Author Archives: elainelw

12/29 My Last Post

text about starting a new chapter with a sunset as the backgroundThis will be my last post on Tiny House Community. Please read this article if you wish to know why. The author expresses what I’ve felt and observed the past few years. It’s a long article – if you don’t have time or interest in the details, here’s the micro version:

“This is not just a movement; it’s becoming an industry.”
“The people had spoken. They preferred the comb-over.”

I still live in my tiny house and support the original values of the movement. I know many people have found my website useful, so I would prefer not to shut it down, but rather to turn it over to someone who wants to continue sharing tiny house news. I’ve offered it to a friend but if he doesn’t decide to do it, it will be available for someone else. Please email me if you’re interested: Please include a little about yourself and what you’d like to offer to tiny house enthusiasts. 

Thanks for being part of the tiny house community! I wish you all the very best in the coming New Year!

12/29 The Tiny-House Revolution Goes Huge

line of people waiting to go inside a tiny house

Of all the earthy trends to emerge since the crash, none have captured adoration like tiny houses. Photo: Benjamin Rasmussen

Nowhere is the quest for simplicity and freedom more pronounced than in the tiny-house movement, which has grown from hipster alternative to mainstream phenomenon faster than an Amish barn raising. Mark Sundeen joins the believers to ask: Has the dream gotten too big?

Remember not too long ago, maybe 2012, the slew of blogs and Tumblrs and films that heralded not just a new type of house but a movement, a post-collapse quest for simplicity and freedom, a rejection of waste and “stuff” and, just like Thoreau in his cabin of yore, a crusade to chomp life’s essence and suck its marrow? Museum-quality photo books showed how to stick it to the man in 400 square feet or less—with the clean lines and blond oak that made us drool onto the pages of Dwell magazine. Of all the earthy trends to emerge since the crash—local food, urban farms, permaculture—none have captured adoration like tiny houses, spawning no fewer than seven reality shows. You won’t find a series about cloth diapers.

It appealed to me, someone who has lived in some of the tiniest homes out there—a Subaru wagon, a Toyota pickup, an SUV with the backseats removed. When it comes to car camping, I wrote the book. Seriously. It’s called Car Camping. What’s more, I own a 1965 single-wide that measures just 570 square feet, with pine cabinets like you’d find in a sailboat, on an acre outside Moab, Utah. I’ve always thought that if I owned less, worked less, and spent less, I would be more free.

But my vagabond days are behind me, and as I sped toward the second annual National Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs last August, I was undergoing my own tiny crisis. My wife and I had bought a tiny car that got nearly 40 miles per gallon. We’d even upcycled a Mexican roof mutt into our own tiny dog, who consumed at mealtime less than one cup of kibble and canned pumpkin and whose tiny poops hardly registered at the landfill. Meanwhile we’d upsized to a two-bedroom bungalow—our biggest yet. Even as I understood that appetites like mine were plundering the planet, I could not stop wanting a third bedroom. As for the car: it was the first I’d ever owned that was too small to sleep in, so if the weather turned bad I might have to get a hotel, and wouldn’t that indulgence offset the efficiency?

Was small actually beautiful? I was ti-curious.

In my imagination, the Jamboree promised a quaint circle of funky sheds inhabited by anarchists who’d pass the porch-bound evenings picking banjos, sipping moonshine, and comparing insulation R-values. But because last year’s hordes had packed the grounds of the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, backing up traffic, this year the Jamboree supersized to a field at the Air Force Academy. My subversive fantasies were deflated by the armed guard at the academy gates, who demanded my license, weapons, explosives, and drugs.

I followed a stream of Tiny Jammers driving through the piny hills to the stadium, one minivan painted with TINY HOUSE OR BUST! FIND US ON FACEBOOK. We throngs—nearly 60,000 before the weekend was over—filed our vehicles into long rows, then stampeded toward the entrance on foot. Saturated with the carnival cloud of a pork smoker on wheels, ringed by Porta-Potties innumerable, a field of yellow grass and gravel was packed with dozens of trailers on blocks, lines of looky-loos at the steps. A string of booths showcased off-grid accoutrements from solar panels to composting toilets to twig-burning cookstoves.

I had a date at the Tiny Stage to get to the heart of this phenomenon. A roster of the movement’s Luminaries would clarify the Tiny House Philosophy, which, it turned out, had little to do with bookshelves­as-stairs or sinks-in-closets. One philosopher, Kent Griswold, founder of Tiny House Blog, a gray-headed avuncular type in cargo shorts and sneakers, confessed that he didn’t even live in one. No matter. All could benefit from its principles:

– Reduce your belongings.
– Get out of debt.
– Do work that you love.

Sager advice has never been given; indeed, these very principles had guided my own adulthood. But if living tiny doesn’t require a dollhouse, then what were we all doing here?

The first Luminary I met was Nina Zamudio, whose tale was pure bravura. A native Californian, Zamudio had worked her way through college, was earning a good income, and had even bought her mother a home. She had achieved the American dream. Then she divorced and moved out of her 2,800-square-foot house in Orland to take care of Mom in Chico. Now 49, with lustrous black hair and an irrepressible smile, Zamudio told me that after her mother’s death, she’d spent months getting rid of everything. Her mother’s place was only 1,200 square feet, but the empty house felt hollow and lonely, her solitary voice echoing off the walls. She attended a workshop with Jay Shafer, a 52-year-old designer and builder hailed by Oprah Winfrey as the Tiny House Man, author and publisher of the 2009 movement bible The Small House Book. Transformed, Zamudio sold the house and rented her first tiny home. She moved to Texas, where—helped by a crew of friends and strangers—she built an eight-by-twenty-foot house on wheels. A church allowed her to park on its grounds. She found a new set of friends at the Dallas Tiny House Meetup group, not to mention a boyfriend.

Tiny-home dweller Nina Zamudio

Tiny-home dweller Nina Zamudio. Photo: Benjamin Rasmussen

Zamudio inspired me. Who doesn’t want to rebound from adversity with panache, to be reawakened at middle age, to forge meaning amid drudgery and isolation? Tiny Housers’ zeal approaches the religious. “It’s not really about the tiny house,” one told me. “It’s about values, a way of life.” Another said, “Your whole life changes when you live in a tiny house.” As with any sect—or recovery group—its core is the narrative of personal transformation, whether being saved or getting sober. Here the stories pivoted around Turning Tiny. Before Tiny, there was an unhappy marriage, unpaid bills, stifling office work, a home of 2,500 square feet or more; after Tiny came freedom, new love, debt relief, self-employment, and, of course, a handmade nest.

When Tiny Jammers asked one another “Are you building?” it was no minor inquiry but rather the existential question, and when someone responded “Three months now,” a giddy thrill bubbled into the air, because we knew she had been reborn.

Duly evangelized, I set out to view the homes. But instead of the art brut of mad visionaries, I found professionally built sales models. An attractive rig from Northern California’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, the nation’s first and biggest manufacturer, cofounded by Jay Shafer himself, was outfitted with a flat-screen TV, faux-log stove, air conditioner, and washing machine, charged by a rumbling generator and encircled by a bevy of attractive salespersons in shirts that read DREAM BIG GO TINY. Cost of this model: $91,000. Inside I heard one Jammer say, “Did we bring the snacks or leave them in the car?” One of the “workshops” was a pitch by Ikea reps.

Better to call this the Tiny House Trade Show? As for the gadgets, as much as I admire a diminutive toilet, serious homesteaders make humanure by pooping into a bucket of sawdust. And a twig-burning stove can be fashioned from a No. 10 peach can. If we are trapped in a cycle of earning and spending, I wasn’t sure that any purchase would free us.

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12/29 Nine fabulous tiny homes, all built for under $20K

inside the bedroom of a tiny house

Off-grid tiny vacation home for $11,000 in Hawaii

During the last few years, tiny houses have been catching on in a big way: there are now television shows devoted to them, scads of blogs about them, and even efforts afoot to get them written into the international residential code. But all that attention has also translated into an uptick of high-end tiny homes with price tags to match — running contrary to the idea that tiny homes are supposed to be an antidote to unaffordable, monster-sized homes.

But tiny homes don’t need to be expensive, and building an affordable home doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing comfort, beauty and functionality either. Price is only a function of one’s level of creativity in finding recycled materials, and willingness to put in your own elbow grease (though the price of land upon which to park your home may be another obstacle to overcome). That said, here’s a roundup of some of our favourite tiny homes, all built for under twenty grand.

1. Woman builds Hawaii tiny off-grid vacation home for $11,000

Dressmaker Kristie Wolfe of Boise, Idaho, is one great example of how living tiny can save you money. Wolfe saved so much money from building and living in her first tiny home, that she parlayed those savings into building a second vacation home on a plot of land she purchased in Hawaii — which she now rents out for extra income via Airbnb.

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12/29 In Rapid City, Tiny houses are a step in right direction

Rapid City Iowa Mayor Steve Allender

Rapid City Iowa Mayor Steve Allender. Photo from his Twitter profile.

Mayor Steve Allender is thinking big and out of the box these days as he begins to tackle Rapid City’s affordable housing shortage.

Allender is looking at tiny houses as part of the solution in a community where jobs that pay even $14 an hour are difficult to find.

But now, the mayor is going from the talking to the doing stage in an unprecedented effort to open more doors for those working-class residents who want to call Rapid City home.

The Journal reported last week that Allender is working with a private developer and Neighborworks Dakota Home Resources to build five tiny townhomes near the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

They would be from 360 to 968 square feet with attached garages. The prices are expected to range from $100,000 to $142,000. Those who seek to purchase a unit could receive help with the down payment and closing costs, assistance that likely would come from Neighborworks, an established nonprofit that helps local residents buy, repair and keep their homes.

If all goes as planned, work could begin in February or March on the townhomes. Mayor Allender hopes the project eventually will pave the way for 100 or more tiny homes in Rapid City, which would be a remarkable achievement.

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12/28 Florida’s tiny house movement embraces some big ideas

A tiny home repurposed from a U-Haul trailer

A tiny home repurposed from a U-Haul trailer.

Adam Money (also known as Adam Scott) looks deceptively boyish, with a surfer’s tan, blue eyes and a ready smile. Now in his 30s, he could be paying a big mortgage on a suburban ranch home, but instead Money is restoring a kitchen in the clubhouse of the RV park he owns, Orlando Lakefront. He’s built several tiny houses in this mobile home community, bought a few more, and he gazes at them lovingly, like family, as he tours the property.

From Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando Lakefront looks like any other ordinary mobile home park. But these tiny homes, like the movement itself, are secreted inside the more conventional picture of Americana. The standard American dream is a job and a house and a yard and a dog and a kid or two, but Money would rather build a neighborhood, one tiny house at a time.

Tiny houses are trendy, and yet they’re nothing new – wetuash, wattle-and-daub, log cabins and soddies were the original American tiny houses. Giant houses are still rising at a furious pace, and if that’s your choice, there’s nothing wrong with displaying your success writ large. For more and more people, however, something’s missing, and a big empty house is small comfort.

Money’s College Park tiny house village started on the western edge of Lake Fairview and is bit by bit spreading inland, back into the park. Money gambled on his intuition that people crave the look and feel of a traditional house; the brightly colored tiny houses strut like tropical cocktails in between weathered old mobile homes.

He pauses at the edge of the lake. “My first tiny house was that one over there,” he gestures with pride. It looks like the back of a U-Haul truck – and indeed that’s what it is, repainted cinnamon-orange and nestled into an oak-shaded wood deck. “Elaine liked that spot, so I converted a used trailer into a house just for her,” Money says. [Note: The author misunderstood. Elaine Walker’s tiny house was the first one at Adam’s park. Adam converted the U-Haul and put it where Elaine’s house had been when she moved her house to Palmetto, FL in January 2016.]

Cynthia Aimo, a retired attorney and one of Money’s early buyers, lives in a sunny yellow tiny house perched on the shore. She’s busy cleaning it while her friendly dog watches. “Mainly, I wanted something I could manage without gobbling up all of my time,” she offers from the doorway, vacuum cleaner in hand.

Aimo’s choice to stay small was deliberate: “It is a liberating feeling, not having a huge house hanging over my head, or a big rent check every month.”

Tiny homes represent an option for people who intentionally downsize and want to live more outside of their homes than within them. Conditioned to want more and more, many have succumbed to the American Dream spoon-fed to us by advertising agencies, but by redefining what is meant by “more,” people like Adam Money and Cynthia Aimo are reserving less for big houses and more for their own bigger dreams of the future.

With the exploding popularity of books, websites and TV shows (Tiny House Big Living, Tiny Luxury, Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House Builders, Tiny House Arrest, et. al.) dedicated to the trend, “What’s a tiny house?” isn’t a question heard very often these days. But for the record, practitioners generally define a tiny house as a livable structure (walls, roof, kitchen, bathroom) under 500 square feet, about the size of a two-car garage.

The concept of “living little” started to rise during the decluttering/minimalist craze of the ’00s and gained traction when the recession hit, as a way to combat ridiculous mortgages, endless weekends spent on home repair and lawn-mowing, and the bitter reality that your house value can, despite all your work, drop like a rock when the big boys on Wall Street screw up.

The most common tiny dwelling is the kind on wheels. (Those living the life often refer to them as THOWs.) Tiny houses on wheels can go into RV parks (pending park-owner approval), and sometimes into backyards and other properties, if zoning laws let them – it’s all about access to water, electricity and sewerage.

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12/27 Tiny houses in 2016: more tricked-out and eco-friendly

Another year in our housing-crunched yet sustainability-minded world means another year of folks exploring down-sized lifestyles in tiny homes. Used for everything from housing the homeless to short-term rentals to, yes, full-time residences, these under-400-square-foot dwellings still have momentum on their side.

Sure, there are a slew of regulatory hurdles surrounding tiny house ownership, but even that no longer seems impenetrable. In fact, earlier this month, a tiny house appendix was approved for inclusion in the newest edition of the national building code, giving tiny homes a crucial bit of legitimacy and a path forward.

But before any further deluge of new tiny homes, let’s first take a look back at all the incredible projects we saw this year. From a shipping container tiny house to several solar-powered stunners, these designs show how sophisticated micro home design has become and challenge our imaginations of what tiny houses can be.

1. Escape Vista, the tiny glass house

exterior of tiny house in the snow

Escape Vista

Introduced in early 2016, the modern-style Escape Vista has quickly become a top-seller for Wisconsin-based Escape Homes. In addition to the original model, an 160-square-foot dwelling going for $46,600, the line now includes the 136-square-foot “Go” ($38,600) and 110-square-foot “Sport” ($29,800) options. All three have the signature large wrap-around windows, of course.

2. Zyl Vardos’s fantastical ‘Moon Dragon’

exterior of a tiny house

The Moon Dragon

The first thing to love about Washington builder Zyl Vardos’s “Moon Dragon” tiny house is its whimsical exterior, marked by curves, arches, and all sorts of unorthodox windows. The second, more practical thing to appreciate is that the house offers an unusually high five-and-a-half-foot sleeping loft, complete with double closets.

3. A minimalist ‘Walden Studio’ from the Netherlands

interior of a tiny house

inside the Walden Studio

This airy 182-square-foot design hailing from the Netherlands demonstrates the magic of skylights and nooks. We wouldn’t mind hunkering down with a pile of good books in the Walden Studio.

See seven more tiny houses and all the great photos at

12/27 Transition to tiny house life poses big challenges for Nebraska family

Melody and Darren and their four children in their RV

Melody and Darren Mike and their four children

For the six-member Mike family, living in their pair of tiny houses felt just right. But everything else that comes along with owning a tiny house — construction costs and the bureaucracy of finding land — wasn’t so cozy.

Since the family sold its house this summer, moved into an RV and built its collective 688-square-foot tiny houses west of Ceresco, they’ve faced a rocky road to find a permanent, legal home for their new way of life. They’ve been kicked off properties several times, and despite filming a reality TV show about the construction of their tiny houses, aren’t living in them at the moment.

The construction of the two houses was filmed for an episode of “Tiny House Nation: Family Edition” set to air Thursday evening on Lifetime.

“We want to live in them,” Melody Mike said. “It’s breaking our hearts right now that we can’t.”

The Mikes — parents Melody and Darren; Darren’s teenage son Carter; the couple’s young daughters McKenzie, Trinity and Joey; and their dog — all moved into twin tiny houses in November. The World-Herald detailed the family’s plans in a July article.

Before filming, the family sold its house and moved into a retrofitted RV parked at The Gathering Place, their church in Valley. Shortly after, a neighbor complained, and the city told the Mikes that they had to move. So they moved into a two-bedroom apartment above the church.

Filming went well and was mostly fun for the family, Darren said, but the price quickly outgrew their budget, eventually by about $17,000, even after trade-outs from the TV show.

After construction, the family lived the tiny life for six weeks. They lived off the grid, drawing water from a well and power from solar panels. Darren shot his first deer, and cooked steaks and stew for the family. The kids played outside in the woods, and they made nightly campfires, staring up at the Milky Way.

“We absolutely loved it,” Darren said. “It was a lot of work repairing and fixing, but the lifestyle, it’s totally us. We’re somewhat desperate to get back into that.”

A month and a half in, connections to the underground cistern came loose. Then, the family was told that it had to vacate the land. Zoning problems are a common obstacle for tiny house owners. It’s something the Mikes hope will change soon, and they plan on appealing to nearby counties to find a solution.

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12/24 Tiny houses become homes before holiday

Governor Tomblin inside a tiny house

Governor Tomblin tours one of the tiny homes to be donated to a family displaced by the summer flood.

More than 2,000 vocational students across the state put their trade skills to work building tiny homes for survivors of the June 2016 flood.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin presented 15 families with keys to those new homes Tuesday in a ceremony at the 130th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia National Guard.

Through the “Big Hearts Give Tiny Homes” project, 15 homes were constructed by students of Simulated Workplace programs across 12 schools, an initiative of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Career Technical Education division.

“Time and again, in the aftermath of this tragic flooding, I have seen the spirit of West Virginians make a difference for their neighbors. These students have shown that spirit in a truly remarkable way,” Gov. Tomblin said. “I know how eager the students have been to meet the families whose lives will change for the better because of them. And I join them in hoping these homes provide warmth and a sense of place and home to these families – this holiday season and beyond.”

In an interview earlier this month, Dr. Kathy D’Antoni, chief officer of career and technical education, said the project was created to ensure those displaced by the flood have heat, shelter and a home before the holiday season.

“It’s not just a nice thing to do; it is the right thing to do,” she explained.

Students completed the homes, each around 700 square feet, over seven weeks, and many students and teachers worked evenings and through the Thanksgiving holiday to get them completed.

Through West Virginia’s Simulated Workplace programs, high school classrooms have been transformed into companies, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on training and learn high-demand skills. All Simulated Workplace companies – from HVAC to electrical, plumbing and carpentry – collaborated to make the tiny homes construction possible.

“This was a true collaborative effort among our Simulated Workplace programs and their communities,” said Dr. Michael Martirano, state superintendent of schools. “These incredibly talented students, along with their teachers and communities, worked tirelessly to help families in need. Their work is a true testament to both their skills and their generosity.”

West Virginia National Guard units from across West Virginia transported the tiny homes from each Career Technical Education center for the ceremony and will transport the homes to their final locations for the families.

“This is another example of how West Virginia comes together in times of need,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer.

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12/23 A Wish for My Tiny House Friends

the loft of my tiny house

the loft of my tiny house

I wish for you, my tiny house friends,
a Christmas that is as peaceful and comforting
as the tiny house of your dreams.
May you be blessed with
joy that radiates from within,
and a heart overflowing
with compassion and forgiveness.
May you grow into who you are truly meant to be:
brave and strong and wise,
honest and true.
“Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free.”

From the Piano Guys, a rendition of Over the Rainbow/Simple Gifts that is a beautiful to listen to as it is to watch:

12/22 Luxury tiny house on wheels with garage for two Harleys or a golf cart

455 sq ft tiny house with garage

455 sq ft tiny house with garage from JDS Innovative Home Concepts

Ever find yourself 15 minutes into an episode of Tiny House Hunters, thinking I could do that? Here’s your chance. Luxury homebuilder Joseph Santarelli, owner of Dallas-based JDS Innovative Home Concepts, is departing from the sprawling abodes he typically builds to bring tiny houses to Big D.

“The craze got me,” says Santerelli, who first discovered the movement while shopping for an RV. After comparing tiny houses to RVs, he concluded “there is no comparison.”

Although most RVs aren’t up to his luxury standards, tiny houses can be tailor-made to fit any aesthetic — and, perhaps more important, budget. They’re also mobile, and when done right, built to last.

“You may go through a couple of remodels, but with a tiny house, you have something that’s going to last 60-80 years,” Santarelli says. “Dollar for dollar, I believe the value is just superior to a recreational vehicle.”

Convinced the tiny trend is one with staying power, Santarelli set out to put his own high-end spin on the small spaces, starting with a version for himself. When it’s completed — and it’s close — he plans to tour the country with his wife, hopefully creating interest along the way. He shouldn’t have any trouble; drawing on more than three decades as a builder, he pulled out all the stops.

At around 455 square feet (on the larger side for a tiny house, which can start at 100 square feet), Santarelli’s custom creation has cedar siding, an all-metal roof, vaulted ceilings, and insulated windows. It also boasts a garage big enough to fit a pair of Harley-Davidsons or a golf cart — a first, according to Santarelli. “It’s going to be fully equipped,” he says, “all the bells and whistles.”

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