Friday, May 1, 2015

More Frequently Asked Questions

I recently returned from Portland, Oregon where I participated in the 2015 Tiny House Conference. Matt and I spoke on basic building and off-grid living while we networked with other tiny house builders, bloggers, and attendees of the conference.

One of the best things about events like are the questions. Everyone is genuinely excited about the subject and wants to know answers to their most pressing questions. We got a lot of thoughtful questions from both our scheduled talks and simply chatting with people throughout the weekend.

While I do have an FAQ page located at the top of this site, I thought I might address some of the newest questions here on the blog.

So, without further ado...

Our view
Why did you decide to build on a mountain, on a foundation, without a road?

In this case it is kind of a chicken or the egg argument. Our search for land came long before we knew what we wanted to build. We were looking for land in the mountains near Asheville and all we knew is that we wanted to build something on it. We also knew we wanted to experiment with off-grid living so we wanted raw land that might have been considered unbuildable or undesirable to traditional builders. Which led us to finding the land we now call Mt. Matt. It is on the north side of the mountain and incredibly sloped. It also doesn't have the best mountain views unless you cut down a lot of trees. Though, we know exactly where on our land to find them.

We bought the land in 2007 but didn't start building until 2009 when we discovered tiny houses. The size of the house gave us confidence that we could build it ourselves. It also meant it could go on a part of the land that wasn't level since we would build it on a post and pier shed foundation. There was a perfect clearing about half way up the mountain but we really wanted the house in that spot. If we hadn't found tiny houses or decided to go a different route, this blog might not exist today and we wouldn't be a part of the amazing tiny house community. You just never know what opportunities you will find in life.

We decided that we neither wanted to add a road nor level the area because it was more important to us to preserve the natural state of the mountain.  We didn't want to cut trees down or destroy the natural landscape with the equipment it would take to create a road or level the space for the house.

We also chose not to build on a trailer because we knew we wanted the house tucked into this spot on the mountain and there is no way to pull a trailer up to it without a road.We never planned on building a house on a trailer because it was the land that was the most important part to us, not the specific house.

Why don't you have a refrigerator? How do you store food? 

Our philosophy for designing our off-grid systems was to lean heavily on the side of conservation. A refrigerator take a lot of energy to power so we decided to see if we could live without it. A lot of our experience revolves around our desire to see how comfortable we could live with as few of the modern conveniences that we had always taken for granted. It was an experiment that worked out very well. We always figured we could add these things if we found we needed them. We didn't. 

Before moving into the tiny house we found that our refrigerator was mostly full of half used condiments. We also learned that there are lots of things we automatically refrigerate as a culture that don't need to be kept cold. For example, farm fresh eggs can last for a week or so at room temperature. So we plan our meals around the things we need to eat. If we buy meat at the farmer's market we eat it the same day. Root vegetables can last for a while. We also keep staples on hand like rice and pasta so we can put together meals on the fly.

We store most of our food in our cabinets. We do have an efficient cooler that runs on a technology called a Stirling Engine. Unfortunately they are no longer produced. We only turn it on when we need it, and usually that is to keep beer cold.

Where do you do laundry? 

This answer was better before February of this year. We use to go to a local laundromat that was also a bar. I even worked there for about a year. Unfortunately, due to a number of circumstances, the Bar of Soap is now closed. We are still on the look out for a better-than-average laundromat to replace it. The struggle is real! 

Why did you decide on a tiny house rather than a travel trailer? 

Almost everywhere we go someone asks us why we would build a tiny house rather than buy a travel trailer. There is no easy answer to this question and no right or wrong answers.

In our case we wanted to build a tiny house to have the experience of building a home with our own hands. We could have chosen any building project, but this is the one that resonated with us the most. We also wanted it to be in a fixed location. Without a road up our mountain a travel trailer simply wouldn't be practical. In our case, travel with the house was not our concern.

Travel trailers also don't have the best reputation when it comes to their building materials. Walls are thin and they are usually not insulated well enough to be considered year round dwellings. That being said, there are definitely people for whom a travel trailer makes sense including many of our friends. We love that they are on adventures in their moving homes.

How long did it take you to build? 

Short answer: way too long. Long answer: 3 years but with some caveats. We built our house in a fixed location 3 hours from where we were living at the time. We were also both working full time corporate jobs. So building had to take place on weekends and over the occasional vacation time.

For weekends we would drive up to Asheville from Atlanta after I got home from work on Friday nights and with Atlanta traffic that sometimes took far longer than the 3 hours it was supposed to be. We would then be able to work all day on Saturday and part of the day on Sunday before we had to clean up and drive home.

Your mileage will likely vary. If you're building on wheels you might have a lot more flexibility.

How much did your tiny house cost? 

All total our tiny house cost us $20,000. This cost included all of the tools, all of the materials, and all of the mistakes. 

If we did it again, now that we know what we're doing and have the tools, we estimate that we could build the exact same house for around $10,000 to $12,000. We don't plan on doing that, but we do have ideas for other building projects on our mountain.

Again, there is no right answer for how much a tiny house should cost. It will depend on a lot of factors. Professionally built tiny homes will also include labor, which DIY builders don't usually factor into the cost.

How much did your off-grid systems cost? 

Our solar power system cost us about $2000. The only other real cost was our Berkey Water Filter which I believe was around $300. Otherwise we have some consumables that we use such as propane and butane but that cost is honestly negligible. I think $20 a month is a high estimate.

In the middle of all this, we went to South Africa.
How did the building process affect your relationship? 

We always get asked about how we can live in the tiny house together and not kill each other. Recently, I was asked the question in a different way.

Did the building process affect our relationship at all?

In our case we had already been together over 10 years by the time we started thinking about building a tiny house. Of course it wasn't always cupcakes and unicorns but I don't think it ever got past a point of no return. We were both interested in this project and we were both invested in it working.

How did your family and friends feel about this tiny house thing? 

Piggy backing on that question, someone asked how friends and family felt about it. Like I said, Matt and I had already been together a long time and we were pretty well known among our friends and family as being a little....unusual...with our ideas. So, when we said we wanted to build a tiny house I don't think anyone was the least bit surprised. It was just one more weird thing in a long list of weird things that we already did.

We had a lot of support along the way. We would often host building parties and gatherings on Mt. Matt.

How did you choose the plans? 

When we discovered tiny houses in 2009 there were very few resources available. One of the only companies selling plans was Tumbleweed Tiny House Company as started by Jay Shafer. We looked at some cheap shed plan books from Backwoods Magazine but decided we wanted a little more guidance since this was our first time building anything and Jay's plans came with some one-on-one conversation time, which proved invaluable.

People interested in building tiny houses today have so many more choices and there are even really accessible tools to designing you own house to suit your needs.

Will you always live in the tiny house? 

After living a two-story house since 1976, my parents sold it and bought a more accessible one-story condo in 2014. When people ask me if I plan to live in my tiny house I usually turn it back around. Not everyone will live in the same home forever. I want to live in it for as long as possible but the reality is that some day we won't be able to climb the mountain or get up to the loft. We have ideas for the future but for now we want to stay in and enjoy the tiny house for as long as we can. I only just turned 40 so I hope I have a few good years left in me!

What questions do you have about our experience?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tiny House Conference Updates

Hey All!

Greetings from the tiny house conference!

I just wanted to remind you that I'm posting updates throughout the conference over on my Facebook page. Be sure to follow for photos and a behind the scenes look.

Monday, April 13, 2015

We Have Scienced - Now On To Portland

On Friday, the folks at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, North Carolina, got a taste of the "Tiny House Bump."

Tiny houses are popular. And no, you will never hear me refer to them as "the next big thing." Because they are popular, when non-tiny house programming brings the topic of tiny houses to the table, it is exceptionally well received. The turn out for our talk at the Science Cafe on Friday, April 10th, was fantastic.

The event featured snacks and beverages as well as some games. We played Tiny House Trivia, which was really environmental trivia, and built buildings out of marshmallows. Then Matt and I presented a slideshow of our tiny house that included the philosophy of tiny house living, the environmental impact, and some basics on building.

We had a fantastic time and would like to thank Sara and the team at the Schiele Museum for putting the Science Cafe programming together.

Our next adventure is Portland Oregon for the 2015 Tiny House Conference. We leave on Thursday. Our first night, we are staying at the Tiny House Hotel and are super excited about that. Then, on Friday, we convene with the other tiny house folks and speakers and get this party started right!

Stay tuned for more about the Tiny House Conference and our adventures in Portland. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Three Years Ago Today

Photo from April 2012 right before we moved.
From my Google+ Page on April 2nd, 2012:
My anxiety use to just come up when I was in bed at night. Now, I am sitting at my desk feeling like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. I am trying to act natural. I pull the trigger in about two and a half hours.
Actually quitting my job was simultaneously one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done. I couldn't control the shaking when I handed in my resignation letter. My voice cracked. I did it. Then I went to the bar.  
I feel so relieved. There have been many things I haven't been able to share with the world, and now I can.

I gave my notice to my employer of 8 years. My boss was extremely awesome and I might be able to work out some part time remote work for them as well, which will help the transition a bit until I build up more freelance business.

I gave 5 weeks notice, because I am loyal to the company. My last day is May 5th and we'll move into the Tiny House by May 17th (that is the last day of our lease so we have to be out one way or another by then).

"Tiny House?" you say. Yes, you read that right. My partner Matt and I will be moving into the 120 square foot house that we spent the last three years building by hand - pretty much just the two of us. Oh, our crazy little cat will be coming with u too. You can read all the adventures that led up to this at my blog. And I'll be posting regular updates as the construction of 120 Square Feet turns into "Living in 120 Square Feet".
I had been sharing small things on Google+ because it was more private and less populated than Facebook. Only my very close friends and family knew that we were planing on moving into the tiny house full time. On April 3rd, after giving my notice, I posted the following:
I had expected the worst, but my experience was quite the opposite. I am really glad that my co-workers of 8 years are actually happy for me rather than being upset because I am changing their world as well. I mean, they are sad that I am going but not angry about it.

Moving into a 120 Square foot house will be a huge change for us. But we have never stayed in one place for that long. When we moved to Georgia 9 years ago we had no idea what to expect. We made a lot of great friends and really liked the city, but we got complacent. We commuted to our jobs and worked all day and came home. We had personal lives relegated to weekends and evenings and 15 PTO days per year. We are taking back our control of our own lives. There was no use in waiting any more.

Speaking of - if you know anyone looking for a freelance writer/blogger - send them my way!

I will be regularly updating my blog. Matt went up to Asheville this weekend to get some things finished (you know, like the bathroom) before we move in. I will be spending time this week getting some things in the apartment organized to either be donated or put into storage or moved up to Asheville. (Or just thrown away! It is amazing how much junk two people can collect in one apartment in just two years!)
Of course things didn't go exactly as I had described. I never did remote work for my former employer. Ultimately, I'm glad about that. It forced me to push harder to get freelance work right out the gate. I've never spoken to any of them again which I find kind of surprising, but it is what it is.

Overall, the experience of moving into the tiny house, and specifically to Asheville, has been the greatest change in our lives. We found a community where we feel like we truly belong and we want to make a difference here.

I quit, and it was the single greatest decision I made in my entire life. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Am I Lucky?

I've seen this graphic shared a few times over the last few days. It resonated with me a great deal. I spent far too long trying to shoehorn myself into a life that was practical but not very nourishing and I suffered for it.

So, because this graphic reminded me of my own experience I shared it on my social media. Of course, various friends commented on it but one comment was particularly concerning.

"It needs one more circle. You're lucky."

And I would argue, luck has very little to do with it. 

Since I started this blog I came to realize my own life philosophy was rooted in Deliberate Living, an idea I co-opted from Thoreau. The premise is that you can't just let life happen to you, you need to make deliberate choices - whatever those choices are - to live the life that fulfills you.

I have worked extremely hard since 2009 to get to the point in my life where I am today. There were literally blood, sweat, and tears spent in the building of the tiny house. The tiny house gave me the confidence to quit my day job and start working for myself in 2012. I spend the next three years building my business through a combination of marketing, hard work, and sheer will power. Today I make a comfortable living and love the work I do every day.

I was not lucky. 

Saying I was lucky minimizes all of the work I put into what I have built over these years. It suggests that I was merely in the right place at the right time and doesn't account for much more. To say I was lucky allows others to believe in their own excuses and not make whatever life changes they need to do what they've always wanted to do.

I would say I am fortunate, but I don't believe that luck and fortune are the same thing.

Fortune is when you have something to do with it.  

I can't tell anyone else how to live their life. All I can do is share my experience. And when I was only focused on "you are paid for it" with a little "your are great at it" (profession) I was slowly dying inside. While it was good to be able to pay bills, I had to realize that those bills were self-imposed and what I needed was a catalyst to propel me toward the middle of this diagram. And I think everyone is capable of it - it isn't just about being lucky. You can create your own fortune.

So - what would you do if you could do anything?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Life in 120 Square Feet!

5 years ago today, on St. Patrick's Day, I started this tiny house blog. 

Before that, I had been sharing our build progress over on LiveJournal. (I think that might show my age!) The only place you could see photos was on my Flickr page (now a link at the top of this page.)

But then in early 2010 a little blog called The Tiny Life shared some photos and a small piece of our story. Suddenly I had other people - people I didn't even know - asking me about my build.

March of 2010 was still pretty early in what is now the Tiny House Movement. People knew Jay Shafer and Dee Williams but there weren't very many online resources about how to build a tiny house or stories of average DIY builders who did it themselves. The few that were out there were huge resources for us so I figured it might be a good idea to share my story as well.

And so I wrote this:
If you're just tuning in, my husband Matt and I are building a Tarleton, designed by Jay Shafer.  It really all started a few years ago.  Matt has always been interested in building and especially sustainable or self sufficient building.  We spent time researching other types of alternative building including Cordwood Masonry and Earthships.  Then one day our friend Nicole told us that she saw this guy on Oprah who built a tiny house on a trailer.  And our love of the Tumbleweed Tiny House began.  We had the pleasure of meeting Jay Shafer at a workshop in Asheville about a year and a half ago and after talking with him about the building and our ideas we knew the house was for us. We bought plans for the Tarleton and got to work on the 15 acres we owned in Western North Carolina.  You may see that we named our mountain after my husband. [Mt. Matt]  He is a funny, funny guy. 
I can't believe it has been 5 years since I started this blog and 6 years since we began building. I am so grateful and fortunate for every opportunity this journey has given us.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Conferences A-GoGo

I am super excited about the upcoming Tiny House Conference.

Matt and I spoke at the first event in Charlotte last April. It was pretty amazing. We got to meet some great people we had only previously known online. We camped in the cold along with Drew Odom and his dad.

That is actually the back of Matt as he talks to Teal Brown

We spoke on two topics at the conference: Building Basics and Off Grid Living. We're excited to bring both of those talks back to the Portland event.

Right before we leave for Portland we'll be in Gastonia, NC speaking at the Schiele Science Cafe. I've been to similar events in Atlanta and am looking forward to that as well.

Matt and I enjoy telling our story. We believe that sharing our motivations, the process, and the results are an important part of the Tiny House process. We want others who may be considering such a bold move to understand that it is completely doable, even as a beginner like we were. We also feel that the message is important even for people who may not want to live tiny. We believe that Deliberate Living is a philosophy, not a type of building. We truly believe in what we're doing and want others to live as fully as possible as well.

Speaking of conferences, I am also participating in a big conference in October. It has nothing to do with Tiny Houses, but my involvement wouldn't have been possible without our journey. A couple of years ago I began blogging for The NotMom, a website for women without children. I am childfree by choice and as I began looking for freelance writing jobs I came across quite a few companies looking for Mommy bloggers. I wasn't upset by the existence of mommy blogs, but wondering if there was an audience for women without children as well. Serendipitously, I discovered The NotMom and began working with them. And out of that, I am helping the founder develop the first ever NotMom Summit which will be in Cleveland, OH October 9th and 10th. I've always wanted to help organize a conference and without the steps I took to become a freelancer, including building a tiny house, it wouldn't have been possible.