Article by Laura LaVoie
What is it about the “Do It Yourself” and independent nature of tiny house builders that make us a little lenient about safety? Recently, Macy Miller of MiniMotives made waves across Facebook because she fell off the roof of her tiny house and landed in the hospital.
Because of Macy’s misfortune, I thought this was a good time to talk to the tiny house community about safety. Many of us, myself certainly included, are not professional builders and a tiny house is our first project. Matt and I did much of our building together, but occasionally he worked on his own and he is a bit more of a risk taker than I am. He would climb up on the top of the walls or the rafters on a regular basis. Neither of us ever sustained more than minor injuries like small cuts and bruises. I once had a drill dropped on me from the loft, but that was more startling than damaging. But us tiny house builders do sometimes put safety on the back burner.
I reached out to Macy to find out more about what happened. It all started because she found herself away from her house for a while. She over committed, thinking she would be further along with the project by now. When she got back to work on the house it was a little overwhelming and she felt the need to rush. Since she had been away from building for a while there was some cleaning that needed to be done before she could begin the work she had planned. “It was all going well with a wash rag and a bucket of water but I continually had to go up and down the ladder to get new water every 2-3 feet or so,” she said. It was taking a lot of time so she had a seemingly inspired idea; “I brought the hose up on the roof with me, I stood-slash-sat up-slope from the water and cleaned the seams a thousand times faster. It totally worked! I got the seams cleaned in a fraction of the time.” That was when the trouble started. She told me she was being “Super careful and super aware,” but that isn’t always good enough when it comes to construction safety.
What she created, she said, was an elevated slip and slide. “In retrospect there are any number of things I should have and could have done differently but, what I did do was walk across the deathtrap I just made with the exact same results any person would expect. I fell on my ass and slid out of control off the roof, sliding the full 9′ of slope, gathering speed, and hurling myself off the ledge dropping 11′ onto the asphalt below.”
Macy broke her ankle when she landed on it and suffered a compression fracture in her spine. She also tried to catch herself on the roof as she slid off and only succeeded in spraining her wrist. “In the end I came out with relatively minor injuries,” she said.
Macy’s sprits are high, though. “My mom’s last words to me were ‘don’t fall off the roof’. You should always listen to your mom,” she joked. There were two things that Macy did that she would like the Tiny House community to use as a cautionary tale; never work 100% alone and don’t wait to seek medical attention.
Tiny house builders should not consider themselves exempt from basic safety standards. The most important are:
- Tools (such as saws)
- Eye and hand protection
When we first started our own Tiny House build, the book Working Alone by John Carroll was recommended to us. This book is geared toward individuals like us who want to be in charge of our build from start to finish without relying on professionals. Carroll covers safety as well as general construction. I recommend this book to anyone considering a tiny house so they may avoid Macy’s fate. The book is available in paperback or Kindle editions.
Let Macy’s tale be an informative one. Don’t let her suffer in vain. It will be a while before Macy is back building her tiny house. “I am unfortunately stuck in my body brace for 6-8 weeks and will be on crutches for 8-10 so no tiny house building for a while.” But she is willing to look on the bright side of things, “I am going to use the time off to study for my architectural exams, hopefully knock out a few more of those.” Next time, Macy will keep her own safety advice in mind while working on her tiny house.
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