My Tiny House Design

So, I posted a rough site plan for my “ideal” permaculture property the other day. Today I have for you my ideal tiny house with a scrapbook of photos. It’s not as tiny as some tiny houses. In fact, if it were just me I’d go smaller. (The house in the site plan was my 1-person, 4.5×2.5 metre, design). But this design is one that I have been contemplating over for some time now and would suit myself and my partner (who is increasingly warming to the idea of my Desirable World) nicely. And, if it is too small, we can always build some outbuildings…

You’ll notice in my design that the the office and bedroom are quite apart. This is to create two distinct living zones. Currently, we spend most of our time in the bedroom or the office. Often, I’ll be working at the desk in the office and he’ll be working / relaxing on the bed. This design incorporates these behaviours and puts some distance between them for peace, quiet and privacy. A lot of tiny house designs don’t include a dining table, or the table is a multi-purpose table / desk number. Well, I’d like to have both. Purely as a way of breaking up tasks. Perhaps I have been working at the desk all day and want to sit down and have lunch somewhere new. It’ll also come in very handy as an extension of the kitchen for food preparation and canning. The table design is a “pull down” jobby, or could even be something that clips in when needed – that resides in the shed the rest of the time.

My tiny house design. At 21sq/m it isn't as tiny as some but it has everything we need without anything unnecessary.

My tiny house design. At 21sq/m it isn’t as tiny as some but it has everything we need without anything unnecessary.

You’ll note an external door in the office. I was thinking it would be nice to have a little landing outside this door as a place to read and relax in the sun. The door I have in mind is a single French (see pic) to benefit from the not-so-harsh southern aspect. I like a light workspace.

The single French door I’d like for the office.

I really, really, really adore Laura and Matt’s, from 120 Square Feet, kitchen (see pic). But I’d prefer to have open shelves (see pic).

Laura and Matt’s kitchen. All credits to 120squarefeet.com.

 

This is what I mean by open shelves. So rustic and beautiful is this kitchen.

I love “lean to” or “single slope” roofs (see pic). I think they look great and, best of all, they are well suited to passive solar design as one side has more exposed face than the other so if you’re game you can cover it in windows.

A great example of a lean-to roof. Mine will be facing north to get the most of the sun during winter – there will be a “pergola” structure over which I will grow grapevines and passionfruit to provide shade in summer.

Jay Shafer, tiny house advocate and founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, once said that a well-designed tiny house – like the ones Tumbleweed design and build – has more storage per square metre / foot than a conventional house. I can see that being true. Conventional houses are all empty space and worst of all the sort of furnishings we fill them with are not built with storage in mind. Consider typical beds and couches. They sit uselessly close to the ground – they are a pain to clean under and provide no added utility. Well, the underneath of my couch and bed will be two of my main storage areas. See the pics below to get an idea of what I want to do.

Under bed storage. Why waste it? It could even be a nice resting place for your cat like in this pic, hehe.

For my couch I like this design. Though, I would probably go a little higher.

The last picture for the day, as everybody poops. A composting toilet. I’m fascinated by the idea of using human waste as a nutrient source for the soil. Why waste it? When I first heard of the concept, from my dad, it really gave me perspective of what the human condition has become. How disconnected we now are.

Who says a toilet has to be ugly?

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Buying Land, Zoning and Pro-Mining

Let me share with you where I am at with my plans.

I am very much in the early stages, to put it simply. From a financial point-of-view I am in a good position. I have established my savings goals and have developed a good foundation for a sustainable income source. Surprisingly, my financial position is in pretty good shape. Which brings me to the fun part I suppose: spending some money!

I am in the process of looking for land to buy. I know roughly what I am after but every day reveals a new challenge and the scope changes a little bit. For example, at the start I had no idea about zoning and planning permission. I thought you could buy a block of rural land and do what you like with it. How mistaken I was. Through much research, conversations with land owners and several councils, I have a much better understanding of what the various zones mean and what is required to get a planning application off the ground.

A few weeks ago I got excited about a block of land in Tasmania. It ticked almost every box:

Less than 20km from a town with basic services (e.g. general store, pub and public transport links). This block was 2km from the town of Rosebery on Tasmania’s West Coast.

Private, ½ to a couple of acres. This block was a whisker over 1 acre, located in an older, underdeveloped section of Rosebery.

Within the budget of $25k with the possibility of vendor finance. This block came in at $17k and vendor finance was a possibility.

I thought it was too good to be true. Over an acre, in a beautiful part of Australia, for under $20k. Zoned Natural Resource – so a planning permit would be possible. Mega win. Well, all was great until I watched ABC’s 730 on Friday. Rosebery, like other West Coast towns, relies on mining. The Tarkine Rainforest to the north has been controversially earmarked for several new mining operations. This is to the delight of West Coast folk that rely on mining for their livelihood but cause for protest for environmentalists. As such, there is significant division between the pro-mining and environmentalist groups in Tasmania – it is the old-growth logging debate all over again. One side is pleading for their livelihood – as though mining is the only option – and the other for the good of the natural environment, especially the habitats of endangered species such as the Tasmanian devil.

The 730 report revealed some interesting symptom of the debate. Pro-mining is livered. They see the tree-hugging environmentalists as out to ruin their lives. To take their only hope away from them. One pro-mining gentleman in the segment said that he’d like his daughter to have the option to work in the mines, to drive trucks or something

similar. (My thought when I heard this was what about something else – maybe she could become a doctor or a writer or a horticulturalist or a school teacher or perhaps even an eco-tourism business owner?) The general sentiment was of utmost disdain. The pro-miners would do anything to stop the evil greenies. To date, this has included death threats, property damage and vandalism. The Save The Tarkine Coalition planned to set up their headquarters in Tullah, north of Rosebery. This was advised against – property damage was likely to result. One activist shared her account of being intimidated and abused.

My father use to live in Tasmania so I gave him a call to discuss the Rosebery block. He flat-out warned me against it. He has spent time on the West Coast and too has been intimidated. You see, my father is an out-and-proud greenie – obvious by the stickers on his van, and he does look like a bit of a tree-hugger.

On the back of all this, I decided that the West Coast of Tasmania wasn’t for me. I want somewhere I can feel safe and comfortable. What would happen if the townspeople caught wind of the fact that I am a greenie – and gay to boot? Yeah, nah. Pass.

East Gippsland Map

The beautiful East Gippsland region of Victoria

So my quest brought me back to one of the first blocks I found – on RE.com.au, if I recall.  It’s located in the East Gippsland region of Victoria. An area my father has spent time too – he approves of this region thankfully. The block ticks the boxes but has a couple of weaknesses:

It gets hot in summer. This is something I have experienced all my life. I am use to summers that exceed 40 degrees. Having said that, I hate the heat. This is an opportunity to move to a climate that suits me just right. According to my researching the Bureau of Meteorology website, it isn’t as bad as where I live at the moment. The real scorchers are fewer and far between and the average summer temperature is much more mild. Good.

It’s 30km from the nearest town. So, an hour and a bit by pushbike. Fortunately there is a coach that passes right in front of the property 3 days a week. This coach could take me to any number of small or large service towns and two capital cities. Very handy indeed. I imagine needing to do a big shop ever fortnight or month and catching the bus into one of the bigger service towns, like Bairnsdale, camping the night in the caravan park – the bus returns the following day – before heading back with my haul of shopping.

Zoning. Like much cheap rural land, this block is zoned Farming Zone (FZ). Ever since the new Victorian planning scheme was implemented by the State Labor Government several years ago, this has been a real sticking point. Many owners bought larger blocks (20, 40, 100ha) years ago with the view of subdividing off smaller parcels to help fund their retirement or to offset the purchase price. Problem with FZ land is that only parcels bigger than 40ha are permitted to have a dwellings constructed. Unless you can make a solid case. Recently the State Liberal Government set out to make some amendments – to relax some of the conditions. For this I am appreciative of the Liberals (the conservatives for my overseas readers) – something I don’t say often. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see the importance of zoning laws. However, too often, it is a one-size-fits-all solution. The amendments give more power the councils to consider what suits their unique circumstances. This brings me to the conversation I had today with the East Gippsland Council.

I phoned to see whether there was any chance getting a planning permit for this block. I was in luck. I spoke to a wonderful planner who told me that the FZ won’t cause me too much hassle but there is a 44.06 (Bushfire Management Overlay) on the property that needs to be addressed. I can understand why this is the case. In recent years Victoria was ravaged by horrendous bushfires – I believe the Black Saturday fires made international headlines. Councils can’t let people build, willy-nilly, in potentially hazardous areas. The libertarians out there may say that in doing so one is exercising their personal responsibility, i.e. if their house burn down, it’s up to them to get on with their lives. However, that’s not how things operate here in Australia. The government repair bill from the Black Saturday fires was several billion dollars.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me with a tonne of reading to do. I need to get my head around the 44.06 and 52.47 (Bushfire Protection: Planning Requirements) to see whether I can make a case – and whether the block is safe and viable. According to the planner, the block last changed hands in 2007. Perhaps the previous owner sold up because they couldn’t get permission? Who knows.

If I feel I can address the bushfire protection regulations I will take a trip to see the block. It really does tick all the other boxes. It’s in a really beautiful part of the world – backing onto some of the most remote Australian forest. Wish me luck.

The Costs of Living in This World and my Desired World – Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote a post detailing my Real World – current – cost of living. The costs totaled $33,000 per year. Many would think that is not much at all. Considering my salary is roughly double that it allows me to save a substantial amount of money. However, it’s not where I want to be financially. To earn that money requires sacrifice. Namely, my freedom. I work upwards of 70 hours a week (not including preparation, commuting, winding down, de-stressing time, etc) in a 9-5 white collar office job and managing my own small business part-time. Much of my leisure time is spent stressing or thinking about work. I find it hard to remove myself. And for what? Some money? I’d much prefer to earn, say, $10,000 per year, live deliberately, and have endless amounts of time to do what I enjoy. To wake up naturally, go to bed when I am tired, take long walks and not worry about what productive things I could be doing instead, lay on ground and watch the clouds drift by, read all the books I have always wanted to read, potter in the garden when I feel like it. To enjoy life.

“Live on $10k? That’s impossible!” I hear you insist. Well, in my current state, yes it is. My relatively simple life costs well in excess of that. And it is for exactly this reason I wish to simplifier my life even further. I pay $7,000 in rent each year alone. To earn that amount requires me to sacrifice a substantial amount of time with which I’d prefer to be doing something else. To live on $10k would require much less sacrifice. Think about it. How many hours of work would it take to earn that? My calculations, based on a job that earns $25/hour, less than 8 hours per week. That’s a day of work per week. But how can I live on so little money. Well, let me share with you my plans for my Desirable World.

Before I would I’d like to state that what I write below isn’t meant to be instructional or certain. Many of the ideas I propose will seem and may be nonviable. As I am so early in the process I have a lot to learn. Consider them foundational positions on which I will expand. Most are conditional – they depend on certain things being true in order to be viable. For instance, pumping water from a stream will only be viable if I buy a block that has a stream that I can access. For now, it’s really just one big brain fart. It’s the possibilities that may become potentialities that I am thinking about, researching further and am using as a starting point on which to plan my Desired World.

Rent / Housing

When I first started piecing together my Desired World I toyed up with a number of housing options;

– Permanent caravan and annex in a holiday park;
– Caravan on a block of owned / rented land;
– Cheap doer-uperer house in Zeehan or Queenstown, Tasmania; or
– Tiny house on owned / rented land.

Each is with its pros-and-cons. The holiday park idea for instance; it can be quite cheap – some caravan parks in Australia have permanent sites available for as little as $1,000 per year – but doesn’t offer much in the way of security. I have heard many stories of permanent residents being uprooted due to parks closing or being redeveloped. Plus, you never know who you are going to get as a neighbour – a bother when you live so close to them. Even a cheap house in a struggling town, like Zeehan, is up towards the $100,000 figure. That is too expensive and doesn’t provide me exactly what I want – I’d prefer not to live in a town. I really don’t want to take out a mortgage. That will just leave to more wage slavery and anxiety. I’d prefer to buy outright. Hence, I need an affordable option.

I’ve decided that a caravan / tiny house on a block is what I want. Surprisingly, there are decent blocks of land in Australia for as little as $10,000. The sort of land I am looking for is more in the $20-$30k territory. That would get me 1/2-1 acre in a pretty rural area, within 20km of a town. As I don’t drive, I need for there to be a town that has some sort of shop and public transport connections. I will cycle to town when need be. Initially I wish to live in a caravan and build a small shed to the side – with a shower with a view and composting toilet and small laundry / storage shed.

When the time is right – and depending on the council’s view on caravans as dwellings – I will build my dream tiny house. The house I have in mind is 6×3 metres, on poles or a concrete slab (the former is easier, the latter is better from a passive solar point-of-view – something I have come to appreciate living in a drafty old house). It has a wooden stud frame, cedar cladding and plenty of windows, placed where they should be. Out the front is a small deck with a cob oven to the side, overlooking my land where I will plant a small orchid and a vegetable garden.

As the figures in this budget are meant to reflect my monthly variable costs I won’t go into much detail about how much it might cost buying and refurbishing a caravan, building a shed, building the tiny house and so on. This will all comes from my initial savings. As for the purchase of land, my ability to reach my savings goals and the health of my business will determine whether I buy it outright or take out a small mortgage. I prefer the former. Council rates for the sort of land I am looking for will be around $500 per year. For the sake of this budget, let’s assume I did take out a small mortgage for the land at an interest rate of 4.95%.

Cost: $216 per month.

Food

My aim is to become as self-sufficient as possible with food. I intend to grow a large vegetable garden, tend a small fruit and nut tree orchid and keep chickens for their eggs. I will garden following permaculture principles to ensure the land is used sustainably and to limit the need for external inputs. I want to work with the environment, not against it.

The few people that I have spoken to about this mentioned that food in rural areas is much more expensive. This is true, especially if you’re shopping at small-town IGAs and FoodWorks supermarkets. However, my intention is to buy as little as possible from supermarkets. I wish to move away from processed foods and instead will buy in bulk and will cook everything from scratch. I will also preserve excess fruit and vegetables that I grow or may buy on special.

I’ve been rather generous with how much I have budgeted for food and expect it to cost much less when my garden is established.

Cost: $200 per month. 

Water

Water is the trickiest of the “utilities” to off-grid. Energy you can be quite certain of and waste management is straight-forward to keep within the property. Water is dependent on so many hard-to-predict variables. The off-grid options include: rainwater catchment, drilling a bore or pumping from a stream. Bore drilling is probably the most certain of these three options, but expensive. Relying on the rain water in Australia is risky. However, most of the regions I am looking at have decent rainfall. It is for this reason I intend to experiment with rainwater catchment and explore bore drilling later on only if necessary.

I enjoy being austere and for that reason I will try to limit my water consumption. And my grey water system will certain factor into the effective use of water on the property. According to the Australian Government, Australian’s use on average 350 litres each of water per day [1]. Of that, only about 1% is for drinking. The rest is for bathing, washing, cooking, flushing the toilet, and other wasteful endeavors. Most of which is then swept out to sea. My aim is to use a fraction of that. I haven’t set any numbers but I will purchase a large rainwater tank and will ensure there is a sufficiently large catchment area feeding into it – the shed roof, the house and perhaps some freestanding structures for that purpose solely. I also intend to have recycled food-grade water drums sprinkled around the place capturing water for use on the gardens.

Cost: Nil.

Electricity

In my novice opinion, off-grid electricity is the easiest of utilities to install and generate. One can pop down to any electronics (Jaycar, Dick Smith, etc) or camping store (Ray’s, Anaconda, etc) and buy a small solar system with inverter and plug in their phone charger and start generating their own energy. Designing a system that can support a house is obviously a little more complex.

Australia is blessed with sun. That’s why solar is such an obvious option for energy production in this country. During summer in the SE corner of Australia, 6-8 hours of good sun light is the norm. Even winter, in many parts, good solar access can be almost guaranteed. I intend to produce the majority of my energy via solar, with a diesel generator for backup.

Using a number of 180W panels and a battery bank I will be able to produce around 5kWh of electricity per day. My usage will probably be around half of that. The only things I intend to have plugged in are a couple of 12V lights – with LED globes – my laptop charger, a small fridge and maybe a chest freezer. Things like air conditioning and a caravan-style twin-tub washing machine can be run off the generator. The only variable electricity cost I will have is some diesel when I have to resort to using the generator.

Cost: $10 per month

Gas

My cooktop will be a two-ring cast iron camping stove. I love the simplicity of thse and, if I am honest, I think they look great. This will be plumbed into a 9KG gas bottle that lives outside. I will have a second 9KG gas bottle connected to a BBQ which will also be used for cooking. When the house is built – or maybe before, if I feel inclined to bake – I will build a cob pizza oven which will run on a wood fire. I expect two gas bottles will last approximately one month.

Cost: $45 per month.

Internet

A lot of punters argue that one can not be off-grid and have the internet. By definition, this is true. However, I believe the internet provides a greater good. It’s environmentally sensible to generate your own energy – especially if you live in whoop-whoop – and manage your own waste. So these are obvious things to off-grid – plus connecting to the grid in rural areas can be expensive. The internet will allow me to earn money from home – by allowing me to continue to run my business – and is a valuable knowledge and entertainment tool.

I’d like to say that rural Australia is hard done by when it comes to broadband but I don’t believe this is entirely true. The NBN is on its way and, for a lot of rural users, is already available through interim satellite services – for many, this is as good as it will get. Then there is ADSL2+ in many rural exchanges, 3G wireless, and fixed wireless like WiMAX. From what I have read about broadband in rural United States, we’re in a pretty good position by comparison.

Satellite will be my only option in the sort of places I want to live. At the moment, under the NBN, one can have a satellite connection installed at no cost. To be sure, the monthly fee is much higher than with ADSL but cheaper than mobile wireless. Several providers offer a 30-60GB satellite plan for $60 – this would suit me fine. Whereas the highest wireless plan is around 15GB for a whopping $95 per month. Wireless can also be problematic from a performance point-of-view, especially in hilly, treed areas.

Cost: $60 per month.

Phone

I don’t need a landline. Haven’t used one – nor VoIP – for many years. I will opt for a pre-paid Telstra mobile. This will be mostly used for business purposes and when I am away from the house. I expect that Skype and email will be my main forms of communication at the house. I expect even Telstra coverage will be patchy there.

Cost: $30 per month.

Entertainment

My idea of entertainment has already changed significantly from what it was 5 years ago. Back then, shopping, dining out, drinking at pubs, clubbing and other costly activities were my idea of a good time. Perhaps I have grown up. Perhaps I have become boring.

Nowadays I find great enjoyment in tending to a garden, going for walks or hikes, cycling, reading books or blogs, writing and, sometimes, just sitting in silence with my thoughts. If I am completely honest, many of these activities are made better with a glass of red wine.

I expect that my entertainment costs will be next to nothing in my Desired World. Perhaps something to eat or a drink out when I am in town or in the city once a month or so?

Cost: $50 per month.

Medical

Much like at present, I don’t see my medical expenses changing. Touch wood.

Cost: $5 per month.

Booze

Back to the cask wine I say. Don’t judge me!

Cost: $20 per month.

Transportation

As I mentioned above, I don’t drive. Transport costs will therefore be higher than they are now as I rely on limited – and expensive – public transport. The places I am looking at are near towns that have public transport connections. I only expect to use public transport once a month. The rest of my commuting will be done by push bike. And maybe I will be lucky enough to arrange for a neighbour to taxi me into town on their trip sometimes?

Cost: $50 per month.

Holidays

I have made a pact with myself. If this all works out and I have as much disposable income as I have budgeted, I will make an annual trip to NZ – love the place. I will probably do this over the hottest part of the Australian summer – I really don’t like the heat. When I travel to NZ I backpack – I stay in hostels, catch coaches, hitchhike, and spend most of my time in the wilderness rather than in tourist towns. I have done this trip many times and have a good idea of what it will cost.

Cost: $1,500 per year.

So there you have it. The budget that I intend to live on in my Desired World. A grand total of $8,232 excluding holidays. Let me ask you. Does any of that seem particularly austere? I don’t think so. The way I look at it is I will be connecting with reality again. I will be working for what I need rather than to further someone else’s end. I will being going back to our roots – shelter and food. With those things ticked off, I can pursue the things I enjoy without feeling guilty about not doing something I am made to believe I should be doing.

Well, that’s what I think.

[1] http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/sunburnt_tcm16-36815.pdf

Living off-grid without a car

Tonight’s been a great night. I got my first comment on Desirable World and I stumbled upon the OffTheGridNews website – what a marvellous resource. I commented on an interesting article titled, “How You Can Live Off-The-Grid In The City“. John, the author, suggested to “live in a location where you can limit driving and its expenses as much as possible.” My response:

“Oddly enough I intend to do this by living in a rural area. I have two locations – where there are blocks of land that I am interested in – that are well away from any service towns but are still within cycling distance. These towns are on major public transport routes. I don’t drive, you see. So for big-ticket trips, public transport will be vital. To resupply, cycling will be sufficient – my bike is fitted with racks, panniers, etc.

I think driving can be eliminated regardless of whether we live in an urban or rural area. It depends on how dedicated [or willing] we are to other means of transportation.

When it comes to building my house, as I don’t drive, I will need to enlist additional help. But that’s ok – in the long-term it will still come out cheaper than owning and running a car.”

Tiny House: My Dream

Part of my desirable world is living in a house that is paid for – no more rent and no mortgage repayments. The way I see it, rent and debt just lead to more wage slavery. This is especially the case when they consume so much of our yearly earnings. Fact: I spent nearly $20k last year in rent alone. More than 1/3 of my salary. It doesn’t stop there. What is one to do when they earn a nice, middle-class salary (through selling their soul for mundane monkey-work) and live in a nice middle-class house? That’s right, live a nice middle-class lifestyle. Dinners out, pricey bottles of wine, trips to IKEA, shopping for clothes. It happens. Sure, it doesn’t have to happen but it does. When one works in a middle-class job they are expected to dress and behave a certain way. It sucks you in. Well, it did me.

I want a house that I can build myself with money that I can immediately bring to bear. No debt. Hence, the tiny house. Affordable. Everything I need. No extra fluff. Too small? For some, I am sure. But I could get on in one just fine. After all, if it is positioned on a picturesque block of rural land somewhere – again, for affordability; there is some cheap land available in Australia – why would you want to spend all your time indoors?

Tiny House