You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

And so to the tiny house

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In the previous post I outlined my idea for a dream home, the reasons behind it and the ways I think I can make it happen.  However, before I get to that point, I need to be able to save the money to get it started. For the past few years, in London, I’ve been renting first a one bedroom flat and later a room in a house shared with others. The least I’ve paid is £500/month. That’s almost £20k in the past 3.5 years. That’s around half of what I expect my house to cost. I need to be saving that, but so far I’ve been only just able to make ends meet, with no money left for saving. I need to get out of the rent trap.

Most of my friends in London are in a similar situation, working hard, trying to make ends meet, but not able to save for their own place due to the ridiculously high costs. A few years ago I came across Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company who build very tiny houses. Go take a look at his site, if you haven’t already, it is full of the most beautiful, well thought out yet tiny houses. His site was an inspiration that I’ve carried around in my head for a while, turning over ideas, figuring out how to make it doable on a small amount of money. Then I heard about a customer of his called Dee Williams, an inspiring lady who bought plans from Jay and built her own tiny house for $10k using mostly recycled materials.

Now I’ve been pulling things out of skips for years, furnishing my own flats and rooms mostly from free finds. It always amazes me how people will throw away stuff that is perfectly usable to someone else. The magic of the internet has given us ebay, craigslist and freecycle, all great ways to reuse and recycle things for which we’ve no longer any use, but which still have plenty of life left in them.

Buying a set of plans wasn’t really going to work for me, as that would have meant relying too much on finding exactly the right parts rather than making use of the things that I could find free or cheaply. I wanted to womble as much stuff as I could for the house, so I started just rolling the idea around in my head, figuring out what I needed to have in the house, how to downsize my life to fit into such a small place. It’s a great exercise in going through what’s truly important to you.

I’ve done a reasonable amount of diy over the years, and I’m a hobby woodworker, so it made sense to work with what I knew. I also believe fervently in trying things you don’t know. Last year I needed to do some plumbing, so I sat on the internet for a couple of days and taught myself basic plumbing, enough to replumb sinks and baths and add additional radiators to a central heating system. If I don’t know how to do something, I enjoy figuring out and learning how to do it myself.

With all that in mind, I figured that I could build myself a tiny house for around £5k, while still having some luxuries in there. After all, I’m planning to live in it for a couple of years while I save money for the first chunk of the cottage build, and then live in it while building the bigger place. Further online research unearthed a whole movement in the US, and around the world, based on living in substantially smaller houses. It’s a reaction against the spread of McMansions, those huge cookie cutter houses built in their thousands across the US. When I lived in Texas for a few years, they were everywhere, whole subdivisions of these things, all 3-4000 square feet, and maybe 6 ot 7 different designs replicated over and over again. Huge, empty places where you could spend days hardly seeing the people you lived with. They felt completely soulless when I visited friends living in them. Jay Shafer has been one of the founders and leading lights of this movement, along with Greg Johnson who founded the Small House Society, which has forged a rethink on what we really need in the way of housing. I’ll be adding resource links to the ‘Inspiration’ sidebar on this page if you’d like to learn more (I particularly recommend subscribing to the Tiny House Blog that Kent Griswold runs, to see real imagination and ingenuity at work), along with links to other builders of tiny houses, once I have permission from them to link to their blogs.

So, after my marriage ending, a nervous breakdown, plus my business failing last year, I found myself increasingly unable to pay rent and desperately in need of something to rebuild my life around. I decided that if I didn’t do it now, then it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Of course, right when that happened I was offered a job I couldn’t turn down. I’m now working 3 days a week, doing a job that I’m finding challenging but hugely enjoyable, while earning me just enough to keep my head above water and start building the tiny house part time.

I therefore started spending rather too much time on freecycle and ebay……..

Written by justin

March 9th, 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in Intentions

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