by Kevin Cassity
The house is 8.5 ft. wide, 20 ft. long, and 15 ft. high, conforming to the State of Alaska regulations for towing it without needing to get a special permit. I’ve never weighed it, but I’d guess around 6,000 lbs with awning and deck included. The house is built on a 10,000 lb. trailer.
The house has 2 x 4 construction with fiberglass insulation (I would go with spray foam if I had it to do again for a tighter seal and less labor intensive insulating) and 2 x 10 roof joists. It is “super-insulated” with 1 in. of rigid foam enclosing the house and insulating the studs from transmitting cold into the house. It is wired and “plumbed” for a propane hookup.
I have a kitchen counter, shelves, and sink on one end of the house, with storage loft overhead and a desk/dinner table/office space and window seat on the other end with a sleeping loft overhead. The entry area has high vaulted ceilings overhead and feels spacious. The sleeping loft allows for a 7 ft. ceiling in the study/sitting room.
A bathroom would have felt like it crowded to space too much to me, so I use a portable toilet which I store outside the house (REI sells a toilet seat that fits on a five gallon bucket and a toilet kit with landfill-approved degradable wag bags). The bucket can be brought in the house or used outdoors, either in the woods surrounding the house or with a folding blind I built. I shower at a local health club or in the woods using a “solar shower” water bag. A friend who lives across the street has also offered use of his shower and bathroom.
The house took about 8 months to build in my spare time and with the help of friends. I had been looking at ways to build an inexpensive home, and had seen the Tumbleweed designs. I jumped into the project when a friend who taught construction at a local high school offered to take it on as a class project, thinking it might be more interesting to the kids than building the usual sheds and outhouses. he and his students started construction in March or so, but were only able to get the floor and walls framed by the end of the school year in May. So my friend and I did the rest of the construction over the summer and into the fall: roof, insulation, finish work. Not having planned to be doing so much of the work, I found myself overextended trying to build the house and work full time, which was stressful, and I may have changed courses midstream and aborted the project had there been an easy way to do that.
A second motivation for building a tiny house on wheels was that I wanted to live on some property I had acquired and get to know the land and how the sun and wind and seasons interacted with it before deciding what to build and where. Moving my tiny house onto my property also had its set of challenges since the city of Anchorage didn’t allow a mobile structure on a lot unless a house was already there or in a case where the mobile home was used as a temporary living space while building a house. So I went through all the expense of getting a building permit, paying permit fees, and put in a septic and well in anticipation of starting construction.
I heat the house with a 1500 watt electric heater. My electric bill runs $20-30 in the summer and $70-110 in the winter. Electric costs could easily be less, but I like light, and I included lots of windows in the house design. I am pleased with the electric heat because the house has no moisture or mold problems like I’m told it might have with propane heat (or air quality and temperature problems that an wood heat might cause in a tiny cabin). In the course of coming and going through the front door (which is also not tightly weather sealed still), I get adequate air exchange and the house doesn’t feel stuffy.
My material costs for the house was about $11,000 including the trailer, labor was $6,400, initial building and electric permits were about $2,000, and another $100 for a phone consultation with Jay Shaffer, who was very helpful with information and advice. I would not necessarily suggest that others use these numbers as a guide to what building such a house might cost. I did quite a bit of research to find low toxicity and inexpensive materials. I was able to get contractor prices on most of the materials. Labor cost reflect the generosity of construction friends who worked for considerably below their normal wage. None of my own (substantial) time and labor is included. Survey cost for permits required by the city are not included.
The folding awning doubles the sheltered space, creating a big porch area, which I use for leisure activities, entertaining company, a bike garage, etc. The porch is built in three sections so that it can be easily lifted and hung from i-bolts on the back side of the house for road trips. The shed roof with folding awning and porch design idea came from friends Ian Moore and Jen Jollif, and the ingenious plumbing pipe awning design and other construction details came from Dave Mortensen. I’ve enjoyed living in the house for a year and can’t think of much that I’d change about it.[nggallery id=20]