In mid-2008, after circumstances like job loss and not getting into grad school forced them to look at the future in a real and objective way,
Keith and April Blankenship decided to stop waiting for “The Future” to live their dream of semi-retirement, simplified their lives and moved from Portland, Ore. to April’s hometown in rural Idaho to build a tiny house (less than 220 sq. ft.). You can follow their continuing journey at http://agreatleapinthedark.blogspot.com.
We decided the build the smallest possible house that would still provide everything we need for a few reasons:
- It’s cheaper to build something smaller and we can spend the money we do have on the important things we want, not just square footage we don’t need.
- We plan to spend a lot of time outdoors (hammock under the fruit trees, working in the garden, etc.) so we basically just need a place for essential living functions: sleep, eat, shower, etc.
- We get along really well and don’t mind living in close quarters.
- It’s all about efficiency. Use the space we do have well and stop collecting unnecessary crap.
- Once we went to Mexico and saw how they lived we realized people don’t need a lot of Things to live well.
- We choose to work part-time (or less) and so we needed to keep things small in order to pay for it as we go; we don’t want to worry about working to pay a mortgage or for a huge construction project.
The small size is actually a point of pride, if you can’t tell. It’s kind of a statement against McMansions and the ridiculous consumer culture that’s helped America reach this current state of economic crisis. It’s about living within your means and trying to be as sustainable and economical as possible. Almost all of the materials (except the lumber for the framing, the plywood sheeting, and small things like screws, nails, etc.) have been salvaged, bartered, or bought at a reduced cost from friends. All of the lumber and cedar siding was purchased from a local mill. Using recycled materials is a priority.
Of course we owe a huge debt of gratitude to my parents who signed on to this crazy idea and donated a piece of their land to our house-building project.
A blueprint was drawn up to incorporate all necessary features within the smallest possible space (figured off of what would be easiest to build with the dimensional lumber we had access to). Each square in the drawing is one square foot. The design is mostly intact, with just a few small changes since building began and the details work themselves out according to what materials are on hand/found. The house is cardinally oriented for maximum solar efficiency.
Instead of a foundation: 9 posts in 3′ holes filled with concrete.
2”x10” boards make up the framing for the floor and the base of the house. The floor is insulated with formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation and plywood sheeting and tarpaper is under the flooring.
Keith and April did all of the framing. Luckily, Keith had construction experience (and a textbook). Her parents helped raise the walls, when extra muscle was needed.
It was a family project at times, like when the weather started to turn cold and construction needed to be sped up.
One priority was to incorporate as many windows as possible to make the tiny space seem more open. Two 4’x7’ triple-pane windows were acquired from a friend (free!) and a family member donated three vinyl, super-efficient windows (and the glass for the French doors). A two-way mirror is also in the bathroom providing a relaxing view from the toilet. The large window in the bathroom cracked and was recently replaced by a slightly smaller window bought at a local second-hand store for $20.
The house was ready for move in at the beginning of 2009 at a very basic level. Just a bed and a wood stove to keep warm. Bathroom and kitchen activities take place at her parents’ house for now; this photo is taken from their back patio.
The interior is a work in progress as money and time allows. A wood stove bought off Craigslist provides heat (and how!). Laminate flooring was purchased from a friend for approximately $80 (retail $320+). The window wall between the stove and bed provides a visual break in the space as well as a barrier from the direct heat of the stove and the windows were salvaged (free) from a house in Missoula, Mont. Corrugated tin on the wall behind the stove provides protection from the heat and an interesting texture to the space.
These theater seats were found unexpectedly at a yard sale (3 for $5!) and provide seating in front of a 4’x7’ window at the foot of the bed.
VOC-free paint was used on the OSB and plywood interior walls to help break up the space. This corner is the “bedroom” seen in the photo with the window wall.
April’s dad made the B over the door as a Christmas gift. The French doors were bought at a salvaged building materials yard in Moscow, Idaho. Keith and April repaired, sanded, primed and painted them and installed the new (donated) glass. The dragonfly door knocker (a wedding gift) hangs under a shelf with a sand-filled jar with a plumber’s candle topped with a stained glass shade ($1 clearance in Missoula),which serves as a porch light.
The brass door hardware was taken from an eastern Montana homestead by April’s grandpa over 20 years ago. It was soaked in vinegar and hand-polished to a semi-clean state, but much of the natural patina remains and will re-establish itself over the years.
A stone path was laid in the spring to provide a less-muddy path to the house. The board and batten cedar siding will eventually weather to a silvery gray. The roof is tin and there are plans to install a “green roof” of grass on at least a 6’x8’ area on the roof to increase the R-value.
The bathroom and kitchen are the two major projects remaining. Solar lights are planned for interior lighting and rain barrels have been purchased to augment water use. Check out the blog for updates! You can also view more construction photos on Flickr.
by April Blankenship
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