ninety year-old ideas work in tinies

Did you know that many open space and multiple use ideas in modern homes are at least 90 years old? These ideas work well in tiny houses, whether you’re considering windows, great rooms, sliding walls/doors or cool furniture.

Take a quick video tour of one early, original and inspiring place.

The Rietveld Schroder house

Back in 1924, “De Stilj” school architect Gerrit Rietveld designed his special house with reconfigurable spaces. Today its ground-breaking architecture is honored as a UNESCO heritage site, located in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

This Dutch modern home was built for a widow and her children, who lived differently than their row house neighbors in the 1920s. (Rietveld Schroder House, Centraal Museum)

This Dutch modern home was built for a widow and her children, who lived differently than their row house neighbors in the 1920s. (Rietveld Schroder House, Centraal Museum)

Imagine living in this open and sunny space, with splashes of red, yellow, blue and black. Various walls slide open to create privacy as needed. (Rietveld Schroder House, ArchDaily)

Imagine living in this open and sunny space, with splashes of red, yellow, blue and black. Various walls slide open to create privacy as needed. (Rietveld Schroder House, ArchDaily)

This 1920s home provides open living spaces within a single floor plan. Yet it's private when you enter through the ground floor. (Rietveld Schroder House, Great Buildings)

This 1920s home provides open living spaces within a single floor plan. Yet it’s private when you enter through the ground floor level. (Rietveld Schroder House, Great Buildings)

Tiny moderns inspired by Rietveld

More recently, design cues from the De Stilj school seem to be picked up and integrated into tiny modern builds. Let’s look at a 600 square foot prototype, a 227 square foot house on wheels and, for fun, an eight-inch model. These places still look new and up-to-date!

DESERT HOUSE: In 2009, students from the F.L. Wright School of Architecture created an eco-friendly home. We see Gerrit Reitveld's building shapes and colors here, with a touch of F.L. Wright in the cantilevered opening. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: In 2009, students from the F.L. Wright School of Architecture created an eco-friendly home. We see Gerrit Reitveld’s building shapes and colors here, with a touch of F.L. Wright in the cantilevered opening. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: Interior space is arranged simply, with a galley kitchen leading to open seating and an outdoor deck. Behind the camera is another deck and separate sleeping quarters. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: Interior space is arranged simply, with a galley kitchen leading to open seating and an outdoor deck. Behind the camera is another deck and separate sleeping quarters. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

FARM HOUSE: This tiny house on wheels was built by Yestermorrow School students, and features a charred wood exterior and cool orange door. There's plenty of light shining though its front and side windows. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: This tiny house on wheels was built by Yestermorrow School students, and features a charred wood exterior and cool orange door. There’s plenty of light shining though its front and side windows. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: The interior feature we like best is a full sliding wall which creates privacy when using the bathroom, shower or sleeping area. Here's a close-up of the hardware, sliding mechanism and wall-door. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: The interior feature we like best is a full sliding wall which creates privacy when using the bathroom, shower or sleeping area. Here’s a close-up of the hardware, sliding mechanism and wall-door. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FISH HOUSE: If you crave a Reitveld inspired abode, then one tiny fish tank might fit the bill. The De Stilj home is now available for a gold fish or two, in an eight-inch model. ($34.99, De Stilj Fish Apartment, DotandBo)

FISH HOUSE: If you crave a Reitveld inspired abode, then one tiny fish tank might fit the bill. The De Stilj home is available for a gold fish or two, in an eight-inch model. ($34.99, De Stilj Fish Apartment, DotandBo)

wee-sized bathrooms with wood

We don’t quite understand the popularity of wood in smaller and wee-sized bathrooms. Is it about style or getting back to old ways? Nordic saunas might be an inspiration. Or Japanese soaking tubs. Or even life on boats.

It’s a natural thing.

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well as different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that's just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that’s just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

little houses for limited mobility

Don’t cross little cozy houses off your wish list, if you or your loved ones have limited mobility. Small places aren’t only for energetic, ladder-climbing loft dwellers anymore — and may work well as secondary units, retirement abodes or vacation spots.

Hobbitat's Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat’s Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

We’re pleased to shine light on Hobbitat, a tiny house builder which already complies with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) through its Blue Sky house plans. Hobbitat may be the first tiny builder to do so!

In the Blue Sky home, you'll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

In the Blue Sky home, you’ll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To accommodate wheelchairs and/or walkers, small homes need to have wider doors and more open living spaces to maneuver around. It may translate into adding a bit of square footage to fit perfectly.

Here;s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Here’s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To serve physically limited users, bathroom space becomes more spacious than what’s typically found in a tiny house. Extra bathroom fixtures and wall bars get installed to comply with the ADA.

There's a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

There’s a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat sells its Blue Sky construction plans ($450) directly. Alternatively you could arrange for the company to build, deliver and place a home on your prepared pier foundation. More information about ordering is here.

james madison’s dwelling units

At the turn of the 19th century, not-yet-president James Madison and his wife Dolley moved into their dream estate called Montpelier. They ran a tobacco plantation, worked by slaves living in tiny houses.

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the mansion

Modern-day archeologists have identified four areas where slaves lived in Montpelier. Notably the South Yard village was built in full view of the mansion, enabling slaves to service the Madisons as needed.

Here's the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16x32 feet total. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16’x32′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Montpelier preservationists decided to build a ghost or framed-only version of the South Yard village, to represent the Madisons’ time. These structures were considered nice enough to get insured back in the early 1800s.

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the plantation

Living conditions were rougher for other Montpelier slaves. Most lived in small, crowded, unstable and ephemeral log cabins. Based on imprints and remains, archeologists have uncovered an example within the Stable Quarters yard.

Slave log cabins were typically built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16'x20' total. (Montpelier.org)

Slave log cabins were built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16’x20′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Through Montpelier volunteer efforts, a ghost structure was built in 2014 (see video) on the site of Granny Miller’s old cabin. A slave who lived into her 100’s, Granny had descendants who knew about this Stable Quarters yard home!

Here's a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don't be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don’t be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

What are the takeaways?

We should eat some humble pie when reflecting on how slaves survived, in homes filled with health-hazards. They had neither options or choices in life. It’s easy to live in safe spaces and places we choose (most of the time).

The radical difference in freedom and house size is fascinating. Today we think about simplification and downsizing to smaller or tiny abodes as a way to gain freedom. How things change, no?

insulation for unrelenting winters

Is your winter filled with cold snaps or unrelenting below-zero temperatures? To live comfortably and economically in a smaller house, we suggest paying attention to insulation quality in your walls, attic/roof and foundation underfoot.

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Insulation with R-values

Insulation is measured through “the resistance of an insulating or building material to heat flow, expressed as R-11, R-20, and so on; the higher the number, the greater the resistance to heat flow.”

One well-insulated example is the Go Logic home, which achieves extremely high R-values in an affordable, smaller-size residence. Architect Matthew O’Malia reports three specific R-values:

  • 24″ cellulose fills the attic floor (R-84)
  • 8″ EPS-filled SIPs, 2×4 bearing wall with dense-pack cellulose (R-50)
  • 12″ EPS rigid insulation below the slab foundation (R-60)

Right R-values for you

Back in 2012, the International Code Council (ICC) established R-values and other standards for new home builds. Today they are still getting adopted by local municipalities across the country.

By achieving these ICC insulation standards, however, your energy bills should be lower than typical homes. We recommend achieving (or surpassing) them in any upcoming home build.

Insulation Requirements - ICC

Not sure about your climate zone? For reference, here is a color version of the USA climate zone map, from Florida (zone 1) to the upper Midwest (zone 7).

USA Climate Zones - NAIMA

High insulation, low fenestration

Stepping back, your energy savings come from living within a smaller square foot home that also sports high R-value insulation. But wait for the rest of the story.

Fenestration is a fancy word for air flow leaks, which aren’t ideal when trying to maximize indoor warmth. Culprits include fireplace flues, windows, skylights, sliding glass doors, and other holes – and the ICC addresses them too.

For an overview that’s in plain English, we encourage you to download “Build Like This.” Here’s to your small house and its thermal envelope!

learning about Lindal kits

To build small, let’s check out a large kit house provider named Lindal Homes. Some 50,000 homes have been built through Lindal over 70 years. While best known for cedar prow-deck designs, the company has expanded to warm modern styles designed in-house or via architect collaborations.

These "Taliesin" Lindal homes range from 470 to 800 square feet, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Options include cedar or cement board exteriors, with adjustable interiors to suit your needs. (Lindal.com)

These “Taliesin” Lindal homes range from 470 to 800 square feet, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Options include cedar or cement board exteriors, with adjustable interiors to suit your needs. (Lindal.com)

Lindal explorations

Explore Lindal’s styles, create a folder to see house plans, and join a conference call to learn more. We dialed into a call last weekend and were surprised to hear Michael Harris, former CEO/President of Lindal, who shared architectural styles and other build information:

  • Project design cost – “A disciplined use of our building system’s most efficient components and assembly details [will] dramatically reduce design time.”
  • Higher home value – “Lindals resell for handsome amounts of money. They get financed like conventional houses [unlike modular homes]. Appraise for more than typical houses because of finishes.”
  • Time to build – “Total length is 6-9 months total, comparable to the typical modular producers. We use local labor, so it’s 9 months to a year.”

Kits and pre-fabs

Lindal is a kit house company which sells finished Post and Beam plans and delivers materials to individual building sites. The company adjusts designs based on the buyer desires, lots and area conditions. There are 100 U.S. Lindal dealers who guide local customers through home planning and builds.

Remember there’s a spectrum of pre-fab homes, from kits to partly or fully-built homes delivered to your site. Do you want to make changes to designs and materials? Do you have a specific budget or time frame in mind? Answer these questions and it may set you down the right path.

LEED certify your small home

As you know, it’s possible to save energy consumption simply by downsizing to a smaller home. You may also consider taking more deliberate steps to build a home that qualifies for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification.

This one-story FreeGreen home is designed for high energy efficiency, within a roomy 1,356 square feet. (Houseplans.com)

This one-story FreeGreen home is designed for high energy efficiency, within a roomy 1,356 square feet. (Houseplans.com)

Greener house plans

Recently Houseplans acquired FreeGreen due to its current inventory of plans starting at 525 square feet. All the plans feature detailed prerequisites and credits used by LEED-certified builders today.

For a limited time, you’re invited to download a free set of FreeGreen house plans. Eight different styles are available, including the one-story home shown here and four others ranging between 1,000-1,900 square feet.

Inside this one-story FreeGreen home, you'll find a great room, three bedrooms and two baths (Houseplans.com)

In this one-story FreeGreen home, you’ll find a great room, three bedrooms and two baths. (Houseplans.com)

Building and living well

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED homes are built to be healthy, providing clean indoor air and incorporating safe building materials to ensure a comfortable home. Using less energy and water means lower utility bills each month.” There are eight LEED categories:

  1. Innovation & Design (ID) Process – Special design methods, unique regional credits, measures not currently addressed in the Rating System, and exemplary performance levels.
  2. Location & Linkages (LL) – The placement of homes in socially and environmentally responsible ways in relation to the larger community.
  3. Sustainable Sites (SS) – The use of the entire property so as to minimize the project’s impact on the site.
  4. Water Efficiency (WE) – Water conservation practices, both indoor and outdoor.
  5. Energy & Atmosphere (EA) – Energy efficiency, particularly in the building envelope and heating and cooling design.
  6. Materials & Resources (MR) – Efficient utilization of materials, selection of environmentally preferable materials, and minimization of waste during construction.
  7. Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) – Improvement of indoor air quality by reducing the creation of and exposure to pollutants.
  8. Awareness & Education (AE) – The education of homeowner, tenant, or multifamily building manager about the operations and maintenance of the green features of a LEED Home.

Building to meet certification requirements obviously takes expertise! As you look for a builder or building company, ask if they are credentialed and/or otherwise know a rater who may help you. Any of the LEED certification levels would be a sweet reward for a well-built home.

Or simply knowing you have built to green standards is a good thing, no?

minimum sizes for tiny houses

If you want to build a tiny house on the ground, then it’s a good idea to start with the International Residential Code’s (IRC) minimum size requirement: 120 square feet measured from interior faces of exterior walls.

Please buckle your seat belt to learn more about IRC habitable space, minimum areas and ceiling heights. These codes are revised and reviewed by the International Code Committee (ICC), and are known throughout the U.S.

Here's a new yet classic cottage based on the Whidbey design from Tumbleweed Houses. Sporting 960 square feet, the Great Barrington (MA) riverside home is now for re-sale. (realtor.com)

Here’s a new yet classic cottage based on the Whidbey design from Tumbleweed Houses. Sporting 960 square feet, the Great Barrington riverside home is now for re-sale. (realtor.com)

Welcome to minimum codes

Let’s begin with a confusing but true statement: while all the minimums apply to habitable spaces, habitable spaces are defined by meeting minimums too.

In typical houses, all living, sleeping, eating or cooking areas qualify as habitable spaces. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces aren’t defined as habitable, for any dwelling. Here are minimum room sizes:

  • Minimum area. One habitable room that’s at least 120 square feet.
  • Other rooms. At least 70 square feet.
  • Minimum dimensions. At least 7 feet in any horizontal dimension.
  • Height effect on room area. At least 7 feet high. If sloped, also over 5 feet.

Tom Meyers, past chairman of ICC’s residential code committee, explains height requirements for a habitable room:

“The IRC requires 7 feet vertical clearance except when the ceiling is sloped. When the ceiling is sloped, only one half of the required room area must be provided with the 7 foot headroom clearance. If the room is required to be 70 sf in area, then 35 sf of the room must have 7 feet of clearance. Additionally, all the remaining required area must have a minimum of 5 feet of clearance.”

There are some exclusions and exceptions. Notably, kitchens are excluded from the other room, dimensions and height effect codes. Also bathrooms only need to be 6 feet, 8 inches tall, to accommodate fixtures.

Sleeping lofts are not “habitable” areas

In a tiny or small house, an upstairs loft typically won’t qualify as a habitable bedroom, so you may access it with a ladder or non-compliant egress. Tom Meyers offers clear advice:

“If you are ever challenged on the use of a ladder for non-habitable loft, be assured that the code allows it by default. Intentionally, there are no requirements for non-habitable loft access. I know this as I am the one that wrote this code section.”

“The code official is unlikely to allow you to use your non-habitable loft for compliance with permanent provision for sleeping. Best to figure out a way to put a bed (fold out or otherwise) on the lower level.”

Rural, suburban and urban code approvals

When living in a more populated area, you should expect larger and different minimum sizes in your local building and zoning codes. Please check with your City Hall while planning a single home or secondary dwelling unit build on your property. Otherwise your house could be unusable!

Are all these codes necessary? Suburban and urban people live with many codes because they’re not contemplating “daily survival,” muses Tom Meyers. By contrast, rural areas are more lax and may not even have codes because “they don’t need to be told what they already know.”

More Information: Please check out exact wording of the International Code Council (ICC) minimums below, covering Minimum Room Areas, Ceiling Height, Sanitation, and Toilet, Bath and Shower Spaces.

Continue reading

spiral stairs to sleeping loft

To conserve tiny house space, consider installing spiral stairs to access a sleeping loft. They would make an ascent or descent easier than any ladder, right?

Spiral stairs from a Washington tiny house

The first spiral stairs come from a jewel-box tiny home built by Zack Giffin, who’s a skier, carpenter and Tiny House Nation host. Over the past three years, Zack (and his partner Molly) traveled to many Western ski areas where they discovered powder secrets and tiny house admirers along the way.

These well crafted stair steps were hand-built by Zack Giffin, in his tiny ski house on wheels. They seem like fine furniture and works of art. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

These well crafted stair steps were hand-built by Zack Giffin, in his tiny ski house on wheels. They seem like fine furniture and works of art. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Notice how the steps rotate around a vertical pole. It enables dwellers to use extra space for seating and other purposes. (Photo by Mark Fisher)

Notice how the steps rotate around a vertical pole. It enables dwellers to use extra space for seating and other purposes. (Photo by Mark Fisher)

Here the tiny house is truly at home, nestled into a ski area parking lot. Everyone inside should be ready for tomorrow's action. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Here the tiny house is truly at home, nestled into a ski area parking lot. Everyone inside should be ready for tomorrow’s action. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Spiral stairs from a Massachusetts tiny house

The second spiral stairs appear in a tiny house owned by Francis Camosse, a local youth minister. His dream home, a modified Tumbleweed Cypress, was just built by Zack Giffin, local contractors and the Tiny House Nation. Aah, we understand the source of these spiral stairs now.

"Henry Camosse, father of Francis Camosse, climbs the stairs to the loft of his son's tiny house in Charlton," says the Worcester Telegram. (Photo by Paul Connors)

“Henry Camosse, father of Francis Camosse, climbs the stairs to the loft of his son’s tiny house in Charlton,” says the Worcester Telegram. (Photo by Paul Connors)

Francis Camosse's tiny house gets log cabin siding for a sweet rustic look. The tiny is currently located on family land. (Photo by Paul Connors)

Francis Camosse’s tiny house gets log cabin siding for a sweet rustic look. The tiny is currently located on family land. (Photo by Paul Connors)

store it, revisit it, donate it

“Find freedom in temporary storage,” advises Finding Minimalism’s Joshua Becker. If you are decluttering and stymied by beloved collections or other possessions, then put them aside.

For these hard-to-removes, Becker recommends “an intermediate step of packing a box, labeling it with a date, and storing it out of sight. It will be easier emotionally. Six months later, revisit the box. You may be surprised how much easier it is to part with these items after not seeing them for six months.”

Do you have a large collection, like this Depression Era glass?  Store it "out of sight" for a few months, and it will be easier to sell or donate then. (Calder Clark)

Do you have a large collection, like this Depression Era glass? Store it “out of sight” for a few months, and it will be easier to sell or donate then. (Calder Clark, event planner)

We like having the time to mentally prepare for giving away memory-laden stuff. Putting items away enables you to live without and maybe forget about them, on a trial basis. Also don’t forget to take pictures too, to look back after items are truly gone!

Finding Minimalism’s 7 Tips to Speed Up the De-cluttering Process

Below are uncommon yet practical tips that should help you begin decluttering because the process will feel a bit less overwhelming. Click here to read all the details.

  1. Start easy with a clean sweep.
  2. Find motivation with built-in deadlines.
  3. Donate more.
  4. Include some help.
  5. Find freedom in temporary storage.
  6. Tell a friend and invite them over.
  7. Don’t confuse intent with action.