Building (536)

Off–Grid Tiny House



This tiny house has everything this young couple needs. It’s set up to be completely off the grid, running on renewable energies. The home has solar power, captures it’s own rain water, uses solar water heating and even generates it’s own gas via a bio gas digester.

The bio gas digester works to turn household food scraps and garden waste into useable gas, which the couple can use for cooking and could also be used for heating water for the home. Living off the grid in this remote location, it helps the couple to be even more self-reliant.

Inside, the home has absolutely everything the couple need. The design of the home is light and open plan, with kitchen, bathroom, lounge, office and storage stairs which lead into the loft…

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Handmade/Homemade: The Half-Acre Homestead

When I start working on a book, it’s like setting out on an ocean voyage without a map. I get a theme, an idea, some kind of coherence on a subject, then start.

When I built my first house in Mill Valley in the early ’60s, my friend Bob Whiteley and I laid out the foundation lines in chalk on the ground. “What do we do now, Bob,” I asked.

Bob said “This,” and took pick and shovel and started digging the foundation trench.

It’s been my M.O. all my life. When I don’t know what to do, I start. Things (usually) sort themselves out in the process. (I know, I know, I’ve said all this before…)

This book is about the tools and techniques Lesley and I have evolved in building a home and growing food (and creating a bunch of things) on a small piece of land over a 40+-year period.

I started by writing it in chapters: The House / The Kitchen / Kitchen Tools / The Garden / Garden Tools / Chickens / Food / Foraging / Fishing / The Shop / Shop Tools / Roadkill / Critters … What we’ve learned; what’s worked, what hasn’t…
Read More …

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Tiny House in Davis

Hi, Lloyd,

I can’t thank you enough for your continuing work; your vision is inspirational.

I wanted to send along a shot of the granny unit that we finished last year in Old Davis, where my kids go to school. I know it looks a little glossy, but the windows, doors, siding, flooring, and appliances are all recycled. 15½ feet by 25 feet, I think that still qualifies as tiny, although the ten-foot-high walls (for a loft) give it a larger feeling.

I still have my original Shelter mag, plus all your more recently published material, and every time I tune in to your blog, I get a recharge.

–Fred

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Sustainable Community Thriving After 10 Years

Almost 15 years since the sustainable community of Serenbe built its first home, the modern-day green utopia is still thriving. Located just southwest of Atlanta, Serenbe is an experimental green community designed by architect Dr. Phill Tabb, who lives on site in a net-zero home. The progressive neighborhood, hidden amid 1,000 acres of natural forest landscape, was created with four main pillars in mind: arts, agriculture, health, and education.

In 2001, architect Dr. Phill Tabb designed the masterplan for Serenbe Community — a sustainable neighborhood set in a natural landscape, but with connections to the typical urban amenities. One of the core pillars of the community’s plan was land preservation. Accordingly, the homes were built into strategic locations throughout the hilly landscape that would minimize the impact on the surrounding environment and give residents easy access to nature…

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New Small Homes in Chico, CA

It may be the wall color or the slant of the roof that catches your eye from Humboldt Road, but two new small homes could be a trend for the Chico rental market.

Laurie Norton and his wife, Ingrid Norlie, are the builders behind the two homes, with a third rental house on the way. They are tiny — just 576 square feet for a one-bedroom, one-bath house. But they have struck a chord. Two are rented weeks before they’re finished — at 1902 Humboldt Road, just west of Overseer Court — and the third that’s waiting to be built already has had inquiries.

Named after a small, one-story home, the “Bun-ga-lows” is what British-born Norton calls the rental project, which the couple plan to own and maintain.

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Custom Sauna by Travis Skinner and Marc Goodson

The Steam Roller is a custom collaboration project with Marc Goodson of Engaging Environments. Marc is a very talented carpenter and welder and he visited me in Olympia to see the Snail Shell Sauna. We decided to collaborate on another sauna that was his main design in his shop in Portland, Oregon. Over the past few months we have met for a few days at a time and chipped away on all the details. After a lot of on and off work we spent Easter weekend jacking up the sauna and getting it on to a trailer and out of Marc’s shop!

What to do with this beautiful sauna? We are not entirely sure. It has been a terrific project and we hope to use it to showcase our work and potentially find a buyer. I think Marc is a bit attached to this sauna, but for the right price he could be convinced to let it go. For now it will live outside of his shop in Tyler Smith’s yard, but if you have any interest in seeing this building or taking a sweat, don’t hesitate to contact either Marc or me.

–Travis Skinner

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Small Home Made from Hemp



This beautiful small family home has a very special story to tell. Designed by architect Michael Leung and his wife Tiffany for their young family, the 60m2 (646 sq. ft.) house is actually constructed from hemp. The couple chose to use hempcrete for their home after searching for healthy, non-toxic building materials.

Hemp is an incredibly versatile plant, that unfortunately has been unfairly demonized over recent years. Essentially hemp is a low-THC version of the Cannabis sativa plant, now colloquially referred to as marijuana. This amazingly versatile plant has many uses, including medicine, food, clothing, and much more. One of the many uses of the plant, which is now being explored more in depth, is for building.

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Tiny House Made from Old Horse Trough and Recycled Skateboards

When it comes to DIY, sometimes just one simple tool can make all of the difference. Nick Orso spent two years researching, planning, and building an eco-friendly tiny cabin on wheels. Using a simple Excel spreadsheet, he created the final design to scale for the “Tiny Cabin That Excels.” Built with reclaimed materials such as old skateboards and a salvaged horse trough repurposed as a water basin, his beautiful timber cabin — which also includes a composting toilet and tankless water heater — may be compact, but it comes with a lot of character.

Nick Orso’s mobile cabin is located in a picturesque lot near a historic estate just out of Center City, Philadelphia. With large french doors and plenty of windows, it makes a perfect woodsy retreat. That said, since it’s built on a standard flatbed trailer, the mobile tiny home can be installed just about anywhere…

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The Nest

Hi, Lloyd,

Thank you so much for all your inspirational work, your books, and thoughts.

You have been filling my passed father’s role as a motivational teacher for the last decade. A simple image of your kitchen was enough to make me reach out. Ten years ago my young family acquired 6 amazing acres of land in South Australia. It had a small cabin with solar light still glowing from the last owner and lined with insulating corks.

Ever since I learned of the stability of the Earth’s temperature 6 feet down, my dream has been to build a earth-integrated home. This is what I have done, slowly, by hand, using the earth, rock, and free or cheap materials. A living earth roof, earth and kangaroo-poo floors, off-grid solar system, well water, incredible wildlife, no debt. And a Vitruvian chill space — what more could you ask for?

If you are ever in Australia, drop by.

Cheers and thank you,
–Will

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Advice to Californians Building New Homes After the Fires

I’d like to get this out to as many people as possible. Please send it to anyone you think might appreciate it. This document is available in downloadable/printable form at shltr.net/afterfire.  –LK

Poster from 1885, designed to encourage people to move westward

I would like to offer some suggestions to people whose homes were destroyed by the California fires of 2017. I have built three homes of my own and, as well, been publishing books on building for some 45 years now. From this experience I’ve come to some conclusions about practical, sensible building.

Much of the emphasis in our books has been on owner-building, and if you will be doing design and construction yourself, these are things for you to consider. If not, these are ideas you can discuss with architects and/or builders you may be working with — the principles are the same.

Much has been learned about building homes in the last two or three decades. You may be able to take advantage of building materials and techniques that weren’t available when these homes were built. Here is a chance to do things better, to learn from experience, to create a home built from sustainable materials that will save energy, that will be better for you and the planet.

Please note: These are just random ideas for your consideration. This isn’t a checklist, where you try to incorporate each suggestion in your plans. The purpose here is to stimulate thinking. Maybe you’ll find two or three ideas that will work for you.

  • Consider putting a tiny home on the site for a temporary place to live. You can get one ready-made, and I recommend the ones built by Ward Hensill in Bodega: www.bodegaportablebuildings.com

    OR get a Tuff Shed: You prepare the foundation/floor, and they erect the building in one day. You then finish the interior: www.tuffshed.com

    OR for a local (Petaluma) manufacturer of small (not tiny) homes: Stephen Marshall at www.littlehouseonthetrailer.com

  • If you build a tiny (or small) house first, it can later be a guest house, studio, or “granny flat.”
  • Consider some sort of pre-fab starting point to get the house framed up quickly and ready for services and finishing.

    For example, some friends in Carpinteria had the shell of their house steel-framed by local barn builders. They carried on and completed the finishing themselves, but the fire-resistant shell went up in a few days.

  • Consider the orientation of your property. Windows facing south will allow for solar heating. Deciduous trees can be planted so there is shade in the summer, sun in the winter (when trees are bare.) What direction do the winds/storms come from? Where does the sun rise and set at various times of the year?
  • Consider having a large enough section of the roof sloping and facing direct south for maximization of solar panels (which can be added years later).
  • Have the home built in two stages. Get the kitchen/bathroom/living/sleeping areas done first, with plans to add on later, so you can live there ASAP.
  • Even if you hire a builder, do some of the work yourself. I built most of a house in the ’60s by working on weekends, after work, and holidays. You can save a lot of money by doing some of the simple stuff.
  • Stud frame construction. Straw bale, cob, timber frame, and other natural materials each have their benefits, but the stud wall system, with insulation, wiring, and plumbing within the walls is by far the quickest way to build.
  • Rectangular design. Stick with rectangles. If you get into building curves or polygons (e.g., hexagonal, octagonal) you’ll end up spending a lot more time and money.
  • Use Class A roofing materials, which are “effective against severe fire test exposures.”
  • Consider Hardie board fiber cement siding for exterior walls. It’s a cement fiber product that looks like wood, but will not rot, and is fire-resistant, insect-resistant, impact-resistant, and moisture-resistant.
  • Use some kind of non-toxic insulation (not available when I built). Wool, denim, cellulose made from recycled paper products. Research it. “Roxul” is a very good non-toxic, non-water absorbing, non-rodent and non-insect supporting type of batt insulation.
  • Have a central core, including kitchen/bathroom back-to-back (for plumbing simplicity).
  • Locate the hot water heater in a central core area, including a wood (or gas) stove for space heating, with a coil for heating water in winter, plus a solar-heated water panel on the roof for summer hot water.
  • Consider a small 5-gallon hot water heater under the kitchen sink. We have one, and it provides almost instant hot water, with no waiting, and doesn’t use much electricity.
  • Consider facing your kitchen south. I’d get the kitchen floor as low as possible (concrete slab with stringers, plywood, then linoleum). (Don’t have wooden floor in kitchen if you really cook; linoleum is easy to clean.) The reason for the low floor is so that you easily step out to:

    a) An outdoor cooking/eating area with a roof (maybe double-wall polycarbonate), right outside the kitchen. Weber barbecue, table, sink. This is cheap square footage, and you can do a lot of cooking, eating, and socializing outdoors in warmer weather.

    b) A vegetable garden easily accessible to the kitchen

  • Don’t install a kitchen-sink garbage disposal unit. It’s a bad practice to grind up food, especially if it’s going to a septic tank. Rather, compost kitchen scraps using a composting tumbler (which is varmint-proof).
  • Consider washing dishes by hand; don’t install a dishwasher. Here’s a video of my technique:

  • Have a window at the kitchen sink, so you can look outside while doing dishes.
  • Install a Blue Star range (made in America) if you are serious about cooking. The one we have has no digital controls. It cost $3100 and is one of the best things we’ve ever bought.
  • Consider getting a tank to collect rain water off the roof.
  • Set up valves to divert greywater for wash basin, bath, and shower.
  • If you are interested in gardening, in providing some of your own food, consider where a vegetable garden might best be located.
  • Plant some fruit and/or shade trees. (If I was starting over again, I’d plant half a dozen olive trees.)
  • Avoid architectural cleverness. Watch out for architects trying to make a statement. Quite often, tried and true designs produce economical, practical homes. The wheel needn’t be reinvented.
  • Wire your house for Internet access.
  • Set up the Cloud to automatically back up your computer, smartphone, iPad, or other digital devices. Also, back up all photos on the Cloud; you can set up your smartphone to automatically back up all photos you shoot. This way, all your data will be saved even if the devices are destroyed in a fire (or stolen or lost).

Note: Here is a link to reprinted pages with a lot of design recommendations from our book Shelter II: www.dropbox.com/…

Copies of Shelter II can be purchased here.

This document is available in downloadable/printable form at shltr.net/afterfire.

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Gorgeous Vardo



The Unity Wagon is a vardo-style caravan like none you’ve ever seen before. Built by the incredible Steve Areen, this home on wheels is beautifully constructed and is designed to take full advantage of the spectacular Australian landscape, making it an ideal traveling home on wheels.

Steve is no stranger to building incredible structures. Earlier, he constructed a spectacular dome home in Thailand, which was actually one of the homes which inspired me to start exploring earth building. Steve’s dome home has large, circular feature windows and this theme has been carried into his new caravan project.

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