Interview with Tiny House Owner, Samantha Herren
A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to meet Sam and her boyfriend Gus when they stopped by the workshop to visit the Nova. I was thrilled to talk to her about the 8x20 tiny house she already lives in.
Sam impressed me with her passion and dedication to her tiny house, including the zeal and sensibility with which she tackles even the hardest parts of living tiny.
I'm pleased to share with you the interview Sam was gracious enough to provide. It's honest and gives an important behind-the-scenes look at the trials and joys of going tiny. If you've ever wondered if you were equipped for living in a tiny house, take a look at Sam's interview to get a peek into her tiny life! Thank you, Sam!
Hi, Sam! Thank you for agreeing to answer my questions. Tell us a little about yourself!
Hi there! My name is Sam, I am 35 years old. I work at a college in Worcester, MA, at the IT help desk. I am currently trying to get into graduate school to study school counseling. I love to cook and bake, garden, read, sew, do woodworking/carve wooden spoons, and be outdoors. I am learning to play the ukulele. I recently took up rock climbing again, and am trying to get the hang of snowboarding.
What made you decide to go tiny?
I absolutely love being outside and I have never really been a big, decadent house kind of girl. I love simple and small spaces. I spent every summer at a camp that was very rustic and geared towards the outdoors which has fostered my love for nature and the environment. I moved a lot as a child, so the possibility of being nomadic always had its charms (probably the concept more so than the reality). I can remember being eight years old and wanting to convert my father’s box truck he used for his carpentry business into a house on wheels and drew up plan after plan of layouts. I care very much about the environment and try to do everything I can to preserve it for future generations. I have a lot of student debt and living tiny really helps to stay within my means. So all of these reasons and some others went into my thought process and it made the most sense.
I started looking into them around 2010 and it was like that box truck all over again - a little place just for me. So, after a relationship breakup, I decided it was a sign that it was time to do it. I moved home to save money so that my dad and I could build a tiny house together. I went to a Tumbleweed Workshop in 2013, met lots of like minded people, and it fueled my desire even more. I read blogs and anything else I could find on tiny houses. I looked at designs and all the different systems for electricity, water... for everything!
Then in 2015, I saw an advertisement for another tiny house workshop led by Deek Diedricksen of RelaxShacks.com. I was on the fence about whether or not to go, but I did and am so happy I went because it was where I met the man I ended up buying my tiny house from!
Tell us about your tiny house - where did you get it?
I live in an 8x20’ (think 1 parking spot wide and 2 parking spots long) Tumbleweed design called a Fencl (now it is called Cypress). It has cedar siding outside and a red metal roof. It has a bathroom with a small tub and Nature’s Head composting toilet. It has a galley kitchen and, because I cook so much, an apartment sized refrigerator and a Wolf countertop convection oven.
It has a couch that can transform into a guest bed as well as a storage loft and a sleeping loft with cubbies (and what I like to call “wall to wall mattress-ing" because the mattress takes up most of the floor space up there).
It has what I love to call my sun room: my porch is enclosed with two glass storm doors and a Vermont slate floor, instead of a wood floor and open sides. It is awesome possum! It works as a passive solar heater in the fall, winter, and spring. With my front door open to the porch, the house can stay warm with only that!
Remember that Relax Shacks workshop I mentioned? Well, the second day there was a man, Doug, who came to talk about toilets. He did a little seminar about tiny house toilets, specifically the Nature’s Head composting toilet. (How many times can I mention that toilet and my love for it?!) He mentioned casually that while looking for land to place his house, he found a cottage on Narragansett Bay and was looking for someone to rent/rent-to-own/buy his tiny. So I marched up after he was done talking, introduced myself and said I was interested in his tiny house. I was so nervous that someone else would snatch it up before I had the chance. So we exchanged emails, I went to see the tiny house, we chatted and clicked, and I bought it! I moved into it in September of 2015 and have loved it literally every day since.
Where is your tiny house parked? How did you find your parking spot?
My tiny house is currently in southern Massachusetts, on the border with Rhode Island. A friend I have through work said I could park it in her yard. She said she didn’t mind it there and when it came she actually thought it was going to be bigger than it was! I count myself lucky to have my friend. At some point, I would like to buy my own piece of land and have it there, but for now, I love where it is parked; it is quiet, sunny, and always has a lovely breeze.
Can you describe the utilities in your tiny house?
Ah, yes - my utilities. Well, they have evolved since I purchased the house. For starters, I have a 100' extension cord that is plugged into the exterior outlet of my friend’s house. When I moved into the house I had the following appliances: the refrigerator, the fan for the Nature’s Head, and the fan for the Dickinson propane fireplace. I had to finish the RV water pump wiring; I needed to get a converter to change it from a car/RV outlet into a regular house plug and increase the fuse size in it. I did not have any water until I figured out that rig. I had that done within two weeks of moving in, but in the meantime, I took a lot of showers at work and washed dishes with water from the hose heated on the stove.
I did not have lights for the first year I lived there. I had only five or six of the MPOWERD inflatable solar lights which I charged in the sun room during the day and moved around based on need at night. I love these lights and still use them around the house or outside. I had a lot of candlelit dinners that first year. In the bathroom, I also had a string of battery-powered Christmas lights.
Now I have two Philips Hue LED bulbs in the living room and one Philips Hue LED light strip in the loft. I can control them with my iPhone, change their color, and all that fancy stuff. I also have installed these little LED puck lights on the ceiling of the kitchen and the bathroom which are both dimmable and give off a great amount of light.
I am currently trying to have my house converted so it can have outlets and a better system for distributing the electricity. I absolutely hate the series of extension cords and surge protectors I have now - not to mention how dangerous this system could be. At some point, in the future, I would love to have the house on a solar powered system with batteries.
So there is the electricity. What else? I have a 3-burner stove cooktop that runs on propane. Also on that propane tank is my tankless water heater. I have another propane tank that is connected to my propane Dickinson propane fireplace. I only use this fireplace when I am home. For the first year, I would come home from work, turn on the fireplace, and keep another sweater on until the house was warmed up. As I do not leave the Dickinson on when I am not home, I looked into backup/secondary heaters and got an Envi wall panel heater. which is plugged in, it is ceramic, silent, and keeps the house at least above freezing in the negative temperatures the northeast can get! This is a great little heater!
Typically, even with just the propane fireplace, I have to sleep with the window open, because that thing cranks! Although just doing dinner dishes can warm my house up 3 degrees! It does not take much to heat up tiny houses!
Where and how do you fill up your water tanks? What happens to the gray water you generate?
In the sleeping loft, alongside the bed, there is a hidden 20-gallon water tank. Until last September, I had eight or so 1-gallon jugs that I filled up at the hose (or in my friend’s kitchen) and I would carry them back into the house, up the ladder, and then pour them into the tank via a funnel one gallon at a time. Then my lovely boyfriend, who lives down the road, bought me a lead-free hose and attached to it a clear hose that I could just stick into the opening of the tank. This took some trial and error, soaked mattress, and experimentation until we finally came up with a system to fill the water tank with ease. In the spring, summer, and fall I typically leave the hose attached to the hose spigot and let the water run clear for a minute before shutting a valve on the hose off and carrying the hose in and filling the tank. In the winter, I keep the hose all wound up in my bathtub to make sure it doesn’t freeze.
I go through about 20 gallons of water a week. This rounds out to 2.86 gallons per day. Sometimes I might fill the tank twice in a week, but sometimes I might go a week and a half before filling it again. So where does this water go? Before the house was moved to its current locale, I dug a hole three feet in diameter, and four feet deep. I got a trash can and drilled holes in it. I put it in the hole. Inside this trash can, I put a piece of irrigation piping (the big 4” kind) and drilled more holes in it so it has holes not only on one side. I wrapped that electric tape you can put on the roof to melt ice on the roof around the irrigation piping. I then added medium and small sized rocks for drainage. I added board foam insulation around the rim of the trash can above the rocks. When the house was moved, it has a drainage pipe that comes down through the trailer, and that pipe “sits” in the 4" irrigation pipe, not connected just anything that comes out of the house goes into the pipe. The pipe that comes out of the house has an awesome little one-way valve so nothing can climb back up into the house through the pipes. There is a trash can lid cut, insulated, and positioned so critters cannot get into the drainage system.
In the winter, we have days where there can be negative temperatures for short stretches and even then I have never had any issue with this part of the pipes freezing and I have actually never even plugged in the electrical tape. So, it has been a great system. Everything I use is biodegradable; I don’t put anything down the drain I wouldn’t want in the water table.
Have you made any improvements on your tiny house since you purchased it?
I have. My boyfriend and I have constructed a 5’ by 8’ porch on the front of the house. I built an Adirondack love seat that is on the porch. My dad and I built a replacement ladder. I took the old couch/bed/storage piece out and built a new one. My father built a set of shelves and a new cabinet for the kitchen. I have added some other shelves, hooks, and things. I did hang a television on the wall. I am currently building a really cool shelving system for the closet. I also have plans to replace the tub with a deeper tub and replace the cabinets in the kitchen.
What is your favorite thing about tiny house living?
I love the simpleness of it. I love being so close to the roof, that the sound of the rain on the metal roof puts me to sleep. I love the breeze that comes through the house. I love that it means I cannot keep everything. I just love that it is my house. It is a hard feeling to express how much you can love a space that is smaller than most people’s closets, but I do love it that much. I love that it is small, and sometimes that fosters a need for me to get outside and do something I love in the out of doors.
What is the hardest thing about tiny house living?
You must be mindful, which at times can be tiring. However, you get into a groove, it becomes a habit and the norm. It does not faze me to have to fill the water tank or to empty the composting toilet. You have to be mindful about water: taking a shower and doing the dishes. You must be mindful of putting your belongs away in their place. You must be mindful about how much electricity you use. You must be mindful about how much you own.
I like that I have to be mindful in my everyday living, but some days I would love to take a long hot shower or have an air conditioner, or a dishwasher. Some days, when I have forgotten to empty the liquids tank from the composting toilet and it overflows I think to myself that there must be easier ways than having to deal with the mess I just made. However, just because things are hard sometimes does not mean I would rather live in a bigger house. I love my tiny house, and I love the lifestyle it gives me, and I love that it makes me be mindful of what I use, do, and how I impact others and the Earth.
Do you see yourself staying in your tiny house in the future?
I will say yes and no to this. I would love to live with my boyfriend at some point in the future. However, 8x20’ is a little small for me, him, and his 3 little dogs, so we have talked about selling mine and building a bigger one for us. I am happy with my life as it stands now, I am not rushing to sell mine and build a bigger one. I enjoy being grateful for what I have now. I love my tiny house, and he loves my tiny house. I love the freedom it gives me in time, money, and that it grants me a balance to get outdoors, or stay home and curl up with a book.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about going tiny?
I would say you should meet and/or talk to people that have them. Visit different models. Read everything you can about them. Stay in one for a weekend. There are a lot of tiny house shows out there and a lot of them show you the sparkly side of tiny house living, but there is more to it than just the sparkly part. Talk to people about their pet peeves with their house, about things that they miss about living bigger.
Go through all your belongings, and get rid of half of it, and then go through and do it again (or get a storage container). Look up zoning for where you want to put your tiny house. Have a backup place, and a backup backup just in case. You can never be too prepared.
Go with the flow when it comes to tiny living. It is a house and it has all the things you need to fix just like a big house. Things will go wrong. Think outside of the box about everything. Can you repurpose? Can you Macguyver something? (You will have to Macguvyer something).
If you decide to go tiny, you will get asked about it ALL THE TIME. Be prepared to talk about everything, because people will be curious and ask. Think about what is most important to you: A washing machine? Dishwasher? Huge kitchen? Internet access? Guest bedroom? Kids? 500 pairs of shoes? Do you have a hobby that there is a lot of stuff for? (camping, climbing, sewing, etc.) Where will all that go in your tiny house? Think about what is important to you, and figure out how to make that work and what you will give up for to make it happen.
Tiny houses can be anything, but they can seldom be everything; just like people. Even with anything negative I might have mentioned about tiny living, I would still do it again in a heartbeat.
I love my house, and I would tell you to try it.