small-simple-smart-building

Small. Simple. Smart Building.

I have fond memories of lunchtime with my colleagues at work, especially my friend Winston when we would talk about green building ideas. Great conversations and great friends often go well together.

He had some cutting edge concepts well-suited for his homeland of Fiji. He even started to make some 3D models. I can’t give the raw materials or the process away, but the structures would be inexpensive to build and durable enough to withstand the hurricane season. I would also bring up my ideas to him about green roofs and timber frames. Designs that were much more akin to my homeland habitat and experiences. The main similarity in our geeky eco-home designs was that they were both small and simple.

I find now that this tiny home concept keeps lingering in my mind on the farm. It does have its merits. Starting small gets us on the land sooner. Keeping it simple gets it built without huge expense or debt. Maybe it is smart to build something tiny and then later it could become a craft studio or guest cottage?

Photo credit Nithya Priyan

Small

We don’t need everything. We just need enough to get by. The house above is a fine example of this. The photo is from Nitha Priyan’s Palm to Palm Alternative Dwellings. It is an 8′ x 16′ home. Can I say “love at first sight?”  It has a unique style in a functional space with its 120 square feet downstairs and 64 sq. ft. up in the bed loft. It is elegant in its simplicity.

Draft floor plan:

8x16-studio-800px

I’m already thinking that the interior dimensions of this in a post and beam structure could be a full 8 feet by 16 feet, thereby making the exterior dimensions of the base 10′ by 18′, supported by a pier and beam foundation. The thickness of the exterior walls would be filled with insulation, foam board over recycled cotton. I could pre-build all the insulated panels (6) in my garage and attach them to the timber frame after the roof is up. The sixth panel would contain a majority of window glazing. I still have to contend with water and heat, but I think I could do this fairly inexpensively using a DIY pre-fab approach.

Simple

The simple mantra of Rob Roy, my mentor from Earthwood Building School and author of “Mortgage Free,” was “you need to cultivate coincidences.” Meaning that you won’t get help or the resources you need if you don’t ask and apply yourself to create the conditions necessary to receive them. It’s similar to creating the right atmosphere for success except in this case, success is scoring some salvaged windows or a sliding glass door someone planned on throwing away.

Ask and ye shall receive. Just remember to ask!

The stars aligned for us recently in Potsdam. Some carpenter friends of ours are saving windows for me after hearing of my farm plans. Carpenters and builders can be your ally when sourcing free and inexpensive materials for your tiny house. I will surely be their tech support should they ever need help with their laptops!

Rob also pointed out that it is better to try out design ideas on something small first before you commit them to something larger. It’s much better to make your mistakes now while expense is low.

Smart

Based on cultural influence, living in Norway has pretty much paved the way for us to consider living within a smaller space. Our first apartment was well under 500 square feet and that felt quite roomy for the two of us. Plus there were a whole host of other bonuses. It forced us to keep possessions to a minimum and not accumulate stuff we didn’t really need. It was easy to clean and heat. The size functioned very well for it’s intended purposes: eating, sleeping, washing, etc… And it also got us out of the house more often.

Tiny homes are also smart for the planet. Low carbon footprint, low embodied energy, zero waste, inexpensive to heat and cool… all factors that help reduce the building’s impact and allow you to tread lightly on the Earth.

The finished chicken coop

Building experiences

I’ve recently realized that one of the best ways to increase the chances of success in anything I do is to take past experiences and build upon them.

Building this chicken coop was great experience and one that I think will help me with this tiny house. I seem to remember it taking me only a few weekends to finish. Six years later, the coop is still standing proud and happily housing new resident hens.

What if you do not have experience to draw from and you’re starting fresh? I would say put yourself in a position to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. Surround yourself with experienced folks for a time and then dive right in!

You could say my own experience in farming is limited.  Is 25 hens, milking goats, making chevre and herding Icelandic sheep enough farm work for our start-up? Hopefully it is.

Building success

As one gets older, as risk overshadows reward, perhaps our capacity for new challenges diminishes. I suppose that could become a limiting factor. Most will agree that youth is the prime time for gathering new experiences and they can become a well to draw from later in life. But there is no reason that age should be a factor in learning and discovering new meaning in your life. It’s a mindset.

So in whatever you’re “building in life,” I hope that you too are striving to build success on your journey!

Related inspiration: Are Tiny Homes the New American Dream?