Interview with Tiny House Owner, John Rodrigue, Part 2

I'm back with Part 2 of my interview with our client, friend, and tiny house owner, John Rodrigue! John lives in his 8x24 tiny house that we built for him in the summer of 2016. John lives in his tiny house at a state park campground full time in Pownal, Maine. 

See John's namesake model, the 8x24 Rodrigue on our website.

See Part 1 of my interview with John here!

Is your tiny house warm enough for the cold New England nights?

The Williams direct vent propane heater is more than sufficient to heat the tiny house; It works great. It took me a few weeks to get the setting of the thermostat just right to be comfortable inside and not consume too much propane. I have since offset the use of propane by installing an electric space heater due to having on-grid electricity available. I only use the electric space heater when I am home and propane heater when I'm not. It has saved a considerable amount of propane.

Do you think your house gets humid in cold weather?

No, with the use of the TwinFresh ERV air exchanger I do not see any humidity or condensation other than when I shower. Even that humidity is dissipated very quickly between the exhaust fan in the bathroom and the air exchanger in the great room. The air exchanger can be adjusted to run in different modes, fan on low/medium/high. It even seemed to make the difference in the summer months.

What lessons did you learn during your first winter as a tiny house owner?

Good question… I think the one thing I learned is there is ALWAYS a good, viable solution to everything. Sometimes you just have to stop, think, and figure it out and ask a lot of questions, make calls, and contact those that may have experience. For example, I did learn that metal roofs still may need to be raked depending on how much snow you get in one storm!

I learned that porting water is not that awful to do, you just need to work up a system that works best for you (read how John handles his off-grid water needs in Part 1 of his interview!).

I learned that it doesn't matter what type of home you own, whether it’s a tiny home, conventional home, camp or shed, there are always things you need to deal with in the harsh winters of Maine, it's all part of the adventure and journey. Embrace it, own it, make it fun and exciting.

I learned that I have to educate others about my chosen style of living. They will warm up to it if you invite them in to see how wonderful it is! It may not be for them, but they will warm up to the fact that it works for you.

You can survive a cold winter with minimal means or belongings, I just did!

And, just because you live in a tiny home, doesn't mean you don't have to shovel snow ever again… hahahaha!

What do you wish you had known about tiny house living during the design phase?

It is very important to consider where you will place your tiny house, especially during the winter months. It is no different than a conventional home. Winter living can be difficult depending on the area you live. Maine is unforgiving at times so being prepared is essential. With that being said, I should have put more thought into my winter water system before the first frost. It was a hurried experience as I sat on my hands until the last minute, thank goodness it all worked out.

Think about what you are willing to do and go through to maintain your home during winter months. Plan ahead. It is very difficult to make changes or alterations during winter weather, don't get caught with your pants down, it's going to get cold fast if you wait to figure it out. Think about it now. Don't get complacent when the going is good, think about what you need ahead of time and get it done. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun adventure, don't make it miserable.

Now that I have been living in a tiny house for almost a year, I don't believe living in a tiny home is any different than living in any other space or home other than the fact that most municipalities don't know how to handle tiny houses right now, but be patient, educate others, and learn from others. This movement is real and states/municipalities are going to have to join the bandwagon, so it’s up to you to be an advocate and help them learn. I would suggest staying in contact with your builder, ask questions, give feedback.

The one thing I wish I could do now is to help others in the transition from conventional living to tiny house living. It can be a hard process but it CANNOT be done over night, it's just not realistic. I have devised and implemented many ways of condensing and minimizing my life and then there is the task of maintaining that. I have rules I live by now to stay tiny. I wish I could convey those to many young people looking to make this jump.

Can you explain how you went tiny and how you stay tiny?

Well, going tiny is a process. You can have all the things you really NEED if you put your mind to it. I began my process by deciding to sell my 5-bedroom, 2-bath home with a full basement and in-law apartment and moving into a small apartment. As you can imagine, after living in that home I had accumulated lots of belongings which were great for caring for a house that size and being a gathering place for my two kid’s friends. But it became too much for me after my children left the home to go to college and then begin their own lives. So it left me in a huge home by myself.

I started condensing my life by choosing one month and starting to get rid of "one" item on the first day of the month, "two" items on the second day, "three" items on the third day and so on through the month. That meant at the end of the month I had to get rid of 30 items. It was easier than I thought so I did it another month. That was the beginning.

Then I added a rule: if I bought something new, I had to get rid of something old. It didn't need to be the same kind of item, it just had to be something. For example: if I bought a new pair of shoes I didn't have to get rid of an old pair of shoes, I could get rid of a t-shirt. It just had to be something.

Then, the tiny house construction was due to be completed the end of May. I was headed to California to run a 100-mile race two weeks prior so I decided to pack "everything" I owned (and I mean everything) into boxes the beginning of May and live out of the boxes for 2 weeks. I told myself that after two weeks if I haven't opened any of the boxes it meant I really didn't need what was in it so I took the unopened boxes to Goodwill and donated them. I still to this day have no idea what was in those boxes and have never wished I had known. I haven't missed a thing.

I still live by that "Rule". If I buy something new, something old has to go, other than perishable food of course. That has kept me living tiny and minimally.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey with tiny house zoning in your town?

Wow, I could literally write a book about this. But generally, I decided to not hide my tiny home from anyone or anything and wanted to educate municipalities that tiny house living is a viable option for people and towns. I began working with the Planning Board, Code Enforcement Officer, and Select Board. I am currently still working to get tiny houses legalized in my community. It has gone well, but it's a process that requires endurance and understanding. There is no place for frustration here or it will stress you out and cause animosity. The thought I always had from the beginning was to educate and help those that didn't "get it". I have invited many people to my home to get a hands-on feeling of tiny living, so far it has been working.

I will give you more information about this process as I am currently writing it all down. But I will warn, every municipality is different in Maine. They each have their own zoning ordinances, codes, and requirements, so what is working in my community may not work in another. So in Maine, if you are accepted in one community it doesn't mean you will be accepted in all municipalities! It's getting better, but it takes patience and endurance and the willingness to explain and do the leg work and understand their points of view.

Some of the issues are size, wheels or no wheels, septic, gray water disposal, foundations, taxes, and MUBEC Maine building codes. They do not like those that are "trying to get away with something" like paying taxes or hiding in plain sight. Every municipality relies on a tax base to fund schools, fire departments, police departments and other things.

All I am asking of them is that they tax me no differently than anyone else. Be fair. Treat me as they would any other homeowner.

Do you have any fun (or horror) stories about tiny house life to share?

Hmm, a horror story? Well, not a real horror story like hitting a low clearance bridge while transporting, but the one thing that I have dealt with is being in the harsh winters of Maine and having the plumbing freeze on extremely cold and windy days. If the temps are above 5 degrees and no wind, I'm good. If the temps are 5 degrees with heavy winds, the pipes freeze. I am currently trying to figure that one out. The only other thing that happened is I broke one of the scissor jacks under the unit. I have learned that the scissor jacks are not really to be used for leveling, they are not strong enough to hold all the weight and that it's better to use a jack rated for the weight and then block the wheels up as needed. The scissor jacks should be used as stabilization only once you have the unit level.

The one thing I feel will be a horror show is when I'm moving the unit and I get a flat tire. I am going to learn how to change a flat tire on the trailer before it happens to make sure I have the proper equipment beforehand. That seems like it could be a horrible process!!!

As far as a positive tiny house story - well, it may not be appropriate but here goes. All my friends were excited to see my tiny when I first moved in. All had great comments and questions. But one friend, Amy, had an odd comment but a good comment. She simply said...."yeah, the loft is not going to work", her comment was directed at the space for sexual activity!! Hahaha, she had a good point. Well, I have since informed her that the loft posed no issues of space and prompted creativity and fun.

Other than that, the tiny house has generated more positive things than you can imagine. curiosity, fun, friends, family, and tiny living. I am living minimally and effectively and what is more positive than that? The entire experience has been extremely positive but one has to make of it what they want out of it. From design to living it has been extremely positive.

Here is a more direct answer: I live at a State Park that I run in often with all my friends. We hold running events throughout the year. Each running event draws anywhere between 75-125 people. My typical comment to those that ask what it’s like living here is this...

"It's like living in an area where I get to have hundreds of my best friends come and run in my backyard, what better place is there to live?"

Thank you so much for your input, John!  John is very helpful when it comes to offering his perspective and problem-solving solutions to the tiny house community. If you have a question for John, let me know and I can pass it along!

Read Part 1 of my interview with John or check out my interview with tiny house owner, Sam Herren

Looking for more information about going off-grid in your tiny house? Read my off-grid guide and my winter utility guide for more info.