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How to Build a Tiny (and Cheap) House: What I Learned at Tumbleweed's Dallas Workshop

Inside Ella Jenkins' tiny house.
Inside Ella Jenkins' tiny house.

Last weekend's Design & Build Workshop from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company was not so much a workshop as a meticulous seminar: tablecloths and pastries in a hotel ballroom with 50 attendees passionate to adopt a truly counterculture lifestyle.

The Tiny House movement may be the ultimate fuck you to more-is-more consumerism, because you can't just preach its gospel. You have to wake and live downsized.

Let's define "tiny": An average parking space is about the size of it. This weekend gave an introduction to how to build a tiny house from scratch, with no prior building experience or knowledge. It also provided a way to meet like-minded people who might pitch in with your project before starting their own.

A contact list was started for that very purpose, though people had come in from all over Texas, plus Louisiana, Oklahoma, and one man made the drive from Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico. There were several father/adult child duos in the room, which was pretty adorable. One of these adult children was a structural engineer who contributed a big chunk of sound advice to the tribe.

Little Yellow
Little Yellow

A community was building. There were also a lot of laptops, which I was not expecting, and the woman seated next to me had not only her MacBook, but a stack of books and catalogs with titles like "Everything You Need to Know to Live Off-Grid." She told me she was building a tiny house for her college-bound daughter to stave off astronomical dorm costs.

Another man said he owned land and wanted a tiny house or two as rental properties. The wife half of a married couple was about to begin medical school, and they anticipated multiple moves in their immediate future. Several people wanted travel alternatives to an R.V. A citizen of Garland wants to "live like a gypsy in the back 40." Someone else wanted "to set up a small house community" (sounds like the makings of an artists colony in the Cedars to me). The room was full of green warriors stating goals like "make as little environmental impact as possible," "living simply and getting rid of all my stuff," and "zero energy home."

The workshop presented a lot of choices. You can purchase plans, design your own from scratch, or create an adaptation of an existing Tumbleweed model. You can build on a foundation or build on a trailer. You can even build the trailer, or buy one custom-designed for Tumbleweed. The two young teachers, Ella and Joe, made opposite choices and could speak to all options.

Tiny House Living in Half Moon Bay, California
Tiny House Living in Half Moon Bay, California

Ella's house, "Little Yellow," is anchored on a trailer that she refurbished herself with help from her dad. With no prior building experience, construction took just 13 months and $16,oo. She rents a small plot of land in Half Moon Bay, California, surrounded by million dollar homes. Ella teaches two Tumbleweed weekend workshops a month, and that's all the income she needs. Tiny house living is that cost effective.

To get Tumbleweed's monthly e-newsletter, a catalog download, and a doorway into a small universe, go here.

They also recommend the website and YouTube videos of Texas Tiny Houses , particularly for advice on using reclaimed wood.

Images courtesy of Ella Jenkins and her blog, "littleyellowdoor."


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