Have you seen this documentary TINY yet?
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
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…
For us the Tiny House was a means to an end, and that end was to build a larger (though still small) house DEBT FREE. And I guess 18 months of Tiny House living really worked, because we’ve saved up enough to buy land and start building.
6.7 acres in the Baca Grande neighborhood of Crestone, CO. Million dollar views for …. $9,000.
We bought the land for about $9,000, but it was raw land and putting in a well, septic, and hooking up to the electric grid cost about $20,000 more. Still, a lot of land in Colorado goes for $30,000 – $80,000… per acre!
Why is Crestone so cheap? It’s very rural: an hour drive (each way) to get groceries, a 4 hour drive to the airport (Denver), very few employment opportunities. The climate is very harsh: The San Luis Valley is 8,000 ft. above sea level, with sub zero winters, extreme winds in the spring, very dry all the time, sandy soil, and really bad mosquitos in the summer.
Our land is called a “Mesic Meadow”… which means a meadow with moisture. It’s a very dry Mesic Meadow, but does have actual soil and native grasses which used to cover the entire valley. Now most of the valley is either agricultural land or rabbit brush due to excessive irrigation and the drying trend in the last decades.
Design considerations include:
- Insulation and heating for sub-zero winters
- Blocking cold winter winds from the North and dusty spring winds from the Southeast
- Minimum 900 SF per local code
- Low budget – we’re building out of pocket – as we get the money
- Passive Solar – 300+ days of sunshine a year
- Active Solar – hot water heating for radiant tubing in the floor and future PV to generate electricity
We’ve settled on conventional 2×6 wood framing with spray foam insulation over a concrete slab on grade which will also be the finished floor. Single story, 1,000 SF with 1 BR, 1 Bath (and an office) to start, with the Tiny House parked next door to become the COOLEST guest house in the West! (if we get too many guests, we’ll simply put the bucket toilet back in! haha.)
The Hallway faces south and includes a CMU masonry wall filled with concrete for solar collection / thermal mass. The Utility room houses a washer and dryer, radiant floor heating equipment, hot water solar collection tanks, and the pressure tank required for the well. I am hoping that the passive solar design plus the radiant floor heat will negate the need to use the wood stove in the winter. We’ll see…
The house is designed for the addition of another bedroom and the conversion of the office into a 2nd Bath and closet, so then we’ll have a 2 BR / 2 BA in a roomy 1,150 SF. We’ve debated bumping the Great Room ceilings up to 11′-0″ and the side wings to 9′-0″ but this goes against our principles of efficiency to heat and efficiency to build… so I think we’re sticking with 10′-0″ and 8′-0″.
The house is oriented 30 degrees east of south. The best views are to the East and slightly Northeast. Solar south here is already 15 degrees east of south and another 15 degrees rotation doesn’t impact solar gain. I don’t know this guy, but found this website about Passive Solar Design really concise and informative.
I almost forgot! The Shop. There will be a detached Shop / Carport located to the Northwest which will block cold winter winds as well as shield the house from the street. 1,000 SF? Shane was altruistic enough to build the house first. ;)
We closed on the land April 4th, broke ground April 17th, and had the ICF perimeter foundation installed by April 26th.
The bathroom design got a LOT simpler when I was personally digging the trenching for the under-slab plumbing… haha. Went from a 4-fixture bathroom with fixtures on both walls, to a 3-fixture bathroom with all the fixtures on one shared plumbing wall. Manual labor would do a lot for architects and designers.
The day we placed concrete was horrendously windy and the slab went off way too fast, which is a bummer, because our slab is the finished floor, both to save money and because we like concrete floors. The floors have character though, and that’s the inherent beauty of concrete. I love it!
Crestone has been a great move for us and Shane is busy doing General Contracting and I’m busy doing design consulting, so this house is just our weekend job. I’ll keep you posted! Next up: Wall Framing!
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:
- 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.
- 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…
- 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?
- Hitting elbows on walls… Hitting elbows on each other… tripping over the dog… Claustrophobic.
- 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!
- Really hot in the summer. Mobile Tiny Houses cannot have large roof overhangs, allowing for too much solar gain in the summer.
- Small Kitchen = we started eating a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen dinners that only required one pan to cook. Ugh. Not healthy.
- No privacy.
- 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.
- No bathtub.
PROS of TINY HOUSE LIVING:
- You’re always close to a window when you’re inside = intimate connection to the outdoors.
- Very cozy in the winter – easy to warm up and keep warm.
- Affordable to build – you can own your own home! Freedom from a mortgage!
- Mobile. Great if you’re not sure where you want to live.
- 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.
- Very efficient to clean. And very efficient to communicate with others in the house – no intercom system required!
- Easy to renovate – you own it and it’s inexpensive to make changes.
- Small environmental footprint.
- Great conversation starter! You live in a what? How big?? Oh wow.
- 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.
We have been living in our tiny house full-time since mid-May 2012 – a year and a half now. Sometimes the house feels WAY TOO SMALL and my busy brain starts wondering (again), “WHY are we living like this???” Why don’t we just get a loan?
One reason we chose to build our own tiny house was to escape the debt of a MORTGAGE, the typical requirement of home “ownership.” (I use quotes because we often say that we own our homes, but if we’re paying a mortgage, the bank is actually the owner.) Read all of our reasons for going Tiny on our Why Tiny? page.
During one recent period of tiny house discontent I started thinking about interest rates – only 5%!!!! Well jeez, that is low… 5% of $200,000… is only …. $10,000! That’s nothing! We find a $250,000 house, put $50k down… borrow $200,000 + $10,000 interest… Why are we so against mortgages??
(Personal note: I have never had a mortgage, always rented, primarily due to a deep loathing of debt, and secondarily due to the fact that I never could have gotten the funds needed to buy a condo in L.A. or Denver, especially not after the crash of 2008 – in 2009 I applied for a mortgage loan and was approved for $80k. You can’t buy jack for $80k in Denver. Shane, on the other hand, has had mortgages since he built his first house at the age of 18. He was always able to build / buy low and sell high, until the 2008 crash, when home values dropped about $100k in his town. The mortgage company would not reconsider the value of his home, continuing to charge him mortgage payments on a home worth $280k when he could only hope to sell it for $180k. His mortgage payment was also about $300 a month higher than what he could rent the house for.)
Shane found an online mortgage calculator to show me the actual cost of a 5% loan… Seeing the amount of money paid on top of the listing price instantly rekindled my interest in living in a Tiny House!
So, while 5% of $200,000 is indeed $10,000…. that is not AT ALL how mortgages are calculated. (I realize this is elementary to many, but I love seeing the numbers – makes me feel better about living in 200 sf.)
We would actually end up paying the bank $186,511 (over 30 years) in order to borrow that $200,000. Which is 93%, not 5%. (You don’t hear anyone raving about record time low interest rates of 93%!)
And that house that was listed at $250,000? We would end up paying $480,261! Wow.
An image from an online mortgage calculator:
And if the $93,750 total tax is on top of the $480,261… that’s $574,011! Over half a million dollars for a 2 BR / 2 BA starter home…
Now the story we’re told here in America is that Home Ownership is the American Dream, you aren’t anything unless you own your own home. I seriously think the bankers might be behind this bit of American folklore – it definitely seems in their best interests (pun…) to get people to “own” their own homes.
Well, the reason so many intelligent and logical people do choose to pay banks is because they feel that they are “throwing their money away” on rent, and a mortgage is… Equity, right? An investment in your future…
Eq-ui-ty : noun : fairness or justice in the way people are treated [incredibly ironic?]
: finance : the value of a piece of property (such as a house) after any debts that remain to be paid for it (such as the amount of a mortgage) have been subtracted
So let’s take a look at Equity:
$50,000 down payment
= $200,000 loan / mortgage = $1,334 per month + $3,125 taxes per year
After 5 years I still owe $183,349. Gulp. But… my house is now worth $280k instead of the $250k I paid for it. So, I sell, maybe to make a profit, maybe because I have to move, who cares why, everybody’s doing it.
$280,000 – $183,349 = $96,651 “profit”
- minus the $19,264 closing costs (5.1% to the realtors, 1.78% tax) = $77,387 “profit”
- minus the $15,625 in taxes I forked out over 5 years = $61,762 “profit”
= barely enough to make a down payment on a similarly valued home and start paying rent to the bank again.
Oh, and what about the $50,000 I so generously donated to the bank?
- minus the $50,000 down payment = $11,762 “profit”
AND what about the $1,000 per year I had to put into fixing the HVAC system, installing gutters, removing that tree, etc. etc.
= $6,762 profit.
I paid 5 years of monthly payments at $1,334 = $80,040 to live for 5 years, and I’ve only saved up / profited $6,762 when I sell.
The other way to own a home, the way that we’re trying to do it (and many other tiny housers / thrifty dwellers), is to live small, save, and build a house debt-free.
Over five years of living in the tiny house we will pay $934 LESS per month ($1,334 – $400) = $56,040 + that $50,000 down payment = $106,040 saved up / profited over 5 years.
Tiny house too tiny? What if you rent a smallish place for $900 per month – over 5 years you’ll be able to save $26,040 from not paying a mortgage + that $50,000 down payment = $76,040. WAY more than the $6,762 profit from buying and selling.
So why exactly is home ownership so wonderful? Because the banks make money on our borrowing. Granted, if you stay in your home for 10 years or 20 years, you can actually come out ahead, though not really enough to retire on…
According to Bankrate calculators you’d still owe $101,225 after 20 years of paying on a $200,000 loan. That’s more than half of the loan! After two DECADES of paying it off.
I think people just get comfortable with the cost of housing being $1,000 – $2,000 a month and just pay it. For their entire lives. But how is that not Serfdom? And banks have some incredible leverage because it takes SO long to save up $200,000 (legally…ha) to buy a house outright. So for us, the Tiny House may be INSANELY small but it is allowing us to save up enough money to get into a more comfortable house without paying interest to a bank.
This was a LOT of numbers, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me!
I’m curious about other people’s tactics to own a home debt free…
[ I'm sure there are errors in my math / logic / understanding of the mortgage system - forgive me. I know I've omitted things like utilities, paying a mortgage off early, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, etc.]
I’m sure many of you have seen the photos or TEDtalks about declining bee populations, but I wanted to share a 15 minute TEDtalk video I just watched.
I love this lecture because it outlines the problems, which are super depressing, as bees could be a mirror of our human colonies… but the talk also offers great solutions at the end that all of us could provide to help the bees stay healthy.
Basically, plant flowers that bees like. Native flowering shrubs are best. And if you’re a farmer, plant natural nitrogen-fixing cover crops like clover and alfalfa, and skip the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.
I am totally enthralled by the online conversation happening in reaction to HuffPo’s article titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” with this simple equation: Happiness = Reality – Expectations.
There is also a great conversation happening in response to this (explicit) Gen X/Y-er’s rebuttal to the HuffPo article.
I had seen these tiny little fiberglass cubes before and they seemed way too small, but now Studio Liu Lubin has started combining and stacking their Micro House and it looks very cool!
I don’t know how this guy stayed hidden so long! the house was finished over a year ago and it just now appeared on Tiny House Swoon. It’s beautiful; the extruded front porch, the reclaimed materials, the interior with live-edge wood plank countertops and sheepskin couch covers…