Bootstrapping a Tiny Home
I am starting what I hope will become a content oriented permanent thread in General⇒MaterialCapital. I have decided to call it “Bootstrapping a Tiny Home”, instead of “Building a Home” because what I am SPECIFICALLY interested in is the “how to” of going from completely exposed to the elements to putting a dry roof over your head.
I am consciously incompetent in this field, at present. I failed wood shop in 6th grade; or the wood shop instructor failed me — take your pick (if you knew the story I like to think you’d lean toward the latter). I’ve extensively remodeled and built enough houses, but always by hiring someone else to do the actual construction. I’ve made the money to hire others to build my houses by starting and running businesses. I don’t regret that, per se, but I’d like to remediate it somewhat. I don’t actually want a new career as a home builder, but I want to know that I can create a shelter for myself — AT LEAST A TINY HOME or cabin in the woods. I think that is a key part of resilience, arguably even more fundamental than growing food (which I already do, at least minimally). It’s a bit of remediation. And it is more than a bit practical, in these crazy times.
I was expecting something like this thread to already exist, but here I am, and I don’t see anything with a title that sounds even close, and I certainly believe “Material Capital” is the place this belongs. If someone already has a thriving thread on specifics of bootstrapping a home, I am open to having this post subsumed. But, perhaps, it is best to keep the thread on its own, because I have a very particular intention for this thread: building myself by building a roof over my head. A simple roof, but solid, and one that can never really be taken from me, nor denied me, because I carry it all inside my head.
In this case, I already have the acreage: 21 acres in Hawaii Imagine you do, too: bare acreage is quite cheap, in many areas of the US and even cheaper if you expand out into the world. If the cabin or tiny house is small enough, you can probably/hopefully get away with constructing it without a permit. Or permit it as “storage shed” and just don’t tell them you intend to store yourself in it. Start with little. Repurpose stuff, if possible. Maybe make some new friends, if you need help raising a roof. That is the idea and the ideal here. My hope is to start by building a one-bedroom house and, if that is too small, to add on or rebuild to suit.
To get things going, here is the simplest, step-wise, yet well-constructed cabin (built to last) tutorial I have found so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOOXmfkXpkM
And here is something for building the inside of each of all of both of you: https://genius.com/Peter-gabriel-mercy-street-lyrics
I bootstrapped my house. It wasn’t a tiny home, but a small house – 32×24. I did pay someone to come pour the concrete, and then we framed it, put siding and Tyvek paper on the outside, roof on, and insulated. Once the woodstove was installed, we were able to move in. Cost $13k to get to that point back in 2013.
No power or water or sewer or anything. Toilet was a compost bucket toilet (there’s a book called the Humanure Handbook that explains how to make one). I hauled in water, heated it in a big pot on the woodstove, dumped it out back after I was done, etc.
It was hard and I wouldn’t want to live that way permanently but it got me started. I finished it gradually over a period of 7 years. First steps were a propane range that I connected to a BBQ size tank. It took me years to get a fridge and I would NOT recommend that – living without a fridge generally results in a very carb/starch heavy diet and it kind of ruined my health in some ways.
Eventually brought water up and finally in the 7th year I was able to put in a septic system and I did bring up grid power. I did the grid power because I was pretty sure I wasn’t gonna live here forever.
Much of this just requires an understanding of the little different aspects of life and figuring out alternate ways to do things. No electric lights? Okay, oil lamps. Kids need a nightlight? Okay, a battery powered LED light with rechargeable batteries. Need a bathtub for the kids? Okay, Rubbermaid tub. No kitchen counters? Folding tables. No water drain? Cabinet sink base with a bucket under the sink to catch the water. And so forth.
I did shower at my parents house and did laundry at the laundromat, and again I would HIGHLY recommend not doing this without a proper refrigeration option.
The other thing I would HIGHLY recommend is – if anyone does this and ISN’T doing a tiny house, it is very doable to build a small home and add on to it without it looking like it was added on. If you walked into my house, you’d never know that 65% of it was built 8 years after the original, because I designed it with the intent of adding on. So I paid someone to add on another 1300 sq ft last year (right before materials prices went up… SCORE!) and it’s just one cohesive house.
The BIG thing is to make sure you make your final home design drawn out before you build your starter portion. I love my addition, it is amazing but we ran into some hiccups of things I didn’t anticipate when I initially was designing the starter portion and in hindsight I wished I would have designed the completed home at the same time as the starter portion.
I will answer any questions anyone has 🙂
Hey, not crazy at all.
I have been software developer all my life here and I started accumulating power tools and hand tools of all sorts over a year ago and I never relied on any sort of manual work to earn my life before.
I really care about becoming self reliant and it’s not even a question of money. Youtube is filled with DIY carpenters ressources, house builders, etc. Thankfully these folks are not facing any sort of censorship, …, yet, for now at least.
Wow, Bethafoot — that is an awesome and helpful story! I saw some more complicated and considerably more impressive tiny home videos, but thought I would start with one that didn’t intimidate me too much.
Is there any chance you can post any plans of your initial home versus the expanded edition? The idea of starting with something that just keeps you dry and secure, and yet has a larger vision behind it, so it can be expanded gracefully, is exactly what I meant.
I will take your strong suggestion to not try to do this without refrigeration to heart. In my case, because I already have it on hand, I am considering shipping a small travel trailer, with refrigerator, to the islands to provide initial on-site living. I can set it up with solar panels beforehand. This is grid tie but thought I would save the link this way: https://www.peakprosperity.com/using-a-grid-tied-solar-system-when-the-grid-is-down/
Maybe starting with an existing trailer is cheating, in a way? On the other hand, maybe it is just repurposing and legitimate bootstrapping, since I already have it, and it is otherwise going unused. I understand I can sell it on the islands, possibly for a profit, down the road.
Another possibility is that there are two existent old Quonset huts which had been repurposed to greenhouses. They have dirt floors and are periodically invaded by wild boars, but are dry. I could just hang out in them, but I’m not so much trying to go camping (been there, done that) ; nor otherwise rough it, as I am trying to break this — patently — ridiculous belief that I “can’t” build something. I used to think I couldn’t grow my own food, nor due Calculus, also, but those fell by the wayside a long time ago (still working on General Relativity and drawing, though).
Anyway, thanks for posting a followup. I would LOVE to see your original plan vs what you added on in seamless fashion! I should think that would be something which would interest many people here!
This is a MUCH more impressive cabin in the woods. And, perhaps even more impressive than the actual building details, is that nearly all the wood was milled from the surrounding forest, using mostly already dead trees! So, if you are a more advanced builder, this would be like an extra credit question. For me, it was great to watch (especially since the basic principles are the same) but it took a lot more time and was, for me, too intimidating. Maybe once I master the more basic structure….
This is what I’m turning my attention to now that lumber prices have come down enough:
I’ve only built pole barns, a quick and wood-efficient form of construction, but you typically need posts and trusses 10-foot on center, which would cut up the upstairs loft into 10-foot sections where you would walk between the webs of the trusses. Pole barns are great for getting clear spans without load bearing walls on the ground level, but I wanted a nice upstairs room with a view. I suppose you could do a pole barn without a loft (like a normal person) and not make habitable all that space between the trusses, but instead span the bottom chords of the trusses to put in a ceiling and an attic, which you could fill with insulation to your heart’s content.
There are a lot of oddities with this 24×36-foot construction: Most of the load bearing walls are 4-foot on center to allow lots of windows or straw bale infill. Straw bale does not require sheet materials (OSB, plywood, drywall) but with wire mesh (which also provides shear strength) will take a shotcrete/stucco finish on the outside and a hand-finished plaster on the inside, perfect for transferring moisture for my climate at typical dewpoints. The high wall is balloon-framed out of the longest lumber generally available near me (20-foot) and the loft joists sit on a let-in ledger–a style not popular since the old-growth forests were depleted, reducing the availability and quality of longer lumber. There is a DIY-tricky interior truss to open up what would be a load-bearing wall, and I will transfer the loads with internal high-grade steel chain. The loft would be tongue-and-groove 1.5-inch boards, which do fine with support only every 4 feet. The roof will be 14-inch engineered I-joists as rafters, and I hope to get close to R-49 insulation up there with dense packed cellulose. I hope to finish the roof with painted steel as prices fall, which would shed snow and compliment the fire resistance of the other exterior components except the windows, which unfortunately would allow lots of infrared to pass through during a fire and get trapped inside as heat.
I’m mostly doing this because I expect to eventually be able to sell it in whatever currency prevails. Meanwhile I don’t have to deal with office politics/mandates and I acquire useful skills as I experiment with the various techniques. But for a beginner, you could do a lot worse than a pole barn.
Stph – Yes I’d be happy to. I might actually make a video – give me some time and I’ll see what I can put together.
—A Few Mind Blowing Quotes:
“I’m not a rich man”
“It has been about 5 years now That i have lived and worked on my off grid small holding. In this video i give a tour of my house, workshop, power system, garden, greenhouse and some tools i have made. I have documented all these projects in detail on my main channel so please check”
“It has been a huge improvement in my life, generally, and my well-being is far greater than it ever was before. My mental health, my physical health, and my abilities have increased massively since I built even this house here.”
“Round wood timber frame and cord wood walls … binding between the logs just clay sand and straw…I built it with the intention of lasting around 30 years”
I was blown away as soon as I saw what he had done, with his own hands and only a chainsaw and hand tools. I believe he is located in the UK? I’m going to try and get in contact with him.
I can’t properly express how humbled — and inspired — I am by what this man has done. I was beyond impressed even seeing the house. The rest of his achievements are, imo, orders of magnitude beyond that. He built an entire PV + hydroelectric system to power everything. And he is building a BUSINESS on what he learned in building the hydroelectric system! And, of course, he BUILT HIMSELF!
I am reminded of a favorite quote, from my favorite book: “They, themselves, are makers of themselves.” -James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
Above is his full channel. I am posting it in its own message so we can all find it easily going forward. It’s going to take a little while for me to digest this, and figure out how I can leverage it appropriately together with my own age, health, existing commitments, abilities, and other circumstances. I’ve seldom been more impressed by the power+vision in a single human being, and I hope you feel the same. For all of us feeling a little stuck, I hope this is a big inspiration – I know it is for me!
From his site: krisharbour.co.uk:
What does work mean to you?
Probably something like Monday morning commuter traffic, dreading getting out of bed, train delays, staying late doing unpaid work, stress, only getting told when you do something wrong rather than right, and a boss that got where they were by just saying yes sir no sir
I, like most other people in this world found myself in the very same position that you likely are. I grew up thinking the world was all about money – unfortunately for me the school system had failed to recognise my very real but non-academic talents. Therefore you won’t be surprised to know that I failed all of my GCSE’s and went to the bottom of the employment pile.
It was when I left school I started learning. I realised that education comes in many forms, that people’s abilities are so varied and unique that to try and push and grind them into little cogs whose only purpose is to serve the larger economic machine is so often a terrible waste of life.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will always fail”
-Amos E. Dolbear of Tufts
Reading this quote gave me hope as it helped me realise that the failing wasn’t mine, but it was that of the system and unfair standards I was being judged by, a system with not my interests at heart, but its own. It took me a long time to unlearn the only thing I felt I had learned in school – that I was a failure. Luckily for me and despite this false conclusion I never really doubted my ability to follow a logical process practically to achieve a goal.
My upbringing was one of great privilege by good parents that thought they had my best interest at heart as is so often the case. They set me off on a path they had followed, which is surprising given how unhappy they both have been. It was just a few years ago I realised I was pursuing money while leading an unhappy life. I decided this was a path I didn’t want go down, and that a change needed to happen.
Prior to this chance my routine consisted of my alarm waking me up at 5 am each morning, sitting on a train for 2 hours each way, abusing my body installing elevators on my own in a dark elevator shaft – all to keep up with interest repayments. It was at this point a good friend of mine questioned my motives, which sent me on a path of questioning this life, something for which I am forever grateful.
It was a confusing time for me. I was always told that you should get a good job, make money, buy a house and live happily ever after. It was only after I had purchased my second property at age 23 that I realised I was practically a slave, perhaps not overtly but in many subtle and real ways. Still, people congratulated me on how well I was doing and how I had set myself up for life, and if I’m honest the praise did feel good. I felt like I was ahead of the crowd, if only for a moment. But inside I was broken, and this feeling never quite seemed to go away despite the praise and recognition from my friends and family.
I realised that there were too many things going on in the world that had control over my time and my life, and this underlying chaos bothered me. If the bank wanted to take all I had it wasn’t hard to imagine scenarios in which they could do it. Importantly and in addition to this I came to the conclusion that the more possessions I had, the more stress i had, and in an economy fueled by consumption, this sort of stress isn’t avoidable; it’s inevitable.
So I decided – no more. I sold my house, I quit my job, and I moved to a small flat to start looking for some land in Wales to start to build a future that I could be in control off. I found 18 acres of land and started a journey with the goal to be self sufficient and as in control of my own destiny as humanly possible.
With all this in mind I started to build a small dwelling on the land, a simple roundhouse which would be “practice” with regards to self-building, its construction would give me a chance to observe the land before committing to build a proper and permanent dwelling.
One thing that struck me about the whole process was how beautiful it was. To create something that is a reflection of yourself is a wonderful experience. It was no doubt one of the hardest things I have ever done in life. I spent a many months alone in a cold damp tent. I Started the roundhouse with my partner, but i finished it as a single man. Despite all this it was without doubt the most rewarding i have ever done. the first night sleeping in this building that i had built with my own hands was the most magical thing. It was a windy and rainy night and i slept on the mezzanine floor. At one point i held my hand against the massive roof timber over my head, It really did feel like an old friend was protecting me.
I think we as people have been told that if you’re not a builder you can’t build. If you’re not a plumber you can’t plumb, and if you’re not a carpenter you can’t do woodwork. I now know from experience that this is simply not true, and I want everyone else to know it as well.
I am nothing more than a person wanting a simple stress free life with community, friendship, sustainability and health to be prioritised above all else. I want you to know that it is possible to put talents you might never have realised you had to use and take back control of your own life, all the while making a real difference to your own well being, and the well being of the environment in which you live
What I like about this cabin is (1) full plans are available for $10 (2) it is intended to be something you can pull together offsite, transport in compactly, snap together quickly (no 1,000 trips to the store) (3) it looks nice!
In short, it looks like a good candidate for my first project — where I want success to be assured.
Once I can do it once, I will have confidence I can do it twice. I can buy a piece of remote property, without any structures, and move to the property immediately (I have a piece of land I bought 20 years ago and still haven’t gotten around to building out, because of building permits, complexity, perfectionism, need for outside contractors and other complicating factors).
Once I can bootstrap something small with confidence, I can turn attention to PV power and, eventually, something considerably more fancy. Anyway, this is a good candidate, with an very low barrier to entry. As Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed today, is far better than a perfect plan next week.”
“The Pop-Up Cabin Plans (PDF file) can be purchased ($10) at Teespring: https://teespring.com/en-GB/pop-up-cabin-plans-pdf
The comprehensive plans include 18 pages of step-by-step instructions, exact measurements, and clear diagrams, which show exactly how the cabin was assembled from the ground up. We strengthened the design by giving the cabin a proper base and roof, which means no gaps under the walls and no more ugly tarp. 🙂 Special thanks to my brother who worked countless hours to professionally put these plans together, even staying up till the wee hours of the morning with me to make sure that every detail was perfect.
We built a lightweight DIY cabin that is designed to fit together in a single day. This makes it a great low-cost option for those wanting to build their very own cabin, especially in remote areas where it is difficult to haul in heavy materials. We used a snowmobile to transport our cabin