We started actively working on the tiny house project right after we got married in August. In this post I will talk a bit about what we have done so far, what we have found out and how we plan to proceed. I will try to answer most of the questions people usually have when we tell them about this project.
Let me start by saying that we don’t currently have enough money to actually build the house. We estimate that it will cost us around 30 000 €. We have been saving for half a year and surprisingly we are about 30% there. If our savings account continues to fill up at the same rate we will reach the goal in a year. So realistically looking we won’t move in sooner than summer 2017. That being said, we still have plenty of planing and decision making to do before we can start the build.
As far as we know we are the first ones to try something like this in Latvia. There are definitely no companies here that specialise in building tiny houses on wheels so we started by searching for architects that have done something at least remotely similar - container/modular homes. We also looked for architects that are interested in green architecture - energy efficiency and self sustainability.
To our surprise we quickly found out that there are two architect families in our bio food co-op. We contacted both of them as well as one other architect and a company specialising in building passive homes. They all showed interest in our idea. Although we were leaning towards one of the families from the co-up we decided to continue with the passive home company because they claimed that they can do everything from architecture to interior design and construction themselves. That meant we wouldn't need to look for a builder and managing the project would be a lot easier.
This choice is something we are regretting right now. As it turns out we are not on the same page about many things. Mostly because they don't have the same appreciation for simplicity in design (that often hides complex mechanics behind it) and they just don't seem to be passionate about the project. So far they have created a floor plan and 3d model purely based our sketches and ideas and it looks like our collaboration will end with that. We plan to contact the architects from our co-up soon to continue working on the design.
We have also looked at companies abroad that specialise in building tiny houses. We like La Tiny House from France and we are thinking about contacting them too.
Our idea of a tiny house didn't always include wheels. At the beginning we were looking at transportable prefabricated / container homes. I was in love with the idea of a movable house and when somewhere along the way we discovered that many people are actually putting their homes on wheels I immediately knew we were going to do that too.
The EU regulations for trailers are as follows - height limit is 4 meters, maximum width is 2.5 meters and maximum length is 12 meters. Our design is still in progress and the size will probably change, but for now we are looking at 4 x 2.5 x 8.5 meters. Taking wall thickness (30cm) into account, this will give us a floor area of around 15 m2. This is all very nice. It might seem small, but if you design the space well it's more than enough. For us the biggest problem is actually the weight limit. In EU the maximum weight is 3.5 tons. This is something we found out quite recently and we are pretty sure our current design is well over the limit. That means we might have to go even smaller and that we will have to put in some extra thought when deciding on materials.
Power. We obviously want to use only renewable energy. We haven't done the math yet, but we are pretty sure that covering our roof with solar panels won't produce enough power for us. At least not in winter in Latvia. So we will probably need a second portable system on the ground and possibly also a portable wind turbine. It's a very exiting time for solar energy because these technologies are getting more efficient and cheaper every month. For example last year Tesla released a new product called Powerwall. It's a very nice battery system for solar setups and we have read they will release a second generation this summer.
Water. There is no real (convenient) way to have off-grid water in a tiny house. At least not if you're moving frequently. We will probably have to plug in some kind of water source in every place we park. The source could be anything really. We might plug in someones garden hose or if we end up in a very remote location we might pump the water from a lake or river. We are thinking about a rain collection system, but we have no idea if our roof area will be big enough to collect any significant amount. If we do decide to go this route we will have to find a place for containers that will hold the water. There probably won't be any place for them inside the house so this system would be more suitable for a permanent location.
We will however need a water tank that will hold our grey water (the water from the kitchen and shower). If only biodegradable soaps are used the water can be later reused to water the garden or just dumped anywhere in the ground.
Toilet. There are many great options starting from simple bucket systems and ending with high tech incinerating toilets that turn your poop into ash in a matter of seconds. We're planing to go with a rather simple composting toilet. We've heard a lot of great reviews about this model from Natures Head. You might be wondering about the smell that could come from a toilet like this. As we have heard it actually smells less than a regular toilet. Here is a very interesting in depth video about the toilet from Gone with the Wynns.
We have thought a lot about the design. It's hard enough to design a regular size home, but when you have to put everything you need for comfortable living in a space this small things get a bit complicated. This is a very frustrating process. We are very indecisive, we want every little detail to perfect and we constantly doubt the decisions we've made. I hope it will get easier after we hand our ideas and desires to an architect we trust but I doubt it will. For now we are still on our own.
If you've read the post about things we like in architecture you already know what to expect from us. Here is what we have come up with -
The shape of the house. We decided to go with a very simple geometric shape. We would really like to make it as symmetric as possible and go with a gable roof, but for now we have decided to stick with the shed roof because that will give us much more surface area for the solar panels.
The facade. We are going with a timber facade, a very large full height window in the front and a smaller one in the back of the house. We will have four sliding panels hidden in the facade. When closed, they will transform the house in a completely sealed timber box. We wanted to have this option in case we end up in a place where the large window would cause privacy issues. Actually we are a bit concerned about the size of the window. We have no idea if its safe to install a piece of glass that large in a tiny house on wheels. Other than that we really like the direction we are going in.
The floor plan. This might be the most frustrating part. We've had many fights over things like placement of the kitchen or bed. We just don't know whats the right way to do this. We probably won't be sure about the choices we've made until we move in. I actually expect that we might want to change things around after we move in so I think the design should be as adaptable, movable and transformable as possible.
We try to design the space very open by merging the kitchen, living and sleeping areas into one large room. We were thinking about using a murphy bed that folds in a wall when not in use, but once again - we are not sure about it. We might go the more traditional route and make a loft in above the living area. The bathroom (1 x 1.9 meters) will house a shower, a composting toilet and a washing machine. On the left side we plan to make small utility room for things like batteries, etc. That probably will only be accessible from outside. The kitchen is the one place where we can't compromise. It has to fit a full size fridge with a large freezer, dishwasher, oven, stove, lots of storage space and a large countertop.
Interior Design. We haven't put that much thought into things like interior materials and colours yet. We think it's going to be light with some dark grey accents. Definitely no bright, saturated colours. Thats about everything we have so far on that front. The pictures below were made to show the floor plan and the materials and colours used in them are default, generic ones from some 3d software. They don't represent what we like or how we want our interior to look.