[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]
By: David A. Smith
And I sling the hash and wash the dishes
Thank you, thank you, Mister Chairman, for those kind words; but why don’t you tell them the whole truth: founder, owner, editor, and I also sweep out the place.
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
As we saw yesterday, using as source material Erin Anderssen‘s journalist-mom article for The Globe and Mail (6 January 2016), the tiny house/ micro-home movement is built on imagery and its close cousin imagination – the daydream of a better simpler cheaper home.
AHI posts on micro-housing
May 18, 2009: Outlaw In-Laws, 2 parts
Then reality intervenes, starting with the most elemental of human functions: evacuation.
1b. Toilets and plumbing
As with many other tiny-home dwellers, we use a compost toilet.
Clivus, the sales diagram
For 19 years, the Boss and I lived in an urban Cambridge house with a composting toilet, the Clivus Multrum. While it was perfectly usable, as long as you had power for its itty-bitty fan to waft air gently into the clivus, not allow the reek to rise up from below, it’s a toilet that is practical only when a tiny number of people inhabit a very large unpopulated area – people who are willing everything six months or so to hose out the liquid (which makes fantastic fertilizer) and then every twelve months or so to shovel out the ‘fine grain loam’ which is the biological residue of our fecal contributions, given a year to work in anerobic isolation.
A clivus, in short, is barely practical in the wild; it’s an absurdity in the urban context.
The one in our basement looked even odder
For instance, consider this comment:
We lived with a SunMar NE for about 8 years. We had the little “muffin fan” exhaust. We used a combination of peat moss/aspen chips. We used all the recommended composting aids. No matter what we did – including complete emptying and washing it out with vinegar and water in a “deck sprayer”, every 6 weeks little tiny flies would begin to show up in our bathroom!
Then too, you need clean water to flow into your system. The Anderssens eschewed indoor plumbing entirely:
We bring in our own water by boat –
If one is going to tout tiny homes, one must acknowledge that there ain’t so such thing as free infrastructure; either (1) you build it yourself, (2) you rely on the established grids, (3) you import (at high per-unit cost), or (4) you do without.
– take sun-heated showers outdoors –
“Let’s talk about the sheer joy of showering outdoors”
– and cook on the BBQ.
So the Anderssens manage – and in the summertime, in balmy bright Nova Scotia, that could indeed be an idyllic holiday. Camping in a permanent abode.
Camping, of course, without most of their possessions.
1c. Storage and possessions
Tiny living usually means getting by with little closet space and a mini fridge.
Again, this is just great for a get-away-from-it-all vacation.
Be prepared: You can’t shrink your home and keep up a large-scale life. So cautions Travis Marttinen, who built his own 187-square-foot home in Barrie, Ont., while completing an architectural technology diploma.
The interior of Mr. Marttinen’s small home
He sees people jumping on the trend but expecting to live exactly as they did before. “You need to radically simplify. Not only in the number of possessions, but in lifestyle.”
The lifestyle point is too seldom mentioned. Possessions and storage create optionality – what we can do, what we can choose, and how much effort it takes to undertake an activity.
“You cannot have all of the creature comforts that most people are used to. It simply doesn’t work.”
In fact, you trade those possessions and their optionality for the chance to live close to nature.
1d. Living outside needs good weather
Here’s a major draw for those who espouse tiny homes: the chance to build your own little cabin in the woods, in a place where the weather is always beautiful:
Our front view is the open ocean, as big and expansive as it gets. Our sun-drenched deck is as large as the cottage floor, a perfect work space.
That’s certainly lovely.
Pay no attention to the license plate … we’ll come back to it later
Then there’s the solitude:
Our boys spend their weekdays at sailing camp.
Sailing camp that is, to be sure, infrastructure provided by others (and paid for by the homeowners).
In stating this, I’m not belittling the experience, which sounds like a wonderful way to spend a summer, merely observing that for this family, the tiny home isn’t a cost-saving measure, it’s a summer vacation where some things (indoor space) are traded for other things (the great outdoors).
Who wouldn’t want the great outdoors?
1e. What is left out of the cost equation
Ms. Anderssen knows this:
And before tiny houses – and shipping container homes – are considered as solutions for affordable housing in cities, that should give urban planners and policy makers pause.
After all, it’s one thing to live by choice in a chic shack in a pastoral setting or a warm climate. It’s quite another to be forced into a micro-room without a view because that’s all you can afford.
A micro-home where you lack options, because you lack the financial resources to pay for them, is less an adventure in ascetic natural living and more a self-imposed economic day-relesae prison.
Living low-rent (or with a micro-mortgage) is a definite draw. Tiny houses cost a fraction of the average home on the market. Priced per square footage, however, they aren’t exactly bargain basement. A 190-square-foot model will cost about $20,000 for an empty shell, and up to $100,000 for a designer edition.
For $100,000, you could buy a large home in Cleveland or Detroit, on a large lot, in a well-kept neighborhood – with indoor plumbing:
(Budget up for the mini outdoor hot tub.)
Then comes the next challenge: efficient design.
Sleeping in a loft that you crawl into
[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]