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Home – The Death of One Tiny House and the Birth of Another

There are plenty of advantages to living in small spaces: fewer possessions, reduced impact on the earth, and lower living expenses are just a few of them. More people are choosing to live more simply, and for some that means using the bare minimum of living space. writes Jane Roarski in a recent post on the tinyhouseblog.com

This is the story of the tiny house we used to live in while we were renovating the cottage and it’s eventual demise, happening now as I write.

caravan in countryside www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It all started with a caravan

Then we realised that this was going to be far too small even as a temporary measure, not to mention the cold. We estimated that we’d be in it for approximately 2 years. The photo above was taken in 2002Β  and we finally moved out in 2011…do the math (s), as they say.

We set about building a straw bale extension onnto the caravan

We set about building a straw bale extension onto the caravan

Nearly there. My dad was still alive at this point, pictured here with his partner and B. Even though he was a bit of a hippy at heart he never graduated from his sensible leather shoes

Nearly there. My dad was still alive at this point, pictured here with his partner and B. Even though he was a bit of a hippy at heart he never graduated from his sensible leather shoes

The finished Balehouse

The finished Balehouse. The join between the caravan and the bale structure was achieved with strips of newspaper and tar paint, a waterproof papiermache.

Tiny house Bale House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Pretty cosy

Tiny House Bale House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tiny House Bale House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Entrance to the attached caravan where we had a kitchen and eating area

Sheeps Wool Insulation

Home renovating can be fun

Some of the sheeps wool insulation we used in the house. Maybe living in a tiny house is good for you.

But eventually the big damp pile of stones was ready and we moved out of the tiny house.

A year later the tiny house is dismantled.

Tiny House Bale house www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comTiny House Bale House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tiny House Bale house www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tiny House Bale House

The floor was made of pallets with ply screwed to it

Tiny House Bale House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Goodbye

While we love our new house, in some ways we miss the tiny house. I think it may be a way forward for housing. It was really warm and took barely any resources to heat, once that log burner got going it only used a few logs a day to keep it ticking over.

But there is good and exciting news. My sister C is bravely embarking on her own tiny house project. It’s a bit bigger than the two room job but is to be so well insulated that she expects incredibly low bills. Here she is modelling her model.

Tiny House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A sun capturing verandha and a green roof

Tiny House www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clad with boards

I can’t wait to set foot in it.

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57 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Brown #

    Reblogged this on Our Eco House and commented:
    This is what you call make do and mend! Mind you with bale construction and a wood burner I bet it was warmer than our place!

    February 14, 2013
    • Thanks Paul. You wouldn’t want to see exactly how it all stayed upright πŸ˜‰ Your eco house sounds grand.

      February 15, 2013
  2. Oh, I wish my friend was still living. I would print this and send it snail mail to her today. She didn’t do electronic communication, but she was an innovator in everything-earth friendly on her ranch in Texas. It was from her early research into bale houses that I learned about them. She had a plan to build her own, but she died before she was able to do it. I really enjoyed your photographs of your own project, and I am eager to read more of your adventures here. πŸ™‚

    February 14, 2013
    • Ah, that’s a shame about your friend, she sounds like she was an interesting sort. And a bit like my husband who is also computerly/mobile phonely challenged! I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures and I hope I can saitisfy your requirements for adventure πŸ˜‰ I’m going to have a good root around your blog too, it looks great.

      February 15, 2013
      • Lemony posted on my FB page yesterday after she saw me at your place. She loves your cows and all of your adventures. She highly recommends your blog. πŸ™‚

        February 15, 2013
    • I highly recommend hers too – such wonderful images. I thought I recognised you!

      February 18, 2013
  3. Totally inspiring stuff, I really love the tiny house and as long as I had somewhere bright and airy to work I’d happily live there. There is much to be said for living simply. One great bonus is lowering your expenses, which can give you more freedom. I’ve kind of done the same, in a way, only I’m living with my mum. We’re being smart and sharing our resources so we can both have a better life and do the things we enjoy. Yours is a wonderful, and I think I already mentioned, inspiring story πŸ™‚

    February 14, 2013
    • What a great idea. Of course it’s lucky that you get on so well with your mum, I’m not sure that many people could live in such close proximity πŸ˜‰ And you’re using your freedom to such beautiful effect !

      February 15, 2013
  4. Nice little story! I love the idea of a straw bale house, because I love straw and the thought of a house being easy dismantled and perhaps moved, or the straw recycled and used to keep strawberries warm instead of people.

    February 14, 2013
    • Frankly, I can’t understand why houses should be built of anything else! Of course the walls are a bit thick but you can get special building ones. Not quite as quick to dismantle as a yurt…but the added bonus of mulch as you say πŸ˜‰

      February 15, 2013
  5. Especially love the straw inside pic. Interesting! x

    February 14, 2013
  6. As a former homebuilder I love this post….great photos. Yes, trailers weren’t designed for cold winters so I’m sure that straw add on was a lot toaster than the trailer (caravan). I would love to see the new home. Thanks for sharing this πŸ™‚

    February 14, 2013
    • It was incredibly warm. No bathroom of course, but we had a compost loo in an outhouse and could always go round to friends and family for a soak! Glad you enjoyed.

      February 16, 2013
  7. So sad to see the end of the Strawbale house. I cant believe its gone!
    I have so many fond memories of drinking tea, chatting and watching the birds from the window. Specially loved the view from the sink- the shady ferny bank with self-sown foxgloves. Plus of course the living roof.
    What’s going to go in its place?

    February 15, 2013
    • I know, end of an era 😦

      Not sure what’ll happen there, another pond maybe? But for now it’ll be meadow. I’m curently scuffing off turf from the overseeded barn roof! Yes, don’t faint, I am engaged in physical work again. But only in short bursts – though it’s slightly addictive.

      February 16, 2013
  8. Love the sepia colours in those photos ;). I also love your tiny house. I bet it was cosy living in such a small space. It would certainly get you thinking about exactly what you needed to keep and what wasn’t necessary. I love the link between the caravan and the tiny house and the construction and deconstruction phase… a fait accompli indeed! I bet it felt good to move into the big damp pile of stones ;). Love the little blue golf cart in the background of one of the photo’s by the way! :). I have seen a beard of bees but never one of wool…apart from in The Life of Brian that is ;). I am very excited for your sister C. You can live vicariously through her building efforts without being knackered at the end of the day ;). How is that green roof going?

    February 15, 2013
    • It does feel like a real achievement to have finally finished the restoration…but it does take an awful lot more resources to keep it going! I think it’s a mystery to many people why the British never really got it together on making warm homes considering the climate!

      The green roof is coming along thank you…soon be time for sowing some seeds, exciting πŸ™‚ Actually after seeing the nigella on your post I might try some of that up there, I love it. There’s some Italian toadflax blown in which seems to like it too. A mix of these and some natives will do the job nicely I think.

      February 16, 2013
      • Many Tasmanian’s live in quaint weatherboard houses that are TOTALLY useless for this climate…I think it might be a “stoicism” that people are attempting to be optimistic about their chances of walking out in the middle of a U.K./Tasmanian winter and finding themselves in Majorca or Queensland ;). Are we going to see a post on the green roof? So many of us are really interested in the process and the insulation possibilities that go with it. I saw one once on Grand Designs but very little about them since. Nigella is incredibly light and one of the most hardy plants I know. I reacon it would grow on Mars! ;). Italian toadflax? (Fran hurries to open a window with images…) how pretty! We have a “weed” (at least I THINK it is a weed, I can’t find what it is at the moment, might be a native πŸ˜‰ ) that looks a lot like mint here with purple flowers that is a low growing spreading groundcover…that would work also. I love your U.K. wildflowers. They are what we antipodeans buy in droves to seed our gardens with to get a bit of “The Old Country” in our lives. U.K. cottage gardens are huge over here but at the first sign of a hot day they tend to shrivel up. I am currently researching hardy xeriscape plants from all over the world that will do the same job here so that I can HAVE my perennial and annual borders but I might have to go a bit side left to ensure that they are tough as boots to get what I want…where there is a horticultural will…there is, most certainly, a horticultural way! ;).

        February 16, 2013
      • We’ve got loads of Self Heal growing wild, it is a native here. A weed is only a plant in the wrong place πŸ˜‰ But it could turn out to be a bit troublesome where you are – like the forgetmenot – an out of control starlet, out on the town all night and playing havoc! I’ll definitely give it a go on the roof, thanks.

        February 18, 2013
    • Yes it does seem sensible to use plants that can cope with the climate πŸ˜‰ Perennial meadows using a mix of native and non native are the buzz at the moment…don’t know if you saw the olympic stuff it was gorgeous. I’ve always used this kind of loose natural planting in my designs and borders but I’d like to do a bit more research – some of the north american prairie plants are a bit tall for the damp rich soil around here. I wonder if the plant you’ve got is Aubretia?

      I will do a green roof post… a changing over time one…so I’ll wait til I’ve got flowers! But feel free to email me for info if you want. Ours are pretty simple as we are using them on temporary or agricultural buildings so I’m not sure of the insulation value. My sister knows a lot about it as she is having one on her tiny house!

      February 17, 2013
      • I just checked Aubretia and that’s not it. I just went hunting and finally found what I was looking for! I thought it was a weed or a native groundcover but apparently it’s called “Self Heal” (Prunella vulgaris) and is a worthwhile plant to have in the garden. Here, it runs rampant but has lovely flowers. It reminds me of Ajuga reptans in its ability to spread but ironically, the article I just read about it said that the author first saw this plant as the major componant of a green roof! HA! Here I have been thinking it was a weed ;). You learn something every day don’t you? My invasive is now my happiness because it is apparently very useful medicinally and you can make a tea out of it, it also has a pretty flower. Time to transplant some of my “weeds” out into the garden! :). I know that I won’t be the only one who will be interested in a green roof post by the way. There is a huge groundswell towards bringing nature back to our gardens and wildflower meadows and grasses are just the start. I, personally, have a passion for using vertical spaces in small gardens and I prefer to use plants that have several uses. My weed just got pulled out of the “stick in the weed tea” basket and suddenly made it into my next “movie”! Hows that for a rise to stardom? πŸ˜‰

        February 17, 2013
  9. Fabulous post, Sarah! Such wonderful photos! Best wishes to your sister! πŸ™‚

    February 15, 2013
    • Thanks Lemony, glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’re having a n(ice) February πŸ˜‰

      February 16, 2013
  10. Katherine Kearns #

    The Balehouse…gone? I can’t believe it! I must send you a photo I have of it blending beautifully into the countryside. It was both a truly practical and inspiring building. I love the picture of B’s sheepswool beard too. It reminds me of challenge my mum and her Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers had last year. They all had to make beards from wool by felting, knitting or other textile crafting methods. All of this particular Guild are women so there was more than a touch of the Life of Brian about it. My mum’s beard was based on an Edward Lear poem and was full of little birds. It’s extraordinary what people get up to (particularly you’re own relatives!)

    February 15, 2013
    • Laughing. A beard with birds, what more could a woman want? πŸ˜‰ I’d love to see that photo you’ve got – it IS a bit sad to see it go…but just think of the garden possibilities…

      February 16, 2013
      • Katherine Kearns #

        Mmmmmm meadows. I spent a contemplative afternoon at work this week measuring out ornamental meadow seed for various sites.

        February 21, 2013
      • OOphs your hand slipped and you found yourself addressing a packet to S…W… ;).

        February 21, 2013
      • Katherine Kearns #

        Point taken! xx

        February 21, 2013
  11. This is amazing! I am getting more inclined to living simpler as each year goes by, and this looks teeny, but perfect!

    February 15, 2013
    • Thanks Rachel, it certainly did the job – and cheaply! How’s your move?

      February 16, 2013
      • Postponed for the moment, as my job will entail living away this summer, but weekends will be spent at my partner’s dads’ house. Role on autumn when we can seriously look at getting a lovely little cottage! (or a caravan with homemade extension….;) )

        February 16, 2013
  12. Charlotte #

    Ah – will miss the balehouse, it was so cosy and such a light footprint on the earth….

    February 16, 2013
    • A bit different from 600 tons of stone! I miss it too. But soon I’ll have yours to glide around πŸ˜‰

      February 17, 2013
  13. Just catching up on reading now and LOVE this! (and I think I see a picture of you!) I think I would have left the bale house up as a guest house — then visitors could stay for more than 3 days. (although our house is so tiny, even that’s a stretch)
    I love fantasizing about building my own place on a little plot more in the wild – imagine a house of bottles to bring in crazy light – but this is so do-able looking with pallets and all. I’ll share this with my fellow so we can start percolating our own adventure.
    Thanks for another glimpse of your inspiring life.
    Tricia

    February 16, 2013
    • Oh, spotted! Though a bit blurry and about ten years ago πŸ˜‰

      The brilliant thing about the US is that you have so much SPACE and it’s much more likely that you’d get permission to build something sustainable/light footprint on your own little piece of wildness? How exciting to have a plan like that I hope you get there. I’ve seen those bottle walls they are great. And no reason why you couldn’t incorporate it into a straw bale build. They are very do-able – and super cheap!

      Our local parish council let us put up the balehouse as a temporary measure, but may have had something to say if we then went on to use it as accommodation. Plus, as soon as you stop using a building like this full time it gets very damp – at least in our climate! If we’d been building for a little more permanence we probably would have had it higher off the ground and the floor better insulated – we were definitely going for the cheap and cheerful.

      February 17, 2013
  14. Gue' #

    WOW…. the Cornwall version of a soddy.

    That was cool. I was thinking right around the first couple of pictures that it was going to be warm, with all that baled insulation. You confirmed my suspicions.

    Good luck to your sister with her small house. The model looks great.

    February 16, 2013
    • Thanks Gue’

      I’ve never heard of a soddy is that a house made of sods?

      Honestly it was so toasty in there in winter and cool in summer. The floor could have done with being better insulated but it was pretty good considering how much we spent.

      I’ll have to report back on my sisters build, it seems to run in the family…my other sister and her husband built an eco friendly home too! But they have 3 children (grown now) so it was a bit bigger.

      February 17, 2013
  15. Gue' #

    Yes, a soddy is a house made from cut sod stacked to make walls and used for roofing. Very common in the prairie areas of the midwest U.S. in the 1800’s and maybe on up into the early 1900’s.

    There were no trees out there to use for building cabins. Settlers would bring in enough wood by wagon from other areas for windowframes, doorframes and poles to support the sod roof, lining the ceiling with canvas. Interior walls would usually be lined with whatever they could get their hands on. Floors were often dirt until such time the resident could obtain enough wood to put down flooring.

    Sometimes the name ‘soddy’ would be stretched to include abodes dug partly (or wholly) into a hillside.

    They were reputedly cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Not often leak-proof in rainy weather, though.

    After the railroads were built, it was easier to bring in building supplies.

    I’ve read of people who built a regular house, when able, which still included the soddy portion. It would be used like a root cellar or for storage.

    February 17, 2013
    • Very interesting, thanks for that. Just got my copy of prairie erth (recommended by Linda) I’m looking forward to it.

      February 18, 2013
  16. Me and Pete have planned our tiny house so many times… it just seems planning rules are so strict! Where is your sister building hers?

    February 17, 2013
    • Ah Maddie I’m sure you’ll get there in the end…where there’s a will there’s a way! Hers is near Tintagel but the site already had planning. She’s still not quite home dry yet, has still got to get the go ahead but I’m very hopeful.

      February 18, 2013
  17. What a fantastic little construction, was it sad to demolish it?

    February 20, 2013
    • A little sad. But it was deteriorating without being lived in regularly so looking forward to the meadow instead. The scrap dealers are picking the caravan up today.

      February 20, 2013
  18. wow, I LOVE this! I had no idea you could build a house out of straw (my four year old would tell you that the first little pig didn’t do very well when he built his out of straw, mind…), it’s fantastic

    February 20, 2013
    • Like huge bricks, but light! They are staked together using hazel or what’s ever available at the time – in our case a few pieces of sycamore came in handy. Glad you enjoyed πŸ˜‰

      February 22, 2013
  19. Your balehouse – a totally biodegradable residence – was a stroke of genius. And it looks really cosy. I’ve heard of an outside loo but not an outside bathtub. Was that for summer use only?

    February 23, 2013
    • Haha, actually that has plants in it!

      Baths were taken at friends’ houses in the winter, in summer there was the hosepipe! We had a compost toilet, a kind of throne with a dustbin and woodshavings.

      February 23, 2013
  20. Harriet #

    Only just caught up – fond memories also. And v exciting to see the emerging tiny house in model form – is that cedar shingles?

    February 24, 2013
    • The caravan got taken away the other day which was quite a dramatic moment…hanging in the air with ropes around it! I think they are cedar, though it will all be down to the costing.

      February 24, 2013
  21. So incredibly fascinating…. I’ve read much about bale houses and how secure they are. You have a fantastic blog β€” so glad you found me (even though you can’t quite see me yet). πŸ™‚

    February 26, 2013
    • Secure and cosy, what more could you want from a home!

      Still can’t get on to your posts, (they look great πŸ™‚ ) they are appearing in my reader but when I click on them it says same message – grr, not sure if there’s anything I can do – or maybe I could contact the company and ask what the problem is.

      February 27, 2013
      • That is the strangest… I’ve never heard anything like this issue, from anyone else! I’m so sorry I can’t help. Definitely tho, WP support is VERY easy and quick β€” and always helpful!

        February 27, 2013
  22. Wow! Love this, so much change since I left in 2011. Can’t wait to see it… if I get the chance before, err, leaving again… ?! πŸ˜‰ I really like the new look of the blog too, nice colours, wonderfully woolly header! x

    March 17, 2013
  23. You actually made a number of high quality things there. I just regarded world wide web for that problem and found lots of people go along with with the site.

    April 25, 2014

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