Considerations for a (Tiny) House: THOW vs Foundation vs Apartment (part 1)

Considerations for a (Tiny) House: THOW vs Foundation vs Apartment (part 1)

So far during this journey, my husband and I have had a few opportunities to share our mistakes and journey into minimalism and small house or tiny house living.We have been helped by so many, so it is our honor and duty to help others – and we love it!

Here are some thoughts that I have put together. We live in Pima County, Arizona. We are not in the city of Tucson. So, some of the legal/ zoning discussion will be location specific, but the ideas behind them should inspire research to make sure your dream can become a reality. Trust me, it is no fun to come home from vacation to a complaint from a neighbor. It is also no fun to work to bring your home into county compliance lest you be forced to move.

Tiny House On Wheels (THOW):

This is what everyone thinks of when they think of a tiny house. These cute, quirky homes offer movability, a wide variety of price points, and can be custom built to suit your needs.

 

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Some things to consider:In Pima County, Arizona, these can only be parked in RV Parks or on land zoned for mobile homes. In Pima County, this can mean a less desirable neighborhood in Tucson or in a more rural area. If you are buying a lot to park the THOW, you can look forward to Impact Fees (roughly $5,000), installing a water meter ($3,000), bringing in power (our cost was about $5,000) and installing a septic system ($7,000). These are rough estimates because every lot is different. Make sure when you buy the lot that you can get water and only need a conventional septic system. For a more elaborate system, the cost can skyrocket. Until our septic system was installed, we borrowed a truck and trailer and used a blue boy to dump our gray and black water tanks. This would have needed to be done every couple of days had we actually used the toilet and shower regularly. Dumping gray water on the ground can result in a hefty fine!

In Pima County, Arizona, these can only be parked in RV Parks or on land zoned for mobile homes. In Pima County, this can mean a less desirable neighborhood in Tucson or in a more rural area. If you are buying a lot to park the THOW, you can look forward to Impact Fees (roughly $5,000), installing a water meter ($3,000), bringing in power (our cost was about $5,000) and installing a septic system ($7,000). These are rough estimates because every lot is different. Make sure when you buy the lot that you can get water and only need a conventional septic system. For a more elaborate system, the cost can skyrocket. Until our system was installed, we borrowed a truck and trailer and used a blue boy to dump our gray and black water tanks. This would have needed to be done every couple of days had we actually used the toilet and shower regularly. Dumping gray water on the ground can result in a hefty fine!

If your lot isn’t zoned for a mobile home, you can use this type of home, but have to remove the wheels and permanently affix the house to the lot. There goes the flexibility of being able to move the house!

A few other things I hadn’t thought about before living in an RV: I never thought about having to dump tanks or set up jacks. If you are an RV-enthusiast, these are given, but I hadn’t thought about them prior to setting our trailer up. Because we are in an RV, I also didn’t think much about the fact that heavy wind or the dog being rowdy can move the trailer. While that might change some in a heavier THOW, I still wouldn’t want to be in one in a strong thunderstorm!

If you want to park the THOW in an RV Park, some parks have issues with home-built trailers. If you want to live in someone’s back yard, I urge you to proceed with caution. We lived in our friend’s backyard for about four months. They are wonderful people and we are so grateful for their help. However, we were there illegally and could have needed to move at any time. If this is your plan, I strongly suggest having a plan B and maybe even a plan C. I also suggest having a written agreement if this is going to last for more than a few months just to make sure you understand the rules of camping in your friend’s backyard. You do not want to lose their friendship over this.

Finally, there is a financial aspect to a THOW. Like an RV, these homes can potentially give you a take deduction (see your tax advisor) but are subject to depreciation and from what I have seen, do not hold their value well. I have seen them listed used online for significantly less than the cost to build the unit or buy them brand new. I have also noticed that many people only live in them for a short period of time (a couple of years). This was a key reason we built a home on a foundation that is larger than a true “tiny house” (we have approx 750-800 square feet). We wanted a house that we could live in for several years and would accommodate guests or children, should we choose to have them.

Many of the above considerations were really negative (sorry). So, why would you want to move into a THOW? I would gladly move into a THOW if I found a place I loved and meets my needs where I could legally park it. I think a THOW is also a great solution if you might be needing to move a few times in the next few years since they provide a stable home with the ability to change where the home sits. I don’t think having a couple of kids is a problem in a THOW. You just have to be realistic and honest with your needs. I have definitely seen families on TV who are trying to squeeze their family of five plus into less than two hundred square feet. Having lived in a combined 350 square feet (152 for the trailer and 192 for the shed) with my husband and our two dogs, I personally know I couldn’t do it. In order to make my marriage work, Chris and I need two separate areas (one for him to watch football and one for me to watch anything else). He also tends to stay up later than I do, so the separate space allows my personality the beauty sleep it needs.

Hopefully, I’ve given you some things to think about if you are wanting to embark upon a tiny house journey. In my next post, I will discuss some considerations of building a house with a foundation. Until then, please leave a comment with your questions!

Building a Life

Building a Life

After the last few status updates on the house, I think it is time to reflect on the “why” we are putting ourselves through this. I am doing this as much for myself as for those of you who will read this.

Coffee shops are great places to dream, but dreaming isn’t enough. You have to conquer fear and actually do work.

Why are we choosing to live in a small travel trailer and a shed with our two dogs while we build an 800 square foot house? This is a question I have asked myself more than once when I was driving to the gym so I could shower or to the gas station at eleven at night to use the bathroom one last time before bed. We could have easily afforded a house, in a neighborhood that isn’t quite as nice as where we ended up, and still hit our goal of being debt free in ten years.

It all comes down to building a life… building the life WE want. When Chris and I talked about the home we wanted we talked about outdoor space and a small, cozy home. We talked about not having to conform to an HOA’s guidelines and having a large yard where the dogs could run.

Granted, I am a dreamer. I dream of doing so many different things but actually do very few of them. However, this house is a step towards being able to do the things Chris and I want to be able to do together. Now that the house is nearly done, the life building begins. Our life is about to change… we will soon be able to move in and we will (finally) have a house (with indoor plumbing!) Now it is time to detach from Netflix, stop dreaming about the things I want to do when the house is done and start planning those dreams out. They will not all be accomplished this year. With my short attention span, that is difficult. For example, I will likely start planting the garden I am dreaming about, which means I need to budget for planting, build planters, remove cacti, plan a layout and actually break a sweat. I cannot just watch documentaries on slow food and join Facebook groups.

It is easy to think that making a big change will actually cause your dreams to fall into place. But that isn’t accurate. Change is merely a catalyst that allows the work to be done to accomplish your dreams and then the life building begins.

Update

Update

I restarted this blog with the good intentions of blogging regularly… but life happened as usual and it got pushed to the back burner. In the past few months, the sneak peak drawings were executed, septic and electric trenches dug and refilled, and we are quickly getting close to our goal.

In this process, I have learned a lot. I have learned county guidelines. More importantly, I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned that the person I am the least patient with is my husband, even though he deserves it most. My respect and sympathy for those who don’t have basic things like toilets, high functioning air conditioning, and showers has grown exponentially and I realized that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford movies on hot summer days, a gym membership, and the bathroom “tax” of a candy bar when I need to go. Friendship is helping each other through the difficult times. In our case, that has meant letting us park our RV on your property for months, watching our dogs for extended periods, offering us guest rooms and guest houses. It has meant actual financial support. It has also meant doing lots of laundry for us. I’m thankful to our family… church family and biological family for their help. This journey has taught me the importance of a loving community. This lesson is the one for which I’m most thankful. In life, it really is the little things like indoor plumbing and a washing machine.

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End of the first day of framing interior walls upstairs
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Septic tank
Distribution box and chambers

 

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Soo. Many. Trenches.
The septic system is installed! I can’t wait to have my yard back!
Try getting to the porta potty at 2:00 A.M.
Our partially constructed staircase (it deserves its’ own post)
My Dad and Uncle came down to frame walls for us
The stairwell before the stairs went up and windows were in
TuffShed was working hard at getting the building up. They rented several large pieces of equipment.
View from the south
View from the east. Note the trim in the foreground.
View from the Northeast.
This is a really tall building (approx. 23 feet)

 

Sneak Peek

Sneak Peek

East side view
After a weekend of fixing the toilet, picking up downed limbs, and other general yard work, today has a few highlights.

First, I must admit that I am not a great house keeper. So, when I got home, I discovered that my husband had really cleaned our shed/living room. He is really wonderful. 

The other suprise was that we got another preliminary drawing back from Tuff Shed. The picture is a drawing of the east side of our house. I’m so excited.

Frustration

All good goals come with frustration. That was certainly the case today with our small house project. Our large (in our town’s standard) lot of .83 acres is not large enough to plan for a potential larger house later down the road if we, or the next owner, decide one is needed. This is due to setbacks and other county mandated zoning issues. 

Ultimately we decided that the likelyhood of us ever building a second house was small enough to not worry about it. It also beat the suggestion of putting our house as close to the neighbors as possible, which I’m sure they will appreciate.

We also learned an important lesson: don’t trust the professionals to get things right. You have to double check their work. In looking at the placement of our septic system, we realized that the professionals put the system about twenty feet further west than it should be placed. This essentially places our septic tank in the middle of the main water flow area of our property. Not good. 

Tomorrow, I get to call the county and see what needs to be done to move the septic to a more appropriate place. Hopefully it won’t involve a costly redesign, but if this project has taught me anything, it is that every hurdle just means another check has to be written. Maybe that is a bit too pessimistic… But those are my feelings tonight.

Not the right place to put a septic tank

Plan B

Plan B

About two weeks before we found out that our architect was moving to Alabama for a job (congratulations to him), our county passed new regulations for tiny homes. These new regulations essentially eased some of the restrictions on how ingress and egress function as well as allowing for ladders to loft spaces. This was allowed for any building under 400 square feet. My husband  and I quickly decided that since we both work and are not exceptionally gifted in construction that a tiny house would be the way to go. Since we had a great experience buying our shed from Tuff Shed, that was the first place we looked. They were able to draft a 14 x 28 building on a permanent foundation that we really liked.
I’m sure the first question you will have for me is: why did you decide on a house with a foundation vs a towable house or a manufactured home? The answer to this is simple. In our zoning, those homes simply are not allowed. Based on experience, I do not think that this type of home could fly under the radar for very long without major issues with the county and a couple of or neighbors. Additionally, a foundation allows for a wider building. As it is, we will have a sturdy home with concrete floors, a metal roof and 2″x6″ construction.

Knowing that we are in a six inch sheet flood zone, the representative at Tuff Shed recommended a company as a “permit expediter.” Basically, this company knows how to do the necessary drawings and regulations to keep the permit project moving along. The permit expediter sent our initial sketch to the county building department who said that since our loft was larger than one third of the overall floor space, it counted as living space and pushed our house over the tiny house limit of 400 square feet. Bummer. Chris and I discussed the ramifications of modifying our plans and decided the extra living space (which will eventually include a second bedroom) will  be worth the additional expense and regulations.

The next step was financing. Financing our new home has been the hardest thing to do over the last year. We tried numerous banks before we finally found someone to lend us enough money to get started. This leads to question number two: why didn’t we go with a construction loan?

The answer is: we really wanted to. However, we needed to get a down payment on the house and needed cash to do it. Additionally, we found construction loans difficult because they prefer you to use a contractor (which adds a lot of cost) and want to have full drawings, budget, etc. These of course are good to have, but full drawings were going to take time, and I was going to need the cash before then. Finally, many construction loans only loan 70-80% of the total project cost or value (depending on the loan). His includes paying off the note on the land and would have made our budget very tight. Many loans also require large payments upfront (we were looking at one that had four points which added up to thousands of dollars). Additionally, the size of house and construction by Tuff Shed for the shell was likely to be an issue. Be forewarned all those wanting to follow in our footsteps! 

The site of our future home

Needless to say, we were approved for a personal loan last Friday and will deposit the check in the bank soon! Last week, we also made the payment to get our water meter installed. This week, we are working on findin someone to install the septic. Tonight, the permit expediter sent us preliminary drawings, and I finally get to say: Our house is FINALLY on the way!

Attempt No. 2

Attempt No. 2

A long time ago, I started this blog to document a changing life. I did not keep blogging. Now, I will attempt to restart this blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Since my last post, there have been several changes in my life.

Change #1:

My husband and I moved in with a friend and his three kids. It was awesome! Sure, it was difficult at times, but an awesome experience of living in intentional community. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Change #2:

We bought property with the intention of building a small straw bale house last June. After numerous conversations with banks trying to figure out the construction loan piece, we were told to make the house bigger. Basically, we were told the bank would not fund a smaller house (under 1,000 square feet) that we could easily afford. They would only fund a larger house (that would be harder for us to afford). We complied and hired a very talented young architect to design the house.

The house that was designed was beautiful and immediately, it was the house of my dreams. It was two bedrooms, two bathrooms and had two internal courtyards. I still want that house.

So we started saving for construction.When our roommate moved to Texas, we moved out of our rental house. My grandmother gave me her 19′ RV. We lived with some very generous friends for awhile. Then, we brought in electricity, paid the impact fee, and moved the trailer onto the property. That was in early December. Since then, we have been living on our property, saving as much money as possible. We have not yet been able to save the necessary cash for water or septic. Fortunately, we were able to buy a water tank that holds our water supply and will later be used for rainwater harvesting. We also have black water tank that is used to dump our RV.

Another purchase (some debt requires) is a large shed. The shed stores our goods, including our couch, television, and portable washing machine.

This was all fine until the beginning of the summer. At the beginning of the summer, our neighbors forced us to face reality. They forced us to leave the comfort of our someday-I-will-live-in-a-real-house-but-for-now-the-trailer-is-fine mental state when they complained to the county about numerous things. The country girl in me wanted to tell them to mind their own business about what I do with my property.  The Christian side of me wanted to remind them they should have tried to work things out with us first. So far, I have managed to ignore them.

However, this issue with the county made us realize that time is running out on our ability to maintain status quo. We had to form Plan B.  Since Plan B is its own discussion in its entirety, I will save that for its own post.

The front door of my house