Happy New Year! Tiny Surprises Ahead in Spring 2017

We want to wish you all a Happy New Year!  Renee and I have been very busy working on the tiny house this fall & winter since my last post in August (sorry about that- grad school is just CRAZY sometimes!).  We plan to finish all interior work by May.  I hope to blog some of the “rough-in” and interior progress we made soon.  In the meanwhile, stay tiny friends!

Our super-insulated tiny house is all roughed-in and doing well in the winter with a propane heat furnace!
Our super-insulated tiny house is all roughed-in and doing well in the winter with a propane heat furnace!
TINY House, but year-round BIG Christmas spirit! :-)
TINY House, but year-round BIG Christmas spirit! 🙂

Tiny House Thermal Bulkhead for Subfloor Within-Trailer Frame

One reason people build a tiny house subfloor on top their trailer is to have a complete thermal barrier from floor to wall.  We bought a tiny house trailer that would allow us to sink our subfloor within the frame to have extra head (loft) space. While building a thermal barrier for these kind of trailers are very customized, you’ll see building a bulkhead is really not all that difficult, and can be built with minimal lumber and foam insulation. Wheel wells can also be insulated.

where insulation normally doesnt occur thermal bulkhead.jpg
A con to subfloors within-trailer frames is that your walls are not continuously insulated with the floor- the outside trailer frame is essentially large angle iron welded on. We can create a thermal barrier in this space, as well as the undercarriage of the wheel well.

Your frame that will hold a bunch of insulated foam board and spray foam consists of pressure treated 2x4s.

bulkhead framing with joists in place
The basic frame support. A ripped pressure-treated 2×4 with blocking at the width of your metal overhang.

Here is the schematic of what we’re trying to achieve. Above the frame we have 3 inches in foam blocked out, with another 1 inch of foam insulation that sits perfectly underneath.  This is all covered up at the bottom with pressure-treated sheathing. Any gaps, such as where support braces are, we use open-cell spray foam insulation (like the kind used for windows and doors).  Many cases you’ll want open-cell over closed-cell to allow natural expansion/contraction, and a way for any potential water/moisture to escape.  More on spray foam differences down the road!

basic thermal bulkhead setup side view
The thermal bulkhead at a side view.

The frame is held into place with wood-to-metal self-tapping screws. We made it to be flush with the angle iron.  We welded some additional support brackets underneath to support the weight of the walls (we suggest you do that too- do you really want that angle iron with a few spot welds to be the only thing holding up your walls?). Because of this, we had to customize the fit somewhat.  Tedious but worth it!

Your trailer may be set up differently, but parts of our overhang had areas where we could put additional insulation above the frame.

When we placed the first layer of 1 in foam, we allotted room for the support braces, and made sure to place foam behind the support braces too.  Foam board of these small sizes you can just score/cut with a utility knife.  The supports are screwed in with typical decking screws.

Add your other foam board layers to a tight fit; you may need a block and hammer to tap it in without breaking the foam. Then add within the bottom of the frame another 1 inch foam board that will be covered up.

Final step was to nail gun pressure-treated sheathing to the bottom.  Leave room for any wiring!

Our completed thermal bulkhead! Now we have continuous insulation across the floor, removing the disadvantage of a subfloor within trailer frame.

complete trailer finished bulkhead vapor barrier
Our completed thermal bulkhead on each side of the trailer.

Whenever you get to placing outside sheathing, you will want to cover up the thermal bulkhead.  In our case we have thermal structure sheathing. So we dropped down all our sheathing to be almost flush with the bulkhead.  The sheathing is about 0.25″ higher than the pressure-treated sheathing on the bottom of the bulkhead to further prevent water from running into that cavity.  Let us know if you end up trying a version of our thermal bulkhead!

covering thermal bulkhead with oxboard
The thermal bulkhead is further covered up with structural insulated sheathing (Oxboard). Another R3 surrounding the bulkhead for continuous insulation, raising the dew point in your wall cavities.

 

 

Positive Examples & Teachable Moments: Saving the World through Environmental Education. Interview with Carolyn Waters

{Annually we feature & interview people in our ‘tiny’ community that engages our minds and hearts in what it takes to leave a tiny footprint}

Our first Tiny Steward interview is with Carolyn Waters, Environmental Educator and Artist, of Where it Stops, Nobody Knows.

First cool thing we noticed about your blog is that you hope that it “will save the world,” something we hope to see happen too! What would this new world look like to you?

My vision for a “saved” world would include a mixture of old practices that our society has largely forgotten, and new ones we haven’t imagined yet, with the result of eliminating large-scale negative human impacts on ecological systems. It will require collaboration between so many different people that I can’t see the full picture by myself. So often we focus on the negative impacts humans have on our environments, but it can be more productive to focus on the positive examples and how we can make more of them. A student recently showed me a project where artists restore coral reefs with sculptures that act as a substrate for the coral to grow on – that’s an example of the kind of creative, positive human-ecosystem interaction I’m talking about that will save the world.

I see you are an environmental educator.  How did you get into environmental education, and how does this shape your decision to build a tiny house?

You’ve really opened up a can of worms with this question. My interest in environmental education started eleven years ago when I got my first “real” job after college as a tutor for ELL students in a public high school and middle school. I was also doing a lot of rock climbing at the time, and through that I was learning about public lands and natural history. On my first day of the tutoring job, I was basically dropped into a classroom of students and handed a roster – no curriculum, no supplies, and no training. So I quickly had to figure out what to do with the class periods. I asked myself, “what is the most important thing I can teach new immigrants and first-generation students?” The two things that first came to mind were management of public lands and creative arts. You’re probably not surprised to hear that the year could have gone better. I was one of those teachers who would cry on my way home from work. I loved working with kids, but I couldn’t stand the environment of working in those schools. Here’s an interaction with a student that illustrates my frustration:

Me: Have you ever run away from home like the character in our book?

Amos: Yes, when I was mad I used to run away into the forest in Kenya and sleep in the trees.

Me: (Whoa, crazy) Didn’t your parents worry about you?

Amos: No, they taught me which bugs to eat and they gave me a knife to fight off lions.

I struggled every day to find ways to help students in my class like Amos connect knowledge they brought from their first homes to the environment they now lived in.  He had moved to a small town in Indiana from a dramatically different place.  How could I help Amos feel like it was worth his time to spend every day in a cinderblock classroom only to return to a small, urban apartment each afternoon?  During that school year, I Googled “teaching outdoors” and a perfect graduate program popped up – a Master of Education focused on Environmental Education. I ended up attending that partnership program between Western Washington University and North Cascades Institute the following year.

What is your favorite part of environmental education?  Do you think age matters to instilling an appreciation of nature into someone? And do you think enough is being done to connect people with nature?

Of course we’re not doing enough to connect people with nature. Actually the opposite; it’s becoming easier every day to distance ourselves from nature. That’s why we have the environmental problems we have.

My favorite parts of environmental education are the teachable moments that come about spontaneously, especially when I’m learning as I teach. One of my favorite memories is from leading a small group of fifth graders on a hike. They had named themselves “The Read Headed Sapsuckers”, after a native species, to differentiate their group from the others. Coincidentally, I was starting to learn sapsucker behaviors around the same time. On the first day of their overnight field trip, I taught them to practice making the territorial noise of a sapsucker drumming on a metal light post. After a few minutes of practicing, three sapsuckers flew into the trees in front of us, and the group got to know their mascot face-to-face. I know that as a professional ornithologist you probably frown on calling in birds… but I didn’t actually expect it to work!

As far as the issue of age – lifelong learning is essential to being a person who is ecologically literate. So in that sense, age doesn’t matter. However, many research studies have shown that there are certain developmental stages in a person’s life that are especially important for developing relationships with our surroundings and understanding the roles we play in ecological systems. Our country does an okay job of teaching young children about their environments, but as we get older there are fewer and fewer opportunities, especially for adults, and even more so for marginalized communities.

What does a “tiny steward” look like to you?  How/what do you feel is the best way we can make environmental stewardship a natural and integral part of our communities?

A “tiny steward” is probably no more than three inches tall, wears a red gnome hat, and goes around sprinkling moss spores on the north side of trees. But seriously, I think the first part of this question is about how stewardship and tiny house living are connected. It means making a commitment to reducing consumption of resources at a drastic rate. There are lots of ways we can work toward making stewardship part of our communities. One is to integrate it into school curricula and work responsibilities. It’s too easy to live our lives without feeling like we’re making meaningful contributions to our communities. Even small steps can make a big difference in changing that. Another thing we can do is to design our urban spaces to highlight a place’s ecological values. Instead of hiding a creek in a culvert when building a new road or path, build it in a way that shows off the creek’s beauty and integrates it into the way we go about our daily activities.

What preparations (if any) have you and your partner made for tiny home living? Is the tiny home meant to be a permanent dwelling or is that still TBD?

Our tiny house is intended to be a permanent dwelling (as much as anything can be permanent) for both of us. We do not have heavy time pressure to complete our project, so we have been taking small steps to prepare for almost two years now. We are constantly building a donation pile and getting rid of those things, we have changed the way we think about and talk about gifts, and Robert especially has put a lot of research into appliances and furniture options. We have both lived in small spaces for much of our lives already, so the idea of “living tiny” isn’t completely new to us.

What has the reaction been like of people you know/don’t know to build a tiny house? Has this drawn any attention in your community?

Most people say “I love watching those shows on TV!” Generally people are fascinated. It’s the first thing most family and friends ask us about when they see us. Sometimes at parties I feel like how I imagine being a celebrity feels – one person finds out that we’re planning to move into a tiny house, then they whisper it to the next person, and pretty soon I’m surrounded by a bunch of squealing women who want to know how many square feet the house will measure, but aren’t worried about asking me what my name is. We haven’t gotten any formal press about it, but that’s because there are a handful of others around Louisville who are also building tiny and are intentionally seeking press attention to further their projects.

The only negative feedback we’ve had so far has been related to finding a place to put it. Louisville’s zoning code is relatively old, and does not have regulations specific to this kind of housing. Louisville’s culture as a whole is pretty averse to any kind of change, so the idea of doing anything that pushes boundaries is scary and uncomfortable for a lot of people. The people who are interested in our project tend to be interested mainly in the aesthetic parts, and in general the conversation becomes uncomfortable when we start to talk about the social or legal implications.

You seem to have an appreciation for art and its connection to nature.  What role has that played/continue to play in your life and occupation?

One of my majors as an undergraduate was studio art, with a focus in oil painting. My other major was anthropology, focusing on photoethnography. Soon after I graduated college, I went to spend a summer at Earthaven Ecovillage working as a muralist in exchange for experiential learning in intentional community living. That was one of the first challenges outside of school where I used my skills to attempt to represent a subculture through art. Later in life, I worked in marketing for a nonprofit dedicated to environmental education, and much of my job was to build a visual brand for the organization, often through photography. I continue to use photography and illustration as means for teaching people and marketing the programs I work in. I’ve been toying with the idea of designing a semester-long class about marketing for environmental causes or art and environmental activism.

What’s been the most challenging part of your tiny house building experience so far?

Oh dear. There have been a lot of challenges! The most memorable was needing to move the house on short notice. Up until that point, a friend had been very generous in allowing us to use part of his business property to work on the project. In a quick turn of events, we needed to move the house with only a few days’ notice. After a lot of frantic phone calls we did find a great spot to continue the work … The drive to the new site meant going through downtown. By this time, it was nearly midnight, so luckily there wasn’t much traffic. Aside from our worries that the structure would wobble and rack, we were also worried about the accuracy of our measurements for going underneath of the several overpasses between us and the destination. Each time, we stopped in the middle of the road, and one of us got out to made sure the roof wouldn’t scrape the overpass. What a celebration we had when we finally got the house to its new site!

What do you hope to gain most out of tiny house living?

More time outdoors, accomplishment and challenge as a couple, freedom, a life less invested in material belongings.

Finally, the name of your blog is Where It Stops, Nobody Knows. If one wants to start living and thinking in an environmentally-friendly way, any advice on where it should begin?

There are so many options! Here are a couple of recommendations, from easiest to slightly less easy: 1) Get up right now and go for a walk outside. 2) Choose one resource that you use every day: water, potato chips, your car are just a few examples. Start there. Find out as much as you can about where that resource that you are using came from and where it goes when you are finished with it. For bonus points, choose an alternative source or disposal method. Then report back to us. – Carolyn Waters

 

Downsizing to live in a tiny house space: The Realities and A Lifetime of ‘Stuff’ Accumulation

Late fall last year is when Renee and I decided to officially go tiny. We currently live with Renee’s parents saving “until it hurts.” Most families do annual spring cleaning and “purge” of unwanted material items, only to re-accumulate stuff they either don’t need or forget they have. My in-laws built their own home 30 years ago with lots of heart and hard work. In that 30 year period, they never did a spring cleaning like others do and finally decided it was time to clean out the garage and crawl space. Since Renee and I also just made the decision to build a tiny house, we thought it perfect timing to try to downsize our living quarters and what we own to make the transition easier. We were told by our in-laws that whatever we own would have to fit in the tiny house, and understandably, couldn’t keep anything as storage in their home once living in a tiny house.

The following pictures are to illustrate two points: 1) we are all guilty of keeping things that we think we need but don’t really; in other words, you have more stuff than you think, and 2) learning to live with only what you “need” and nothing more can be tough if you never knew any other way, but is completely achievable! Learning how to think tiny doesn’t need to be anything drastic like below- it can happen slowly within a realistic time frame until you’re fully and mentally prepared.

Our family rented a 30′ dumpster and had exactly a week to ‘clean house’ of anything we didn’t need. It’s important to note we donated whatever items we could give away (e.g clothes, books, etc.). The container was HUGE but you would be surprised how easily one can fill up:

The 30′ dumpster we rented for our family to purge 30 years accumulation of stuff. You begin to realize it’s too easy to fill what at first seemed like a huge container.

Dumpster after 1 morning…

Dumpster day 2…

day 2

In the meanwhile Renee and I used to have our own closet space of about 5’ in separate bedrooms. We decided to move all clothes we own into one closet and get half of a closet space each. We assumed that we wouldn’t have any other space to store summer/winter clothes. Although we periodically donate clothes we don’t wear in over a year, it can still be tough keeping only one of certain items. If you are serious about going tiny, I highly recommend going through this exercise as it’s hard to put dedicated full-size closet space for clothes in a tiny house (we’ve seen it but takes A LOT of space):

We went from having two 5' closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.
We went from having two 5′ closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.

Renee and I love books. All our books alone would *literally* fill half of a tiny house. We knew we needed to depart with any books we have read or possibly could live without (We also plan to go fully digital with books, so plan for that in a future blog post). We were able to get rid of half of our books so far, but we still have another full bookshelf not depicted here, and I have a graduate office full of textbooks. In the wildlife/forestry field, not all books, especially older field guides, are in digital form yet. Keep this in mind when buying new books to only buy in print if no other option. This will be a difficult transition for me, as I think and enjoy a book better I can feel, hold with crumpled pages, and write in with a pen:

We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.
We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.

What do you do about sentimental items? Photos take up significant space too. We are currently trying to scan old family photos onto a computer since we simplify don’t have the room. I also have sentimental pieces like a hard hat I’ve had (but not used) for 7 years. The hard hat reminded me of the first Point Park University sponsored alternative spring break trip I went on. We were creating a house for Habitat for Humanity in Biloxi, MS where residents were still affected by Hurricane Katrina. The hard hat reminded me of that experience, and our main on-sight supervisor was a former NFL player (with his signature on the hat). Did I have room for this in a tiny house? No. Could I have made room? Possibly. I had to depart with it:

Point Park University students who volunteered to help with rebuilding efforts for residents still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Point Park University students who volunteered with rebuilding efforts in 2009 for residents of Biloxi, MS still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009. Can you depart with sentimental items like this in a tiny space?

On top of that, I used to be a paid professional magician, but from grad school had no time to put into it, even as a hobby. I had to depart with wishful thinking and be realistic that at no immediate point in time will I be able to get back into it:

Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5
Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5. If you have hobbies that take space, try to incorporate room for it in your tiny house plans.

A final realization for Renee and me was that big house plants can’t fit into a tiny house. For example, we have a split-leaf philodendron named Biggie Smalls we raised from an inch tall that now needs a home (and btw still looking for a home!). We love our plants like people, and simply can’t pitch them:

Our plants are like children. Where can these 'big kids' go in a tiny house?
Our plants are like our children. Where can these ‘big kids’ go in a tiny house?

After a week we easily filled up the dumpster with ‘stuff’ from a period stretching over 30 years. We probably all have more stuff than we realize. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind:

After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn't even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn't need.
After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn’t even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn’t need.

So what to take from all of this? Take an assessment of all your stuff at home:

What do you need? What do you think you need but really don’t? If I go tiny, can I actually fit that in my house? When making future purchases, how often will I use xyz? I recommend to start asking these questions and downsize early before reality sets in about what you can and cannot take with you.  Make living simple… simple!

Want a 3D Model of your Tiny House Plan but too busy to learn SketchUp? Try this cheap and easier alternative

A trendy choice for tiny house builders is to build a 3D model of their tiny house using SketchUp, whether in the planning stages or as another way to ensure your 2D measurements will turn out the way they should.  I’m currently trying to learn SketchUp, but when you spend 60+ hours on research (or work in general), you know finding that time to devote completely to something is tough- especially is there is a steep learning curve.

We have a cheaper (in terms of time) and easier alternative that works just as well, and arguably more fun.  What would that be? Foam board and balsa wood! Yes, as adults we are going to play Doll House.

The first step is to create everything to a scale that will be easy to visualize.  We decide to make plans that were 1″ scale on blueprint paper. A 3/4″ scale works just as effectively.  You likely already have a floor plan available just not at this scale and need to bump it up!

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The first step is to create everything to a large scale such as 3/4″ or 1″ on paper, then create the form board pieces to match!

Once everything is to scale, all you need is foam board and a glue gun.  If you already know what appliances you want, create these to scale as well:

appliances closeup
A 10 cu. ft. fridge, composting toilet, and 30″ range to scale so we can re-arrange our floor plan as many times as we’d like!

We are playing around with different stair options in our tiny house.  We know for sure we want an actual staircase leading to our bedroom loft rather than a ladder.  The question is h0w much space would that really take up if you try to get it as close to code as possible?  Now you can see for yourself!

staircase closeup.jpg
A 3D version of your staircase really puts into perspective how much space a staircase really takes, and what kind of rise/run you want to live with- will you keep it close to code or not?

For the secondary loft above the bathroom, we are considering a fold-out ladder and a spiral staircase of some kind.  You can create working versions of these with wire and balsa wood:

Constructing spiral-style staircases are not the easiest thing to do. Making one in mini will save you lots of swear words and money if you decide to go that route:

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One style of functional spiral stairs that swivel we’re considering

Make sure when you are gluing these together that you allot for the fact that the foam board pieces are roughly 3/16″ thick. For instance, if you are building a cabinet that is 3′ tall with a top and bottom foam piece, and your scale is 1′ for every inch, you will make your cabinet 3′ 3/8″ tall when you glue all your pieces together if you don’t factor that thickness.

Once all is said and done, you will have a large-scale tiny (doll) house where you can re-arrange your bathroom, kitchen, etc. to your heart’s desire without having to make a new sketch each time and without SketchUp know-how.  If you ever make a 3D version of your tiny house this way, I’d love to see it and would post it here!

Happy New Year! Santa Thinks Tiny Too

I hope everyone had a very enjoyable Christmas holiday season and a Happy New Year! Renee and I on Christmas Eve by tradition left Santa a note in case he may stop by our house:

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Our letters are usually well-received (although I actually have been given coal before, probably deservedly).  We are very fortunate to report that despite Santa’s larger-than- life, er, “body frame,” he believes in the tiny movement…

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I have never seen a reindeer pull a sleigh or anything for that matter, so can’t dispute Santa’s weight limit claim.

Renee and I are very fortunate to be proud new owners of an impact driver (a tiny house tool probably used the most), a speed square which will be extremely handy once we learn how to use it, heavy duty tape ruler, and utility pouches.

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Santa thought we were good this year. BOY we must have tricked him. I guess trying counts!

We will have our floor plan figured out pretty soon. Arguably the planning stages are the most important.  Stay tuned for more content on tiny house design and planning soon!

In the meanwhile as Santa said, Think Tiny My Friends!

Our trailer has arrived!

On Saturday on custom-built trailer from Wishbone Tiny Homes arrived. Teal, the founder of Wishbone Tiny Homes delivered it himself. Saturday originally called for snow but then turned out to be t-shirt weather! We couldn’t have asked for a better turn-out in late fall.

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Our trailer expertly being backed into a field where we hope to construct our tiny house.

The trailer arrived in one piece. A 28′ trailer looks much bigger in person.

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Where our trailer will stay during the build. Our next step will be leveling the trailer before building.

The very next day we received the first snow of fall.  Talk about perfect timing, and the start of a great new adventure!

first day of snow on trailer
A dusting of snow on our trailer the very next morning after receiving it.

Tiny House Trailer options

There are numerous options available for tiny house trailers, both in terms of custom-built and DIY approaches. Renee and I decided that the only part of the tiny house we did not want to DIY was the trailer. The trailer is the main structural foundation of your house, and we did not trust ourselves (or lack of welding abilities) to give it a go. We figured best to leave it up to the experts instead of spending thousands of dollars to botch up a good trailer.

We decided to purchase a custom-built trailer from Wishbone Tiny Homes stationed in Asheville, NC. Teal Brown, the founder of Wishbone, is very knowledgeable and will go out of his way to make sure a trailer is custom-fitted to your floor plan.

Our custom 8’x28′ trailer was $7100 + shipping.

Other options we considered after several months of research before going with Wishbone Tiny Homes were:

  1. We were very close to purchasing a trailer from Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders. Dan Louche is well-known in the tiny house world and has one of the best books on construction of a tiny house.
  2. While Tumbleweed is a well-known company, we did not want a trailer with built-in thread rods, steel-sheet flashing, or a trailer with so many extra steel cross-members (just additional weight).

This one website has a nice comparison between Tumbleweed and Tiny Home Builder trailers.

3. We reviewed Seattle Tiny Homes but did not go with them mostly due to them being on the other side of the US! We also wanted to make our own insulated subfloor rather than receive a trailer where it’s pre-installed.

4. Tortoise Shell Homes apparently also sells trailers but we never inquired with them after meeting with Teal and be sold on a trailer design by someone we actually met in person. So I don’t have an opinion either way about their trailers.

5. Finally, if we never have met Teal, we would have gave serious consideration to Iron Eagle Trailers that has many trailer qualities that we like.

In the age of internet, information is everything and everywhere. Information is also sometimes the only way good people make a living and what separates them apart from the rest. There are several proprietary differences to Wishbone Tiny Home trailers that are not exactly like these other popular options. While during our tiny house build we plan to divulge much about the construction process, specific details of the trailer design we won’t disclose out of respect of the hard-working people of Wishbone Tiny Homes. Their trailer design has evolved many times over the years to a solid design platform that works for them and for us. We recommend to contact them to receive a custom trailer already built for the floor plan and accommodations you have in mind! BTW we’re not being paid in any way to promote them- we just really love their trailer design and Teal, and want to direct people to tap into the right resources (who can provide consultation for construction/design too).

We also recommend if you take anything out of our trailer blog is to not buy used unless you’re already very familiar with the trailer history and know how to check for constructural flaws (which to us seems like a guessing game)! We totally believe in trying to save on costs and upcycle cradle-to-cradle style when possible, but buying a used trailer just reminds us of the biblical story of the man who built a house on sand instead of a rock (Matthew 7:24-27). Don’t accidentally buy “sand” on what you hope the rest of your house will permanently stand!

On Going Tiny: Why we decided building a tiny house was right for us

Renee’s and my decision to go tiny did not arrive overnight. Several years of life events, decisions, and non-decisions lead us to believe that building a tiny house was the right choice. Below are our reasons On Going Tiny.

Reason #1) We want to live in a way that forces us to interact and have more quality time for each other.

Since 2010, either both or one of us has been in graduate school. Graduate school = Legal indentured servitude to your work both day and night, weekends, holidays… basically ALL the time. Since there are only 24 hours to a day, and we weren’t about to sacrifice (more) valuable sleep to just function, this equals less quality time to spend on each other or a marriage. Forget having hobbies or finding time to clean your house- you understandably have to be committed to you research if you ever want to graduate. Fortunate for us, when you’re both going through similar circumstances it’s easier to understand the sacrifices that sometimes must be made, and to be cognizant of making the most of any “free” time you purposely create or thrown your way.

Reason #2) We want more margin.

As grad students, you do not make any money- you receive just enough to scrape by. My sister Melanie and I was raised by my 100% disabled veteran father who only had retirement and disability pension. We lived paycheck to paycheck, and trust me I know it plain sucks. At the same time, my father Bill believed that receiving a good education would set my sister and me up for life. He sold any nice personal belongings he had and took out loans to have us go to a private school from elementary through middle school. Bill’s sacrifices paid off because high school turned out to be mostly a joke where I already learned everything there before 8th grade. That aside, seeing and knowing his personal struggles, Renee and I want to maintain a good debt-to-income ratio, or at least some sense of financial security.

Both of my parents went through bankruptcy twice, so I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to college if it wasn’t for working my butt off for a presidential scholarship. During my early grad school years, I had to be mostly independent financially which meant I did the stereotypical ‘sleeping on an air mattress (that deflated nightly) in a mostly furniture-less apartment while eating Ramen noodles’ lifestyle, and still BARELY paid my bills. We don’t want to live this way if we do have to!

We are currently very blessed to live with Renee’s parents so we can be virtually rent-free while in grad school and save up to build a tiny house. We know however at some point we must ‘fly the nest.’ When it is that time to go, a tiny house means less utility and maintenance costs, sometimes no rent, and that you already own your home (no mortgage!). This is also a ‘win’ for the environment since you are presumably using less natural resources for a smaller space.

Reason #3) More margin means more investment in the future.

By having more margin, you have more money to invest in retirement, savings, experiences, or causes that matter most to you. Renee and I love the idea of being able to afford to travel. A portion of the money that would normally go toward typical utility/housing costs could instead be invested in a travel fund or anything considered of value to you.

Reason #4) We want to protect ourselves from the housing market fall-out.

The bursting of the USA housing bubble is believed to be, at least in part, a major reason for the financial crises we had several years ago (Gorton, 2009). The stock market crashed in 2008 which led to a recession (Farmer, 2015). People’s current perceptions of the housing market can be irrational and misguided (perhaps us included!), which don’t help the situation (Jin et al., 2014). There were warning signs before that market crash, and we can’t help but feel unsettled now either. Some were claiming a bubble is ahead last year, and currently some cite mostly optimism in the housing market.

While the housing market continues to figure out which direction it wants to go, we want to play it safe and build a tiny house not subject to market fluxes and that we don’t plan nor need to sell. If another crash ever occurs (which hopefully it never does!), the feeling of home ownership will make us feel less psychologically stressed (Manturuk et al., 2012) and will make less of a financial impact.

Reason #5) There is a growing ‘House Bomb that needs to be defused.

Essentially the number of people living in a household is going down while the size of houses are increasing. This housing bomb is leading to further environmental destruction. We need to stop trying to keep up with ‘The Jones’ and think about what demands the housing is making on the environment. We believe the tiny house movement is a positive direction towards defusing the housing crisis by encouraging people to live within their means, both in terms of smaller, practical housing size and only having so much space to buy and place stuff you just don’t need!

Reason 6) We don’t know what our timeline is and want the flexibility to move.

Renee and I are textbook examples of planners. We want to know what we’re doing next Friday at 7PM, and also 2 to 10 years from now. However, reality is that you can’t always predict where you’re going and change is the only constant. We don’t see ourselves staying in West Virginia with our current and future occupations. We strongly like the option of just being able to wheel our house with us if it turns out we’re meant to live down south or out west once we’re both done with grad school. If we’re meant to stay in WV that’s okay too, but at least we planned for possible travel.

And Finally

Reason 7) Less house (and ‘stuff’) means more time to spend outdoors! We realize the fact that since we have never lived a long-time in a small space before we may at least initially feel really confined. Being in many wildlife field technician positions over the years, I have lived in very rustic and unique conditions for 4 months at a time, so anything with a permanent roof and available utilities sounds great and a makes a tiny house seem doable; only time will tell! We hope to make the outdoors an extension of our living space, especially if we consciously rid ourselves of many material goods we can just live without (nor have the space for). Renee and I love horticulture, gardening, and really doing anything outside, so I imagine being in a 8 ft. wide box will encourage that. We additionally think having a tiny house will help us to incorporate it into the surrounding environment with less negative impact.

We hope you were able to identify with some of the reasons we chose this path, most of which are inter-related. If you’re not sure right now “the tiny house thing” is right for you, don’t feel bad in waiting until you know for sure! A decision to do nothing could be smarter than making one to ‘just get out of the hallway’ of indecision.

We want to see people moved to live Tiny By Choice.  We “stayed in life’s hallway” until enough circumstances and doors opened to make us confident in moving forward. Going tiny can be radical lifestyle change for some, and we’ve been gradually getting us prepared to tiny living the last few months. We plan to share in the near future some of the steps we been taking, and hope to become good examples of Tiny Stewards as life goes on!