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Within the next few weeks, I will be moving to a 1100 sf house. I’ve thought a lot about the last three years, what I’ve learned here, what I’ve enjoyed, and what I wished for. I’ve gained a different perspective on possessions, but I still had about the same amount of cleaning and at least as much organizing to do small as large. Yes, there was less space to clean, but the things that take the longest still take the same effort–bathrooms and kitchens take about the same time to sanitize whether they are 5×5 or 8×12 or 12×14, and the lack of space meant constant rearranging in order to maintain a clean environment. There is no moving things to the side to clean under them in a 12×26 space.
I’ve enjoyed some things about living in the country, and enjoyed the peacefulness of living very simply at first. Over time, simplicity became more frustrating because I couldn’t maintain the type of organization I needed in order to keep an appearance of ‘simple’, and societal expectations interfered with what my concept of a simple life–having the same clothes to wear every week seems fine until people begin noticing that you are always wearing the same clothes, and comments about my house became somewhat rude and unkind. Still, there were things to learn in those lessons, too, that I’ll remember going forward.
My new house is on the small side for it’s area. I’m very much looking forward to a few things–having a real couch, a closet, and a full, wired internet connection again. Counter space is going to be a luxury, and a full size refrigerator will be very nice to have. And a bathtub. I’ve really missed having a bathtub at times, and more as time went on. I will have a room with exercise equipment in it and room for a yoga mat. I can jump rope in the garage for cardio. And I will be able to bike to the store. So living somewhat bigger should be healthier for me.
What I’ve decided in all of it is that living smaller is nice, but the concept of living in a small house is somewhat a fallacy. I’ve slept in a tiny house for three years. But my real living was done around the house or near the house but not in it. My personality requires some amount of living in a house, some privacy, some personal time. I am not able to simply live around a house or to sleep in a house and then leave it to live. And at least for me, at least in the country, that has not been as possible as I’d hoped it would be. And so I leave the small cabin behind. I’ve learned from the experience, just as I’ll learn from new ones. I won’t regret my time here, but I doubt I’ll miss it, either.
Many tiny/small house discussions have come up over the last few years in different places regarding how awful zoning and codes are. I would agree to some extent. However, there are two sides, so here’s a bit of the other side of my story:
I moved to an unincorporated area without a planning and zoning commission so that I could live how I wanted and build what I wanted. Ideally, this would be wonderful. But sadly, there are several less than ideal situations that have arisen from this. So, a few observations from someone who’s been zone-free for two years:
- People here burn ANYTHING. Tires, electrical wiring, plastic, roofing shingles, furniture, you name it, they burn it. Well, in most cases they don’t burn the shingles. They use those, along with pieces of old carpets, linoleum, and other petroleum based products, to line eroding areas of land in an uneducated attempt to save the land.
- Which leads me to the second issue. People here DUMP anything, anywhere. They toss bottles and cans out windows as they drive. Mattresses and couches end up in ditches, dropped off under cover of night. I’m still shoveling used diapers, food cans, and other trash out of my ravine two and a half years after moving in, because the last person who lived here used the ravine, which runs straight into a living creek, as his personal dump. (If you live in this county outside city limits you can opt not to have trash or recycling service. Many do opt out, even though they produce a prodigious amount of trash.)
- Hunting season is exhausting. It would be great except many of the hunters here can’t distinguish a deer from, say, a cow or horse.
- There is no policing. Unless the police want to issue tickets, they refuse to involve themselves in county matters. They’ll file a report if something is stolen, but they don’t enforce laws.
- Department of Natural Resources would never pass a good number of the septics and lagoons in the area. They sit too close to neighboring properties or neighbors’ wells. The lines have been ‘maintained’ by digging out the ends of them and letting the water flow freely onto the property. Some lines have been cut or don’t exist at all. (Even a local city is still run on a lagoon system, and is over capacity and facing large fines. The residents won’t vote for repairs and expansion, though.)
- Animal control doesn’t exist. Dangerous animals, abused and neglected animals, all are acceptable in this area. The police won’t respond. The shelters are full (always). Vaccinations aren’t required. And so the neighbor’s biting dog who is catching and killing coons, possums, squirrels, cats, smaller dogs, chickens, etc, is allowed to continue to run free. If I have a problem with the dog, I can move or I can catch the dog and put him to sleep (risking the neighbor’s complaint that I destroyed his dog).
There have been other issues too, but tonight I am tired. And desperate to move away from this ideal setting, where there is no zoning, no planning, no codes to tell me what to do… and none to make a safe environment for others, either.
I lost my job a few months ago. I’m very glad for that reason that I have a small house, but when I find a new job I’ll be moving. I miss living in a larger town or small city. I need the activity and social engagement that I find there. But with cities come building codes. I don’t plan to have a BIG house, but I do hope to have one that’s 700-850 sf. I’ve seen one now and then for sale in the area I’m looking for work in. It’s hard to wait until I have a job to get one.
Interestingly, the price of land may be set to rise quite a bit here, so I plan to keep my little house for weekends for now. Who knows, maybe if the area sees the growth that’s predicted, someday may find me back in my little house full time.
It’s been raining like crazy the last few days. Two nights ago I discovered every homeowner’s dread: water damage and mold. I began working on it immediately, thinking it was a bathroom caulking issue, but this morning I discovered it wasn’t. Instead, water had gotten between my skirting insulation and my floor and wicked up through the wall. Investigating further, water also somehow got inside another wall and was wicking through there as well.
My house is a portable cabin. The structure was pre built and insulated before I bought it. As it turns out, the builder didn’t apparently use Tyvek or other house wrap, so there isn’t a good water barrier, definitely not enough to resist the recent torrents. It’s survived spring rains fine, but maybe this rain came at a different angle. It survive last fall’s rains, but maybe water got in then, too, and it just wasn’t enough to soak clear through the walls. And maybe the skirting made all the difference, keeping it from drying completely. I skirted it after last fall’s rains.
Whatever happened, I’m now looking at $2000 of new siding and house wrap, as well as other damage repairs. This is much cheaper than it could have been or than it would have been in a big house, but still a huge set back in my long range goals.
And so another few lessons learned: make sure you have proper moisture management, don’t take someone else’s abilities on good faith alone, and move your furniture out from the walls after big rains to ensure none of that water got in.
I’ve been in my small cabinet a year now. Here are some things I wish I’d known a year ago:
There isn’t much to do at times in the country. There’s less to do when you don’t yet have farm animals, can’t work the ground, and due to extreme weather can’t drive into town.
There is a point at which sleeping during all these times is no longer feasible.
Birds nest in any space off the ground they can squeeze into. Mice do the same with ground level small spaces. Cats, bats, roaches, wasps and ants seem to fill anything that’s left.
Storage space is essential.
All those nifty nooks I’ve seen are nice, but they don’t replace cabinets or closets.
No matter how much I prefer showers, there are times when nothing takes the place of a nice hot bath.
Having an entryway, foyer, or even a storm door saves hours spent chasing flies.
Rain and snow invade spaces around window ACs and heaters. This is very bad for houses.
There are some very good reasons for flashing and gutters. In a house that won’t be moved, install both immediately.
However long you think something will take, for planning purposes double that estimate.
Trim is very difficult to mitre cut.
Always enlist the help of at least one friend.
Expect changes to plans. Since I’d never lived in such a small space, this last year has required me to learn more about myself, to make some drastic lifestyle changes, to rethink what is most important about living small to me.
Be happy for the experience no matter where it leads you.
Realize many of these could be true of any first time home owner… or even of an experienced homeowner. Just on a much larger scale.
My apologies that it’s been so long since I posted. Yes, I survived the winter. I have a thriving garden and love the land I live on. Except for the bugs and the distance to cities, people, and activities. I hope to post soon with better updates. I don’t have internet at my little house, but hopefully I’ll be able to post more tomorrow night… perhaps including a few pictures.
In the meantime… if you’re considering a small/tiny house, make sure that if it has a metal roof, that the roof extends a foot or two past the walls or is regularly moved. Having a permanent location and no roof overhang has been probably my biggest regret, because when the roof sweats the walls and foundation are constantly damp, inviting many six-legged unwelcome ‘guests’. Roaches have been a huge battle this spring. I haven’t seen but a few in the house, but see several on the front porch every night. Time for Roach Prufe in vast quantities. (Yes, sorry that’s not very eco-friendly, but I can’t stand roaches, and since I’m not refrigerating most produce, I’m even more disgusted that they are so near.)
Other regrets? Not being closer to my job (I didn’t have a job when I bought the land) and lack of closet space. Drawers just don’t suffice for some things. I also wish the cabin were wider than 12 feet. If it were just a few feet wider, I could do much more with the space. And I finally retired the homemade couch in favor of three small chairs. They can be arranged more easily, still have storage space underneat, and are MUCH more comfortable.
I’ve been living in my 320 sf since the beginning of July, and now cooler weather has come. I’m sealing the leaks and stopping the drafts that come with rushing through a remodeling process that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. And coming to see the real difficulty with living small… there isn’t enough to do! Yes, in those long months when it’s too cold outside and too dark too early, what does a person do in 320 sf in the country? Within the next weeks my lifestyle is going to have to be readjusted to finding activities in the town I work in and finding new hobbies, not because it’s chilly in the house (I still turn off the heater during the day) or because I don’t like the house (though I still hope to build on my land or buy something small closer to town), but because once the organization and the decorating are done… well, they’re done. There’s just nothing to keep up on, no projects pending, nothing more to clean or decorate or do. I’m already considering decorating for Christmas. That’s never happened before, especially not in a big house!
The last of the walls was redone Sunday, thanks to the help of my parents, and the cabin has been fairly securely skirted for winter. I’m hoping that I won’t even need the heat tape so carefully wrapped around pipes below it since it has 30R skirting around most of it and even more than that on the west wall. The 11-12 cats who’ve made their home under it seem to think the insulation is sufficient, at least. (I haven’t skirted completely under the deck yet because a cat probably had her kittens there, but there is little room for wind to get through at this point.)
It’s warm in the little cabin at night, even on the coldest nights we’ve had. I do turn on the heat when I get home from work, but on it’s lowest setting the house stays around 70 degrees. Most nights I wake up during the night and turn it off. It’s too warm for me to sleep well. My electric bill including AC/heat has averaged $45 through the last three months. For October it was $38. On average I’m using 250 kW a month. I wish that meant I could easily switch to solar, but sadly the sun doesn’t shine during the times I need power the most, and I’m not knowledgeable enough yet to switch over to an off grid system. Tuesday it’s supposed to freeze. We’ll see then what the little cabin can do.
I’m interested in building a couple candle heaters (http://www.instructables.com/id/Candle-Powered-Pottery-Heater/). So far I have two of the pots for $.35 total. Tomorrow I may hunt for the middle sized pot and “turn one on” to experiment. It’s not a good idea while asleep or away, but a couple of them might diffuse heat well most of the evening for a fraction of the cost (and pollution) of electric service.
Now to begin unpacking and decorating in earnest.
The most difficult thing at this point about the cabin is knowing that others don’t like the idea. It’s not elegant on the outside, and I’ve experienced quite a bit of peer pressure by bucking the 1500 sf norm.
The first cold nights have arrived. Not freezing yet, but definitely cool. And I haven’t finished skirting the cabin. So the floor is cold, right? Not really. It would be in the winter, I’m sure. But right now, with just one side skirted (and no harsh winds to push the cold air under) in the middle of the house the floor is warm, but toward the edges it gets noticeably cooler with each step.
I’m still debating whether to buy something closer to work or build a permanent house next summer. It’s very difficult to decide. There’s a 900 sf, no basement, storage area included in the footage, house 6 miles from work and a couple in town. There’s also another about 6 miles from work that seems like it would be easy to make into a house with an apartment. I could rent part of the space… I doubt I would though.
I love the land. The house isn’t laid out right though, which is a huge problem. So is the fact that I’m trying to work on it and live in it at the same time. I want more cabinets. I want 6′ of closet space. And I want a real bedroom, not a place for a bed-which is something I’m amazed I miss at all.
I’m glad I opted for something temporary for awhile. It’s taught me a lot about myself and what I really want. I love the land. The location is terrific except for the commute to work. It’s cost more to do everything than I’d hoped, and taken longer because I got hurt a few times. And I still contend that I don’t have the skills to build and decorate like most tiny house people. I also have, sadly, way too much stuff for a tiny life even after downsizing so drastically.
Even if living small turns out to be a short term thing, I think it will have benefited me significantly. I’ve learned a lot about myself and some things about others. My views and habits on accumulating have changed quite a bit. I’ve known I’d prefer to live in the country, but I didn’t realize just how much more relaxed I’d be as a result. I’ve also learned that all the creative storage I’ve seen in furniture doesn’t work for me in real life. I’d rather have the extra closets than a bench with cushions on top for a couch, and would rather have my bed at the regular level and not get on my knees to find my socks in a drawer under it.
Although I like my little house, I think I’d build something about 100-200 sf larger… for a total of 400-550 sf. Enough larger for a bathtub and a bedroom and a few more cabinets in the kitchen, but still small enough to be cozy and efficient.
So, living small has been fun, but 300 sf seems a bit too small for me. I feel like I’m camping, not settled, and for me that leaves me a bit on edge and makes me feel disorganized. Hopefully next summer I’ll either have a 700 sf house in town or a 400-550 sf house on my land. In the meantime, I’ll organize the space as best I can, watch for the right opportunity of a house or land for sale nearer to work, dream, plan, and consider. And maybe me and the little house will learn to like each other better, or maybe we’ll part ways sooner or later. Either way, I’ll be the wiser for it. The little house has taught me a lot, and I expect it’s still got a few more lessons in store.
Saturday was a productive day- I got half the house skirted, rememered (finally!) that if the floors are too cold in winter some eco friendly, non toxic denim insulation can be laid on the floor as a ‘carpet’ as a quick, temporary fix, trimmed out a bunch of poison ivy and brush, and got a third of the trim hung or ready to hang.
I didn’t get moved in completely this weekend, but did make definite process, and after hearing for months how cold the floor would be from my worried dad, realized that I was better equipped for winter than he thought. The house won’t have the highest possible amount of insulation; it only has 2×4 walls. However, it will have R-20 of pink styrofoam insulation under it, plus a 6″ skid on the north and south sides, and loose gravel/dirt against that. Maybe some landscaping bricks too. I’m thinking of building a pet house to add additional insulation where the pipes come closest to the wall (on the south side) and designing the pet house so that it is a passive solar heat collector.
I also realized it’s 45 in the morning and my windows are still open. I think I’ll be ok. The cabin warms quickly, and once all the skirting is on, the floor should be warmer. The walls are only 2x4s, so there is only R-13 in them, but with bookcases against the walls and quilts hung on them, they should be fairly well insulated. At least as much so as many other houses I’ve lived in.
I also met a builder this weekend. I’ve hurt myself too many times on this project to maintain any dreams of building alone. But if I can build for a reasonable price and get a very well insulated house with solar capability, I’d be very happy.