A Comment About Tiny Homes

Walt Barrett sent me an article sharing his thoughts about tiny houses and I thought you would enjoy reading it so let me turn it over to Walt.

Lately, in the light of two very recent earthquake disasters, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the advantages of living in a small self contained, or autonomous home. The benefits are quite obvious, and huge. First of all, you will probably be located in a rural area far from the looting and other crimes commonly found in cities after a disastrous earthquake, or other natural disaster.

Photo Credit: Jay Shafer

There is also the advantage of not running out of power because you will be making your own. If you are using a composing toilet you do not have the problems associated with sewerage disposal. You most likely will have your own water supply which would be pumped from the ground by a solar powered water pump.

Tiny homes are far less expensive to heat, or cool for that matter. Small wood or propane heaters are very economical in tiny homes. Passive solar heating is an excellent choice backed up by wood. Solar hot water heaters can provide both hot water and heat if necessary by using a 12 volt powered fan coil, or even a convection heater if designed properly. If possible a small vertical wind turbine should be utilized. These units if between 500 watts and 1 KW are very inexpensive, and when connected to a battery bank can supply 120 volts A/C house current using an inverter to convert the 12 volt DC power to the 120 volts need to operate many small household appliances.

Personally, I already live in a rural area in an energy efficient home. Regardless of that fact, and due to the extremely harsh winters here in New England, I have already built a micro home in the rear of my property. This is because we have had power failures lasting up to six days and I’m not going to try and heat my full size home with wood or solar. We have very little sunlight on our property and I’m not going to kill all of my beautiful shade trees because we “might” lose the power. That is too extreme for me. My current micro home is 128 square feet if you count the full second floor sleeping loft with a full four foot ceiling in the loft. This spring we will add an 8′ x 8′ x 8′ module with a composting toilet, shower, and additional storage space in it. The south facing wall will be passively solar heated with a large solar drape to be closed when necessary, like on dark days, or cold nights.

The thought of living off the power grid is a very appealing one. I think that tiny off the grid homes are a major part of the solution to the poverty, and housing problems we are experiencing today. If a family can purchase, or build a home for the price of a new compact car, that is a most appealing thought. Land can be a problem, but again, through investigation I have found that there is still inexpensive land available in the rural areas of many states. There are not as many restrictions either. The main restriction that everyone has though, is the building of a proper septic system, but if you go the composting toilet route you won’t need it. However, you will need to build a simple gray water disposal system. You can use the gray water to aid in the irrigation of your garden which you most certainly have as a part of your survival plan.

There is no shame in being poor, or low income. I myself started life in a 400 square foot tar paper covered home with hand dug well, a sleeping loft and no heating, or indoor plumbing in 1933. By starting out that way we were able to save money and gradually improve our home and lifestyle and eventually were able to install the proper plumbing, heating and electrical systems. I personally believe that most homes and apartments in America today are far too large and wasteful. Although I am concerned about that, I am certain that the rising cost of energy as the supples diminish will take care of the problem, and many large homes will be spit up into micro apartments in the future. Because of the warmer climate, there will also be a very large shift to the south in the not too far distant future. If you are looking for rural land in the south to build your new energy efficient home I suggest you get cracking.

Those are my thoughts on the subject.

Walt Barrett

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seth - March 4, 2010 Reply

Excellent food for thought Walt. Thanks for taking the time to put together some thoughts on off-the-grid living.

Freth - March 5, 2010 Reply

What a brilliant idea to have a mico-house for when ice and snow storms knock out the power. A small home that can be easily heated and occupied in an emergency. It can also double as guest lodging during the summer time. Propane has become so expensive that you can’t afford to use it regularly on a large house … certainly not for heating.

Heather - March 5, 2010 Reply

Excellent article.

Julie - March 5, 2010 Reply

Great article.

My family of four lives in a 600 square foot house in a rural area on a small acreage. Unfortunately, we must heat with propane, but at least the size of the house keeps the cost affordable.

Bruce - March 6, 2010 Reply

Walt, can you explain your thinking a little bit more as to why you think there will be a shift to the South?

If you have grand kids, I bet they also enjoy your little house when they come to visit.

kk - March 6, 2010 Reply

I totally agree with your thinking of the advantages of smaller homes. On the other hand, as one that has been looking into this option, affordable land for those of us wanting to go this route is not so easy go find. Finding land with a 3-4 hour commute to the metro areas where one works just doesn’t work out. Also, much of the lower price rural land comes in big chunks that sellers don’t want to break up for more affordable prices.

I’ve also looked into trailer and RV parks and they are starting to create more laws now so people can’t stay long-term in rv parks. Furthermore, many mobile home parks restrict the type and minimum size of homes coming in (needs to be over 26′, newer than the 70’s, and certain kinds of roofs, etc. So, the options of living small, keep getting smaller with property laws and all the other barriers, even if the populous of those of us who want to live smaller and within our means may be growing.

The last route, finding someone who will allow you to dwell on their land is also not an easy task for whatever reason. Finding a willing soul within a reasonable commuting distance has just not arisen.

So, while I would really like to live in my on portable home, or tiny home, and live within my means to save money to upgrade when I can, the barriers are quite high.

    Tim Mc - March 7, 2010 Reply

    I can understand your frusteration, especially in economic times like these. It does seem at times that the deck is stacked against those who want to live a smaller life, with a smaller impact, and to live within our financial means.

    We live in the south suburbs of Chicago and have been looking at land in south west Wisconsin for years.

    When times were good, the land prices went through the roof and now that times are bad the prices have fallen but the jobs have dried up as well.

    We have seriously considered buying our land, building a smaller home (1000 – 1200 sq ft) compared to the 2400 sq ft we currently live in, and move the family (wife and kids) up there while I stay behind with relatives during the week for work. It would be approximately a three and a half hour drive back home for the weekend, but we would have what we have wanted for a long time: a small acerage holding with a newly built smaller and energy efficient home with nominal maintenance compared to the 100 year old energy pig that we currently live in, with high taxes, and which takes up a large portion of my time and money to maintain.

    The barriers are there, but there are still opportunities as well.

    Good luck.

mimi hallman - March 16, 2010 Reply

I had many friends who lived out in the country with an outhouse and a hand pump for water. As times progressed they did get electricity. The simplicity factor makes sense when the power goes out and you are left to your own devices.
The current housing system in this country is a way to keep people in a slave to mortgage & debt just to have a roof over their heads and then the added burden of poor design, having to buy more house then you really need, and monthly overhead. And so why don’t we have more communities spring up that allow small housing? It’s because the tax base is larger on conventional housing. As you see it’s all about money, local government revenue & zoning laws. If you support small house living,please help change the local laws which discourage it.

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