This is Michael and Michelle’s Down to Earth Getaway, an Off-Grid Tiny House in Hawaii!
The couple currently lives in their sustainable tiny that runs off solar power, a rainwater catchment system, a composting toilet and goats, but they are also branching out and renting their off-grid space for vacations. Cool!
My husband Michael and I are living in a 240 sq ft tiny house on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. We are college students finishing up our senior year of college. My husband built the tiny house just before we got married last summer. We would love to tell our story though your website and talk about our up and coming tiny house business on the Big Island of Hawaii. We’ve been living in the house for just over 6 months now. We have learned a lot from trial and error but feel that we have a lot to share. Oh also we live with a heard of about 20 goats. Seriously, we have a lot to share.
Scroll below for pictures, videos and our interview with the couple.
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Down To Earth Getaway: Off-Grid Tiny House in Hawaii
See videos of their off-grid tiny house rental and read our exclusive interview with the couple below!
Video: Down to Earth Getaway
Video: Our Home
What are your name(s)?
Michael and Michelle Nielsen
How many people will be/are living in your tiny house?
Just us two. For now.
Where do you live?
We live on the North Shore of Hawaii. Our little paradise.
Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny?
Michael has always loved minimal living even though he struggles with it at times. He likes to collect and re-purpose things, and he’s good at it. But I have helped him downsize a lot. We both have desires to live a minimalist life, though.
Another reason we went tiny is partly out of necessity. Finding affordable housing in Hawaii is a nightmare and we needed somewhere to live while at university. We don’t need or want a lot of space so its perfect.
Michael initially had the idea and I thought he was crazy, haha. It sounded too good to be true when the opportunity to build an experimental tiny house came to Michael through a friend.
We also want to be environmentally friendly. We aren’t fanatics, but we want to leave this beautiful earth a little better than before.
By living tiny we hope to have a simpler life. We hope to show people that it is a better way of living and that it is better for the soul, the wallet, and the environment.
How did you first learn about tiny houses?
Neither of us have had TV before, and had never (and still haven’t) seen those tiny house shows that everyone talks about. Michael found out about them from a good friend. It was 7 months from the moment Michael first heard about tiny houses until he had built ours and we moved in. As soon as he heard about them he knew they were for him.
I learned about tiny houses from Michael during our very first conversation together. He told me all about them and how he was building one. Six months later we were married and living in our very own tiny house.
When did you officially start your tiny house?
We officially started living tiny July 6th 2016, the day we got home from our honeymoon. Over 7 months now.
Is your house completed? How long did it take to finish it?
Our house is definitely completed. Initially, the house started with a group of students, but the project fizzled out. Michael worked as an electrician for a couple years and has always been a handyman. He took on the project January 2016, building part-time while in school full-time. When the semester ended (a month before our wedding) he worked on it non stop. He worked from sunrise and way past sundown. We had nowhere else to live after the wedding. All the while I was on the mainland getting set up for the wedding. It was a really stressful time for us. I would say that about 70% of the house was finished in the last 3 1/2 weeks.
How did you build your tiny house? Did you have any help? Did you do it yourselves?
It was initially started by a group of students but the final long haul was done by Michael and a good friend, Bradley Highsmith. He is an excellent carpenter and fellow student. Together Michael and Bradley have experience in construction, electrical work, carpentry, and pluming. They were a dream team for the house. Michael’s friend and mentor, Les Harper helped give direction and find solutions, but loves to say that he never put one nail in the house.
How did you find a place to park and live in your tiny house?
This was probably the hardest part about living tiny. The house was built to be completely off-grid (solar power, rain harvesting, etc) so we didn’t have to be close to any utilities. We started off on agricultural land owned by our school, but because of liabilities we had to find somewhere else to put it. We couldn’t find anywhere! We finally found someone and made an agreement with some local farmers to be on their farm in exchange for securing their farm (we found out they really needed it). But a couple weeks later we found out that the farmers were leasing the land and didn’t get permission for us to be there. The land owner was ruthless. We still don’t know why. They told us we had a few days to leave, and then a couple days later they told us “if the house isn’t gone by morning we’ll cancel the farm lease and bring the police.” The farmers had some other land we could move to, but they were on the mainland for a funeral at the time and wouldn’t be back until it was too late. We started calling and asking everyone we know. We prayed. We fasted. We cried. But we finally found somewhere. A friend of ours introduced us to a very good family who owns land here, and we were able to make a deal with him just in time. It was an absolute miracle. And all of this happened during our first couple months of marriage and during one semester at school.
Before going tiny, what was life like?
This is an interesting question because before going tiny, Michael and I were dating, living with 4+ roommates, with no experience living off-grid. I thought I lived pretty minimal (I shared one closet with three other girls) and packed my life in 2 suitcases when I moved to Hawaii. Michael has always had a minimalist closet but he has hobbies that have collected a lot of equipment over the years. Everything from badminton equipment to surf boards and even a random box of golf balls. I do have to admit though, a lot of his things did come in handy. Like his tools and extensive kitchenware that we used immediately after moving in.
What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?
What I love most about living tiny is not being so attached to things. I have learned to live with exactly what I need. We often sort through things and are really good about admitting when we don’t need something. We basically have a Spring Cleaning every single Saturday where we clean the whole house and go through everything and give away what we don’t need. It takes about an hour and a half. Its great!
Another great part about going tiny is that our house is debt free. We have no mortgage. We found that the root of the word mortgage means “Death Pledge.” Not having that death pledge is a very freeing feeling.
What about some challenges?
The biggest challenge was finding a place to put our home, as I mentioned above. The law is often so fuzzy and gray when it comes to tiny houses, and we have done hours and hours of research on this subject.
Living off-grid in our tiny house has been a major challenge but also one of the greatest benefits. By making our tiny house completely off-grid we are better on our environment, we feel more connected to nature, and we avoid large monopolistic utility companies and their ridiculous bills.
The majority of the water we use in our tiny house is filtered rain water. There have been some periods without rain here in Hawaii, but it has been amazing to rely more on nature for our well-being. We have prayed for rain, most people don’t do that anymore. When you want water you turn on the faucet, you don’t realize where it all comes from. This has helped us feel more a part of nature. Plus the taste of fresh rain in Hawaii is fantastic. On the other hand there are weeks in Hawaii where it doesn’t stop raining. At these times we start praying for sun so that we will have enough power. It is a really interesting balance. It makes us feel more reliant on God. It also makes us think about our ancestors and how they must have felt. Thankfully however, we do have backups for when we really need.
Downsizing was another challenge. Its really amazing how big 240 square feet is and how sufficient it is. But we still had to do some downsizing. We don’t miss those things though. The benefits of downsizing far outweigh the negatives. We don’t buy much, but when we do we find a way to make it balance. When I get a new dress or something, I give one of mine away.
What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?
If you can, test drive a friends tiny house. Its perfect for us, but not for everyone. This is one of the main reasons we are starting our sustainable lifestyle vacation rentals so that people can experience what it’s like before committing to go tiny. And we are open to suggestions, requests, or opinions as we build them.
Another thing, do your research for your specific state and county. I don’t know about other states, but in Hawaii every county has their own laws about tiny houses and zoning.
If you build your own tiny house, follow the building code as much as possible so that tiny houses don’t get a bad rap. There are new tiny house building codes coming out soon as well.
For those going off-grid, invest in a lot of batteries and panels and a good quality inverter. These things are crucial to your power needs. We are writing a blog that will help people determine how many batteries and panels they should get.
Do you have a website, blog, or social media page where we can follow along?
Yes! we are on Facebook and YouTube under Down to Earth Getaway.
our website and blog can be found at downtoearthgetaway.com
Our big thanks to Michael and Michelle for sharing!🙏
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