David Bell’s Tiny House

In May, the Herald Sun ran a piece on David Bell’s delightful little tiny house in Birchip, Victoria. It’s one of the most prominent tiny houses in Australia I would say, having received quite a bit of media coverage. After reading an article about David ages ago (before the Herald Sun piece) I got in touch with him. We shared each others stories and I picked his brain for any advice he had for building a tiny house in Australia. Pleasant chap.

Anyways, the reason I write this post is to draw attention to a comment on the above article. The commenter, Susan, says “If he paid $12,500 for that he was ripped off. And as a previous poster said – good luck getting council approval. Not to mention that house would not comply with bushfire regulations – any property in a rural area needs to be assessed for that. But if it makes him happy, good for him.” I want to unpack this comment a little. It’s full of assumptions and error.

$12,500 is a rip off. David’s tiny house wasn’t built solely by himself, I believe. So a good portion of this figure would have gone in labour. I believe the materials David used are all new – those costs quickly add up, a couple of hundred dollars per window, times 3 or 4… You get the picture. It is a nicely finished little house. It was built to spec – in my discussions with David he informed me that he was granted a Certificate of Occupancy by council. Building some McMansion in an outer suburb, in my book, is more of a rip off.

[G]ood luck getting council approval. Well he did. He had it independently inspected by a building surveyor and was granted a Certificate of Occupancy.

[The] house would not comply with bushfire regulations. This is a doozy. Why wouldn’t this house comply with bushfire regulation? (1) The BAL (Bushfire Activity Level) this house is subject to is probably very low, BAL12.5 tops, maybe even a BAL-LOW – it’s in the township, not exactly in the middle of a forest; (2) The cladding of this house is suitable for something at the high-end of the spectrum – I am considering using Colourbond or Zincalume to clad my place and I am faced with around a BAL-19; (3) If it got through council then the BMO (Bushfire Management Overlay) has presumably been addressed.

I’m glad the comment was signed off with “But if it makes him happy, good for him”. I have heard that line many times myself, and appreciate it for the condescending manner in which it is usually delivered. Ah well. David went the right way about building his house and I applaud the council for allowing him to do it. I told my future council (fingers crossed) that I intend to build a tiny house of around 21sq/m. They didn’t flinch. “Great. I’m really excited to see it” was the response.

Update: I’d like to thank Bele for bringing a follow up article, by the Herald, to my attention. Turns out their publicity did David more bad than good. Council approached him with a heap of non-compliances. I sillily presumed that if he had the building approved then he would have addressed every requirement.  Seems he was required to connect to the mains (I really don’t understand why this is a rule for houses in townships?) and install things like a sink, food prep area, shower (I thought he had a small outdoor bathroom) and so on. I couldn’t find any follow up stories online about the outcome of David’s plight. In the article, Buloke Shire Council is quoted as saying that they don’t intend to evict him, they haven’t the power, but they wish to help him meet compliances. I have emailed David to see how he got on.

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4 thoughts on “David Bell’s Tiny House

  1. Sadly, the Herald Sun exposure seems to have done David more harm than good: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/david-bell-faces-building-and-planning-laws-battle-with-buloke-shire-council-over-his-tiny-birchip-house/story-fni0fit3-1226664089584
    “The council argues the property should be connected to electricity, water and sewerage, and must include a kitchen sink, food preparation facilities, a bath or shower, and a toilet and washbasin.” It really irks me that we have to comply to some council’s “standards” for living — the man was living just fine in the house for 7 years!

    • Oh no!

      I guess it was an assumption on my part that David has met those requirements. What, if he passed the inspection and all. Or that the council made some sort of special allowance.

      I was aware that a property must be connected to electricity, water and sewage if these utilities are available. I’m aware as I have had a whinge about it on several occasions.

      In short, David has lived in this dwelling for several years quite capably. He looks as though he has enjoyed the same standard of living as any other guy. How these facilities spell “standard of living” is anyones guess. The perception, and thankfully this isn’t backed by the legislation, is that composting toilets would degrade one’s “standard of living” – “What, you shit in a bucket and the shit doesn’t get flushed away to the never never? And then you take that shit and put it on a pile of other shit and let it break down and treat it like it is soil? You dirty fool!”

      Fortunately, I am well-researched on what is required of me in building my tiny house. Even the preliminary design ticks all of the above boxes. I am sure I will learn what other red-tape I need to navigate as the process wears on.

  2. Ha! Your comment on composting toilets is spot on. People forget awfully fast that we used to shit on diapers (mine were cloth, btw — love you too, Mom!)

    Research is indeed your best weapon here. For what I gathered, David kept his house under 10sq meters because that wouldn’t require a building permit, but he didn’t realize this wasn’t applicable for dwellings. In my state we have strict minimum dimensions for rooms, which screws up my plans for a 12sq meters house… meh, I wanted to move anyway 😀

    Speaking of which… you said in a previous post that you love New Zealand. I haven’t visited it (yet), but if I ever decide to leave my country, that’s where I want to go; I wonder if you, as a “neighbor”, might have some insight on how’s living in NZ. I heard pay is not as good as in Australia, but that is not really an issue. I worry more about violence, climate and openness to expats.

    Looking forward to updates on your land, I’m sure you’ll have better luck when the right plot comes up!

    • Ha! Your comment on composting toilets is spot on. People forget awfully fast that we used to shit on diapers (mine were cloth, btw — love you too, Mom!)

      Haha. This is so true. I am reading James Woodford’s “Real Dirt” at the moment and he shares the story of bringing up his daughter, Mary, nappy-free. He, and his partner Prue, started her pooping journey by holding her over the sink, then the loo, and then, well ahead of most kids, she was capable of using the toilet herself.

      Research is indeed your best weapon here. For what I gathered, David kept his house under 10sq meters because that wouldn’t require a building permit, but he didn’t realize this wasn’t applicable for dwellings. In my state we have strict minimum dimensions for rooms, which screws up my plans for a 12sq meters house… meh, I wanted to move anyway.

      Spot on. In Victoria at least, where David lives and I intend to build, the need for a permit for a particular type of building is dependant on the zoning of the land amongst other things. The under 10sq/m rule only applies to a certain class of dwelling – not dwellings.

      The whole “minimum dimension” stuff really ticks me off. It’s the whole perceived standard of living nonsense. The more of something you have – be it space in a house or money – doesn’t equate to an increase of standard of living.

      Speaking of which… you said in a previous post that you love New Zealand. I haven’t visited it (yet), but if I ever decide to leave my country, that’s where I want to go; I wonder if you, as a “neighbor”, might have some insight on how’s living in NZ. I heard pay is not as good as in Australia, but that is not really an issue. I worry more about violence, climate and openness to expats.

      New Zealand is a wonderful place. It’s scenic, the people are oh-so-friendly, and the government is surprisingly progressive – well, for a conservative government. You’re right that the pay isn’t as good as in Australia but the cost of living in NZ is relatively lower too.

      Crime – New Zealand got top spot on the Global Peace Index 2010. According to CBC: “The index is based on 23 indicators, ranging from military expenditure to relations with neighbouring countries and levels of violent crime.” And on most other lists I have seen it is way down, usually lower than Australia for homicides, etc. So in terms of safety, statistically, it is very safe. Anecdotally, based on my experience, I have felt unsafe once and that was in a little town called Ashburton and it was because of some stories the owner of the hostel I was staying in told me. I didn’t like that little town at all. Everywhere else – I felt safer than here in Australia.

      Climate – It’s a lot cooler than Australia. They have proper winters – snow at altitude and sometimes at sea level in places. In certain parts, like the Canterbury Plains in the North East of the South Island, it can be quite hot and dry during summer. Whereas on the West (Wet) Coast, it is wet and mild year round. My favourite town of Hokitika, on the West Coast, gets about 2,875mm of rain a year – that’s almost 5x the amount we get here in my city in Australia.

      Openness – It’s a pretty laid back, accepting place. New Zealanders are use to tourists – they are far from xenophobic. I am sure you get the fuddy-duddies that you would get everywhere else that aren’t for change and want things the “old way”, especially in some conservative rural communities, but for the most part I find New Zealanders to be very open. Well, they ought to be to an Australian – we allow enough of them to move here!!! 😛 That said, there are parts which are uber open and accepting – there are numerous hippy regions in NZ.

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