As I record this today, I just got back from a week-long bicycle tour with my cousin on the coast of Maine and in a couple of days, I'm heading down to the New Jersey shore to spend a week with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of bringing you a show where I interview someone, I thought it would be interesting to share a show that I was a guest on where somebody interviews me. Enter Liz Sumner and the I Always Wanted To Podcast. The I Always Wanted To Podcast is a podcast for people who long to break out of their comfort zone and try something bold but need some encouragement. Liz interviews people who are doing things (or teaching things) that others long to do. I was a guest on the show back in June and I really enjoyed being interviewed by Liz Sumner. I think you'll enjoy it, too!
In This Episode:
- Ethan's tiny house journey
- What are the benefits of living tiny?
- Parking is still difficult… but it's getting better!
- Tips for moving a tiny house
- Are tiny houses really cheaper than traditional houses?
Links and Resources:
The tiny house all framed
Ask yourself why you want to live tiny
Ethan likes to cook so he made sure he had a kitchen that was perfect for a home chef
Who needs an alarm clock with all this natural light?
Ethan Waldman 0:00
It kind of forced me to take a restock of my life. The house that I was renting seemed so big and so overkill. And I just realized, like, "Oh, I could, I could drastically reduce what I need for my housing and that would really lower my budget to the point where, you know, I could leave this corporate job and not have to have a business or a side hustle that actually pays for my life as it exists now."
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 175 of the show featuring my conversation on Liz Sumner's podcast, I Always Wanted To. As I record this today, I just got back from a week long bicycle tour with my cousin on the coast of Maine and in a couple of days, I'm heading down to the New Jersey Shore to spend a week with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of bringing you a show where I interview someone I thought it would be interesting to share a show that I was a guest on where somebody interviews me. Enter Liz Sumner and the I Always Wanted To Podcast. The I Always Wanted To Podcast is a podcast for people who long to break out of their comfort zone and try something bold, but need some encouragement. Liz interviews people who are doing things or teaching things that others long to do. I was a guest on the show back in June and I really enjoyed being interviewed by Liz Sumner. I think you'll enjoy it too, so stick around for I Always Wanted To Build a Tiny House with me, Ethan Waldman, on the I Always Wanted To Podcast.
Liz Sumner 1:51
I'm Liz Sumner. And this is I Always Wanted To the podcast where I interview people who are doing things that others long to do. What have you always wanted to try?
Hi, everyone. Before we get started, I want to give a quick welcome to new listeners and followers. I'm really glad you're here and I want to get to know you better. If you have any questions or comments about the show, please email me at email@example.com or message me on Facebook or Instagram. If you have time for a five question survey, I really appreciate your answers. You'll find it at lizsumner.com/survey. Just let me know when you filled it out. And I'll send you a coupon code for a free copy of my online course, 8 Steps to Launch Your Dream Life. If you like what you hear, please share it with your friends and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser. If you're really a fan, you can support the show at patreon.com/alwayswanted. Thank you so much for listening. Here's the interview.
My guest today is Ethan Waldman. Ethan is a tiny house author, speaker and teacher. He built his own tiny house on wheels in 2012 and has been passionately helping future tiny house dwellers ever since. Welcome, Ethan.
Ethan Waldman 3:20
Thanks, Liz. It's great to be here.
Liz Sumner 3:22
So how did you first become interested in tiny houses?
Ethan Waldman 3:27
How far back do you want me to go? I guess a good place to start is I was out of college for a few years, working a couple of different kind of corporate jobs, getting my feet wet, kind of experiencing that that 9-5 cubicle lifestyle. And I was not digging it. So I had moved to Vermont, and gotten a job with a smaller company kind of hoping like, hey, maybe, maybe the big corporate culture isn't for me, but maybe you know, if I move to a place that I love, it'll work out. But I still just found it actually got worse because I had moved to Vermont surrounded by wonderful mountains and skiing and mountain biking and all these these activities that I love to do, finding that you know, I was, I was locked down to a desk for for much too much time. And so I decided to take a sabbatical. The company was really flexible. So I took a month.
I took all my vacation time and then some unpaid time. And I did a bicycle tour on the west coast of the United States with my cousin, you know where you have the four paneers on your bike, you're carrying all your gear. It's like the tiniest of tiny houses because you're carrying all your stuff with you. It's almost nomadic. And throughout that trip, we actually used a website called couchsurfing and stayed in several tiny houses. But when I got home from the trip, it kind of forced me to take a restock of my life. the house that I was renting seemed so big and so overkill. And I just realized, like, "Oh, I could, I could drastically reduce what I need for my housing. And that would really lower my budget to the point where, you know, I could leave this corporate job, and not have to have a business or a side hustle that actually pays for my life as it exists now." And so it's kind of a very like, squiggly path to get there, like, Hey, I could just stop now and find a really cheap place to live. Or I could build a, what ended up being close to a $40,000 tiny house and spend 13 months building it. But, you know, that's the that's the path that I ended up on.
Liz Sumner 5:47
So is tiny housing a new phenomenon, or has it been going on for a while, and and where in the world did it originate?
Ethan Waldman 5:57
Well, I mean, I think tiny houses are the original kind of houses. I would say that the large houses that we see in you know, Western cultures now are the exception, not the rule. For for most of humanity, we've lived in fairly small spaces, you know, one, two rooms for a whole family. And there have continued to be, you know, tiny houses and, and cultures who live in small houses throughout even American history. The modern tiny house movement, kind of, as we think of it today, started in the early aughts, early 2000s, kind of credited to this guy, Jay Shafer, who started a company called Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. But he basically, you know, the town that he was living in, wouldn't let him build something as small as he wanted to. So he had the brilliant idea to just put it on a trailer instead. And then that would basically take it out of the jurisdiction of the building department, the zoning people, and just, you know, it would just be this thing on a trailer, it happened to be a small house. And so that kind of sparked the modern tiny house movement, it all kind of flows from there.
Liz Sumner 7:16
So who thrives in a tiny house? Are there characteristics of people for whom it's a perfect choice?
Ethan Waldman 7:25
I mean, I see people across socio economic, race, cultural backgrounds, kind of going tiny and thriving. It's, I think, it's, it's a kind of thing that you just have to really want. Because, of course, there are trade offs, there's no, you know, I will never try to tell you that living in a 200 square foot house is gonna have everything, it's going to offer everything that a 2000 square foot house can. But there are trade offs, but it also offers you like it offered me the opportunity to drastically reduce what what you spend on housing, and also the time that you spend maintaining your house. And so I didn't coin this term. But you know, I now have been running a podcast for three years called Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast. And and that's what I see is the real benefit of tiny house living is kind of the the tiny house lifestyle that it affords you
Liz Sumner 8:29
Tell me more about Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast and the lifestyle.
Ethan Waldman 8:33
Sure, I'll start with the second half first. I mean, it's different for different people. But again, for for many people, a tiny house lifestyle might mean that instead of both people having to work, you know, only one one partner has to work. Or if you're a single person living in a tiny house, maybe instead of having to work full time plus, maybe you don't have to work full time plus, so it's it's a lifestyle of more time.
And it's also I don't want to just focus on the like financial benefits, because there are also benefits to the community. What I've heard from guests on my show, and I experienced as well, it's just that because the house is so small, you end up actually relying and needing to rely on the people around you, your community. And I've just had wonderful conversations with people who have said, "I never would have met my neighbors or I never would have formed this or that relationship if it wasn't for the fact that I had to do my laundry in somebody you know, somebody let me do my laundry in their house."
Another famous tiny house person is Dee Williams. She built an early tiny house based on Jay's designs. And I believe for the first several years she had free parking in the backyard of a a friend's house an elderly friend, who, who became ill and Dee was able to take care of her and formed just a wonderful close relationship over those years. All because she was living in her tiny house and needed a place to park it. And so that connected her with with people.
Liz Sumner 10:20
So are there families that live in tiny houses? Or is it mostly for single or couples?
Ethan Waldman 10:27
Absolutely, there are tons of tiny house families living in, you know... So tiny house can kind of encompass a few different things. It can be what most people think of now, which is like that little house that's built right on a trailer. But it can also be a house that's attached to the ground, you know, with a permanent foundation. And tiny house is kind of an umbrella that can still encompass, you know, a converted school bus. So a school, or skoolie, is as they're known, and also vans, so van life.
I know, there are a lot of families who who have done converted school buses and are traveling full time. And then there are plenty of families in in tiny houses on wheels. Obviously, the tiny house is going to need to be a little bit bigger, in order to afford sleeping space for for children. Another fun example that I like to call out are Andrew and Gabrielle Morrison, they went tiny, fairly early on, I think in the like 2011 - 2012 time timeline. And they had two teenage kids. And so rather than saying, "Hey, we're going to build a tiny house that's big enough for all four of us to sleep in," knowing that teenagers, you know, need their own space need privacy, they actually, each teenager helped to build their own other small, kind of like a bedroom, out on the property. That was their room and their space. And then the tiny house had the kitchen and the living space where the family, you know, could gather.
And then just an earlier question you just had asked about, about the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast. It's a weekly show and I feature conversations with people who are living in tiny houses, professional builders, DIY builders, also people just who are doing interesting things in the tiny house world. So I've, I've had many conversations with with philanthropists, people who are using tiny houses to help give housing to homeless and lower income people, and it's a weekly show every Friday. I's been going for three years and there's a there's about 159 episodes currently on the feed that are just a wonderful kind of documentation of the movement. And, you know, as a recent guest said, "If somebody has a question about tiny house living or building like, it's probably answered in your podcast somewhere."
Liz Sumner 13:00
Oh, good. Well, we will make sure to put links to that in the show notes.
So I know from your website that you have questions that you ask. Tell me, that's to help people determine whether they'd be suited? Is that is that the purpose?
Ethan Waldman 13:17
It's just a quick series of questions, just to help determine kind of what style of tiny house is right for somebody. Obviously, a 5-question quiz isn't necessarily gonna be the crystal ball, but it kind of asks you how mobile you want to be and how much space you think you might need. And also just some questions about like toilets and plumbing and heating. And then it will say, you know, it will suggest, you know, a traditional tiny house, a school bus, or a van might be right for you. And then people who fill out that quiz have the option to sign up to receive a free 5-day course that I offer via email. So just a series of five emails that just goes into a little bit more depth about about planning a tiny house.
Liz Sumner 14:04
So is there a style that more people fall into to one category than than others when it comes to tiny house living?
Ethan Waldman 14:13
Yeah, I think the majority of people who are doing it are doing the house on a trailer. The reasons there is that so when we think about buying a house, a normal house, I'm gonna say a quote unquote, "normal house". You buy both the house and the land that the house is attached to. And so that is part of why housing has become so expensive in certain cities and places. It's not so much that the houses themselves are worth more money, but it's the land that's worth more money. I'm here in Burlington, Vermont, very similar situation like in Boulder, Colorado, the city has gotten as big as it can get. And everybody wants to live there. They can't expand out and so the prices get more and more expensive.
And so when you do a tiny house on a trailer, a movable tiny house, as they're kind of referred to in the tiny house industry, a movable tiny house is is kind of disconnecting the house from the land. And so it's allowing you to purchase the house without the land. And so you you save money there. And also because the house is is quite a bit smaller, it's less materials, less labor, and it's less expensive for that for that reason.
Liz Sumner 15:29
So how does one find a place to put a tiny house?
Ethan Waldman 15:35
An excellent question, and that is one of the bigger challenges of tiny house living is is still is finding parking. Luckily, things are going in the right direction, in the sense that cities, states, municipalities across the country are starting to figure out ways to legalize tiny houses or to fit them in with existing regulations. And oftentimes, these regulations will be referred to as ADU regulation. So ADU stands for accessory dwelling unit. And so cities are figuring out like, "Okay, we need more accessory dwelling units. We need more backyards to have cottages. How do we make tiny houses on wheels fit into our definition of an ADU?
Then there, you know, a lot of people just do it through word of mouth. So posting on Craigslist, or other local message boards asking friends on Facebook. There are also tiny house communities. So places that are either being developed or they are RV parks that are converted, or they're just RV parks that allow tiny houses. People are finding parking and in all kinds of different different places creative solutions.
Unfortunately, most of the parking is probably not legal. But for them, you know, the getting kicked out is more the exception than the rule. But that is a reality of of tiny house living is that it's likely that you'll be breaking some zoning rule, parking it in somebody's backyard.
Liz Sumner 17:17
We'll have more from Ethan Waldman, about tiny house living and the things you need to keep in mind as you're deciding after the break.
What about moving them? Can you like just hitch it to a car? Or do you have to get a tractor if you want to move? How do you do it?
Ethan Waldman 17:36
Yeah, so they're, they're quite heavy. My tiny house is 22 feet long, which is now on the small side compared to what is being built today. And it weighs about 10,000 pounds. And so that is about as heavy as you can go with a heavy duty pickup truck. And above 10,000 pounds in many states requires a commercial driver's license to tow something more than 10,000 pounds. So most people, unless you're building a tiny house and planning to travel in it, most people choose not to buy a vehicle that can tow their tiny house, they instead decide to rent rent the vehicle when they need it or to hire a professional mover. A couple of kind of well known in the tiny house world kind of sources for vehicles are a U-Haul. So a 14 foot u haul can tow 10,000 pounds. And then also Enterprise rental car has a truck rental program and they rent Ford F 350s which can tow tiny houses.
I'm a big advocate for hiring a professional mover just because you know you've, you've got your probably life savings on a trailer and towing something is a skill, it requires some skill, and then towing a 10,000 pound something that's you know, 25 or 30 feet long is is not easy, and it requires some different skills. So I'm not saying that people can't do it, but if if you only are doing it every few years, my my advice is to just you know, pay a little extra money hire a company that's that's insured with an experienced driver that's going to get your tiny house safely from point A to point B.
Liz Sumner 19:30
Good point. It was, speaking of money, what kind of price range are we talking?
Ethan Waldman 19:36
Sure. So I'll start with mine. And so when I kind of set out on this quest, I'll say in 2012 I budgeted I was like, "Okay, this is gonna cost about $20,000 - $25,000 in materials and I'm going to do all the labor." Now, for a number of reasons, the house ended up costing more like $35,000 because I ended up hiring a good amount of labor to help me finish it. Because building is incredibly hard and time consuming. And I was, I was a novice. I needed I needed people to show me how to do it.
It's a difficult question to answer, particularly right now because the cost of building materials through the pandemic has exploded, like in some cases, we're talking like 4xor 5x cost for a sheet of plywood or a wood stud. So it would be difficult for me to even like tell, I had to ballpark what the materials costs for tiny houses are right now, because they're changing so much. But I will try to ballpark I would say that in materials, right now, you're probably looking at $40,000 in materials. There are some things there that there are some very expensive pieces. So for example, the trailer itself is going to cost probably between $7,000 and $10,000. Just Just that alone, anyone who's ever done a renovation or a build knows that another really expensive thing is windows. So you know, windows can be several thousands of dollars right there. And then you've got all these other other materials. If you're gonna hire a company, and you know, hire a professional builder to build a tiny house, I would say that you're you're looking in the upper five figures. So you know, $60,000 to $100,000.
Liz Sumner 21:40
So they are about the same price as a house except for the land.
Ethan Waldman 21:46
Yeah, in some it. It's so interesting that you say that, because that is true. In many parts of the country. Yes. But of course, in other parts of the country, like coastal cities. Yes. You know, sign me up, out. Yeah, let me buy a house in Burlington, Vermont for $100,000. I wouldn't even look at it, I would just go buy it. But then, you know, you can go to Cincinnati and probably buy an awesome house for $100,000. So, and no, no hate to Cincinnati, it's a great city. So, yes, it's true. You, you could just buy a house somewhere else for that amount of money.
Liz Sumner 22:30
And there are builders who you could buy a premade tiny house, or do most people build their own.
Ethan Waldman 22:40
I would say that the movement started out as a very DIY thing with a real DIY spirit. But the reality is, is that not not everybody can build their own tiny house, not everyone has the time to build it, or the physical ability to build it. I think that anyone can learn the skills. But I tell people that it's 1000 to 1500 hours of work to build a house. And, you know, if you have a you know, if you are lucky enough to make a good salary, it might actually be better, you know, it might be a better economic kind of calculus to let somebody else to pay somebody else to build the tiny house, and you continue to work your job, getting paid more per hour than then you would have saved by building your own house. You can get a house built a lot faster when you when you hire a builder, just because they're experienced. And there's usually a team of people building the house rather than just you or just you and your partner.
Liz Sumner 23:49
So if I had skills, and some resources of friends who, who I could call in to help me.
Ethan Waldman 24:00
Liz Sumner 24:00
From idea to moving in, what kind of timeframe are we talking?
Ethan Waldman 24:08
I see. I've seen all kinds of different timeframes. But realistically a DIY build, I would give yourself at least a year, because when you when you take that 1000 hours, and you divide it by a 10 hour day, say, which, doing a 10 hour day of construction is really hard. Yeah. But say take your 1000 hours and divided by 10. That's 100 days of of building. And, you know, then you do have a job? Do you have responsibilities? When are you going to get those 100 ten-hour days? And over the course of that year if you're just working weekends, you know, that's only, that's about 100 days if you work both Saturday and Sunday, every day, every week of the year. That's 100 days. Yeah, so so about a year, I've seen people take years to finish their tiny houses, mine took about 13 months.
And I've seen people build them in as fast as a couple of months. But that's that would be like, usually people who either have some construction background, or have friends or family who are contractors are working construction, and can dedicate, you know, full time to their project. And like, it's funny, like, as a novice builder, when you're like, "I'm going to do this full time." I just found myself scratching my head a lot. Whereas like a professional builders, like, "I'm going to do this full time, I'm going to the lumber yard, and I'm going to get all my framing lumber and sheathing and fasteners and glue," and like, they know what to get they get it and then they like, know how to get the project started and going.
Liz Sumner 25:55
So what are the most important things to think about when you're considering this kind of project?
Ethan Waldman 26:03
Wow, that's a good question. The most important things to think about, I would think about what your why is. Like, why are you doing this? Because it will help you inform the design of your tiny house. So like, why do you want to do this, and what is important to you? Is cooking important to you? Okay, so you're going to prioritize having a really great kitchen, have compact, but really usable kitchen. Or, you know, maybe you want to live closer to the land. So you're thinking about how your tiny house is going to interface with the with the site that it's placed on - where windows are placed, how you're going to fit in off-grid, batteries and solar panels, and those kinds of things.
And so I think your why is a great place to start. It's also going to help carry you through the project because, especially if you're DIY building it, it is a it's a big, big undertaking. And there are going to be times where you question, you know, "Why did I ever do this in the first place?" That's what I'm doing right now. I got a puppy two weeks ago. I'm like, "Why would anyone ever do this?" But I know that in like, a couple of months, when I have like a great dog, it's gonna be awesome. And so it's the same kind of thing with with a tiny house.
Liz Sumner 27:25
And where does one find plans for tiny houses?
Ethan Waldman 27:30
Yeah, so there are plans all over the internet, I sell the plans for my tiny house that I built at my website, thetinyhouse.net. There's also a great website, TinyHousePlans.com, run by some friends of mine. And they have kind of a selection of vetted plans. So they're all houses that are either, you know, drawn by reputable designers, or, and or have been built before. And so there there's like, they're kind of proven plans. And they have a whole whole selection there.
Another one that I really like, I'll give you two more that I like, there's a company called Den Outdoors. And they do some really cool, they they're more about tiny houses on foundations, really cool, like minimalist modern designs and a lot of A-frames. And then there's one other one called Pin-Up Houses. And they do, it's a run by an architect who's Romanian, and he's just prolific, like there are hundreds of tiny house designs there. And these are all digital plan sets that you can that you can buy.
Liz Sumner 28:39
So we've mentioned your website and your podcast. Are there any other resources that somebody should check out as if they're just contemplating this idea?
Ethan Waldman 28:50
Sure. So just two other things to mention. I have a guide, which is a book and workbook and videos that I put together called Tiny House Decisions. And that will really help walk you through figuring out your why and going far beyond that to should you build it yourself or with help you know what kind of tiny house is right for you? How are you going to heat it? Do you want to do off grid plumbing or on grid is basically all works you through all these systems and gives you an education so that you could really take what you figure out and either design your tiny house or kind of go to a builder and know exactly what you need and want. And so that's that at thetinyhouse.net.
I also run an online community called Tiny House Engage. And that is basically a group of about 100 people in kind of a private online space. That's kind of - it's not on Facebook. It's not a Facebook group. And it's just a group of people you know, tiny house hopefuls DIYers, dwellers, you know, sharing resources, learning from one another, you know, celebrating our successes. And so it's really just about getting inspired, being supported, and you know, just being accepted as a tiny house person. And so that's something that I kind of opened the doors to register for that about once every six weeks. And if people go, if people go to my website and and do that quiz and get on my email list, they'll, you know, they'll hear about it, I can also send you the link, I have kind of like a waiting, like a registration form so people can get on the waitlist for that.
Liz Sumner 30:35
That'd be great. I'll put anything you want to share into the show notes.
Ethan Waldman 30:38
Liz Sumner 30:39
Anything you'd like to say in closing?
Ethan Waldman 30:42
Well, I really appreciate the opportunity to come and talk about tiny houses. And I just want to say that even if you never want to live in a tiny house, if you never, you never want to do it, I still think there are some things to learn from the tiny house movement, some things to come and get inspired by and maybe that could help you change your own life in in one way or another, be it thinking about how you can creatively reduce your expenses or how you could live with less, get rid of some stuff. Think about ways of helping other people there. There's a lot here in the tiny house movement. So come check it out and be inspired.
Liz Sumner 31:25
That's wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ethan Waldman 31:28
Liz Sumner 31:29
My thanks to Ethan Waldman. You can find out more about him in the show notes. I invite everyone to write and tell me what you've always wanted to try. I'm Liz Sumner, reminding you to be bold. And thanks for listening.
Ethan Waldman 31:49
Alright, that's it for the show this week. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Liz Sumner on the I Always Wanted To Podcast. If you enjoyed that show, you can check out the rest of the episodes have I Always Wanted To at Liz.Sumner.com/always-wanted. And it's also in all the podcast apps right alongside the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Thanks to Liz for the interview and I will be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
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