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Tiny house anyone?
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Locale: Pacific Northwet
Re: Re: Tiny house anyone? - In a whole in the ground there lived a man. on 04/26/2011 08:16:47 MDT Print View

Wonder if anybody has followed Dan Price's zine?

The guy lives in a hole in the ground - not a dark wet smelly hole, but a nice warm comfortable hole. It's the ultimate in minimalist living. Dan Price has some books out too, check them out on His has experimented living in all kinds of minimalist structures, including tipis etc and his current evolution is a tiny 8 foot diameter "hobbit hole"

Edited by DanG on 04/26/2011 08:17:20 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Tiny house anyone? on 04/26/2011 08:44:01 MDT Print View

Ours isn't tiny in the sense of the tiny houses cited here (which always fascinate/inspire me), but pretty small nonetheless: barely over 800 square feet for a family of 4 and we're perfectly comfortable- though our lot is good size so the outdoor space is very helpful, especially with children. We actually downsized from the place we were previously renting.

Always interesting to overhear other parents/families complaining that 1600 Sq. feet is too small for a family of three. To each their own, but I certainly think that too many people here are addicted to the big house, which only means you have to fill it up. Thus the cycle never ends. Most of us have learned this backpacking: buy a large pack and you're only going to have to fill it. Buy a small pack and it helps you make conscious decisions about what is truly necessary to carry. Compared to what I've encountered traveling, I think Americans generally have a warped perspective when it comes to necessary size of living space.

On the note of sustainability/minimizing impact, my gas, electric, and water bills are typically at or barely over the baseline price each month, in large part because our space is so small and we don't waste. Given our energy consumption is so low, we're the perfect candidates for solar- as are most small houses in sunny's just a question of money. Unfortunately, with our bills being so low, the initial solar investment wouldn't be paid off for a long time, so it's difficult to justify when money is very tight.
In addition, we have replaced all lawns with mulch and planter boxes for food as well as drought-tolerant landscaping; our water bill is half that of our neighbor's- who has a family of 3 but ~600 square feet of lawn and flowers (not to mention we're eating free food).

I think the truly tiny houses are the way to go, especially for only one or two people with no children. But I think it's going to be some time-if ever- before we see a mass shift in consciousness on this subject.

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Tiny House Project on 04/26/2011 09:30:29 MDT Print View

We lived in a rather "tiny" house by U.S. standards (900 sq ft) for nearly a decade and I like the concept of something even smaller. I will begin building a tiny house hopefully by the end of summer, as I have a few other projects that I need to finish up first in order to preserve domestic tranquility. I have looked at Shafer's plans and a couple examples of these, but will be building a plan of my own that is 8'X16' with a full loft and 4'x7' entry/airlock/storage area. I have wanted to build something that could be transported to a site and be completely off the grid. Some of the major cost items have been acquired such as a Biolet composting toilet, tankless water heater, solar panels, batteries and inverter, LED lighting, and a brass propane boat fireplace/heater. This will be built using SIPS (structural insulated panel system) and metal roofing and siding.

Assembly will take place in the backyard, and while I will not be building this on a trailer, I will be building it on a boxed steel frame that can be lifted onto a flatbed trailer for transport. Until we purchase some mountain property it will be my daughter's playhouse and they are VERY excited about that. If everything passes the livability test, I will then build a larger "cabin" that is around 1000sq ft utilizing the same techniques and technology.

Unless you can build one of these yourself, these trailerable tiny house prices are so high ($50k +/-), I would purchase a slightly used Airstream and live in that.

Marc Shea
(FlytePacker) - F

Locale: Cascades
Tiny house & cabin plans on 04/26/2011 09:33:23 MDT Print View

Here is a link to housing plans that have been developed by land grant Universities over the years in partnership with the USDA. They are all kinds of cabins and small house plans. Some of them are pretty old, but they provide some great inexpensive concepts.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Tiny House on 04/26/2011 09:40:23 MDT Print View

We've been fantasizing about a tiny house for a few years too. I have 3 kids, currently in 1200sq feet, and I'm fairly certain at least our living room could be nixed right now without changing a thing about our lifestyle except we would have to read, eat, do homework in our kitchen. That's not saying anything about what we could live in if we made adjustments. The only thing I would miss really is the family gathering like we had this past Sunday, with the kids playing songs for us on the guitar, everybody on the couches relaxing and chatting it over. I have a large family, 11 brothers and sisters, and about 432 nephews and neices. Outdoor couches and a good outdoor canopy would solve this problem nicely (I live in socal).

We look at Dwell magazine a bit and tiny houses have captured our imagination from the get go. My wife has been looking into trailer parks. great idea and the renovation would be a fun project, but generally in my area trailer parks are not located in very attractive neighborhoods. this summer Im building a 400sq ft room in the backyard for my mom, maybe later this can be converted into my tiny house so i can rent my house out. interesting idea.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Tiny House on 04/26/2011 12:04:40 MDT Print View

I plan on building our tiny house myself. Finally doing all those odd jobs/repairs have added up to the ability to do so. We even have a reclaimed lumber yard in town. With just the wife and I we certainly can go smaller than we have been living. Been busy purging belongings as of late. I agree that you will fill all available space if left to do so.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Tiny house anyone?" on 04/26/2011 16:46:39 MDT Print View

This thread is really interesting to me, thanks Ken.

FWIW - Hooking up to existing sewer/septic systems can be problematic. And, if it's all official, very expensive. You can get the construction service/rental companies to provide you a tank and weekly pump out service for about $100.00 per month.

We had a caretaker doing that on a job site once. With a little ingenuity and small slope, you can hide things pretty well and it works out great.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Tiny house anyone? on 04/26/2011 17:16:11 MDT Print View

A big part of the problem is developers. The bigger the house and the more amenities the more money can be made. Like many I ve seen the old one floor houses be replaced with mega 4 story Mchouses after the developers bought it out. I would imagine it extremely hard to even find a small house. You most likely will have to have build yourself.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Tiny house anyone? on 04/26/2011 17:51:08 MDT Print View

My wife and I lived in a 700 square foot craftsman near downtown SJ....loved it, but hated my neighbors (drug dealing, oud music late at night, fights etc). Never once did we feel cramped. We remodeled it back to its former glory and sold it. Miss the place sometimes. I wish more people would realize that small can be better.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Buying a basecamp in a falling market on 04/26/2011 19:07:52 MDT Print View

Ever since I heard a story on the radio years ago (2003) about a woman who did built her own tiny home in Alaska, I always wondered about it. Great concept. No mortgage to worry about.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Buying a basecamp in a falling market on 04/26/2011 19:45:45 MDT Print View

The difference is that in Alaska they don't have beaucratic regulations crammed down their throats. If they want to build a house, they just build it, no moronic building code, electric code, plumbing code, zoning code, etc.

In the lower states your permit fees will cost you $50,000 before you pour your first yard of concrete for the foundation. That is why folks buy trailers at the same price one can buy the stupid permit fees for a house.

There is one exception. If you can build your "house" under 200 square feet or is it 120 square feet, this structure is considered temporary and therefore not subject to as stringent of a permit process.

FYI I have lived with 4 others in 400 square feet for 20 years and have built several houses and remodeled several more. Just to hook up to water/sewer/electric/gas/phone/cable will cost well over $20,000 with little to no work required. Its all tied up in beacrautic red tape and permits. Basic Permit for building $3k then by the time you get all the other permits for electrical, plumbing, mechanical, zoning, drainage, sidewalk curb cut, etc you have tacced on another $20k. This is why folks don't build smaller houses. All of the upfront money is tied up in the pi-ss pot dictators running our building departments. Thus, its just as cheep upfront to build a larger home as it is to build a small home. This is from the builders perspective. The true homeowner usually doesn't want that large of a house until they are trying to make a statement about their wealth and prestige.

Most folks would be pragmatic enough if they had to pay for the house without permitting fees would usually choose the smaller cheeper house. But, because permitting fees are so astronomical, a new larger house that retains its value better, costs just as much as a far far far older smaller rundown house needing repairs. Exceptions to this rule are where the view is paramount like in West Seattle etc and the land plots(house sizes) were decided back when there weren't horrendously expensive permits and hoops to jump through.

I would understand the permitting process for large apartment buildings, and high rises, but your own home? No.

A little FYI for those looking to "build" their own small house. Be prepared for h-e-l-l from tin pot dictators in the building and land department because you aren't a licensed and bonded contractor(AKA throwing money down a rat hole). They won't actually tell you the rules, they will just say, NO, that is not right and leave. By law they have to actually tell you in most places exactly what is wrong, but usually they jerks will throw a numbered code that you are in violation of and leave instead of saying what is actually wrong. Of ocurse same said inspectors won't even call the contractors on the carpet, or if they do, they still sign it off because they see said contractors all the time.

Jennifer McFarlane
(JennyMcFarlane) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Small house on 04/26/2011 21:23:00 MDT Print View

We also live in a relatively small house- 900 sq feet with 2 adults and our 13 year old son. We have no garage. In a city of much larger homes, ours is unusually small.
We recently upgraded from a falling down laundry shed and separate storage shed to a slightly classier 10x12 shed with lofts for storage. Now the gear has a place to live. We have also killed our lawn and installed a crushed granite path and native plants. Our water bill cut in half, but has grown a bit as we have tried to replant our hillsides (we live on the edge of a canyon) with native oaks and other native plants. We should have a nice little oak grove in 10 years. We have looked at bigger places over the years but have always come back to proximity- I live 2 miles from where I work, my son goes to school up the street from where I work, and until recently had after school care two blocks from where I work. We love the closeness of it all. Next year he will ride his bike home from school. Eventually, we will install solar and decrease our electric bills. Our home is all electric, so that bill has always been expensive. We have looked at adding gas, but with a price tag of 20K (current) we procrastinate.

Kathleen B
(rosierabbit) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Tiny house building fees on 04/26/2011 21:31:18 MDT Print View

You're scaring me, Brian. I didn't realize the permit fees were so astronomical. I mailed my plans to a builder today to get a price estimate. We'll see what he says.

I've also heard the local governments don't like to allow small houses because the bigger the houses the more they can assess in property taxes.

Say, you wouldn't be interested in buying a well-maintained 963 sf condo, would you? The purple bathroom is an eye-popping, although tasteful, feature.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Tiny house building fees on 04/26/2011 21:52:06 MDT Print View

Another reason why we want to go the on trailer route. Plus we can take it with us when we move. This battle over minimum square footage is going to the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. We'll see how that pans out. Meanwhile...

Kimberly Wersal
(kwersal) - MLife

Locale: Western Colorado
Re: Re: Tiny house building fees on 04/26/2011 22:20:54 MDT Print View

Fees/red tape will certainly vary depending on where you live. We have saved a fortune by "remodeling" our existing house rather than starting from scratch. Total permit fees have been $1200, with a few hundred more before we are done. We have rebuilt the house, roof first, then one wall at a time. The foundation is original--virtually everything else is or will be new (walls, doors, windows, floors, roof, electrical, plumbing). Absolutely all done by my husband and myself--except lifting the roof trusses into place which required a crane. All paid for--no mortgage. It is 760 sq. ft. The building inspector has been a pleasure to work with, in fact he has really enjoyed watching the transformation from the wrecked old farmhouse we started with.

If we were starting totally from scratch with a piece of bare land, we would probably have built a slightly smaller home. Can't imagine what people do with a couple of thousand square feet?! Who wants to clean, heat that much space?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Tiny house building fees on 04/27/2011 00:06:29 MDT Print View

You're scaring me, Brian. I didn't realize the permit fees were so astronomical. I mailed my plans to a builder today to get a price estimate.
Some potential fees for new construction where I live...
Sewer/water connection
Utility company fees (gas, electric, phone, cable)
School District fees
County Flood Control District Fees
City Plan Check Fee
City Building Permit Fee
State of Calif Strong Motion Insturmentation Program (earthquake study)
Grading Permit fee
Police, Fire, Facilities, & Signalization fees
Microfilm fee
Additional Fee to issue the permits
Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan fee
Master Underground Utility Plan fee
Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee
Transit Development Fee
Public Park Fees
Art in Public Places fees
Building Standards Administration Fund
City Facilities Impact Fees

Some local cities require a block wall in new construction (average about 300 linear feet X 6 feet tall); average cost $20K. Next on the list is a movement by concerned citizens to require ceiling fire sprinklers. Additionally there are set-back min/maximum open space requirements, requirements for specific irrigation technologies, approved plants, color requirements, building height requirements (2 story houses not allowed in my city), etc. etc. It has gotten so complicated that some cities will assign you a "Building Permit Coordinator" to assist with the process and help estimate the permit/fee cost. In some areas of undeveloped acerage, you also will need to complete an Evironmental Impact Study, and God help you if they find a single fringed toe lizard or a piece of Native American pottery on your land.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
remodeling permit fees on 04/27/2011 00:16:35 MDT Print View

Remodeling permit fees are far far far lower as all of the utilities are already hoooked up. Basically you are looking at a rough Building permit that is cheeper than a new construction permit by a giant margin and your basic Electrical and plumbing permits. And if you are careful you can finagle it so there is no plumbing permit at all and get the slimy money grubbing jerks out of your house so you can live your own life.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
Remodeling permit fees on 04/27/2011 00:28:36 MDT Print View

The most recent permit I bought for a bathroom remodel in Pleasanton was $819.00.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Remodeling permit fees on 04/27/2011 00:40:44 MDT Print View

A friend of mine is doing a part-remodel-part-new construction. The trick is that the local authorities issue building permits according to a priority track. You get green points based on the green features in your building plan. The more green points you get, the more likely you will be on the fast track. So, some homebuilders are inclined to add in green features that cost more money just so they can speed the whole thing up for inspections and the like.


Gerry Volpe

Locale: Vermont
Tiny houses on 04/27/2011 08:44:59 MDT Print View

You folks building in urban/highly regulated areas definately have more hurdles. In rural NH and VT where I have done my building there is almost no permitting required except for the 15$ building permit I had to buy in NH to build from scratch. The regulations I have chaffed under the most are septic regulations. While started for excellent reasons(hygiene, public safety, etc) there is little to no room for alternative systems. Our first house we built pay as you go and were looking for more affordable eco-friendly optiions. We decide to construct a composting toilet that works great. Unfortunately regulations say that in order to have any running water you need to have a full septic system. The septic would have cost us the same as our land and house together. We didn't have the money and didn't want the loan so we went ahead and set up running water with a very effective grey water system. Luckily towns without much zoning/regulation also lack inspections so we were ok and felt alright morally if not legally. Due to this situation we decided to make sure we had a conventional septic this time and ended up with a mortgage on the place we live now. We have some other land we will be building on and are up in the air about septic. We will proabably have to wait awhile and suck up the cost(10-20K) because while VT law allows two running water fixtures with a grey water system it is only on a "camp" , which is defined as being occupied no more than around 190 days a year. Such is the paradox of regulations designed to benefit but lacking flexibility.

Edited by gvolpe on 04/27/2011 08:47:53 MDT.