We live in a tiny house.
House is a generous term. It’s much more of a cabin. This tiny house life closely resembles what most would call camping. Tiny is quite accurate, though.
12 x 16´, 192 square feet (“Tiny house” is generally 200 sq ft or less). It sort of has two stories- there’s an up”stairs” more spacious than the average tiny house loft, that holds a bed and clothes and things, but one can’t walk around with the sloping ceiling.
It is also off-grid. This means we have a couple solar panels on the front with a battery bank, and a wood stove that heats the place. We cook with propane.
I’m really happy that our passive solar worked out as well as it did. A lot of math can be done to achieve the right angles of eave overhang so that the summer sun does not shine in the windows and the winter sun does. I did no math. I looked at the sun at noon, and pointed the house at it. I guessed at the overhang. Nailed it. At summer solstice the eave shadows the front windowsill. At winter solstice the sun hits the back wall.
Space matters I – design
Considering space, and the premium it is at in a tiny house, I chose to give a LOT of that space to insulation. Many square feet of interior space went to a double deep quilt of insulating. R28 in the walls. I think I’ll be happy forever about that allocation of space. It keeps it warm, so warm. With just the sun, even on cold days, the big south windows collect enough rays that it gets comfortably warm. On sunny days, if someone also stirs up the fire in the morning, then windows must be opened.
The woodstove takes up a big chunk of space. To keep code tolerances from stove to flammables takes space, but it’s not negotiable. We have a small woodstove, and a fire very quickly heats the whole place. Often too effectively, and windows get opened again.
Heating the tiny house, we laugh all the way to the woodshed. One cord! One. Cord! A year. That is a massive savings in energy- in our case mostly time, doing firewood.
One of the best allocations of space we have is a mud room. I was dubious about it at first, but it serves so many functions now! It’s a division between the outdoor stuff (coats and boots), and the indoor life of slippers and tea. That’s where the dog sleeps (His choice. He can’t take off his fur coat). It’s a cooler room to put cooler things in, and it’s an airlock. In a house the size of a room, open the door on a -10C night and all the heat whooshes right out the door. I highly recommend the mudroom, even in a tiny house. The odd shape of it, with the angled inside door, turned out to be genius. It works extremely well on both sides of the walls.
Space matters II- Living with less of it
Space matters. Anyone buying or building a house is saying “ok, this is how much space we’re willing to build, maintain, and heat, and we’re going to take on the challenges that come with it”. If that’s a big house, then the challenges might be paying for it, decorating it, contracting out the Xmas lights and landscaping. If it’s a little house, then the challenges are:
1 The first major difference, and also motivation, for the whole tiny house “thing” is that it forces you to face your stuff. Stuff is a major feature of modern life. It means a lot. The stuff you have can enable or inhibit what you are able to do; announce, reinforce, or create identity; and absolutely determine your lifestyle.
To live in a tiny house, implicitly, you are choosing to pay more attention than usual to the stuff you have, and probably, do without a lot of it. If your house is big enough, there is enough room for stuff to come and go, sit and be forgotten, saved – there is slush room. Stuff can be ignored. There is space for that in a big house.
Tiny house? Not one bit. Not one. There is no space, for anything to be ignored. This is a pretty big challenge. It can be an existential one, if stuff defines your identity or enables you. Downsizing into a tiny house means a lot of things. Like: I can live with less. I trust that I can access what I need when I need it (from somewhere other than the garage or attic). I can be different, my identity can be based on other than what I own.
We have largely evaded these difficult questions by having other buildings on the property (a couple of also-small outbuildings). There is NO WAY that anyone can farm, even a little bit, without a great deal of stuff. Chiefly tools. We have a lot of tools. And feed, and seed, and fencing, and hoses, and buckets and barrows. This all just lives elsewhere, not attached to our house, not heated.
I still have quite a bit of stuff, especially things that I need in order to make, build, or create things. H.W. has a lot of bicycles. But we don’t get to forget about the space our stuff takes up anymore. Everything gets critically eyeballed, sifted. Analyses are made.
2 The second major difference that I notice, is that in a tiny house, you practically live outside. One is intimate with the outdoors. A tiny house is too small to “contain” a whole life. I am always aware of the weather, the season, the time of day, the temperature, because I’m always out in it. I’ve wondered how often the average exterior door gets opened and closed on a house. I figure it’s far greater in our house. From first thing in the morning to moments before sleep, we are out and in that door. The wood’s outside, the water’s outside, the tools are outside – everything other than the basics is somewhere else, so we are constantly scampering out.
I like it. There is no way to get disconnected from time, season and place.
3 Small things are desirable. Everything is little. Space is at a premium. It’s the opposite of the wild west (unlimited promise of the frontier)- infinite expansion is not an option. Therefore, things that are compact, that cleverly use space efficiently, that have multiple uses, are valued and appreciated (smallness and efficiency are not always qualities that anyone cares about).
Then again, some things are valued out of proportion to the space they take up. We have two (!) manual typewriters in prime space.
4 Privacy. Considering we lived together for over a year in the tiny camper, the tiny house is luxuriously capacious. Still, it’s essentially one room. Smells, sounds, temperatures are all shared. Often this sucks to negotiate, but on the other hand, there’s no distance. We do things together, even unintentionally. We are always in earshot.
5 Oh yeah, money. Much, much, much, absurdly, cheaper. Even with a ridiculous amount of insulation and eleven windows, our tiny house cost less than $5000. It could have been even cheaper, but I didn’t ferret out the rock bottom price on every single thing. Commonly, a pre-built tiny house can run a lot more, but they can also be really fancy, with Scandinavian everything and sneakily hidden washing machines. Like everything, there’s a spectrum. We are nearer the primitive end of this one. No plumbing. No laundry.
Similar to the off-grid life, tiny house life costs the currency of energy and time. Much less money to build, or to pay for, or pay the mortgage on, but there are non-monetary costs. More time paying attention to stuff, moving it around…
One big thing about a tiny house is that it does not absorb “mess”, at all. If you have a long marble countertop and at one end you have a pile of bills spread out that you were sorting, there is still the impression of “clean”, because it’s mostly clean, except for that pile, which is obviously temporary – a work station. In a tiny house, one pile of bills, or a project spread out, or a batch of canning – any workstation takes up the whole counter, maybe the whole room, and no matter how temporary it might be, it gives the impression of MESS! All surfaces are covered therefore everything is a mess! A cataclysmic mess can happen as easy as bringing in the groceries etcetera from a town trip. On the flip side, it can tidy up in about ten minutes. A thorough, comprehensive total house cleaning, vacuuming included, is a two hour job.
As everyone knows, the world is filling up. Some people still do have “unlimited space”, some do with exceedingly little. Tiny house means a mindset that’s the opposite of sprawl. If there isn’t enough room for anything and everything, then you have to bring the energy and time of attention to choosing what to bring in and keep; you have to be conscious.
For those considering tiny or just tiny-curious, I highly recommend the wonderful, thoughtful, funny, why-to and how-to book on going small, The Big Tiny, by the incomparable Dee Williams.