The Mayday Experiment: The Tiny House, Down Cold

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With the bad weather and the holidays, progress on the tiny house has ground to a halt. The cold has me thinking about this past summer, when the garage door to the studio was open to the neighborhood and we were working on the tiny house constantly. Passersby would stop suddenly when they saw us, and they always had a lot of questions. Many of the conversations started like this...

What is that thing you're building? It's a house.


Yes, really - it's a tiny house.

And you're gonna live in it? Yes.

Are you crazy? Um...yes....

See also: The Mayday Experiment -- If There's to Be a Future, It Starts With Us

Thinking about those conversations and the very good questions those passersby asked, I decided to create this FAQ on the tiny house. Here are the questions and answers, in no particular order.

Q:Have you seen the film Tiny?

A: Yes. After I had made the decision, and before I started. It scared the crap out of me.

Q: Will this fit under bridges?

A: Most. Notably, it will not fit under the bridges in this neighborhood, but it is under the legal limit of 13'5" -- barely -- at 13'2".

Q:How many square feet will it be? A: It's roughly 210 square feet when you take the loft into account -- 20 feet long and 8 feet 5 inches wide.

Q: How will you get water and electricity?

A:I intend to go solar for electricity, and will be collecting rainwater for water. I will have a 40-gallon collection and greywater tank, so I will have to conserve. I'll also have the option of conventional hookups if they are needed.

Q: What about the toilet?

A:I will be using a composting toilet. Composting toilets are better for the environment as they don't use water, which then has to be purified with chemicals that eventually make their way to the oceans. And you get compost in the end! (Or "Humanure," as some people call it. I am not one of those people.)

Q: How much will this weigh?

A: It has to stay under 10,000 pounds when finished, including all belongings. That is what my truck is rated to tow and what the axles are rated for; however, it is also the legal limit before one must obtain a commercial driver's license.

Q: Where will you park it?

A: Well, the answer at the moment is: I don't know. I intend to drive it around the country for a year, talking to people about sustainability and providing one model of what that could look like. And then we'll see, but for the time being it is parked in front of my studio in my parking space and fits perfectly there, so as long as I have this studio, that's probably where it will stay.

Q: How will you get up to the loft?

A: There will be stairs! The stairs will house the pellet stove and provide storage.

Q: Why didn't you just get an airstream trailer or a camper?

A: This is one of the more complicated questions. First of all, trailers were meant for temporary living and, as such, they tend not to be terribly durable. In fact, the average RV is attached to the trailer by only eight bolts. (Mine has twenty.) When things break, they are difficult to fix without hunting down the correct parts (I like the idea of "correct parts" being 2 x 4s and plywood. ) But the other issue is that these environments are not terribly comfortable - they feel like tin cans. They let in limited light. And as far as an RV with an engine in it goes, if it dies, you're stuck -- with a trailer hitch, any truck can pull the tiny house.

Q: So, do you think the future lies in everyone living in tiny houses?

A: No, of course not. It would be wasteful to abandon the structures we have. However, we would do well to live smaller. The size of the average American home last year was 2,600 square feet -- that is an enormous amount of resources in building, in redundant rooms and furniture, and energy to heat.

Tiny houses solve significant problems for many populations of people, however, from people who want to be able to move around the country easily, to people who have found themselves homeless or priced out in rapid gentrification, such as Denver has been undergoing. In my case, a tiny house solves multiple problems - allowing me to focus my energies on my artwork and activism as opposed to the scramble to come up with ever-increasing rent. And since my work sort of needs to be nomadic at times, this gives me the opportunity to go to warmer climates in the winter to work with bees, as well as traveling for teaching opportunities. It is one model of sustainability, but not the only one.

Q: But how can you be sustainable when you're pulling it with a big truck that will get horrible mileage? A: This is the question that haunts me the most, and one I am still working to solve. My plan all along has been to convert Bertha, my truck, to run on biodiesel, and create a portable biodiesel refinery out of an old hot-water heater. One problem with this plan is the difficulty in getting used vegetable oil, which is now sold to companies by restaurants. There are biodiesel stations in most states around the country (they get sparse around the Dakotas), but being reliant on filling up in the middle of nowhere still leaves me needing fossil fuels more than I'm comfortable with. One solution I've been investigating is making algae biodiesel, but I'm still researching. It's important to me to be as sustainable as possible in this endeavor.

If I failed to answer any of your questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below!

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. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.

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