Natalie built a tiny cabin for $5k, then over time, added on as her family grew. It’s a wonderful example of how a tiny home, especially if built in a permanent location, can evolve with you as your needs change. Impressively, this DIY house showcases thoughtful small space design ideas, passive solar techniques, and permaculture principles.
Natalie shares her thoughts on why you should consider a not-so tiny home:
“So tiny living is awesome, and it’s not for everybody. I know a lot of people who choose to live tiny, and it lasts for a year and a half, maybe two or three years. And so something I definitely encourage is thinking about the not-so-tiny house. Tiny houses are typically under 400 square feet. I think 400 to 800 square feet range is a place where both single people and familial units can function for a much more sustainable amount of time than trying to cram everything into a tiny space. And I think a lot of the same instincts and principles are at work. Oh, I want to have a low ecological footprint. I think I’ll go tiny. And I think that’s a great idea, but it also is the same for if you go not-so-tiny, and it’s probably going to last longer for you.”
From Tiny Cabin to a Not-So Tiny Home
Over 5 years ago, Natalie started building her tiny cabin. At that time, she used numerous salvaged or reclaimed materials. As you might imagine, that was partially an ecological impulse, but it also helped her achieve big savings. The original build cost was mind-blowingly less than $5,000. Over time as she had more available funds, she added to her not-so tiny home.
Originally, Natalie built a 12′ by 16′ tiny cabin with two stories. It came to just under 400 square feet. In preparation for her daughter’s birth, she closed in her timber-framed covered porch—8.5-feet by 22 feet. Lastly, she added a 12-foot by 12-foot bedroom for her young girl. That brought her total indoor living space to 750 square feet. Interestingly, she used a combination of construction methods for the various parts of her house. This includes saddle-notched round log cabin with traditional chinking, stick frame, board and bat with rough sawn lumber, classic lime plaster with wooden lack techniques, and light straw clay.
Because her home is permanently located on a hillside, Natalie strategically positioned it for maximum sun exposure for heating. There are a few ways she maximized throughout the interior. In her kitchen, for example, she has a large soapstone windowsill with southern exposure. The stone radiates heat back into the room. In the winter, that thermal mass is really important for keeping her space warm.
Wool Insulation Problems
Unfortunately, Natalie recently discovered a major problem with her upstairs wool insulation. When she purchased it, the company told her that it would not be eaten by bugs because it was impregnated by Borax. But unfortunately, nine years later, she discovered that was not the case.
“So instead of tearing out the insulation from the inside, which is what one normally would do, I didn’t want to do that because I loved the interior details and finished work that I had done. And so I decided instead to pull it out from the outside.
So we pulled off the siding, pulled out the wool, sprayed it all with boric air, put the insulation back in, and then this is the sheathing. And I’m going to be doing probably shingles up here.”
Her Not-So Tiny Home at Wild Abundance
Natalie has now also added a rooftop greenhouse accessed via her tiny cabin back deck. It’s placed on top of the communal Wild Abundance school building. Now, she can quickly walk from her kitchen to harvest her winter greens. They can be watered using her nearby rainwater catchment holding tank too! Yet another great permaculture design choice in Natalie’s tiny cabin: you want to put the things that you’re using a lot close to your hearth, close to your home.
As the director of Wild Abundance, Natalie teaches others how to build their own just-right home. It’s a school that offers online and in-person carpentry, Earthskills, gardening, and homesteading classes at its Western North Carolina campus.
“I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of people at this point how to build small homes and how to use basic power tools through women’s carpentry classes, and it just makes me feel really good inside. Most of our students are women, and to create a space to help these women transform from being scared of power tools and feeling really disempowered about anything that has to do with building, and seeing them come through the other end of our classes– whether it’s a four-day class or whether it’s a 12-day class or whether it’s our online classes– and see the transformation of how they then are empowered and can build stuff and feel competent and able to talk about building and just more competent and confident in their lives in general, and it feels really magical.”