Case Study

Wind River Dweller Interview – Laura’s Tiny Home Journey

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Wind River

March 17, 2024

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Q:

Today we have a very special dweller interview with a client that we built for in 2022. Laura, thank you so much for letting us inside of your beautiful tiny home. It’s so cool to see it in person now that you’re settled! It’s really a reflection of who you are, and it makes me so happy to be here. Thank you so much.

A:

Of course! I’m glad you’re in Lexington!

Q:

Yes! So let’s talk about your setup. The hardest part about going tiny for anyone is finding a place to put the tiny home, and this is truly an idyllic set up. We’re just outside of Lexington. There’s a lot of agricultural land out here and you work with horses. We’re on a sprawling horse farm here. Looking out the windows, we have barns and horses and dogs running around. It’s so idyllic. So can you tell us how you came about this arrangement?

A:

The arrangement was kind of in place before the tiny house even became a thought honestly. I had always wanted to live on a farm. Not just for me, but for my dogs. One of my dogs was meant to be a farm dog, and I just wanted to make that happen before he got too old and couldn’t enjoy it. I always wanted my own place. Homes are so expensive nowadays. You go farther and farther out of the city to try to find one within your price range, so it was already something in my mind that I was looking for an alternative option. Something that is my own but is still affordable and manageable that has room for my dogs.

I actually looked into Airstreams first and RV’s. I did some research on that and obviously they’re not meant for full-time living. There are a lot of challenges with that, like winterizing. I thought it wouldn’t be what I wanted, and it would be more work than what I was looking for. So obviously I stumbled upon tiny houses.

They’re becoming a lot more popular, and I thought that would be perfect. With my job, I work for a vet clinic so I’m in contact with a lot of veterinarians. They’re all equine so some of them have property and horses and farms. I became closer with Dr. Monge and his wife just from working with them. It was a thought I had thrown out—I asked them if I were to get an RV if I could park it on their land. It kind of became a win-win situation for everyone because they were looking for a farm sitter for when they go out of town. The more we got to know each other the more they trusted me as well. It really was a win-win situation. I get to stay on their land, have my space here, and I help them out with things. I look over the farm when they want to leave town or go on vacation.

It’s so easy because I’m right here. I can just walk outside and feed the horses and check on them. Horses colic a lot and things can go bad very quickly. If you have a farm sitter that’s not on the farm, it can be bad. So that’s kind of how it came to be.

I did some research and I found you guys. I thought, this is great! You were close to me. I really like what you’ve done and I like your models. Honestly I called you, Amelia, and we chatted for a long time, I remember. I thought, this is it! I love these guys already, they seem like they do quality work, and I want to make it happen.

Q:

So Charlie benefits from this situation, he gets to run around on the farm.

A:

Yes, he absolutely loves it. When I farm sit he comes with me to feed, and he loves working and doing all of that. I think when I’m not farm sitting and he sees the owner out there doing all the chores, he wants to go help. He likes working.

Q:

So, this comes up a lot. There’s a lot of people who want to live with pets in a tiny home. You’ve got 300 square feet here plus a loft, and you live with two dogs. What was the transition like bringing your pets into the tiny home? And what kind of tips do you have for people considering bringing a pet into a tiny home?

A:

From the beginning we made some customizations that were going to be good for them. My younger dog Addy loves her crate, so we made a special spot for her crate under the stairs. And I didn’t want to do a ladder to the loft so we did the storage stairs. Other than that, those were the two big customizations. Since we’d been on farms already, they were pretty used to being around horses. Charlie was a little stressed out when we first moved in. He definitely has a little bit of separation anxiety, and doesn’t always do well with new spaces. He took a few bites of the house before we figured that out. It was a really good idea to use a muzzle. I used that for a while while he got adjusted and he was fine. Honestly every other place we’ve lived in he just stays out and chills. In the house he doesn’t really do anything, so once he got settled he absolutely loved it and feels at home now that he knows that this is our space.

Q:

So how do they spend most of their time when they’re inside the home?

A:

In the loft! They absolutely love that window up there. They just lay down and see everything. And my bed too, of course. Addy is usually either upstairs in my bed or on her bed down here.

Q:

Can you tell us a little bit about the utilities set up to the home? I remember that was a little bit of a journey so can you walk us through the electric and the water?

A:

That was something that I put thought into, but I think I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, or should’ve been. I honestly thought it wouldn’t have been that much of a stress since we have the barn right there, and water right there. We have power and water so close, so I thought it would be a breeze. But I got the electrician out and our initial quote for running power about 50-60 feet was $16,000. That was something I didn’t budget for originally in my financing so I was freaking out. Luckily, I explored some other options. I looked into solar because honestly when I started pricing it out, it was comparable in price. That’s a more long lasting option if I were to move away from here one day and get my own property. I can take that with me whereas if I put $16,000 into the ground here, that’s not my property. I can’t just dig that up. It’s a waste for sure. Unfortunately I found some vendors where you can finance the solar, but because of the type of dwelling it was, they wouldn’t finance it since it wasn’t a traditional home. So then solar became less of an option.

I explored personal loans but I didn’t get approved for that amount so we just had to figure something else out. That was all the electric.

I had a plan for the water. Dr. Monge had a friend that he knew really well that actually does agricultural properties and sets up water lines. They were already coming out to do the water so he reached out to him and asked if they would be able to run the power as well. We ended up running the power from the barn because it had the right amperage to power the tiny home as well. So even without upgrading they came out and ran the electric and the water. They patched my grey water into the leach lines on the property. They did all of that for like $6,500.

I don’t know if they gave me a little bit of a discount because it’s a family friend, but it was pretty beneficial to have that option instead. I’m still paying that off a little bit because once again I didn’t plan for all that. But it’s a whole lot better than $16,000!

Q:

That’s great information for people. It’s not uncommon to hear stories like this where you get a quote and it’s just insane and way more than you thought it would be. Go get another quote. Keep looking and then you can save maybe $10,000. It’s crazy how those things can fluctuate and you can get different quotes for electric. I’m just really glad that you got your home powered.

A:

Yeah, it was just in the nick of time. It was probably like a week before I moved in. But luckily it got delivered about a month before my lease was up on my townhome that I rented so it worked out.

Q:

That’s great timing. So we talked about grey water. You don’t have black water because you have a composting toilet. People ask a lot about that, too—off grid, composting options— everyone wants to know how that works! Can you tell us how often you’re emptying the composting toilet? Where does it go?

A:

It was definitely a learning curve, and something I didn’t have a lot of experience in. I know you can’t tell from the plants I have, but I wasn’t a huge gardener. I didn’t have much composting experience but after getting the toilet I did research online and ended up getting a large composting bin for outside, and I have it right out there. It’s a pretty large one. It’s probably not even like a fourth of the way full right now. Honestly I probably empty it about every month and half to two months. Online they recommend every 75-90 uses for the solids bin. The liquids I empty a lot more often like once a week. But that’s a little easier. I kind of let it get half full and then I can do a 1 to 1 combo with water and it’s actually really good for trees. So I water the trees just like the dogs and the horses. It’s been great.

Q:

Maybe the number one question we get is about financing a tiny home build. You were able to do this successfully. Are there any tips you think would be beneficial for someone looking to get financing for a tiny home?

A:

It’s similar to a traditional mortgage, but I haven’t done a traditional mortgage so I can’t say with absolute certainty. You still have a down payment. It might not be as much but I know that I financed with 21st Mortgage in Tennessee and they had an option for land purchase at the same time that I think would have made the down payment a little lower. I ended up doing a 20% down payment. Still save up like you would for a normal home, and consider all of the things that you might need. We also budgeted for shipping and taxes in the loan. In hindsight, I would’ve obviously financed some of the electric and water as well. I’d say that’s number one— figure out what you’ll need to pay to set up utilities and see if you can get that within your financing.

Q:

People should be doing that before they pursue a tiny home builder just because those costs vary widely, and if you know what your land improvements are going to be, then that sets the budget. 21st Mortgage treats those loans very much like a mortgage, so there’s an option to collateralize it with your land like you were talking about, and there’s an option to finance the shipping and land improvements up to a certain amount. It’s good for people to know that all of that is an option.

Can we talk a little bit about just the functionality of living in a tiny home. What’s it like sleeping in a loft?

A:

Honestly that one is not too bad. I like it, it’s really cozy. I sleep really well. It’s not troublesome or anything. Actually, it’s the warmest up there during this time of year, and colder in winter. It helps that I have two australian shepherd border collie dogs that like to sandwich me while I sleep so I stay very warm, but other than that I think it’s a little harder to get out of bed in the morning. It takes rolling out of bed to a whole new level. My alarms go off and the dogs snuggle in even further. It’s always so hard to get up. I just kinda roll out of bed and literally crawl and then that’s the start of your day. You definitely have to down some coffee!

Q:

In a traditional home you might go into your bedroom throughout the day for different reasons. In a tiny home when your bedroom is a loft, do you find yourself going up there during the day or is it really just for sleeping?

A:

It’s really just for sleeping. Honestly I hardly go up there for anything other than bed. Obviously I have a lot of books. I like to read. It’s so cozy up there so sometimes I go up there to read, but mostly it’s just for bedtime.

Q:

What about cooking in a tiny home? Any tips?

A:

It’s really not that different. I think that this kitchen is about the same size if not bigger than what I had in my townhouse. I have a ton of countertop space. I really love cooking on gas, which is something I hadn’t had experience with. Everyone said it’s so much better cooking on gas because it’s a more even heat on everything. I definitely agree, I love it. Other than that I think you need to worry about humidity. That’s just a concern with everything in a tiny house since it’s just so small. It’s winter right now so it gets very humid with the moisture on the windows. I usually have a dehumidifier running to help with that. Obviously there are the vents too that you guys installed. I always keep the hood vent running while I’m cooking and if it’s not too cold, I’ll open a window because it gets hot. Honestly I think I’ve done more cooking in my tiny house since I’ve moved in.

Q:

Well it’s just right there!

A:

Yeah! I used to live in a townhouse closer to town so I could use DoorDash. Obviously that’s not an option out here which is great. I spent way too much money on DoorDash, and now I can just cook meals. I’ve gotten into pasta making this year. I do still have some appliances even in a tiny house, like a KitchenAid and stuff like that that I use to make dough or pasta.

Q:

That’s awesome! New hobbies in your new home! What about storage space? That’s a really common question, too. People have that concern, that they won’t have enough storage. So how do you feel about the storage you have in your home?

A:

When I first moved everything in, I did! Obviously I downsized a lot. I started bringing my stuff over and I thought well I don’t know if i even have enough stuff to fill this storage now because of how much I downsized! Don’t worry, it’s all full now. But when I first moved in I just thought that there was so much space!

Q:

And there was space designated for your dog crate!

A:

Yeah! Even with that space gone I still had so much. I’m really happy with it. I have all my clothes down here so it’s kind of like a wardrobe in my double cabinet over there. I think the only thing I didn’t do a lot of thought on during the build process was hanging clothes space. I’ve tried a couple options, but honestly I work with horses and I don’t dress up that often. For me it wasn’t a huge priority. I can just have some folded space for stuff like that, but if anyone needs that space, I think that’s something to consider. I planned for a stacked washer and dryer which I don’t have yet. If someone was doing a combo maybe they could make the space above that for hanging clothes, but for me when i eventually have a stackable that doesn’t really leave anywhere for hanging space.

Q:

Well I’m glad you’re happy with the storage! If you could go back, what would you do differently?

A:

I think number one was the financing. Covering the utilities. I think I was considering a wood burning stove, which would be nice, but I still don’t think that would’ve fit in the house. Honestly I really am happy with everything.

Q:

Well you added some shelves!

A:

Yes I did! I wanted some more storage for books and things. I’m a big reader so I eventually want the whole shelf full of books. Other than that I think I’m pretty happy with everything. I considered maybe a loft skylight, that would be cool. I still think it would be weird with rain or storms. It would be a little spooky.

Q:

Can you share with us some zen moments that you’ve had in your tiny home? Some nice memories you’ve made or if there was anything difficult with transitioning to a tiny home?

A:

I think the most difficult aspects were the new things I wasn’t experienced with, like the composting toilet. Winterizing and getting used to that as well. We had some crazy negative five degree weather right before Christmas which was insane. I haven’t had any trouble with the lines freezing except for that day my lines did freeze. Eventually thawed. I haven’t installed it yet but I did get some heat tape for the pipes.

Q:

Do you have anything on the pipes right now?

A:

I have some foam insulation on the water line. I don’t have anything on my grey water line, but I haven’t had any trouble with that other than that day, the negative five degree day. You can’t plan for that. Eventually we’ll have the heat tape installed. This winter, other than that, I haven’t had any trouble. If the temperatures are dropping I’ll just keep my faucets dripping.

Q:

So it’s just like a normal home.

A:

Just like a normal home! I have a fond memory of when I first moved in, having my two friends over, having takeout and sitting just sprawled out in the house. Someone was on the stairs, someone on the couch, someone at the bar, and just enjoying the new space.

Q:

What have your friends’ reactions been seeing this home?

A:

I have some filmed that I probably need to send you! One of my coworkers was really not a fan of the house. He thought, “Why are you doing this?” He didn’t get it. But he saw the house and said “This is more storage than I have in my whole house!” But it’s designed that way. Normal homes aren’t always built like that with all the considerations. My parents had a pretty similar reaction. They weren’t all for it at first, it definitely took some convincing for them to get used to the idea. They came out here and helped me move right at crunch time when I was moving out of my townhouse, and coming over here for good.

Q:

And it was raining then, too!

A:

It always happens! That was the rainiest day of the whole spring was the day that the house got delivered. It wasn’t even raining until 5 minutes before they showed up with the house. SO were trying to pull it onto the gravel lot, and it’s just pouring. We’re all just sliding around in the mud.

Q:

And this is actually a really accessible spot for a driver. There’s not a lot of tight corners or narrow entrances. Even a little bit of rain with an open site plan can impact shipping.

A:

It took us a little bit to get it set up. My parents came out to help, and I think my mom was really shocked. It wasn’t really what she expected, she felt like it turned out really well. My dad was saying basically this is all you really need.

Q:

I love stories like that! There’s a perception out there about tiny homes and people always get a certain image in their mind when they think about a tiny home. We try to build something that’s really beautiful so that people have this reaction when they come in and say “Okay this is really small, but it’s thoughtfully designed.” It’s really all that you need. Sure it’s not for everyone, but it brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. What’s your favorite part of your tiny home?

A:

I knew you were gonna ask me this, and I still don’t really have an answer.

Q:

So just everything!

A:

Yes, exactly! It’s everything, honestly. I love that I had such a hand in designing everything. I think that’s why I love it all because I picked everything. I love my shower, the tile in the shower I absolutely love. The whole kitchen really, I love the kitchen.

Q:

Yeah we did quartz for your countertop. And the Kentucky blue style backsplash, and your exterior is blue too.

A:

Not that I’m a Kentucky fan. Blue just happens to be my favorite color! I’m an Arkansas razorback fan, but red doesn’t exactly have the same vibe.

Q:

Yes, the blue is relaxing. Well, thank you so much for letting us in your home and answering my questions. Is there anything else you can think of? General tips or advice? What’s it been like for you living in a tiny home?

A:

Not a whole lot. Lifestyle wise, I hosted a lot of events at my townhouse so I feel like I don’t host as much now, but it’s kind of become like an inner circle kind of place. It’s just different, it’s very intimate. Someone should feel honored if they’ve gotten an invite.

Q:

I definitely do! That’s great. Thank you again, so much. I really appreciate your time.

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