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Family of Four’s Off-Grid Tiny House Life

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This is the story of one family of four’s off-the-grid homestead in Pittsboro, North Carolina, including three twelve-by-twelve tiny cabins with no electricity and plumbing.

On the outside, the three cabins share the same rustic feel. One is thin but has a tall, “long” roof over a smaller patio area. You’ll find beautiful cabinets and some tricky-looking steps that save space. A rainwater catchment system provides the family with fresh water. The second cabin shares the same roof line; the third has no patio and a bay of windows on three sides.

The family has chickens, fields, a garden, and even an old-fashioned water pump. In addition to their tiny life, they build affordable caskets. Watch the video below to get a taste of their life, and follow the links in the resources below to learn more about them. Thank you!

Family’s Three 12×12 Cabins

Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 001

Images © Donald Byrne

Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 002 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 003 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 004 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 005 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 006 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 007 Family's Off-Grid Tiny House Life 008

Images © Donald Byrne

Video: Melleray Farmstead


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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Gabrielle Charest
    March 4, 2016, 8:34 pm

    While this is an interesting post with lots of photos, I have no understanding of why there are 3 dwellings or what is in each of them. Were any special techniques used in the building? There is so much to explore here. How can we get more information?

  • Marcy
    March 5, 2016, 10:19 am

    I know there are people that view this site that can answer this for me.

    What is the advantage of ships stairs? Every time I see them, I wonder why you wouldn’t just put regulars stairs in. They look as wide as regular stairs, so space saved there. Is there an actual advantage to them, or do people just have them because they look interesting?

    • Jamie
      March 6, 2016, 1:29 am

      If you look at the height of very steep stairs you end up taking big steps with all your weight on you metatarsal, the ships stairs allow ordinary step height, but at a steep angle. (this may or not be a coherent answer 🙁 )

      • Marcy
        March 6, 2016, 1:41 am

        So, by doing it with the ship stairs, the whole staircase can take up less area on the ground floor?? Because these stairs are like a ladder/stair hybrid??

        • Jamie
          March 6, 2016, 8:25 pm

          In designing very steep stairs you either make a extremely narrow stair with no depth for the foot, or very high spacing in between the stairs. Both are awkward to walk up. Having the ships stair design lets you make a deeper step without the excessive height. So while the space and angle are the same the stair depth becomes more user friendly. (Sorry for being so rubbish at explaining things)

        • Marcy
          March 7, 2016, 7:22 am

          Jamie, You are not rubbish at explaining. I think that since I’ve never seen these kind of stairs except in pictures, I don’t have a real sense of them. I really appreciate your willingness to take the time to answer my question.

  • Marcy
    March 5, 2016, 10:20 am

    Sorry, should have said NO space saved.

  • Larry Grout
    March 6, 2016, 7:23 pm

    They are like a ladder (12″ rise)in steepness but with the rise (6″ to 7″) of stairs. It may be possible to climb without using your hands on one or both railings, but not recommended. Depends on the angle, your age, health, coordination etc. The every other arrangement keeps your knee from hitting the next step. True they do appear to be as wide as regular stairs, but use less material and in my eye more attractive. Am I wrong about any of this and/or did I miss any thing?

    • Eric
      March 8, 2016, 2:31 pm

      Larry, your opinion is your opinion. Therefore you are not wrong… for you.

      While I understand the rationale of using them, especially due to steepness, to me they are not exactly ugly, but they are (to me) certainly not aesthetically pleasing. I most certainly would find a way around these if I was having a TH built.

    • Marcy
      March 8, 2016, 8:25 pm

      Larry, I think I’m starting to get these. So they are like a ladder, but there is more room for your foot and there is enough room not to hit your knee on the rung but not have to tip sort of sideways or go one rung at a time?

      • Grace
        November 4, 2016, 3:29 pm

        That but they feel more like real steps than a ladder. They take up a smaller footprint than stairs, but feel like stairs (you don’t have to CLIMB up and down, you just walk up and down normally), as well as give you storage space.

  • Rich
    March 6, 2016, 10:43 pm

    this page describes the alternating tread or lapeyre stair pretty well: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,443801,00.html
    the space-savings is in the “run” or length of the stair.

    • Marcy
      March 8, 2016, 8:21 pm

      Hi, Rich. So it does take up less room/floor space that a traditional stairs case?

      • Marcy
        March 8, 2016, 8:33 pm

        Just saw the This Old House page with photo and description. Combine that with all everyone else has shared, and now I understand.

  • Marcy
    March 8, 2016, 8:27 pm

    Thank you, everyone for your help. I knew I could count on my fellow tiny house talk people to come through for me.

  • A Law
    November 4, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Marcy, I recently had the experience of using this type of stairs, at Tiny Tex Houses. They got me from bottom to top and back down again, but I was slightly uncomfortable using them. Of course, the discomfort would diminish with repeated use. I would suggest to all that the handrail (if available) should be used!

    • Natalie
      November 7, 2016, 9:36 am

      Thanks for that tip! — Tiny House Talk Team

    November 4, 2016, 3:59 pm

    Now they got it together…! I think in what he has said sums it up in total.. It’s not how much you got it’s how much you really need.. And I think a lot of us forget that in this new millennium… We are always trying to out do ourselves and not being satisfied enough for what we have or we try to strive for more than what it is really we need… We need more to focus on the basics and not on the overwhelming things and stuff we try to accumulate…! Once we get passed all that we can spend more time trying to fix what it is that is wrong in this world… Or better those things we covet so much that we run ourselves into the ground for now while we try to pay for the high cost of living….!

    • Natalie
      November 7, 2016, 9:36 am

      Good points! — Tiny House Talk Team

  • Kim W
    November 4, 2016, 6:13 pm

    I had to smile about the stair case! My son had them at a previous house. First time I went up them, I really struggled – seems I set off literally ON THE WRONG FOOT ?!
    Maybe one cabin is for the parents and the kids have one each? Could work well with older children/adult children.

    • Natalie
      November 7, 2016, 9:36 am

      That is too funny! — Tiny House Talk Team

  • jm
    November 4, 2016, 9:29 pm

    Cheez. While we can only look at a few pictures, the owner made a decision while being intricately familiar and on-site during the build. He probably made the right decision based on HIS criteria. We can only look at the stairs and know we can’t run the 100 yard dash in 9 seconds anymore…

    November 7, 2016, 12:25 pm

    Nice! Reminds me of a rustic ranch house. Like how it blends with the outdoors. Good job!

    • Natalie
      November 8, 2016, 1:25 pm

      Yes it is super nice! — Tiny House Talk Team

  • David Remus
    November 8, 2016, 9:00 pm

    If stairs are built like Japanese tansu, the space under them is never wasted no matter how steep or shallow the climb. These stairs would create storage if you had cabinet doors facing the person walking up them and shelves inside.

    • Natalie
      November 9, 2016, 6:34 am

      Good thoughts 🙂 — Tiny House Talk Team

  • David Remus
    November 8, 2016, 9:04 pm

    A regular staircase allows someone with more strength in one leg than another to step up using the stronger leg first.

    Think ahead to old age and the inevitable accidents.

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