Learn To Build Your Own Tiny Home

Written by Andrew Morrison

straw bale interior Have you caught the bug? Are you interested in learning to build your own tiny home?  If so, I suggest you attend a hands-on workshop to learn how to do it right before you jump into your own project. In line with that, I have a great opportunity for you, but first, I want to talk a little bit about the insanity of living in a large home.

Sunset Cottage straw bale

There is no question that we, especially here in America, have built our houses too big in the last 50 years. The last 20 years especially have been the worst in terms of super sizing our homes. We have gone over the deep end and for some reason, we continue to build houses that have enough space to shelter 30 people and yet only 2 or 3 actually live in them. The amount of resources necessary to build and maintain these homes is immense and the impacts, both environmentally and financially, are huge. You’ll likely be shocked to know just how much each hour you spend awake in your home actually costs!

girl sitting on straw bale window seatIf you are like most Americans these days, you are feeling the pinch of the American Dream. Maybe you have the dream house, but you are suddenly realizing that it isn’t really a dream after all but more of an extended financial nightmare. Many Americans struggle everyday just to make their mortgage payments. In fact, financial institutions filed 3.8 million foreclosures in 2011 alone according to ReatlyTrac, an on-line company that tracks foreclosures in the US.  That’s 3.8 Million foreclosures in one year!

 I know there are many reasons for the foreclosures, but I would be willing to bet (and I’m not a betting man) that many of them were the result of people being in over their head with financial commitments to their lender. Why? Because these McMansions have put such a strain on their owner’s wallets that eventually, the wallet breaks and down goes another home to the foreclosure pit.

Applegate Cottage straw baleNow, what if you could build a beautiful, 200SF tiny home for $8,000? Perhaps you need something bigger. No problem. What about a 570 SF home for around $30,000? That’s less than most people’s down payments on their homes. That means that most of the people who have recently lost their homes could actually have paid cash for a tiny home. I bet our foreclosure rates would be much smaller if more people had taken this route. By the way, smaller does not have to be ugly or cramped. With proper design, a tiny home can be beautiful and completely functional.

Here’s the reality of how “useful” a big home is. I’m going to make some assumptions about how people spend their day and I recognize the lack of scientific data this presents. Bear with me. Most people work outside of the home from 9-5, not including their commute which I will assume is 1 hour each way. That means they spend an average of 10 hours a day away from their home. If they get home at 6 pm, they likely eat dinner, watch some tv (don’t even get me started on that topic) and then go to sleep at 10 pm or so. The next day, it all starts over again when they wake up at say 7 am to get ready for work.

round window straw bale cabin

Let’s do the math…10 hours away from the home + 9 hours sleeping = 5 hours of time actually spent awake in the home. If we assume that with the “extras” of daily life: running kids around to games and friends houses, food shopping, going out to movies, etc.. that folks get an additional 5 hours in the home each of the two weekend days. That gives us a total of 35 hours per week in the home. Assuming a $250,000 mortgage ($1655 monthly payment), each of those “awake hours” would cost just shy of $12 to pay for the mortgage over thirty years. That does not include any utility costs or maintenance, just the mortgage. Over 30 years, that’s a lot of money: $595,638!

From this perspective, can you imagine one reason why a 5000SF or even 2000SF house is necessary? Of the 35 hours per week that you are actually awake in your home, you probably spend 3 hours of that cleaning the place. The more you do this math, the crazier it all gets.  I would much prefer to have a house that fits my needs, is super efficient to maintain and clean, and that I own outright. It’s time to get real: what do you REALLY need out of your home?

squaring window on straw bale house

My daughter just brought up a really good point when I asked this question out loud. She said that people want a big home because it makes a statement. It says they are successful. It’s amazing what wisdom our children have. So, you can choose:

  • Option number 1: You can have the image of success and live in the struggle of financial stress. 
  • Option Number 2: You can have financial success and live without the struggle or stress of expensive housing.

The choice is yours. It takes a certain courage to live outside of the box that our society has said we should strive for; however, I don’t think the pain of living in that box, simply to please others and satisfy the “right image,” is worth it. I’d rather be happy.

straw bale workshop group photo

Okay, I said I had a great opportunity for you and I do. I will be teaching a two-week, hands-on workshop in Jacksonville, Oregon this September 10-23, 2012 on how to build a tiny home. We will actually be building two tiny straw bale cabins for a couple in the beautiful Oregon countryside. The class will cover everything from forming and pouring the foundations to framing, baling, electrical, plumbing, and plaster. We will cover it all!

This is an awesome opportunity for you to learn how to build a tiny home under expert guidance and in a community-based building environment/experience.  The class itself will be a lot of fun and we will have a day or two off to explore the area and enjoy beautiful Southern Oregon. If you are interested in learning how to build either your own tiny home or a straw bale house, this workshop will be perfect for both interests.

mountain view cabin bedroom

Click here to learn more about workshops or to sign up for the class (space is limited and I only have 5 more spots available). The reality of the class is slightly different than the posted description on this link because we have added a second 200SF cottage to the class. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

mountain view cabin floor planIn case you’re wondering what the cabins will look like, I have included the floor plans here for you to review. What’s great about these cabins, is that they will truly be something one could live in. They will have a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living area. Although small, they are perfectly suited for comfortable living while also being natural and super-efficient. Sure you can cram a lot more into a building with thinner walls, but this one will keep you comfortable all year long, whether it’s cold or hot outside and all with minimal need for heating or cooling. The climate will take care of it for you: passive heat and passive cooling. I know it’s hard to see the details on these drawings, so click on the images to see a larger version.

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Love the article, I’ve got the same principles.Building my first bale house, done most of it alone.Hard but rewarding work…dont own or want a tv so got my time well allocated 🙂
Greets from South Africa

I would like to know how much a small house with 2 Bedrooms and 2 Batrooms, living, Dining, Kitchen and A Den would cost to be built with two patios and a garage either in Grants Pass Oregon or Palm Springs outside city limits? please reply to my email – I am a low income person with the Section 8 HUD Program and hoping to have my own home which can also be used as a sample home to get more people to have these homes built for themselves. I look forward to hearing from you – 760-770-8034. Romala Rathnam… Read more »