Collaboration For Strong Communities

Guest Post by Aldo Lavaggi

Two years ago I approached Jody Rael, the owner of Solaqua Power and Art in Chatham NY. and presented him with an idea to design a tiny, mobile house embodying the ideals of simplicity, affordability, and beauty; a clear alternative to prevailing trends in American culture. At the time I was entering my final year as an undergraduate student at Goddard College and was seeking a practical thesis project. I desired to create something real, something directly applicable to world affairs, not just another paper to be read and then set upon the shelf to catch dust.

 

Constructing and more importantly living in a tiny house has applicability not only to myself, but to individuals like myself who desire a simpler lifestyle with an environmental footprint closer in size to the world average. A tiny house can be an effective tool to teach myself and others how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Unfortunately, early attempts to realize these plans went nowhere. I tried securing a loan for the project at the banks in town and met unconscionably high interest rates. Loans such as they offered seemed like more of a liability than an opportunity, so I passed it by. Similarly, attempts to find indoor building locations came to naught. People liked my idea, but did not want to open their doors. Soon after, I decided to forgo the tiny house idea all together.

However, on a whim, I stopped into Solaqua Power and Art and I found something else. They were quite warm to my idea. In fact, they had already been thinking along similar lines and wanted to develop a line of sustainable houses powered on solar electricity. With many other projects in the works, including a thriving renewable energy business called Sundog Solar, Jody Rael invited me to spearhead the tiny house project using their facility.

The prospect of building at Solaqua seemed to me nothing less than a dream come true. Even though the buildings there are still evolving, the facility they have is a truly impressive one. The buildings are powered by solar electricity generated on location, and some are heated by a furnace that consumes recycled vegetable oils- waste from local restaurants. I could not have thought of a better environment for a building project that focuses on sustainability. Further, Sundog is equipped with specialized tools, and a great staff with a broad knowledge base. Brian Bean, Steve Mammoser and many others not only welcomed me into the space but offered technical help and valuable insights along the way. Their endlessly positive, can-do attitude made me feel that the world actually did want this tiny house to come into being, something I had formerly been unsure of.

Collaborating with a small business in this way has awakened me to another facet of their influence in community. Small business has the potential to be a powerful germinating force. They have amassed valuable capital in all its forms; facilities, staff, knowledge, tools, finance, and mutual trust. These can be gently leveraged for positive social and economic change. Through partnerships between small businesses and individuals society can begin to discover and realize important innovations that lie dormant in a community. Small businesses have the power to help people give life to these ideas. I believe that Solaqua Power and Art is one company who seeks to develop these new collaborations at their facility in Chatham, NY. My hope is that other businesses in our region and in other communities around the country will see the potential inherent in such collaborations and follow suit.

My name is Aldo Lavaggi and I am designing and building a tiny house in upstate New York. I call it the “Gold Thread Tiny House.” I created it as a thesis project through Goddard College. You can read the complete article and follow my build at my blog Gold Thread Tiny House.

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Michelle - March 27, 2011 Reply

Does anybody know if there is anything like this in the state of Ohio?

Timaree - March 27, 2011 Reply

I like the idea of using leftover oil for heating. I am hoping to be in southern California so wouldn’t need to have a lot of heat. It’s possible just saving oil from cooking could add up to enough over a year. (I’m used to the house being at 66 degrees in the winter already).

Anne - March 27, 2011 Reply

Very well stated, Aldo. In you and others with your vision lies the future of the movement… though I sometimes wonder if most yet understand the value of a coordinated effort.

When the old way of seeing only the selling of a notion as a way to make a buck there will be true progress. Good luck on your endeavor, I have added your blog to my reading list.

    Anne - March 27, 2011 Reply

    Make that: “When the old way of seeing only the selling of a notion as a way to make a buck IS GONE there will be true progress.”

    That is what I get for not proofreading…

    Aldo - April 1, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for your comment Anne.

    One of the wonderful things about tiny houses, generally speaking, is that “making a buck” becomes less of a concern as we develop new capacities to live with less. This increases our potential to work simply for the love of things alone. Progress if bound to follow.

agentbey - March 27, 2011 Reply

Very impressive. Great eye for details and craftsmanship. I’ve viewed a lot of tiny homes online and I have to say this is in the top ten for sure. Two thumbs up.

Josh - March 27, 2011 Reply

As an accountant, I had to laugh out loud at the line:

Loans such as they offered seemed like more of a liability than

an opportunity, so I passed it by.

In any event, it’s a neat little design, and it’s great that there was a local company interested in sustainable housing that was willing to help. And what great idea, subject, and project for a college thesis! I would be interested in seeing what the inside is, or will be, like. And I’m curious about the dimensions.

Zer0 - March 27, 2011 Reply

It’s a beautiful house. I’d like to know more about how to make or buy one.

Andy - March 28, 2011 Reply

Could you show us the finished inside when you complete it? What is the total cost? What are the dimensions.

Very nice project, I can’t wait to see it finished.

I live close and would love to visit.

Andy

    Aldo - March 29, 2011 Reply

    Yes, I am planning on posting new photos at each stage of the building process. I encourage anyone who would like to follow the process of Gold Thread Tiny House, to sign up that blog (links above). This way you will automatically be informed when i post new pictures.

    Thanks for your interest.

    Aldo

Ian - March 28, 2011 Reply

This sounds like a very good idea. A “co-op” business for building tiny-houses?! That can help many people who want to build one who have no yard or place to build one. I really like this plan and I hope more places consider this as a way to help people transition out of an apartment or larger-than-they-can afford mortgage and have a garage to rent for the few months they need to build a tiny house on a trailer, and learn some home improvement skills (in exchange for rent ?) while they’re at it. And I like how there is a solar plan to build on the tiny homes. The sustainability of tinyhomes goes hand in hand with the renewable electric system that can be built into/onto the home, along with solar thermal heating, at the very least (as plumbing is a more complex issue at the moment). Looking forward to reading more about it!

    frank - March 28, 2011 Reply

    “I hope more places consider this as a way to help people transition out of an apartment….The sustainability of tinyhomes…”

    If people want to live sustainably, they should stay in their apartments. A small house is better than a large one, but doesn’t come close to an apartment for minimizing your ecological footprint. An apartment has less external wall/roof area for heat to escape. But more importantly, the density of apartment housing minimizes the amount of roads, water and sewer infrastructure that needs to be built and maintained; minimizes or eliminates the need for cars; and, allows for efficient delivery of all kinds of goods and services.

      Ian - March 28, 2011 Reply

      I’ve lived in a multiple apartments, and that may be true for some building complexes, but the cost of heating bills and gas/utilities can be more if one only has one option for bills in a city. There’s also the benefit of keeping the tiny house after one moves, unlike renting a place. Also, Tiny houses could be built efficiently enough to meet the level of efficiency of an apartment- if it’s insulated enough. Name me a number in Kwh/annum or joules/BTUs that apartments use and I’ll see if I can match that. I’d imagine they’re about even- for the seemingly efficient tiny homes like Tumbleweeds. Also tiny homes have more walls with windows, which is a plus.

      As for infrastructure and sewage, I agree, but my interest in tiny homes is also one that doesn’t require sewage or electric and water connections. It would rely on in-house utilities- filtration systems and solar+heating. The roads part is something I’m already interested in reducing- there should be fewer and narrower roads to connect regions (like high-speed rail), and suburbs use more space already than rural ones do. Not that I don’t want to be conscious of my ecological footprint because I feel like I’m using less. It’s just that I’d like the option of having more space to breathe if i I feel I’m tiring of the city, not culturally, just environmentally.

      Josh - March 28, 2011 Reply

      I think for many (myself included) the appeal of tiny house living is less about environmental sustainability and more about economic sustainability. My idea of a tiny house living situation would be in a rural area, with a garden to supplement store-bought groceries, a wood-burning stove to supplement other means of heating, maybe solar panels to reduce the amount of electricity purchased, etc. These certainly aren’t possible in an apartment. And what do you have after spending ten years paying rent in an apartment? Nothing.

      Suppose your rent is $600 a month. Suppose it increases an average 3% every year to account for inflation. At the end of ten years you’d have spent more than $82,500 and have nothing to show for it. Suppose you could pay that $600 a month on a loan to build your tiny house. Now, you probably can’t get a great interest rate on a loan like that, and you’ll probably have to have some sort of collateral or co-signer, but suppose you get it at 8% – that $600 a month would allow you to borrow nearly $50,000, and you’d save $10k over the increasing rent. You could build a pretty nice tiny home for $50,000, especially if you know how, or learn how, to do some of the construction yourself. Hell, even if you only paid for 5 years, you’d be looking at $30,000 – people have built nice places with less, especially using alternative construction techniques like the straw bale technique in a recent post.

      Now, for $50,000, you’re probably not going to be able to build a house as large or as nice as a lot of one-bedroom apartments (when I was in college a few years ago, my rent was only $550 for a one-bedroom with hardwood floors, washer and dryer included, big walk-in closet, gas fireplace, and a little over 600 square feet), but I’d call being free of a mortgage for the same payment as an apartment rent being pretty sustainable. For me anyway, that would be a far more important consideration than simply reducing my carbon footprint as much as possible.

        Ian - March 28, 2011 Reply

        Right, by all means, personal economic sustainability is more sane than putting the environment first over one’s own savings ability and expenses. I was just talking about the environment to encourage policy-makers who might be reading this to make fewer real estate development decisions that sprawl over what’s left of the environment more than what one individuals can do (though individuals can also collectively make big impacts, like on Earth Hour/Earth Day two days ago).

      Knifemouth - April 2, 2011 Reply

      Oh Frank …if I only had the words to tell you how tired I am of being beholden to “Landlords” and that I have ultimately moved 40+ times and I’m not yet 45. I’m bone tired, I’m sick, and I just want a little place to call my own. I guarantee you that my footprint can’t be/would not be bigger in a wee house than in these awful apartments. I want “my place” and there’s no one but destiny and my crazy life’s cruel happenstance that could keep me at the mercy of others one day more than I have had to, this whole life if ever ever ever I got the chance to “Have a Place of My Own.”

      I’ve spent a life of good deeds and service -but that is one sacrifice I will not make for the greater good. My history would explain why maybe, but neither here nor there to be told.

        Knifemouth - April 4, 2011 Reply

        I totally forgot about the ubiquitous in-house groups that tell people what they can and cannot do within their apartments even once they own them. I’ve known people wracked with regret about still being beholden and controlled to maintaining bland consistency. I loathe the whole idea of joining hundreds in a massive hive mind w/a controlling few. That we aren’t even allowed to build a 300sf home on our own lands all over America- homes perfectly suited once upon a time- is the most un-American aspect of this all. Even if you got 100 acres, they roll up and control it all.

Steven Du Bois - April 6, 2011 Reply

I would love to come see your house if i could…

    Aldo - April 9, 2011 Reply

    Hi Steven,

    I would be glad to give you a tour. you may want to take part in a work day, where the public has the opportunity to come by and get their hands dirty. We will be having another day like this in early may. Either way, please contact me at tinyabode@gmail.com,

    Thanks

Into Charbonneau - October 4, 2012 Reply

Hi Aldo,
I was speaking with a friend the other day, telling them about my plans to have a tiny house, more like a liveable large shed,on my sister’s land and they mentioned your house!!
I just finished looking a your photos and reading your blog. I loved it! You are amazing.
Lots of love to you.
Inyo

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