People have a lot of questions. Every other week or so, someone knocks on my door or slips a note through the window of the tiny house asking me to call because they have “so many questions.” I try to be friendly to the knockers, though often they are interrupting my work — or even my sleep, in the case of one guy at 7 a.m. But I don’t call the note-leavers, partly because I HATE the phone, but mostly because the conversations are often weird and frustrating.
Like the guy who knocked on my door and asked if the tiny house was for sale, and wanted me to name a price if I WAS to sell it. Once I stated a dollar amount, he seemed surprised, and then asked me, “So who built it for you?" When I told him I built it myself, he responded, condescendingly, “All by yourself?” before I even had a chance to mention the friends who had helped. I couldn’t imagine him asking a guy that question.
More than that, however, I am reminded of my own naiveté in starting this project, after reading blog after blog and researching incessantly. My budget was so unrealistic and relied so much on materials that I later learned weren't worth using that it was blown out of the water a long time ago, hence the slowdown in building as I work to earn more money and fundraise for the next steps. But even so, the original focus of the Mayday Experiment has changed little, other than clarifying and intensifying my mission.
Part of the problem is, there are an awful lot of blogs that claim people built their tiny houses for $8,000 to $20,000, but they are rarely realistic. Often you find that the people who built these homes had industry connections or lived in climates where insulation and double- paned windows aren’t necessary. The more realistic numbers come in upwards of $30,000, often towards $50,000. But still: For a home, this is a bargain, and RVs are similarly priced.
The cost is the number-one question I get, but often the would-be tiny-house owners have no idea how they will get the money for one and, worse, they think they will need much, much less than necessary. I get it: We all want a home, and many people are frightened about what’s to come in Denver’s real-estate market. Tiny homes represent a dream of freedom, but they also aren’t free.
Sometimes I will ask people about their skill set and what they know how to do, and the response is almost the same every time: They have never swung a hammer or cut a board. As daunting as this project has been, I can’t imagine if I had to also master basic skills. As a sculptor, I may not have built a house before, but things? Things I could build. Of course, building a sculpture and building a house are radically different jobs, as I’ve discovered, but my familiarity with tools and materials has come in handy. The learning curve is steep enough when building your own house; the learning curve is costly in terms of time and excess materials, too.
Unfortunately, as much as people have questions, they don’t always want to hear the answers. I was reminded of this frustration as I watched a woman pepper Victoria Salvador with questions at a recent MeetUp welcoming a couple of tiny housers to town from Texas. Several of her questions were answered wordlessly with Victoria’s puzzled expression. You so badly want to stop people from making the mistakes you made, but they don’t want to hear it; and just as I often get the sense that the people who ring my bell to talk tiny aren’t really interested in hearing the answers, I could see that reality was a bitter pill to swallow here, too. But you can’t blame people: It’s tough to have your dreams challenged by reality, as anyone who has undertaken this finds out. Still, that doesn’t have to end the dream.
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Of course, had I known about the MeetUp group or met any tiny-housers before I started my journey, there are many things I would have done differently, from going with a locally manufactured trailer that would have saved Philip Spangler and me weeks of welding and modifying the one we purchased, to factoring in more for hardware than a couple of buckets of screws. And there are other things that didn’t even exist when I started building, like the new Volstrukt framing system that delivers an AutoCad-drawn steel-frame house that screws together more simply than a bookshelf from Ikea for not that much more than lumber.
At the Meetup, after people milled around in Trailer Made’s back yard talking trailers, walls and dogs, Meg and Brandy from Tiny House 43, a couple of bloggers who will be taking to the road with their son R.A.D. after a winter stay in Denver, pulled up with their 24-foot tiny house. They were already living in the house, amid boxes and things that they were finishing, and it had a homey feel and a beautiful painted pressed-tin ceiling. Just as Victoria had been peppered with questions earlier, we peppered Meg with questions, admired her half-wine-barrel tub, and discussed the pros and cons of propane water heaters. There was a lot of discussion of height (they hadn’t measured theirs yet; mine comes in at thirteen feet), and the fact that Kansas didn’t mark its bridges. Taking out your roof or getting stuck is a real fear, and one that could do some serious damage.
Everyone who undertakes a tiny house is just a person with a dream, whether they know what they are doing or not: the dream of freedom, of simplicity, of a life on the road or housing their family for less. In just the past year, the industry has grown exponentially, making it easier and easier for people to pursue this dream. This week, for example, Walsenburg became the first city in Colorado to legalize tiny-house living, most likely welcoming many dreamers into their community. It is an interesting time, watching a small group of scrappy people becoming both a movement and an industry. For that to happen, both dreaming and reality are needed.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.