Ellen's Tiny House

Ellen’s Tiny House

Ellen Dawson-Witt was recently featured in her local newspaper because of her tiny house and her downshifted life. Ellen’s 192 square foot house is located on her property in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she grows some of her own food and carries water from a well for washing, uses solar panels for a lamp, CD player and laptop and uses a composting toilet. She does her cooking on a gas range from 1934.

Dawson-Witt, a freelance editor and government contractor, has avoided television and fashion and wanted to live her life like that of Henry David Thoreau.

“I wanted to live deliberately and to not be on automatic pilot,” she said. “I wanted to be connected to the elements.”

However, she is not able to live in her tiny house full-time. The county in which the home is located does not allow full-time living in a home without indoor plumbing. She keeps another house close to her work.

Inside the tiny house, there are three chairs, one table, one desk, a kitchen cabinet from the 1920s, one bookcase, a loft with one bed and one small chest that contains an extra blanket. About 75 percent of all she owns fits in the tiny house. (Ironically, she has a whole shelf of books on voluntary simplicity, she said.) She has her clothes and a file drawer in her other house and her tools and camping gear in a nearby shed.

Dawson-Witt will be leading a seven-week discussion on sustainability at her tiny house. The sessions started on October 4, 2011. Her talks will cover simplicity, ecology, food, money and more for those who want to live more lightly on the earth.

Photos courtesy of YSNews.com

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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karen - October 10, 2011 Reply

“… for those who want to live more lightly on the earth.”

what a beautiful turn of phrase, and aptly applied here.

Cherie Worley - October 10, 2011 Reply

The interior is so cute! Love it!

Grant Wagner - October 10, 2011 Reply

I agree, extremely cute home. Out of curiosity, what is that interesting kitchen gadget she is using? Some sort of coffee bin?

    katie swales - October 15, 2011 Reply

    it is a coffee grinder

      Debbie - February 14, 2013 Reply

      My Grandmother(and now my Mother) have this same cabinet. It’s called a Hoosier Cabinet and that’a flour sifter – there are no gears to grind anything, just a mesh for the flour to come through. I wish I had that cabinet in my kitchen – lots of storage and even a pull out tray to work on!Hard to find in this day and age.

Mary - October 10, 2011 Reply

I believe the gadget she is using is a flour dispenser in her Hoosier cabinet.

    Josh - October 10, 2011 Reply

    It seems that it is not only a dispenser, but a flour sifter. (Another article had the same picture and a caption that identified it as such.)

Michelle - October 10, 2011 Reply

Is there a way to get in contact with Emily? I live in Ohio too and have been wanting to start the transition to a tinyhouse but don’t know the laws and there are no resources to find out here. I would really appreciate getting in contact with her.

    Josh - October 10, 2011 Reply

    …wanting to start the transition to a tinyhouse but don’t know the laws and there are no resources to find out here.

    I checked, and it turns out there are people in Ohio who are knowledgeable about local laws; they’re commonly referred to as “attorneys.”


      Irene - October 10, 2011 Reply

      Michelle, I hope that Ellen is able to give you some knowledge that she has accumulated for living in your state. It appears she wants to share her viewpoint with others, hence, the discussion meetings.

    Josh - October 10, 2011 Reply

    Oh, and, by the way, 10 seconds spent Google searching yielded this result:


    Assuming her phone number is in the area code that her house is in, you should be able to contact her at 937-389-2030.

    Hope Henry - October 10, 2011 Reply

    I have found that most states and counties have sites you can check for building codes and restrictions…you can also call the courthouses to speak to a code officer personally if you cannot find the answer online. Most I have spoken to are very helpful. One thing to look out for is to make sure your property does not have a POA or HOA. You can lose your property to some for a mere infraction of their by-laws, such as not planting the required number or type of flowers or having the wrong size of exterior lighting.

    Rebecca B. A. R. - October 10, 2011 Reply

    I live in Ohio, too, and one of the best place to call or stop in at is your county’s/city’s Building and Zoning department. They will have all the information on what you need for a tiny house. For example, when I lived in Clinton County, Ohio, I found out that Ohio and Wilmington don’t have any size requirements for a new house (Ohio does say that a bedroom must be at least so many square feet big, but lofts are not considered bedrooms), but that Clinton County requires a new house to be at least 900 square feet big.

      john - October 27, 2014 Reply

      Hi there! Im building a tiny house in the next 5 months. Any other issues building a tiny home on wheels in Ohio?


    william carlisle - October 10, 2011 Reply

    Michelle, most communities and counties that have adopted the IRC
    International Residential Code , will frown on calling a space of 200 sq ft a home . My suggestion would be to call it an office with a kitchenette and a bathroom , and as soon as your CO is issued, do what you want.I advocate ignoring their restrictions and reclaiming your property rights . Be warned zoning boards and home owner associations are much harder to deal with. Rural areas are the best .

      ET - October 10, 2011 Reply

      In BC you’ll get a “stop work” order on your property title for this. While it may not seem like a big deal at the time (you can just ignore it) if you ever need to sell it will cause problems.

        william carlisle - October 11, 2011 Reply

        Not in New Mexico and in most of the southern states we still have some respect for property rights not much but some.

when - October 10, 2011 Reply

Once again, we see that the main obstacle to people actually living in tiny houses is not one of design or marketing – clearly, people want to live like this and the home designs are solid. Anyone can draw a tiny home design in a couple days and get a nice writeup on this blog. Big deal.

The problem is primarily a legal one caused by out-of-control local and county governments with restrictive land use laws and out-of-date process, and the tiny house community IMHO should focus on legal and code issues first and foremost otherwise we will have lots of tiny cute houses and nowhere to put them.

Smaller houses, smaller governments!

    Randy - October 10, 2011 Reply

    WELL SAID! One common thread I’ve noted here over and over and over is its always the local municipalities standing in the way. There are many, like us, that DO embrace tiny houses but eager developers have managed to get codes in place conducive to their agenda’s. So, I totally agree, the focus for the tiny house movement should be on breaking down bureaucratic walls that are preventing the us all from moving forward.

Neil - October 10, 2011 Reply

“The county in which the home is located does not allow full-time living in a home without indoor plumbing”

*sigh* What a shame that governments think they have the right to tell people what they can’t do on their own properties! Sadly, I may run into the same problem in a year or two, but I’m planning on building so far back in the woods that hopefully no one will notice the lack of a well, septic or grid power!

Best wishes to you Ellen; it looks like a wonderful place!

    Josh - October 10, 2011 Reply

    What a shame that governments think they have the right to tell people what they can’t do on their own properties!

    Well, they get to do that because, ultimately, the government owns the property; they just grant you title to it.

      Alex - October 15, 2011 Reply

      “Ownership” is a flexable term, just ask a Native American, or someone in a conflict region. At the very mose we have an agreement to be able to “use” a parcel of land for an indeterminate but finite time.

      I therefor consider my existance “temporary” and therefor my “use” is also “temporary”. Lieing to a Government Official is the moral equivelant of lieing to a Nazi.


will bart - October 10, 2011 Reply

build it on trailer put it where you want .

    Randy - October 10, 2011 Reply

    That really does seem to be a viable answer but I wonder how long it will be before municipalities start restricting RV and/or mobile structures/homes. It seems they WANT folks trapped in a 30 yr mortgage just so we’ll stay subscribed to their system.

      Tonita - October 12, 2011 Reply

      I agree with you. It is so nice to see vintage items repurposed & put to use in tiny homes. It not only keeps wonderful items from the landfill but they add charm, and can often be found for free as well as purchased. Many antiques hold their value or increase in value over time, in case you ever want to change them out or sell them. Buying new furnishings is like buying a car, as soon as it’s out the door its value goes down. It is interesting to see people harp on sustainability and yet run to big box stores to furnish their tiny homes. There are wonderful items from yester year just waiting to be adopted and used in small spaces. It is nice to see her use of a beautiful Hoosier hutch. Nice tiny home.

    cj - October 11, 2011 Reply

    Just don’t put it on water. They control the time you can live on a houseboat as well.

Randy - October 10, 2011 Reply

Ellen has done a really inspiring job of repurposing antiques to fit her daily needs, I.E., using the old Hoosier type cabinet as a food prep work area. Truthfully, that’s what it was intended for. I love seeing beautiful old “conversation pieces” actually being USED for utilitarian purposes. Good job, Ellen.

Mike - October 10, 2011 Reply

How out of touch with nature this county government must be, not allowing someone to live in a home full time without indoor plumbing. Perhaps that’s just a way to keep people connected to the grid and paying those utilities.

Holly - October 10, 2011 Reply

I love this little house. I’d like to see loft, too. As for the requirement for indoor plumbing — there are actually good public health reasons for having regulations for the disposal of human waste. The answer would be to make provisions in the regulations for composting toilets, or for the homeowner to make the expensive decision to put in a septic system.

Kat - October 10, 2011 Reply

I would love to know what the books are on her voluntary simplicity shelf. Cute home 🙂

Karen - October 10, 2011 Reply

Love the place. I wish we could work out the zoning issues so more people could do something similar.

Engineer Guy - October 10, 2011 Reply

Nicely done! We built in a CO County w/o Building Codes, and it sure simplified things. Yah, we did Septic + Electrical + Plumbing, but are going off-Grid for any Out Buildings. I also like small Trailers for off-Grid Living. Using a +12 Volt ‘on demand’ Trailer Water Pump is one good way to have solid Water pressure and Plumbing w/o high expense. Having a House on a Trailer Frame that can be moved [even inches] can help skip Property Taxes, because it’s not ‘permanent’. I think that building on a small section of RR Track and Wheels – just for grins – would also constitute House ‘mobility’, and thus change House/Property status. We have, and use, a similar Hoosier to the one above. We down-size ‘some’ every decision-making chance we get, and are simplifying all we can. It’s liberating!

Adela - October 10, 2011 Reply

Well if you want to read up on building codes for many American states you can find them here:
The whole site has some useful resources for advocacy.

Walt Barrett - October 11, 2011 Reply

Sanitation and ligitamate safety issues are important, but other than that it’s a shame how deeply that government on every level has meddeled into, and regulated our lives and businesses. There are so many officials out there with so many different agendas that they are bringing our country down. They all have one thing in common though and that is to squeeze every last dollar from the working poor. It’s time to stop the madness and vote them all out of office!

Kent Griswold - October 11, 2011 Reply

I have edited and removed some comments. Please be decent and honor differences of opinions without getting nasty and calling names etc. Don’t force me to close comments on this post. -Kent

cj - October 11, 2011 Reply

I too, am a Thoreau fan but we must remember he only carried out his ‘experiment’ for two years and it was much easier for him as the land was actually owned by Emerson. That would be considered sponging in current day.

I admire Ellen’s efforts and I like the house. I am curious as to the ‘other’ house she keeps?

    Beth - June 4, 2013 Reply

    That caught my eye, too. “…her other house” What the heck? I love the little house featured here and I understand that she isn’t allowed to live there full time because she doesn’t have indoor plumbing, but doesn’t having TWO homes negate the point of the article- which I took to be: making a ‘tiny’ lifestyle work? This appears to be a vacation cottage.

Bob H - October 11, 2011 Reply

I found it very easy to get a building permit for my small home( 20ft X 22ft w/loft ). I spoke to the code inspector, found out what he required, sent in a sketch with my request and was granted a permit. Took about 2 days to get a permit. His primary concerns electrical, stairs and railings. Had all required inspections and was granted a C.O. Had no red tape of any kind. Do not cut the code inspector out of the loop, you will pay for it later.

Lisa - October 11, 2011 Reply

I realize not everyone wants to have their tiny house on a trailer. Where we live in N. CA. we were able to find an RV park that will take my husband and me in our new tiny house we are having made for us. They had to have it registered as an RV with the DMV. Three-quarters of their residents are living there permanently, some in RVs and some in Park Model cabins. Many are retirees. We finally decided on using Bill at Tortoiseshell Homes since he has lots of experience registering his units with the DMV. We were seriously considering Rich up in Oregon and a new fella in Santa Cruz with a company called Molecule Homes. Bill ended up being who worked out for us. I think pics will be put up here when he’s further along with our build.

Barb - October 11, 2011 Reply

A truely beautiful home. I love the dark floors, covered with a light, plush rug. It really makes the house look homey. She has some lovely sculpture artwork on the table AND a barka lounger. This is really my kind of woman! Since I own a kindle, I would cover the book shelf with doors and have a nice little storage area – BUT, her bookshelf also adds to the hominess of the whole place. Love it!!

bill - October 14, 2011 Reply

Dawson-Witt , good for you..

Blake Voss - October 15, 2011 Reply

Not all small house people are interested into small government. They don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Governments provide valuable services that no other entity can do.
If you want (and need) to change the house size requirements get involved in your local government. 900 sq.ft. was considered small at one time. There are plenty of good reasons to have smaller houses, but these rules are not automatically updated. The building inspector can’t change them. If you make the effort to convince your community that smaller is better they CAN change the house size limit. It is not in the state building codes. And it is not etched in stone. As you talk it up you will find new allies to help you (and new friends). Try it.

Charlie - October 15, 2011 Reply

But organizations like the “Home Builders of America” and other such organizations represent a lot of homebuilders (aka lobbyists). The smaller the house, the smaller the profits. Same with plumbers: composting toilets! Ye gads! Most local government regs started out as protecting those in the business. That’s why you can’t dig a 6ft hole in the ground and drop a simple wooden box in it anymore. No money to be made on that.

Toni in Oregon - October 21, 2011 Reply

We just purchased a 1959 single wide on a small lot at the beach. We are going to redo it and I’ve thought about a small woodstove. I see there is a small one here. Any recommendations?

Ellen’s Simplified Life With Her 192 Sq. Ft. Tiny House | Tiny House Pins - May 29, 2013 Reply

[…] photos and info here. Original article here. Photo by Megan […]

Alynxia - May 30, 2013 Reply

What a great wee house! Too bad about the plumbing restriction though.

For those interested, here’s something I bookmarked a while ago – Free online plans for a Hoosier Cabinet http://www.kennedyhardware.com/hoosier-cabinet_plans.html

You’re welcome :D.

Tim - May 30, 2013 Reply

It seems that the best way to build for now is to do it on a trailer to help avoid the red tape.

Cassie - June 4, 2013 Reply

I love your house. And I love the way you live.

Val - June 4, 2013 Reply

I think this is wonderful! Good for you! Now, to get those county/rules/regulations changed so you can live 100% of the time there. What a lovely home you’ve carved for yourself.

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