This 50-Something Woman’s Journey into Building a Tiny House

By: Shirley J. Loomis

There is a lot of hub-bub today about tiny houses. I can only tell one story, about one tiny house, and the one woman who built it, me. Gentlemen I hope you will find it worth the read, but ladies this one is really meant for you.

Here’s a little about me. Maybe some of you can relate. I’ve always loved cute, little, snuggly, and cozy; always hated excess and waste; always thought my surroundings should be functional but also aesthetically appealing and comfortable. I really like my “stuff.” After all, isn’t that partly why all these decades I’ve been getting up and going to claim my right to a paycheck at the end of the week?

I’m a mom. From early on I was a single mom to two wonderful daughters. I’m one of the oldest in my family, a family largely dominated by women, but with our fair share of men, many of whom work in the trades or at the least are very handy. I’m a sister, auntie, grandmother, and a whole host of other things. In short, like many of you, I wear a lot of hats, and often all in the same day, sometimes before the morning coffee cup has been emptied.

Growing up in the country I learned early on to take stock of what was around me and find ways to get it to fit my needs. Therein lies the birth of creative thinking and the useful application of resources.

So how does all of this add up to building a tiny house you may ask?

The year my younger daughter graduated from high school I lost the house. Having raised two children by myself in one of the most expensive parts of the country I suppose that’s not all that surprising, especially to many of you who may read this and who are trying to find a way to survive your mortgage payments. I spent the summer camping, working, and trying to come up with a game plan to get back on my feet and reclaim my life.

During this time I tripped across a picture of the Tumbleweed Tiny House book. It reminded me that I had heard of this “Tiny House” concept years before so I started to dig. I found more books. I found more plans. I found more people. I found more pictures. And I kept on digging. The plan began to take shape.

Autumn came and it was time to go inside. This is New England, after all! For six years I lived in a room I rented, regrouped financially, and started to stockpile resources. Each week there was one purchase that was in line with my goal of putting a roof over my head that was a place truly worthy of being called home. Maybe it was a tool. Maybe it was a book. On a good week I might go a little nuts and actually get both!

By the time I was ready to build I had found some inexpensive land, owned a small pickup truck, had a library comprised of every worthwhile read relative to my topic, secured a trailer found on Craigslist, and I had enough tools to rival what would be found in some men’s workshops.

Here is where it got a little chauvinistically amusing. Remember those tradesmen I told you about? Yeah, about them, my family believes in do it right the first time so I asked for their input on things I thought I should know about before beginning this endeavor. The only one I heard from was my brother. Ladies I’m sure you can relate to my subsequent indignation. Having concluded that I did better in school than most of them I decided that if they could manage then so could I. Commence building!

My math is atrocious, not bad. It is terrible! Don’t let that stop you. It didn’t stop me. I took my known constraints and built around them. It had to be less than eight feet in width and fewer than thirteen and a half feet in height. I needed an entry way and I needed windows that would allow for ventilation but also egress should for any reason something other than the door ever be required. There had to be utilitarian infrastructure, and that infrastructure had to support appliances relevant to my comfort. Knowing some land was very remote I wanted to be able to use alternative energy and have an off grid lifestyle. I also wanted to plug into the water and electric if I was parked in the backyard of a friend.

The build took longer than planned because just as I was about to begin working I got laid off from the company that had been my employer for almost ten years. What should have taken me about six months took almost exactly two years due to the reduction in income. Along the way I met some great people. Doing something unique in a quiet little neighborhood makes people curious. Many older people stopped to chat as they walked their dogs. Younger people stopped as they pushed their baby strollers. Passersby slowed their cars and rolled down their windows for a few moments of conversation. Everyone wanted a quick little peek inside this curious little structure that was somehow becoming an integral part of their neighborhood.

Ladies this next part is especially for you, your daughters, and your granddaughters. Many of the young women who stopped by were young single mothers, lacking in resources, support, and confidence. They were of the societal mentality that is dependent upon someone else providing the means by which they survive, a means that may be necessary but one that is not earned. Somehow they saw me and my situation as different from their own. The only things that are variable are willingness, effort, commitment, and the timeline. Other than that the application is the same. Get a plan. Stick to the plan. Make revisions where necessary. Be patient. You will make mistakes. Fix them. Measure twice and cut once. Pick up the hammer and get started.

This process is not gender or age dependent.

For more info on this process, please go to http://coppertinwoodandwill.wordpress.com/.

Click here to see completed photos and interior pictures.

Here is where I started.

start

Start

Finish

Finish

Sisters on the Fly

Howdy ladies! This post is for all those cowgirls, or wanna-be cowgirls out there…and the men who love them.

Sisters on the Fly is a group of nearly 1,000 women from around the U.S. who own and restore vintage camping trailers. They take their colorful homes on wheels on the Cowgirl Caravan to partake in outdoor adventures like fly fishing, horseback riding, rafting, or just eating fried food and watching fireflies.

Reel Suite Sister #684

Button Willow Sister #595

Button Willow (Sister #595)

Each sister is designated by a number and by the name of her trailer. The Sisters also engage in vintage trailer sales, restoration, customization and registry. For a $40 annual fee any woman with a vintage or new trailer can join the cowgirl caravan.

The Sisters were started in 1999 by two real sisters, Becky and Maurrie. They wanted their female friends to experience their love of fly fishing and began to invite and teach other women about the outdoors. Their motto is “WE HAVE MORE FUN THAN ANYONE”.

Miss Rodeo Sister #6

Miss Rodeo (Sister #6)

Each of the Sister’s trailers are about 12 feet to 24 feet in length. The trailer makes vary: Holiday, Shasta, Aljoa, Scotsman, Aloha, Fireball and even an Airstream thrown in for good measure. Each trailer reflects its owner’s personality with its theme and sister number proudly posted on the rear of the trailer. They are decorated inside and out in usually a western kitschy theme. The Sister’s believe after a hard day of driving and having fun it is pure bliss to fall into your own feather bed at the close of the day, and awake to the smell of coffee and bacon right outside your door.

By Christina Nellemann

Rockin' Robin Sister #269

Rockin' Robin (Sister #269)

Norma Faye Sister #250

Norma Faye (Sister #250)

Jadite Jane Sister #71

Jadite Jane (Sister #71)

Puck Sister #847

Puck (Sister #847)

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Straw Bale Women

There is something feminine about straw bale homes. The warmth, curves and color of these natural spaces act like a hug when you walk in the door. While these profiled straw bale homes are small rather than tiny (most are around 400-800 square feet) they were envisioned, designed and built by women that I feel epitomize the beauty of the straw bale house.

Most followers of strawbale building and other natural building techniques know of the Canelo Project and Athena Swentzell Steen.

Carolyn Roberts and her straw bale home

She and her husband Bill run this small non-profit organization that is dedicated to the exploration and development of living systems, including growing food and building homes that creates friendship, beauty and simplicity.

Straw bale cottage at the Canelo Project

Straw bale cottage at the Canelo Project

Interior of straw bale cottage at the Canelo Project

Interior of straw bale cottage at the Canelo Project

Their latest book is Small Strawbale, which covers everything from building walls and open shelters to small and exquisite homes built out of straw bales.

Carolyn Roberts also wrote a book detailing the trials and triumphs of building her own straw bale home outside of Tucson, Ariz. A House of Straw: A Natural Building Odyssey profiles the challenges of passing her county inspections, the issues of building a house as a single woman while trying to raise two children, and the wonders of creating her own space and the friends she made along the way. Her website breaks down the cost of each part of the building process, and her total for the home (land not included) came to approximately $50,000. Because of the thick walls and use of passive solar, her electric bills average about $35 a month.

Interior of Carolyn Robert's straw bale house

Interior of Carolyn Robert's straw bale house

Caroline Coalter Wilson built her house, Paca de Paja, to also serve as a small bed and breakfast. She works at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and runs the B&B part time. She was previously a park ranger and naturalist with the National Park Service and has written several publications on natural history.

Paca de Paja

Paca de Paja

I really admire these women who have tackled the building process from the ground up and utilize the beauty of natural products in their homes. More information for my fellow female dreamers and builders can be found in the book
The House That Jill Built.

By Christina Nellemann

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