Richard Ward is no stranger to tiny living.
Back in 2015, he built a gooseneck tiny house. He then downsized — to a Honda Element (yes, the car), which he used to travel the country. Finally, he found his sweet spot: a hand-built 54-square-foot micro-home.
After traversing the country and hiking more than 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, Richard has decided it’s time to find a more permanent parking spot for his tiny home collection. He purchased a 24-acre plot of land outside of Bisbee, Arizona, where he’s building an off-grid tiny homestead.
Richard, the guy behind Terraform Tiny Homes, joined the Tiny House Lifestyle podcast to share his homestead vision and his insider tips on what to consider when you’re ready to find a more permanent place to live out your tiny home life.
Establishing a Tiny House Homestead: Richard’s Off-Grid Vision
Richard is passionate about traveling, but for the past four years he’s been searching for a place to call home. He landed on Bisbee, Arizona.
For him, it was perfect. It snows maybe once a year (after his PCT adventure, the native Texan has had enough snow), the land is cheap, and it’s remote — but not too remote. It sits between a town with a Home Depot (essential) and another town that’s artsy and eclectic. Plus, the local regulations and laws around homesteading were pretty relaxed. (See more on that below.)
“I've never been able to live in my house, ‘legally,’” he says. “So this will be the first place I'll be able to live in my tiny house where I don't have to worry about getting evicted, I don't have to worry about the neighbors getting ticked or anything like that.”
Right now, Richard is in the thick of establishing his homestead; he wants to make his land as sustainable as possible. He’s building raised garden beds, rainwater collection structures and a solar power system — just to name a few tasks on his long to-do list.
Not to mention, he also has plans to build a two-story, 800-square-foot shipping container tiny home from scratch.
Eventually, Richard envisions creating a tiny house community. Part of it will be a work-exchange program that’ll allow folks to visit the homestead and learn all about tiny houses and off-grid living in exchange for working 20 to 25 hours a week on the property.
He also wants to create an area for people to park their tiny homes and stay as long as they’d like.
“The idea is we bring the people we want around us and create a destination — whether they're looking for a longer-term thing or they're looking to just come out as a stop on a trip across the country and enjoy a campfire,” Richard explains.
Off-Grid Tiny House Living: 3 Essential Tips From a Pro
Richard is in the midst of developing his tiny house homestead, and he’s full of knowledge about tiny houses and off-grid living. He reveals three essential tips to keep in mind when creating your very own tiny house homestead.
1. Remember: Location, Location, Location!
The first step to setting up your own tiny house homestead is choosing a location and buying land. This is arguably the most important step of the entire process, and it might take a bit of patience.
Richard was attracted to Bisbee, Arizona, in part, because it’s located within Cochise County. This might sound insignificant, but the county offers what’s called an owner builder opt out. Richard explains this is basically a permit that allows you to build what you want without having to navigate complicated building codes and inspections.
“It's like the one little loophole I've found that's like a tiny house little safe haven,” he says.
In addition to the local regulations around tiny houses and homesteading, you’ll also want to consider:
- Price: Richard says land in Bisbee is going for about $1,000 an acre, which is super cheap. Plus, it’s a beautiful area, close to Mexico and remote but not too remote.
- Water source: When building a homestead, you’ll want to make sure you’re near a water source, or a “wash,” as Richard calls it. His land is near a river, so he has easy access to water.
And here’s one final pro tip from Richard when it comes to finding land: Check public records for plots of land in your desired location that have tax liens on them. Reach out to the owners and see if they’d be willing to sell.
You’ll need to exercise patience on this, because it’s a whole process, but it can be a smart way to secure land in a desirable location — and potentially for a much cheaper price.
2. Plan Your Sustainable Infrastructure
Of course, when you’re setting up an off-grid tiny homestead, you’ll need to consider the tiny home. But you also need to prioritize your sustainable infrastructure: Where you’ll get your water, power, sewer, food sources — everything you need to live.
Richard has a lot of experience using solar panels — that’s how he powered his travels across the country in his tiny homes — and Arizona gets plenty of sunshine to power his homestead.
He also has a Tesla battery bank he’s been using while he rigs his solar panel system. It’s compact but packs a ton of power, enough to run his air conditioning. (Yes, this is a battery from a Tesla vehicle. You can search Google for reputable dealers with lots of positive reviews.)
As for water, Richard will rely on rain (Bisbee averages 19 inches a year) and the nearby river. He plans to build a shaded rainwater collection structure. He opted to do this rather than build a well because the water tends to be cleaner, and it’s a bit more reliable.
He’s also building raised garden beds so he can grow his own food as well as a root cellar to store the food.
3. Make Friends and Get Thrifty
Richard will be the first to tell you he wouldn’t be able to do this without help, and he’s found a great community through his years of building tiny homes and traveling. And he was surprised to see how many people were interested in helping him — even for free.
For instance, the electrician he’s worked with on his tiny house builds offered to do the work for free. Richard would pay for the materials, but he gave the electrician free range to do whatever he wanted — and the electrician was thrilled to take on the passion project.
Richard is also a huge fan of the Habitat for Humanity ReStores. He once got a $1,500 stainless steel sink there for something like $150 bucks. Craigslist can also be a treasure trove of resources, and he’s even salvaged perfectly good building materials from dumpsters.
“There's a ton of resources out there to get really, really cheap or free building materials,” he says. “You just have to know where to find them.”
He also suggests becoming pals with the lumber guy at Home Depot — you know, the one who cuts wood. Richard became good friends with his local lumber guy, who showed up to his first tiny home exhibit with his entire family.
You’ll quickly find the tiny house and homesteading community is tight-knit, and everyone wants to help each other out, so find your people, and dive into planning your tiny house homestead.
Want to learn more about how to plan, build, and live the tiny life? Be sure to subscribe to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast wherever you prefer to listen!
Listen to Richard's Interview: