One Year Into Living Tiny | Written by Ross Bailey
Below is a blog post written by an amazing client of ours who is looking back over the last year of living in a tiny house with his wife, Jess. You can find the link within the first paragraph that will take you to the page on our website for more photos of their awesome Gooseneck home!
Has it already been a year?
I wanted to take some time and reflect on what this change has meant for my wife Jess and I, and what we’ve learned, adapted, and appreciated along the way.
Our tiny house journey for me started almost 10 years ago when the first shows started showing up on television networks like HGTV, TLC, Discovery Channel, etc. Living in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1500 sqft house at the time, I turned to Jess and said “Can you imagine all the possibilities?”. At which point I got an amazingly dumbfounded look and a firm “I don’t think so”. Skip ahead to 2018, past what Jess calls 8 years of “tiny house obsession and badgering”. We have moved 2 more times, ending up in 700-800 sq ft apartments. Suddenly, my “badgering” has turned into sensible discussions around how “...we have already pared down so much. Tiny living can’t be too much different than this, right?”.
I had never seen a tiny house other than online and TV. How can I possibly know whether or not this is for us? Consequently, one of my better birthday decisions: let’s schedule a visit to a company in the Lancaster PA area called Liberation Tiny Homes! Matt and the entire crew were so welcoming and made it feel like we were at a friend's place. We walked out to the first house, a 20’ shell, and gave each other an “Oh Dear God, what have we gotten ourselves into?” look. Matt immediately rerouted to the biggest house on site at the time. It was 32’, with a great kitchen and an amazing feeling to the space. Jess immediately started to nod her head in approval.
Finally, she had taken the bait! I had her on the line; now to reel her in. I started designing 32’ tiny homes with great storage ideas, closets, and full kitchens; 20 designs in all. And then the questions began and the confusion started, and design ideas became entangled . Will this work? Can this be done? I’m even confusing myself between which designs I want to go with. Luckily a solution presented itself in the form of the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo. Jess and I toured about 30 models of homes from different vendors, and Jess came up with her ultimate checklist. “I hate this. Can we do this? What if we had x?” I could barely even wait to get home and start my new design. Several months later, I am standing in Liberations office with a design and check in hand, bouncing off the walls with excitement. I had the perfect house for us, fully laid out and now in the construction queue.
Jump to September 2019, we visit Liberation for the public unveiling of our house. We were beyond excited by the turn out and feedback about our home. Equally exciting was the amount of inspiration that “new to tiny” visitors were getting from the home. While we are on the larger end of the tiny house scale, our home shows that you can have it all without being cramped: large kitchen, full bath, full bedroom with closets. Everything is perfect and can’t believe this house is ours and it is being delivered to us within the week.
I had several reasons for wanting to go tiny including the number of moves we’ve made, but above all it was the future security. No matter what happens, we have a roof over our heads. Fast forward to several months later when the world decided to flip on its head. Everything I had planned for the year has been cancelled. Everything I was doing for supplemental income? Gone. Nothing has shown me more that we made the right decision to go tiny than this: our house is paid for, on property we own, and exactly the design we wanted. Everyday we talk to each other about how happy we are about the decision and how much we love our tiny house.
We talked to others interested in going tiny and have even given several tours of our home to people. I am very passionate about the opportunity tiny living can bring and the knowledge that seeing is believing when it comes to tiny. You have to experience it, but once you do, you will have such a better feel with what will work or not for you.
A few things have happened that have caused us to change or adapt our design. As much as I walked through the space on paper and tried to think of every scenario, you can’t know everything that will happen.
Below you will find my Top 10 thing to consider for your home, and then a sort of Q&A session that I discuss a lot with others.
Top 10 Things To Consider When Going Tiny
1. Storage. Everything needs a home. Make sure that you leave plenty of space for
storage. Make a list of items, spaces, and activities that you participate in that will need a space. There is a short term storage space above the living room for weekly needed items. There is a long term storage above the bathroom for things I need yearly or don’t want to get rid of but have no place in the house. I have a shoe rack from Ikea that doubles as my TV stand. Our bed has drawers underneath that slide out for folded clothing. The stairs are our linen closet. I even thought about the litter box that fits under the washer/dryer combo in the bathroom. I know where everything is and where everything goes. But...I forgot that Jess and I are very crafty people and run craft based businesses. Where are we supposed to do this? Unfortunately, it is usually the kitchen counter and it stays cluttered too often.
2. Pets. Don’t forget about your furry friends. Where do they get to go? And even more,
where do they not get to go? We have two cats and like most cats they like to be up. So what better place than the short term storage loft above the living room, and bridges between the upper windows. Now, how to get them up there... After several tries, we came up with the bookcase and shelving option that seems to work quite well. However, now that they are up there and can go to different windows, what’s to stop them from jumping onto the open kitchen shelves full of glass, or into the longer storage above the bathroom where I can’t find them? As mentioned above, the litter box was taken care of in my design, but forgot about the play areas.
3. Cleaning. It is so easy to clean, and also to get dirty. Especially with the cats, we have
to sweep daily. No problem, we have a vacuum, ...and a broom...and a swiffer...and a... Oh My God, where am I going to put all this?! We eventually limited ourselves to a Dyson stick vacuum and a swiffer style wet mop. The mop comes apart and fits in the bottom storage drawer in the stairs (see #1). The vacuum hangs on the wall in the bathroom. Remember, in a tiny house, every space is a high traffic area. Don’t forget your air filters as well. Mini-split units need to be cleaned monthly instead of the quarterly you might be used to in your standard sized home’s HVAC unit.
4. Futureproofing. Depending on the land we rent, buy, or find, we may need to be off grid. I would rather have a flushing toilet, but what happens if I need to change? Liberation went ahead and put in a setup for composting toilet exhaust fan and power for possible incinerating toilet options. We had a large toaster oven, but if we decide we want a real oven, again, we made the space large enough that we can swap that at any time.
5. Flow. Think about how you and your guests will get from one side of your house to the
other, both inside and out. And how does the sunlight and outside air affect your space. a. I have two doors. One is the main entrance on the side of the house that comes
into the kitchen area. Great for unloading groceries, going straight to the bathroom when dirty, inviting guests in, etc. The second door comes into the living room space. This is to the slide out porch and was to be used for our personal sitting/relaxing space and a place for cats to hang out on a nice day. However, due to the slope of the yard, we were temporarily using this to enter the home. And due to an unforeseen complication, the porch is no longer attached in this area. The main entrance was too high for just stairs, so I adapted the porch for this area, and have basically closed off the secondary door. It is now for emergencies only. The secondary door however, when we were using it as a main door, was not in alignment with the hallway/walkway through the rest of the house. So you had to cut across the living room to get anywhere else in the house. This was a royal pain when bringing anything into the home. And need I say more than “dirty shoes in the living area as you walk in”? It never occurred to me that this would be an issue, as it was not intended as a main door. b. Let me tell you about windows. We have a bunch. I thought I was smart by
making them all at least 4 feet off the ground so we had a little privacy. However, remember that sloped yard? Well, everyone can see into my house at all times, but especially at night. We are parked North to South. This allows for great air flow when the windows are open. It also means there are very few hours of the day where the sun isn’t beating through our windows. It’s great for natural light, but it can heat up most uncomfortably, even in the winter. The ceiling fan and mini-splits do just fine with this, but still something to consider. We are looking into remote control blinds that will allow us to open and close them all easily as needed... even the ones at ceiling height. c. Socializing and hosting can be problematic. I think almost every tiny house owner knew this or figured it out very quickly: The outdoors is my friend. Make a fire pit, porch area, gathering spot somewhere, or get used to going somewhere else to see your friends and family. I can fit 4 people total easily, but more than that, it has to be outside.
6. Kitchens. Your kitchen is the most important part of the home. You will use this space
multiple times per day. Do not skimp. Spend the time and money to make sure you have everything you want and need. I have a 4 burner cooktop but that is enough for the two of us. I have an 18” dishwasher but it is 3 drawers and used daily. My fridge is skinny, but tall. I have plenty of room for all my groceries and even some bulk food purchasing. Is there a place for your pots and pans? Do your cooking appliances have a place to go? We have a Cuisinart electric grill that will not fit anywhere except on the counter or on the cooktop and we use it several times per week. Most smaller fridges do not have filtered water and ice boxes in the door, or sometimes not even in the unit. So back to ice cube trays that take up room and tap water. I ended up purchasing a Brita pitcher, but for someone that drinks four 32 ounce tumblers of water a day, this was a huge change in my life.
7. Bathrooms. How much room do you really need? Our bathroom has a full size tub, sink,
toilet, storage, washer/dryer combo, and litter box. And all in about a 6’x8’ space. It is tight if there is more than one person in there at a time. However, the bathroom is something that I only spend several short minutes a day using. I know that grand bathrooms look nice, but that is valuable space! Consider your needs (not just wants) and layout thoughtfully. Obviously, if you are going to consider adding clothing closets, linen closets, or separate washers and dryers, you are going to need more space. With most tiny house bathrooms not being very large, keep in mind that small space does not mean small exhaust fan. Tiny houses are very sealed boxes, and moisture can build up very quickly. Make sure you have a fan that will remove moist air quickly, and very importantly, quietly. The fan may only be a couple of inches above your head and can become irritatingly loud unexpectedly.
8. Washer/Dryer Combos. I looked at so many models and so many reviews. And they all
had the same complaint: “They don't dry anything”. I found a very important piece on the LG website that has made my combo unit perfect. “The wash cycle can clean an entire tub full of clothes, but the dry cycle can only handle a half tub.” If you keep this in mind as you go, you will have no issues. They work perfectly. We wash at least one load per day. Only thing that has taken time to get used to, and only annoys slightly, is the entire house vibrates when the washer is on a heavy spin cycle. Kind of like a whole house massage chair. Lol.
9. Land. Let’s start with getting to your new land. You may have a truck that is capable of
pulling your new home and you may even be comfortable with doing so, but for the first move, I recommend using a moving company. They are insured and experienced in doing it. Don’t let something happen to your new investment to save a few hundred dollars. Regardless of how you plan to acquire property (Rent, Buy, or Borrow) make sure your site is prepared to handle your home. We purchased a 1⁄3 acre lot. Seems small until you see a tiny house on it, and then it looks huge. We also have the benefit of an empty lot to the left, and the neighbor on the right has a double lot, with their house on the far side of his property. As previously mentioned, the yard slopes, which caused issues with delivery, setup, and leveling of the house. The gooseneck end is 7 feet off the ground, allowing for a nice storage space that I plan to enclose, which will help both with cold in the winter and storage of items not needed in the house (tools, ladders, etc.). Because of the slope, from the wheels forward there is a decent sized space that the rabbits quite like, but needs to be closed off with skirting before winter to help protect the pipes. However, there is the opposite issue on the other end, where the house is so close to the ground the supporting jack stands won’t fit underneath. We’ve had to improvise. We even had to move the house a month after delivery because of utility issues. We do not have a foundation or parking pad or footers. This was an oversight that became a “too late to do anything about it now” type of scenario. I do have 2” thick concrete pads under all jack points but they are breaking under the pressure. Plan is to take care of this next spring with at least putting in solid footers for the jack stands. See Q&A below about municipality issues with purchasing land.
10. Utilities. I’ve saved the biggest issues for last. This topic can be as complicated or as
simple as you or your municipality want to make it. Each municipality and each lot is going to have it’s own issues and rules. Make sure you are aware of them and address them beforehand. You don’t want to place a parking pad down and then then find out your house needs to be 20 feet from where it is. If you plan on having city utilities, have them installed before the home is delivered. We did ours after the fact, and then had to move the house because the connections would not go to where we placed the house. All new sewer and water had to be trenched through the property to satisfy ordinances and reach our home’s location on the lot. Purchase a heated water hose; it is well worth the money, since we’ve not had a single issue with losing service in the middle of winter. Speaking of water, have a filtration system. This can be indoor or outdoor. If placing outdoors, make sure it is easily accessible and that it will not freeze. I recommend placing it before the heated hose. This might seem counter-intuitive, but I placed my first filter outside between the hose and the house thinking the hose would keep the filter from freezing. You would be correct until we lost power one night and the filter froze. When the power came back on the hose thawed, but not the filter and I had to disconnect the hose and replace the filter in the freezing cold. I fortunately had the water company make a pit that is insulated and filled with gravel where the water tap is located when the new utilities were done for the property.. The filter is in the pit with the shut off. It makes for a bit of work to replace every six months, but with the insulation and excess heated hose in the pit, we never experienced another freezing issue. And going to have to go into the pit to shut the water off anyways to replace the filter so now it is here all in one spot.
Question 1: Is financing available? Simple answer is Yes. Reality is more difficult, as many have found out. I also know this has changed a little in the past months. Even with places like Liberation partnering with multiple companies, rates can be high, or loans for higher amounts can be difficult to achieve. My house was large and rather expensive, so financing options were almost nonexistent. Another suggestion was credit unions, but we found that most can only finance the loan as a trailer or an RV. Trailer loans are not enough to cover the house build, and for RV loans they wanted the make, model, year, and VIN # for the “vehicle,” which, while your trailer will have, it won’t have it until after the build is finished. I did find that if you are in FL or AZ, areas with high retirement communities, there are some banks that will do loans for park model homes, so they may consider tiny houses if approached.
Question 2: Are utilities expensive? This, of course, will vary. My electricity has been half of my previous apartments. We definitely want to upgrade to solar and/or wind power, but right now it isn’t a financial burden to be on the grid, and to convert would be too expensive. I have propane for hot water and cooking and a 15 gallon tank lasts about 45 days. The cost is about the same as my previous natural gas bill. We could get bigger tanks to drive the cost down, and we’d need refills less often, but the system works fine for us as it stands. Water, sewer, and trash always vary depending on where I live but they seem comparable. Also I am using a Verizon Wireless Hotspot for the internet, but do have access to Comcast if needed here.
Question 3: Does the house get cluttered? Yes. Very quickly. I designed the house so everything had a home. There is a low profile shoe rack and bookcases from Ikea (pictured). We have two cats, and wanted to make sure they have a place as well, so I made them stairs to go up to the storage area. We have two storage areas: one for short term, regular need items that is above the living room that is easily reached with the ladder, and the other is long term above the bathroom that requires more crawling into the space to get items, but mostly only use that for holiday items.
Question 4: Was it hard getting permission to place your house on the property? Again, yes and no. The property we purchased had a mobile home on it previously that had been torn down several years ago. The realtor for the property knew that we were looking to place our tiny house here and called the municipality to confirm it was ok. However, we discovered after the closing that while trailer for trailer was ok, tiny houses don’t meet HUD regulations and they denied us. After the county spoke to Matt, at Liberation, and I on the phone, they realized we had an RV certification done on the house through Liberation and that cleared all our hurdles. Also, as mentioned above, all new utilities had to be run for the lot. So $6,000 later, 600 phone calls later, 60 headaches later, and 6 weeks after the house was delivered we were finally able to move into our lovely forever home.
Written by Ross Bailey