Do-It-Yourself Downsize: How To Build A Tiny House

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The only thing tiny about the tiny house movement is the size of the houses themselves. There are a slew of websites devoted to the scene, and tiny house evangelists based in California and Vermont are busy traveling around North America helping people build these little homes.

"I'm just a freelance, insane guy working out of his backyard building stuff for people when the need arises," says Derek Diedricksen, 33, a tiny house enthusiast who lives outside of Boston.

Diedricksen's backyard resembles a junkyard with piles of unlikely building materials and a handful of already-completed structures. His web video series, Tiny Yellow House, might be described as Wayne's World meets This Old House.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the Internet* Economics, PoliticsEconomyConsumer/consumer spendingHousing/Real Estate Market

Posted June 30, 2010 at 4:14 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. wildfire wrote:

Mrs. Wildfire and I have long been enamored of tiny houses.  Several years ago we pushed this to the extreme by living in a 12 by 16 foot room (192 sq. ft.).  For comparison purposes, you should realize that this is not much bigger than the average bathroom, about the size of an Oriental rug.

One thing that should be obvious to anyone who thinks about this for a second is that these houses do not have kitchens and baths.  We had no water or electricity and used a sawdust toilet.  (Don’t get me started on sawdust toilets—they work amazingly well provided you are willing to work pretty hard yourself.)  We cooked outside on a gas grill.  Aladdin lamps are wonderful, but when I rigged up a single light bulb attached to golf cart batteries and a lawnmower motor, we felt like we had entered the twentieth century.  Unfortunately this was the twenty-first century, 2004!

We had an outdoor shower, okay when you live in the woods, but probably not recommended for suburban locations.  The outdoor shower and lack of heat became somewhat uncomfortable in October here in northern New England.  So we doubled the size of our house to 16 by 24 and added a wood stove and insulation.  (This took all of a week, just like the original was built in a week.)  We still used a sawdust toilet and the lawnmower power plant, but we moved the shower indoors.  We stayed there until well into the winter, but when the high (outside) was below zero and it was snowing (inside) on our bed as we slept, we decided to move to more conventional quarters with our dog and two cats.

We have very fond memories of this experiment and will forever live in small houses.  But someone interested in small houses should buy one of the cheap and ubiquitous 1950s ranches of about 1000 sq. feet, instead of a custom made house from Vermont.  You won’t even need to learn to appreciate the pleasures of a sawdust toilet!

June 30, 9:42 pm | [comment link]
2. robroy wrote:

Kudos to Mr. and Mrs. Wildfire! As one caught up by the material world, I have tremendous envy of what they have done.

June 30, 11:58 pm | [comment link]
3. sophy0075 wrote:

Smaller homes certainly make sense for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to) the smaller size of American families, energy costs, environmental impact (less lumber harvested, more forests retained to harbor animal life), and the need for smaller or no mortgages. Unfortunately, many communities have enacted zoning ordinances mandating the construction of McMansions.

July 1, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
4. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Conspicuous NON-consumption. Counter-cultural arrogance.

I agree about the 1950s-era houses, often as small as 850 sq ft, and couples usually raised three to five kids in ‘em. People are such whingers these days—the “poor” have abundant stuff we couldn’t have dreamed of in the ‘50s.  Every one of our family’s televisions we scrounged out of the dump, and my father (a Navy radar guy) would figure out how to make ‘em work.

Even better than the ‘50s houses, however, are the Craftsman era bungalows, including the kit houses. They are about the same size, but vastly better built. Ours is a 1921 Monkey-Ward kit house, at a very well-designed 1100 sq ft. My office is in what was designated the “Maid’s Room.”

The assumption in 1921 was that with 1100 sq ft you would (obviously) have a live-in servant. This house will be standing and healthy many decades after the 3700 sq ft 1990s monstrosities (with all their particle board and multiple roof angles) will have collapse from lack of maintenance, which would have been impossible in any case, given the construction.

July 1, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
5. Fr. Dale wrote:

The reality is that most counties have building codes and for good reason. Many of these places are located on isolated forest property. When we built a cabin, rest assured that it began with a well with an adequate water supply including an additional tank with a fire hydrant valve. The cabin was constructed with fire resistant exterior materials including a steel roof, tempered glass in fiberglass frames, indoor plumbing with modern fixtures, ample access and turn around for fire trucks. This is 2010, If you want less than that, go back packing.

July 2, 10:00 am | [comment link]
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