Tiny Casita

completed exterior of casita

Guest Post by Greg Fowkes

On Friday August 26, 2011 I drove my trusty Astro van a few hours west and up into the mountains to pick up and old camper I found on Craigslist for $200. It had major water damage which was perfect for me as I intended to tear her down to the trailer, saving a few parts along the way, and then build her up from scratch into a beautiful tiny house.

Now I’m just three weeks away from what I hoped would be a yearlong project. I suppose having a baby a few months ago would slow anyone down, and it should. Time spent with the family is what this tiny house is all about.

So, why a tiny house? Many people build a tiny house in hopes of a simpler life or to reduce their carbon footprint, or to redefine the American Dream. All honorable and noble reasons, and we’ll do our best along the way to be socially and environmentally aware, but lets be honest, my reasons are more self-serving…

For a long time I’ve dreamt of a small piece of land near the ocean. Possibly in the jungle. Maybe in a Latin country. I didn’t know how we would do it; I just knew that we would. Got to put it out there. Right?

tiny casita plan

While homes built near the ocean are mostly reserved for millionaires, we are not. I have the feeling that most people thought we were crazy. We would never pull it off, or maybe to them, it’s simply not worth the stress of trying.

Two years ago we drove an old motor home, affectionately known as “Punchita,” down the east coast of the Sea of Cortez, stopping at all the tiny coastal towns along the way. There were many towns we loved, but none that offered the variety and excitement as Sayulita. We settled on a quiet lot along a river, just outside of town and about a 15-minute walk to the ocean. Since then we had our fence and retaining wall built, and now we’re in the process of having an old fashioned well dug for water. We hope to be completely off the grid, which works out perfectly as there are no utilities to our lot.

rv trailer base for casita

With a trip planned for mid November, and a baby in tow, it’s more important now to finish the Tiny Casita. I have a line on insulation sheets which I hope to pickup today after work. I’ll also start on the cabinets and maybe some wiring this weekend. I foresee some late nights in my future…

trailer base with floor installed

So, what does this tiny house mean to me? At a time when my tiny family just got a little bigger, I feel secure knowing that, no matter what happens in the world, we’ll have a roof over our heads. I know now I can build a house, even if it’s tiny. It means that, even if times are tough, we’ll have a place to go and bond as a family, to create memories and recharge. Shouldn’t vacation time with your family be reason enough to build a tiny house?

metal framing forms casita shell

When you think about getting back to basics, what could be more basic than family? Change starts at home. The circle grows wider. We’re happier. We enjoy our lives. The connection between each other grows stronger. The world is a better place, or at the very least, our “tiny” world is a better place. You can follow my progress at my blog http://tinycasita.blogspot.com/

Greg working on the tiny casita

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molly - August 19, 2012 Reply

I just read through your blog and you seem to be making amazing progress! It won’t be too much longer and you will be living your dream. What more could you ask for? Congratulations! I can’t wait to see pictures of the inside when it is done.

Niall - August 19, 2012 Reply

Loving the exterior finish on your home, best of luck! I look forward to following your progress 🙂

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - August 19, 2012 Reply

That is one of the coolest tiny houses I’ve ever seen!

Mary Lou Leavitt - August 19, 2012 Reply

Nice job, and interesting story. Where do you head to? Interior pictures? Cost?

karen - August 19, 2012 Reply

wow! i’m very very jealous : )

James Harkness - August 19, 2012 Reply

It’s great stories like this as to why I continue to enjoy this blog. Inspirational.

jipsi - August 19, 2012 Reply

I loved your tale, and your progress in making the life of your dreams a reality that is 100% YOUR OWN (most of us will fight the ‘settling’ alternative in vain).
Congratulations on your YEAR of ‘living dangerously’ (as I’m sure there were many who questioned your sanity and resolve as you spent so many long hours on a ‘crazy project’) – and you get the last laugh, too. 😉
It has paid off in a way that surely has YOU feeling quite satisfied and not just a little giddy, as you are ALMOST THERE!
I will follow your blog as you pack up (and with a new family member to celebrate and crown your achievements! and head for the southern coastal desert, because I have to live vicariously through SOMEONE (who is actually LIVING the dream/plan similar to mine, that I will *someday* put in action myself, of having a little house built for me in a special, off-the-grid place…

I LOVE the floorplan… I’m sure the loft will be wonderful for the young’uns, later perhaps, for now I’m assuming there is space in your downstairs bedroom for the new baby’s crib (I kept my son’s in my room until he had graduated from crib to toddler bed to twin, when he was in pre-school and more comfortable sleeping in a room all to himself; plus, he had had some medical issues the first couple years of his life that I, as a single parent, probably used as an excuse to ‘over-hover’… lol).
I’m not jealous (but CLOSE), I’m INSPIRED.

Thank you for sticking to your goal(s) this past, VERY PRODUCTIVE YEAR, and thank you for sharing the results, the fruits of your labor and tiny-house-longings, with us here. 😉

liz goertz - August 20, 2012 Reply

Once you get it there you will have to take it off its wheels or put on a false foundation. Not for codes or strength or warmth, but so no one steals it.
I’ll probably get flack for that comment, its not meant to be racist or any thing. Its just that there is a reason that all houses in latinamerica have walls built around them.

    Greg - August 20, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Liz. I think it’s a matter of perception. People assume if there is nobody there, that it’s abandon and becomes public domain. We have a wall built now at the lot, and we actually pay a neighbor to look over things while we’re away, and yes, part of the plan is build a block foundation for the Tiny Casita to sit on.

      Deek - August 20, 2012 Reply

      A lot of people always bring up the “won’t people steal it” question, but its not as likely to happen as people might think, in fact, I’ve not heard of a case yet.
      Hopefully this will give some a bit of comfort…as we’ve talked a bit about it at each of the Tumbleweed Workshops I’ve hosted, and my own workshops….
      -First, with a heavy duty chain you can simply lock it (your tiny house) down to a tree or two, making it very time consuming and difficult to steal. One could also self-boot it (perhaps even remove the tire(s) from one side (simple to do) so that it can’t be easily transported). Most thieves want the quick steal, and not something that requires an hour or so of tree felling, and multiple people to acquire.
      -Secondly, a thief, unless he had ample time to hide something so enormous and strip it, would be driving around sticking out like a sore thumb with any form of tiny house- structures which are still very much so huge novelties in the general scheme of things to those not familiar with the scene. I know of many people who have never even heard of the concept, never mind seen a tiny house on wheels. Anyway, if you stole a tiny house, especially one like this that is three colors and segmented in appearance, where are you going to hawk it without being noticed, and remembered, and by every person you pass? It’d be like stealing a ferris wheel- the down-low factor is terrible, making it almost impossible to resell.
      Anyway, there are a few other reasons and preventative measures, which I just may have to do a blog post on- been meaning to for awhile…

      vandalism is a whole other beast, but any homeowner, or seasonable cabin dweller, has to face this same problem.

      Anyway, its kick-ass tiny house- congrats on such a fine design and workmanship- may it last you for years and years, and provide your family with many memories!

      -Deek

        jipsi - August 22, 2012 Reply

        Deek (and Liz!),

        Loved your posts because they did bring up a common concern, and you both addressed the issue with humor and intelligence.
        I think what MY concern would be, is not that someone might ‘steal’ my ‘tiny’ vacation/weekend home, thinking it has been ‘abandoned’ simply because they’ve not seen anyone around it for several weeks/months, but that there are always the opportunistic ‘drifters’ who would ‘steal’ it in a different way: squatting.
        Just breaking in and moving in, so to speak. Maybe down to selling off your ski stuff, your favorite ‘relax time’ CD’s, the Elk skin you proudly draped over your tiny sofa (aquired, say, during a hunting trip with your dear, late father), evensofar as using some of your dishes and whatnot for target practice (with their gun, or course). You get the idea.
        What a nasty thing to ‘get away’ to… unlocking the door and knowing immediately that someone has been ‘in’ and it wasn’t you. Worse, they might STILL be hunkered down there, just as surprised as you in the initial encounter!
        So it’s not just important to remove tires/chain the place down to a treestump, etc. to prevent theft of the HOME itself, but almost AS IMPORTANT to board it up securely, use a lot of padlocks and deadbolts, post a sign or two, even have a motion detector light set up to deter the vagrant among us in this world…
        And the best safeguard is knowing your neighbors, and being able to ask THEM to just ‘keep an eye on things’ for you while you’re not inhabiting your little piece of paradise. Of course, that’s not going to help much, when your tiny is set up in a remote area, but it’s always a good idea to find SOMEBODY that will drive to and stop to look around a few minutes, once or twice a month, at least.
        Just adding more to think about, on the issue of ‘tiny’ security… 😉

      Bobbi (Fowkes) Ball - August 25, 2012 Reply

      I really liked what you built. I am more interested in where you are from. My father and mother both were from PA. Just wondering, since it is not a common name.

      Thanks,

      Bobbi

when - August 20, 2012 Reply

Holy $DEITY. This is bad bad bad.

“Also, the metal studs have sharp edges that may cut the wires. I went ahead and duck taped each opening that will have wires passing through.”

Aiee! Using metal studs for wiring without using the insulating bushings or MC-type wire required by HUD code? Fire risk. Shock risk given the metal studs. This goes double as vibration from moving it on the road will wear through the duct tape in no time. If the metal studs are not completing a circuit back to the ground at the breaker box, half the house’s metal could be at 120VAC and not trip a breaker!

Secondly, those outlets appear to be in the kitchen area as indicated on the drawing. They are not GFCIs per NEC requirements! Shock risk.

Lastly, the use of polyisocyanurate panels is somewhat questionable given the high levels of toxic fire retardants needed in them. Traditional fiberglass insulation would have been less toxic.

Lastly, the structural framing looks a little suspect, especially at the top plate. If you got an engineer to look at it and they signed off, I guess that’s OK.

I don’t think I’ve seen a single owner-built tiny house without at least one glaring safety oversight. If you don’t know about wind loading, fire code, electrical code, etc., then don’t think that you can save money by figuring this stuff out on the fly! Get a pro to install your cute wood stove or electric, and get an engineer to look at your structure.

I like the overall look of the house however.

    Benjamin - August 20, 2012 Reply

    You’re absolutely right about the wiring! We need to warn this guy before he burns down his home or gets electrocuted.

      Greg - August 20, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for the tip. I picked up the bushings today at lunch, and started installing them this evening.

        jipsi - August 22, 2012 Reply

        You’re a true gentleman, Greg.
        When I read when’s (and Benjamin’s) post I winced and went ‘ouch’ FOR you (even though I agree about the safety issues regarding wiring, structural stuff, etc).
        Yet you responded with respect and zero ill will (glad there are so many pro’s here willingly and geneerously sharing their wisdom with the rest of us!), in fact, reassuring when and Benjamin that you were acting, had just done so, in fact, on their advice/suggestions!

        Good convo here, great rapport and straight talk without the animosity (that Ive seen, sadly, in other topics here in the past)!
        Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside… lol

        Keep up the great work on your tiny house, Greg, and it always pays to build safe, live safe!

    Greg - August 21, 2012 Reply

    Picked up the the large, and the 1/2 ” bushings yesterday at lunch. Installed a handfull of them last night. Thanks for the heads up. I feel much safer now. As for the toxicity of the insulation panels, I read that they gas-out after a few years and are nontoxic. However, I plan on sealing the inside walls with plastic before installing the paneling.

    Thanks again,

    Greg

Greg - August 20, 2012 Reply

Thanks for the great comments.

And I appreciate the tips offered by pros. I really do. Obviously I am not a pro. Sometimes you just need to jump in a go for it! You need to do the best you can with the budget and skills you have. I designed it, I’m building and b/c its on wheels, its doesn’t need to follow code or inspections, which is part of the appeal of Tiny Houses.

Besides, I’m not really a “live by the rules” kinda guy 🙂

That’s not to say however, that I don’t want it to be safe. On the contrary, I want it to be very safe and well built.

I’m doing my best to make it safe and roadworthy. Of course there will be oversights along the way – like the bushings that stop the wires from getting cut on the metal studs.

I was actually up all night worrying about this, and I agree, duct take isn’t going to work. I didn’t know about these bushings but rest assured, I’ll be buying them today and will install, even if it means going back and redoing the wiring I’ve done already.

Thanks again for the tip. Good advice.

Greg

Claudia - August 20, 2012 Reply

I’ve always loved the Sustain Mini Home, so I was excited to see how it inspired your tiny casita.

I really like your layout. Oftentimes, the kitchen in a tiny home isn’t functional but yours look big enough to actually use day to day. Plus it’s nice to have a bedroom on the “main” floor, though I’d probably opt for a sofabed instead.

In any case, your tiny casita looks AWESOME — I can’t wait to check out your blog!!

Deek - August 20, 2012 Reply

PS- An Astro Van is able to pull this? Up hills and all? Wow…. again, great place! Enjoy it!

    Greg - August 20, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for the props Deek! The mighty Astro van is only mighty enough to pull the Tiny Casita short distances. I found a guy with a BIG truck that will be towing her all the way to Mexico upon completion.

Benjamin - August 20, 2012 Reply

Is there any provision for drainage? The roof sections look flat in the drawing.

Is that a deck over the bedroom? I don’t see a door to it.

    Greg - August 20, 2012 Reply

    Roof has a 6″ pitch. I’ll install gutters for rain collection later. Decided against the deck over the bedroom. Was too difficult to make the roof strong enough to support the weight.

      Benjamin - August 21, 2012 Reply

      Ah, that should allow drainage. I guess it was a little too subtle to see in the photos.

      Even though you decided against the deck it was an intriguing idea!

      alice h - August 21, 2012 Reply

      You could probably build a free standing deck platform that the trailer could slide under once you’re set up down in Mexico. You could have a screened canopy up there and use it for a sleeping porch on hot nights, just use a ladder for access from the ground.

        Greg - August 21, 2012 Reply

        Love that idea Alice!

          jipsi - August 22, 2012 Reply

          Kind of like a ‘carport’ that functions TOPSIDE as well, huh?
          Wow, that really IS a great idea…It will also help ‘soften’ the sound of rain, hail, etc., should such occur (though in Mexico it’d probably be too seldom to be a problem anyway). I’m thinking this is a good idea for anyone else having a ‘mobile’ tiny they plan on driving to and from a property… it could, additionally, be a bit wider than the tiny so one would also be able to utilize the area UNDER that unoccupied part of it and just outside their door, for some shady relaxation on a sunny day! It could also be a good spot to have electric run to (unless one’s planning to wholly off-grid), so all the tiny owner/traveller would have to do is pull up, pull under, plug in!
          I LOVE this blog. and I LOVE the people here.
          So many GREAT IDEAS, and then there are always the ‘wow’ ones, like this one you suggested, Alice!
          I plan to INCLUDE that idea in many of MY site plans from now on, thank you. 😉

JC Cobb - August 21, 2012 Reply

Our Casita, we like minimalist even if it sometimes cost more. Like Diy.

cindy - August 21, 2012 Reply

Hey: Thanks for posting your story! Did you post inside pics as well and I missed it? I’m an out of work paralegal/college graduate/multiple years of experience with a small humane society – in GA where I’ve looked for over two years for permanent employment as low as $12.00 an hour. I finally had it with the now every powerful temping agencies and said “Screw You!” So I am screwed :). I’d like to build (hands on and help) a small unit like this on a small lot that is in my family. Are you just a genius or could you recommend books? I WANT TO PICS OF THE INSIDE, TOO!!! CONGRATS ON BABY AND YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT HERE!

Greg - August 21, 2012 Reply

Thanks Cindy. I’m no genius. The best thing I can recommend is following other builds online, maybe taking one of the classes offered and just jumping in and going for it. Oh and get the Home Depot 123 book. The inside isn’t finished yet, When it is, I’ll post pics.

Good luck. You can do it!

Cheers,

Greg

Nan - August 22, 2012 Reply

Greg, do you have plans available or your Sketch-up model? I’m in love with your take on the mini-home design.

    Greg - August 23, 2012 Reply

    Thank you Nan, I’m glad you like it. Sorry no plans, but SketchUp is a free program and pretty easy to get the hang of. Cheers, Greg

      Nan - August 24, 2012 Reply

      Too bad. Yeah, I’ve tried to sketch my own a few times but they end up looking like an unintentional Frank Gehry design.

Greg - August 23, 2012 Reply

Thanks for your kind words Jipsi.

Jerry - August 25, 2012 Reply

I think you are really on to something here. I’ve been watching the tiny house movement gaining steam for the last few years and I have to be satisfied with living vicariously through all the great people like yourself for now. You are an inspiration and I wish you and your family all the best!

Rich Barschdorf - August 25, 2012 Reply

You also need to screw a 1″x3″ piece of wood to a steel stud if you’re running the wire down to the outlet you can’t attach the wire directly to the stud.

The wire has to run down the stud from the hole to where it goes into the outlet box, and it can’t be fastened directly to the stud. If you ever drove a nail or a screw into it, you’d electrify your whole wall, again you would not want this….

Also I would protect my plumbing where it goes through the metal studs, another thing I would add is some type of battery operated fan when cooking, smell goes outside.

Chandra in Texax - August 25, 2012 Reply

Great design. Much enjoyment to you and your tiny home and family.

Kenise - August 25, 2012 Reply

Great design Greg. I admire your tenacity and wish you and your family all the best in your travels. I’m also glad to see you not just dreaming but making it a reality, something that many in life give up on. What a learning experience for your youngster and family. Like the studs though I’m going to go for post and beam ‘cuz mine will be permanent and under some big trees. Godspeed!

Cindy Fitzpatrick - August 26, 2012 Reply

AWESOME job! I applaud you in the beauty of your dreams to construct a tiny house and build everlasting memories with your growing family. CONGRATULATIONS! May you, all, have health to enjoy the journey…

I visit the Tiny House site for inspiration to build a tiny house in the Micronesian Islands of Palau. The property is a stones throw from the bay surrounded by the rock islands. To have a permanent tiny house on the land surrounded by the tropical trees and waking up to the smell of the ocean.

I’ve no idea about house building but volunteering with Habitat for Humanity has taught me a few things. Along with ideas and how to from the Tiny House community.

All the best!!

Jim - August 30, 2012 Reply

Is that a roof deck over the bedroom?

You go Dude!

Melinda - September 12, 2012 Reply

It’s so cool seeing other people recycling old campers and using them for their tiny house. That is exactly what we are doing! We have just finished tearing down the camper. We have to re-paint the trailer and we’ll start building!

Kate - September 29, 2012 Reply

I just looked over your blog and am excited to see more. Your tiny vacation house is lovely! Great design and layout. Thanks for sharing.

Shelley - October 2, 2012 Reply

Hello, I am very interested in living in a small space with my daughter who has still 5 years of schooling I am not a land owner so I am not sure where I could place it in the city, do you have any ideas?

Pat Caruthers - August 8, 2013 Reply

@Shelley, first I’d like to applaud you for being a solo-mom…gotta be the hardest but most blessed thing to do! Second, I’d check in with the city to see if there is a minimum lot size etc, then ask about leasing the land vs buying. I know here in Maine leasing land from the lumber companies (sometimes for 100yrs!) is a popular option for camps and other small dwellings.

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