Are Tiny Houses Legal? Yes. [Sort of.]

this is re-post of a great article written by Jay Austin over at Boneyard Studios.  [I added the photos.]

“Perhaps the biggest barrier to smaller living is the misconception that tiny houses are illegal. They’re not. Here’s why.

But first, a disclaimer on what I am and what I am not. I am an individual who lives (yes, full-time), in a tiny house in the District of Columbia. I am someone who has spent more time than I’d ever hoped trudging through DC zoning and planning and coding regulations. I am someone employed by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development who spends a lot of hours each day talking to—and learning from—housing lawyers and the very people who set federal housing policy. I have a penchant for taking risks, an insatiable urge to disrupt stale systems, and a graduate degree in government and public policy.

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Categories: Where to Park? | Tags: | 3 Comments

Country Living magazine features 44 Tiny Houses and Portlandia mocks ‘Microhouses’

click here to go to Country Living’s gallery of 44 tiny houses.  Macy Miller got front billing – congrats Macy!  Your house looks very beautiful.  Our house is buried in there somewhere…

and Portlandia’s skit mocking “microliving” is hilarious!  I especially liked the bathroom / home office.  Tiny Houses are just asking to be spoofed.

Categories: Publicity | Tags: , | 1 Comment

A Tiny Step in Our Journey Home (Tiny House Magazine Article)

By Carrie Caverly. October 30, 2014

(an article I wrote for Tiny House Magazine…)

When we built our Tiny House in 2012 we wanted it to be temporary – a stepping stone toward owning our own self-sufficient home, mortgage free. And even though I struggled with living in 200 SF for a year and a half, I feel so much gratitude for our tiny house because (two years later) it actually did enable us to buy land and start building a modest home of our own, without borrowing money.

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Our first rental lot in Prescott, AZ. Set up for an RV, this site was tucked into a residential neighborhood and I cropped them out of this photo, but there are neighbors 50 feet away on both sides.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Living in our Tiny House near Santa Fe, NM. Next to our parents on their 5 acres of land, the freeway was just north of us and visible from the front deck. The Harleys were the loudest.

In theory, I think tiny homes are the cure for what ails us – a lack of home. Mortgages can feel like indentured servitude and when the economy fluctuates and our income declines we see how fragile our ownership really was. Or decades of rental homes where we can never truly settle into our surroundings, never invest in our environment.

One of my favorite design books, ‘A Pattern Language’, lists home ownership as a mandatory requirement. Pattern 79: Your Own Home – “People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. … Give every household its own home, with space enough for a garden. … In all cases give people the … physical opportunity to modify and repair their own places … each family can build, and change, and add on to their house as they wish.”

pattern language book cover

Pattern 79: Your Own Home from ‘A Pattern Language’

A tiny house is a means to fulfilling this requirement: the need to nest. And without Daddy Warbucks giving us all a house… it’s up to us. Being small, tiny houses are within the financial grasp of most people. You can build one yourself, with the help of a few professionals, for $15,000-$20,000 – or buy one new for $40,000-$50,000. In our area, a normal modest sized house (1,000-1,400sf) would cost around $200,000, not including land. Being mobile, tiny houses allow the freedom to move with work as the economy ebbs and flows.  We’ve moved twice with our Tiny House to find better work.

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Moving the house from Prescott to Santa Fe when work slowed to a trickle.

In reality, Tiny Houses fall short in a few necessary categories of home. Be prepared to wrestle your demons when living in a tiny house. I dealt with feelings of poverty, scarcity, instability, claustrophobia, and lack of personal space. At a minimum, a home should provide privacy and a room of one’s own for all occupants, which is nearly impossible in 140-200sf.

To live Tiny or not is perhaps a question of whether home ownership and mobility trumps all other needs in a home. That will be up to each individual resident to discover. I was reluctant to go Tiny and was only convinced after an extensive pros and cons list.

I really disliked living in the Tiny House at times, but looking back, I am so glad we did it. Nothing else could have freed us up financially to take a huge leap forward into independent self-sufficient living. I am starting to see the value of taking a step forward – any step – when life seems stagnant. Sometimes moving in a different direction, even if it doesn’t feel like the right direction, can free up the flow of more possibilities.

Almost a year ago we were finding more work up in Colorado and decided to move again, but this time without the Tiny House. We left it on our parents’ land in Santa Fe and went up to Colorado where we rented a house – a large cathedral-like space that made us miss our low ceilings and tiny space that was so easy to keep warm. The ceilings were actually as high as our Tiny House is long: 24’-0. We burned 4 cords of wood in one winter.

In March of 2014 we found a piece of land in Colorado and started building our own house, 1,000 SF with designs for the Tiny House to function as a guest house, enabling us to keep the house small and within our budget. We’ve been working on our main house on the weekends and are finishing out the interior with hopes to be finished by Christmas.

In October 2014 we moved out of the rental and back into the tiny house again, next to our new house. And this time it feels fine – great even – cozy but not cramped – stylish and truly ours. By living in the Tiny House we’re saving $1200 a month that we would have paid for rent and utilities at the rental house.

Clothesline Tiny House interior.

Clothesline Tiny House interior.

Setting up the Tiny House again.

The south side of our new house and the tiny house entry.

The south side of our new house and the tiny house entry.

Living in the Tiny House on our land in Colorado while we finish building our house.

So what’s different this time around? Have I changed? Have I transcended into some higher level of minimalist contented enlightenment? I’d like to think so! But honestly, it’s probably because:

  1. We are on our own land. Privacy is always important to feel at home but when your house is tiny it’s crucial to have privacy outside. Privacy could be found in a friend’s backyard alley lot, surrounded by garden walls; it doesn’t have to be big, you just need to feel sheltered; observing the world around you from the safety of your own nook.
  2. We have an office set up in our house next door. I think a lot of my struggle with living tiny could have been alleviated by going to work at an office (preferably Google, where they have great food, slides, and napping pods). It feels so good to go to work next door and I’m glad to go home to the tiny house after a productive work day.
  3. We have a flushing toilet now! I was initially a huge proponent of an alternative toilet in our tiny house – Shane wanted to install an RV toilet with a blackwater tank that we would empty periodically. That sounded disgusting to me. But burning poop?! Bring it on! Our first toilet was an Incinolet, and maybe the problems stemmed from its secondhand acquisition… but I cannot imagine burning fecal matter ever smelling tolerable. It did not. Next, after a brief foray into cat litter, we used a low-tech sawdust bucket toilet (outside) and that worked fine, better than the incinerator, though we used a trash can full of sawdust every month and had to discard the bags of waste at the dump, which is unsanitary at best, possibly illegal. Now the tiny house is connected directly to our septic system. Happy, sanitary flushing. I have so much respect and appreciation for modern sewer systems. And with a septic system the flushed water is returned to the ground it came from.
Flushing toilet in the tiny house - hooked up to our main plumbing and septic system.

Flushing toilet in the tiny house – hooked up to our main plumbing and septic system.

The new flushing toilet installed in our Tiny House bathroom.

There are many ways to achieve financial independence and find a home of one’s own. The definition of home is different for everyone. A Tiny House was a key step in our journey home. And because Tiny Homes are mobile, who knows, maybe we’ll hitch up again someday.

(originally published in Tiny House Magazine Issue 23)

Categories: Living In the Tiny House, Publicity | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

New Views – Same Tiny House

We’re back in the Tiny House after 10 months of renting a big house. It feels really good- small, sure- but good. Cozy, clean, bright and light.

Tiny House interior - we added some plants and artwork and it's feeling quite beautiful and homey.

Tiny House interior – we added some plants and artwork and it’s feeling quite beautiful and homey.

I might be over personifying an animal, but I think Rio is totally BUMMED to be back in the tiny house!  haha.  He doesn’t have any carpets to roll around and play on.  Sorry buddy, you’re at the bottom of this totem pole.  Maybe if you learned how to hang sheetrock??

We’re living next to our big house while we finish the interior and it is so great being on our land – out in the wide open prairie looking up at the 14,000 ft. Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Looking west at the open flat lands.  San Juans beyond.

Looking west at the open flat lands. San Juans beyond.

Views from the tiny house - I really need to do something about that scrap wood pile...

Views from the tiny house – I really need to do something about that scrap wood pile…

We finished out the office and laundry room in the main house, which really helps with the tiny house functioning.

We’ve lived in the Tiny House in three different places now – Prescott, Santa Fe, and now southern Colorado – and it is absolutely surreal to be inside – where it’s the same house – but we’re facing a different direction looking at different views.  It’s almost like a feeling of vertigo – imagining the old surroundings, but then opening your eyes and seeing an entirely different environment.

Clothesline Tiny House interior.

Clothesline Tiny House interior.  Dickinson propane heater, and an art niche.  I selected a cooler palette of Fiestaware and am really pleased with the selection.  ;)

Oh, I almost forgot!  We have a flushing toilet in the tiny house now!  That could be a huge part of why the tiny house is feeling so comfortable and homey.  If you ever want a new appreciation for sewage systems just try an incinerating toilet!  then when that smells like… burning poop, go back to square one and reinvent the wheel – what DO we do with this #!*&?!  A bucket?  Cat litter box!?  A flushing toilet.  I’m in love.

Flushing toilet in the tiny house - hooked up to our main plumbing and septic system.

Flushing toilet in the tiny house – hooked up to our main plumbing and septic system.

Hope all is well for everyone.  Happy flushing.

– Carrie

Categories: Living In the Tiny House | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Tiny House in Place on Our New Land

Friday we placed a concrete pad for the Tiny House on our new land and this week we moved the house onto it’s new slab.  The tiny house will be used as a guest house and is now connected to sewer (flushing toilet!  hooray!)

The front entry courtyard with the tiny house in place.

The front entry courtyard with the tiny house in place.

We obscured the view of the gooseneck hitch with a dry-stacked CMU wall that can be disassembled when we want to move the tiny house.  Shane will add a little shed roof over this masonry wall and it will be outdoor storage area and there will be a wall connecting the main house to this masonry wall.

The south side of our new house and the tiny house entry.

The south side of our new house and the tiny house entry.

The tiny house is an integral part of our new house design – we were able to make our new house smaller (only 1 BR 1 BA) because the tiny house will serve as a Guest House.  It also blocks wind and creates an outdoor courtyard shielded from the adjacent road to the west.

In the photo above you can also see our hot water solar panels in place!  These will heat our domestic hot water and radiant floors.

We ended up orienting the Tiny House with it’s entry facing away from the main house entry because the views were better from inside the tiny house – we wanted the full height windows in the Tiny House living room to look at the mountains to the east, not the road to the west.  It’s more private inside the tiny house this way.

Really amazing views from inside the tiny house.

Really amazing views from inside the tiny house.

The tiny house is connected to water, sewer, and electric and we’ll be moving into it at the end of September while we finish the inside of our main house.

Categories: Living In the Tiny House, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Moving the Tiny House to Colorado

We moved our tiny house up to our land in Colorado!

leaving Santa Fe, where we lived in the tiny house for 18 months. it was bittersweet leaving our family’s land, we really enjoyed living next door to Shane’s parents.

Welcome to colorful Colorado!  the tiny house was in great shape after being parked for 9 months in Santa Fe.

Welcome to colorful Colorado! the tiny house was in great shape after being parked for 9 months in Santa Fe.

trying out different locations for the tiny house... it will be parked 180 degrees from this phot0.  it creates two nice outdoor courtyards and shields our house from wind and the road.

trying out different locations for the tiny house… it will be parked 180 degrees from this phot0. it creates two nice outdoor courtyards and shields our main house from wind and the road.

It’s going to be the sweetest guest house!  except no guests yet, because we’ll be living in it!

starting October 1st we will be living in the tiny house again full time while we finish building our house. We’re both excited to be back in the tiny house, though I’m sure it will be an adjustment after being in a large house for 10 months…  Rio’s really stressing.  haha.

We will finish out the office and the utility room in the main house prior to moving into the tiny house so we’ll have work space and laundry, as well as the pump needed to get running water out of the well.

the south view of our main house and the tiny house.  we decided to rotate the tiny house 180 degrees from the placement shown in this photo, allows for great views from the tiny house living area, and we can obscure the gooseneck hitch with a wall/gate connected to the main house porch.

the south view of our main house and the tiny house. we decided to rotate the tiny house 180 degrees from the placement shown in this photo, allows for great views from the tiny house living area, and we can obscure the gooseneck hitch with a wall/gate connected to the main house porch.

 

check out the progress we’ve made on our main house!  stucco is done, rough plumbing and electrical are done so we can get it spray foamed in a week… living in the tiny house again will allow us to save about $1,100 a month that we would be paying in rent and heat at a rental house.  we’ll put that into our main house that we’re building out of pocket.

Categories: Living In the Tiny House | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

TINY: The Movie

Have you seen this documentary TINY yet?

TINY: A Story About Living Small, the Movie by Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller.

TINY: A Story About Living Small, the Movie by Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller.

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Categories: Publicity | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Dwell on Design 2014 – Los Angeles

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Dwell Magazine’s design show in L.A. – it was marvelous.  Total information overload, and I did notice a strange compulsion to pick up as many free brochures as possible… it was weird, and it wasn’t only me, I noticed other attendees frantically grabbing for free anything!  business cards, brochures, you name it, we wanted swag!

Here are some highlights, including photos of 3 Prefab houses that were driven into the convention center.

Dwell on Design 2014

Dwell on Design 2014 - in downtown Los Angeles at the Convention Center.  Downtown L.A. has gotten so much better since Gensler (one of my former employers) finished the L.A. Live development.

Dwell on Design 2014 – in downtown Los Angeles at the Convention Center. Downtown L.A. has gotten so much better since Gensler (one of my former employers) finished the L.A. Live development.

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Categories: Tiny House Design | 5 Comments

Tiny House Drywall Trim Method Revealed!

We decided, since we’re not really building many tiny houses ** to reveal our big drywall secret that we used when we built our tiny house!

We used a product called TrimTex Magic Corner in lieu of conventional joint tape / mesh.  Magic Corner is an expansion bead made for vaulted ceilings where drywall joints almost always crack.  It’s plastic with a rubber expansion panel that can flex, if necessary.  We used it on every joint.  It wouldn’t be great on outside corners, fyi…

Tiny house drywall trim to allow for expansion - Trim Tex Magic Corner.

Tiny house drywall trim to allow for expansion – Trim Tex Magic Corner.

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Categories: Tiny House Construction | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Are Tiny Houses Too Small? Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House.

Well… I feel a little sheepish about not writing for so long!  But.  It is my blog.  ;)

Actually though, I feel more sheepish because we moved out of the tiny house in December… and I am just now posting about it!  Yes.  That’s right.  We no longer live in our tiny house.  What happened?  Well, ultimately, the Tiny House was just not meeting our needs.

We still have it, and will be using it as a guest house on our new property.  But it was just too small!  Both Shane and I agreed that we could live in a tiny house ALONE no problem.  Haha?  We lived in it full time from May 2012 through November 2013 – 18 months – a year and a half.  I’d say we gave it a good run.

We’re now renting a full size home with 24′-0″ high ceilings!  We could literally stand our tiny house on end in the living room of this new house.  Heating this big house does indeed suck and cost a lot, but it’s worth it.  And… we’ve purchased a piece of land and are in the process of designing our own home that we’re going to build ourselves debt-free.  We’re trying to keep it under 1,000 SF, which is surprisingly difficult!

I am very grateful for the opportunity we had to design, build and live full-time in our own tiny home.  It was an excellent design experiment on what is truly necessary in a home and how much space feels right.

Here are my observations on the Pros and Cons of Tiny Living:

CONS of TINY HOUSE LIVING:

  1. No home office space.  We both work for ourselves (a builder and a designer) and need space for filing, accounting, bidding, designing, planning, and creating.
  2. No personal space.  When a couple gets married they are still two individual humans with individual needs.  The book, A Pattern Language, writes that a house for a couple needs separate spaces for each individual (pattern 77).  A Tiny House just doesn’t provide this on it’s own.  Perhaps with a shop and a studio we could have made it work.  Perhaps our own train?  With 3-4 cars…
  3. Not enough storage space – for everyday items or for bulk storage.  Getting things out and putting them away was a complex puzzle.  We were always losing stuff, believe it or not.  Too tucked away maybe?
  4. Hitting elbows on walls… Hitting elbows on each other… tripping over the dog… Claustrophobic.
  5. No room for yoga… or just stretching out on the floor…  playing with the dog.  I’ve spent a lot of time laying out on the living room rug in our new rental house… feels so spacious!
  6. Really hot in the summer.  Mobile Tiny Houses cannot have large roof overhangs, allowing for too much solar gain in the summer.
  7. Small Kitchen = we started eating a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen dinners that only required one pan to cook.  Ugh.  Not healthy.
  8. No privacy.
  9. Toilets…  I’ve written about tiny house toilet woes and options a lot… and decided that flushing toilets are the nectar of the gods.  We’re going to be adding a flush RV toilet connected to a septic system.
  10. No bathtub.

PROS of TINY HOUSE LIVING:

  1. You’re always close to a window when you’re inside = intimate connection to the outdoors.
  2. Very cozy in the winter – easy to warm up and keep warm.
  3. Affordable to build – you can own your own home!  Freedom from a mortgage!
  4. Mobile.  Great if you’re not sure where you want to live.
  5. Very cheap to live in.  We paid $300 – $400 a  month rent for land + maybe $40 a month for propane and electricity.  Easy to save up money for…  a bigger house.
  6. Very efficient to clean.  And very efficient to communicate with others in the house – no intercom system required!
  7. Easy to renovate – you own it and it’s inexpensive to make changes.
  8. Small environmental footprint.
  9. Great conversation starter!  You live in a what?  How big??  Oh wow.
  10. Fosters community.  Claustrophobia will drive you out into public where you can sprawl out on the floors of cafes and coffee shops.  Also, you’ll develop a … memorable relationship with your neighbors when you fire up that incinerating toilet.

I decided that a tiny house could work for one (or two extroverted people) who work full time outside of the home in their own private offices, eat hot pockets for dinner, and whose only hobbies involve reading books on a Kindle or watching YouTube videos on their laptop computer…

Thanks for following along on our incredible journey – the people we’ve met through this blog have made it quite enjoyable.

– Carrie

Categories: Living In the Tiny House | Tags: | 39 Comments

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