Project Background

Thanks for stopping by!  My name is Sarah and I built a very small, mobile house as a final project to complete my Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management.  I grew up in Manassas, VA but went to high school and college in southwest VA. I built the house near Blacksburg, VA on my parents’ land.

To fund the project, I borrowed money from the local Bank of Dad and needed to sell the house to repay that loan. Since this is an educational venture, this page details the specifics and rationale behind the wee house project.  In addition to actually building the structure, I will continue to update this blog as time permits.

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_DSC3454APUS Sarah Myers Tiny House Blacksburg VA Barrett____________________________________________________________________________________

Introduction

Environmental sustainability is successful if it balances 3 main categories: environment, economy, and society. Tiny houses can be built using many reclaimed and recycled materials and can be wired to be “off the grid” (environment). Although sold professionally from builders at prices of around $30,000 to beyond $50,000, they can be built DIY style for significantly less. Another benefit of these houses is that they require no mortgage and can reduce a person’s debt significantly (economy). As we lessen our impact on the environment and people dig out from debt, we can live more fulfilling, healthy, and free lives. These homes can also provide relatively cheap shelter for those in need or act as secondary housing for vacations or emergencies (society).  This blog will regularly rate my activities based on these 3 categories (for example, buying a used ceiling fan rates high on economy but low for the environment if it’s an electricity guzzler).

Rationale

The tiny house movement has increased in popularity and awareness over the last decade. This project capitalizes on the amount of information on tiny house living and building in order to act as a final project for my degree. The focus on the environment, economics, and society relate directly to my degree’s concentration in Environmental Sustainability because it focuses on the 3 tenants of this field.

Project Description

The house will be built on a trailer with the goal to use as much recycled or reclaimed material as reasonably possible. Construction will strike a balance between the environment (eco-materials), economics (compromising eco versus regular materials), and society (using strong materials and building correctly for safety). It requires some construction knowledge but I will rely on purchased plans, detailed DIY book, and other tiny home builders’ blogs and guidance. This project aims to prove that an “average” person can accomplish it on a small budget. It is acknowledged that the “average” person may not have a construction expert on-hand, but my sponsor’s periodic inspections will be vital to ensuring the safety of the project. Throughout the duration of this venture, I will keep a blog for other tiny house enthusiasts to learn from my successes and mistakes and complete a research paper for the course.

Inspiration

I took all my Core and Concentration courses and still had little idea for what I would do for my final thesis/research paper.  I’m not the kind of person who can write 50 some pages on an obscure scientific topic!  I had one course to take to fulfill the Elective requirements of my degree, so I signed up for Advanced Green Logistics, which is under the Reverse Logistics realm.  Boy was that an eye-opener.  Prior to this, I was already obsessed with tiny houses.  At some point, I started to put green logistics/recycling/reclaimed materials and building a tiny house together as an abstract thought.  Eventually, I figured out a way to make both constructing this house and writing about small living options the final project to complete my degree.  This is a topic I am passionate about and physically building the house gives me something hand-ons to show for my otherwise entirely online degree.  I am very thankful to my parents for their support.

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22 thoughts on “Project Background

  1. Hey! I just ran into you guys in Winchester about 40 minutes ago! I’ve just recently been doing research on this topic and couldn’t find a blog that I liked. Thank you for letting me know about this, as it looks like just what I’m looking for! I don’t know what your plans are, but I live in Shenandoah County, and if you’re going to be heading our direction, I’d love to meet with you! I hope to hear from you soon, but if not, congratulations and best wishes on a wonderful adventure!

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    • Too funny! You never know who you’ll meet on the road when hauling a tiny house. The house is back down in Newport (near Blacksburg), so if you ever head down that direction, just hit me up. We’ll have the house for at least another month or two before selling it.

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  2. Pingback: Mini Housing (The Sustainable Alternative) « Metalgaia

    • Codes don’t apply to these tiny houses. Time was the main cost increaser for me. Certain things just had to get done. Also we did build everything as close to code add possible so that costs a bit more.

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  3. Hi Sarah, this reminds me of some houses I have seen on the backs of trucks growing up in New Zealand. My boyfriend build one in 1980 !! I love this. Well done. Can you post pictures of the inside when complete?

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  4. Sarah, I ran across the article on you and your tiny house in the Post. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and looking at your pictures. As a 50+ woman who with husband have completely finished off a basement including a full bathroom, as well as remodeled a kitchen I can fully appreciate the enormous amount of sweat equity you have invested in your home! Your hard work shows beautifully! I wish you much success with your Masters and with the sale of your home. BTW are you familiar with Tiny Texas Homes? Another eco friendly venture: http://tinytexashouses.com/about/

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    • Thanks! Texas Tiny Houses are amazing…I’m connected with them on facebook and whenever they post new pictures it makes me want one even more. I would love to do my own tiny house with all salvaged materials…definitely couldn’t rehab the materials as well as they do though!

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  5. Hi Sarah, got ur info from a friend o mine at th UU congregation here in Greenville NC. My wife n I are looking to build our tiny house within th month. Would love to talk w u about ur process. stephenmbrand@hotmail
    Hope to hear from u soon.
    Stephen Brand

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  6. Hi Sarah, I am also an environmental science and policy student working on my master’s thesis in Lund, Sweden. I came across your blog and would love to interview you for my thesis. I am really interested in your decision to build the tiny house and why you decided to sell it. It would be really great if you could contact me so we could do an interview over phone or skype.
    Best,
    Amelia Mutter

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  7. Love your project! My name is Whitney, I am completing a Certificate at Yestermomrrow Design Build school in Warren, VT. For my project I am researching the availability of homeowners insurance for tiny homes. If you own a tiny home please take a few moments to fill out this survey. Thank you for your time! https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DXXW3X3

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  8. Hello Sarah,

    As a fellow “Manassian,” HI!! I grew up near Independent Hill but lived all over Manassas growing up. I’m currently in Culpeper.
    Anyways, I have read your entire blog and I want to say CONGRATULATIONS on completing this gorgeous tiny house. I love your design.
    I am studying English and minoring in Environmental Sciences at UVA (graduate May ’15.) Although, I am older than most 3rd years (25) and already have had the disappointment of home foreclosure back in 2009 (why I decided to go back to school.) My foreclosure opened my eyes to alternative housing options. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do much until I finished my degree SO here I am, a year away, pondering my future 🙂
    I was wondering what kind of information you had about code in VA? My friends and I (a group of 6 of us) are really interested in starting a ecovillage that utilizes tiny housing as an affordable, sustainable way of living. We’ve been tossing this idea around for a couple of years now but after learning about the cost effectiveness of Tiny Homes on Wheels, we are delving more into it.
    So far, we have a plan to buy property (at least 30 acres) in VA. I know of a future tiny home cohousing community planed for Floyd, VA that I want to contact. And, I know of at least 2 active ecovillages near Louisa. Sorry, I’m getting off topic here but the changes and opportunities in VA are exciting 🙂
    I also have questions about the water system you have. I noticed that the water tank was in the loft at one point and you mentioned a closet that would go to the ceiling. Did you end up putting it into that closet? I want to make sure that our homes have running water and electricity. We planned on a grey water drainage system and a composting toilet. I am just unsure how to get the water from the tank to the shower/sink/toilet!
    I would love to learn more about your experience, especially regarding building codes and regulations here in VA. Our dream is to provide affordable housing in VA by building 30 tiny homes in a cohousing community, as well as long-term RV hookups for fellow tiny housers, and an ecotourism site within an 8 hour drive of DC.
    Any information you are willing to share to help us to our goal would be awesome!

    Thanks,
    Erica

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    • Hi Erica!

      Nice to hear from a fellow Manassian. 🙂 I’d be happy to help anyway I can! Codes in VA are different in each area, so it’ll depend on where you end up buying. I would just make sure that before you all buy land, you work with the local zoning board to get something going. There have been many folks who bought land to put a tiny house on and then had to sell because they never ended up convincing the zoning people to make it legal.

      Have you seen the ecovillage in Loudon County? I highly suggest scheduling a tour with them to mine them for knowledge: http://www.ecovillages.com/

      Speaking of cohousing, I used to live in Shadow Lake Village in Blacksburg and they are extremely helpful people. I think they’d be happy to share their experiences with town zoning problems and they also have a wealth of knowledge about cohousing communities. http://www.shadowlakevillage.org/SLVweb/Welcome.html

      You’re right – I did plan on enclosing that water tank into a closet of some sort. In the end, I opted to leave it out in the open with the possibility of adding a curtain to disguise it. Having the tank up in the loft helps avoid a water pump but we did end up needing to add one for some good water pressure. Basically, to get water into the tank we added a regular hose hookup on the outside, and with a few turns of some valves, it allowed the water to go up into the tank. Once full, we turned the valves back and then the lines ran from the tank to the shower and kitchen sink. It was pretty neat! It also incorporated an option to just have water run from an RV park hookup or whatever and skip the whole tank thing completely. If you want some detailed specs, I can see if my dad remembers enough to write something up (he was the plumbing master mind in this, not me).

      Let me know how else I can help. I’d be happy to support your venture! It sounds awesome.

      -Sarah

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  9. Hi Sarah- I am thinking of attending graduate school at VaTech and was exploring the idea of building a tiny house on wheels then parking somewhere for the two years of grad school. I assume I would just need some type of septic system and electricity to hook up to. Like a RV. Is that correct?? I think my issue will be finding a spot to rent that isn’t an RV park or trailer park!

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    • Hi Sallie,
      You will most certainly run into issues finding a spot, especially that isn’t a park. This is just the unfortunate reality of things for tiny houses. I suggest pitching the idea of having the tiny house somewhere on campus to a professor in the sustainability field and maybe you could work out a cool deal that they could showcase your house or something. Unlikely, but an idea. I believe others have done similar at other schools. Off campus…maybe put up a craigslist ad looking for a spot. The septic is too tricky. Since a tiny house is closer to an RV, you’re not going to be able to live in it anywhere in town full-time and hook up to septic. Septic will require some inspections that will ban you from living there. You could outfit your house with water tanks like an RV and have them emptied regularly perhaps. Electricity would be much easier to find depending on the kind of hook ups you install.

      I’m sorry I don’t have better answers, as tiny house parking is really troublesome around here and I don’t know exactly what the town would let you do. You might talk to someone in the planning/building/zoning department and see what they think.

      Sarah

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