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Frequently asked questions

Q

Why have you built these tiny houses?

We're in love with the idea of joyfully downsizing the American Dream and embracing an environmentally sensitive lifestyle. Smaller living spaces provide one path toward living within a reasonable footprint. We're a free market society driven by supply and demand. To lend momentum to a whole new product category - tiny houses - investors have to create a supply and adopt and promote the concept. Our entrepreneurial spirit, shared backgrounds in construction and design, and passion for sustainable housing makes the tiny house niche a perfect fit for us. We've built each of our tiny houses with the intention of creating profit so that we can support and help the tiny house movement as it grows.

The Towhee was our pure sepculation house. Pepper tweaked the details to remake the Lusby plan into something she could imagine living comfortably in for the next 30 years. She added a three burner stove with oven, a slightly larger shower stall, a straight roof line, butcher block counters, unique custom cabinetry, and bamboo flooring. We found a buyer in the summer of 2012 who had us add solar, RV tanks, porch trim, and loft railings.

The Goldfinch was born from the Wee Bee plan, and influenced by feedback from over 1500 people who toured the Towhee. Folks asked for something more affordable, or how much it would cost for a simple finished room. We decided to see how barebones we could keep the budget while still providing ample durability and a charming appearance. The Golfinch has T1-11 siding, fiberglass insulation, and laminate and vinyl flooring, along with lovely trim details and the same high end roof as the Towhee. It's stretched out on a 16' 10,000lb. trailer with a straight roof line and 8' and 4' split lofts.

The Priya is a completely custom design formed around the need for several features that weren't available among tiny house builders at the time. It's for a couple who want a ground floor bed where both are able to exit the bed on their own side, without crawling over each other. Secondarily, they wanted a closet for a stackable laundry, dual A/C heating units, a 5' tall fridge, and a kitchen with a bigger cooktop and a microwave. The Priya sports other unique details, like a tranformer nook, tiled shower, and custom platform starge bed with built in hot water heater compartment.

We're inspired by people like Ross Chapin and the community he designed, Third Street Cottages, in Whidbey Island. Our long term vision is a community of little houses with beautiful architecture set in hedgerows of native plants within shared landscape spaces and facilities. Imagine biking and walking paths connecting community green spaces, gardens, library, laundry, and even a big kitchen and dining hall for those times when life requires a little more space.

Q

How much do your tiny houses cost?

Our Towhee sold for $60,000 with added solar, RV tanks, porch, trim, and loft railings. We’re developing plans for structures at more price points, including a 16 foot guest house (or studio or office) without the kitchen, and a side entry house featuring a full bathroom with a tub. We also offer consultations at $50 per hour and custom building services at an hourly rate plus materials cost. Please contact us for any questions, more information about our building services, or to talk over your project ideas.

Q

Why would anyone have such a tiny house?

The Environment - the size of the average American home has grown from under 1000 to over 2300 square feet since the 1950's. These larger homes consume more materials and more energy and put more waste in landfills than their smaller counterparts - and produce more greenhouse gasses per year than the average American car. Since international building code requires houses of a minimum size, some folks who want to live in smaller homes have to look for alternatives. One option is building a home using a trailer as a foundation.

Simplicity - imagine the time savings with so little square footage to clean, everything a few steps away, and all the maintenance chores on a smaller scale. Sometimes life gets complicated and for whatever reason we have to change locales. Not a big deal, when you can take your house with you - like a turtle - wherever you need to go.

Legal Barriers - building a tiny house on wheels sidesteps the legally mandated minimum size standards imposed on residential building. If you add up all the minimum size requirement of various rooms specified by the International Building Code (established by the ICC) the smallest house you can get a permit to build is about 700 or 800 square feet. A tiny house with a trailer for a foundation, however, is only subject to maximum size limits for towing and safety regulations for RV plumbing and electrical.

Money - while a tiny house is far from cheap by the square foot, it is certainly less expensive in a few important ways than its larger counterpart. The most significant factor is the lack of a long term mortgage and the attendant interest. If you can save up the 20% down payment ($50,000) for an average home priced around $250,000, you have a choice. You can either use it to buy an enormous amount of debt and pay $231,000 in interest (at 6% fixed) over a 30 year span, or you can go small; you can choose to build a tiny house or buy one outright. Imagine what you could do without a house payment! Pursue your hobbies, travel the world, further your education. Even if you had to finance your tiny nest with a personal loan at a higher interest rate - say 10% - you could pay off $49,900 (plus almost $13,741 interest) at $1063 a month in five years. Or you could have a lower monthly payment of $830 per month over seven years. Use a mortgage calculator (like this one from Interest.com) to figure out your own scenarios.

Q

Is it cheap because it's so small?

In a word, no. The most expensive parts of a habitable dwelling are the core systems; plumbing, electrical, and appliances. All those systems are needed to provide quality shelter, and in a tiny house they'll be used and viewed at close quarters and often have to be special in some way. Our first tiny house, the Towhee, is a tiny gem of custom construction, with quality throughout: all plywood sheathing, rigid foam foil faced insulation, screw and glue fastening, high grade hardwood plywood ceilings and walls, stainless steel siding screws, and too many more to list them all here.


There are some moments when it feels like it's cheap to build a tiny house. When you buy flooring, for example, it hurts a lot less to multiply your cost per square foot by 120 than by 1500. This is delightful when you price materials and do the math, but it can get you in trouble. If you're anything like me, you might have a tendency to shop higher end because of the smaller figures involved. I have to watch myself and make sure I'm selecting upgrades that are more than simply cosmetic; I stick to options that provide superior performance or meet my internal green choice criteria. In the end, you might be startled to find out that the tiny house is amazingly economical - until you calculate the cost per square foot.

Q

Who would want a tiny house on a trailer?

Single people (or close couples) without much stuff.
Homeowners who want to add living space without construction hassles.
Parents looking for a cottage for the au pair or nanny.
Folks who like to keep everything they use close at hand.
People who need living quarters for a nurse or caretaker.
Families in need of a granny unit or teenager den.
People who hate to clean.
Those who can't stand paying money for wasted space.
People who don't like a lot of clutter in their life.
Travelers who want a portable house that's comfortable year-round.
Property owners with bare land who need a comfortable living space.

Q

Is this a Tumbleweed Tiny House?

The Towhee is inspired by the Lusby plan, by Jay Shafer, formerly of Tumbleed Tiny House Company, which we purchased several years ago. It shares the same basic layout and split loft, which allow for a spacious cathedral ceiling in the main room. The differences are numerous: all ground floor windows are two feet wide and three feet tall, allowing for standard size window treatments and a unified visual effect. The hip roof over the porch has been changed in favor of a gable roof that continues the line of the main roof and eliminated several seams and complicated angles. The sleeping loft has been extended just enought to accommodate a standard queen size mattress, which of course increases the size of the bathroom and office/bedroom slightly, and decreases the main room length by the same degree.

 

The Goldfinch is also loosely based on a plan by Jay Schafer, the Weebee, now retired. It differs from the original more significantly than the Towhee. It's on a 16' trailer instead of 14' and has a rearranged and reduced bathroom, no kitchen, and a split loft design instead of the hatch in the original. The roofline has been carried straight over the porch, allowing for more usable enclosed loft space at the front of the house. 

Q

Do you live in a tiny house yourselves?

We're a family of four with two businesses, chickens, and an organic garden. Between that and the fact that our multiple trades depend on a large stash of tools and inventory, there's no way we could live year round in a tiny house on a trailer. For now we live in an 800 square foot cottage and remain committed to fitting in as small a place as we can. We stay away from collecting stuff we don't actively use, we sell or donate stuff after it runs its course in our household, and the stuff we do acquire trends toward the durable, well-designed, compact end of the spectrum. Speaking of stuff, check out one of our favorite videos, The Story of Stuff.

Q

How do I buy a tiny house from you?

Get in touch with us to schedule a tour of our available tiny houses. If we have just what you're looking for, we'll draw up a sale agreement. If you want a custom variation, let us know what you're looking for. We'll be happy to draw up a design for you and develop an estimate for the build. Depending on the complexity of your desires, your tiny structure can take from three months to a year to complete.

Q

How do I pay for my little structure?

We accept cashier's checks. As far as financing, it's generally hard to get these days, but if you need a loan we recommend talking to a local credit union (first) or a local bank about the possibility of a personal loan. Most of them won't lend funds without collateral, and personal or recreational loans carry a higher interest rate than a conventional mortgage. The overall lower cost means you can usually pay the loan down much faster.

Q

How do I get my custom structure designed and built?

Our process is focused on functionality, durability, and craftsmanship, and we'll work collaboratively with you to create exactly the tiny structure you need. Get in touch with us for a consultation. Have a look at our work and meet with us for about an hour to talk over your needs and your vision for the project. We'll put together a design, proposal, estimate, and a projected schedule based on your goals.

Q

Where can I place my tiny building?

A tiny house on wheels can be setup in places where RV trailers are allowed, and in much the same way as an RV. Our Towhee tiny house requires connection to a dedicated 30 amp 110V electrical circuit, a connection to a water supply (such as an exterior hose bib) for inflow, and a connection to a city sewer line or holding tank for outflow. It's also equipped with co-ax and Cat-5 wire for TV, Ethernet and telephone connections.

Beyond the utility hookups, there's the question of comfort and ease of use; look for a mostly flat spot that provides a level landing area for the porch steps. It doesn't have to be truly level or flat outside the porch landing zone, because trailer jacks should be used any time the house is to be parked for more than a few days. They can be set up to level the house and get the weight off the wheels, allowing you to maintain your tires in good condition for the longest time possible. Some shade for the southern and western exposures during the hottest part of the day is nice, but of course one of the great benefits of a tiny house on a trailer is that one can move it with the seasons to get the sunniest exposure in winter and the shadiest spot in summer months. Personally, I always like to have a good view out the kitchen windows. Follow your heart!

Q

What are your plans for the future?

 

We have tremendous ideas for our tiny structures in the future.
 
For full time living we envision customized homes for the highly specific needs of those outside the "average". Houses for the left handed, houses for those who are taller or shorter, or houses built for those living with a toddler (where all the outlets are concealed, and all the storage is either four feet off the ground or lockable) are just three possible examples from our personal experience. We're also working on an even more energy efficient passive solar design optimized for use with an active solar system, which will be configurable as an optional package. 
 
For homeowners in need of accessory buildings, we can provide custom tiny structures designed to suit the desired purpose exactly. Guest rooms, home offices, caregiver cottages, teenager caves, caretaker quarters, nanny suites, pool houses, backyard kitchens, garden sheds, art studios, writer's retreats, smoking lounges, camping cabins, and more; each require their own particular considerations and we look forward with delight to thoughtfully designing every aspect of each custom project for its intended purpose.
 
We can also see a breadth of opportunities for doing business from a little building on a trailer. If you're selling a product or service you can add immense flexibility to your business plan by letting us help you design your ideal work space - be it an office, workshop, store, yoga studio, beauty salon, classroom, or almost anything - on wheels. The power of being able to take your workplace TO your customers cannot be overestimated, and the promotional benefits are amazing. You can keep your office in a regular spot, and take it out periodically to trade shows, conventions, or whatever public gatherings are appropriate places to meet your target market. The positive attention attracted by driving and parking your beautiful custom "office building" will turn a simple banner hung up on your building into the lead generator of the decade. 
 
Like so many in the tiny house movement, we long for the day when tiny house owners can be welcomed into a like minded community, where they can park their tiny houses in a rented plot and have access to shared space and facilities. In our culture part of the attachment we tend to feel to larger houses has to do with being able to accommodate certain social events and expectations. We feel entitled to a green space to play on outdoors, a kitchen big enough for the occasional massive project, a gathering place big enough for 10 or 20 guests to get together once in a while. Then there are certain things we like to own and collect, like tools, books, and toys. Someday we hope to build such a community, centered around a "clubhouse" with a big kitchen, dining hall, gathering spaces, a dance and fitness room, a workshop, and a library. The grounds would have central parking with connecting bike paths and foot paths and community garden and green spaces.
 
Another idea we've explored is tiny house rentals; we'd like to keep a small selection of tiny houses on hand for renting out to the public. If you need a tiny house temporarily for any reason - whether to try before you buy or accommodate guests - just select one of our available models. We park it at your place for as long as you need at a negotiated daily rate and pick it up at the end of your rental.
 
We also love the idea of having another kind of tiny house rental community, this one styles as a tiny house vacation resort, dedicated to the art of relaxation.
Q

Does this house fall under the RV category, where it has to be registered every year?

This house is not legally considered an RV. It is permanently attached to a flatbed trailer, and the trailer has permanent trailer registration in the state of California and the license plate to go with it. If it were moved to another state one would have to check into local regulations about getting it permanently registered in that state.

Q

How do the bathrooms work? My main reason for wanting a tiny home is so that we can place it anywhere on our property - not just by the house.

Our Towhee model has an RV toilet, which requires a holding tank ($300 give or take) to function properly. It can be easily switched out to a conventional toilet if needed to connect it to a sewer or septic tank system. A composting toilet would be ideal. It might be hard to find one small enough to fit, but a custom one could be made for a house like this easily. We're open to designing custom models tailored to your needs with the toilet of your choice.

The easiest, most environmentally sound, and most affordable way to set up your tiny house(s) wherever you want is to separate gray water from black water and install composting toilets in the bathrooms. The graywater (from sink and shower) can be used to water the landscape and the solid waste can be turned into humanure compost that can be safely returned to the soil after resting one year. Commercially made composting toilets range in price from $255 for the bare bones Lovable Loo up to $1,500 for the mid-range and $10,000 plus for big systems for multiple bathrooms with large tanks and lots of complex features. It may sound a little crazy at first, but it can be safe, clean, and simple when done correctly, and there's a lot of information and research out there to support beginners.

Here is some valuable information on graywater law: http://www.oasisdesign.net/greywater/law/

Here's a link to the Humanure Headquarters, with lots of info: http://humanurehandbook.com/index.html

Here's a short documentary on composting toilets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNMs9oiPuvo

And here is a YouTube video of one woman who takes a hands on approach to achieve radical water conservation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-gwus8gLqs&feature=related

Using urine as fertilizer experiment: http://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/Teaching_Ecosan_in_Schools/35%20Prese...

More experiments on recycling nutrients from human waste http://aquamor.tripod.com/KYOTO.htm

Q

What about a place where I can try out a tiny house before I buy or build one?

This is an urgent every day request from people all over the country. We're delighted to finally be able to offer a tiny house rental experience on our property outside Healdsburg California. The Goldfinch Guest House is now live on Airbnb and accepting bookings. It's situated among towering redwoods next to a half acre pond studded with water lillies. Airbnb liked our spot so much they sent a pro out to photograph the house and surroundings for our featured listing!  BOOK NOW

If Healdsburg doesn't work, check this list of places around the country where it's possible to see or stay in tiny homes.

 

Bayside Bungalow Rental
Olympia, WA
Available for short term rental
 
Caravan - a tiny house hotel
Portland, OR
Available for short term rental
 
Solar Living Institute
13771 S Hwy 101
Hopland, CA 95449
707-472-2450
Open: 7 days/week, 10:AM-6:PM
Viewing only
 
Downtown Project
Las Vegas, NV
Stacie Chang
Viewing only
 
Boneyard Studios
Washington DC
Periodic open houses, subscribe and check schedule
4 tiny homes
Q

I didn't see any references to how the Towhee house is heated or how one would get gas to the stove. Could you elaborate on it?

There is a rack and cover at the hitch that will accommodate two propane tanks (5 or 7 gallon size). The stove/oven is plumbed to a line that runs to the tanks. The house has no integrated heater but is extremely well insulated (R19.9 at least) and could be heated with a minimal electrical space heater of your choice. Really, it's so small and well insulated you could heat it just by baking something in the oven and leaving the oven open afterwards!

Q

Are you part of the Tumbleweed group or are you a separate company?

Bungalow to Go is led by Pepper Clark and Dylan Pankow and has a cooperative relationship with Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. They started off on their own, but after finishing three houses and proving themselves the Tumbleweed folks approached us about having Pepper and Dylan present and assist at workshops, which has been a great success and delight. As of the end of 2013 Pepper has presented 17 workshops in the US and Canada on how to build small homes. Bungalow to Go offers consultation and design/build services and support to tiny house builders. We expect to produce our first live building workshop in 2014.

Q

I don't want to use propane; can I run my tiny house on electricity only?

Yes, you can avoid propane and do everything with electricity if you like. We've had a lot of people ask this question. You can run an all electric tiny house, but keep in mind that every appliance that heats or cools (coffee pot, toaster, heater, A/C) draws a lot of current. To lighten the load on your system you might want to consider alcohol as a fuel option for your cooking. Certain stoves run off denatured alcohol which is less flammable and isn't stored under pressure - so much safer that it's preferred on boats. Of course alcohol is also a renewable resource which you could conceivably make yourself if you had to. You can get cooktops, or a stove with a built in oven. Alcohol ovens can be quite expensive but I've heard great things about the high end ones from people who are using them. One woman I know of searched for months and found a $1400 alcohol stove with oven that someone was selling barely used - she got it for half the price. Here's the brochure for the Origo 6000 Built in Oven with Stove. Best of luck!