I remember my first introduction to the idea of Tiny Homes. Recently married, with a kid on the way, I’d been learning a lot about alternative dwellings for several years – cob construction, straw bale homes, earthships – and there was a lot to love about the ideas. And when Natural Homes published their article introducing Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed concept of building a tiny little living shed with a sleeping loft atop an 8×16-foot utility trailer, it was like looking into my future.

I immediately started dreaming of ways to incorporate something similar into my life, from a mobile artist’s studio I could tow from home to home, to a full-on mobile home built onto a bus chassis. The romantic in me recognized a kinship with the romanticized ideal of a nomadic existence, living mortgage-free in a home I built myself, creating art in my house-on-wheels, driving from art fest to weekend craft fair, selling my wares for gas money to get me to the next town.

It’s been about 14 years since I first saw that article, and my interest has not gone away. I’m reassured and inspired every time I see another article, youtube video, or news piece about the ‘Tiny House Movement‘ spurred by Shafer’s products and DIY house plans. I continue to tell myself that someday, when the situation is right, I’ll sell off all of my things, build a house on the back of an old school bus, and enjoy the freedom of knowing that wherever I am, I’m home.

I still don’t have a timeline for this project, or even a solid plan or budget, but I do have my goals figured out. The driving theme here is ‘Rustic Luxury‘:

  • Complete the project in a single year (if not less). It’ll be a part-time project at best, but I know I’ll get discouraged if I can’t manage to get the bus to a livable state within a year.
  • Build for less than $40,000. I’ve seen folks build their tiny homes for a lot less, and I think I can, too, but I’m also not building a home for just one person.
  • Must sleep 3 comfortably, preferably with two separate, private sleeping areas. One of these will be for myself and my girlfriend, the other is a bedroom for my daughter for the nights she’ll be staying with me. As she’s getting older, the importance of privacy is going to continue to increase, and I want to make sure she has that even in our tiny house on wheels. A third, convertible sleeping area for guests would also be excellent.
  • Minimal impact on my current lifestyle and employment. Right now, I spend most of my time either working at my computer, sleeping, or watching tv. As long as the house bus includes dedicated areas to do these things, I should be comfortable there.
  • Secondary transportation. Living in Portland, there’s a lot of good options for getting around that won’t require me to drive the bus from place to place too often when I want to go do something. With public transit and Car2Go, I can get just about anywhere I need to pretty cheaply already (especially without a mortgage, rent payment or car payment, these options would be enough). When the house is elsewhere, though, it’d be nice to have along my bike at least, or a Smart Car at the most. So some sort of trailer/garage setup that can be towed behind the bus is something to consider.
  • Full bathroom, with shower and tub. This will be easier than I thought – most house bus plans include a full shower, and we’ve already decided to include an Ofuro-style soaking tub. Thanks to its small footprint, this should be nice and relaxing. A composting toilet is an option my girlfriend is in favor of, and I’m open to it for now (having never used one).
  • Back porch, exterior awning, possibly a rooftop balcony. Part of the goal of having a completely mobile home is to start living a life with more interaction with my surroundings, and for my money there is no better way to relax than sitting on the porch in a rainstorm, with a glass of scotch and my ukulele. An exterior awning or collapsible tent room will create ample outdoor living space.
  • Full entertainment system and internet. Watching tv shows and movies has always been one of my family’s favorite forms of recreation, so a decent TV with access to my movie library is a must. Luckily, in a bus you don’t need a large tv to be able to see the screen, and most car stereos can handle USB input now so I won’t need a huge stereo system. I’ll need to give up my vinyl, which is a bummer, but hardly the end of the world. The dining area should also double as a gaming table, so I want to make sure it’s a big enough space.
  • Solar powered, as much as possible. I haven’t researched the power generation capabilities of modern solar panels, but there will be plenty of roof space on a house bus to accommodate a whole bunch of panels.
  • Heated with a mini-wood-stove. They make these excellent shoebox-sized wood stoves for boats, and it’s important to me to use as much rustic energy as we can.
  • To use reclaimed materials for the facing whenever possible. Interior and exterior siding, flooring, windows, maybe even the countertops and furniture can be sourced from a local ‘rebuilding center’. I don’t know how feasible it will be to use reclaimed lumber for the framing, and I expect the roofing materials will need to be new simply because those don’t tend to survive the reclamation process.
  • Integrate art throughout the home. Light and windows, stained glass, tile countertops and accents, decorative knobs and fabrics for the furniture. Cabinet doors can double as mini galleries, pillows and curtains can bring color and texture in. I want my home to be colorful and full of vibrant design. I’m already exploring ways to house miniature art in a small space, and have begun focusing on small pieces in my own work.
  • Drivable. This one is imperative, I think, possibly the most important part of this idea. I don’t see the point in building a house on a bus if the bus will no longer be able to move from park to park, or state to state, or across the country. I want to be able to take my daughter on a road trip every summer for her annual pilgrimage to Michigan to visit her grandparents, and then drive back to Oregon through Canada, or through the southwest. I’d love to be able to take a couple weeks every year and have a different backyard each day.

That’s a lot of specific goals, I realize, but nothing in my planning or my research to date tells me that they can’t all be accomplished (maybe the timeline and budget, but we’ll see).

I’m not ready to start building yet, but I plan to use this blog space to collect my thoughts and post links to other people’s efforts along the same lines. Who knows, maybe it will become a good resource for other tiny home fans!