small houses, big ideas

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Maybe when you think of living small, an image from the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” pops into your head. But in real life, a shoe can’t be structurally sound enough to live in, right? And how would you keep the rain from coming in the top? Not to mention the plumbing concerns I have with that kind of construction…

I am pretty passionate about the idea of living smaller; it’s lighter on your pocketbook, lighter on the earth, and just seems more responsible all-around. I’m of the firm belief that you don’t need that much physical stuff to make you truly happy, and being curled up with my dog in a cozy nook in front of a fire sounds like the essence of heaven to me. I know that lots of people may be raising their hands right now saying “Yeah, that sounds good in theory, but have you ever actually lived in a tiny space before? I bet you’d be singing a different tune if you had, Little Miss Idealistic!” Actually, I spent six years on the road in a touring band, living out of —ready for this?—a 60 SF van. I put a solar panel on the top, had a tiny refrigerator, lights with real light switches, a mini-closet, a sink made from a stainless steel mixing bowl outfitted with a mini-drain, and hardwood floors. All that and there wasn’t even room to do the Electric Slide.

When I left the road life and moved to Boulder, I settled in a one bedroom condo that is 637 SF and feels like an absolute castle. I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to run off to the mountains outside of town, dragging my dog and a small truck loaded with my pots and pans and vintage turquoise Naugahyde armchair along behind me. And I’ll be headed straight for a tiny house.

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Technically speaking, a “tiny house” is one 400 SF or smaller, while one between 400 and 1,000 SF counts as a “small house.” Many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements for new construction that are driven by the “bigger-is-better” mentality, creating a big puzzle for homeowners who are trying to conform to code. Across the board, tiny home dwellers have found a common workaround: building their houses on a trailer bed! 

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Or, if you live in a more marine-oriented area, you could build it on a barge, like this house.

However, in Boulder County (where I live and get to go to work at WORKSHOP8), all structures must be attached to a permanent foundation. So, wheel-bottomed tiny houses just count as loads on trailers that are registered with the DMV. But really, the county is pretty tiny-house-friendly. Gary Goodell, Boulder County Chief Building Official, told the Boulder Weekly in an article on tiny living that “Tiny homes really fit into what we’re trying to do, especially in terms of encouraging less energy use.”

Boulder County site plan review for a home under 2,000 SF is far less than half the cost of a that to build a larger home, and the current Boulder County Building Code allows down to 120 SF sized residence. This is expected to drop to 70 SF as Boulder County is anticipated to adopt the 2015 IRC in early 2016. More information about Boulder County building codes can be found here.

A lot of tiny house enthusiasts also seem to have a little of the do-it-yourself streak. (Kind of makes you wonder where we all plan on keeping our tools, but that’s another blog entry for another day…) It seems to be a utilitarian medium for creative brains with hammers! So, it’s really pretty exciting to see all of the different ways people are saving resources while they’re saving space in their tiny homes. For instance, Pure Salvage Living is making tiny houses out of 99% salvaged materials.

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Each of their homes is different, as they design around the parts and pieces they find to salvage. Talk about a design/build project!

http://aimeeburchard.pass.us/tinyhome

And this tiny house (it’s only 150 SF!) has a gorgeous gourmet kitchen, not to mention a rad ladder that goes up to the loft and lines up perfectly with the bookcase behind it.

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Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses are making simplistic, rugged tiny homes in our backyard. This one includes my favorite stairs: alternating, staggered treads that are also a bookcase!

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If the woodsy aesthetic isn’t really your jam, there are a growing number of modern designs that celebrate simplicity in a different way. The top example is the Wedge by Wheelhaus, clocking in at a roomy 400 SF and sitting on a trailer bed (a “rolling cabin” as Wheelhaus refers to it). The bottom is a 300 SF “studio retreat” on a permanent foundation, designed by Workshop APD.

Yeah, tiny houses are small. (Wait, what?!?!) But living smaller doesn’t have to mean living tiny. Embracing “less-is-more” means different things to different people and is the subject of one of my favorite books, The Not So Big House (which is totally worth the space on your tiny bookshelf).

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But who could feel like they were missing out on much of anything with a living room like this

If you are around Boulder and ready to leap into a tiny house adventure of your own, Tumbleweed Houses is having a two-day workshop this August to get you a good jump-start!

One Response to small houses, big ideas
  • Nate Burger

    I really do love the concept of Tiny Houses. We could all learn a thing or two from those who live minimally like this. The home on the barge is really incredible- great idea!

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