Monthly Archives: January 2013

The costs of a small house

I read an article today that small houses cost more to build than what people who advertise them sometimes lead people to believe they may.

When I first looked into building a small house, I had a contractor give me a building estimate. It came to $65,000 excluding land and utility hook-ups! Though I wasn’t deterred, I knew at that point that I would need to consider alternatives; $65,000 was out of the question, even including the land.

I paid more for the land I purchased than I planned to. However, my expenses at this point are $28,000 for the land and 360 sf building. This includes septic repair and clean up of the burned house currently on the property. It may also include a foundation. I should know within a week. I still need plumbing, interior wall work, and better flooring. Though I hadn’t planned for electric, having electric run underground to the house for free (except the trench and conduit) is worth it, because it will improve the property and increase the value quickly. The interior work will cost around $2000, I’m guessing. I should be around $35,000 when I’m done. $45,000 if things go disasterously wrong.

Some interesting things I’ve discovered: the county doesn’t require trash service. I can drive my trash to them… for $2.00 per trash can. This will decrease my monthly bills by $15, and the septic will save me $25/mo (except it will cost a few hundred to empty once every few years). Electric is automatically $15.00/month, but should never be more than $50. I’m going to try to make some wind generators. I’m told treadmill motors and alternators work well as major components of wind generators. Dad is interested in trying them too, as well as solar. If I can go off grid I will. If the sun’s not shining in MO the wind is usually blowing. The combination should do well. If not, there is the option with this electric co-op of paying a small bit extra for wind generated grid power. I’m willing to pay for that, even though I doubt they are really getting all that I’d pay for from wind.

At any rate, my bills should be cut dramatically by living smaller, as well as by having a large garden, fruit trees, and possibly chickens. I should be living free in 8-10 years at most. By that I mean that all expenses I’ve put into the house and land will have been paid for by the decrease in rent and utilities. It’s definitely something to look forward to. Now if I could just find a job there for that 10 year span, I’d be doing very well.



Dad isn’t very happy with my tiny house notions, or with the land I chose. Or so he says. But he’s been out mowing the grass, pulling and salvaging siding, cleaning trash out of the yard… I think he likes it more than he wants to let on.

I’ve learned a lot from him–I know I don’t want to mow two acres because he has three and they’re a lot of work. But I do know mine can go back to natural habitat. He doesn’t understand that yet, but I think in time he will. I grew up reading floor plans because he always wanted to build a house. He didn’t, but I know I can because of what I learned from him. Even my saving and living with less stemmed from lessons I learned from my family growing up-a family that had a large garden and several fruit trees, who canned fruits and veggies, who pressed cider and lived without air conditioning, cable, video, or a microwave very happily for many years.

Maybe part of why what I’m doing concerns Dad is because he remembers that time differently than I did. He remembers the work and the stress of never feeling he had quite enough. There will be work enough, still. There is work in any dream. However, I’ve come to a place in life where the things don’t matter, and where I realize I’m actually happier and healthier without many of them. I feel richer now than I ever have, even though I have quite a bit less than I’ve had for many years.

Thoughts on regulations and safety

I have had the privilege of living in communities where 500-700 sf houses are not uncommon. Mine rental is 600. There’s one across the street that is approximately 700. One up the street that is around 600. One in the alley up one block that is closer to 500. There is one nearer to work that is closer to 400… though the layout there stinks.
Here, it would not be difficult to build-completely legally and approved, a 320-500 sf house. No, not 100. Not off grid in the city. Not under the radar and not on wheels. I wish I could find one for sale with a decent structure and foundation!

I went to a tiny house workshop within weeks of discovering some fire safety hazards with a house I was considering purchasing. Firemen couldn’t get up the stairs to the sleeping area or through a few of the interior doors… or even the back door. The balloon framing with no fire blocks would vent any fire straight to the roof. Windows didn’t allow egress. Hearing about a 2′ wide front door or a one and a half foot wide hall way right after discovering these things sent chills up my spine… and gave me a rather restless night or two.

The person who taught the seminar turns her heater off at night. She can see her breath in the morning. But the heater isn’t safe enough for her to feel comfortable when she is asleep. At least one other small house person has lost their house before it was built. No insurance. There are discomforts and there are risks to building tiny.

I love the small house concept, but I want my small house to be safe and comfortable. In my area that means it must:
be firmly attached to the ground, preferably bolted to concrete (think Wizard of Oz)
have real closet space
have an incinerating or low flush toilet
have running water
have a continuous heat source through the winter
be well insulated
include two exit doors, plus an egress window in the bedroom
have at least 30″ doorways (preferably 36″)
have stairs-not a ladder-to any upper or lower livable space
be properly-professionally-wired, whether for solar, wind or on grid electric.

Is building small possible? Sure. Can it be annoying to follow regulations? Sure. But when it is, around here it’s either because someone knows something I haven’t figured out yet, or because I need to explain or plan a bit better. I’m ok with that.

I am Rich

I was thrilled to talk to someone today who is facing what I did a year ago. She said how difficult it is to get rid of things… she might need that someday, it’s overwhelming to know where to start, this has memories… it all reminded me of where I was last year. She feels overwhelmed by the stuff, but also by the thought of getting rid of it.

It’s not as difficult as it seems to get rid of things after you find what works for you. And getting rid of things can be addicting. I think back now to the happiest times in my life and realize they are also the times I had the least. Not only long distant memories, but more recent ones, as well. It’s hard to see going into it what decluttering and simplifying will actually do for you.

As I talked to her I realized once again that I am rich. I first told her that in response to her fear that she would get rid of something she would need someday. I told her about my concern that would happen, about how I lost a spatula, shrugged, and said I’d just buy a new one. It was a $1.50 item (and I found my old one before I even bought one) but it was the first time in my life I hadn’t at least slightly panicked that I didn’t have an extra of whatever sitting around. Worrying about every dime I spent made me feel poor. Realizing I didn’t have to worry made me feel wealthy.

There have been little things like that all year that have made me realize how rich I really am. Seeing someone’s face light up when they see me donate an item they have wanted (that I had 2-3 of) that they couldn’t afford. Seeing a sweater I wanted and trying to decide what I’d get rid of if I bought it… and discovering there was nothing I wanted rid of, that I was quite happy with what I already had. Just the concept of the overwhelming abundance I was faced with getting rid of. And still there are moments when I’m shocked, like I was today, to realize that no matter what I own or don’t own, I truly am rich.

My financial status hasn’t really changed that much, but my mindset has completely turned. I have more than enough, and even too much. Even after getting rid of more than 2000 pounds of stuff. And so this year I’ll be packing more donation boxes, giving a few more things away, and rejoicing in a wealth that goes beyond stuff. I truly am rich.

Things I want

People have been concerned about what gifts they can give, with my massive downsizing, that will still be useful to me. I’ll add to this as I come up with things.
-stainless steel electric skillet or pot-without a stove, this would be especially helpful. I just got an electric pressure cooker and enjoy it.
-a 5×7 stoneware baking sheet to make cookies and pizzas in my toaster oven.
-baskets to store things in, especially nesting baskets, to replace plastic storage containers.
-perishables-soaps, shampoos, and “treats” like nuts, fruits, and home canned goods.
-glass food storage containers. Just not a box of 20!
-A good hand mixer to replace my full sized mixer.
-A small, energy efficient space heater.
-Heavier, large curtains for the windows.

Things I want rid of:
-plastic storage containers (not good for my health)

OK, so Christmas might be hard next year, I’ll admit.

The wonderful thing is that after my massive downsize this year, still everything I want will replace lower quality or larger items I already have.

Foundations and roofs

Not that many people will buy a fire damaged house, but I may have found a way to salvage more with less heavy equipment and cost-instead of a demolisher, I may end up hiring a roofer.

No, I don’t want the big house. There’s not enough really left to save. The cost of rennovation would come close to, if not exceed, any price I could sell it for. However, there is cedar siding, a decent foundation, and enough board lumber to make an attempt at salvage. I love my little portable cabin, but someday I’d like to build. There is enough building material on that property to build at least two buildings the size I want, with no transportation costs to get them there. And so I called a roofer.

I’m not sure what a roofer will charge yet. I’m not even sure they’ll take on the job of removing that roof. But if they would, it may apparently cost about half of what it would cost to demolish the building. Once the roof is off, I can do the rest if I have to.

I’d have to work fast-right now two rooms are protected. When the roof comes off if I want the trim or hardwood flooring I’ll have to act quickly. And time it so that there’s no rain in the forecast. I’d have a big job, and still have a lot of things to throw away. Still, it might be worth considering.

How would a roofer remove a roof with a 500 sf hole in it? Apparently with a Truss lift or some other airborn platform. They estimate it would take a day. I estimate it will take 2-3 men. It’s a long shot, but it is a possibility. And if nothing else, maybe it will give someone with a little more elbow grease than me an idea for their own demolition project.

Social Infrastructure
We value self-sufficiency, but community is also important. It’s one of the things I value about the small house movement: although we tend to be very self-sufficient, we have also tend to be more socially connected to those around us.

People have worried about small house safety. However, several small houses in community could actually be safer because people know each other. According to the link above, social infrastructure is at least as important as physical infrastructure in natural disasters and during climate change. How important? In two very similar communities in a 1995 Chicago heat wave, in the community where no one knew anyone, 33 people in every 100,000 died. In the neighboring community, with it’s coffee shops, laundromats and shops, only THREE people in every 100,000 died. Following those communities for the next years, researchers have discovered that the people in the second neighborhood, all things else similar, also tended to live five years longer than those in the first neighborhood.

How important is community to you? Will a small house help grow that community?

The “Indoor Outhouse” (a sawdust toilet)

A few months ago I mentioned the possibility of a composting toilet to Dad. His immediate response was, “That’s nothing but an indoor outhouse!” No matter how I explained it, he continued to object. It took him about two weeks to calm down, and he still inquired several times just how far my land might be from a gas station!

Since then I’ve reconsidered the idea. There is a septic system already on the property I bought. Though I like the sawdust or incinerating concepts most of the time, in the last months there have been times I’ve appreciated my current flush system enough to consider low flow options.

Whatever I decide on, I’ll probably have a composting toilet at least for a little while. It won’t bother me much if it’s just me. I’ve used wood based cat litter for the cats for years with little scent and few really disgusting days. Still, there is a balance, and I may not find any balance in a composting toilet. Not when Dad comes to visit, at least.

*To be considered a residence, code requires that my small house be hooked to septic or sewer. It’s one of the only rules in that unincorporated area, but the rule will stand fast. It’s a fair trade for the liberties they give me in other aspects. I am looking into very low flow models and cycling grey water through it so that it is compliant, practical, and eco-friendly. Suggestions and ideas for homemade water cycling systems would be welcome.

Deprived or Fulfilled?

“You don’t have a stove? I could never…!” someone recently responded to my statement. No, I don’t have a stove. No, not everyone would want to relinquish that item. For me it has been freeing. Yes, I cook. And I enjoy it immensely more now that I don’t have a stove and oven to clean.

It’s the difference of perspective that makes me feel fulfilled and someone else deprived if there is no stove or less floor space. Honestly, I’ve reacted in much the same way when others mentioned things they did without… things like extra dishes (only one cup?!?! What about company?) or only three pairs of shoes (I need work boots, dress boots, work shoes, dress shoes, business shoes, and comfy shoes because of a variety of diverse activities) or a sawdust toilet (ewww!). Thankfully, one thing I’ve noticed about the small house movement, the green movement, the simplistic movement, and the eco-friendly movements is that they all tend to accept and even respect others’ different perspectives. As a result, we learn from each other and glean some ideas we can incorporate into our own lifestyles.

Those I’ve talked to about my stovelessness have often gotten a far away look for a moment and then admitted they only use two burners usually, or that crockpots are their favorite cooking appliances. Those who wouldn’t dream of living in 300 square feet have admitted that they could do with less… less stuff and less space. And in listening to them, I’ve admitted that I could waste less, recycle more, use more green energy, and live more simply even in a larger space.

Admittedly, one of the best benefits of living smaller for me has been learning to eat better. Less plastic and single serving containers. (They take up space). More fresh fruits and vegetables. More whole grains. (They don’t have to be refridgerated.) I didn’t get involved in the small house movement to learn how to eat, but a little more simplicity here, a little less space in the fridge, a few comments about plastics, and I decided to try different food choices. How surprising to find I enjoyed fresh foods more, and that they took only minutes longer to prepare!

What have you learned from others’ perspectives in the small house or similar movements?

New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions. Those horrid things that we do to self-evaluate at year’s end and then feel guilty about when we bomb a week later. Grandiose plans that this year will be different, this year will be better, this year, somehow…

I don’t do resolutions. But I do plan.

I plan this year:
To live free of clutter.
That when I find something that doesn’t make me smile and doesn’t immediately benefit me in some way I’ll simply get rid of it.
That I will no longer hold onto things because “someday…” but will get rid of them because today, this year, I don’t need them.
That when I have something that would bring someone else joy but brings me none, I will give it to them, so that we may both smile more in the giving.
To live more simply.
To live more deliberately.
To eat healthier foods from healthier, less wasteful packaging… or no packaging at all when possible, since the healthiest foods have no packaging but their own skins anyway.
To dream more.
To worry less.
To do more, see more, believe more. To accumulate more happiness, freedom, peace, laughter, and joy. To live, and live fully.