07 December, 2010

Great-Grandma's little house

Somehow during the Great Depression, my grandparents managed to come up with enough money to buy a property in Ashtabula County, Ohio near Pymatuning Lake, so that my great-grandparents would have a place to retire to in their golden years.  The house was a post-and-beam cottage, originally built in the 1860’s and then moved to the lot around 1910.  The place was tiny, with only 480 square feet on two floors.  My siblings, cousins, and I loved to spend our summer days out there visiting Great-Grandma in the little house near the lake.
In the mid-1960’s, as my grandparents approached their retirement, the family helped add another 240 square feet onto the front of the original structure, for a grand total of 720 square feet.  Gramp and Gram lived there happily for 20-odd years after they retired.  Most people today would consider a 720 square foot house far too small for them, but some folks are changing their minds about what their needs require and how they impact the world with their “carbon footprint.”  Smaller housing means lower utility costs to heat and illuminate and less money to maintain.
With my children gone, I myself am living alone in a 1400 square foot house with my critters (and mortgage).  While I still have some time before I’m ready to retire, I’m trying to consider my options for finding a smaller place that will be easier for me to maintain and less costly as I age.  I’m hoping I can find a lot in Ashtabula County where I can build (or rebuild) a one-story place, about 500-800 square feet in size and with an outbuilding for a workshop.
When I searching the web for house plans last year, I happened upon the website for Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company (http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/).  Jay has been building and living in tiny homes since 1997, and he eventually started a business to sell them.  According to his site, he currently lives in an 89 square foot house.  (That’s 10 square feet smaller than my kitchen, and I certainly can’t imagine my two 100-pound dogs bumping around in there, too.)  He holds workshops to train others to build their own homes – there’s even a fifteen year-old Sonoma County (CA) boy building one to use as his housing for college.  Some of the homes are mounted on trailer frames (65-140 square feet) and can be moved whenever the need or desire arises. These homes range in price anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 if professionally built, and about $15,000 if you build it yourself.  Other plans are available for houses, ranging in size from 250-to-837 square feet that are mounted on a stationary foundation.
Another site that I find interesting is the Texas Tiny House (http://www.tinytexashouses.com/). The houses shown on the site are styled to look like 100-plus years old structures.  The site says that 99% of the materials the builder uses are salvaged from old structures and then re-used to build these small houses in Texas.  As their tagline says: “Building the future with the past.”
Both Texas Tiny House and Tumbleweed stress “off-grid” living – using composting toilets, propane or wood stoves for heating, and solar panels for both heating and lighting.  They also talk about collecting rainwater for gardening or flushing toilets.  While I’ve long been interested in alternative sources for energy and heating, I’m still not quite sure I could give up the luxury of a flush toilet in my residence.  Not that I’m being a wimp about it.  When my companion Mary and I visit our hiking club’s cabin in New York, we use an outhouse – even though it gets a bit malodorous in the summer and really cold in the winter. 
So I hope to someday have my own 'tiny house,' a structure that is sufficient for simple day-to-day living, as well as an occasional social gathering.  As my family lovingly remembers Great-Grandma’s little house in Williamsfield, maybe someday my great-grandchildren will fondly remember their Granddad’s little rustic place in the country.