Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts About Building a Custom Home

Jeff and I have designed homes that we would build ‘someday’ since we were kids. We each have our own ideas as to the aesthetics and components; sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Designing and building our tiny cottage has been an interesting exercise in communication, cooperation, compromise and construction.

Because of this project I’ve thought about not only us building a tiny livable structure, but also others who go through the process. Each custom house has something of the designer/owner/builder in its design. Each home will have its own unique qualities because, although we’re all human, we’re each shaped by our life experiences and have different needs and personal preferences.

For example, I tried to get Jeff interested in building a tiny home that was not only healthy to live in, but also completely off-grid, and very inexpensive to build. We both compromised. (Of course, if we were building a tiny home to live in alone, neither of us would have had this experience.)

Healthy: We did agree on this. I’ve been doing research so that we will use as many healthy building products as we can find. I might miss something but I’m trying my best not to. We’ve heard stories about the FEMA trailers that were used after hurricane Katrina and that so many people became sick while living in them. We don't want that.

Off-grid: Ok, yes, I admit that my favorite vacation was a three week trip in Death Valley. Two Jeep Wranglers, four people, no refrigeration, no electricity, no roads. Jeff and I would take walks just after sunrise, we’d eat simply, use hot springs to wash off and we’d all dance under the stars to Frank Sinatra or Etta James. Sure I’D live in a home that had gravity fed water, lanterns for lighting, more sweaters/blankets/cuddling for heating, didn’t have a frig and used a compost toilet. Jeff doesn’t want to 'camp' everyday though. We will have a compost toilet but we’ve compromised on the other things. We’ll use a garden hose for water pressure for the on-demand water heater, we'll have some battery powered lights, an LP gas heater and will use an extension cord for a small frig. We do expect to use a rainwater cistern / grey water system and agreed to run some conduit in the framing so that if we choose solar power at some point it can be easily installed.

Inexpensive: Since we didn’t have a place to build ahead of time, and didn’t have free storage space to stockpile salvaged windows or a used trailer, we ended up renting a small warehouse to build in which raised the cost of building right away. It wasn’t a choice to pay extra for the space but we want to live in a tiny home so we do what we need to now so we can have the end result. We also didn’t find a used trailer that fit our building needs when we needed it so we bought a new one. Although we paid more for the trailer, we know that we won’t have to worry about whether the brakes work or whether the trailer is capable of hauling what we need it to. This saved us repair time, hassle and worry.

We could have simply bought an older Airstream trailer or a retired school bus, gutted then customized, but we both agreed that we wanted a home that looked like a home on the outside as well as on the inside. We want to build a place to live that has a warm and inviting personality; a place that we build together. Part of building a tiny cottage for us is the appeal of sharing this experience.

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