16 Year Old Builds Tiny Home

by Kent Griswold on August 31st, 2011. 52 Comments
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Austin Hay from Santa Rosa, California is making the news these days. About a month ago he was featured in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. His latest forage into the public eye is a faircompanies.com video by Kirsten Dirksen. Which after just two days has had over 136,000 views.

I had the opportunity to meet Austin a couple of months ago at one of Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Open Houses. Austin really impressed me with his knowledge of the tiny house movement and his willingness to share his experience that he has learned as he builds his own tiny house. He is in the process of building a Fencl, Jay Shafer’s most popular plan. He was sharing his business card and visiting with everyone. Be sure and visit Austin’s website at MiniHouseBuilder.com.

Kirsten Dirsken uses her talent to show off Austin’s work and knowledge in her latest video.

52 Responses to “16 Year Old Builds Tiny Home”

  1. Jerry says:

    What a great, well-spoken young adult! How exciting to see the younger generation getting so involved in critical issues. Gives you hope.

  2. alice says:

    What a sensible, articulate guy. Gives you hope for the future. My 7 year old granddaughter says if she was interested in boys he’d be her first pick. She’s helping her dad (or he’s helping her)build a 6×4 playhouse right now, her first major carpentry project after birdhouses. She is definitely inspired by this story!

  3. Karen says:

    I think the sense of accomplishment and achievement and confidence that doing a project like this gives a person is the most important thing. The sky is the limit once a person begins to realize their potential.

  4. Jack says:

    Jay Shafer has done a lot for the tiny house movement but it seems to me he is trying to enrich himself to a degree which is antithetical to the movement. $859 for the Fencl house plans, $54,997 for the ready made house, are you kidding? I thought the purpose of living in a tiny house was to be debt free? In Wisconsin you can buy 5-7 acres and an Amish cabin for less than his ready made house.

    • TheOregonPrepper says:

      If sticker shock on a tiny house that is $50,000 worries you so much, then by all means build one yourself to save money and see how much time and hard work is really invoved. These houses don’t just build them selves ya know! I think people are focusing on the wrong things, “Price per square foot,” of course is it going to be more per square foot, but it is much less than the over all price of a house that is not mobile, that has property tax, that uses way more materials to build, that uses more energy to light, heat, cool, furnish, upkeep and so on.. really guys?? If you don’t see the value in this concept then you are totally missing the point. P.S. Who the heck would want to live in Wisconsin?

    • Wendy says:

      C’mon. He has a wife and kid. Do YOU work for free?

      • Wendy says:

        I gotta reiterate on this because I’m gonna stroke out here. If you are an architect and can take hours of your life and draw up similarly complex plans, then you are free to do so. Jay does sell his plans for quite a bit of money, but they are based on hours of work that he has done as a professional. Dude, when I got divorced, I paid my lawyer $300 an hour. I could have represented myself but I didn’t go to law school. Why is it incumbent upon Jay to sell his work for next to nothing? The guy lives with a wife and child in what? 500 square feet? He is not Warren Buffet. He’s not Enron sucking people dry. He’s running a company. If you don’t like his prices, shop elsewhere. But don’t say he’s gotta live like a pauper because you think making money is anathema to the tiny home movement. How many of these stories are about people runnin profitable businesses out of their tiny homes?

        • Jack says:

          Wendy, as I already stated, reasonable profit is understandable but at $423 a foot his profit, in my opinion, is not reasonable. Although I have not built a tiny house I am licensed general contractor with many years of experience. The arguments that you made that things take tons of time and and involve lots of costs are ones that builders and contractors always make to justify overcharging. Customers like yourself buy that argument and, as as result, end up overpaying. Your stating that appliances are also included is another example that you are drinking the Kool-Aid. This type of pricing has been done in the boating and RV industry for as long as it has existed because it is seen as a luxury. Tiny houses, as Josh stated, should be not be priced this way.

          I would obviously not buy one of his houses and am free to shop elsewhere (thank you for pointing that out, you could have done the same for a lawyer) but you are missing my point. He has largely become the face of the tiny house movement but is not, in my opinion, representing what it stands for by charging those prices. It’s not the legal profession and comparing it is absurd.

          • Wendy says:

            Actually, I think he’s doing a wonderful job. Very few could have listened to the Fox Business News reporter go on as she did and be so laid back and pleasant. I think he’s a very good “face” of the movement. But, there is plenty of space for others. He’s just been a vocal and active advocate in a currently small marketplace. You are a contractor and have an affinity for tiny homes. I suggest, and this is in no way facetious, that you too start advocating publicly if you think you might represent what is a better ideal.

  5. Anita says:

    BE VERY SURE that that outdoor stove isn’t going to put off carbon monoxide which can build up very quickly in a small space and is odorless and tasteless! An indoor stove meant for small spaces like boats might be a safer bet.

    • Devan says:

      Anita’s point about CO building up in a small space from a cookstove is a real concern, but most people would be surprised to learn that CO buildup happens with ANY gas cookstove – yes, even your full size natural gas cookstove. If you want to breath clean air, always have your exterior vented fan on when cooking. Or get the combustion appliance out of your living space and use an electric stove.

      • jaz says:

        a vent fan and a co2 detector would be a good investment.. small homes need to be ventilated anyway because of the moisture cooking showering and breathing puts out.. small homes that are not vented are apt to begin to rot from the inside out rather quickly.. you could always jst crack a window . lol

  6. Kurt says:

    Why do people insist that the small house movement is defined in a certain way? When did profit become a horrible word and a worse idea? With respect Jack, I think you are way off base.

    • Josh says:

      With respect Jack, I think you are way off base.

      I think he’s on point. I love coming to this blog and seeing the ideas, but I shudder every time I see things like these outrageously priced floorplans advertised. I much prefer to see things born of someone’s imagination and built with their own ingenuity. $50K for something smaller than most people’s bedrooms is absurd.

  7. Jack says:

    It was my understanding, maybe mistakenly, that there was general agreement that one of the primary reasons for downsizing our lives and doing more with less is to rid ourselves of unnecessary debt and have more time to do the things we enjoy doing. While there is nothing wrong with reasonable profit, it does not make sense to me that the most recognizable person in this movement is selling a 130 sf house for $423 a square foot. I can move to Manhattan if I want to pay those prices. Hopefully folks who are first introduced to tiny houses through Jay will dig deeper and not be immediately be turned off by the eye popping prices that, in my opinion, go well beyond reasonable profit.

    • Wendy says:

      (paragraph deleted)

      Yes, the homes are far more per square foot but also have to have appliances in that small space, which cost quite a bit of money, have to afford major storage, have to be fully insulated, are built on heavy-duty trailers, are made with quality materials, and require man hours to build. How much do you think an efficiency/studio type condo of low square footage made with crappy mass-produced materials costs in any suburb in America? Do your research.

      (paragraph deleted)

      • jaz says:

        many of us have done the research..thats why people are questioning the staggering numbers.. We know that the prices quoted are greatley overblown.. with new appliances trailer and materials you are looking at about $14,000 max if you do it yourself..as far as plan prices, and hours of work into them you are giving a little too much credit .. im supprised no one has come out with a SPIS kit for these .. dont steal my idea yall.. im planning to charge around $40,000 for the kit.. it being super insulated and all.. that was a joke by the way.. when you act like sheep dont get all riled up when the man shows up with the shears!

        • jaz says:

          that was ment to be SIPS btw.. and i jst wanted to say that there will alway be those people who try to profit for an idea weather they were the first to come up with it or improved upon someone ealses idea… its up to us as consumers to decide to buy it or find a better alternative.. we do after all have free will…great job Austin and good luck with your project

    • cj says:

      Agreed. However, once something becomes a trend/fad, etc. prices always soar until the rich housewives get bored again.

      I’ve known many, many people living in tiny abodes. They just didn’t know it was part of a movement. They were poor and built accordingly. I hope they all take advantage of this new perspective and sell up.

    • Barb says:

      I think that there may be those who can afford to have Jay build their tiny houses and that works well for them. Wish we could all afford such things.

      But for the remainder of us, I think Austin set a great example of buying and recycling used building materials, saving money and doing it all without a mortgage.

      There will always be the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. It’s been a struggle since the beginning of time. We need to be able to function in whichever capacity we fit.

      Jay Shafer has been a great source of information to both groups.

      • cj says:

        @ Barb. Agreed but my comment is not meant to be about haves and have nots. It is in reference to Jack’s 1st statement:

        “It was my understanding, maybe mistakenly, that there was general agreement that one of the primary reasons for downsizing our lives and doing more with less is to rid ourselves of unnecessary debt and have more time to do the things we enjoy doing.”

        This is the trend bus I am referring to. There are always the real travelers in any movement and then you have the tourists. That’s my reference point. Things settle when they hop back off.

        My comment was not directed at Jay.

    • Kenise says:

      Kudos to Jay for sparking this ‘movement’ but I’m afraid I have to agree with Jack.

  8. Angie says:

    I love the looks of Jay (Tinytumbleweed) houses.
    But, I don’t see ever buying the house plans or one of them due to the cost factor.

    I do get suggestions of how to take something like the more affordable house plans from
    http://www.countryplans.com and applying some layouts or finishes to them.

    Even the two storied gambrell roofed large “sheds” from Home Depot, have more reasonable living square footage, could be finished off inside and livable for a lot less $$.

    Just some of my thoughts on how to do a tiny or small house in a less extravagant budget.

  9. What an amazing story! If kids like that are our future, we’re in great shape.

  10. Anon_mahna says:

    Can anyone point me to where I can read up on size restrictions/minimal size req’s for houses?

  11. Kent Griswold says:

    I have edited out some portions of comments and removed a couple. You are welcome to disagree on subjects here but name calling and being rude does not work and will be removed. Please do not force me to close comments or not allow them on the Tiny House Blog. -the editor

    • Paige says:

      Thanks, Kent. I always enjoy reading the comment section. I even enjoy the debates on different points of view. Rude behavior and name calling seem to have been rare. Hopefully, the perpertrator(s) will cease & desist. It would be a shame not to have a comment section on tinyhouseblog :)

    • SkippingRoxJackJones says:

      Thanks Chuck, Could you make sure ALL ther Rude Insults that are directed towards FoxNews are removed also?

  12. JT says:

    I’m proud of this kid. While most kids are busy yacking on their cell phones or texting every second of the day, this kid is doing something constructive with his time. Other kids could learn a lot from this young man.

  13. Angie says:

    Thanks Kent for keeping this reasonably civil.

  14. chesapeake says:

    I don’t really understand how such a positive story has taken such a horrible turn down here in the comments. Maybe in this free market people can take their money someplace else and draw up or purchase plans from a number of other designers. Hire your own contractor or build it yourself like Austin is doing.

    Speaking of Austin, I absolutely applaud this young man. He inspires me and gives me great hope for the future of this country. Even though he’s not significantly younger than I am, he is technically of another generation. I couldn’t find anyone my age willing to work this hard in high school (or maybe even now). Bravo!

  15. The answer here is simple. If you find a product that you feel is overpriced then don’t buy it.

  16. Josh says:

    I see the censors have stricken some comments from the record

  17. Chuck says:

    This isn’t to refute or dispute anything, but as a complete layman, the comments here have me genuinely curious. If 54k isn’t a fair price, what would be? Looking at The Tumbleweed website, the “built-it-yourself” price for a Fencl is 23k just for materials ($177/sq foot in materials). Then if you click that link, it breaks down that 23k into line items.

    So, if that is an accurate representation of the materials costs, that would mean approximately 30k in labor and mark-up on materials. Here’s where I have to plead complete ignorance. How many man hours would it actually take to build one of these from a pile of materials to a fully finished tiny house? I know it’s not a fair comparison, but the high-school kid in the video (what he’s doing is pretty damn cool, by the way) said he’s been working on his tiny house for a year now, and still isn’t done. I know that’s not working full time, and he’s learning as he goes and probably proceeding as expenses allow, but it leads me to think that this isn’t something you slap together in a weekend, even if you’re a pro. On Tumbleweed’s site, there is a video of a Fencl being built with a crew of four builders. So, using that as an example, Jay is going to have to pay those guys out of that 30k. Does anyone have any idea what the actual time involved is?

    Like I said, mostly this is curiosity. It’s actually something I’ve been curious about for a while, because I know that I could pick up the real estate listings and find a “real” house for the same money. I know it’s not a good direct comparison, because there are specific reasons for wanting a tiny house, especially a tiny house on wheels, that a traditional house just does not satisfy. Mentally though, it is hard to not make the money to size comparison.

    So there, sorry to ramble on, but is 54k drastically overpriced for someone who can’t build it themselves and can’t use found/scavenged materials? If so, what seems like a more reasonable price for the materials/labor that would still leave the builder with a fair income?

    • Jack says:

      IMO a realistic cost of materials is about 1/2 the $23k that he has listed or about what the kid in the video was planning on spending. $6500 for general materials on 130 sq feet is ridiculous. $3300 for windows, come on. A builder is never going to pay retail prices for anything. Always assume 1/2 to start and most likely less. Four guys could build that in a week at most. If you paid them 1k each it would be about $16k total cost. 1k each for labor in this economy is high because so many are looking for work. For comparison, I have a retired union carpenter working for me and he charges $15 per hour or $600 per week with 40 years of experience. Maybe my numbers are off by a bit one way or the other but probably not much. A profit of almost 40k seems excessive to me but that is just my opinion.

  18. [...] made significant strides towards building his own home, modeled off of the structures of the tiny house movement.  Austin Hay, who lives in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, has been working on his own [...]

  19. Bob H says:

    Congrats to the young man, you are doing a great job.

  20. Barb says:

    Way to go Austin. Do they call you Awesome Austin? Maybe they should. I hope this will be an inspiration to my kids. I know it is to me. For all of us who have excuses why we can’t do this, you have inspired us and proven that we can. Other than the fact that my family of 6 won’t fit in the little houses, I would wish to do so in a heartbeat.

  21. Another Jack says:

    What a neat kid. I wish I could’ve done something like this back when I was a teen and had my parents’ backyard and tools . . . seems like you can’t do much from an apartment with no workshop.

    He brings up a good point at the end, though, about regulations and stuff that might prevent him from being able to just park it somewhere and live in it during college. What if he needs to get various inspections and permits and all kinds of other stuff that people who think they’re in the land of the free don’t realize until g-men come to give you a notice that they’re going to condemn or demolish your home unless you make drastic, expensive changes?

  22. Ronald says:

    This article is great, I really wish more
    young men follow his example. This is the
    kind of people the country needs to become
    a first world country again.

    In regards to the pricing by Jay, I see
    nothing wrong with him pricing his houses
    that way, if there is a demand he will be
    busy. If the price were too high he would
    not be able to sell many. But looks like
    he is doing fine so far. My guess is that
    if he does too well he might even increase
    prices sometimes. It is a free market.

  23. anna says:

    I believe you mean “foray,” not “forage.”

  24. tom olofsson says:

    Please let me know when he runs for public office. We need lots of guys and gals like him in Washington, DC.

  25. Carolyn MVaussies says:

    Jay’s info is what you want to make of it? It can be a starting point. “Wow what a neat idea”, or an ending “I’m buying one”. If you can’t build one yourself & yet want to downsized & have the money? Sure buy one prebuilt. I haven’t seen his plans as far as how detailed, for a DIY. But yes some of the designs call for expensive materials, like the custom sized windows & doors, etc.

    You don’t HAVE to put them in? Change the design to fit what YOU get at a reasonable price. Use T-111 siding, etc. But you will still “PAY”, in your time, & labor, gas, in tracking down running to timbuck two collecting your materials. I know I have been. Craig’s list, yard sales are great, etc. but you can’t get what you want WHEN you NEED it. Otherwise you have to KNOW what you are doing & will need, & start collecting years ahead & have the storage to keep it til you can start building. I have lost the use of my 2 car garage in up state NY, for about 2 years now. No fun!

  26. Celia Harrison says:

    This is a great idea. College students can just find a place to park and pay a small amount for water and electricity. They can spend their high school years building it and learning some skills they can use to get a part time job to save money for college.

  27. Kenise says:

    I think this kid is awesome.

  28. bonni gardner says:

    great job. be proud.

  29. [...] google_ad_width = 336; google_ad_height = 280; Austin was only 15 when he started building his tiny house. According to Jay Shafer he is the youngest person he is aware of who is proving that anyone can [...]

  30. [...] day in October. Dozens of people visited his tiny build last Saturday, including the parents of Kirsten Dirksen, who filmed Austin when he was 16 years old.Austin has already been living in his tiny house for the past year-and-a-half while finishing up [...]

  31. Rohn says:

    I am very concerned about the way the EcoTherm hot water heater is mounted inside the shower. When I was in college a friend was killed by lack of oxygen when he shut the window in a bathroom that was equipped with a hot water heater similar to this one. The flame used up all the oxygen in the room and he passed out and died. The builder of the cabin had just assumed that everyone would leave the window open like he did. Please get in touch with Austin and warn him to either mount the heater outside or to vent it with an adequate flow of outside air. This is a tragedy waiting to happen.

  32. Orgio says:

    In 30 years he will easily run for an office and take over that seat.

  33. […] in the tiny house movement, with many young people choosing to build a tiny house rather than rent or buy a larger home and insurance companies now […]

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