Tiny House FAQ
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If you are here, it’s probably because you have questions about my life at my tiny house in Orlando, Florida. On this page you’ll find answers to the most frequently asked questions. If you have a question that is not answered here, please ask in the comments below and I will answer the questions that are most asked.
Make sure you watch my videos because they cover most of the basics.
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What’s the deal with codes and permits? Is my tiny house “legal”?
There seem to be very few places across the United States where tiny houses are completely legal. In many places you can make a tiny house legal by putting it on wheels, so that it qualifies as a camper, but still in many places you aren’t allowed to use a camper on property in the city. In many places there are minimal building sizes, requiring people to build much larger than a tiny house. In many places the long list of expensive codes defeats the cost-effectiveness of a tiny house. There are a whole lot of ways that the government discourages tiny houses.
I am somewhat knowledgeable on the legality of tiny houses, but I am not an expert in the slightest. Many localities are quite different from others, so even if someone is generally knowledgeable on tiny house building and living codes, it’s still difficult to keep on top of the many different rules in different places.
My tiny house is not technically within city code here in Orlando. I will explain to you what I’ve done. Keep in mind this is just my scenario, and this works well for me.
Backyard sheds are EXTREMELY common here in Orlando. There are thousands and thousands of them. So, what I did was design my tiny house within city shed codes. This includes things like setback from property line, size, and structural codes. So the structure that is my tiny house is indeed within code. But technically a person is not allowed to sleep in a shed, so me sleeping in it is not in adherence to code.
Because I live extremely simply, this works for me. I did not put plumbing or electricity in the house. This makes it far less expensive and far easier to fall within code. I designed my house to be a shed so that it would blend in to the neighborhood. There are sheds in every other yard, so it doesn’t stand out at all. So, for all those YouTube comments calling my tiny house a shed… I say thank you! That’s what I was going for. When I leave Orlando, and no longer live in the tiny house, it will fall completely within code as a shed.
One reason that a lot of these codes are created is because neighborhoods are designed to be home to a certain number of people. Parking space is one factor when designing a neighborhood. I don’t have or drive a car, so I don’t have any impact in this manner. The sewage systems are designed to handle water based on a certain number of people. I don’t put any water down the sewer. I have a compost toilet, use primarily rainwater, and all of my water is used as greywater to water the plants on site. Again, I have no impact on the infrastructure there. I use a very negligible amount of electricity when it comes to grid planning. I am deeply thoughtful when it comes to how my impacts affect my surroundings. I aim to not only have no drain on my community, but rather have an extremely positive impact. I have planted 43 Community Fruit Trees in my neighborhood (110 in the nearby area), built five gardens for single parent families, and teach free gardening classes. I believe myself to be a positive asset to the community.
Some people think that my tiny house could decrease property values. I think it’s clear that it won’t decrease any property values. By planting fruit trees and working to beautify the community, I would expect my presence to be more likely to increase property value than decrease value.
My life goes beyond city and government codes. Not because I’m selfish and don’t care though. Because I believe that many codes are extremely limiting in that it makes a rigid structure for society when we are an extremely diverse race with different goals and aspirations. Ideal codes to me would be able to look at individual scenario, rather than make blanket statements that often result in the defiance of common sense. The homeless epidemic in the United States is in part a flaw of our code systems. We have the highest population of people who live on the streets in a Western nation. I respect many government codes, but I will never blindly follow them, even if that results in me being taken to jail or being given fines sometimes (to date this has not happened).
I’m following my ethics and morals, harming no one, and living in the service of many. I look to Earth Codes and Codes of Humanity before I look to codes most likely created by a group of privileged white men. I think it is a human right to build a little nest and I will stand by this strongly through my actions.
Whose land am I living on, and how did I find it?
All throughout the United States there are thousands of backyards sitting unused. All throughout the United States there are people who would like to utilize their space better. So that’s the gap that I stepped into.
When I moved to Orlando, I wrote a blog titled Looking for a Backyard for Our Tiny House in Orlando. I spread it through the internet and talked to people in the community. My goal was to find someone interested in living a more sustainable life that I could be of service to. The idea was that I could improve the person’s land and teach them about sustainable and simple living in exchange for being able to build my tiny home on their land.
I had at least a dozen people offer me a space, but most of them were not in the neighborhood that I wanted to live in. It took a few months to find the perfect match, someone with a secluded backyard, right in the neighborhood I wanted to live in, and that could really benefit from my presence. I ended up meeting a local woman at an herbal conference who turned out to be a great match.
Did I buy the land?
No, see above. I don’t ever intend to “own” land. Land “ownership” is delusional to me. We can’t own the land. We are impermanent and will be here for a short period of time. Nobody or nothing can own the land. That’s looking at the much bigger picture. From a much smaller picture, here’s an example. If you fall ill and have no way of paying property taxes for a few years, that land is no longer yours. That’s definitely not true ownership. A vast majority of people who “own” land have a mortgage that they will never pay off, meaning they have a partial ownership at best.
Do I pay rent?
Yes, but it is not paid in monetary form. Instead of exchanging money we are exchanging resources and skills. I have turned her whole front yard into a garden. It was once a lawn and is now a bountiful garden that produces food and provides habitat for important creatures such as bees and butterflies. Since she is older, I am also able to be of service by doing heavy lifting tasks and some maintenance around the house and yard. After I leave, the tiny house will be hers as well. All improvements I make to her space will be hers for the years to come. I hope she will use the tiny house to host people from out of town that will continue to help her with the gardens and add value to her life. It’s been a lifetime goal of hers to homestead, and that’s the dream that I’m helping her achieve.
Alice Walker is known for saying, “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” This is more along the lines of my thinking.
How did I decide on the design of the house?
See the pre-build section of How I built my tiny house for under $1,500 with 100% repurposed materials and near zero waste.
What about the toilet and kitchen?
My first video showed the incomplete tiny house and did not show the toilet and kitchen.
I have an outdoor kitchen and compost toilet. See the tour of my tiny house.
Does the house have plumbing or electricity?
My first video showed the incomplete tiny house and did not show this completely.
I have a compost toilet, which means no plumbing is needed for a toilet. I use almost exclusively rainwater, but I do use a hose on the property for some water. All greywater is used to water the plants, so no sewage is needed. My outdoor kitchen is set up with rainwater harvesting, and I use almost exclusively rainwater in it. See the tour of my tiny house.
For electricity, I have an extension cord running to my house. On that extension cord, I have three outlets. The idea of having just three outlets is that it drastically limits the amount of electricity that I can use. An average house has dozens of plugs, with likely over 100 electronic items. I have just a handful of electronic items. My original plan was to be off the grid and power myself at home 100% with solar. But after I did the math, I realized it didn’t make too much sense. I am only going to use about $250 worth of electricity in the two years that I’m here. The solar system to create that amount of electricity would have cost thousands of dollars. And I believe the environmental impact would have been greater to get new solar panels and batteries made than to use the existing infrastructure. So, this time around I am on the grid. It’s not my ideal situation, but I’m fine with it. See the tour of my tiny house.
Isn’t this just a shed?
I do cover this under “What’s the deal with codes and permits? Is my tiny house “legal”?” however there is more that I want to say with this.
Some people call my tiny house a shed in a negative manner. They are looking down on it and almost saying “how dare you call this thing a house, it’s a measly shed.”
It’s not hurtful to me to hear this, but if you zoom out and look at things from a much greater perspective, it’s highly offensive. Billions of people around the world live in much simpler structures and that is their home. The whole world is not fortunate to live in what Americans call homes and think they need for a happy, healthy existence. What I call my home is actually more in alignment with the global standard of a home than the American 3,000 sq. ft. standard of a “normal” size house.
Home is where you make it, and millions of people would dream of having this tiny house as their home.
What am I doing for insulation?
My main issue in Florida is the extreme heat. Our summers are very hot, and most people living here consider them brutally hot. A lot of people leave for the summer and a vast majority that stay use heavy air conditioning. On the other hand, our “winter” is short and in most years, it does not go below freezing. Last winter there were five nights just below freezing though. The annual high temperature is around 80 °F and the annual low temperature is around 65 °F. So, my main priority is keeping the place cool enough in summer. For this I did a few things. First and foremost, I built the house under the shade of a tree. That keeps the house substantially cooler. Second, I put large windows and doors on all four sides of the house. I almost always have them open which creates a nice cross breeze. There’s almost always a cross breeze coming through the house. Third, I used radiant barrier on all of the walls and the roof. This reflects the sun and keeps the house cooler. By doing this, the house has almost never been hotter inside than outside. I’ve seen how drastically sheds can heat up, so I was worried about this when making my plan. But I am happy to say that the scorching hot summer was not that bad for me. I enjoy extreme heat and I swim almost daily as well as stay in good physical shape to keep myself naturally cool. Because I spend most of my time outside and don’t use air conditioning, my body is more adapted to the heat. It’s the extreme temperature differences that make summer heat seem hotter. Walking out of air conditioning into mid-day sun is rough. Waking up to the outdoor temperature and being outside as the temperature rises is much easier on the body. Also being outside day after day adjusts the body to the climate.
I do not have the house insulated for winter. Our winters are short, and I can make it through it. Winter 2018-2019 we did not get any nights below freezing but had about 20-30 nights below 50. I did find this to be pretty cold without insulation. If I was staying here for many years I would definitely do some basic insulation and probably install a tiny wood stove. But for the time that I’m here I will likely go without insulation. It’s really just a matter of time. I don’t have the time to do everything that I’d like to with all the projects I’m working on.
Here is Orlando’s climate information, just in case you are interested.
How do I keep away insects, rodents, or other animals from my outdoor kitchen and bathroom?
So far this has not been an issue. I am ok with some level of insects. They are natural. An infestation is a different story, but I haven’t had anything remotely close to that. If rats or mice become a problem, I will set up traps and then bury the bodies to turn into soil. I keep mesh bags over all fruits and veggies to keep away fruit flies from the house. All of my dry food is stored in jars.
Squirrels have been eating my compost and that’s not an issue. So far, no problems. On the other hand, the squirrels have been a challenge in my garden, eating a lot of my seeds before they come up.
Why did I choose Florida?
I have written a blog on that here: Why did I choose to live in Orlando, Florida?
Where did I find the materials to build the house?
I have included a section on how I found used materials and how others who are looking to build with repurposed materials can as well.
How long will I live in this tiny house?
I will be here until at least November 11th 2019 when I finish Food Freedom. My plan is to live in Orlando about two years, and I arrived here December 2017. I intended to build the tiny house right away so that I’d live in it for almost the entire two years, but it took me a lot longer to start it than planned. So it will likely be 1.5 years of living in the tiny house.
Why didn’t I build the tiny house on a trailer?
The entire cost of my tiny house was about $1,500. A trailer costs about $2,000-$3,000 if I got a good deal on a used one. So, this would have doubled or tripled the cost. Also, my intention is to never move the tiny house, so the trailer would be a wasted resource just sitting there. Also, almost every backyard that was offered to me had a solid brick fence or not enough space to move a tiny house on wheels in. The only option was to build the tiny house inside the backyard because it would be too big to get out.
For me, the main benefit of building on a trailer is that it’s no longer considered a house with codes, but rather a trailer, so that makes life easier. That would be nice, but not as important as the other factors.
What did I do with my previous tiny house in San Diego?
I auctioned it for $10,000 to build tiny houses for people in San Diego without homes. See this blog for more information on this.
Did I choose Florida because it’s warm there? What about doing this in a cold climate?
Yes, I am my happiest in warm places. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and spent most of my first 23 winters there. In a typical January, it stays below ten degrees Fahrenheit for the entire month. The coldest temperature I ever experienced was negative sixty with wind-chill, and I went fishing that day. It’s safe to say that I know the cold very well. At this point in my life I want to live in a year around warm place. I lived in San Diego, California from 2011-2016. Now I live in Florida.
Living in a warm place does make it easier to live this lifestyle. When it’s warm outside, there’s less of a need or desire to spend as much time in the house. The doors and windows can be open. Less clothes are needed, especially bulky winter clothes. This all can make a small space seem bigger and more open. This is the lifestyle that I choose to live.
However, each region has its challenges and there are millions of people living similar low impact lifestyles in every climate around the world. My suggestion to anyone in a different area than me is to take what you can from my example and adapt it to the situation you are in. I consider resourcefulness and adaptability to be some of the greatest characteristics for success in life. It’s very easy to pick out little things that I’m doing, say that you can’t do that, so you can’t do any of it. But again, the idea is to take what you can to be better to the earth and to live for the benefit of the earth, your community, and yourself.
Of course, my system doesn’t work everywhere. It’s a diverse world and we’ve each got to adapt to where we live. I am just one example of what can be done to live more simply, be less dependent on money, and to decrease our impact on the environment. Many people quickly jump to saying this can’t be done in a cold climate. Most of what I am doing can be done just about anywhere- rainwater harvesting, compost toilets, growing food during growing season, reducing our trash, using resources wisely, etc.. It’s all about doing what we can, where we are. My life is just an example of what can be done in my current situation. You’ve got to be resourceful and adaptable to live like this! I have my home setup for the climate that I live in, and you’ll want to do the same.
Often people say this can only be done in the climate that I live in. Ironically the people here have a hard time believing that I live without air conditioning. Billions of people around the world live in a climate similar to Florida. Much of the world can, and does, live similar to me. I didn’t invent anything here.
People all over the world live sustainably in cold climates. An extreme example like me is Mark Boyle, who has lived without money in the UK. I hear people say it’s not possible there, but he’s a shining example of what can be done. I strongly encourage reading both The Moneyless Man and The Moneyless Manifesto if you are inspired and want to learn how to do something similar to what I’m doing has done this for years in the UK.
Why do I have a rain chain instead of a downspout for my rainwater harvesting?
I just like rain chains. No other reason.
Where do I do my laundry?
Originally when I built this setup, my plan was to do laundry off the grid using rainwater. I have not made that jump. My neighbor offered her washing machine and the convenience has overtaken my desire to do my laundry without electricity. This is one modern convenience that I still very much use. At my last tiny house I did my laundry off the grid, or brought it to the laundromat down the street. I am very much an advocate for sharing our resources. Laundromats are a great way to share resources, rather than everyone having their own.
What plant is my toilet paper plant?
The plant I grow is Plectranthus barbatus. One common name is blue spur flower, but there are many.
I have included that in my blog: 10 Ways to Wipe Your Butt for Free.
To learn about the building process and more details on materials, cost, etc. watch this video and read How I built my tiny house for under $1,500 with 100% repurposed materials and near zero waste.
In this I cover my tips on building a simple tiny house, my experience with using repurposed materials and building the house, a list of the materials I used, how to find repurposed materials to build with, tools, the cost of the house, how I built this house near zero waste, my tips for minimizing trash when building a tiny house and more.
Cover photo by Sierra Ford Photography