you get a gym membership, instead of a full kitchen, you eat out (quite common in NYC).  Etc. Etc.  These things cost money, but in the end, you are saving a lot and with no debt it isn’t as bad, plus it afford you more free time.

So when we consider moving to a college dorm room we know a few things: it is small, must be multifunctional, must be meet all your needs.  Sounds like similar circumstances in a Tiny House.  So if I were to make a list of what would it include?  Well here is suggested shopping list for a dorm Click Here.

The other thing to consider when trying to have a rough idea of what you will need is the 100 item challenge.  Here is Tammy’s list of things that she has in her house.

Finally I realize that no matter how slim I get things I will need to thin out some more when I make the final move.  So here is my plan.  Once I have constructed my Tiny House I plan to park it outside where I am currently living for 1 month.  I will move into my Tiny House with nothing.  The idea behind this is that any time I need something, I go into my old place and get just that one item.  Now this means I do have to pay rent for 1 month extra, but I should be able to swing it.  As I need things I will go get them, extra exercise for sure, but the point of the exercise to shift to an intentional way of life, so if I have to get on my shoes, go outside, unlock the door, walk up the stairs, find that one thing, then I will think about it.  At the end of the month I will have stuff left in my old place where I will sort through it all.  Is there things that I can do without or absolutely need?  I figure at the end of the month there isn’t much that I absolutely need need need if I didn’t use it in that time.

Below are two things that will help you along your way to reducing your things.

Here is a great book on getting your stuff under control and life simplification:

Here is a video that I like about one guys quest to simplify:

But Will It Make You Happier?

Today a good blogger friend of mine was featured in the New York Times, it talks about life simplification and what actually makes humans happy.  Not only is it inspiring, interesting and thought provoking, it is backed up with a good bit of research.  The article is really well written and I strongly encourage you all to read it.

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Full article here: NYT August 2010