Matthew’s Tiny House

by Kent Griswold on May 19th, 2011. 137 Comments
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I want to introduce you to Matthew a 22 year old who recently completed his own tiny house. He had never taken on a project like this before but learned along the way. I think his story is a real inspiration for us all. Matthew please take it from here:

When I was 19 I saw Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Houses and was in awe. I became infatuated with the idea of living as a young adult with no mortgage or rent payment like everyone my age that chose to live on their own. I began making blue prints/sketches every day trying to imagine what “my house” would look like!

Everyday moving the kitchen or altering the windows or what have you. I found a 8×24 car trailer on craigslist for $1,500 and bought it on a whim and said, “well, there’s no turning back now…” $10,000 and over 1,500 man hours later, I’m the proud owner of my tiny home!

On a part time server’s salary/musician’s salary (not a lot at all) I managed to save every dollar I earned and pumped it into the house as projects needed to be done. I had no idea what I was doing, all I knew was I wanted to have it so badly, so I made it happen. I learned how to build walls and install windows, floors, counter tops, operate nearly ever type of saw there is, run plumbing, electrical ( with the help of my father) somethings are better looked after by a professional haha!

Then after two and a half years I wound up being pretty much finished. It’s been my biggest accomplishment in my life to date, it’s taught me things that I wish everyone could understand, minimalism, perseverance, determination, conservation and how important all those things are in one’s life. In a lot of senses this house gave me purpose when I absolutely needed it.

Thank you for hearing my story and I hope I can inspire someone else to do the same.

137 Responses to “Matthew’s Tiny House”

  1. MJ says:

    Congratulations, Matt! As has been said, 22 and you have your own home, free and clear, not letting all the things that stop so many touch your dream. Good for you!

  2. Leslie says:

    Maybe he eats a lot of fiber and needs a big toilet. Be polite.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      Sitting at my local coffee shop as i reply! laughed out loud rather loudly! HAHAHAHA

      thanks so much!
      –Matthew

      • Leslie says:

        Glad you laughed because the minute I sent it I thought, that was evil. Between your cool house, your apparent love of coffee, and your sense of humor, I suspect you are the most awesome person ever.

  3. Matthew,

    Colorful, lots of light and a delightful space you have created with your commitment and hard work. As you are aware, you have more than a home, you have the experience of learning, focusing and realization that will serve you in future endeavors with the added benefit of no rent or mortgage to pay out. Thank you for your inspirational story.

  4. Pat Boice says:

    Terrific story! Your experience has got to be worth a college education – good for you!

  5. Marie Johnson says:

    You are amazing to be so wise at such a young age. I love your home. You have inspired me.

  6. I love your little place. Can you tell me where you got your cooktop?

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      run of the mill Propane cooktop. I bought it from my local RV dealer. found myself buying quite a bit from them!

      –Matthew

  7. Stan says:

    What kind of toilet is that? Is it a composting or some sort of boat/RV toilet? It is pretty big and was wondering what it does besides collect waste.

    I wish I built a house like this when I was your age. I too saw Jay’s houses and have wanted one since. I hope to make it happen in the next year, I have saved about 50% for the house I want to build.

    • Stan says:

      Oh yeah, and you look like my little brother. I clicked ‘read more’ before reading anything else to look at the pictures and from the angle I thought my brother built a tiny house and didn’t even tell me about it!

      • Matthew Allivato says:

        its for home use, It’s called Sun-Mar : Compact. They are designed to decompose fecal matter with no water consumption! saving THOUSANDS of gallons of water every year you use it! i just love the idea of using less in anything.

        keep saving and build one man! sounds like you already know more about building than i do :) so it should be easy!

        maybe im your brothers doppelgänger?! hah

  8. Tim says:

    Matthew, that house is awesome!

  9. Fran says:

    Matthew…. GREAT job on your space! Purrfect size for man and his other best friend. Bet he/she loves living there, too, especially playing with those tethers on the ladder. :) With all sincerity, give yourself a pat on the back … what a life experience. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      ah thank you so much.. her name is ‘Music’.. she turns 1 in july! Love cats, they suit my personality… want to hang out and snuggle up sometimes… sometimes they are like “get away from me!” haha

      thank you for listening Fran.

      –Matthew

  10. laura says:

    Fantastic job Matthew!
    Awesome red sink and I love that bathroom! Looks spacious actually! Love how you put your instruments around it! Love how you used bamboo as well! Your no water toilet rocks!!
    Can I ask how often you have to dump the fecal matter and how do you do this I mean like in an rv place in the yard where? Sorry to be detailed but I want people to know so they will choose these as well. I have been interested in these since they were invented.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      good question… the manuel says on full time usage to dump every 6 months. in a setting where land is an issue or not yours to dump, i would say bag it and tote it somewhere that wouldn’t mind a little extra soil.. these toilets aren’t for the weak at heart. You’ll get over it fast when you see your non existent water bill! i got over the whole “ewww” factor in like 2 weeks! get one! recommend one to a friend! they won’t be sad!

  11. Amy says:

    Great job Matt! Question: did you use tinyhouse plans, a modified version, or your own plans? I see you have extra storage/dresser in the loft which is great and a key reason why I’ve been hesitating. Also, how much would you factor in the plumbing/electricity would have cost you if you didn’t have your dad as a resource? Thanks for your help – this on ‘the agenda’ but first need to sell my 800sq. ft. apt.! Thanks for showing how affordable it can be.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      My house is heavily inspired by Jay Shaffer’s houses. kinda a mixture of the Lusby and the WeeBee and a little of my own taste.

      If its space your worried about then don’t worry. I’ve always said living in a tiny house is a LIFESTYLE not just a place you live. The transition is strange at first. you will have to get rid of next to everything you own but trust me its more liberating. You will find every way possible to make storage and you will fill it. past that you will need nothing more! AND IT FEELS WONDERFUL!

      plumbing and electrical was one of the trickiest parts in my opinion. Pex piping through out! its sooo simple compared to other stuff! cost for an electrician.. mhhh i did it myself to avoid that cost.. im sure it would take he/she long to do it so maybe the cost would be lowish? but it is a rather expensive trade! i’d recommend asking everyone you know, seeing if there is someone that might know enough to teach you or oversee or do it for a cheap rate. :/ i hope i helped! you can do it! its not all that hard! just have someone oversee ya! read lots of books!

      –Matthew

  12. James says:

    Great Job!
    I have a question, do you have a place to put your home on or do you drive around with it?
    Also, what do you do about power and heated water for the shower?

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      at the moment im on my family’s property hooked up by an extension chord (insert joke here) i have a small electric heater that makes it pretty toasty with a propane dickenson marine heater as a wonderful back up, tankless propane hot water heater. :) eventually i want solar panels!

      • Kalley says:

        Hey, why not get a wood stove for heat? Then you don’t need the extension cord! just a cute little stove with a cute little chimney.

  13. Angelica says:

    Matthew,
    Congrats! You are definitely an inspiration and you did a wonderful job! I’d love to hear more about what living in a tiny house is like. Entertaining friends, cooking, and more.

  14. Miriam says:

    What a cute house! Love it!

  15. Mark says:

    Matthew,
    Great achievement! You are the ultimate self starter at only 22 years old. Keep your attitude and hard work up and you will not be a slave to anyone. Freedom is what this is about!

  16. Jamie says:

    Matthew, the house looks great, and knowing that you created this with your own two hands has got to be satisfying. You’re the frontiersman of the 21st century. Live the life, man!

  17. Timaree says:

    Nice job on your new home. You said your sister is good with fashions but wasn’t crazy about your red. Well fashions and style are two different things. Fashions deals with what’s in and what’s out of style but Style sets the fashion in a way. Style is your own versus following what’s in. Glad to see you went your own way. I wouldn’t have the red sink and walls myself. I thought about the sink but since I plan to have a red countertop the rest would be too much, lol. Love that red! And I really like your bamboo trim on the loft. Nice touch. Another simple thing but something I’ve never thought of is how you hung your knife magnet rod at an angle so it would fit on the small wall. You’ve done great!

  18. April says:

    Sweet place! Good for you. I am jealous of your kitchen and bathroom as ours our still In Progress. Love the red sink and your shower floor looks neat—how’d you do that?

  19. Michael Stewart says:

    Matthew, I’m 21, and I hope to be following in your footsteps in the next few years. I love your design, I could see myself making something similarly constructed for my own. My own question is, I didn’t see a fridge. What do you eat?

    Kind regards,

    -Michael Stewart

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      i have a mini fridge in the back room… its pretty tiny but it does the job seeing as the house matches it in size :).. you can be surprised that you dont really need a whole lot of fridge space when you only have things that you will use instead of a bunch of clutter!

      • Michael says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply, Matthew! I’m following in your footsteps for financial and personal freedom at a young age, I’m bound and determined, ‘no looking back’ as you said.

  20. Brian Vree says:

    Love the house, where do I get plans for one like it?

    -Brian Vree
    brian.vree@yahoo.com

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      well i just morphed a few versions of Mr. Jay Shaffer’s houses but your first step is looking at the magnificent tumbleweed houses!

      cheers!

  21. Frank the Tank says:

    What was your total build cost if you don’t mind me asking?

    I made the mistake of buying a big house and all I have is empty rooms, this would be perfect!

  22. Bob says:

    Matt:

    I am 58 and just this year finished paying off my mortgage. To say I am in awe of what you have accomplished is a gigantic understatement! You are indeed an amazing person. I feel like I sort of just ‘woke up’ to the small house philosophy and here you are, at 22, on the cusp of things. I have to say that I also have a lot of respect for your dad for him to have somehow communicated this open- mindedness and creativity to you.

    Could I forward some questions to you to your email address? I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accomplish what you have, but I think your what you’ve done is inspirational for me and should be for a lot of other people too.

    Thank you very much for sharing your story.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      i get so much out of you saying this to me. It really makes this whole thing mean the world to me. My father is a great man as well :) thank you.. if it hadn’t have been for him constantly doing jobs around the houses we lived in all my life, i wouldn’t have had the courage to do something of this magnitude. I will say that he kept telling me to just buy a damn RV and live in that hahaha but i think he is 10000% proud and glad i stuck it out.

      im very thankful for him and for people like you giving me the encouragement that i so desperately need..

      thank you god bless.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      I’d be happy to answer any questions at all

      Mjames88@gmail.com

  23. Gabrielle says:

    Wow, this is great! One question, Matthew – what kind of vehicle do you use to tow your home around? Do you know if it’s possible for a smaller car to lug these things about?

    Congrats, what a major achievement. I’m a 24 year old grad student, and I’m thinking of doing something similar to get out from the burden of rent or mortgage. Awesome job, Matthew!

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      I live in the great state of North Carolina! and here we have plenty of wonderful people willing to do favors for nothing.. i have a lot of friends with big ole trucks haha.. my house if i had to guess ways 10,000 pounds so i would say nothing smaller than a F-250 truck should tug on one of these.. there is never really a time you want to toe anything with a car :) but lord do i wish i could my little volkswagen Golf would look so much awesomer! haha

      go for it Gabrielle! your not getting any younger and your a college grad, you got the brains for it!
      good luck!

      cheers!

      –Matthew

  24. Me'chelle says:

    Nice place reminds me of some cool guys surfing shack.

    Good job man.

    I’m dwelling over should I have stationary house legal size 10×12 and 16 ft high or just go for a larger movable house 12×16 12 ft high.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      that is kinda a debate i struggled with at first.. the stationary home is very cool because weight constraints wouldn’t apply.. so cool stuff like tile floors, wood stove, concrete counter tops, etc, could be had. but the portability aspect is rather amazing as well. I would say make a pro’s & con’s sheet.. I’m sure the point of your life as well will play as a huge factor..

      good life and good luck my friend.

      • Me'chelle says:

        Thank yo very much, I just made like the perfect 12 wide 12 long 15 6in tall floor plan for my tiny house.

        I can’t just cheat like others and find some plan on the internet as I just have too much pride and I want to make my own design and have my house built for me.

        And made from me.

        I really want a 15 wide 15 long 15 tall house however I don’t want to hire an escort in case my stupid neighbor might call code enforcement on me (happened three times already) and escorts are expensive.

        Should I design my 15x15x15 or stick with my 12x16x15?

        • Carolyn MVaussies says:

          Remember ZONING building code laws & inspections, is why 95% of the time these need to go on a Trailer. Look into your zoning BIGTIME before you EVEN think of building on the ground. They are Building coding us to death now. Just look at the “code” sized Ergee window needed in a home………

  25. Nick says:

    Speaking of being in awe! I am absolutely amazed by this beautiful home! What made you want the portable one? Where is it you want or plan to live? How long did it take you to save enough to build it? So many questions… I’d love to do this myself, but I’m a bit jobless at the moment.

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      my main reason was i didn’t think i’d be in one spot for an exceptionally long time so i didn’t see the purpose of building a “planted” home. I’d love to live in Asheville NC, Boulder Colorado, Portland Oregon, Austin Texas… i’d love to live in all of those places really haha!

      It took me the better part of 2 years to make due to having to earn all the $$$ and built as i went along. but if i had all the money up front and didn’t have to work i probably could have done it in 6 months..

      you should totally build one! there are no rules really! except making sure it stands up and is skinnier than 9 Feet wide so you don’t have to get “Wide Load” permits when you move it!

      best of luck

      –Matthew

  26. Andrei says:

    Congrats on your home, I am 24 and hoping to get my own place built soon. It’s a dream I am hoping to make a reality soon.. CHEERS!

  27. will says:

    Pretty sweet dude.

  28. Dave M says:

    Great house Matthew!

    I’ve also been making my own floorplans everyday. Can’t wait to finish school and get a start on it. I’ve been wondering how these houses would hold up in the cold and especially the snow. I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada and with so much snow in the winter I’m wondering if it would be helpful to have some sort of entry way in the design. I thought you may know from experience.

    Anyway, love the house!

    -Dave

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      Im originally from New York, so i’ve seen my bit of cold weather also here in NC can get a tad chilly at times… I was concerned at first as well but i use dickenson propane marine heater in conjunction with a run of the mill electric space heater as a back up. it gets pretty darn toasty!

      i remember in winter it was about 30 degrees F… about -1 C ish for a couple of weeks and my house held 75 easily.. my father once told me that i could “heat that house with a matchstick”

      My main advise when starting this home is think of EVERYTHING before you start it! i wish soooo much that i would have put in radiant floor heating! something so simple but so effective! get solar hot water heater panels and run pipes into the flooring and it will increase your warmth amazingly… it will also feel great to walk on bear footed!

      remember you won’t need overkill on heating it is a small space.. also take into account how many windows you have, they will let a good amount of cold in as well!

      hurry up and finish school so you can start living your dream!

      best of luck!

      –Matthew Allivato

  29. Matt. We are completely on the same page! I saw Jay Shafer’s work when I was 19 (I’m 23) and building an EPU is my plan for my living situation after college. I am a costume design student, so I’m going to have to be able to move from place to place with ease as I get gigs after graduation… so the little houses are perfect! I’ve also spent hours drafting my heart out and doing interior design renderings, not to mention work working skills. I am so kindled by the fact that someone else shares this dream, and is living it out! Well done (and I dig that red sink!).

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      well i could say its just as exciting from this end! its like i relive my building when i see people on fire, about to start their own project. You can totally do it! work hard as hell and know what you want!

      Red sink! thanks so much! i love it too! i was hell bent on having it! i bought a plain jane metal, porcelain coated sink found some metal paint sprayed over the porcelain and covered it with a chemical called POR15! its a clear coat that hardens as moisture gets at it! its super cool… pretty expensive but it works!

      good luck

      –Matthew Allivato

  30. Mary Ellen says:

    Very nice house,Matt.Glad, to see you put your dream to work.My Tiny house is up & has electricity but no shower or heat yet.Since you said you answer questions,could you tell me if your propane dickenson marine heater & tankless propane hot water heater give off a slight propane gas smell?I am quite sensitive to even a very slight whiff of it. Also, have you had any condensation problems from the shower?
    Thanks for sharing-Mary

    • Matthew Allivato says:

      i was very weary myself about the gas idea at first but after weighing the pros and cons i was for it! you will smell it when it is lighted but the most essential aspect is ventilation! the heater’s door must be opened and manually lighted with a BBQ lighter or a long match but once the door is shut it’s undetectable if vented properly through the roof.

      The hot water heater is a bit different it has an ignition inside of it.. so when you turn the hot water on it will click on and fire up. i have my hot water heater in the back utility room with a sliding door it will smell a bit because the gas kicks on as the ignitor starts as well sometimes it takes a couple seconds for it to catch. there are openings on it to let in oxygen but is vented out the top then to a flap outside..

      if your not comfortable then you could go all electrical! I like having propane because i want to live off grid completely soon so the less electricity i use, the smaller grid i will need, and if something goes wrong with my power or i can’t produce enough i will have heat at least..

      i hope you find your answer!

      –Matthew Allivato

  31. Nancy says:

    Wow this is so inspiring! I hope you travel around with it and post new pictures if you change it.

  32. Cher says:

    Congratulations on your house! Love the colors!
    Two questions: It looks like you have an indoor kitty there-how is he/she adjusting to the smaller space? And I have to ask, why did you choose the tiny house over your Dad’s advice for a more traditional RV?

    a fellow musician and feline fancier

  33. i want one but i dont think i could build it i wish i had someone that could for me and on a break foundation

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