Frequently Asked Questions
We will be adding questions to this list (and answering them) as necessary in order to create a comprehensive go -to resource for initial interest in our tiny house and tiny house living in general. You can also obtain a digital copy of our 145 PAGE E-BOOK where we share the entire process of designing and building our tiny house in depth if you wan to learn more about our project. Below is an initial list of questions we are currently writing responses to.
We wrote a comprehensive yet wandering response to this question HERE that is worth reading but we will summarize our feelings below.
We are here to openly admit that our tiny house journey is not forever; at least not from a full time living perspective. With that said, it is one of the best decisions of our lives and has already gifted us so much more in return than any sum of money could provide. It has been an incredibly fulfilling experience that is far from over.
Our tiny house has been and continues to be an incredible tool and experience for this stage in our lives. It has allowed us to own our home outright while refinancing student loan debt to a very aggressive five year repayment plan and simultaneously building a financial safety net that would allow us to live comfortably for a year even if our sources of income completely stopped. Most importantly we have been able to take extended parental leave to spend more time with our baby for her first six months of life and I now have the ability to stay-at / work-from-[tiny]home to continue raising Aubrin. None of this was possible for us three years ago but we took intentional steps (including the tiny house) to design the life we wanted.
We will utilize the tiny house as long as it works for us and then re-purpose it. The best part about this project is it has the ability to serve our family in a multitude of ways. Should we choose to design and build a small home on a foundation to raise a growing family, the tiny house can serve as a back yard studio, or guesthouse, or airBNB rental or even be turned into an off grid retreat in the mountains. Its value and positive contribution to our lives will far outlive its use as a full time residence.
We have nothing against recreational vehicles and travel trailers. We are all alternative and right-sized living advocates. With that said, there are some very real (and legal) differences that are worth talking about and factored into our decisions to do a d.i.y. (non RVIA certified) tiny house on wheels. We wrote a blog post on the subject HERE.
I think this response is best started by establishing the intended (marketed) use of each product. Of course there is cross over, but RVs and travel trailers are ‘recreational vehicles’ intended for temporary occupation while tiny houses are intended for full time living. This is not just a case of bickering over semantics; there are very real physical and legal factors that support these two intended uses, as well as some more ephemeral and emotional considerations, the likes of which those who have never built, owned or been inside a tiny house may not understand.
To start with, RV’s are lighter and oftentimes more aerodynamic. This makes them easier to tow on a frequent basis such as weekend outings, to which they are very well suited. This is achieved through a few factors, the most notable of which is the use of minimal and thinner ‘framing’ members. While this does not necessarily effect the RV’s structural integrity which is gained through other means (form + structural skin) it does result in very thin walls with minimal insulation. This is not an issue when the primary use is short term recreation, including the ability to decide when to use it (most people put away the RV for the winter).
But for a person interested in living in the structure full time, the idea of a tiny house with significantly higher insulation values is a big draw. Not only does it better protect the occupant from harsh temperatures, but it does so in a much more efficient manner. Less energy to heat and cool a home results in lower yearly costs and a smaller carbon footprint. One of the lesser known facts about our tiny house is that it is built with 2×3’s making it much lighter than other tiny houses of comparable size yet has better thermal resistance than 2×4 walls due to our implementation of continuous exterior insulation that we talk about in depth in THIS BLOG POST TITLED ‘NOT ALL [TINY HOUSE] WALLS ARE CREATED EQUAL.’
I think there is also a misconception about the wheels; an assumption that if you have them, you must plan to use them frequently. While there is a small handful of THoWs that travel full time year after year, a majority of them are moved much less frequently and often times only every couple of years, if that. While full time travel is not the goal of many THoW owners, the ability to move if needed (whether it be through desire or triggered by an unforeseen circumstance) offers peace of mind.
Then there are the legal differences. THoWs exist in a grey area. That is to say that they don’t fit into an existing category of homes; or vehicles for that matter. Because of that they tend to be lumped in with RV’s in the eyes of officials. But without the official RVIA certification, tiny houses are not an RV, can not be insured as an RV and sometimes are not allowed in RV parks.
Now there ARE new RVIA certified tiny house builders that can build THoW that are legally certified and under law, regulated as an RV. This option certainly muddies the clarity of this discussion a bit but may be a good option for some as it would be easier to insure and stay in RV parks if you’re traveling frequently. With that said, there are a couple very important repercussions that were integral in our personal decision to build our own THOW and not be RVIA certified.
First and foremost, choosing to willingly and legally define ones dwelling as an RV (through RVIA certification) now removes you from the ‘grey zone’ that is a ‘tiny house on wheels’ and places you into the category of ‘full time living in a recreational vehicle for more than 30 days in the same location’ which is explicitly illegal in a majority of the municipalities in the United States.
Further more, the ‘grey zone’ of tiny houses is becoming more black and white (meaning legally defined) with the adoption of a concrete legal definition of ‘tiny house’ though APPENDIX V for the upcoming 2018 code cycle. The next step is for jurisdictions to [preemptively] adopt the code on a voluntary vote basis, which has been done by the state of Idaho with four more states in the process of doing the same. What this means, is that if built to code, the option to legally live in Tiny Houses (not an RV) will become more and more prevalent moving forward.
Also, for those who can not afford to or are not willing to take on more debt to pay upfront for a half way decent RV, the idea of building your own tiny house paycheck to paycheck and owning it outright upon completion is a very attractive opportunity. It is not possible to do an RVIA certified d.i.y. Tiny house.
Finally there are the more ephemeral but equally important reasons that we choose a tiny house. The act of building something with our bare hands is irreplaceable and lends its self to an incredible appreciation for the project. Something to really be proud of and the experience and skills gained during the construction process are worth the cost alone in our opinion. RV’s use a limited pallet of mass produced, certified, light weight materials and miniaturized fixtures where as the options implemented in tiny houses are as diverse as their owners. The same can be said about the form (shape) of tiny houses and their propensity to prioritize interior spatial quality over the goals of aerodynamics and achieving lowest base weight possible. The quality of space and amount of customization in tiny houses is what makes them homes rather than just ‘recreational vehicles.’
Hopefully this brief over view helps provide context on why some people, including us choose a tiny house instead of an RV. For us, designing and building our tiny house on wheels has been an incredibly fulfilling and educational process. No it wasn’t the easiest route. No it wasn’t the cheapest option. But it sure as hell has been rewarding and ‘worth it’ many times over.
Our tiny house cost us $30,000.00 total to build. That also happens to be the cost of materials as we did all of the work ourselves. We had enough saved up for the trailer which unfortunately is the biggest single cost right up front and then paid for the project as we built it, paycheck to paycheck.
If you are interested in reading more on the subject we wrote a blog post titled ‘Why do tiny houses cost so much?’ and you can access it HERE.
Our corrugated metal siding is salvaged from a local barn roof where it developed a beautiful matte grey patina after 50+ years of exposure to the Yakima Valley sun.
This siding choice also benefited us in the following ways:
1. Durability and zero maintenance: Corrugated metal will stand up to the sun, wind, rain and even road debris with-out the need for initial prep or follow up maintenance such as staining or painting.
2. Integrated rainscreen system: The inherent airspace and drainage paths created by the vertically oriented corrugations that eliminate the need for furring strips which reduces the thickness of the wall assembly and allows for added inches of interior space. This air space allows water to drain out of and air to ventilate the air space behind the corrugated siding.
3. Ease of Insulation:
It takes a lot more fasteners and time to attach many individual pieces of siding than it does to install the large 2’x12’ panels of metal which totaled 22 pieces.
4. Safety: It is non-combustible. This offers peace of mind to those of us who live in the Western United States where forest fires are a constant and devastating threat. An ember can travel up to a mile from its source and has the potential to ignite whatever it lands on during the long dry summers of the Yakima Valley.
The result is this beautiful reclaimed material that is steeped in Yakima Valley history. A material symbolic of our valleys sun, sweat and labor and offers an incredible way to tie our project to the agricultural industry that this region was built on. Check out THIS POST we did about the siding that includes an installation time lapse video.
5. What is the composting toilet like?
We know you want to ask so here are some details. We have the ETL certified Separett waterless composting toilet which means that when the pump on the shared well recently quit and the neighbors were running to nearby businesses to use a toilet, ours kept on functioning just the same!
The urine diversion system is the first step in reducing waste odor while the solids drop into a compostable bag lined bucket in the toilet module. A constantly running silent exhaust fan in the toilet helps dehydrate the solids while constantly exhausting odor.
Believe it or not, using our toilet smells less than using a regular toilet because traditional bathrooms have a vent fan on the ceiling that pulls odors passed ones face during use while the Separett’s in-toilet vent fan pulls all odors (and airborn particles) into the toilet and away from your olfactory senses. Soooo yea, it has been business as usual (see what I did there?) and it sure is nice not ruining gallons of water with ounces of pee….
We empty the toilet about once a month which involves removing the compostable bag of waste, the majority of volume being toilet paper and adding it to the compost pile. For those who want more information about this process we highly recommend checking out the ‘Humanure Handbook.’ Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE.
Did you know that our tiny house has a built in gear room? We wanted to build a mobile tiny house base camp in order to spend more time in the mountains, so downsizing our gear collection was not an option.
Our design includes a 24 square foot gear room dedicated to the storage of the gear, tools and equipment that open up endless outdoor opportunities. Now we have all of our gear with in reach at a moments notice while not having to live amongst it!
Because there is still room to spare in our gear room it becomes a great place to store other things including Aubrin’s folding bathtub, excess cat food and litter, out of season clothes, etc… as well as unsightly systems like our breaker box and water heater.
Check out THIS BLOG POST to see more photos and video proof that everything fits!
7. What do we miss the most?
The picture says it all! Samantha’s love for a good tub soak has not deminished since moving into our tub-less tiny house so we she gets them when she can while traveling. Like this beautiful freestanding tub in Seattle or the old claw foot tub being reclaimed by the natural hot spring minerals in the Utah desert. We often joke about wanting an adult sized folding bathtub like we use for Aubrin and enjoying a soak in the middle of our living room.
While there are plenty of tiny houses with bathtubs we couldn’t justify the use of space, especially when we need space for our dedicated gear room (see FAQ #6).
8. Where are we parked?
We are currently parked on a friends property and he lives in the main house a few hundred feet away. While we can’t say our current situation is 100% legal it is not exactly illegal either. In THIS BLOG POST we discussed the grey area that we, as intentionally non-RVIA certified tiny house dwellers fall under and why this topic isn’t as cut and dry as it seems, YET.
For those wondering and worried about finding a place to live we offer this: Currently it is pretty easy to find a good place to live and pretty difficult to find a legal place to live in a tiny house on wheels. Code enforcement is a complaint driven system so it will be your neighbors that have much of the control. What we have found is that if you are courteous to your neighbors and are not an eye sore you should do just fine.
It may be unrealistic to think you can set up in the backyard of a manicured suburban development with nosey neighbors but locations a little outside of town, or more rural properties as well as dead end roads are great options.
It is worth mentioning that avenues to live legally in tiny houses are progressing quickly, from Portlands backyard ADU cottages, to new ‘tiny house communities’ to ‘Appendix Q’ that is being added to the 2018 building code making it easier to design and build code compliment (regulated, inspected, legal) tiny houses making the murky grey area of tiny house living, much clearer.
9. What has it been like raising a baby in a tiny house?
Plenty of people are starting to accept the ‘tiny house thing’ a bit more but when they learn that we have a 6 month old baby in the space the skepticism often reemerges. The truth is, having a baby in our 204 square foot tiny house is all we know. It has been a very enjoyable experience and without anything to compare it to, we have nothing but positive things to report.
There is great peace of mind in knowing that we are raising our daughter in the cleanest most healthy house we have ever lived in and the ability to always keep an eye on her is an added bonus. It has provided all the necessities for our daughter to grow and we have been able to continue to tweak and adapt the home for our new tiny roommate [like the new loft edge barrier net we talk about in THIS BLOG POST.
Surprisingly the biggest perk or raising a baby in a tiny house has very little to do with the tiny house. By opting out of the rat race and substantially reducing our cost of living we’ve had the ability to take extended parental leave, work less and work from home resulting in more time doing the things we love with the people we love, especially sweet baby, Aubrin Sage.
10. Has it been difficult living in such a small space?
It has been effortless. That’s the word we commonly use to describe living in a space that is hyper-customized to your exact needs. Every choice in the design and construction of this space was heavily scrutinized and deliberated upon before accepting and many decisions were literally related to the ergonomics and dimensions of our own bodies including the height clearance below the loft beams, the couch and portable bench/table design, the stair dimensions and the location and height of the windows. It is amazing what good design can do for tiny space living. It’s what makes a space the size of many people’s master bathrooms a fully functioning home for our family of three.
Read about our first 365 days in 204 sf here👉https://shedsistence.com/…/365-days-in-a-tiny-ho
I think the easiest transition into a tiny house happens for those that build it themselves. By the time you move in it feels like you have already been living in it for a long time. The hundreds upon hundreds of hours spent slowly turning a pile of materials into a suitable home not only prepares you for the upcoming habitation but in a way it tempers any small ‘problems’ that may arise and chances are you have developed the skills necessary to problem solve the issue and keep on keeping on. At the end of a d.i.y. tiny house build there is an immeasurable sense of pride that tends to heighten the time spent inside your labor of love.
Read about our first 365 days in a tiny house HERE.