Isabel Winson-Sagan is a resident of Santa Fe, NM, and has a degree from the University of New Mexico in religious studies and evolutionary anthropology. She will soon be attending the University of Aberdeen in Scotland for further work in religious studies. She just bought the trailer for her Tiny House, and will be starting her build in the next couple of months.
If I were forced to provide a single,
unqualified answer to the question, “Why are you building a tiny house?” I
would have to say: instantaneous love. I was 8 years old when I first saw the inside
of an RV trailer, while on a road trip with my parents. Afterwards I demanded
of my mother, “Why don’t we live in one of these?” On some level I was wounded.
My parents had always known about these perfect, tiny, ship-like houses on
wheels, and had chosen to abide in our irritatingly stationary home instead.
this instant love of mine was influenced by my fascination with hobos during
the Great Depression. I didn’t understand the economic desperation or the myth
of the West that had created these men. I only saw that they were tough, that
they had what it took to ride the trains. They were free. Somehow the ideas of
homelessness, wheeled vehicles, and the ability to carry your home with you
became crossed in my mind. An RV seemed to embody both that feeling of home and
the ability to leave home to my 8-year-old self.
childhood dream of living in an RV eventually subsided, and I moved on to other
pursuits. Skip forward a decade or so, to the day when I stumbled on the
website for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. And it happened again. I was
instantly, irrevocably in love. And this time it was less impractical. In fact,
it seemed that here was the answer to many of my personal dilemmas: how to live
sustainability in a culture of consumerism that was simultaneously facing a
housing crisis, how to travel the road and feel safe, and how to have my own
home while moving across the country for graduate school. I was in love with the
aesthetic of Tumbleweed, and with the lifestyle it seemed to offer.
after I had made the somewhat wild decision to actually build my own house, I
began to connect the project to my academic interests. My fields are religious
studies and anthropology, and I realized that the tiny house could be studied
as material culture, with my own experience as the basis of anthropological
research. So I’ve started to study sacred architecture as well as building
science, and I hope to one day include my tiny house experience as part of a
graduate thesis proposal.
a woman, a Jew, a woodworker, and the anthropologist conducting a mild field
study on myself, several questions have been raised so far. How significant is
it, in this day and age, for a woman to be working in construction, or even to
be building her own house? What does it mean to be an American Jewish
craftsperson, when almost the entirety of my family’s material culture was lost
in the pogroms and the Holocaust? What does it mean to live in a home purposely
built for wandering, when the anti-Semitic legend of “The Wandering Jew” has
been around since the Middle Ages?
I woke up in the middle of the night a few
months ago, jerked awake with the force of one thought: I am building Baba
Yaga’s house. Baba Yaga (roughly translated to “demon grandmother”) is a
Russian fairytale character, a witch who lives in a house on chicken legs. She
is a symbol of Russia. So why am I building her house? As I build, I’m also
attempting to deconstruct the folk tale of Baba Yaga, in order to shed some
light on my own roots, and my own desire to build a little house in the woods.
It is a house that walks, and is full of either danger or help, for those who
know how to ask for it.
hut, little hut, stand with your back to the woods, and your front to me!”
the hut turns around, and the protagonist enters. This is the beginning of my
tiny house journey. Possibly some of my questions with be answered, or there
may be new questions raised. But in the meantime, I’m building, researching,
and documenting my tiny Baba Yaga house.
Confession: I'm kind of a simpleton when it comes to plumbing. Only in
recent years has it occurred to me to ask questions like, where does toilet
water go when I flush? And how is it suddenly replaced with clean water? And
sinks, and washing machines, and showers for that matter- what happens to all
my own waste water?
Is it magic?
Since that first realization of my ignorance regarding all things waste water, I've tried my best to learn a little more about plumbing. At times, it can be hard to remember how wasteful flush toilets
and long showers are.
Enter off-grid water recycling systems! Designing a Tumbleweed that doesn't require regular hook-ups is a great opportunity
to get to know your personal water usage. Here's a bit about how you can use greywater to minimize waste and take advantage of a great resource.
What is greywater?
Greywater refers to waste water that is relatively harmless
and can thus be reused for a variety of purposes. It gets the name "grey" for being somewhere between fresh water and sewage water.
Usually, the term encompasses
dishwater, laundry water and shower water. However, it is important that you
don't put ANYTHING remotely toxic in your sink, shower or laundry machine if
you're planning on reusing the water. It's pretty easy to avoid-just make sure
you're using biodegradable soaps, laundry detergents, etc.
I got some great biodegradable soaps for Christmas, and am excited to eventually
set up my own grey water irrigation system!
How is it reused?
Greywater is typically used for irrigation- most people
direct their grey water into gardens or mulch pits. Grey water can also be
recycled inside. Water from showers and dishes can be used in toilets, house
plants, and greenhouses.
You can get pretty creative- there's no one way to use greywater!
Remember, of course that greywater is never safe to drink. Filtration processes can render it safe to use for toilet water and washing water.
What's the difference
between greywater and blackwater?
Blackwater contains human waste, and cannot safely be used- generally, this refers to the water flushed in toilets. It contains pathogens that must decompose before they can be safely released into the environment. One way to avoid dealing with blackwater? Composting toilets!
Do you have a unique way of reusing greywater? Tell us about it!
Storage set in to the wall is a great option. Enclose the
lower portion of the cabinet and leave the upper cabinet open to create the
feel of a larger space. Using glass shelving helps keep the feeling of the room
Repurposing furniture is a great way to create more storage
and allows you to find something that specifically meets your needs. We
recommend using a marine varnish on wood furniture to protect it from moisture.
Keep your window treatments simple. If you can, avoid
curtains completely. Frosted glass provides privacy without clutter. If you
decide to use a window treatment choose a fabric that allows light to pass
through and cover only the bottom half of the window.
Proper ventilation of a small bathroom is a must! To save
energy and still remove moisture install a ventilation system with a timer. To
remove the heat and moisture the vent may need to be on for as much as an hour.
A timer allows you to leave it and not waste energy.
Create the illusion of more space by leading the eyes up.
Vertical lines on the walls or simple molding at the ceiling draws the eye
upward and creates the feeling of a larger space.
Fight clutter! Take your assessment of your storage needs
seriously and plan accordingly. Avoid busy or large patterns in your space.
Instead, accent a neutral pallet with bold color.
Design your lighting with your needs in mind. Florescent
lighting is energy efficient but can completely wash out natural color. Invest
in full spectrum florescent lighting to get the color and the environmental
benefit. Install both ambient lighting and task specific lighting. That task
might require a good strong light above the sink for shaving or applying
make-up or it might require warm lights with a dimmer for long leisurely baths.
Again, keep your needs in mind and design around them.
Pocket doors are incredibly handy in small spaces. The space
saved where the door would normally swing can be used for storage or simply
open space which is a luxury in itself.