Anna Minten has built herself a tiny house – 160 square feet small. She’s part of a growing movement of minimal, sustainable living and getting rid of excess.
“This is my paradise.”
That’s what Anna Minten told me as we pull up at the site of her house-in-progress on Airport Way south of Revelstoke.
As we got out of her car and approach the house, I was struck by something – it’s even smaller than I imagined.
Minten’s house is 2.4 metres wide, 6 metres long. and 4.5 metres tall. That’s 160 square feet of floor space, plus a small loft, for the metrically disinclined.
Her house is part of a growing trend of tiny houses – essentially mobile homes that look like houses, but miniaturized.
Minten decided to build herself a tiny house after being sent a video of a woman who had built herself one entirely out of salvaged material. She had always dreamed of owning land, but she could not afford to buy land with something already built on it.
“At the same time, if I were to buy land that was bare, how would I pay off my mortgage and build if I’m paying rent somewhere else?” she wondered.
The video inspired her and she decided to build herself a tiny house as cheaply as possible that she would be able to stick on a plot of land when she does buy.
She started working on her house in the fall of 2009. At first she needed to look up the rules and regulations of building a tiny house.
“I soon found out that when its built on a trailer, there are no building restirctions - it’s considered a load on a trailer,” she said. She purchased a trailer and once she figured out the dimensions, she set to work collecting materials and building it.
Minten, 25, was born and raised in Edmonton but she also spent a lot of time at her family’s cabin near Valemount. Her father was a carpenter and she worked as his assistant growing up. She credited working with her father for giving her confidence to tackle the the project.
Minten moved to Revelstoke five years to live in the mountains. She has worked as a ski instructor, waitress and at the B.C. Interior Forestry Museum. The day after our interview she travelled up to Slave Lake, Alta., to do fuel management for Arc Ridge, a forest service company based out Vernon.
When she started the project, she started scouring for salvaged material – two-by-fours people didn’t need, excess insulation, windows that were replaced during a renovation, the remains of an old RV. One contractor is putting aside extra siding for her to use.
“It might be two-toned but we’ll make it look good,” she said.
The only new material in the house are several two-by-fours she had to buy when the house she was renting was sold and she was forced to move her tiny house sooner than planned.
Building with salvaged material has meant going with the flow. While she came up with several designs for the house, some of it was figured out on the go. The size of the kitchen was determined based on the stove and fridge she found.
As well, she determined the location of one window based on the size of the sink she found. The reason? She wants to be able to look out the window while doing the dishes.
The tiny house movement is a growing one. When Minten started in 2009 she said there was very little information online about them. Since then, a small industry has sprouted up around it. The website tinyhouseblog.com has become a focal point for the movement and the New Yorker magazine wrote an article about it.
Architect and author Sarah Susanka is credited with spearheading the movement with her “Not So Big” message. She preaches that homes are about quality and not quantity. In an article for Architecture Week, she wrote: “In my experience as an architect, a house in which every space is designed for everyday living is far more satisfying than one with unused formal spaces for formal guests who never show up.”
There are companies that design and build tiny houses. Some sell floor plans while others will build you a house and ship it to you.
The movement is about scaling down and living greener and cheaper. It’s based on the concept that people don’t need to live in big houses and we own far more than we need.
For Minten, building a tiny house is a way of living a simpler life. The inside of her house has space for the bare essentials – a small kitchen, table, bathroom and a sleeping area in the loft.
“We don’t need space,” she said. “We all have so much space in our house that we heat and just put stuff in it because we have stuff to put in it.”
She’s been making a number of trips to the Thrift Store, trying to get rid of everything she feels she doesn’t need in preparation for moving into her house full-time in May. The way she sees it, she can always go back there to buy something later.
Inside Anna Minten’s tiny house.
Minten’s house isn’t finished yet. It still needs siding and the interior isn’t ready yet either. It does look like a house, from the steep roof, to the windows and chimney. The main difference – its size and the fact its built on a trailer for easy portability.
When all is said and done, she expects the house will have cost her less than $5,000 to build, not including the labour of her and her boyfriend.
The house has a wood stove inside for heating and will have gutters set up to collect rainwater for her to collect in two large tanks. She has a solar panel for electricity but can also plug it in to the grid if necessary.
Right now it is parked on a friends property on Airport Way south of Revelstoke but eventually she wants to buy her own land in the regional district and move the house there.
“One of the reason for this is it gives me a simpler life and more time for things I love,” she said. “I’ve camped before for months at a time and I know what its like to live in very small quarters with limited amounts, but can you do that on a day-to-day basis?
“Being as how these homes are becoming a fad, its obviously showing that it is doable and we are living in mass excess.”