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Man Building DIY Off Grid Tiny Home for Less Than $2k

This $2k tiny home story is a guest post by Winston W. Johnson

Hi Alex (and Tiny House Newsletter readers), I started my tiny shelter in December of 2013, it’s built on a 1965 Yellowstone Cavalier travel trailer frame that I got free from a neighbor.

Probably 75% of the lumber was cut and milled within one mile of where my tiny shelter is located.

A neighbor has a Wood Miser sawmill, two years ago we cut down three 60 ft. tall poplar trees, sawed it into 1″x6″x8′ and 2″x4″x8′ boards and dried them in his solar kiln for 3 months.

Related: Man Building DIY Off Grid Tiny Home for Less Than $2k (Part 2)

How I’m Building an Off Grid Tiny House For Less Than $2k

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Images © Winston W. Johnson

I then took the pieces to a local Amish sawmill and had them plane the pieces on both sides, I then cut the pieces to size (width and length).

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My tiny shelter has a 7’x7′ upper sleeping loft on one end and a plant shelf on the other end. I moved into my tiny shelter on March 1, 2014, it wasn’t even insulated yet and only had a heavy duty tarp covering the roof.

Since that time I’ve insulated it, finished off the inside walls and ceiling with the poplar boards and built the cabinets.

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I still have to lay ceramic tile on the floor and countertop to finish off the inside.

I hope to have the metal roof and vinyl siding on by the end of October and build a double Dutch barn door for my entrance.

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Currently I only have about $1,000 cash invested in this project, by the time I’m finished maybe $2,000.

I may decide to add on a 8’x16′ screened in porch later this year.

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My tiny house is not hooked up to the grid, I use two kerosene lamps and five solar LED lights for my lighting needs.

I heat and cook with a wood stove and plan on collecting rainwater off the metal roof once I get it installed.

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Images © Winston W. Johnson

Related: Man Building DIY Off Grid Tiny Home for Less Than $2k (Part 2)

Big thanks to Winston W. Johnson for sharing his amazing and inspiring tiny house project with us!

If you enjoyed this $2k tiny house you’ll absolutely LOVE our free daily tiny house newsletter with even more! Thank you!

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Susannah September 21, 2014, 7:24 pm

    Having built (with the aid of family and friends) a couple of small cabins, one from scratch that cost us only $3000 total to build in spite of having two bedrooms, I’m interested in seeing how Winston’s house progresses. I hope you will check back with him and give us an update.

    I see he has what looks like a composting toilet. Does he plan to close this off eventually with a door?

    • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 11:26 am

      Here’s a little more information on my tiny shelter. Exterior dimensions: 8’x16′; interior dimensions: 7’x15′; upper sleeping loft: 7’x6.5′. I bartered with a neighbor for the poplar lumber, $330 of my labor for 1,200 board feet of lumber, the Amish charged me $50 to plane the lumber on both sides.
      There is no electrical wiring in my tiny shelter, no plumbing either -the galley sink drains into a 5 gallon plastic bucket. I use a pump up garden type sprayer for my ‘running water’. Since it’s only me and a cat using this as our shelter I didn’t bother to frame in a separate bathroom, I suppose that I could make one of those screen thingies if privacy was necessary. I plan on purchasing one of those old fashion galvanized wash tubs for my shower base, bring it inside when I want to take a shower and then hang it up back outside when I’m finished – I use another pump up type garden sprayer for my showers. Three years ago I built my own 24′ diameter yurt, I’ve since sold it to my daughter, I’ve given her 1 1/2 acres and they plan on moving the yurt onto a walkout basement. It’s amazing what one can build with so little money, I’m really enjoying my minimalist lifestyle in my tiny shelter!

  • Marsha CowN September 22, 2014, 12:18 am

    Quite a nice build for so little money. Well done! It is the first roofline of its kind I have seen in these blogs. Gives you a lot of room in the loft. I like the sappling loft rail, too. Hope you will send more pictures in the future.

    • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 11:35 am

      Thank you. Yes this particular design gives you just about the maximum loft headroom that one can get in a tiny shelter. However I almost built a modified A frame style tiny shelter, back in either 1969 or 1970 Burkin Homes in White Pigeon, Michigan manufactured a 8′ wide cedar chalet unit. The two upper roof sections folded down so the unit could be transported down the highway – there was an article in either Poplar Mechanics or Poplar Science magazine about Burkin Homes. It looked similar to my design but with almost three more feet of headroom. They used Shakertown cedar shake panels for the roofing material.
      Yesterday I built the four overhead galley cabinet doors, today I’m going to build a new ladder to access the sleeping loft, probably out of tree branches. Yes I plan on posting new pictures as I progress on this project. To me there’s nothing like living small — and cheap!

      • Alex September 22, 2014, 1:23 pm

        Thanks Winston, have fun building today! And we’re all looking forward to your updates 🙂

  • Thomas L. Knapp September 22, 2014, 10:10 am

    Very nice, Winston! I see a lot of articles (here a Tiny House Talk and elsewhere) about tiny houses being built for “only” $X, where X is well into the investment range that I’d expect for a non-tiny house …

    … and most of them don’t seem to be particularly “off-grid” in ways that would claw back the seemingly high costs with water/energy savings (solar panels, rainwater-catch systems, etc.).

    Re-purposing existing materials that one can get for free and that would otherwise probably end up as landfill or as useless rusting metal in someone’s back yard is a money-saver as well as a value of its own.

  • Rich September 22, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Interesting shape. How are the joints reinforced where the “walls” meet the
    roof?

    • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 1:43 pm

      The two long walls are 4’x16′, built like a standard house wall with a single bottom plate and a double top plate. The roof rafters were pre-built with gussets at the joints and then stood up and screwed to the double top plate, a 2″x4″ piece was inserted between each rafter where it met the wall double top plate, screwed to the double top plate and each rafter was screwed to that piece. I could probably make available simple drawings if there is an interest. Once I get the metal roof and vinyl siding installed (hopefully by the end of October) my tiny shelter should look pretty darn cool.

  • Linda September 22, 2014, 1:20 pm

    Definitely worth a follow-up to see the progress on this one! Wow! Great price. I’d be interested to see how it progresses.

  • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 1:59 pm

    Back in 1999 my son and I pre-built two 19′ diameter cardboard yurts and trucked them down to our property in Kentucky — yes I said cardboard yurts. The walls were framed out of 2″x3″ lumber and then covered on the outside with double thickness corrugated cardboard (the kind that those heavy duty Gaylord boxes are made out of), painted with a white exterior paint. Once we got the pre-built parts to the property we assembled the yurts, covered the roof panels with 30 lb. felt paper and then covered that with 90 lb rolled roofing material. We had approximately $1,200 invested in each yurt and they are still standing today, one is being lived in. I got the idea from an old back issue of MotherEarth News magazine, there was an article titled “I live in a paper house”. That shelter was shaped like an onion, it had no framing lumber but was built out of triple wall corrugated cardboard.

  • Mike September 22, 2014, 5:16 pm

    I want to echo Thomas Knapp’s sentiments by saying that this tiny house with so few amenities is great and not seen often enough.

    Winston, what will you use for insulation?

    • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 5:53 pm

      Personally I just can’t see spending $20,000 to $50,000 for a tiny shelter. To me the whole point is to simplify one’s life, I actually only spend about $2,500 per year — that’s the total amount of money that I spend per year. I don’t own/operate a motor vehicle, I have two mountain bikes and a tadpole recumbent trike that I built myself for my transportation – I added an electric assist motor/battery to the trike. I try to grow a fair amount of my own food in my Hugelkulter raised bed garden. Since I use two kerosene lamps and five solar LED lights my total cost for lighting is about $5 to $6 per month. I’m living the Thoreauean dream.
      My tiny shelter is already insulated, I decided to just go ahead and use R-13 formaldehyde free fiberglass insulation, I think that I spent about $250 on it.

      • Susannah September 23, 2014, 1:11 am

        How cold does it get in the winter where you are? And summers: do you still cook on the wood stove, or do you move your cooking outside?

        And I’m fascinated by the idea of cardboard walls!

        • Winston W. Johnson September 23, 2014, 10:11 am

          I’m located in south-central Indiana, last winter it got down to -15 degrees several times. Summer temperatures can reach 95-100 degrees. I have a rocket stove setup outside so that’s where I do my summer cooking. I also plan on building a Earth Oven outside so I have somewhere else to bake other than in Dutch ovens on my woodstove.
          Back in 1999 when I first showed my son a mockup of the cardboard wall and roof panels he just laughed at me and said I was crazy. Well I proceeded with my craziness and cut and assembled all the wall and roof panels, I erected on of the yurts at my daughter’s place just to make sure that everything would fit – it fit perfectly. Once we got the two yurts transported down to our property in Kentucky and got them erected I covered the inside walls and roof of my yurt with more of the double walled cardboard, taped the seams and painted them white. These two cardboard yurts have been standing for over 14 years now and as I posted earlier one is still being lived in. If you Google MotherEarth News and then “I live in a paper house” you can see the article on the guy who built his house out of nothing but triple walled corrugated cardboard. Pretty amazing, people just need to think outside the box.

        • Alex September 23, 2014, 10:56 am

          That’s incredible. Thanks for sharing that story. Would love to see it sometime if you have photos up somewhere or if you want to send them so I can re-share on here. Thanks again Winston. Inspiring stuff!

        • Donna December 24, 2014, 5:08 pm

          This is great Winston!

  • Winston W. Johnson September 22, 2014, 6:11 pm

    I see that comments are being left on Facebook, I don’t subscribe to Facebook so I can’t respond. To Barkley Garnsey: the total height of my tiny shelter is 13′ 4″, the first angle down from the ridge is 12′ off the ground. The walls are 4′ in height, so there’s a 4′ wall (straight up from the floor, the a 6′ rafter 8 degrees off the 4′ wall and then a 37″ rafter 10 degrees off the 6′ rafter. This makes the total roof area 9’x20′ per side (the total length of my tiny shelter is 16′ + 1′ overhang in the rear + 3′ angled overhang in the front. I should be able to buy seconds for my metal roof for probably $250 to $300. I’ve already got the vinyl siding which cost me about $0, I be using the siding that’s left over from siding my daughter’s yurt. We were able to get enough siding off Craig’s List to side her 24′ diameter yurt, 12’x14′ shed and my tiny shelter all for under $500.

    • Alex September 23, 2014, 11:18 am

      Thanks again for the updates Winston. I’ll update the FB comments for you.

      • Donna December 24, 2014, 5:10 pm

        Hi Alex. Maybe you feature Winston’s cardboard yurts. They would be interesting to see.

  • kristin September 23, 2014, 6:04 pm

    Thank you so much Winston for sharing your design in such detail. For me this is my dream, Theroeauean in all its simple glory. To live off the grid, grow my own food and live in such a way that I am not enslaved by a job, but can be in the woods and off the beaten path. This is my dream since I was 15. I am 42 now, and have been avidly researching how to sccomplish this. I feel after reading this piece and all your comments I’m finally seeing the ideas I have been searching for. I had been getting discouraged…as a few others commented, some of the tiny houses we see on here still require what I consider to be sizable investments to build, not to mention ate still on the grid. Kudos to you for rejecting sttus quo and thinking outside the box. Best wishes for you and your project. Enjoy!

    • Winston W. Johnson September 24, 2014, 8:36 am

      Thank you Kristin for your compliments on my tiny shelter. From what I’ve seen there are a lot of people who would like to build their own tiny house but like you said the cost can be quite high. But it’s not necessary to spend very much money to accomplish this task, there are so many free and/or nearly free materials available out there if one would only take the time and effort to look. If I would have purchased the 1″x6″ lumber it took to finish off the inside of my tiny shelter from Lowe’s it would have cost me between $3,000 and $5,000 — since I helped cut down the three poplar trees, mill the logs into lumber it only cost me $330 of my labor in barter and another $50 to have the Amish plane the lumber. I barter for the things that I need any time I possibly can, to me it just makes sense. My minimalist lifestyle requires very little money, therefore I don’t worry about the bills that most people are saddled with.
      If there is any way that I can advise you on building your tiny shelter please feel free to contact me, I’d be more than happy to help guide you on your journey to freedom. That’s probably the greatest thing that I enjoy about my lifestyle, my freedom from the materialistic, consumer driven, throw away society that I see all around me.

  • Rob December 24, 2014, 8:06 pm

    I totally agree with Winston’s philosophy in the approach to building a tiny house. I am amazed at some of the prices that are asked for tiny houses. Gosh the whole idea is for it not costing too much to own a shelter.

    I’m currently building a tiny house here in Australia. I started by buying a 30year old 26foot caravan for $600. Totally removed the van down to the chassis. Saved the old light fittings, wire and windows, plus doors and roof hatches. May use some of these parts but if surplus will sell on eBay. A wire brush and drill soon removed the surface rust. Painted steel with a rust killer and finished by coating with a bitumen paint. Cost $120 total. If I’d used a special steel paint the cost would be more than double.

    My attitude is plan ahead, buy material cheaply as it comes up and one will end by saving heaps.

    The walls for my tiny house are being built from cool room panels. Available second hand but if purchased new still a very good price. They are quick and easy to build with, light weight and water proof. Available in different thicknesses the walls go up self supporting, insulated, finished and painted on both sides all in one go. I intend to line the inside with light timber but this is only for decorative reasons.

    So tiny houser’s start collecting your materials now at the right price and then you will build very cheaply you future dream tiny house.

  • Rob December 24, 2014, 8:15 pm

    Oh I forgot to say that I have been buying second hand Ikea furniture for the tiny house. Usually at less than half the new price. My whole Udden kitchen in stainless steel. $300 on ebay. Quick and easy to build in too.

  • LT November 18, 2015, 6:45 pm

    A very talented, resourceful guy indeed to have built this for $2,000. Wish I could find a man like that!

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