Tiny house – workshop report from Philadelphia

Report on the second day of the Tumbleweed Houses workshop in Philadelphia. I’m home safe – but want to write down my impressions because there was just so much STUFF to learn.

Here is Ella’s kitchen from her blog, and the ladder to the loft, and above you can just see the edge of her loft bed:

EllakitchenThanks, Ella – I wish I could see it in person. If you are intrigued, she has wonderful photos of her ‘pink room’ in the back, and the rest of her tiny house, during construction and as finished.

It is possible to see the scale of things, and imagine yourself in the picture, in a kitchen – it looks so normal, not at all cramped or tiny or tinny or trailer-like.

And yes, in spite of all the excitement, I got FOUR naps today (Sunday evening) before setting out for home – and there was such a small amount of traffic that I got home from the Wyndham Hotel a block from the Liberty Bell (old section of Philly near Penn’s Landing – 400 Arch St.) in less than FIFTY MINUTES, when it took me just short of two hours to get there on Friday at rush hour (and here I thought they would all be rushing OUT of Philadelphia as I was driving in on Friday evening: no such luck, and it’s road construction time of year to boot!).

Apparently Walmart lets travelers park overnight in their parking lots – sounds so perfect: drive into a new place, find the local Walmart, spend the night, shop for whatever you’re low on, continue on your way.

And the thought of being able to do this without packing anything – just pack the basics at the beginning of your trip – sounds like me.

None of this is even a plan on the actual horizon yet. I told DH I was just looking into the idea. But if the thought was to talk myself out of some craziness, it isn’t working.

The possibility of driving to a National Park, house and all, and staying a week to write – or driving a couple of days to visit friends in another state, just dropping anchor in their driveway – is making me wish I already had a mobile writer’s retreat.

The basics: you build your tiny house on a flatbed, two axle metal trailer (if you want it mobile – see their website for other possibilities). It can be no more than 103″ wide (or you need a Wide Load permit and a follow car), and you need to keep it 13’6″ to get under all bridges on interstates. Most of their models have a loft over one part (usually kitchen/bath areas), and a cathedral ceiling (those 13’6″ give you a lot of interior space), so it is NOT like being in a shoebox.

The variations are legion – some expensive, others easy.

The workshop could only cover four or five alternatives for every area of house building – and point us to more. People build them out of wood, framed like a house. If you are diligent and lucky, your cost could be tiny: you scavenge most of the parts and do all your own labor. Or you can buy components manufactured so that all you have to do (or they or their builders – we kept hearing about the three Amish brothers who build one in ten days) is assemble it – or have someone assemble it for you.

There is a huge amount of useful stuff that has been developed for RVs and for boats – much of which can be used as is, or adapted easily (your definition of ‘easily’ may vary).

Some are lived in by one person, others by couples or by young families. I’m still chewing on the ‘couples’ idea – how much space do two people need not to drive each other nuts? Much will depend on the weather, and whether either person has, for example, an outside job.

For some, like my new best friend, the workshop was the final check before construction.

For others, the very beginning of the idea that maybe you’re not tied to the four-bedroom house in the suburbs you needed to rear your children.

We asked questions. We learned about R values and structural integrated panels (SIPs). We got to ask questions about insurance (one person has a house insured as ‘Art’); electrical systems (from plugs to generators to solar panels); plumbing (composting toilets through macerating toilets through one from your old house); windows (be sure you install them in the direction manufactured to be ‘up’ or water will get in); heating (from a $1200 stove to a bathroom vent/fan/heater)…

There were disabled people like me considering how to make it accessible – not everyone is going to be happy climbing up to a sleeping loft. There is one set of plans with a Murphy bed!

Ella and Joe told us to THINK, to consider what we need to live (very little), and gave us options people have already tried.

Tumbleweed works with people, builds tiny houses, does workshops, customizes plans, gets ordering discounts, arranges for items many people have trouble finding…

It reminded me of homeschooling: when I started (and I was NOT a pioneer in any way), people were still asking, ‘Is it legal?’

The number of tiny house construction blogs is growing, the number of solutions that have already been found to common problems is impressive – but Ella told us to enjoy being in a group where 60 people already knew what you were talking about when you said ‘tiny house’ – an experience few of us had already had.

I have so much thinking to do, but I did manage to answer one question: am I crazy? with a resounding NO!

Will I build one, live in one, travel in one? Don’t know yet – but I had an enormous amount of fun (and managed not to miss too much with all those naps), and I’ll know a bit more after I see the actual interior space in the one I may get to watch going up.

Can you see the possibilities? Or better still, can you already SEE the view outside the double French doors that I want on the long side of my tiny house?

What’s YOUR ideal writer’s retreat?

4 thoughts on “Tiny house – workshop report from Philadelphia

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yes. The kids had about a year each in various schools, but I basically did K-12 for the three of them; they then went to Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, and Rensselaer Polytechnic – the last one is almost out.


  1. Rachel6

    That sounds completely amazing. And it sounds like the sort of thing my gypsy mother would pounce on!
    My ideal retreat is still my family’s little beach house, though. It’s small, close to the water and a Navy base, in a quiet neighborhood. When I need a break, I go run down the tiny beach for ten minutes and then come back. When I want a longer break, I go swimming!


    1. ABE Post author

      For someone as settled in as me, the whole idea has taken hold more than I ever thought it would.

      I think you have to travel while you can.



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