Archive for the Tiny House Category

Tiny House Building Codes: Top 5 Myths BUSTED

Tiny House Building Codes: Top 5 Myths BUSTED

It’s been a while since I did a post about how owners of tiny houses deal with building codes, but coding questions come up often. There’s more regulation on tiny houses and dwellings than you may think. In fact, understanding building codes, zoning, and regulation is one of the areas that really trip up new tiny homeowners when they first start out. So today I wanted to go over several of the questions and myths that arise with tiny house code compliance.

It seems there are a lot of tiny house building code misconceptions out there. Knowing how to navigate through the tiny house regulations and codes will help you avoid headaches later. So here are the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning, and tiny houses.

Busting Building Code Myths(1)

Tiny House Building Code Myth 1:

I don’t need a building permit if my tiny house is under ___ sq/ft.

This myth is true, but with caveats. Typically, if you’re building a structure under a certain square footage you don’t need to acquire a building permit. So do you need a permit to build a tiny house if it falls under that square footage? There’s a catch: the exception to the building permit rule is in the term “house.” When you want to dwell or live in the home it shifts from a tiny structure to a tiny house, and you run into building permit issues.

The second you place any personal property in your structure, your small house is classified as “dwelling.” Building regulations dictate it doesn’t matter if a dwelling is 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit to build a livable space. Tiny house laws by state vary, as do tiny house size requirements and limits…BUT if you plan to live in your house, you’re going to need a building permit.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 2:

My tiny home is an RV, mobile home or camper—No tiny dwelling code compliance is required!

Again, this tiny house myth is somewhat true… IF your tiny home is being built by a certified RV or mobile home manufacturer. It’s possible to live in a homemade trailer house, but to get around the building code compliance, you’ll need to become a certified manufacturer. To become a certified tiny home manufacturer, the certification will cost you several thousand dollars, require you get an LLC and go through a rigorous inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.

So you can’t build a tiny homemade trailer house on wheels and say, “Look—I built an RV or mobile home.”  To top it off once your dwelling has passed inspection to classify as a certified RV or mobile home, you can often only park and reside in specifically zoned areas, which are fast disappearing. There is an exception: if your state has a “home-built RV” classification, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry for home-built RVs. As you see, the answer is more complex than simply saying RVs and mobile homes “don’t count” when it comes to tiny home building codes.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 3:

I will say I’m “camping” if any issues come up.

This tiny house coding myth is once again, somewhat true. You could, in theory, get around any regulatory issues by saying you were camping (which is allowed in dwellings regardless of coding compliance—like lean-tos, tents and pop up shelters).

Where the camping excuse runs into problems, is when you realize most municipalities have very specific limits on how long you can camp. The limit is often between 2-30 days in one spot or parcel of land, if camping is allowed at all. Typically, it’s limited to designated campsites. For example, in the city I live in, you aren’t legally allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency. In certain cases, you may get around the camp restriction if you move your tiny home every few days, depending on the camping laws. Then again, the city could also say, “You’re not camping, you’re dwelling in your tiny house,” and you’d face a big problem.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 4:

“They can’t stop me from building my tiny house!  I’ll do what I want.”

In certain cities and states, you’re partially right. The question isn’t if they can or can’t stop you (they can). Your city inspectors won’t stop you unless your tiny house becomes a big public issue. If you don’t create too much buzz, or cause any complaints, they may turn a blind eye even if you don’t comply with building codes.

It’s important to note here that a city inspector holds all the power, if they decide they don’t want you in your tiny house, they can choose an array of legal justifications to enforce it.  The saying is you can’t fight town hall, because they’re the final say on all things.

But not complying is certainly a risk. The truth of the matter is, in most places they can stop you. The city inspectors will come through and condemn your tiny house. What condemnation means, is if you enter your house, you could legally get arrested for being in your own home!  The city regulators may also fine you for not complying with building codes. They may deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here). In the worst cases, they may even run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it and tear it down. All of these actions they can legally do and have done.  Worst of all you have no recourse for these actions, especially if your tiny house isn’t up to code. If you decide to risk it, it’s still important to learn and understand coding and zoning laws for your specific area. Then, if someone does complain or issues arise, you’ll be familiar with your rights.

Tiny House Building Code Myth 5:

My tiny house is on wheels, so codes and zoning regulations don’t apply.

The idea that wheels mean your tiny house is exempt from codes and zoning regulations is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to earn a quick buck off selling pre-made homes and plans to tiny house people.

It’s true, wheels will help your tiny house comply with loopholes and certain regulations, generally because it confuses the bureaucrats. There’s little official regulation out there specific to tiny home zoning. Plus, wheels mean your tiny home is easier to move, so there’s always the possibility of working around the regulations. But the hard truth is, the second you dwell in a structure it becomes a home, and when it comes to homes, all bets are off and the city will do what they want.

So what’s a tiny homeowner (or potential owner) to do?!?

It’s frustrating when you realize there are few ways (if any) to legally live in a tiny home. Even if your tiny home passes inspection, chances are high it’s technically still not legal in the full language of the law.

So, what’s your best approach to live in a tiny house? Well, there are two approaches:  1) Beat the city at their own game and know how to leverage the codes, 2) Roll the dice and try to fly under the radar.

Each of these approaches to living the tiny life, have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of all aspects of building codes and tiny homes, I’ve created an eBook. This book will help you understand how to work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house as much as possible. In the book, Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses, I’ll show you the key barriers faced by tiny house folks. I’ll offer possible solutions to overcome these common tiny house coding conundrums and issues.

In the book, I’ll also share with you a few strategies to help you beat the system. I’ll explain what you need to do if you choose to fly under the radar and how to live in your tiny house safely, without getting caught.

Whichever approach you choose to deal with the tiny house building code issues and regulations, both are covered in Cracking the Code: A Guide to Building Codes and Zoning for Tiny Houses. If you’re wondering how to understand codes and enjoy life in your tiny home hassle-free, you need this book!

Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell

 

 

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Today I wanted to share information about running air conditioning on solar power.

When I was first planning to move into my tiny house, considering the possibility of running a solar powered air conditioner and cooling system weighed heavily on my mind. After all, living in a humid state, I’ll tell you, I’m one who can’t tolerate the heat. This is especially true, coming from New Hampshire—I’m a cold weather guy and here in North Carolina, it gets hot! An AC unit is critical, even if you’re running on solar power.

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Well, Charlotte’s heat really came full force this week.  I know for many their climate doesn’t get as humid as it does here, so there are other options besides running a house air conditioner. Unfortunately, here, it’s necessary.  Without AC I can’t really sleep, even using a fan to passively cool the house.

Right now, the humidity is still tolerable, but it’s HOT and the humidity is coming soon.  It has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s outside, which made my house in the mid 90’s inside.

So, what are the tiny house air conditioner solutions? How do you cool off your tiny house (even off the grid) and beat the heat?

Deciding to Buy a Solar Powered Air Conditioner

I thought I’d do a post today because I’ve been able to run a few real-world experiments with my tiny house and solar powered AC.  I haven’t seen any experienced reporting on the topic of running air conditioning on solar power, so I figured it would be helpful for you all to hear what I did.

When it comes to cooling a tiny house, there are three areas to look at: isolation, such as shade, seals and insulation; ventilation, such as fans and setting open windows for cross-winds; and artificial cooling. Many tiny homes, by their portable nature, don’t have basements, where you can retreat if you need to cool off. Since heat rises and your entire home is above the ground, you need alternative methods to cool down.

Desert-dwellers may be able to rely on swamp coolers and evaporation-based cooling systems Here in the humid part of the world, these setups never work because our air is already humid. It’s impossible to cool humidity with MORE humidity.

Isolation, using shade and insulation to your advantage, is important if you live in off the grid. You can keep your house fairly cool by simply, closing off your space, especially in the heat of the day. This is why I decided to park my tiny house under the trees for shade and run my solar panels in the wide-open field.  While these methods help and should be employed, of course, chances are you’ll still need to rely on a solar powered air conditioner system to get through the hottest days.

After doing my research on what unit would work best with my solar panel set up and power levels. I ordered my unit before I found an installer. I have yet to hook up my mini split air conditioning system (see the update below where I talk about life on solar with my mini split) because it has taken me a long time to find a HVAC installer who would install my mini split AC. As I discovered after buying my mini split unit, most installers insist they need to sell you the air conditioning equipment if they are going to install it. Obviously, this was an unknown factor to me when I ordered my house air conditioning unit…but these are the bumps in the road you experience when you live The Tiny Life.

Fujitsu air conditioning system.

Fujitsu Air Conditioning System

How Much Power Does an Air Conditioner Use?

For heating and cooling, I opted for the Fujitsu 9RLS2 which is a 9,000 BTU Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump System with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating of 27.  To give you an idea, older, less efficient mini split air conditioning systems have a SEER rating of around 8 to 10. Modern air conditioning systems, labeled highly efficient may have a rating of 15 or so, but most today are around 12-13.

The SEER rating was very important because my tiny house solar panel system simply couldn’t handle the less efficient cooling systems.  The SEER rating is determined by BTUs (British Thermal Units) to Watts.  The higher the number, the better.

The other big reason I choose this particular mini split air conditioning unit versus a standard window air conditioner was aesthetics.  My air handler is wall mounted, out of the way and above eye level.  This has a few advantages. First, it keeps my limited square footage clear of clutter. Secondly, it keeps my windows looking nice because there’s no window unit blighting a good design. Lastly, keeping it above eye level also helps you forget about it because as humans we don’t often look up.

Tiny House Friendly Air Conditioning

While I’m working on getting an HVAC installer lined up to put in my Fujitsu Air Conditioning System, I’m using a portable air conditioner, which has worked pretty well.  The downside to using a portable AC unit is it takes up a lot of space and it’s not as efficient. The portable AC unit I’m using has a SEER rating of 12, which means my new mini split system will be 225% more efficient once it’s installed.

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I first wrote this post and I’ve been living full time totally off the grid and it’s wonderful.  I was able to find an installer to pull the vacuum in my system and this thing cools like a dream.

During the summer the AC pulls between 450 watts and 700 watts, on “powerful” mode it draws about 1,000 watts.  As a side note for heat, it pulls about 700 watts to 1,000 watts, 1,100 on “powerful”.

If I had to do things all over again I’d go with a Mitsubishi brand mini split over the Fujitsu, because they seem to be a bit more well-designed. The Mitsubishi has also the critical feature of auto dry, which dries the coil of moisture before shutting down.  I’ve had to clean my coils several times in the 5 years and a drying feature would almost eliminate this.

Stress Testing My Portable AC Unit and Solar Panel Power System

I decided to “stress test” my solar panel system by turning the portable AC unit on high and setting the thermostat to 60 degrees. I wanted to see how long it would take for my solar panel system batteries to bottom out (50% discharge).  The charge controller on my solar panel system automatically turns off the power to my house if the batteries power discharges down to 50%. This automatic shut off on the solar panel system prevents damage to the batteries by discharging too deep.

Solar panel batteries and a chart of number of cycles and depth of discharge to determine battery life.

As you see by the chart above, keeping battery discharge at 50% or above gives me a little shy of 2,000 cycles or 5.4 years for the life of my batteries.  I plan to add another set of four batteries to the solar panel system pretty soon, which will give me improved capacity and keep my discharge rate much higher than 50% (though I don’t often get that low).  In about 5 more years we should start seeing really interesting battery technologies hit the market. This should coincide with the life of my current batteries, so I plan to hop on these new technologies as soon as my batteries begin to fade.

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I posted this. Last year I bit the bullet and added 6 more solar panels and 4 more batteries.  This was mainly to avoid needing a generator in the winter months because they’re a royal pain.  Cooling my house in the summer is still pretty simple since my house is so small.  I usually turn my air conditioner on when I get home and shut it off when I leave.  This allows the batteries to fully recharge and doesn’t really impact cooling.

My solar panel battery stress test was an interesting experiment. I ran the less efficient, portable air conditioner for three days solid, starting with a very warm house.  At the end of the three days, I was very close to hitting 50% on my battery reserve, but it didn’t ever dip below that threshold.  I decided, after three days, the test had gone on long enough to get an accurate reading and I stopped the test.  I typically turn off the AC whenever I’m gone.

Following the test, the past few days were a bit trickier because since my solar panel battery system was so low, I needed it to build back up. Unfortunately, we had a series of cloudy days, making it tough to get more energy.  While I’ve had plenty of power to run the AC overnight, the battery reserve is lower than I’d like.  To give you an idea: on a normal sunny day my solar panel power system makes about 8,000 Watts, but on a cloudy day (when the clouds are very thick with no gaps) I get between 2,000 and 4,000 Watts.

The Advantage of Solar Powered Air Conditioning

When it’s hottest and the sun is shining the brightest, I can make lots of power!  This allows me to run the AC full blast to keep my house nice and cool. Even with the air conditioner on high my solar panel system still makes enough power to add 2,000 Watts into the batteries. Compare this to heating, where you often need the heat the most at night when the sun isn’t out. This results in a major drain on your batteries.  Compounding the issue of running heating off solar panel energy, heaters are more energy intensive than cooling and air conditioning units.

The other night I decided to conduct another experiment.  I got my house very cold by running the AC unit. Then, I turned off the cool air at midnight (when I usually go to bed).  Outside it was about 65 degrees and about 45% humidity–so not bad.  I left all the windows closed to see how much my body heat would warm up the house. In the summer, opening the windows doesn’t often doesn’t help anyway, even if it is cooler outside because the humidity increases the “feels like” temperature.

As it turns out in just three hours my body heat warmed up the loft of my tiny house to the point I woke up from being so uncomfortable from the heat!  Around 3:30 am I woke up and it was very hot in my loft.  I checked the time and was surprised how little time it took.  I should note when I fall asleep, I usually stay asleep all night, even if I get warm. The fact I woke up from the heat, shows how uncomfortable it was in my loft because it takes a lot!

Fortunately, I had prepared for this and all I did was crank open my skylight (the highest point in my house) and the loft end window. I switched on a fan to draw in cool air.  Within 5 minutes the whole place dropped about 5 degrees and I was back asleep.

So that has been my real-world experiences with the tiny house, AC units and solar panel power systems.  I know I had always been frustrated by not enough stories and real-life examples of AC and cooling issues, so hopefully my story will help others.

Key resources for those wanting more technical stuff:

 

 

How to Buy Land for a Tiny House: 3 Big Tips + 12 Experts Weigh In

The tiny house movement has made huge strides in the past few years by promoting efficient living spaces and minimalist lifestyles in 400 square feet or less. More homeowners are seeing the benefit in downsizing to lessen environmental impact, save money and eliminate home-related stressors.

While it’s true, building a small home is generally less complicated than planning and constructing a large home, there are a few challenges presented with embracing the tiny life. Aside from downsizing, simplifying and the logistical aspects of living in a tiny home, one of the main questions is: where do you put your tiny house?

I put together a video that outlines the challenges involved when searching for land for a tiny house, whether you choose to lease, buy or borrow. Please check it out.

The Challenges of Buying Land for Your Tiny House

When you decide it’s time to find and buy land for a tiny house, you may be faced with a big challenge: it’s more difficult to find appropriately-sized and cost-effective land for micro homes than it is for average-sized homes. Most micro home builders aren’t looking to pay full price for open plots, since tiny homes are more economical to build. At the same time, small lots are hard to find and come by. Landowners often aren’t eager to split up their property to sell, especially in rural areas.

This presents a major challenge for those who are ready to take the plunge. How do you find the right-sized land to buy for your tiny house?

If you’re ready for a simpler life and you’re interested in joining the tiny house movement, consider these three tips for finding and buying land for a tiny house.

Tiny House on a plot of land

Tips for Buying Land for a Tiny House

1. Look for the Right Location, Size and Price

First the good news: Micro homes can be built anywhere as long as construction follows state building codes. Some states even allow homeowners to build micro homes in their backyards also known as accessory dwelling unit commonly referred to as ADUs.

However, a lot of people considering building tiny homes don’t have preowned properties to use for construction or to park on. After all, economics is usually a big reason behind the shift toward smaller space. Property is expensive, and chances are, you need to find a plot of land that fits your needs and your budget. It’s important to have the size, location and price in mind before you begin your search.

Use sites like Zillow, LandWatch or Land And Farm to find land based on location; just search within a designated city under home type: lots/land. You can also search based on size or price, if any of these factors are negotiable. Of course, regardless of size, prices will vary by location, accessibility and other factors. Typical tiny house proponents stray from city centers, as the land is more expensive and prone to complicated building codes and zoning laws.

If you’re still weighing the merits of exactly how much space you’ll need, you can even check out sites like Try It Tiny to rent of visit a tiny house for a short time. Before you take the plunge to purchase, this will give you a taste of small-space living.

2. Consider Zoning Laws

I wrote an in-depth post about all of the considerations that need to go into your land setup for your tiny house. One of the biggest concerns is zoning and building codes. Especially if you plan to connect to city water (or if you plan to be on the grid). It’s extremely important your tiny house is up to code because each of these connections will require a building inspector to come to your house and see it in person.

Zoning is a set of rules about how land can be used—think of it like rules that help neighbors get along.  Zoning will dictate the type of building, its placement and its function; while building codes regulate how it should be built safely.

building codes and zoning for tiny houses

Tiny house builders sometimes find that building codes will require them to build a larger home than they first thought, and zoning might require you to park your tiny house in a campground or trailer park because it’s on wheels (and thus considered close to being a camper).

Tiny house folks should start with a basic plan and a conversation with their local municipal building code enforcement office. From there, you’ll be able to understand some of the requirements of your local town hall, identify issues that need to be addressed, and get a realistic picture of what can and cannot be done in when it comes to tiny houses.

There are also some cities who encourage building and will even offer lots for free to interested parties. Cities such as Spur, Texas, Portland, Oregon and Marne, Iowa use these incentives to encourage city development and boost revenue. That said, it’s important to review the zoning restrictions for building even on these free lots. In the case of Marne, dwellings must be at least 1200 square feet. There are opportunities for free and very inexpensive lots available throughout the U.S. but be sure to research the restrictions thoroughly.

It’s also worth checking out government auctions. There is a lot of land out there and the government holds auctions where you can buy it for dirt cheap. Some of this land is seized for tax reasons while some is surplus land. how to pass busiling codes for tiny housesOther properties are environmentally degraded, needing extensive bio remediation. If you go this route, be sure to do an extensive search on toxic waste sites through the EPA’s website. If you have a desire and willingness to revitalize such land, it can be an incredibly cheap way to acquire property. Check out Govsales.gov to view these listings.

For all you need to know on tiny house coding and zoning, please check out my book, Cracking the Code where I outline all you need to know.

3. Use Your Network

A few years back, I had to suddenly move my house to a new piece of land. I’ll admit, finding a plot I could lease was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had when it comes to tiny homeownership. Fortunately, in my case, I was able to find someone who was willing to let me lease his lot in exchange for covering the insurance on the property and helping him with computer work. I realize everyone isn’t so lucky.

One of the biggest ways to help yourself on your tiny house land search is to network with other tiny home owners. When I was starting out, my network was so valuable to my journey. In fact, connecting and sharing with other tiny homeowners was largely the impetus for my starting the blog as well. If you’re wondering how to connect with others and find local tiny house owners, check out this video below.

If you decide to purchase land, whether large or small, it’s important you search for a real estate professional who will aid in your tiny land search. This is another member of your network who will really boost your search and point you in the right direction. There are agents who specialize in niche markets—tiny homes included. Make sure to check up on an agent’s qualifications before hiring them to ensure they are the best fit for your tiny house land search. A well-versed agent will lead you through the process without too much stress.

You may wish to search for property online first; once you have a piece of property selected, check on the listing agent. If the property is for sale by owner, you may still wish to get a buyer’s agent to help you through the process. It’s tempting to forgo an agent (and paying the commission) but you’ll face fewer problems down the road if you have someone in your corner.

It’s important to remember land often can’t be leveraged in a loan with the bank. For most land purchases, the property will need to be paid for outright and in full. An agent will walk you through the process and help you navigate.

While these steps won’t guarantee the perfect plot for tiny home construction, they certainly help homeowners get started. Leasing property is of course another option (and the route I took). There are considerations to be made when you’re leasing property too, but in many ways the pros may outweigh the cons.

Tiny House Experts Weigh In On Finding and Buying Land

Because this is such a challenging topic for tiny homeowners (and what I would argue is the number 1 dilemma we face), I asked 12 top tiny house experts to give their best advice on such a big topic: finding land for your tiny house.

I asked them, “What is the one tip you would give to someone looking for a place to park or land for their tiny house?”

Talk to friends and community members about it all the time. You never know where the parking spot will come from. While I have been lucky on Craigslist, I think by far the best way to find parking is through a friend of a friend of family or friends. Network and ask all your local contacts before resorting to CL. — Alek Lisefski: tiny-project.com

Get out and talk to people. You need to expand your social circle in a big way. Have a solid game plan in place, develop your pitch for landowners, focus on overcoming objections and putting fears to rest. Then let people know what you’re looking for in a clear concise manner. — Ryan Mitchell: TheTinyLife.com

Ping your own network of folks that really enjoy and support what you are doing. Provide a quick message about who you are and what you are looking for, that they can forward along. They are far more likely to connect you with people of a similar mindset, therefore more open and willing to help you out or further your cause. — Jess and Dan Sullivan: livinginatinyhouse.blogspot.com

Honestly – be secretive. Get along with your neighbors and they’ll have no reasons to rat on you – zoning enforcement is often complaint-based. In some areas, it’s legal or “more legal,” and in others it just won’t happen, so do your research. Farmers too – look into talking to them, they could use the rental income, and have the land. — Deek Diedricksen: relaxshacks.com

Check out wwoof.org, a fantastic organization that places volunteers with organic farms the world over. I see it as a great resource for someone looking to move somewhere unfamiliar. Find a willing farm, tow your house over and you have a place to park, food to eat and work to do. — Ella Jenkins: littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com

Start with people you know and put the word out. Your network will produce your best leads when it comes to finding parking. — Ethan Waldman: thetinyhouse.net

Flyers on local supermarket and library walls are actually a very sensible place to advertise this kind of information. We know a lot of people who have found their tiny house parking matches using those channels. — Gabriella Morrison: TinyHouseBuild.com

Reach out to local communities. Try Facebook groups, Meetup and Craigslist. Don’t be afraid to talk about your Tiny House. The more people that you meet, the more likely you will have an opportunity to park it somewhere. — Jenna Spesard: TinyHouseGiantJourney.com

I think the best way is to find land and then ask the owners if you could work out a deal. People are more receptive than you might think. — Kristie Wolfe: Kristiewolfe.com

I wish I had a good answer. We bought land well before we decided to build a tiny house, so it wasn’t an issue for us. I do recommend that people get involved in local politics to make changes in their own communities that can help pave the way for tiny homes. — Laura M. LaVoie: 120squarefeet.com

Get creative, build your network, be open and honest and try to be ‘on the radar,’ it will make you feel more secure during the ‘living’ part of tiny house living that you will appreciate once you are living. It stinks to feel like any knock on the door may be asking you to go. — Macy Miller: MiniMotives.com

Don’t be afraid of building your tiny house before finding a place to park it. The majority of my clients and other tiny housers found their spots during their construction. After finishing the shell with the exterior siding, you can place a photo with a description of what you’re looking for on Craigslist. Most property owners will rent their space only after they can see an image of your tiny house, and what utilities you will need. This has proven a success time and time again. — Vina Lustado: vinastinyhouse.com

Check with local codes in the area you wish to build or park a tiny house. If it is not allowed you need to find an alternative route or do it under the radar somehow. — Kent Griswold: tinyhouseblog.com

 

A special thank you to all the experts who weighed in on this important topic. Finding and buying land is one of the toughest aspects of the tiny house lifestyle. It may take time, but eventually, using these smart strategies, you’ll find a spot. Explore all your options before you decide.

If you’re looking for land to buy, it’s possible. For more on finding land to buy or lease, check out my Ultimate Guide to Finding Land.

The Ultimate Guide To Finding Land for Your Tiny House or Homestead

It could be to build your tiny house on or to start a homestead, many of us want a little place to call our own.  Finding and buying land is a tricky thing, but there are some things we can do to help making finding land a little easier.

finding land

Before we start looking it’s really important to understand what we actually are looking for and to that we need to understand what we actually need our land to do. Many of us dream of a 100 beautiful acres with a nice river, great views and easy access, but the reality of managing that much land would be too much for most people.

Determining Your Needs

writing in notebook

In my own search for land I thought I wanted 20-30 acres, but after some careful examination all I really needs was 3 really good acres, anything beyond that was bonus in my mind.  It can be hard to figure out what we really figure out exactly how much you need, so start with understanding that an acre is a square that is 209 feet long and 209 feet wide.  That really helped me grasp the true size of an acre.

From there I sat down and listed all the things I wanted to do on that land.  For me it was the following:

  • 1 small home
  • 1 big workshop/outbuilding
  • 10 chickens
  • 2 pigs
  • 2 bee hives
  • 10 fruit trees
  • 1000 square feet of garden

It took me a while to really nail down what I wanted to do now and in the future, but those things were critical to do on the land I want to buy.  From there I was able to estimate how many square feet I need for each and any spacing requirements (like I wanted the shop and pigs to be hidden from the house).  From that I concluded I needed  three main areas: the house (1 acre), the animals/garden section (half acre) and the shop area (1 acre).  Adding in some buffer space I came up with my 3 acre target if all the land was totally usable.

gardening on land

The important part here is to figure out what you are actually going to do. Being realistic, too often people dream of a place with lots of cows, horses, and other animals or a little house miles away from their neighbors.  Be honest with yourself and realize that you most likely don’t need massive swaths of land unless you have a very specific need which you already have experience with (ie: you’ve raised cattle before and want your own ranch).

Determine the area

When it comes to land we all know the saying: “location, location, location”.  For me it all comes down to two main factors: proximity to employment and my willingness to drive a certain length of time on a daily basis.  For other people there will be other factors, but all I really care about is if I need a job, can I find one and how long do I want to be in car.

location location location

Don’t get caught up in the trendy areas or close to the city center because those places often have more rules, higher prices and more buyer competition.  Being open to more areas and being flexible will improve your likelihood of finding a great spot.

Figure Out Your Budget

Before you get into the search figure out how much you can afford and agree on a upper limit.   This may be the time you get pre-approved for a mortgage or land loan if you’re going that route.  If you don’t have much money, check out our post on how to buy land with no money.

Use Online Tools

At the time of writing this post, Zillow.com is my favorite tool to find land.  I’ve setup several saved searches that automatically find and highlight properties that meet my criteria.  The one major downside to this tool is there is no option to filter properties without restrictions or HOAs, that was a big one for me and will be for many of you.  Since I did my homework on what I wanted I knew that what I wanted to do on the land wasn’t going to be allowed in a community with restrictions.

Some people have had luck with Land Watch or Craigslist, I personally haven’t found much luck there and the usability of their sites is a deal breaker for me.

Check this video out below about how I search for land and evaluate listings.  I’ll dig into the tools, plus some awesome tricks.

Drive Around

rent to own signThere comes a point where you just need to get out there and driving around the area you want to be in can give you some good leads.  You’ll find “for sale by owner” signs which most likely aren’t listed online anywhere. You’ll see a property that you like that you could approach the owners about if they own a large parcel and you want to buy a part of it.  There is a lot to be gained by driving around even if you don’t find any leads, you learn more about the area you’re thinking of buying in.

Work Your Networks

People always discount the opportunities that might be sitting right in front of them the whole time.  Get clear on what you’re looking for, what you can afford and the areas you’re looking in and create a digital flyer.  Take that flyer and post it on all your social networks, email your friends asking them if they have any leads and if you know any old timers or farmers, reach out to them too.  All these people know other people and by getting the word out there, you might find some great options.

Use A Realtor

searching for landA Realtor is some that you can use to find land if you’re ready to buy.  Since you’re the buyer, there is no fee to use one since the seller will pay all the commissions.

It took me about a month to find someone that I liked working with, that was helpful, communicated well and we clicked pretty well.  I found that there are a lot of realtors that will just try to get a quick sale or only kind of listen, I weeded those out quickly if they kept bringing me poor listings.

Once you do find a good realtor, understand they are investing their time to help you find your land and they don’t get paid unless they close.  If you go this route, make sure you’re ready to buy and respect their time.  It is fine to end a working relationship if they aren’t delivering what you need, but if they’re doing a good job make sure you close with them as your agent so they can get their commission.

I found mine through doing inquiries through Zillow; there was one agent that stood out from the rest for me and I stuck with him.

Go Old School

If you’re in smaller towns, looking for farm land, or if you’re really scrapping for leads check out the newspaper or local print listings.  These are often a lot of older listings, duplicates of online, but you may be able to find some new leads.

Check out local shops and community centers for bulletin boards. While your at it, leave your flyer you made earlier to see if you stir up any new leads.  Again, we may not find a lot of options, but if you do get a call the person might be willing to strike a deal or know someone who is selling land.

Talk With Farmers

Land is a tool of the trade for farmers and they usually have more of it than most people.  I find that they are also very practical people, so if you’re a younger person with dreams of building a homestead or small farm, they might be willing to do owner financing.  In some cases you can also rent land for a while until you do find the right property.

talking with farmers

Farming folks are also really great to have as friends. They’re handy, they have a lot of local connections and they have equipment that they might be willing to lend you.  You might even hit it off with some of them and offer to help out on their farms for free at times to learn some particular skill.  I remember weeding strawberry beds with one farmer and while we were working I’d ask a bunch of questions.

Take A Break

Sometimes things just aren’t working for you or the market is over-valued.  It’s better to buy during low periods because you can find more options and better deals.  If we buy at the height of a market, we might end up paying too much for that property and will have to wait a long time, if ever, to get out from under a property we paid too much for.

So those are some of my suggestions on how to find land to purchase for your tiny house or homestead.  Let me know in the comments what you’ve learned in your own search!

Your Turn!

  • What tricks and tips have you learned to find land?

Making The Leap To Tiny Living – Jody And Bill

Making The Leap To Tiny Living - Jody And Bill

Today we have a post written by Jody Brady, she and her husband had came to the very first Tiny House Conference and through their journey of learning, building their own tiny house and living in it full time ever since, I’ve had them come speak at the Conference.  You can read more about them, their life and their amazing house at: http://simplyenough.weebly.com

This April, we’re happy to return as speakers at The Tiny House Conference in Charlotte, NC.  It will mark four years since we attended the conference as volunteers, trying to figure out if we were really going to build a tiny house. Showing up at that conference was an important part of our “tiny” journey, some six years in the making.

brick house

Our first “aha” moment came almost ten years ago. We were living in a neighborhood we loved, in a big house we’d shared with more family and friends than I can remember now. But they’d all moved on, and there was just the two of us, sitting in our family room trying to remember the last time one of us had been in the basement apartment or the guest room—or the living and dining rooms, for that matter. We lived in a few rooms, but paid the mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utility bills on the entire 3,000-square-foot house. We realized the house owned us.

Money was only part of what was troubling us. We’d gone to several Solar Decathlons sponsored by the Department of Energy. At these events, college teams compete to make energy efficient homes, but the competition goes beyond energy consumption. Aesthetics, livability, sustainability of materials and cost are all evaluated, as well. Before we’d ever heard of the tiny house movement, it was these beautiful, compact, sustainable homes that inspired us. We saw that it was possible to tread a little lighter on the planet without sacrificing anything.

Add to that, all the time our house demanded of us. Painting the house inside and out took months of our “free time.” Repairing the decks. Landscaping. Cleaning. Not to mention the hours and hours and hours we felt trapped in jobs we didn’t want to be doing just to pay the mortgage.

So, though we loved where we lived, we came to the realization that the house had to go. We put it on the market before we knew what would come next. I was reminded of a phrase from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: “Leap and the net will appear. ” We leapt, and we sold the house just before the real estate crash of 2008. Thanks to that fortunate timing and all the work we’d done on the house, we made a lot of money on it. We also sold most of our furniture. Things I thought I couldn’t part with at first, but quickly came to realize I didn’t miss: a grandfather’s clock we’d bought on impulse, our dining and living room furniture, our dressers and side tables, our second set of dishes, our kayaks. (Well, truth be told, we’ve missed the kayaks more than all the other things combined.)

tiny house entertaining

What made the process easier was focusing on what mattered to us. I love my Grandma Mae’s china—so we kept that and started using it everyday, rather than storing it away for special occasions. I love the antique silver that came from my other grandmother.  That stayed. So did old books and rugs, travel mementos and art. What went: things we could go out and buy again at a store.  Duplicates. Things hidden away in boxes and closets—many of them we’d forgotten we owned. We went digital with our snapshots and music (and made decent money selling off all the CDs.)

We learned along the way how best to get value out of what we were selling. We sold collectibles on eBay, antiques at auction, furniture on CraigsList, household items at yard sales. Every dollar in bought us time to figure out what we wanted to do. When a relative asked us to fix up a condo she wanted to sell, we were ready for this rent-free opportunity to test out living in a smaller space. And with the house and most of our possessions sold, we quit our full-time jobs and didn’t have to look for new ones.

We took our time figuring out the next step. By keeping our expenses at a minimum, we were able to wander through Panama for eight weeks. We drove cross-country twice. We got to babysit our first grandchild.  We could spend time with our parents when they were sick and then be with them when they died. After our wandering phase, we lived in a couple apartments, trying out square footage, and we came to realize that even a one-bedroom apartment was more than we needed.

tiny house event workshop

Which brings us to the 2014 Tiny House Conference. We’d become aware of tiny houses and thought if we could find the right piece of land, we might want to build one ourselves. We had experience fixing up six houses over the years and figured we could learn whatever we didn’t know. Doing our tiny house research, we read about Ryan Mitchell’s conference in Charlotte and realized it would be a perfect opportunity to decide if we were ready for another leap. Around that same time, a friend living in the Blue Ridge Mountains offered us a corner of her land to build a tiny house.  It seemed the universe was sending us a message.

Volunteering at the conference made attending affordable for us, since we still weren’t working. We split up during our free time: I went to talks on design and building techniques; Bill focused on utilities—especially plumbing and solar. We learned more about composting toilets and trailers and, most importantly, we toured our first tiny houses. Seeing a picture or a video on a computer screen is nothing compared to walking through a space, climbing up into a loft, looking at appliances, comparing floor plans, or asking questions of people living the life we were contemplating.

tiny house framing

What did we take away from that conference? Most importantly, we’d made our decision: we would build a tiny house. We committed to that decision by ordering our trailer from someone we met at the conference—Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders. We also bought Dan’s book, Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, which gave us an invaluable step-by-step overview of the building process.

10 foot wide tiny house

Skip ahead to today: We’ve lived in the tiny house we designed and built for more than two years. We love it more than any house or apartment (and there have been many) we’ve ever lived in. The space fits us perfectly. It doesn’t require much maintenance. It requires little more energy than what our solar generator produces. We cook with clean-burning alcohol and do much of our heating with a cleaning-burning wood stove. We compost our waste, and we grow some of our own food. We are truly living our dream: consuming fewer resources and spending our time as we choose.

Which brings us to the 2018 Tiny House Conference in Asheville, NC, where we’ll be speaking about off-grid living and tiny house budget and finance.  I can tell you this from personal experience: If you’re considering the leap to tiny living, attending a conference like this can transform intention to action. Ready for a leap?

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