Monday, August 02, 2010

Small Family Birdhouse

A lot of people have been asking recently centers around tiny houses and families. It’s true that many of the very small homes are inhabited by one or two people, so where are the tiny houses for families? Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few of those stories and some design solutions.

Here’s the story of Andrea and her son who are turning a shed into a livable home. Andrea sent me a detailed description of the cabin, the work completed so far, and the process of moving it to its present location. Andrea’s story continues after the photos:

It started as a project about spending more time with my son, getting him out in nature a bit and forcing us to spend more time together with less distractions. We spent months drawing, sketching and bookmarking pictures we liked; he had tons of great design ideas.
The problem was we didn’t have any land and building would have taken more time away from him, not given to him. Then by luck we found this garden shed on kijiji. A local builder had used it as a playhouse/workshop and it wasn’t getting used, so we got it cheap. It was completely finished on the outside, including two skylights and a window in my son’s room. Nothing was done on the inside at all. We bought it and moved it to a site on a friend’s land and are now living in it full time until at least October.
I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out the difference between a cabin and house, and can boil it down to nothing more than intention. This is where we live. For now we’ve only rented out our place in town until late fall, until heating and electricity will become more important. I’m not sure we can afford it all this year, but while we are in it, and it’s our only home.
Since buying it in January, I have prepared the gravel and block pad, knocked out the wall between the rooms, insulated it, wired it (not hooked up yet), put in a stand-up shower, hardwood floors, kitchen cabinets, another window, rain gutters, and french doors.
There is a propane stove and fridge. The toilet is outside, just a good old luggable loo that will come inside it the fall. The stand-up shower is fed from a battery operated pump outside in a rain barrel. There is a bookshelf that closes in the one wall of the bathroom and a pocket door on the other. On the other side of this is my son’s room which measures 6′x6′.
We are about to rebuild a flip down bunk attached to the wall so the dog can sleep under him as it has been too dirty with the dog on his bed. My bunk is in the main room, a double bed with plastic containers for my clothes under the edges of the rafters.
Things I didn’t calculate; the importance of a yard (gets rather muddy), cost of propane lines and tanks, how we dry our clothes and store our tools and keep the place clean with a big dog. Fire wood… who knew it took so much time to get campfire wood? I’m learning  to use an axe for the first time. For two weeks we didn’t have a fridge, funny as now I wonder if we need one at all!
The birdhouse is only 180 square feet and far from finished. I still need to fasten down counter top and place a sink inside. Two more windows are planned and the doors will likely only last the season as I had to cut them down so much their strength is too compromised. I plan to rebuild the bookcase to meet our needs better and hook up solar when we get some cash. For now we have 3 solar shed lights that have never run out, a battery light for back up and a crank radio. The shed lights are great, they have very long cord and can be unplugged and used like flashlights. I read by it even.
My long term plan is to live be in the birdhouse for 4-5 summers. Lots of things to consider about living there full time in the winter. First of all, it is borrowed land and has no civic number so I can’t get an electric pole or phone put in. Cell doesn’t work. I also can’t insure it so heating it is an added risk. There is also a financial aspect, that believe it or not, it may be more expensive than living in town.
It will get me a bit ahead financially, and I’ll get to know some neighbors, and eventually, hopefully, find a nice piece of land though a private sale.  I will then either donate the birdhouse to the landowner and build something slightly bigger, or move it and add another room to it. I think the optimum size house for two of us is about 350 square feet of living space and a small mud room/entry for drying jackets boots etc.