Hello, eco chic readers. This week we’re opening eyes and challenging the status quo of your living situation. Did you know that the average American spends a third of his income on housing, a tenth of it on home maintenance … and only regularly uses one quarter of the space! Well, some people knew and decided to change. Simplify, simplify, and thus was born the tiny house movement. There are many resources and shows for those interested, but in short, it’s a way of life that requires drastic downsizing and eventually moving into a home typically just a couple hundred square feet.
Many of these homes are mobile, and many are green in design, utilizing solar power and recycled materials. This past weekend The Eco Chic Event met up with a group of interested San Diegans to learn exactly what it feels like to go tiny.
The first house we toured belonged to Danielle: a 266 square foot home tucked away behind a 4000 square foot residence. The owners of the expansive house support the “tiny house movement” and have cleared three plots on their estate to rent out to people like Danielle.
With the help of a few other tiny house enthusiasts, Danielle spent just under a year constructing her home from the ground up (with no previous building experience!). The whole project cost just under $30,000, including all the appliances. She designed it herself, first drawing a floor plan on the ground in chalk, and sitting in its confines with her daughter. After they’d determined that they could handle it, the real planning began. Was it difficult? “Once you understand basic grid framing, it’s easier than you realize – you’re just building a big box.”
Here’s what her time, money, and sweat bought her: a double-high trailer with two loft areas and a shed roof (that’s shed the style). With plenty of windows, modular storage, and pocket doors that double as rolling shelving, the feeling on the inside is much more spacious than you might expect.
Both Danielle and her daughter have a private loft area; one of them has filled it with a full-size bed, but the other has chose to create a lounge atmosphere, complete with twinkle lights. Frankly, we find it adorable.
Danielle and her daughter spend a lot of time outdoors, riding bicycles or Girl Scouting. “I think you might need to be that kind of person. If you’re a homebody, you might need more space. Know the people you’re going to live with.” Sound advice.
The small garden that Danielle’s daughter planted is growing beautifully, with basil and more. Lilies border the French drain to absorb some of the runoff toxins; the drain runs from both the sinks and the shower, and filters through two feet of gravel before reaching the earth. Danielle’s primarily vegan diet and use of sulfate-free shampoos minimize the bad right from the start.
The composting toilet contains a mixture of fine wood shavings and coconut fiber, and an uninitiated person might never have guessed that this was no ordinary appliance. It is, put simply, a comfortable bucket, and therefore not for everyone, but those in the know might be interested to learn that there has been no difference in performance between this setup and a thousand dollar Nature’s Head option.
The only thing Danielle didn’t tackle herself was the electric, which is connected to the larger house’s solar grid via an extension cord. Water is piped in through a 100-foot hose. Happily, their electric demand is low, and their water is heated with propane (to use as little electricity as possible). What gas is consumed is done so on demand: battery-powered, so there is no constant pilot light. One tank of propane has lasted over a month already.
Curious about the stats? The home is 13 feet high on its wheels, and 7 feet wide on the inside. They would have built wider if they’d known a permit was available: a “wide load” would have allowed about three extra feet! The 266 square footage count includes the loft space, and all of this rests on top of a 24-foot utility trailer. The walls are insulated with R19 fiberglass, and the roof with R30, the maximum possible in such a space. That shed roof we mentioned earlier is a 2 and 12 – not good for snow, and it got a run for its money during this past season’s El Nino. “A lot of things sound like they’re going to be daunting, but you just do them one at a time,” said Danielle.
The second stop on our tiny tour was still in the process of being built … in a driveway. This adorable future home measured only 16 feet long and 7 and a half feet wide, with an extra 3 feet tacked on for the porch. A Dutch Colonial-Craftsman house in miniature, this house featured dormers, bare wood finish, and a gas stove. “Finding a place to put it and neighbors who don’t mind is definitely the hardest part,” says builder Ryan, which is why he’s tried to make this tiny home look as much like a standard house as possible. As it stands, it wouldn’t look terribly out of place in North Park.
Although he began from a set of Tumbleweed plans, Ryan abandoned them soon into the project in favor of his own ideas. His previous construction experience? “Middle school wood shop.”
Like Danielle’s double-high trailer, Ryan’s home features pocket doors, two lofts, and as many windows as allowed (for those interested, it’s a 2:10 window to floor space limit). Soon to come in this tiny home: a fold-down hideaway table and a composting toilet. Unlike the first home, this one features rigid foam board insulation and lots of propane power. The goal is to keep electric demand low.
For a total of about $20,000 Ryan and his fiance will have 126 square feet, not including the considerable loft space.
A member of the Tiny House Enthusiasts Meetup warned us to think hard before committing to a project like this, “Every time you buy a new shirt, you’ve gotta pick up an old one and throw it away. It changes your lifestyle.”
Many thanks to Danielle and her daughter, and Ryan and his fiance, for graciously inviting us into their homes. Representatives of the tiny house movement will be at Earth Fair San Diego this April with an example or two – come check them out for yourself, then swing by The Eco Chic Event booth. We’ll see you there!