In late 2020, in the midst of Victoria’s lockdown, I was living with my parents in my childhood farmhouse in Gippsland, Victoria.
I craved independence and a minimalist lifestyle, so I wanted to keep my options open instead of saving for a house deposit and settling on a place, a mortgage, and rising interest rates.
Young journalists are often expected to move for work, and after living in eight different places in my early 20s, I’ve had enough of renting, packing and moving.
So, with my dad’s help, I decided to build my own tiny house on top of a trailer that I could take anywhere.
I spent about six months researching, planning and designing the project. I’ve read internet forums and watched hundreds of YouTube videos – from design inspiration to the details of tech tips.
By the middle of 2021, I felt I was armed with enough information to guide me on the Living Tiny journey.
I had saved about $20,000 for the initial upfront costs and have since set aside half of my fortnight salary for ongoing project costs while still living with my parents.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Followers are strong
I’ve never seen Dad pale as he did when the tiny trailer fell off our trailer hitch and started sending sparks up the Calder Freeway north of Melbourne.
We drove home to Gippsland in the trailer, six meters long and two and a half meters wide.
Luckily the safety chains held and there was no damage to the trailer.
One of the first decisions you have to make when planning a tiny home is whether you want to build on a trailer or build a house that can be trucked.
Tiny house trailers like mine have a number of national requirements and must be roadworthy under state laws, including registration, brake lights, and maximum trailer heights and widths.
The advantage is that if a trailer is light enough – under 3,500 kilograms – you don’t need special licenses to tow it from place to place.
The restrictions on building on the trailers are relatively lax compared to grounded houses, but one of the key questions to ask yourself is whether it can handle being exploded, rattled and smashed at high speed on the street.
Builder? no Practically? Yes.
Neither dad nor I are master builders – that became clear when we installed one of our windows upside down.
But we live on a farm, so having the arsenal of hammers, saws, and nails we already had on hand made things a lot easier.
I designed the house myself to be completely off the grid, with double glazed windows, solar and a water tank.
My favorite elements of the design are the projector, smart lights and switches, and the fact that my walls are all one big whiteboard.
Designing the space yourself was tremendously helpful in visualizing the magnitude of the task at hand.
Starting from the ground up, we learned the hard way to “measure twice cut once” after measuring and recutting many pieces of wood.
One of the differences with my house is that instead of using wood, we use special panels called structural panels, which are often used to build cold rooms.
They offer good insulation, are airtight, easy to cut and fastened with thousands of rivets.
Despite our planning, it was satisfying to find solutions and workarounds for the many small issues that arose during construction.
After we’ve riveted all the panels, we’ve just put our roof on and now we’ve started to fit out the kitchen.
At key points during construction, we had the help of my uncle (who is actually a builder) to guide us in the right direction.
Cuts, scrapes and bruises were inevitable, but ladder accidents are entirely avoidable.
delays, not dismay
Like most homes featured in Grand Designs, our best plans have been pushed back significantly.
When we started construction in mid-2021, we had initially (perhaps naively) hoped to be finished by the end of the year.
Now we hope for the end of 2022.
It has cost over $50,000 to build so far, but we’re still under my budget of about $60,000.
I’m fortunate to have a running job with a steady salary so I can pay when I go based on the initial savings I’ve put aside.
Many of the same problems that have plagued the construction industry have also impacted our construction – a huge upsurge in the number of home renos and new builds has reduced the availability of lumber, crafting, and parts.
Sometimes I had to wait until I had saved enough to buy the next batch of materials.
Despite all this, the lack of time due to our full-time employment held us back the most. But as dad says very often: “It’s quicker the second time”.
At the moment, the municipal ordinance dictates where you can park your tiny house on a trailer and how long you can stay there.
There are also different rules for small houses that require different connections such as septic tank, water and other systems.
Ideally I’d like to put it somewhere quiet, maybe near a river, with plenty of sun for the solar panels and vegetable garden.
While I’m not looking forward to sorting out my wardrobe and possessions, the idea of restricting “stuff” — and the work it takes to maintain it — still has great appeal.
During the ongoing process, I’ve learned unexpected lessons about the joy of hands-on crafting, gratitude, and the hope it takes to make plans for the future.
Rio Davis is a news reporter at ABC Gippsland in Gunaikurnai country.
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