A Tiny House for College Students

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A Tiny House for College Students

Nearly 85% of college graduates move back home after they finish school. George Hemminger, who runs the YouTube channel Survive and Thrive in the New Economy, has a small solution for these “boomerang kids”: build a tiny house.

George built a small house, inspired by storage sheds he had seen at Home Depot and Lowes, for only $1,200. It is partially off the grid and the windows were about $100 each. He used styrofoam insulation and basic off-the-rack supplies. He feels that most young people out of college can build what is essentially a box in a backyard and live cheaply while getting their first jobs and paying off school debt.

George has other videos on issues facing the traditional American including unemployment, the economy, suburban flight and living off-grid.

Sick of Living at Home? Build a Small House.

Photo and video courtesy of Survive and Thrive in the New Economy

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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robin yates - February 14, 2011 Reply

the roof looks very flimsy indeed, a good idea spoiled by poor finishing

    Mary - December 31, 2012 Reply

    I think the only thing between what is there and a ‘finished’ roof are enclosed SOFFITS which make it look like the roof is as thick as the rafters instead of just the thickness of the decking.

Mandy - February 14, 2011 Reply

like going home to live in the playhouse – in UK we call them Wendy Houses – in the garden!

Anne - February 14, 2011 Reply

Not sure how living in a shed with no plumbing or kitchen in the back yard is getting ‘away’ from your parents… but okay… lol.

    SoPasCat - February 17, 2011 Reply

    ~~~ What About a Port-A-Potty? ~ Get Rid of the Pink Dog House So the Students can Pee’n Poop in Peace.

Andrea - February 14, 2011 Reply

When I consider that my kid probably schlepps his laundry to my basement to be washed with my machine… not too sure I would be so keen on this.

On the other hand, I also distinctly remember lustfully looking at people’s garages and thinking: you could turn this/that one into a lovely small apt… so perhaps a wee bit larger than the shed in the garden, yet affordable and fairly independent.

    gregor - February 15, 2011 Reply

    I lived in exactly that for about 8 months. A converted apartment. They are also sometimes called “laneway houses” or in law suites or accessory apartments, depending on the details.

    It unfortunately has all the problems associated with regular rental housing though and then some, and I would not try it again. Landlords tend to take the lord part a little too seriously. This fruitcake thought he could pressure me into taking care of the house and shoveling the driveway, control what furniture I brought in etc. and the price is no less than for a normal apartment (I got it because of the area).

    I have a post about the possibility of putting a tinyhouse in a garage, though. I think this would solve a lot of the problems.

Rob - February 14, 2011 Reply

The reason most students move back home after school, is because they have an old room waiting for them. An untouched shrine to their musical taste, favorite sport team and hobbies, that conjures feeling of nostalgia. Living in a Home Depot/Lowes shed fails in comparison. Why not just live inside your parents house and save the shed money and pay off debt quicker?

    deborah - February 14, 2011 Reply

    I agree! Why do people in this country even have kids if their goal is to kick them out of the house as soon as they turn 18? And believe me, it is a shame to be like that.

      alice - February 14, 2011 Reply

      A lot of kids leave on their own, for various reasons. I left at 16 and now here I am at 57 living with my parents, my son and his wife and my granddaughter, though we each have our own apartment areas in one house. Situations change and not all families are the same. One word I can’t overemphasize – soundproofing!

        Zer0 - February 14, 2011 Reply

        I have to agree with soundproofing.

        Mary - December 31, 2012 Reply

        My father built a 10 x 10 foot “shed” in the side yard of our house years ago. We called it the MAC SHACK, but it was a wonderful spot to be! He had his independence and we knew he was close and safe. He used our bathrooms when needed, but I am sure our plants got watered more than once. He was quite hard of hearing after 20 years of being around loud airplanes while he was in the Air Force, so having a separate “ADU” or auxiliary dwelling unit as they are being called was a fine idea!

Pest Control Kansas City - February 14, 2011 Reply

I would have loved to live in a tiny shed at my parents house… This looks like a great alternative for my kid, who is crashing in my basement with his business degree.

alice - February 14, 2011 Reply

I gave up my project room so my son could live with me while taking a course and if he had a shed in the backyard it would have made life a lot simpler for both of us. He’d have been happy with a hot plate, toaster, kettle and little fridge and if he had his own composting toilet he’d hardly ever be seen in the house. Especially useful if the parents have already downsized. Someone I know parked their tiny travel trailer in the garage for their son to stay in since you aren’t allowed to live in a trailer in the driveway.

    Reader - February 14, 2011 Reply

    As someone who had to move home with kids to parents for a year after an expensive and ugly divorce wiped me out financially, I can tell you that I’d gladly have lived in a shed in the backyard, and so would the kids. The lack of privacy, the loud television because of hearing-impairments that prevented my kids from falling asleep, the screaming between my parents that had caused me to move 200 miles away to begin with (which I never wished for my children to experience), the inability of my parents to adjust to chldren and toys being in the house, and more were all compelling reasons. We basically lived in one room anyway, to escape the screaming and chaos.

    While I am grateful they opened their home to us in a time of crisis, it was stressful. Which is why this is a good option. Adult children often have difficulty moving home after living with more autonomy and parents who have had the home quiet for years don’t always adjust well. Not to mention that some families are just, well, nuts, despite love and the intention to support one another. I love the concept of being in a large shed or travel trailer that has small comforts (mini fridge, hot plate, laptop to watch Netflix on). I hope this is something I can do for my children should they need to move home after college or after some event leaves them strapped.

Scott Stewart - February 14, 2011 Reply

I have filled a graph paper notebook with drawings and layouts for something that falls in line with this idea, only to the next level.
I think it makes more sense to build a tiny house, a dorm room alternative as I like to call it, with kitchen and bath, before the student starts college, use it through out their education, even moving it from one school to the next if the need arises, at the end of school move it back home if needed or sell it or rent it out, in any case it has at the very least saved someone money and possibly made money if it was built large enough to accomodate a paying roomate!

Just my two cents, which I dont think is worth much more than a penny but there it is.


    alice - February 14, 2011 Reply

    If you’re lucky enough to be allowed to build something like that you could do a switcheroo and the parents move into it when they’re ready to downsize and let the kids and their kids have the main house. That could relieve a lot of housing expense pressure as long as everybody was able to get along well enough. There are a lot of ‘issues’ with multi-generational living but it used to be the norm. Mind you, people used to die a lot younger too.

      Mary - December 31, 2012 Reply

      Alice and Scott, I agree with both of you that separate is better than in home after a certain age. I think most teenagers would prefer an auxiliary space and IMO it is a good idea to get them as much autonomy as possible while still keeping watch. Giving them room to fail without being FATAL was my dad’s motto. I especially like the idea of letting the kids move into the larger house at some point. I think we will be finding much more of this in the future, and Social Security and Medicare should be supporting these projects that can keep seniors out of nursing home whenever possible. I can imagine groups of these in a large lot that functions as a senior care center.

-billS - February 14, 2011 Reply

Nice idea but check your local zoning codes first. Most residential areas will not permit this and if the ruling authority finds out you will be fined. I wish there were an effort to coordinate changes to allow such a structure but is a huge task. Some cities in Iowa a beginning to allow backyard chickens which is another sustainability idea. Problem is once approved there will be those that abuse it and profit while bringing down property values. Not sure what the answer is. Nice idea though, just not sure how one could get it done in my town.

    gmh - February 14, 2011 Reply

    Put it on wheels. Doesn’t that sort of get around the codes? I mean, I think that is why Jay Shafer did it. Maybe there is a size restriction as well…

      alice - February 15, 2011 Reply

      Many areas restrict what you can do so much that even parking a tiny mobile house, RV, trailer, whatever on your own property is not allowed, let alone living in one. Most areas would probably not allow you to legally live in a shed in the backyard either. There are restrictions against so many things, some crazy, others misguided attempts to manage health and safety, some aesthetic or financial control and they vary wildly from place to place. Lots of comments in this blog say that the place to start is changing these rules. A lot of alternative housing flies under the radar at present and depends a lot on having decent (or unobservant) or no neighbours.

        Zer0 - February 15, 2011 Reply

        Couldn’t you get around that by first buying a wood shed kit, paying the county the $60 or whatever fee is for putting it up in the yard, letting them do their walkthrough inspection, and then adding in all the insulation and furniture?

        You’d need to keep them from seeing the kitchen/bed inside, and if they ask, tell them it’s your office (which is a lie by omission, but I won’t feel bad about it).

          gregor - February 15, 2011 Reply

          No. Not really. They inspect.

          I has occurred to me to try claiming it is my office and I have blog post discussing this ” living in a room but living in a tinyhouse wink wink”

    Mary - December 31, 2012 Reply

    In Phoenix, AZ, most of the houses have six foot block walls surrounding the backyards, so not too much concern about being “outed.” However, we do need to change the outmoded zoning laws sooner rather than later since baby boomers are turning 60 and more. Families can be destroyed financially by the cost of nursing homes when that level of care isn’t really needed.

    MOst of the zoning laws were set up by the construction industry to encourage larger and larger and more profitable homes, but during the 1929 recession many garages and outbuildings turned into dwelling units, so there is definitely precedent.

gregor - February 15, 2011 Reply

You know what – I would be the *first* in line to do exactly this. It describes my situation quite well.

But it is not practical for almost anyone to actually do right now. In case you haven’t been paying attention this is *against the law*.

It’s against the law in several different ways too. I point out on my blog that the usual excuses people come up with to rationalize their feeling that it would work anyway – that there must be a loophole if only you work hard enough to find it etc.- are wrong.

“everything I want to do is illegal” indeed.

alice - February 15, 2011 Reply

Really people, even if you fake it past an inspection and set up housekeeping all it takes is one cranky neighbour to make a call to the authorities and they can come and make you tear it all down, fine you, whatever the law allows in your area. Never underestimate the power of crabby, nosy neighbours to make your life a living h-e-double-hockey-stick. Even if you start off with good neighbours they might move out and the other kind move in. Those curtain-twitchers are everywhere!

    gregor - February 15, 2011 Reply

    I wouldn’t say it exactly like that, but it’s right. Secondly I’ve come to doubt how much you can really blame the neighbors.

    I mean of course there will always be assholes that actually want to use violence to control what their neighbors are doing. The real problem is that they can use the force of the law to do it. Very easily. Trivially. I would call that more a problem with the legal systems than anything.

    Also, it does not have to be a neighbor that complains. It can be anyone – even if you had talked to the neighbors and they all agreed and thought it was a good, productive idea (as if), that is not enough. And by the way, the bylaw enforcement is *required* to investigate when there is a complaint.

    Interestingly, you can read accounts of people on the other side of what are actually legitimate bylaw related complaints with regards to noise for instance, and they gripe about how weak the laws are sometimes.

    However it is readily apparent in the stories that the people making the noise are in fact being treated in a way that would not be tolerable for regular folks like you and me that just want to get on with our lives.

    A lot of it is about the harassment I think. You just can’t practically build a home and live in it comfortably in this sort of hostile environment. There’s a fundamental imbalance; you would be a sitting duck basically which isn’t going to work out at all – even if you could succeed in living there in the face of complaints and threats, it would be too stressful.

Erin (BonaFideChic@Etsy.com) - February 15, 2011 Reply

A part of me feels like I really need one right about now, but another part of me (a recent grad living at home), finds a lot of comfort being close to my family and all of my old things. Great idea, but there is a foot of snow and I feel it would be impractical during the winter here in Oregon!


SoPasCat - February 17, 2011 Reply

~~~ WOW ! – Imagine a Frat Party Being Held in that House !!!

Great Idea for College Student Living but Needs to Add a Wet bath & a One-Electric StoveTop Burner with Tiny Sink & Tiny RV Refrigerator.

Brooke Lambie - February 14, 2012 Reply

I have a property with a double garage (required for off street parking) and a separate single garage apart from the house….making it a sm apartment however the main house kitchen and bath will share for right now. Also have two basements in 2 different houses They are hillside houses so basements face out on level ground) and making them both into small apartments again sharing the house. I am excited about small efficient spaces and municipalities in CA are very helpful with addendum housing or improvements in a house which a come-home or even a shared-space tenant student can use.

Bethany B - May 4, 2012 Reply

interesting idea, but honestly i dont know about the idea of living in a shed.

Rachel - May 4, 2012 Reply

well the point is to give the person more privacy than having to deal with your parents 24-7. I think its a good alternative and cheaper than living in your own appartment

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