Written and photos by Isabelle Nagel-Brice of A Tiny Good Thing
I always imagined I would build my own home one day. The process intrigued me and the idea of creating a space for myself that would meet my own needs and preferences was really exciting. I didn’t think it could be possible without land and a large savings account until I seriously contemplated building a tiny house.
I had moved back home into my parent’s basement and didn’t know what direction in life I was going, or wanted to go. I was seeking inspiration and became more interested in the tiny house movement and the possibility of building my own tiny home. I have a background in natural building and wanted to build a healthy tiny home with natural and non-toxic building materials.
I took the opportunity and fortunate position of living for free in my parent’s house, building in their backyard, and having access to my father’s tools and know-how. I was able to get my parents to come around to the idea and I started building in the fall of 2015.
Initially, I wanted to build with all reclaimed materials so I could stick to a small budget and bring life back to forgotten and discarded building materials. However, as I researched more and explored my options I decided to build what mattered out of high performance building materials and the rest I could have fun with and reclaim.
I chose a new trailer as my foundation that was specifically designed to support tiny houses. I converted my own design to steel framing so I knew it would have structural integrity, and I used high performance green building materials from Europe to create a healthy wall system that allows moisture to escape with fresh air ventilation and no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The process of building my own house without savings to start was financially stressful and I took out a personal loan for about half of the total price. I wanted to pay off my house while living in it rather than saving first while living in my parent’s basement. I’m happy with that decision and now I have been living in my house for 2.5 years and it’s almost paid off.
I lived in my house for a time while I was still building and the total build took about 2.5 years. It took more time than I had anticipated but I was working full-time and so was my dad who had jumped on as my building partner. Keeping up our motivation throughout the duration of the project was definitely a challenge at times. Each project within the build took extensive research, sourcing of materials, and execution. Since we were amateur DIY builders everything took longer, and do-overs were common. My house definitely doesn’t look like a professional builder built it, but I like it that way. My house has character and beauty marks linked to stories of the building process and the history in the materials that were reclaimed. I can’t tell you how satisfied I feel by the whole process and how wonderful it feels writing this right now in my tiny house!
My words of wisdom to people jumping into the movement are specific and geared towards choosing ethical materials with less of an environmental impact. There weren’t kits, or shells when I started building and now there are so many more resources to speed up a DIY build. There’s financing options, tiny house certification, and insurance. I am super happy that I certified my tiny house with NOAH and was able to easily get homeowner’s insurance. Not only does that give me peace of mind regarding the build itself, but it also opens up potential parking spots in the future.
I’m now a tiny house consultant and I put together green building kits so that others can adapt their designs (ADU and van/bus/RV conversions apply) and build with integrity as well. Their home will function well in many climates and be a healthy and clean space to live. My company is called A Tiny Good Thing, and I’m fully enjoying the process and space I’m now creating within the Tiny House Movement. I live tiny but my life has gotten much larger, as I’m sure many other tiny house dwellers have experienced as well.