Tiny houses are as unique as the reasons for them. When you just have 200 square feet, only the stuff that means something to you makes it into the final design.
For example, because the tiny house I’m building is only 165 square feet, I’m able to make all of the flooring from scratch (which I’ve loved doing) starting with a fallen oak tree from my childhood home. That is part of the way in which these houses challenge the status quo – they trade mass-produced for custom made. Their size helps make that practical and affordable, but that is only part of the reason people build tiny.
The average house size in the U.S. is 2,687 square feet (according to my first Google search result) and Tiny Houses probably average 1/10th of that. There are a lot of caveats to this comparison, but it still makes a statement. Tiny housers seem to say, “we don’t need all of that space and stuff to be happy.” Challenging a status symbol like the McMansion with a white picket fence is not meant to offend or downplay the shear effort required to acquire one, but it does support the rival school of thought that happiness is not measured in things. I personally don’t need 2,687 square feet to be happy, and I don’t want to make that much flooring from scratch.
By the way, it turns out there is a tree-mendous amount to know about turning a log into lumber, nevermind lumber into flooring. And also, nevermind framing, siding, roofing, insulation, electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation, cabinetry and trim. It seems like each step in building my tiny house has been a tiny crash course in one subject or another, and the best kind of crash course for me.
Learning how to build has been fantastic and building with family and friends has been even more rewarding. That may sound corny but the “construction cookout” was probably my favorite build day. Grandparents, parents, family friends, best friends and girlfriend made a fantastic joint effort to put the siding on my house last fall. It had been a while since my Grandfather had been around construction, but I started to realize how much he enjoyed it when he told me about his trusty Milwaukee circular saw.
“A saw will cut perfectly straight without a guide,” he said. “If you want a straight cut, don’t force the saw, let it do the cutting. Just be patient, most people don’t understand that.”
I had fully intended on making burgers and other typical grill food that day, but we were so busy building that I just ordered pizza. Maybe pizza doesn’t count as a cookout, but I like the alliteration so I’m still going to call it a construction cookout.
My dad has put in countless hours helping me with this thing too. He might have as much time invested in building and thinking about the design as I do. And I never asked or planned for that. He has been one of the driving forces behind this project, and his support means more to me than the house ever could.
So, it’s been great, but why am I building a tiny house to start with? Well first you should understand something about me. I’m not a carpenter or a plumber or anything as cool as that, but what really makes me tick is the desire to make things. I want to build stuff. Pretty much anything. Always have, always will. That desire doesn’t fit well into a standard job description so I will spare you the details and say my day job is science related. What you should know about me is that I didn’t have any house-building experience when I started this, and I am so glad that didn’t stop me from building something I was excited about (because it easily could have).
Even making it this far into the build has given me tremendous confidence, and that helps motivate me through the less exciting parts of the build (and it doesn’t hurt to have an awesome dad willing to endure “cut-and-cobble” insulating). Raw discipline has been key to pushing through the stuff that feels a lot like work, and I’ve learned a ton about managing my time, staying organized and how to stay balanced and not ignore my friends in favor of my projects. Life lessons and all that.
I guess I didn’t know specifically what life lessons and practical skills I was going to learn when I started, but I did know I was going to learn something. Part of the appeal of this project was that it was so big (still a tiny house) and somewhat unclear. When I started two years ago, my intention was to live in the house full time, saving money on rent for a few years to cover the cost of the house and put something in the bank. With that, I was then going to buy a dream property and build the dream house from scratch, all thanks to the tiny house.
Since then, my dreams have grown to include another person and I’ve realized how big of a step it is to go from dream property to dream house. My crash course in house building has taught me how much I don’t know about house building. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to build my own house, but it has to be in a way that doesn’t consume all of my time and money, which means I need more time to prepare for that next step. The second half of that sentence comes straight from the “life lessons and all that” I mentioned earlier, and is one of the most valuable unknowns I knew I was going to learn when I started building this thing.
Moral of the story is that you should do something if you are excited about it. It doesn’t have to be a tiny house, and it doesn’t have to be building something. It also doesn’t have to be risky (I didn’t quit my job or drop out of school to build this tiny house or write this article), but bite off more than you can chew, and find the discipline and support to chew it anyway. You will be rewarded in ways you can’t expect, and ready for whatever comes next.