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?



  1. Interesting concepts here. You are right. No one lives in one place forever. I like the tiny idea. But I agree, climbing into the loft every night might get cumbersome ...I'm already 59! :)

  2. I appreciate the answers to those questions because not as many sites can have so much feed back on issues that many tiny home owners cannot answer. Thanks for the post

  3. Cupcakes and unicorns, I love it. Good for you to have such steady answers to the (sometimes nosy) questions people have. I'm about to move into around 320 square feet with my boyfriend and I have this weird idea it's going to be better for our relationship than living in a house. Time will tell!

  4. When I saw your house on Tiny House Giant Journey's channel, I wondered about the food. And still wonder a little even after reading. Are you guys relatively close to a decent grocery store? I know that if you can buy food every three to four days, you don't need to worry about a frige/freezer. But you seem pretty isolated. Maybe looks are deceiving. ;)

    RE tiny house vs. travel trailer: no competition. We lived in a travel trailer (DH and I, along with young DS) for a couple of months, and those things are NOT built for long-term living. Bldg a tiny house allows you to design it as a permanent house.

    Not that we've done it; we are currently living in a 16X12 finished-out Tuff Shed. But it is worlds better than living in a travel trailer, IMHO.

    1. Emily - that's a great question.

      We are actually surprisingly close to a major grocery store. We are also use to several farmers markets. So we make sure we have non-parishable staples from the store on hand (like rice and pasta) and buy produce, eggs, and meats from the farmers market. We eat meats the same day we but them and make meals out of everthing else we buy the rest of the week.


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