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Living Tiny

living-tiny
Sian and Adam with their tiny house on wheels. Photos by Keren Dobia

We were inspired to build a tiny house out of necessity, to have our own space. We’d left the city in search of a more sustainable lifestyle, and for about a year we lived between a tent, the back of our car and in a borrowed caravan: it was time to build something of our own!

We started to investigate what could be possible for us at Agari Permaculture Farm (Victoria) the intentional community we were living at. We spoke to the council and the landowner about what could meet our needs. We wanted to build a home quickly, where: we didn’t need a mortgage, could have privacy, be warm, store our things, cook in and be able to move with our changing circumstances.

Adam was working with Rob Scott, from Hollyburton Park (Macedon Ranges, Vic), building house-trucks at the time, so that seemed like the obvious solution.

Size Matters

The floor size is around twenty square metres: the mezzanine bedroom, above the truck cab, is four; the living space, comprised of a lounge room, kitchenette, fire and storage space, is fourteen; and the cantilevered porch, with a shower, is two.

… And So Does Cost

We’ve spent around $16 500 so far on the truck, the materials, the solar system and the amenities, including the fridge, shower, hot-water system and fireplace. Luckily Adam is a carpenter/builder, and had the skills to both design the house and then facilitate the building process. Labour is usually the biggest cost in building, and we were blessed to have so many beautiful friends to volunteer their time and expertise.

living-tiny

Clockwise from top: Everything you need in one compact space. Adam and Sian enjoying their new home. The kitchen with recycled doors and windows. Photos by Keren Dobia

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living-tiny

Materials

Around eighty-five per cent of the materials used were recycled, free or sourced locally. The truck is a 1969 Bedford, bought from Gumtree from an old, Italian furniture removalist. On the exterior is rusty corrugated iron, reclaimed weatherboards and fence palings. All the windows and doors were secondhand, also from Gumtree. The back porch is made from locally felled blue gum and fence palings, and its floor is the timber from the ramp that came with the truck. In the interior: the rafters and some finishings are reclaimed Oregon pine; the slate on the fireplace is from a salvage yard; the kitchen corner-cabinet is from eBay; the shelving uses old wine boxes (from Gumtree); the floor is made from hardwood offcuts from a local timber yard; and the cypress stair/kitchen tops were milled locally. Half the wall lining and all the trimmings and architraves are from old fence palings too. The solar panels and batteries were also second-hand.

Around fifteen per cent of the materials were brand new, including: the pine stud wall, the corrugated iron roof (we aim to harvest rainwater), the Earthwool insulation batts (eighty per cent recycled glass bottles), pine ceiling and half of the wall lining. All the pine is fast growing, sustainably-sourced plantation timber. We also used some plywood to build the cabinets.

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Outdoor area, and solar panels. Photos by Keren Dobia

The Building Process

We lived in the back of the truck for six months while doing a design, saving money and collecting materials. The building process took about ten weeks, with varying amounts of labour.

After removing the existing shell of the truck, we built stud walls and fixed them to the tray: the skeleton was complete. We then propped the front wall of the bedroom off the chassis using steel members, and raised the roof. On the porch, the roundwood mortise and tenon joinery – which I learnt from Ben Law and Simon Dale – was time-consuming, but really stands out as a beautiful feature. We then moved on to the exterior lining, roof cladding, and interior and ‘final’ fitout; we recently fitted our wood stove for winter.

Note that reclaimed materials usually take longer to work with, as they are not uniform and require effort such as sorting and planing. What you save in the material cost is low compared to this labour cost; however, reclaimed materials were part of our vision and ethics for a low impact home.

We had super-generous, skilled volunteer labour from friends, who helped make time-consuming processes much quicker and things like solar installation possible.

Energy Efficiency

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Dual purpose drawer stairs. Photos by Keren Dobia

The truck has been designed using passive solar principles. Adam tries to design tiny houses with a chosen orientation, which helps with the flow of the internal layout, and incorporating solar gain. Our house on wheels allows us to adjust its position to work with the sun. Most of the windows and doors are on one side, so in winter we can face this to the north to bring in optimum light and warmth. In the summer we can turn the truck so this side faces the south, to limit direct heating.

The walls, floor and ceiling of the house are fully insulated, requiring less input to control temperature. The small space means that it doesn’t take long to warm up with the fire, only used for a few months of the year, or to cool down, with crossventilating windows and doors.

Our solar system is made up of four 180 W panels, a 1500 W inverter and six 100 amphour batteries. This is adequate for us to run three LED downlights, charge our phones and computers, run a twelve volt fridge, play a stereo system/projector and, on sunny days, use more demanding appliances like a slow-cooker.

The Benefits Of A Tiny House On Wheels

Having a home space that can move with you and your changing circumstances is very empowering. As it’s on wheels, you don’t need to get council permission; planning permits take time and cost money. Tiny houses are also great investments, as they can be used as rental accommodation on your land.

Skill Level Needed

Anyone can build a tiny house. It’s not a simple task, so we would advise either buying a design from someone with experience, and/or attending a workshop where you can learn the skills and techniques to build your own. A workshop will also connect you with like-minded people, to learn and share with. You could pay someone to design and build a tiny house for you if you don’t have the time or experience, but have the budget to pay.

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living-tiny

Left to right: The outdoor shower on the back. Plenty of room for cooking. Photos by Keren Dobia

Other Useful Advice

Spend a lot of time on Gumtree and eBay, looking for cheap deals on materials, as beauties pop up all the time! Scour the internet too, for photos and inspiration for your design. Connect with others who have built and/or lived in tiny houses, to help answer your questions. And look at ways to minimise your possessions, as you’ll need to keep to necessities when living in a tiny house.

Being involved in the process of designing or/and building your home to suit your specific lifestyle needs is priceless.

Adam Hickman runs Evergreen Homes Australia. If you’re interested in attending a tiny house workshop, or having a tiny house designed/built for you, please contact him at adam@evergreenhomes.com.au

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