So I just saw this quick little interview with a woman who is car living with her family because they can’t afford a house/apartment. I think it’s interesting to look at the smaller living trend from this perspective.
One issue herein that I’ve already encountered in a discussion with a friend is how children fit into the tiny living philosophy. I don’t think this lifestyle is expressly for people subscribing to a child-free lifestyle. Jay Shafer has approached the issue by building a separate tiny house for his wife and child, while his original one remains his office/workspace.. but does that defeat the purpose? What is the right size tiny house for a child?
Also, I feel like maybe the element of community is the biggest issue for car-dwellars in cases like this. The family is having to adapt to this new lifestyle, but they are also trying to keep it secret out of shame. If there were places where people living this lifestyle (by choice or not) could gather together, it might not be so bad.
I experienced a state park camp ground for the first time in probably 20 years recently. It was eye opening, I didn’t think people still recreationally camped, but the large campground was sold out! It was much as I’d imagine a car-dweller community would be – places to park, bath houses, and lots of people hanging out outside, often in groups. Children were a lot more free roaming and unattended, and everyone just seemed friendly. If something like this were put in the proximity of a city, or if a shuttle ran from the campground to the city, it seems like it would be pretty functional.
Media coverage of developments in tiny homes usually focuses on how pretty you can make your little house, with lots of exterior shots of fancy colored homes. I think this trend has a tendency to keep us from looking at some of the bigger issues regarding small living that are getting glossed over.
If you’ve seen any of the interviews with Jay Shafer, then you know that one of his big issues is the legality of small living. Most folks that go this route put their house on wheels because it then qualifies as an RV, and escapes a lot of the scrutiny that a permanently placed home might. In the following video, [edit: the video disappeared from youtube] the issue of zoning is raised. It’s definitely an interesting topic, and I think that maybe in the long run, it would do us more good to focus on these legalities more than the pretty designs that will continue to be presented to us.
After I started thinking about the topic, I really feel that _some_ regulation is a good thing. If the tiny house trend continues it’s popularity, we could have a large number of these showing up in surprising places, which could lead to problems. The video has one zoning official stating that she’s worried about “squatter camps” showing up, which I think is unlikely.. the reality though is that the definition of a squatter may vary from one person to another. I’m more worried about safety issues like fire hazards or black/grey water dumping.
The current popular thought on this issue seems to be circumventing zoning issues altogether by going with a “trailer park” model of property management, wherein a company owns a lot of private space and allows people to put their houses there for a fee. It’s not a bad idea, but I imagine it too could use a regulatory refresh before this style of living grows.
As an aside, I had no idea that Houston was so zoning free. It’s an interesting model and seems to have met reasonable success. Too bad it’s in Texas. ha!
I’m going to try and start adding more frequent but shorter posts. Many are going to be videos I find, and such is the case with this one.
Here’s a video documenting an interesting tiny home in New Zealand designed by someone with ship building experience. I think the ship connection is interesting because boats with living area have similar or more rigid constraints as tiny houses. This particular house didn’t have much that was ground breaking, but there are a couple of notable differences from what I’ve seen in other small houses.
The first is that he skipped the gabled roof that has become popular if not requisite in tiny homes, which are probably the result of the popularity of Jay Shafer’s works. In this example, he ends up with a really tall house overall, which seems like it might be a pain to haul around, but the sleeping space sure seems a lot nicer.
Second, he’s running 12V electricity through the home. This allows him to not need a central power inverter, and also keeps him from having to deal with high voltage wiring. Interesting short cut, but I think I’d rather have 120V outlets, just the same.
On his 12V system, he’s also got a water pump for his plumbing. In all of the tiny house projects I’ve looked at, I’ve not noticed this before. Seems like most people use a gravity feed system, often based on a cistern. The pump makes sense when you consider that he has a 300l water storage inside the house. He used a “flexitank”, something from the boat world, and stashed it under the sofa. Pretty interesting, and I think it would provide some peace of mind if you’re living off grid for a while.
Finally, I thought his approach to the composting toilet was interesting. Since it’s just a bucket in a box, he didn’t build it into the house. Instead, it’s mobile, and can be slid under a cabinet or taken outside when not in use.
I happened across some videos recently with a series title of “Van life”. This particular production seems to be a part of the marketing wing of a company called GoalZero, who make rechargeable battery packs and solar charging equipment for outdoors ..stuff. I was actually familiar with the brand because they have a store front on 3point5.com, a website that offers retail and outdoors industry professionals training and discounts on products in hopes that they will then promote the products to customers and other professionals. I end up buying a lot of stuff from that site.
The most interesting offering from GoalZero is their Yeti line, a 150-1250W solar powered battery pack, which you can see in the video below. I think these videos are a really great way of showing off the product. I think that when we consider a product like this, there are some simple connections that come to mind, such as being able to run your laptop while camping, but I think it is not as easy to visualize the lifestyle that such a product or tool enables. While this guy’s setup isn’t something someone in a house could probably immediately jump into, (ie: lack of a bathroom) it definitely gives a glimpse of a step that direction.
And another video from this series featuring a van that seems a little more livable.
As youtube is great at doing, it recommended me some other videos on related topics, including some from a couple running a website called where’s my office now. They have several videos documenting their van life. I think this series is really nice because this couple is in much the same situation as many of us considering smaller living. Emily does web design, and thus can work remotely, and also has a lot of student loan debt to deal with. In the below video, they breifly discuss the cost of van living. Check out their site for the other videos.
Cost of living in a van
In watching these videos and others, I came to realization that most of the people that are living the van life are making their living off of “the outdoors”. Many, as was the case with the second and third videos here, are professional photographers specializing in backcountry sports and nature shots, and/or athletes of some kind whether mountain bike racers or canoeing instructors. Deriving your livelihood from activities that take place in remote areas seems like a prime factor in living this lean. I mean, it’s largely just practical. I am curious though where the line is though. I think there is still a lot of benefit to mobile living even if you don’t have a specific reason to adopt that lifestyle. I think that – urban mobile living, is a picture that I would like to see painted in more detail.