http://www.tumbleweedhouses.comWith wheels, traditional proportioning and archetypal form, these little structures are designed to be portable and can, essentially, be sited anywhere you can park a travel trailer.* They range from about 50 to 130 sq ft. Purchase yours ready-made or buy the plans to build it yourself. These homes are stationary designs built as a main house or guest house. Most of the plans have an optional extra bedroom in back. The house sizes range from 261 sq ft up to 874 sq ft. We do not build the Cottages. They are designed to be built on site with a local contractor of your choosing.Tumbleweed Tiny Houses Companysupport@tumbleweedhouses.com
15 West MacArthur St95476SonomaCaliforniaUnited States
Why a compost toilet outhouse? We live on 50 acres with a one bathroom house on it – we use walkie talkies to communicate with each other on our land. We conduct 75% of our lives 500 or more yards from the house in a series of huge outdoor rooms collectively referred to as ‘the pond’. As in “Honey, when I get home will you be at the pond or at the house?” It’s where we work, play, socialize, park our guests, and have campfires, barbecues, and parties.
The more people we share these activities with, the more we need a handy bathroom facility. It’s equally obvious that there’s no way we can afford or justify putting in a second septic system. The entire property is a watershed and we don’t want to take any chances polluting, so we wouldn’t even think about doing an old school outhouse, where you just dig a pit and add lime to the cesspool. A waterless compost toilet was the only way to go, allowing us to return the nutrients and organic materials from our waste safely to the soil.
The dirty details; we were on a tight budget and had some materials left over from our tiny house builds, so we opted for an entirely DIY “glorified bucket” approach. I’ve watched quite a few compost toilet videos over time, and referred back to a couple to help us plan our project. Urine diversion is the best approach because it prevents smelly anaerobic conditions and allows more of the nutritional value from our wastes to be used by plants, but to buy aurine diverter costs about $70 – $100 and takes delivery time. I’ve ordered one now, so I’ll do an update at some point about how that works out. For now we’re removing the material to an aerobic microbe rich composting situation, and we always have a large supply of sawdust so we decided to just use larger amounts of it to soak up excess liquid and put everything in one container.
The plan; to make a small structure like an outhouse with a bench seat inside. The bench has a hole with a toilet seat and lid over it, and beneath it a bin with a contractor trash bag lining. When it’s 2/3 full of sawdust and deposited material, we’ll open up the exterior hatch to access the bin under the seat, bundle up the bag, and carry it away to our dedicated toilet compost area. We’ll make shallow holes far from the creek and pond so the bag contents will contact the earth and all its microbes, getting the composting process going quickly. Each bag will be emptied into its own hole and topped with rotted leaf litter so it can rest a full year and add nutrients and organic material to the soil.
The structure; after we outlined the plan we raided our stockpile for scrap lumber, plywood, and metal roofing. We decided to make it a square building exactly one half sheet of plywood on each side, roughly 4′ x 4′ x 8′. It seemed like a comfortable size and it minimized cutting. A shed roof was the obvious choice for simplicity, and we decided our left over birch interior ply was perfect for the bench. We gathered up extra paint samples and a door purchased for another job. It wasn’t used as intended because it had some flaws, but it’s certainly good enough for our little privy. We did have to buy two 4 x 6 x 8′ pressure treated beams to make skids for $55.
Freewheeling design; very little was planned before we started, which was great because it allowed for a lot of standing around debating pros and cons of each step with friends. Between four and six people were clustered around the project while it was built, although it was so small no more than two could actually be doing anything at any one time. Nobody got paid in anything but cold ones, and we all enjoyed every bit of it. Overall it probably took us about 20 hours of work over the course of two days to get the job done. One guy made a rustic toilet paper holder, a “sink” (a shelf holding hand wipes), and even a magazine rack. The one aesthetic touch we planned on was a traditional outhouse crescent moon cutout in the door, so I drew that so it could be traced later with a saw. After the framing was up, we decided to place the door to one side, allowing us to save an extra framing member and leaving a space for something. We all had a sense we should put some sort of window there, but we didn’t think we had anything that would work until I went poking around some old stuff and found a few square acrylic panels. We tried them out, and three of them filled the space nicely, overlapped slightly at the bottom of each for a look that reminds me of an oversize jalousie window.
Ventilation and insulation; we left the gables of the shack empty to allow for copious air flow. At the moment we still have the moon cutout in the door open too, but I might put some kind of translucent material in there pretty soon – still looking for the right scrap. Before the party, the guys decided to run a vent stack from under the bench through a hole in the wall and up to the roof. Dylan modified a Studor vent for the top of the stack so that it will keep rain out but always allow air to pass freely. We’re not insulating the room because our climate is pretty mild.
The inner workings; after we built the shell we looked for the right container. It had to be strong, durable, and commonly available, so we could start with two containers and if needed get more that would fit. We ended up with a horizontal plastic tub rated for carrying over 350 pounds of material. It’s way overkill, since lightweight sawdust will always make up a large proportion of the bulk in our batches, but better a “too strong” container than one that doesn’t quite cut it, for obvious reasons. I would have preferred to use containers with lids, but these tough heavy duty ones didn’t have them, so we went with contractor grade plastic bag liners to contain the load while we move it to the comporting site, which in our case have already been used once or twice on the job site before they go to the outhouse.
Surfaces and finishes; Dylan painted the exterior a sage green I mixed from a bunch of our sample colors from recent projects, and my five year old son and I painted the inside a darker tone of the same color. We coated the floor and the door with brick red exterior paint, and one of the guys spray painted the inside of the “window” panels bright red. Last year we cut out a crescent moon from hot rolled steel during some crafty plasma cutter sessions, which now graces the inside back wall. Dylan installed an overhead light with a vintage style bulb and an automatic shut off light switch, plus a motion sensing porch light outside above the door. A bucket was transformed into a lidded trash container, another bucket became the sawdust bin, and we were ready for prime time. With the same Sierra green roof as my first two houses, and a birch bench with routed edges and a heavy coat of polyurethane on it, this convenience station has turned out prettier than I would have ever imagined.
The reception; our house is quite a walk up a steep hill from ‘the pond’, so the privy was a welcome addition. We were proud to show our guests to it when that first party started in the afternoon, and we got a lot of compliments. By nightfall everyone knew where it was and it was definitely viewed with gratitude and appreciation. Throughout the evening as I conducted my “inspections” the only things I could smell inside were sawdust and a hint of fresh paint. We topped off our bucket of sawdust halfway through the night, and my husband opened the back hatch to check on things and had to shake the container back and forth a few times to settle a growing pyramid. One of our guys has a brilliant plan for making a teeter totter platform for the bin with a handle projecting upwards. It will allow users to occasionally flip the handle back and forth to shake the bin and settle the contents without having to go outside or touch the bin.
The cost; if you have leftover materials to work with you may get away with spending as little as $70 on your toilet seat and containers. We spent about $55 for our skids, $35 on our seat, $15 each on two containers, $10 on a fancy lightbulb, and another $15 on drinks for the crew. The guys who helped us enjoy our parties, so were happy to help with a fun no pressure project to make them go more smoothly. Grand total, $200.I’ll try to make an estimate for what it would cost to buy all the materials when I can find the time.
The impression; the compost toilet has been an unqualified success. It’s sailed through a half dozen parties with up to 60 guests over the course of these weekends and it never smells of anything worse than damp sawdust. What experiences have you had with compost toilets? Would you try this in a remote situation like ours?
If you’re interested in a Tumbleweed cottage, they meet code in most places as a primary residence, so just take the study plans for your chosen model to the local zoning authority and check with them.
Tiny houses on wheels are a bit of a hybrid – neither conventional house nor truly a travel trailer. There are places where it’s clearly legal to live in one (such as RV or mobile home parks), places where it’s clearly illegal, and places where it’s a gray area.
They are generally viewed as Recreational Vehicles by zoning officials and therefore can be researched at your local zoning office as an RV or travel trailer. Laws vary from place to place but it’s generally legal to ‘camp’ in the yard of an existing home in an RV, but not legal to ‘inhabit’ one full time. For the most part, communities don’t have the manpower or budget to actively enforce those codes, and the only way you would come to their attention would be if neighbors called in complaints. If you’re a good neighbor who keeps things clean, lives in harmony with the people in the area, and treats your wastes responsibly, you can greatly increase your odds of living peacefully for as long as you like in a given locale. The unique charm of a tiny Tumbleweed often makes them so attractive to people that they’re more likely to come over and see your place, introduce themselves, and generally be delighted to have you as part of the neighborhood.
Your best bet is either finding someone who is willing to rent a spot on their land to place your little house on, or buy land that already has a house on it – perhaps an extreme fixer to save you money. You can place a little Tumbleweed on the land and live in it while you renovate the existing structure. As far as renovations blowing your budget – maybe the renovations just take a long time. Someday when they’re done, you can consider renting out the main house for income. It’s a gray area, but folks are often able to live in peace indefinitely because the houses are so charming that people rarely complain.
The reason to avoid raw land is that most communities would never voluntarily let your tiny Tumbleweed be the only house on the land. In order to get utilities in place you would have to get a permit for building a conventional house, which requires full plans and expensive permit fees – and the permits and costs for getting utilities to a piece of land are astronomically high, unless you want to develop your utilities off grid.
To research zoning laws in your area, start by searching the name of your town or city with the word zoning and see what you get. Often you’ll find the city planning office has a website where you can look up the definitions and mandates related to various zones, and some kind of map or index where you can look up parcels of land and find out what their zoning is. By cross-referencing these resources you can get an idea of where your best bets are in terms of locations.
Otherwise, if you want to live in a RV or mobile home park, visit some in your chosen area and see which ones you like, then talk to the managers and show them pictures from the website or the Small House Book so they can see you face to face and get a clear visual picture of what you have in mind. Convince the managers that your house will be beautiful and safe, and they may let you in or be able to give you some guidance on how to meet their criteria.
If you run into more questions, feel free to give us a call to pick our brains – we love to help!
-Pepper Clark Tumbleweed Workshop Presenter Designer
I met a visitor in the Tumbleweed office today named Adam Nelson. We sat together for a while to talk about his idea of the perfect spot to live in his Tumbleweed, a Lusby that will be delivered May 25th. After chatting with him, we decided to send out a message on his behalf to our Tumbleweed folks in his neighborhood to see if we could help him find his dream spot.
Adam works in Clive and would love to walk or bike to work, so his ideal location would be somewhere in the west side of Des Moines within 20 miles of Clive, the closer the better. The space would need to be available at the end of May, and if everything else works out well he sees himself living there for a year or two. He's a quiet guy who doesn't expect to entertain frequently, so he just needs one parking space for himself and access to one extra spot occasionally for a visitor. He's incredibly easy going, and couldn't think of anything in particular that would disqualify a potential locale, but I finally got him to tell me any illegal activity on the property would be a deal breaker.
He has no idea what kind of rent rate people would be looking for but he would be delighted to pay less than $400 per month if possible. He would consider being on call for a little work trade to offset his expenses and his offerings could include dog sitting, watching over the property during the owner's absence, and potentially making his professional skills available for things like occasional contract reviews and legal work, speeches, arguing things, or any tasks involving reading, writing and researching. He is allergic to cats, so if you have a cat in your house, he would not be able to hang out in your home or let your cat hang out in his little house.
On a personal note, I enjoyed Adam's company and found him to be warm-hearted, positive, cheerful, articulate, and just a very personable guy all around. If you or someone you know is in the right neighborhood and could use some extra income and the inspiring daily vision of a Lusby in your yard, get in touch with us atspot"at"tumbleweedhouses"dot"com
Yesterday's open house was a whirlwind. I'll admit that I
spent the morning fairly certain that no one would come- the weather was weird,
Sundays are lazy, and I sometimes lack social confidence.
But you, tiny house people, did not let me down. At exactly 12:58, a throng of
people appeared, trudging through the mud. Children, farmers, urbanites,
college officials- an incredibly kind and interesting crowd filled the house
from start to finish. There was even a line outside!
One lovely lady brought me daffodils; another family brought
me a cake from a favorite bakery. Everyone brought questions, cameras, and
positive reinforcement. I wish I'd taken more pictures, but I was so busy
answering questions that I didn't get a chance! Here's a few photos I snapped:
Some of the first attendees- laughs all around
No problem getting up to the loft
Tumbleweed staff member Adam Gurzenski even sent his parents over!
Relaxing after a long day with friends and a delicious cake
If you attended and took more pictures, please send them!
Per my mom's request, I also started a guestbook. It was a great
way to track where people were coming from- I had guests from Connecticut,
New Hampshire, and all over Massachusetts,
Thanks so much to those who made the journey- it was a blast having you all
If you didn't get a chance to make it, or if you did and want to come back, please continue to check in with the Tumbleweed blog- I'll have another open house soon!