Guest Post by Jerry Hambley
In 2004, my wife and I decided to purchase 20 acres in rural Kansas about 45 minutes away from our suburban home in Overland Park, Kansas. With a daughter close to graduating from high school, we thought the best way to transition to the country might be to build a small cottage that would serve as my home office. I sat down and made a list of requirements for the office and decided it might be wise to add a small kitchenette and second floor sleeping loft just in case we wanted to spend the weekends at the farm.
After a good deal of research, I settled on a set of plans called the “Weekend Warrior” by Robinson Residential. Using those plans as a guide, I expanded the footprint of the cottage by three feet and added a full second floor sleeping loft.
Having just built a small pond on the front side of our property, we decided to set the cottage about fifteen feet from its edge. This would provide an excellent view of the wildlife while maximizing passive solar gain as well. The final grade for the cottage would be about three feet higher than the surrounding grade to allow for proper drainage. We then poured a 16ft x 28ft concrete slab as the foundation for our little building.
We chose to frame the cottage using 2 x 6 wooden studs as this would allow for additional insulation in the exterior walls. We caulked and sealed the base plates and any exterior openings and then had wet-sprayed cellulose insulation blown into the wall and attic cavities. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspaper, cardboard, and cotton which has been treated with boric acid as a fire retardant. The exterior of the cottage was finished using lap siding by SmartSide which is warranted against rot for 25 years.
We had been purchasing high quality Pella windows from our local home improvement stores “returned window” section several months before construction started. These were windows that had been custom ordered and for whatever reason either not picked up or were the wrong size. This saved us a huge amount of money and allowed us to have the highest quality windows for a fraction of the normal retail price. To increase energy efficiency, we minimized the glass on the west and north sides of the cottage. Small awning windows set high on the north wall of the cottage allowed for cross ventilation and natural lighting while at the same time conserving valuable interior wall space. The large twin patio doors on the east side of the cottage made for easy access to the covered deck and opened the small footprint to the outdoors.
The first floor of the cottage contains the dining area, kitchenette, pantry closest, bathroom, and bedroom. Accessed by a set of ladder stairs, the second floor loft is one large open area with nine foot ceilings. Two skylights help keep the area filled with light and provide excellent summertime ventilation. A small utility closet on the second floor contains the hot water tank and HVAC system.
We chose to keep the interior finish of the cottage very simple. We painted the concrete floor and used cedar boards to trim the windows and doors. The doors are all painted a cinnamon red which adds to the playful nature of the design. We even built a treehouse-like windup bucket that the kids use to haul up snacks and drinks. The kitchenette has a full size sink, and several maple kitchen cabinets. A cabinet mounted microwave, large toaster oven, full size refrigerator and chest freezer, all allow us to easily store and prepare meals. The use of an electric fry pan replaces what dishes would normally be cooked on a stove top. In addition to the small number of kitchen cabinets, a small pantry closet, roll around stainless steel cabinets provide loads of storage.
The bathroom includes a corner style shower with full size pedestal sink and toilet.
The downstairs bedroom measures approximately 12ft x 12ft and has a small closet.
As it turned out, we had to delay building our permanent house, so we decided to move our family of four into the cottage. At approximately 800 square feet, it’s less than 2,000 square feet smaller than our city home, but we were amazed how well it functioned. Since we never intended to live in this little house for extended periods of time, we didn’t include a laundry room. In hindsight, I should have added a small closet that could have been used for a stackable washer/dryer unit. Other than that however, the cottage functions very well and I can’t think of anything else I would change.
People are always shocked when we tell them where we live. Such a small home set on 20 acres does resemble a kid’s playhouse but we assure them we do in fact live quite comfortably in our “Little House on the Prairie”.
Year built: 2006
Land: 20 acres
Construction: Wood framing on concrete slab foundation
Size: 16 ft x 28 ft, approximately 800 square feet of living area including second floor loft
Utilities: All electric (with whole-house backup generator), rural water, septic system
Cost: Owner built for approximately $50,000 not including the land
Robinson Residential: http://www.robinsonplans.com
Pella Windows & Doors: http://www.pella.com
Sherwin Willams: http://www.sherwin-williams.com
Cellulose Insulation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose_insulation
Generac Power Systems: http://www.generac.com