The documentary above called "We The Tiny House People" has gotten me thinking that it's time to share my own tiny house story. It's a story that's more than just about tiny houses, but also the mind set behind them. They may be a necessity in some cases but they can also be a choice, and they're often both - as it was when I decided to build one. My decision was complicated by multiple factors, and in the end it was the only thing that made sense. But once I discovered how many advantages tiny houses really offered, I was hooked and would never go back.

In terms of writing for a green living blog, I couldn't pick a better article. It covers the gamut of green living, sustainable development, and sustainable architecture, which are some of the core topics we'll be writing about. My story begins with being a nature lover surrounded by concrete.

city-trafficPhase 1: Getting Out of the City
About 20 years ago, my desire to escape life in the big city outweighed any misgivings I might have had about moving out to the countryside. In the midwest (particularly in Kansas), most of the land is privately owned, so we don't have the same level of access to wild places that you might find in other states. City parks are all fine and good, but they're not exactly what I would call wilderness experiences, and I was left feeling caged in with nowhere to go. The public lands were too far away to be easily accessible, and everything else was privately owned.

My goal was to find something far enough away from the city to avoid city influences (i.e. pollution, traffic, noise, development, etc.), and also far enough away to be affordable, but not so far away that having access to the city would be too prohibitive.

After about 8 months of searching in every direction, what I came to realize is that the bigger the city is, the farther you have to go to get away from it. My original intention was to find a small acreage - as close to the city as I could tolerate - with a livable structure already there. But those hopes were soon dashed. Anything I could find in a price range I could afford would either have a reasonable piece of land with an unlivable structure, or the land itself would be trashed while the structure on it would be barely livable.

It soon became apparent that what I was really after was good land, and the idea of more land with no house was more appealing than less land with a bad house. Eliminating a house from the equation solved lots of problems. Raw land was much more affordable than developed land. It was more natural and less tampered with. It didn't come with a mortgage which was disproportionately paying for a broken down old structure, so I could put the money into better land and more of it.

I wasn't keen on the idea of having to make such a big transition, and then having the problem of building a house on top of that, but every other option had been ruled out and I knew this would be the best decision based on what I wanted and what I could afford.

Phase 2: Purchasing Land
Once I knew what I needed to do, the land I ended up purchasing presented itself almost immediately. I had spent so much time thinking about what kind of land I wanted that once I decided to quit worrying about having a house on it, the property practically fell in my lap. It was in a beautiful hilly area (somewhat rare in Kansas), it had good sources of water, great soil, and a nice mixture of pasture and forest. It was close to a small town which had everything I needed, and it was also very close to two state fishing lakes which were some of the most beautiful lakes I'd ever seen in Kansas.

So when I found the land there was no question that I wanted it, but it was a much larger parcel of ground than I ever dreamed of owning, and I was afraid I would never be able to afford it. I had already been looking at property in the area however, since it was far enough out of the city to be closer to my price range. So because it had virtually no development beforehand (and land was also less expensive back then) it was more affordable, and the previous owner accepted my offer.

Phase 3: The Tiny House Solution
Even though the land was a great deal, it was still a lot of land to purchase so I knew that turning it into something I could actually live on would be a gradual process. Hiring someone to build a new home was out of the question. I looked at cheaper options like travel trailers and double wides, and those might have been good options to at least make it livable while I was building a regular house, but I hated the idea. For one thing, all of the money I would have to spend on a trailer could be spent right away on things like building materials for the house. Then once the house was built, I would have the problem of getting rid of an old trailer. I had other expenses to look at as well. This was raw land, so how would I run electricity and water, build a driveway? At the time I didn't even have a lawn mower or any other equipment I would need for managing land.

So I knew that whatever I did had to be cheap so I could afford everything else that came with it. I wouldn't be able to survive long term living in a tent, but I had no problem with living in small spaces - as I had done for most of my life. I actually preferred small houses over larger ones for a number of reasons, and the idea of a "cabin in the woods," or a tiny house on a big piece of land is what really appealed to my senses. The best part of it was that tiny houses are much cheaper and easier to build than larger ones, so for me it was the perfect solution.

Phase 4: "Building Thoreau's Cabin"
thoreaus-cabinMy thinking was that even if I could build a small outbuilding, it would be better than cluttering up the land with something like a trailer. It would be a permanent structure, I could put it wherever I wanted it, and design it to look good in it's natural surroundings. It would be a better investment and it would do more to increase the land value, it could be used for all sorts of things, and I could even use it as a living space while I was building a bigger house. Perfect! Off to the book store to get my hands on everything I could find on the subject of outbuildings.

I had some carpentry background, and while I was pretty sure I could build a house from the ground up, I'd never actually done it. I had only worked on existing structures or parts of new structures that someone else had designed, so I didn't know anything about how to engineer a house myself. So the first books I picked up were about how to build basic structures on a typical farm - outbuildings, barns, work shops, etc..

Some of the other books I bought had plans for buildings which were a step up from outbuildings, small but very nice buildings that could also be lived in. These got into the discussion of what it takes for a building to be a living space. For a building to be livable (and hopefully comfortable) you need climate control, and along with that comes the problem of engineering a good system incorporating insulation and vapor barriers. These issues are more complex than you might think, and to this day I can't find much agreement from other builders I've hired about what the best approach is. I did as much research on that as I could, and eventually settled on a system that I knew would be safe and reliable.

Out of the collection of books I'd amassed by then, my favorite was a more obscure title I found called "Building Thoreau's Cabin" by Stephen Taylor. I liked the author and thought he did a great job of explaining the finer points of building a house, and this seemed to be providing a closer model to what I wanted than the other books.

Phase 5: Tiny House Construction
The only problem with Thoreau's Cabin was that it was just too darned small. I can live in small spaces, but when you only have one place to live on a large piece of land, it's hard to imagine fitting your whole life into an 8 by 10 foot building. When Thoreau did this, he was basically camping out while he wrote his book about the experience, and I had more I needed to do than that. I had land to take care of, I had to keep making a living to pay for it all, and I was afraid that going too small would create more limitations than I could afford to live with.

In the author's book, his building was 8 x 12 feet, so just two feet longer than Thoreau's Cabin. With modern building materials, it's best to stick with dimensions which are in multiples of 4 feet since you end up with less waste. In the book there was one little note about scaling up his model, and he thought as big as you could safely go was up to 16 x 20 feet which gave me 320 square feet of floor space. It was as big as his building model would support, it was as big as a person could reasonably build by themselves, and I thought it would give me the room I needed without being too restricted.

So finally we get to the tiny house. Unfortunately I never had a decent camera until recently, so most of the documentation I did was with film or low quality digital cameras. The only shots of the construction are on film so I need to scan those, and I also need to take shots of the interior with my better camera. So I'll be adding quite a bit to this gallery, but for now you can at least see what it looks like on the outside (click thumbnails for larger slide show).

Some of these shots have appeared elsewhere in the site so you might have seen the snow covered shot on the home page for example, but now you have the story behind the image.