Tiny House Building is coming to Donegal!
I’ve been working with Joanne Butler of OURganic Gardens on delivering an introductory workshop to Tiny Homes – which, rather brilliantly, will be taught Suzie Cahn, my Permaculture tutor and one of the directors of Carraig Dúlra in Co. Wicklow.
Given my long-standing quest to “Go Tiny” I’m delighted to be a part of it, and to help generate this conversation right on my own doorstep is a delight 🙂
In case they have somehow passed you by in their “lofty” (hah!) trajectory to popularity in recent years – Tiny Homes are everywhere and are seen by many as a leading light in the quest for a simpler life.
A “Tiny Home” is typically referring to anything under 300 sq. feet (37 sq. metres) and can be built on a trailer – meaning it is tow-able behind a vehicle, and must be within the national height and width allowances for road travel in Ireland; or are instead built on a foundation or anchor pads.
Many have sleeping lofts, making the most of any and all available floor space, or instead have futons, pull-out or fold-away beds allowing a living room to transform into a bedroom, and back again when the occupants are suitably rested.
Tiny Homes can also, and frequently do consist of traditional natural, breathable and chemical-free materials; such as sheeps wool insulation in place of rigid foam or fibre glass matting in the “Tiny-House-on-wheels” (THOW) varieties; and straw bales, cob (a mixture of clay, sand and straw) lime mortar, stone and of course wood in their foundation-ed siblings.
Salvaged or recycled materials also feature heavily in Tiny Houses, too – each cleverly sourced and repurposed for use in an alternative and imaginative way.
Though living in smaller, simpler and/or handmade homes is certainly nothing of a new concept, indeed many people historically lived in smaller, more modest structures, and continue to do so. It was not until the “boom times” of greater widespread wealth and consumerist desires in western societies that the current craze of living in houses with a larger square-footprint, with more bedrooms than members of the family, truly took hold.
The ‘Tiny Home movement’ in it’s current form began around eighteen years ago mostly on North America’s Pacific Coast, with Tiny House designer and builder “heroes” such as Jay Schafer and Dee Williams drawing on their inspiration from earlier pioneers in the 1970’s such as Lloyd Kahn.
Kahn’s shelter editorial of ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ – an American counterculture magazine and product catalogue – and book ‘Shelter’, along with Lester Walker’s Tiny Houses books a little later in the 1980’s really helped shape the burgeoning reawakening of simpler and smaller living concepts in the Western world.
In the wake of Hurricaine Katrina in the United States of August 2005, small residential shelters were designed and marketed as a response to the inadequacies of the trailers issued to flood victims, particularly in Southern Louisiana by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The best-known of these designs are those by Marianne Cusato, whose original “Katrina Cottage” made the term popular and received in 2006 the first annual People’s Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
As Cusato’s design along with many others garnered rising media focus, the number of available designs increased, as has interest in smaller dwellings as a whole.
It’s irrefutable, though, that for many lovers of these mini abodes the contemporary Tiny House Movement’s roots truly reach as far back as writer Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden” noted as a “..reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings” released in 1854.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
As Suzie Cahn describes it; “The Tiny house movement (also known as the “small house movement”) is an architectural and social movement toward living more simply in small homes. People are joining this movement for many reasons, but most often because of cost, environmental concerns, wanting to spend more time in nature, and for a sense of freedom.”
Historically, people made shelters for themselves and their families using whatever available materials and skills they had around them. Nowadays, and particularly in Ireland; this is definitely not the “norm” with breeze block, concrete, imported timber and manufactured roof tiles comprising the majority of homes across the country.
As we encounter further socio-economic, climate and cultural changes and shifts – and more recently in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008; increasing numbers of people are seeking to have more autonomy over their lives. By simplifying and addressing their immediate needs, and cutting down or eliminating anything unnecessary or superfluous – and many find that downsizing their homes to be a key step to doing so.
Deciding to Live Tiny can also help address housing shortages – as people building and moving into their own Tiny Homes thereby free-up “traditional” housing for sale or rental to those not already building or indeed living in a Tiny Home of their own!
For those deciding against the formula of entering into debt just to have a roof over their heads, and preferring not to join the list of people dependent on the State to fulfill their housing needs seeking alternatives such as Tiny Homes can be an extremely viable and attractive option.
Tiny Home life is not restricted or reserved for just the hippies among us, either!
Small home living is increasingly popular for those simply wanting to downsize from their previous houses, and for retirees wishing to spend their golden years in a hand crafted and more manageable dwelling. Tiny homes are also being built and lived in by both teenagers in the back gardens of the family home; affording them a safe and reachable distance to stretch their fast-growing independent legs – and by college students in a bid to curb adding high rents to their already sky-high tuition fees.
While it does have to be noted, living in a Tiny Home is not for everyone; It should also be recognised, however – that living in a structure the size of the average Irish “conventional” house is not for everyone, either! That said, choosing to do so requires the ability to perhaps part with knickknacks, ephemera and large clothing and shoe collections in order to maintain a smaller space.
When it comes to speaking to someone living Tiny, ample storage is key and one of the main initial questions in interviews and Tiny House tours after “why Tiny?” is invariably –“So, where do you keep all of your stuff?!”
Clever design utilising every available centimetre and wasting as little space as possible; coupled with multifunctional spaces and furniture is key to comfortably living in a smaller structure. For instance, a couch might double as under seat storage, a step ladder is also moonlighting as a shelving unit or a set of stairs could miraculously hide a full set of storage drawers underneath.
Boats, Caravans, Camper Vans and Mobile Homes provide a lot of practical inspiration to designers of Tiny Homes, and many space-saving tricks, gadgets and techniques are borrowed and utilised in the modern Tiny Home vernacular.
Although Tiny Homes are often compared with such “leisure” structures such as a caravan or camper van; they are built to instead last as long as the occupant – if not also as long as a “standard” house.
Outside of the United States; Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are among the other pioneering countries to get comfortable with smaller living; with the UK, Germany and other European countries slowly beginning to wake up to the concept of a home less roomy.
While Ireland does posses, through it’s Traveller Community, a rich history of nomadic peoples living in small movable homes; it’s unknown whether any live in this sort of “Tiny Home”.
There are a few glimmers of hope of like-minded folks for those seeking to follow their tiny dreams in Ireland, though…
In 2012, Noel Higgins built “Teach Nollaig” – his own handmade 16 x 8 feet Tiny Home on Wheels; a solar-powered one-roomed cosy space with a double bed, kitchen, woodstove and a porch for just €6,000. I previously wrote about Noel’s amazing wee home here.
Though Noel states that he believes his stucture is planning permission-exempt – others might disagree, especially when it comes to anything measuring any larger than his.
As with all planning issues; county-by-county we have differing opinions as to what is and what isn’t permitted – and many groups are mobilising to seek to engage with their local planning offices to ascertain the legal status of these structures. As more and more folks inquire, and the county officials make their decisions, it is quite likely that we’ll see Tiny Home-friendly areas popping-up around the country…with Tiny devotees converging there.
Carraig Dúlra permaculture smallholding research & demonstration site have held two Tiny House Building workshops to date, and with workshops such as this forthcoming Tiny Home Introduction Workshop at OURganic Gardens in Gortahork with Suzie Cahn this Spring; it seems extremely likely we’re going to hear and see a lot more about Irish Tiny Homes in the near future.
One needs only to type ‘Tiny House‘ into any search engine and we are offered a plethora of books, galleries, social media pages, blogs, tours, videos and workshops all over the planet – with entire YouTube channels devoted to bringing you the examples of the world’s most interesting, cheapest or most expensive, wackiest or most minimal Tiny Home.
One thing that stands out as clear is that on the whole each Tiny Home is custom built to reflect and be viable for the owner. To be the most individually ergonomic and be built to fit them and their needs perfectly.
Each tiny home is as unique as the person who lives in it, and encourages them to live according to and within their means, their desires and their abilities.
If in doing so, those people manage to live with a lower impact on the environment, create their own renewable energy and teach others along the way about it – this sounds like progress, no?