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Our Decision to Build a Tiny House

Debra Redalia


Tiny homes since as this one have inspired an ever-increasing number of people to consider whether living tiny could meet their needs.


The concept of living in what we now call "tiny" or small houses has been around since the beginning of humankind. Caves were the first tiny houses, and as history went on, we humans came to live in tipis and cliff dwellings and cottages and cabins and living quarters on boats and other small spaces. In cities, studio apartments are popular and in the mid-twentieth century, suburbia was populated with small post-war bungalows of less than 600 square feet. In-law units and garden apartments add income to single-family homes.

Large single-family homes with luxury features have only become desired by common families in the last two decades or so. These MacMansions use excessive materials to build, excess energy to heat and cool, excessive water to bathe, well beyond normal human needs which had been customary for centuries,

It was inevitable that the pendulum would swing away from these gigantic homes to the other extreme end of practical home sizes. Once tiny houses became established as a viable option for housing, their popularity took off almost overnight.

We don't remember our first exposure to tiny houses, but we do remember being exposed to the idea in such a way that we began to watch a handful of tiny house building shows on TV. These included stories of individuals who built their own, individuals who built with consultants, and builders who built tiny houses for clients. And then shows about realtors showing clients tiny houses for sale. Indeed the tiny house has gone mainstream as part of the real estate market.

As popularity grew, the definition of "tiny house" seems to have grown also. On the real estate shows, a tiny house seems to be anything under 600 square feet. And there are a lot of houses available in older cities that are in that size range. But there is a difference between a 500-600 square foot house or cottage which any individual or couple could live in comfortably without clever use of space, and a tiny house where one or two or even a family might live in a space of less than 300 square feet. These tiny houses require a change of lifestyle as well as rethinking the use of space.

As we watched this tiny house shows, we began to discuss if a tiny house would work for us. As we write this, Larry is 65 years old, and Debra will be 65 in June. So we are just at that point where we are making the transition to being active seniors, wanting to spend less time on cleaning and caring for and repairing a house, and all the yard maintenance, and more time on travel. We also want to spend less time on income production and more time having adventures together, so a tiny house just made sense financially for us. We had enough money saved for a down payment on a new house after selling our house in Florida, which is easily paying for the expense of building our tiny house and there will be no mortgage or property taxes.

Another thing that appealed to us about tiny houses is that many people were building their own, to meet their own specific needs. After a lifetime of remodeling existing houses, it was interested to think we could build the house of our dreams, albeit a miniature version.

It just made sense all around.

In the spring of 2017 we decided to sell our 1600 square foot house in Florida and build a tiny house. Our plan was to come to California for three months and go through Larry's belongings at the home of his parents. But before we could do this, Larry's Dad died and we decided to come and stay for a while to help take care of Mom.

It actually has turned out to be the perfect arrangement because we have been practicing living in a small space—we both share one bedroom and one office room, plus share common areas in the main house with Mom and two other siblings.

Much of our belongings are in storage, but we have plenty of space and time to figure out what we need to keep and what can go.

As we watched shows and looked at tiny houses, we observed that they were made of primarily toxic materials. The tiny house concept was great, but the materials were emitting toxic chemicals into the very small space, where they could easily concentrate to dangerously high levels.

With Debra's background in nontoxic building and Larry's background in construction, to build a toxic-free tiny house is the perfect project for us. And we're blogging about it to demonstrate toxic-free construction that can be used on any home of any size, and specifically on mobile tiny houses that need to be able to withstand jostling while being moved from place to place.

After considering all the options, we decided to build our tiny house on a motorhome chassis.

We found an old motorhome and slowly started to do the demolition over a period of about 10 months.

What really got us going on the building was being evacuated during the Kincaid Fire in October. It became very real to us that the ultimate emergency preparedness would be to just have the ability to drive our house to a place beyond the fire and beyond the smoke and be perfectly comfortable living in our own home for the duration.

And so here we are, starting our tiny house build. November 2019.