My First Experience with a Composting Toilet

This spring, Hampshire College Professor Gabriel Arboleda taught an unusual class: Reinventing the Toilet (course description). Addressing the fact that a single flush toilet can contaminate thousands of gallons in just one year of operation, he and his students will attempt to build alternative workable toilet models.

An important class? I think so. Many Tiny House folks would agree, having found that the mobile lifestyle necessitates flexibility when it comes to things like electricity and plumbing. Of course, there's an easy solution already at play, and it's something we don't think twice about doing with cows: composting.

I recently tried my first official composting toilet, and loved it. Our friends Pepper and Dylan built this awesome composting outhouse on their property in Healdsburg, CA, and were kind enough to let me, ahem, try it out.  

Outhouse Who knew an outhouse could be so beautiful?

In addition to the requisite crescent cut out, the outhouse has a light, a nice big bucket of a cedar chips, and a magazine rack!

inside the outhouse A pleasure to use

Plenty of open-minded people like Pepper and Dylan are pushing the envelope with practical, conscientious ways to dispose of waste: while we wait for Arboleda and his crew to envision the next big alternative, we can manage pretty comfortably. While making a separate outhouse is a viable option, the bucket and cedar chips method can easily be applied in any tiny house. 

In addition to the composting toilet, there's the incinerating toilet. Incinerating toilets are a bit more high-tech than a bucket and some cedar chips (though there are plenty of more advanced composting toilets available). Essentially, they incinerate your waste, converting it to a clean, non-polluting ash. An incinerating toilet can be powered a regular outlet, by gas, propane, or of course, solar panels. However, it uses more electricity than a composting toilet, and doesn't provide rich and useful fertilizer!

No matter your preferred commode, there's a reason colleges like Hampshire are highlighting the urgency of reinventing something most of us take for granted. We are far too distanced the effects from our own, for lack of a better word, crap. With the help of sophisticated indoor plumbing, most people never had to accept that what comes out of their body actually goes somewhere.

We want to live responsibly but we also want to live in a sanitary and safe. When choosing how to outfit our houses, we can think outside the porcelain box and attempt to do both. 

Written by Nara Williams — December 19, 2012

Filed under: appliances   Build it yourself   composting toilet   energy efficient home   green home   outhouse  

Writer, Builder, Preteen: Sicily and her "Petite Maison"

Sicily Kolbeck is 12 years old. She builds houses and plays travel softball south of the Mason-Dixon line. She is currently documenting her tiny house project, the Petite Maison. She hopes to live in her tiny house full-time when it is completed, and maybe even take it to college in Washington State (go, Huskies!). 

Why do people live tiny? Is it to simplify, or is it an economic decision? Whatever the reason, people have been downsizing their lives for many years. By simplifying their lives they have found inner happiness rather than external happiness in the form of the materialistic ideals. 

My decision to build a tiny house was partly economic, partly the desire to be free. Freedom is one of the main reasons I decided to build my tiny house. Everyone at some point in their life wishes to have freedom; my wish started at an early age, and it began with a simple desire to build a fort.

As long as I can remember I have loved tiny spaces. When I was younger my family and I lived in a house that had the most perfect spot for forts: a built-in seating area that was about 2 ½ feet tall; I would take three of my dad’s longest golf clubs, two chairs, blankets, and pillows and make a fort. I would watch movies in there, play games, and play with (or torture) my cat. It was just the right space for me; I never needed anything more. I loved the coziness of it, the fact that I could see all of my things, and that it was all mine. No one could take it away and no one but me was in charge of it. And it cost nothing!

Cut-out side for Sicily's bird house prototype  

Building forts was just the tip of the iceberg of frugality and simple living. I learned about money and sensibility at a young age. When I was five my mom and dad decided to give me an allowance. Those four quarters were dear to me every time I got them. My family thought I should learn to budget my money (plus they were tired of me asking for everything), and budget I did. If I wanted something I took hours to decide to buy it; many times I would walk away from a purchase because I thought, “Am I really going to use this?” At five! 

I learned to budget my money so well that my parents called me “The Bank of Sicily” because I would loan them money; when I started to joke that I would have to start charging interest, my customer satisfaction rate plummeted. This is just one form of my freedom that I talked about. I am very lucky that my parents trust me enough to give me freedom: financial. Having my own budget raises awareness about what I am buying and bringing into my life.

When I finally got my customers back with the promise of free hugs and kisses with every transaction I decided to tell them my idea for building a tiny house. My parents were accepting and willing to give me the support I needed; after I decided to take on this task, I told everyone. Trust me, when I say, “I told everyone,” I mean everyone. If someone was walking past me in the street I would tap them on the shoulder and say, “I’m building a house!” That was how excited I was. 

However, when I told my softball team I got less-than-enthusiastic replies: “Why?” “Oh, cool,” and my personal favorite, “Why don’t you just buy one from Home Depot?” I want to build one that can move and one that is my own. I was first introduced to tiny houses by Deek Diedricksen; his videos showed me that I could build a house with next to no money and still have it be comfortable and inviting and my own.

My biggest supporters have been my mom and dad. My mom is the teacher/principal/founder of HoneyFern.  She is the one that has encouraged me to do this as a school project; she has been my impromptu publicist; she has supported me on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media site that she can think of.  

My dad has taught me how to use the tools - such as a jigsaw, a table saw, nail gun, and belt sander - that I will need to build my house. To learn how to use the tools, I have already built a vegetable oil heater and a tiny teardrop trailer birdhouse, and now I am working on a composting toilet. I am so grateful for all of my supporters on and offline.

(For more information on supporting Sicily, please visit her website.)

Freedom to me means I can support myself in a sustainable way. Building a tiny house can give me stability, possibly for the rest of my life if I build the house well. Building a house would give me the life skills that really matter, such as using tools for construction. Building the house I can know what labors go into a home and truly appreciate what I am living in. 

Written by Guest Blogger — December 13, 2012

Filed under: Build it yourself   education   guest blogger   student builds   young builder  

Tumbleweed's Tiny Gingerbread House Contest!

Hey Tumbleweed Lovers!

Our Facebook friend Christina Rodriguez had a fantastic idea for this holiday season: making a Tumbleweed gingerbread dream house. We liked it so much we're raising the stakes. 

Are you ready to get your holiday tiny house cheer on?

Grab your kids! Grab your grandparents! Grab some tubes of frosting! 

It's our first annual Tumbleweed Tiny Gingerbread House Contest!     


Wendy GingerbreadTumbleweed's own Wendy working on her gingerbread masterpiece 

First place winner will get a copy of both the Small House book AND the DIY Book of Backyard Sheds and Tiny Houses. One runner-up will win a copy of either book, their choice. Both winners will have their gingerbread house photo featured on the website and our Facebook page.

Anything goes: creativity is key! 

Contest Rules:

Please submit a high-resolution photo via the Contact page on our website with a short description. Make the subject line "Tumbleweed Gingerbread House Contest."  We'll accept entries up until December 22 and make our decision by December 23- just in time for the holidays! 

We decided that we are going to let you, the fans pick the winners for this contest. We will post the top 3 Tiny Gingerbread Houses this Saturday, December 22nd on Facebook.  You will have until 2 pm PST on Monday, December 24th to vote. The picture with the most "likes" will win.

Extra points if you draw up plans for your gingerbread tiny house. Extra extra points if you attach it to a tiny trailer.

Enjoy, and good luck! 

---

UPDATE: 

I got so excited about this contest I built my own tiny gingerbread house this weekend. 

Can you top this beauty? 


UPDATE: 

Thank you to all those of who have submitted their Tiny Gingerrbread Houses so far! We have seen some amazing houses.  We decided that we're going to let you, the fans pick the winner for this contest. We will post the top 3 Tiny Gingerbread Houses this Saturday, December 22nd on Facebook.  You will have until 2 pm PST on Monday, December 24th to vote. The picture with the most "likes" will win.  Good luck!!!

Written by Nara Williams — December 10, 2012

Filed under: build it yourself   contest   crafts   facebook   gingerbread   holidays   Small House Book  

Tiny Home Schooler: Emma's Fencl

Watch out world, we've got another young builder! 14 year old Emma Keely is getting ready to work on a Fencl of her very own. And unlike other high school students, she'll be getting a little more than extra credit for her project- Emma is home schooled. As a major part of her curriculum over the next year, she'll be researching, writing, and asking plenty of questions about all aspects of tiny house building.

emma and brotherEmma and brother, Gavin 

The Keely family just bought their 20 acre farm this past summer so they could grow their own food and eventually have a CSA. They're working on a permaculture garden and food forest, and hope that Emma's tiny house will fit in with the sustainable lifestyle the family is quickly moving towards. They're even aiming for zero waste for next year! 

Some added incentive to get building: as Emma gets older, she can simply move her Fencl further and further from her parents' house! It's every teen's dream. 

For Christmas, she'll be recieving a tool kit. As far as other materials, the Keelys have a family friend with a sturdy old barn that will soon be disassembled. Emma hopes to use some of the wood and metal roofing for her Fencl. She'll also get a job and save money for supplies. Her Tumbleweed will be off grid with an incinerating toilet, a solar panel- she wants to build one herself- and a cistern for water. For homework, she has the task of learning what products are available for her tiny house and how they are made

Before Emma gets to start working on her house, however, she's got to earn her stripes: she'll be building a tree house in her yard as a favor to her 10 year old brother, Gavin. By building a simpler "house" first, she'll pick up some important construction skills and with any luck, gain a helpful future assistant! 

We look forward to seeing Emma's progress over the next year, and encourage more teens to check out Tumbleweed possibilities of their own. 

Written by Nara Williams — December 09, 2012

Filed under: Build it yourself   education   fencl   young builder  

Jonathan Black: Tiny House Builder, Grandson Extraordinaire

I try really hard to be a loving granddaughter: I visit my grandma as much as possible, take her out to lunch as often as she'll allow, and occasionally even help clean out her basement. So naturally, I've always had reason to believe I was the model grandchild.

That is, until I met Jonathan Black at the Tumbleweed workshop in LA.

 Jonathan Black Jonathan Black 

A former CalPoly student, 26 year old Jonathan chose to seek a different educational path after several unsatisfying years of school. He currently works as a server at a restaurant in San Luis Obispo, and says he's much happier dealing with "life stress" than "school stress." Now, he's setting out on a whole new meaningful adventure: tiny house building for a cause.

Jonathan's grandpa has stenosis, and is trying to plan ahead for the unfortunate possibility of needing to use a wheelchair. His house in Morgan Hill, however, is not wheelchair accessible. To solve this problem, the family has hatched a brilliant plan: Jonathan will build a wheelchair accessible wing on his grandparents' house.

There's only one problem: to work on the house, Jonathan needs a place to stay. His grandparents owned both a motor home and a shed, but neither was an option. The motor home needed too much work, and grandpa had already converted the shed into an office.

The perfect solution? A Tumbleweed Tiny House for Jonathan.

Jonathan loves the idea of avoiding debt, and is excited to integrate his tiny house into a larger meaningful project for his family. He purchased the Fencl plans before coming to LA. 

Brainstorming at the workshop 

Jonathan played around with many different designs at the workshop, getting input from his mom, Bethany, and other helpful attendees.

He will build the Fencl in January, hoping to use as many found and donated materials as possible. He will be blogging about the process as he goes, as well as checking in with us here.

After he completes his tiny house, he'll begin work on the wing for his grandparents. "My mom doesn't want it to look like a disabled wing," explained Bethany. "We want Jonathan to do something that doesn't look ugly, because it's a sensitive issue." Jonathan will be mentored by a local building inspector who is also an ADA inspector, seeking ways to make the wing both aesthetically pleasing and wheelchair accessible.

By the end of next year, he'll have not only blown me out of the water in the best grandchild competition, but will have completed a little house of his own. Two birds, one stone anyone?

Jonathan with grandparents and mom

Right now, Jonathan is looking for trailers in the Morgan Hill area, so please let us know if you can help!

 

Written by Nara Williams — December 07, 2012

Filed under: Build it yourself   home design   house plan   plans   small house   wheelchair accessible   workshops  
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