At ATWS we’re interested in challenging the norm of debt and spending. That’s why once a month we feature people who have gone to (what some would say) extreme means with their living situations to get out of debt, save money and live a simpler life. Today we have a tour with Alek. Alek is a freelance web designer in Austin, Texas. He lives in his tiny home with his girlfriend, Lee. Take it away, Alek!
How long have you been living in your tiny house?
I completed the house in November 2013 and have been living in full-time ever since. So, more than 2 full years so far!
Why did you decide to move into a tiny house? (Financial reasons, more freedom, ownership, etc.)
It was a combination of many reasons:
- I had paid over $50,000 in rent living in LA and Boulder for 5 years, and it finally hit me how much that was. I wanted to find an alternative path to home ownership, to stop paying high rent, but also to avoid an expensive house and a mortgage.
- I have always been interested in smaller houses and natural building techniques. I wanted to create something efficient and far more sustainable than the traditional home.
- At the time of building, my then-girlfriend was exploring options for grad school. I had no idea where I would end up living, so home ownership seemed impossible unless that home was mobile.
Once I found tiny houses online, it just clicked. The tiny house on wheels was the perfect solution to all these problems.
Please briefly describe your home.
The house is 8×20 feet and built on a flatbed trailer. It’s approx. 160 sq.ft. with a sleeping loft (a total of about 240 sq.ft. including the loft) It’s a modern design with a low-sloping shed-style roof. The house has a small front porch and a fold-up deck. The exterior is clad in a mix beautiful cedar siding and a metal roofing material for an interesting mix of finishes.
The house features a passive solar design with 10 windows and an all-glass door for tons of natural light.
Inside you’ll find most everything a normal house has, only in a smaller, very well thought-out layout. Entering the house, you come into the “great room” with 10 foot ceilings. This area includes a small sofa, desk, fold-down table, and dog bed. This is where most of the windows are, so it’s always the most light and open feeling area in the house.
After that is a small “hallway” with storage areas to the right and left, for pantry items, outerwear, etc. At the far end of the house is a uniquely designed kitchen space with sink, fridge, range and counter space. Opposite of that is a small bathroom with a composting toilet and shower.
The house features many high-end stainless steel appliances, including a propane range (yes, a small oven too), propane on-demand water heater, counter-height refrigerator, and even a combo washer/dryer to do laundry in the comfort of home.
Sustainable woods and other materials were used throughout to create a beautiful, peaceful environment – I wanted this to be my dream home, albeit a small one. Features include sustainable strand bamboo flooring, beetle-kill pine ceiling and walls, marble counter tops, all-natural, zero VOC paints, hand-made linen curtains, and hand-planed, custom-built cabinets and shelving.
What is your favorite part of your home?
I love all of it! I literally would not change a thing! I think my favorite are the large windows in the living area, the light that comes in, and the connection I feel to the outdoors even when in the house.
Please briefly describe the process of building your home.
The home took about 7 months to build. The total time to research, design, source materials and learn building techniques took longer than that, over a year in total, starting in fall of 2012.
I designed a built the house myself, with some construction help for electrical work, roofing and interior finish work. As I was building, I continued to work nearly full-time on my web design work during the days and so most all of the work was done every evening and all weekend long during those 7 months in 2013. It was a very intense time, and I honestly don’t know how I did it all!
I was pretty handy with tools (having helped my dad with projects around the house when younger) but with no previous construction experience, I had to learn each aspect of home construction as I was doing it. I literally researched best practices for window installation the night before I planned to install my first window. The whole thing was an enormous learning experience.
If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear about the financial part of building your home? What was your budget?
I spent about $30,000 in materials on the house, including tools, the trailer, all building materials, appliances and interior furnishings. This of course does not count all of the labor that went into, but doing most of that myself, I have no way to even estimate the time it took. It was a labor of love for sure and I really poured my heart and soul into it. For that reason the house is really invaluable to me.
Did it cost more than you anticipated to build your home?
I had initially guessed I’d spend around $25,000, but that was based purely on anecdotal stories of costs for similarly sized houses. But I knew mine would cost more because of the materials choices I was making. As I said, I wanted this to be a very nice house, something I’d love to spend time in every day. So I got very nice fiberglass/wood windows, spent more on sustainable wood products and higher-end appliances. I’m pretty happy with the final cost and think it’s a good balance between budget and comfort/desires.
What has been the most surprising cost of living in a tiny house?
Nothing really. The day-to-day living costs are very low. We use at most $15 of propane a month. Most of our living expenses are now directed at good food. Both Lee and I are very conscious about what we eat and choose to spend money on food to nourish our bodies.
Other than that, it’s just the usual expenses, only rent (for a parking space) and utilities are far, far less than a normal house.
Have you saved money since living in the tiny house?
Yes, quite a bit. I figure that within the next year, I will have saved enough just in rent to pay for the cost of the house – after that it’s pure profit, if you will. I’ve also made some unanticipated money selling plans to my tiny house and other revenue from the Tiny Project website. Add that to the mix and the house has already paid for itself completely! Though I still have a small amount of student debt, that will be gone soon, and I will be buying my next car with cash!
How do your costs compare to your life before the tiny house?
Food is about the same (I’ve always prioritized fresh, healthy food), but all other costs are down a lot. We pay a small monthly rent that covers rent and utilities, so overall, are saving a lot each month! Gas may be just a bit higher because we can’t live quite as centrally in a tiny house, so have a short commute into the city each day (and because I’m more free to travel more!).
Please describe your daily life (i.e. How do you work, exercise, eat meals, etc.)
I like to exercise every day if possible. I go for a run or lift some weights at the gym. I eat most meals at home, preparing raw salads for most lunches, and a simple cooked meal in the evenings.
I work half the day at a coffee shop and half at home. That way I can be around people and enjoy being out the city where I live, but I also have the comfort and flexibility of being home, being able to walk and care for my dog, etc.
What is the best part about living in a tiny home? The worst part?
The best part is fully embracing the lifestyle, and really enjoying doing so. I love being in my house and part of that comes from the simplicity of it and the changes I’ve made to the way I view most everything, consumption in particular. I love that I don’t waste potable drinking water whenever I use the bathroom (we compost our waste). I love that fact that my house is a tiny, tiny fraction of the electricity of most houses. I love being more connected to the outdoors. I love the fact that the house and my story have inspired so many people.
But maybe the best part is coming home to a house I know like the back of my hand, something that has my life-force in it, reflecting my aesthetic and principles too. Very few people live in a house customized so perfectly to them. It’s very special feeling knowing exactly why and where everything is, and for it all to fit me like a glove.
What advice do you have for other people who want to live a similar lifestyle?
Just go for it! So many people get held up about fears over where they might be able to park a tiny house. That’s a much larger topic to go into, but if this is what you want, then get started now, even if all the details haven’t worked themselves out quite yet. Start downsizing, start sketching house designs, start talking to your city counsel members about making tiny houses on wheels legal permanent living options in your city. Or just start building!
If you need everything to be 100% guaranteed and 100% legal, than this may not be the right kind of living for you. But if you can embrace a little uncertainty for all of the possibilities and freedom that this lifestyle can lead to, then just lead with that intention and the rest will fall into place. I had no idea how to build a house when I started, and I had no idea where I’d be parking when finished, but it all worked out (and has continued to over the past couple years). There’s no reason why it wouldn’t for anyone else if they are willing to do the research, put in the work, and take control of their own future. Go get ‘em!
Thanks, Alek! What a beautiful home!
If you want to learn more about Alek, visit his website, The Tiny Project. There you’ll find house plans and a ton of resources for building your own tiny home. You can also find him on Facebook. Alek, along with six other experienced house dwellers also have a new project, The Tiny House Collaborative. They will soon be offering workshops and consulting to share their our combined experiences.