Sustainability polymath, Dan Durica, is living his tiny house dream in style while teaching others how to follow in his low carbon footprints.
Dan Durica grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, dissatisfied with its McMansions and manicured monoculture lawns. A passion for sustainability and intentional community led him to live for several years with others in a co-op housing community while working in a co-op bakery business. He dreamed of living in his own tiny house in the country, with visions of tending vineyard and becoming a vintner. Now, at the age of forty-four, his dreams have become a reality at Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, and he can show you how to realize your tiny house dreams too.
His house is The Flouch, a two-story, passive solar structure where he lives with his precious puppy, Banjo, a northeast Missouri barksalot. The building is named after his British grandparent’s family farmhouse in Yorkshire. Dan did most of the construction labor on the home by himself, while working meanwhile to establish vibrant gardens on the southern end of his property and a one-acre vineyard situated nearby. The Flouch boasts 440 square feet of living space split between two stories, with additional storage in the attic. The attic is easily accessible via twin ingresses placed at both ends of the second floor ceiling. For additional storage, Dan has a large toolshed and an outbuilding to keep his firewood dry.
The Flouch rests on a four-foot gravel trench foundation and stem wall comprised of concrete rubble, known colloquially as urbanite, which was reclaimed from the demolition of an airport runway in nearby Kirksville, Missouri. Dan hired local contractors to excavate the trench for his foundation, as well as his 1400 gallon cistern. Drainage conduit was embedded with the gravel in order to channel rainwater away from the foundation and into his garden, which is rampant this time of year with gooseberries, elderberries and currants. The stem wall is about two feet thick on the north, east and west sides of the house in order to support sturdy 6 x 6 timber framing and straw bale insulation. The southern wall of the Flouch was built with a thinner stem wall and framed conventionally with 2 x 6 studs to simplify window installation.
The southern wall is insulated with light clay straw, a mix of chopped straw and clay slip that is packed into a temporary wooden frame and allowed to dry. Dan clad the interior walls in earthen plaster, a mixture of clay and sand with a little straw and cattail fiber as binders. He plastered the building’s exterior using a fresco method, which allows for deeper color saturation than the pastel-hues available with standard lime plaster techniques. Bands of bold red and yellow envelop the Flouch, contrasting with the rustic charm of delicate wooden shakes and the sculptural filigree of driftwood elements inlaid in the plaster of the south wall.
Dan installed an earthen floor on the first story of the Flouch, which he insulated with compressed light clay straw. He considers this a regrettable decision in retrospect, since he has twice had to repair cracks in the clay overlay of the floor due to unforeseen settling. Recommended alternatives are closed cell rigid foam or a gravel-like material called perlite, which has insulative thermal properties.
The second floor of the Flouch is cantilevered on the south side, affording the home several advantages relative to typical two-story buildings. First, Dan enjoys more second-story floor space per unit of foundation than would normally be possible. Second, this method of cantilevering changes the way in which the weight of the second story is balanced on the load-bearing fulcrum of the south wall, ensuring that the house is sound and sturdy without the need for an interior support post in the middle of the first story living space. Third, the cantilever shades the windows of the first story of the house so as to block out the harsh summer sun, while allowing plenty of light and passive solar heat gain in the winter when the sun is lower on the horizon. Without this cantilever design, Dan would have had to drastically extend the eaves of his roof on the southern wall of the house, which would have been costly and structurally imbalanced.
About forty percent of the south wall is comprised of glazing – this offers Dan a wide panorama of surrounding ponds and gardens, as well as the Vista de la Moo, the verdant dairy pasture owned by one of our neighbors. Dan purchased his windows at a bargain from a Quincy-based outlet that sells orphaned custom windows and factory rejects with minor cosmetic flaws. Decorative thermal curtains can be drawn down like Roman shades for privacy and to reduce winter heat loss on cloudy days.
Dan installed a metal roof in order to catch rainwater for his garden. He opted to build it at a steep pitch to reduce winter snow loads, but his fear of heights made construction a challenge. To help with this phase of building the Flouch, Dan called in Daniel Boone himself, (an instructor at a genuine clown college,) along with his partner Danielle. Together, the three Dans set about the task with the help of a temporary scaffold that balanced precariously on the roof’s apex. Daniel hanged himself on a harness from this scaffold and capered about overhead, Cirque du Soleil style, as he installed roofing panels one at a time amid the frantic outcries of Dan and Danielle, who held him aloft with a block and tackle. To learn more about Dan’s roof and his water catchment strategy, check out the video below.
The roof of the tool shed was an ideal choice of locations for Dan’s solar panel array because it is low enough to access easily for general system maintenance and seasonal panel pitch adjustments. Dan purchased his array for around $7000 – about half of his total $15,000 he investment in building the home. Four, 210 watt panels ($2300) connect to eight deep cycle lead-acid batteries ($3000) with a high end inverter ($1700). As long as the sun is shining, this array supplies Dan with sufficient energy to run a chest refrigerator, chest freezer, air conditioner and interior lighting, along with a variety of small electronics including his laptop, iPod and a wiz-bang digital temperature gauge.
Polished wood is featured throughout the interior of the Flouch, which appeals to Dan’s sense of aesthetics. The floor of the second story is sheathed in oaken strips, and is accessed by a flight of stairs with smooth maple-wood treads. Dan stores his battery bank in a closet beneath the stairs next to his humanure closet, both of which have rich, black walnut doors. His windows are trimmed with maple, and walnut-wood shelves have been inset at key places in the cob plaster of the interior. The ceiling of the first floor is masked by decorative woven bamboo mats. All wood used in the construction of the Flouch is either reclaimed, upcycled, or locally milled.
Gallery of completed home and gardens
A Waterford cast-iron stove is used to efficiently heat the home in winter; last year he only burned the equivalent of 2/3 of a cord of firewood, most of which was local construction waste. The stovepipe rises through the interior of the house to maximally harvest heat energy before smoke is exhausted outside. Dan attributes the energy efficiency of his home to effective passive solar design, which also admits ample light into the home in winter when his spirits need to be lifted while spending lots of time indoors. For an overview of the many passive solar qualities of the Flouch, take a tour with Dan in the video below.
Dan is often to be found in his kitchen making wine and a variety of cheeses, including feta and mozzarella. His kitchen is outfitted with a propane stove and full-sized lavatory, which is pressurized by a 24 volt pump connected to his cistern. Greywater flows out through the drainage conduit in the building’s foundation, after passing through a homemade grease trap made from a 50 gallon drum. (Dan is famous for his all-local tamales – check out his demonstration video at the end of the article and try his recipe for yourself!)
These days Dan occupies himself with testing experimental farming techniques designed to improve the fertility of our land. He is also engaged in online social activism through his web-comic The Whitebreads, as well as his online instructional videos, available on his YouTube channel, along with his consulting business website: Hardcore Sustainable. In addition to being an excellent cook, Dan is a talented guitarist, (I love his rendition of ‘Side of the Road’ by Lucinda Williams,) and a deadly shot at crokinole, a fun board game we learned from our Mennonite neighbors – the gameplay is similar to shuffle board.
I saw this deadly aim in effect during a recent visit with Dan at his house. We had been chatting and I was puzzled as Dan abruptly trailed off mid-sentence. In as much time as it takes to tell, Dan sprang to grab his slingshot, slid open a window and loosed a bullet with a rubbery twang. His target was a rabbit, which sat in the vegetable garden greedily nibbling away at Dan’s beloved edamame. Dan cursed the rabbit as it bounded away in a flash, unharmed. He turned to look at me with a thousand-yard-stare and began to tell me of his grim war of attrition with the long-eared rodent hoard. Suddenly, we heard a loud metallic clap. By chance, the rabbit had fled only to be ensnared by a trap obscured in the foliage of a gooseberry bush. Dan bared his teeth in a sinister grin and bade me farewell as he set out to make an example of his prisoner of war. Dreams of Dan’s delicious teriyaki rabbit filled my head on the way home – I can taste it already.
If you want to check out Dan’s house in person, consider visiting Dancing Rabbit through our annual visitor program – we still have spots available later in the year! Dan is also available for hire as a natural building consultant to aspiring builders in the tiny house movement. Contact Dan via his website to learn more!
Dan’s Classic Tamales:
1 bag corn husk tamale wrappers
3 cups organic dry corn kernels (Dan uses a mixture of Strubbes Orange Dent corn and common organic dent corn cattle feed)
1 gallon water
2 tbsp. pickling lime, (too much may cause an upset stomach)
6 oz. organic butter
1 pint canned homegrown organic sweet corn or 1 pound fresh sweet corn
salt to taste
additional water as needed
1 large non-aluminum cooking vessel
1 basket steamer
1 small sauce pan
1 large bowl
1 large spoon or ice cream scoop
Hand operated grinder or electric food processor
Step 1: Nixtamalizing and grinding the corn, (this process improves the flavor and nutritional value of the corn)
- Combine corn kernels, water and pickling lime in a large, non-aluminum cooking vessel and boil for 15 to 20 minutes
- Allow corn to steep overnight
- Drain nixtamalizing liquid and rinse corn thoroughly
- Submerge kernels in fresh water and rub them between your palms to remove skins – the skins will float in the water for easy separation
- Coarsely grind the kernels, (Dan uses a hand grinder, but you can use a food processor)
Step 2: Making the masa harina
- Melt the butter and mix with ground corn
- Season the masa to taste
- Mix and add water as needed to form a paste with a soft, cookie dough consistency
- Let the mixture sit for a few hours and add more water if necessary, (insufficient water will lead to a dry finished product)
Step 3: Preparing the tamales
- Soak corn husk wrappers in hot water until pliable
- Tear several husks into thin strips for tying
- Spoon a tennis ball-sized dollop of masa harina onto the husk, wrap it tightly and tie both ends with the strips
- Steam finished tamales for 45 minutes
- Serve tamales with piquant salsa or pico de gallo and southwestern style beans