It's been about 9 years ago, that I started dreaming about wooden tiny houses. About a year later, I was the proud owner of a construction container, that I turned into a cozy little tiny house experiment. Now, all those years later, I finally arrived at my next step of living small.
Tiny House Diaries – The Foundation
Tiny Houses in Portland
While I dove into the scene, I learned that some definitions are more strict than others. A “Tiny House” to a lot of people is not just a very small house, but specifically a small house on wheels. Others just use it for all kinds of very small houses, even tiny appartements. The Tiny House Movement is not just about choosing the size of your home, it’s also (at least most of the time) a social statement. It’s about questioning the current house sizes and all that it entails, simplifying your life, getting out of (or as a precaution not to get in) debt, being able to move without having to give up your house, and probably many more other reasons. But even though everyone has a different reason for joining the Tiny House Community, it still feels like a bonding aspect that really forms a global (sub)community. This inspired me to look a little closer at the Tiny House Communities in Europe, which merits a separate blog post 🙂
During my trip I was able to visit the Portland Tiny House Hotel “Caravan “, which is actually just an old parking lot with currently 6 Tiny Houses arranged in a circle and a small communal area with a fireplace in the middle. Even though it’s not especially cheap to spend a night in one of the houses, it is a great (and relatively cheap) opportunity to try out living in one of them, and maybe even finding out some details of what you really need or don’t need in your own Tiny House.
At the Tiny House Hotel tour I met a Portland resident living in a Tiny House named Lilypad . She was very gracious and showed me her tiny magical amazing universe. It is relatively unusual compared to most of the other Tiny Houses I know, because it has two lofts, both accessible by stairs (not with a ladder). She really created a space with 5 different areas that feel like rooms, making it feel a lot more spacious. The thing that made all the difference was the roof, that was high on one side and a little curved on the other. Having that instead of a gable gives you about twice the headroom (to the sides) in the lofts.
A lot is said about why going Tiny is great, some voices are already countering it. For me, it always depends on your goal. What are you willing to give up? What are you longing to gain? It’s a very vital part of going tiny that should be asked in the beginning. But I believe if those balance each other out, you’re good to go. How about you? What do you think is the most important question to ask when going Tiny?
It’s party time!
Over the years I spent some time with project lifecycles and especially systems like the one in Dragon Dreaming and the natural cycles of the medicine wheel resonated with me. Within Dragon Dreaming, there are four recurring phases in the cycle:
The last one – Celebrating – is looking back on what you have accomplished, reviewing your actions, maybe naming all the things that you could have done and will do better next time, and especially celebrating. This is a vital part of finishing a project that is overlooked a lot of times in our society.
I almost forgot about that important last step (of the first cycle) of my project, but since I had told so many people who were interested about my home that there will be a party, I felt the need to actually do it, not being aware of how important it would be for me. It was a great party and with it I was able to really enjoy, celebrate and be proud of what I had created. Only during the celebration did I realize how important celebrating and really appreciating your accomplishment is.
Tiny House update – kitchen – bathroom – I’m finished!!
For the kitchen I wanted to have at least a small area where I could cut or otherwise temporarily place ingredients, etc. I had a few different ideas of accomplishing it, most of them needing a lot of building material and time and energy, because I would build most of the rack myself. While thinking about how to get the wood for building it and how this could actually be created, I had an idea that was so much easier. I didn’t have to build anything, just put an existing cupboard, an IKEA rack and some small trays together, and voilà. That’s how it looks now:
My electric stove + oven I put on a rolling cupboard, so that normally when I only use one burner, I can use it as is, and if I need the second burner or the oven, I can slide out the cupboard and use the full range of the appliance.
For my sink-system I’m still looking for a nice glass container with a tap to put the water in, but sadly it’s not that easy to come by in Austria. Also I want to have a curtain or something to hide the mess below the sink. But since that’s all just in the category of “pretty”, it wasn’t that important to me for now.
The last part that was missing for my understanding of the house being finished was the bathroom. The composting toilet was already finished a long time ago, but since I don’t have curtains I always felt a little exposed when using it. Also I wanted to try out having a shower as well (even though this wasn’t a must). So first I built a wall on the side that the shower should be:
I wanted an additional wall and not a curtain, because then I would have more vertical space to maybe hang something (pictures, mirror, etc.). Sadly I don’t have a final picture of the shower, but the way I implemented it was with a storage box (60×80 cm) – because I couldn’t find a shower tray that size – and another solar shower bag that was on a lifting block so that I can let it down when I have to add water to the bag and lift it up to get the slope for the water to poor down. All of that is securely wrapped with a shower curtain. So if I take a shower, I only have as much water as is in the solar shower bag and it all has to fit in the makeshift showertray that I have to empty at the end of the shower. Luckily the tray at least has tiny wheels on the bottom ;-). To give you an idea of where I put the shower, here is a picture of the first step:
To finish the bathroom, I put up a curtain for the “door”, and I already have a small mirror! Voilà:
That’s it! Finished!! I haven’t gotten around taking a good picture of the whole finished interior, but that will come soon 😉
(almost) running water
This was the enamel sink I found on the internet months ago and fell in love right away. perfect size (38×40 cm), perfect weight, and most importantly: exactly the style that I was looking for. I didn’t want plastic because that’s just cheap, doesn’t look good and … well I don’t really have to list all the reasons why this just isn’t an option. Ceramic would have been okay, but it’s extremely heavy and didn’t fit into my tiny house stylistically. Metal wouldn’t have been perfect, but was the only other option I could live with, but luckily didn’t have to. The funny thing is, that the sink wasn’t only perfect for all the reasons I already mentionned, but it was also the cheapest option, because the guy selling it had a few of them and didn’t know what to do with it.
So for the rack… I didn’t want to build the whole rack myself, because I was a little insecure about the stability of the thing, so I used an IVAR rack (from IKEA) that was 50 cm wide and 180cm high for the back that was going to be by the wall, and another one that was only about 80cm high for the front. Since 80 is a little low for the sink, I added some height by tinkering, built a frame for the sink to sit on, and screwed everything tight.
For the water storage I found a solar shower bag with a tap that I just hung on the IVAR rack, put a bucket below, and now I have the luxury of running water! It’s amazing how seemingly little things can make such a big difference and produce so much excitement for me! I’m still looking for a prettier water container (maybe out of glass), but for now it’ll definitely do.
It’s all down the drain… or is it?
So what’s the difference between the good old outhouse and a composting toilet?
The outhouse was – as the name suggests – outside, so the problem of it being smelly didn’t really exist or at least wasn’t a focus. You just dug a hole, put a “house” over it and used it until it was full. In the early days they probably just dug a different hole at some other place. Later on it was emptied regularly.
The composting toilet is in some ways not that different, but the focus and intent is. For example one of the main goals is to conserve water, and by extension not water down the excrements so that they cannot be used for anything other than be treated in a plant with a high input of energy. To go even further, the idea is to create/close cycles in nature. So by composting your excrements, it is – with time – converted into valuable soil that can be used to grow food again.
That is probably the part that worries the most people: “But diseases can be transmitted and all kinds of stuff…” – Well, I can only rely the information that I found during my research, but it all depends on the time and quality of the composting process. I would probably still not use it for my vegetables but for bushes and trees instead, but that’s only because I didn’t go into the nitty gritty science of that topic (yet).
If that’s the part that worries you, there is always the possibility to just collect it in a (thick and preferrably not see-through) bag and throw it in the trash. With this solution, no natural cycles were closed, but at least the other goals that I mentioned can be achieved.
I also briefly mentioned the smell before… well, I read in a few articles, that a big part of the smell comes from the combination of urine with excrements. I did a small field test about a year ago and did notice a big difference. Having said this, I also feel the need to mention, that even though it does smell a lot less, it still smells. So it is imperative to always close the lid and preferrably have a way to ventilate the area of collection.
To achive this separation of urine and excrements, I used a special toilet seat produced by a company called “Separett” that offers all kinds of different non-water toilet solutions. From a very simple toilet seat like I used to a high-tech composting toilet.
In my first few weeks of usage, what surprised me the most, is the ratio between urine and excrement. I do need to empty my urine bucket almost every other day, whereas the excrement-bucket is still only half full after a few weeks. In the beginning, the smell was not really detectable, but now after about 3 weeks it seems to be time to clear out (even though it’s still not too bad). And I don’t have any ventilation yet!
Does anyone of you have different experiences? I’d love to read about them.
Move your ass!
Well, “need” is defined a little different by each person at each point in time. But since I experienced that being too radical or fast in certain steps of a transformation can turn me off the path completely, I did “allow” myself to stretch the meaning of “need”.
For the moment I moved some clothes, some utensils for the kitchen, towels, and – what I found surprising – mostly books! I did get rid of some of them, and others are still in a box (marked: read at least once but can’t get rid of yet), but at least a third (if not more) of what I moved to my tiny house were books! I can’t (and won’t) say if that’s good or bad, but it was just surprising to me.
I don’t have everything in there yet that I might need at some point, but the first step to living in my tiny house is more or less completed. I didn’t really clean up or prettify it for the pictures (like a lot of tiny house pictures are), since I do actually live in there, but just to give you an idea of how it looks inside at the moment:
There is obviously a lot still to be done (fix the door-curtain, get a bathroom wall, get a more permanent sink, get a kitchen that looks more in order and more like a kitchen etc. but it’s a start! So what do you think?
Winter is coming…
I do like the motto of the Stark family in the Game of Thrones books, and I do like winter, but the season have been in transformation for some time now. This year, winter seems to be especially undecided. At christmas it had +15°C, only a few days later it was below 0 and looked like this:
Only a week after that, it was sunny and warm again.
I read a while back in a book called “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” (by James Lovelock) that the climate change will result in extremes. I guess that means that not only are spring and fall cut short, but also during the seasons the temperature changes rapidly and unpredictably in any direction. No adaptation periods. I can only guess, but this can’t be good for neither plants, animals or any other living creature. Well, we’ll see what’s to come when it’s here… What did you notice about the weather and climate in your area?
I found some leftover wood in the attic so I started to build my wooden box for the toilet. The separating toilet seat I had already ordered and received months ago from Separett .
So I started to build the box for the toilet. I’m sure that any carpenter would be horrified by the way I did it, but being pretty or doing it the “correct” way was not high on my list of priorities. I just wanted it to be stable and do the job. First, I built the frame.
After that, I just screwed on the leftover wooden plates on all sides but the top. I thought about building one side to be like a door, but then decided against it (out of laziness probably) and try it with just the hole on top.
The tricky part was the hole for the ventilation shaft and the hole for the toilet seat. I didn’t want the seat to be moving around on top, but couldn’t make the hole too small because – since I didn’t build a door on the side – the bucket needed to fit through there. So it’s not especially pretty, but it should do the job.
And that’s how it looked in the end:
I’ll let you know how it’s working out in a while…