Tiny house movement challenges big issues

tiny-house-tiny-homeBy Kirsti Marohn

Compliments of: S C Times

There’s a growing movement of people buying and building so-called tiny houses, typically less than 500 square feet. Recently, tiny houses are getting attention as a potential solution to homelessness.

Lydia MacKenzie didn’t intend to be part of a revolution.

Lydia-MacKenzie-tiny-house-revolution-photo-kimm-anderson-stcloudtimesNine years ago, the online college professor planned and built a 18- by 24-foot house overlooking Big Lake near Richmond. With a kitchen, bathroom and living room all on the first floor and a sleeping loft upstairs, it’s a neat but cozy living arrangement.

“I don’t have the sense of (it) being small,” she said. “It’s just really comfortable.”

For MacKenzie, who has traveled abroad extensively and taught for a while in Ecuador, it was a natural fit.

“I’m a minimalist,” she said. “My footprint on the world is as small as I can make it.”

MacKenzie is part of a growing movement of people choosing to live by a less-is-more philosophy.

They are part of a trend of people buying and building so-called tiny houses, typically 500 square feet or smaller.

Contrast that with the median size of new homes built for sale in the United States last year: 2,598 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from 1,660 square feet four decades ago.

Blogs, websites and books have spotlighted the unique designs of tiny houses and the appeal of a simplified lifestyle and less preoccupation with accumulating stuff. Tiny house owners brag about their lower cost and reduced maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy hobbies, travel and experiences.

Tiny houses can range from low-cost units built from used shipping containers or other recycled materials to expensive custom-designed homes whose prices are anything but tiny.

Recently, tiny houses are getting attention as a potential solution to homelessness. They can be built relatively quickly and for minimum cost, but can have a big impact on the life of someone struggling to find stable housing.

A group of St. Cloud residents is working on a plan to build at least one tiny house for a person experiencing homeless, with the possibility of more in the future.

The group is modeling its effort after similar projects in other U.S. cities, including Madison, Wisconsin; Newfield, New York; Olympia, Washington; and Austin, Texas.

New approach puts housing first

Lydia MacKenzie very comfortable tiny house less than 500 square feetThe concept stems from a relatively new approach to helping the poor known as Housing First. It aims to provide homeless people with housing as quickly as possible, then provide services as needed.

At a recent meeting of the St. Cloud Coalition for Homeless Men, St. Cloud resident and homeless advocate Tina Lamberts noted that there are several places in the community where homeless people can get meals or stay in a shelter.

“What they really can’t get is a place to call their own, and the privacy and dignity that comes with that,” she said.

Research shows that the past method of making people jump through hoops to prove themselves before moving up to the next level isn’t working, Lamberts said.

“Really, the person needs the stability of a roof over their heads and knowing where they’re going to be day after day,” she said.

For homeless people, having no place to get out of the heat or cold, wash their clothes or protect their belongings is demoralizing and makes it difficult to get on their feet, Lamberts said.

“It’s all the simple day-to-day things that we take for granted are not part of their existence,” she said.

Taking after the New York model

MacKenzie tiny house basement with bunk beds for visitorsCarmen Guidi followed the Housing First model when he built six tiny cottages for homeless residents of Newfield, New York, outside of Ithaca.

Guidi was a successful businessman who had money, cars, houses and toys when he was asked to go to Haiti to help build an orphanage. Returning to the United States, Guidi was sickened by the excess and wealth compared with the poverty of Haiti.

“It just changed me inside,” he said.

Guidi started helping with a meal program for homeless people of Ithaca and eventually got to know many of them. He tried to help them find housing, but landlords wouldn’t take a chance on renters with bad credit, criminal records or no rental history.

He bought several campers and put them in his backyard for homeless people to live in. But the cold winter weather of upstate New York caused the water to freeze and made them difficult to keep warm, Guidi said.

Eventually, Guidi donated seven acres of land and built a community of six tiny cottages, each for about $12,000 to $15,000. Each cottage is built on a foundation and has a kitchen, full bath, heat and plumbing.

Guidi formed Second Wind Cottages and hopes to raise money to build a dozen more homes.

“Once I started, then people really started to get behind it,” Guidi said.

All of the cottages are full and there is a waiting list. There are plans to add a community center and a garden.

Having a stable home has substantially improved the lives of the residents, Guidi said.

“They’ve been getting a second chance where everybody else had given up on them,” he said.

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Put Down the Cupcake: New Ban Hits School Bake Sales

peace-tiny-house-greenNew Requirements May Squeeze Out Gooey Fundraising Fare; Fat Standard

By Stephanie Armour

Compliments: Wall Street Journal

At Chapman School in Nebraska, resourceful students hawk pizza and cookie dough to raise money for school supplies, field trips and an eighth-grade excursion to Washington. They peddle chocolate bars to help fund the yearbook.

Schools-take-a-bite-out-of-doughnuts-and-other-unhealthy-fundraisersBut the sales won’t be so sweet starting this fall. Campus bake sales—a mainstay of school fundraisers—are going on a diet. A federal law that aims to curb childhood obesity means that, in dozens of states, bake sales must adhere to nutrition requirements that could replace cupcakes and brownies with fruit cups and granola bars.

Jeff Ellsworth, principal of the kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Chapman, Neb., isn’t quite sure how to break the news to the kids. “The chocolate bars are a big seller,” said Mr. Ellsworth.

The restrictions that took effect in July stem from the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by first lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move!” campaign. The law overhauled nutrition standards affecting more than 30 million children. Among the changes: fatty french fries were out, while baked sweet potato fries were deemed to be fine.

The law also required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set standards for all food and beverages sold during the school day, which includes vending machines, snack carts and daytime fundraisers. It allowed for “infrequent” fundraisers, and states were allowed to decide how many bake sales they would have that didn’t meet nutrition standards.

Without state-approved exemptions, any treats sold would have to meet calorie, sodium, fat and other requirements. The law permits states to fine schools that don’t comply.

Forget about buttery, salty popcorn, for instance. Kernels sold on site during the day must contain no more than 230 milligrams of sodium per serving until 2016, when it drops even lower. No more than 35% of calories in an item can come from total fat.

A graphic put out by the USDA shows where some snacks stand.

Six chocolate sandwich cookies at 286 calories would be out, but a 4-ounce fruit cup with 100% juice at 68 calories would make the cut. Also out: a large doughnut at 242 calories and a 1.6 oz. chocolate bar with 235 calories.

Homemade fare is more challenging to measure, schools say.

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Ragsdale Tiny House

tiny-house-tiny-homeby Jay Oistead

I wanted to familiarize you with our company, Ragsdale Homes. About six months ago, we introduced a short demo on YouTube, featuring our first design, the Prius model. Our first home pushes the envelope in livable square footage within the parameters of a specific trailer size. At 380 square feet, made possible with our patent pending Room Roll Outs. When RROs are installed opposite one another there is a distance of 16 feet. When installed without being opposite there is still a distance of 12 feet. In tiny homes this available living space has yet to be achieved. But now it is a reality.


Attached are links to the three videos. Hope you have the time to view these videos. We feel that this technology is revolutionary and will change the future of tiny homes on wheels. All of a sudden, tiny is not so tiny anymore.


The interest in Houston, Texas on Tiny Homes is not exactly at warp speed.

I am sending you some information on our company in hopes that we can somehow network. At this particular time, we are still in the research and development stage of business, inventing, designing, innovative concepts that we feel are relative to the future of the tiny home industry. Furthermore, we are not building homes, selling plans, etc., focusing on specific areas where we feel the need for improvement is greatest.


We are a small blip on the tiny house radar; however, we have created some game changing techniques in current tiny house construction. We would welcome the opportunity to network with like-minded tiny house people.

As I said, it gets lonely in Houston having few with which to collaborate.

Our current projects are:

1) Square Footage: We think outside the box, therefore, we build outside the box, resulting in an increase in usable square footage within the parameters of a specific trailer size. Our current model, The Prius, pushes the envelope of a 8? by 20? trailer with over 380 square feet. Additionally, this model features approximately 275 square feet of wooden decking. Our newest model, a classic Mediterranean model is nearing completion, built on a trailer which is 8? by 28?, offering approximately 480 square feet.


2) Water: Our on board, proprietary, Nano Technology, Tropospheric Water Precipitation water generator. Not to be confused with out of date, AWG technology, using a compressor and Freon to make water. Our system will create 30 gallons of 99.8% pure water in a 24 hour period. Additionally, we have developed a recyclable shower, operating through a reverse osmosis and filtration system located in a sub floor below the shower floor. A typical 10 minute shower uses 150 liters of water. Ours uses only 5 liters this is a huge savings in water consumption.


3) Hybrid construction: Our space age SIP panel technology now being tested, utilizing NanoPure thermal tested insulation in the form of a vacuum insulation panel or VIP integrated and sandwiched in between foam and 2 layers of aluminum or steel skins. These panels will have an insulation factor up to R60. The overall width will be a net of 4 inches and will be 60% lighter and 35% stronger than conventional wood construction.


4) AC: Our home will be cooled with a, 12,000 BTU, 12 volt, solar powered air conditioner, resulting in the need for less solar panel surface being used today. A battery is installed inside the cabinet and it runs off it’s own solar panel, separate from the rest of the home.

5) Solar: We are in negotiations with Dow Chemical to partner with us to use the revolutionary Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles. We are also working with US Tile who has partnered with SRS Energy to use their Mission Profile Tiles(Faux clay tiles) named Sole’ Power Tiles on our Mediterranean model.

For more information forward your email address to ragsdalehomes@gmail.com.


Living off the grid can be illegal

peace-tiny-house-greenBy Emily Fox

Source: Michigan Radio

Energy use on the globe is expected to go up by more than 50% in the next 25 years. Michigan law is mandating a heavier reliance on renewable sources by next year. But some say that’s not enough,

Experimenting with sustainability

Rolf and Mari von Walthausen at their 12 x 16 square-foot cabin in Cedar Michigan
Take Rolf and Mari von Walthausen for example. They were a typical Traverse City couple. They worked 40-hour-a-week jobs and lived in an average-sized home. But one day they did an experiment.

“We moved all of our belongings into one room of the house and said, let’s see how it is to live in a space that is 12 by 16 [feet],” Rolf von Walthausen said.

Then they tried another experiment.

“There was a time that one summer at our house, we actually set up the tent in the yard and we lived in this tent for four months,” Rolf von Walthausen said.

Living off the grid

Then came the big test. The von Walthausens sold their house, quit their day jobs and built a tiny cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity. They got new part-time jobs teaching yoga and tuning pianos, they were living in the woods, getting their water from a stream nearby, gathering wood to heat their wood- burning stove, and using their compostable toilet outside.

Rolf von Walthausen said living off the grid is hard work, but he and his wife love it.

“This way you get to be out in nature 365 days a year and really get into those natural rhythms that we in modern society have lost,” Rolf von Walthausen said.

And they started getting closer to their neighbors. They trade things like tools for eggs and syrup. Mari von Walthausen said they began spending time with people around them more than they ever could before.

“Most people in most neighborhoods have no idea who even lives next door because you get home after dark and you just collapse,” Mari von Walthausen said.

Living off the grid was illegal

Life was good. Until the local zoning and health officials found out. Turns out there are two major problems with the von Walthausen’s lifestyle.

Clay McNitt is with the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

“A habitable dwelling should have running water to it and should have a means of sanitary disposal of the sewage. That’s  what our code requires,” McNitt said.

The second problem is that their 200-square-foot house is actually too small to be considered livable in their township.

Tim Johnson is the chairperson for the Centerville Township planning commission. He said the von Walthausen’s house is four times smaller than the township minimum.

“The ordinance was first written in 1976. It was first enacted, primarily, although no one will admit this, to keep single-wide mobile homes out of the township,” Johnson said.

Johnson and the von Walthausens fought the township board to get rid of the square-foot minimum. But the board voted against it.

Read More at: http://michiganradio.org/post/living-grid-can-be-illegal

Setting Up Your Land For A Tiny House

tiny-house-tiny-homeSource: The Tiny Life

One thing I’ve realized through my entire journey is that not only do you have to build a house, but there is quite a bit that goes into setting up the land itself.  These things include access, infrastructure, security and utilities.  Each of these categories can be tricky and expensive in their own right, but very necessary for living.


General Considerations

You’ll notice that I have a field at the edge of the property which I have two entrances/exits to my gravel pad.  This allows me to bring in the house, unhitch it and then have a place to exit with the truck.  It also allows me to gain access to my storage trailer if I want to move it or take it off the property.  It’s important to consider before you bring your house to the property:

  • How will you enter the property?
  • How will you exit the property once the house is placed?
  • How will you exit with the house if you need to move?
  • Are the curves to tight to make with such a large trailer/house?
  • What direction do you want your front door (back of trailer) to face?

Another thing to consider is parking for your car and visitor’s cars.  I also like to be able to pull right up near the door for move in day and also bringing in groceries.

I would also suggest placing your tiny house in a place with deciduous trees so your house is shaded in the summer and open to the sun in the winter.  Before moving the house to my location, I made sure to go around and inspect all the surrounding trees to see if any needed to be removed because they posed a danger because of rot.  I discovered one tree that was ready to fall any day, so I cut it down before the house was ever there.


The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it.  This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.  Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home.  You have a couple options: gravel, cement, and asphalt.  Gravel is the most economical, I wouldn’t suggest just dirt, because you are bringing in a very heavy house, it’s likely to get stuck, plus it gets muddy in the rain.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad.  Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out.  The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.


Laying the lines, pipes and other key connections is a pretty tricky part because it often requires either backbreaking work or heavy equipment.  When you’re running pipes and lines over any distance you run into issues of drop in voltage and pressure; so you need to take care to size things appropriately and it will dictate where you can actually place your home.  When I first looked at the land, I had wanted to place my house about 300 feet away from it’s current location, but it meant I’d have to run a #3 wire to compensate for the voltage drop as I ran the line to the closest solar exposure, that would have cost an additional $700 in just wire!

For water I am connected to the city water.  The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property.  You then need to connect it from there to your house, which will cost me an additional $800:  $500 materials, $300 for ditch witch rental, me doing all the labor.

See more at: http://thetinylife.com/setting-up-your-land-for-a-tiny-house-2/