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From Van Life to Building a Tiny House

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Ally and Truman were in college dreaming about van life, and upon graduation, they made their dreams a reality. But when they were done traveling, they just couldn’t imagine going back to “normal” life. So they started dreaming of a tiny house on wheels!

They worked hard and built their custom home from the trailer up. It has a gooseneck bedroom with plenty of standing room, a beautiful kitchen with office space, and a bathroom under the guest loft. The whole home is off-grid, so they’re very cautious about their consumption of water and electricity. Read our Q&A with the couple below!

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Their Gooseneck Home on Wheels w/ Guest Loft

Former Vanlifers Create DIY THOW

Images: @tinyhousetc

The happy couple standing in their self-built home.

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Images: @tinyhousetc

I love the color pallete in here

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Images: @tinyhousetc

There’s a cozy guest bed over the bathroom.

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They have a mini dishwasher.

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Images: @tinyhousetc

They have a desk and awesome Birkey set up

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They have an oven and fridge.

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Open-shelving for all the plates.

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They have bench seating in the living space.

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Images: @tinyhousetc

Here’s their bedroom in the gooseneck

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Images: @tinyhousetc

A good spot for plants on the back of the bed.

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Images: @tinyhousetc

Here’s their bathroom with a composting toilet

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They can watch TV up in the loft.

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Images: @tinyhousetc

Q&A with Ally:

What got you into tiny living?

During our senior year of college, I was obsessed with Pinterest and was creating a vision board when I came across pictures of van life. I loved the creativity and freedom it portrayed and knew that lifestyle was right up our alley. We decided to buy a rusty old 1999 ford econoline van and turn it into a camper van. We watched a ton of YouTube videos and taught ourselves how to build out the van from scratch with very little money. We ended up building a beautiful van that we took on a 10 week cross country road trip across the USA and Canada, and many ski trips thereafter. Once we got back home, we were so used to alternative living and couldn’t picture ourselves renting an apartment like everyone else our age. That’s when I hopped back on Pinterest and came across tiny houses.

We did a ton of research trying to figure out how to go about building one ourselves and if we could afford it or not. In July 2019 we bought the trailer didn’t look back.

Did you build your home or buy it? How long did the process take?

We built our home from the trailer up. Ordered a tiny house specific trailer with threaded rods welded on and straight, angled wheel wells to make the build easier. The company we ordered through also supplied a design for a house but we were not a big fan of it and wanted a design more suited to our specific needs in our specific climate. Once we had the trailer we took measurements and used a CAD for kids program called TinkerCAD to make a rough 3D model of the envelope to help us visualize what we could fit in our floor plan. From there I drew blue prints for the framing, we found a local lumber yard and bought materials and got to work! We worked during the weekends and evenings and after about a year we had all utilities operational and moved in. perhaps another 6 months to complete all the finishes and cabinets.

How has tiny living changed your life (for better or worse)?

Our home is completely off grid so we are forced to be conscious of our consumption. We have a 70 gallon water tank built into our couch that we fill about every 10 days or so with jerry cans, our hot water, furnace, and oven/stove run on propane that we also fill approximately weekly in the cold months, and our power comes from solar panels on the roof and our battery bank on board. Every thing that we plug into an outlet or flip a switch, every time we open a faucet we are aware that we are consuming a finite resource. It has also forced us to be a bit more connected to our environment and climate outdoors. We spend much time outdoors in all seasons which we have loved. Pond hockey, fishing, fires, lots of wildlife, fresh produce from the orchard, the list goes on.

What’s the hardest part of tiny living?

There are certainly more chores to do to keep the house functioning for us. The compost toilet needs to be changed regularly, water tank needs to be kept full, propane same. We need to regulate our electrical consumption when there is a big storm and we won’t have sun for a few days; especially during the winter months when the sun is much lower in the sky and we aren’t generating as much power during the day. I don’t think of these things as making life hard for us, it’s just different. We spend time doing these things for upkeep whereas most people simply pay their monthly bill and don’t think much of it beyond that. Grid linked tiny homes are probably just as convenient as traditional homes but at a much lower cost and smaller environmental footprint. We traded convenience for independence with our setup.

What’s the most rewarding part?

We really like the flexibility it has afforded us to vacation more and the feeling of coming back home after staying somewhere else. Every time we venture out somewhere new we have a refreshed appreciation for how great it is at home. It is also very rewarding knowing that we built the entire structure and systems by ourselves. We are now called upon in each of our families for our DIY skills that we’ve acquired. For better or for worse 🙂

Any advice for people looking to go tiny?

It may seem daunting at the beginning to tackle such a large project. Take things one problem or task at a time. Take advantage of all the countless resources available to you through the internet and forums. People are very willing to help and are supportive in our experience. Having a great partner makes a massive difference. Being able to talk through things together and make decisions as a collective helps reduce the stress that will arise from such an undertaking. We had no construction or trade experience going in and did every aspect of the build on our own (with the exception of the spray foam insulation) and we are happy with our end result. Do not rush anything, planning each stage thoroughly is essential. Believe in yourself and be patient with mistakes. You’ll be impressed with what you are capable of with your time, effort, and a little bit of money.

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Our big thanks to Ally + Truman for sharing!🙏

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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.
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