Mike Moore recently sent me his story about his small house build, using a modified version of Jay Shafer’s Mulfinger. It is neat to see one of Jay’s larger homes built as most have never been constructed. I’ll turn the story over to Mike and he can explain the process he used to get his home built.
I found Jay Shafer in 2004 by googling “tiny houses.” I had been following construction techniques and architectural ideas since the 60’s, but it was Jay’s work that really resonated with me. I started with the Mulfinger plan, which Jay modified for me, enlarging it to a footprint of 16 x 20. It took me about 3-4 years to build it, with LOTS of help; you can see the results in the attached photos.
For those that are curious concerning codes, let me relate my story of dealing with the planning/building departments of Person County, a mostly rural area in central North Carolina.
There were several aspects that had to be addressed, some of which I discovered by researching county and state codes. This was in 2005, and codes change frequently, so some of these might not currently apply.
The first thing I discovered was that minimum size requirements concerning habitable rooms (not bathrooms) meant that my bedroom was shy of required square footage by a few square feet. I solved this by bumping out the footprint to 16 x 22.
Next, there was a provision in the code that stated I could not place the stove/oven in front of a window, so I shifted the arrangement of the appliances on that wall to accomodate this.
The code here had also changed a few years back to prohibit post foundations, so the house is built on a continuous foundation, which creates a crawl space.
There were several other small issues. I enlarged the bedroom window to accomodate emergency egress requirements. Collar ties had to have engineering approval; the upstairs bedroom is a”storage area”, etc.
But my main point is not code; what is most important is creating a good relationship with those higher powers. By doing this you will be much more likely to win approval of alternative to mainstream interpretation of code. Yes, some inspectors or counties are stricter than others, even cantankerous at times. But their main concern is that you use safe building practices. I would also agree that what they think is safe, and what actually is safe can differ. If you are doing something a little out of the ordinary, show them how it works, show them it is safe, have an engineer O.K. it, and you might find officials are willing to reinterpret rules. If you’re approaching your project with excitement and a willingness to work with them and ask questions, there is a chance they will reciprocate. I realize it doesn’t always work this way, but it’s worth the effort. It worked for me.
Another big issue is financing the project. My first approach was conventional: I went to the banks. I didn’t need a lot of money (about $45,000), and my credit was in good shape. They didn’t laugh me out the door, but it was close. There did seem to be some bank officials that were intrigued with the project. Intrigue does not translate into money. So I obtained a loan from someone in my intentional community, Potluck Farm. We set up a 15 year loan, at a competitive interest rate. The story of Potluck Farm is a whole other chapter. Briefly: 13 families on 170 acres, each with a 3 acre lot, sharing the remaining land. By leasing my lot (99 year lease), I was able to make this affordable.
Another chapter to this story; I elected to be off the grid.. That presented another set of challenges/rewards.
As for the actual living experience, being in a small home is great. I am not a minimalist, as you can see by the pictures. I do have some stuff. The size of the house , around 450 sq. ft., suits me. I can honestly say that there is nothing about the size of the home that doesn’t work for me. I do feel that I could get by with less, and I may downsize in a few years.
One last note: Thanks, Kent, for all your great work. It has been a constant source of inspiration and delight over the years.
Thank you Mike for your brilliant post. It’s wonderful to have contributors with experience building to code. I’m sure our readers will have many questions and we hope to hear more from you in the future!
*Note if you have a small house story you would like to share email photos and story to tinyhouseblog @ gmail.com.