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Kristen’s Debt-Free Tiny House on a Foundation in Alaska


Kris is a Tiny House Talk reader who was willing to share her gorgeous tiny home on a foundation in Alaska with us! It’s 500 square feet, and was built by a local contractor from a Sheldon Homes design (which, unfortunately, has gone out of business). Kris owned the land the tiny sits on outright, and after a couple years of making payments on her home, now lives debt-free!

She moved from a city apartment with neighbors sharing her walls to her cozy home in the country with her own space where she can craft and garden. There’s even a stream that runs through her property and lulls her to sleep at night.

We got to ask her some questions about her tiny life, so be sure to read our Q&A with Kris at the end of the post!

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Her 500 Sq. Ft. Tiny Foundation Home

Kris Alaska Tiny House 5

Images via Kris Spencer

Her cozy living room with a bay window.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 7

Images via Kris Spencer

Absolutely love those wooden cabinets.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 8

Images via Kris Spencer

Her little bathroom with a flush toilet.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 9

Images via Kris Spencer

She did her tile shower herself.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 10

Images via Kris Spencer

Her entryway with stairs to the second floor.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 6

Images via Kris Spencer

Extra storage space.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 11

Images via Kris Spencer

Windows upstairs looking at the trees.

Kris Alaska Tiny House 3

Images via Kris Spencer

Awesome woodworking details.

Kris Alaska Tiny House

Images via Kris Spencer

And the lovely Kris!

Kris Alaska Tiny House 2

Images via Kris Spencer

What are/is your name(s)?

Kristen Spencer

How many people (and animals) are living in your tiny house?

1 adult, 1 standard dachshund

Where do you live?

A few miles outside of Palmer, Alaska

How long have you lived tiny?

If you count my apartment, I’ve lived tiny most of my adult life. My tiny home, though, is 200 sq ft smaller than my apartment was. I’ve lived in my tiny home for 7 years.

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time?

I’m an artist and garden blogger. I work out of my home.

Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny?

I’ve always loved the charm of tiny homes and the concept behind them. As a single person, I didn’t need a big home. I wanted something that was economical and energy efficient. Building a tiny home was also affordable.

How did you first learn about tiny life?

About 10 years ago while looking at small house plans, I ran across Tumbleweeds. And that was my connection to tiny homes. Only, I didn’t want anything on wheels. But, once I had that specific terminology, I began to research “tiny houses”. That’s where the vision began to really take shape. I watched You Tubes and began looking for tiny house plans.

How did you acquire your home?

I purchased a tiny house plan from Sheldon Designs (the ‘micro cottage’) and hired a contractor to build it.

Are you comfortable sharing how much it cost? Have you done any renovations?

Costs vary so widely and are not necessarily comparable. For instance, I already owned my property free and clear. But I had to install a well and septic. In Alaska, we build on a 2×6 frame. It’s a pretty sturdy little place. I went with a soy-based spray foam insulation. My best friend and her husband helped with some things, like exterior painting and trim work, and tiled the shower. I did the interior painting to save on labor. But I actually wanted to put some of my own sweat equity into it. It was the first time owning my own home.

My friend is the daughter of a superb carpenter. She helped me make some artsy modifications to the Sheldon plan to give it some interest. We added some extra windows, did an interior cut-out or two, and identified some wall cavities for built-in storage. *The large, triangle cut out is for a stain glass window. The plan had a full tub, but considering the 15 mile drive to the nearest laundry, we opted to turn the tub into a shower to make room for a stack w/d.

What are bills/utilities like compared to before?

At my apartment in the city, the landlord paid the heat because it was natural gas. Here in my rural valley, there is no gas line. I chose to heat with a Toyo oil stove. The price of heating oil is in line with gasoline prices. Like any home, heating costs are higher in winter, lower in summer. In my area it’s usually between $250-$300 for 100 gallons. But, my tiny home is pretty well insulated and in a typical year, I burn less than 300 gallons of oil per year.

Without a gas line, all my appliances and hot water heater are electric. I have in-floor heating which is really nice. However, it’s electric, so I don’t use it that much because it really draws a lot of power.

Before going tiny, what was life like?

I lived in a 700 sq ft 2-bedroom duplex apartment in the city, so I was used to living small. But apartment life means neighbors on the other side of the wall. Paying rent every month. Needing to ask permission to do practically anything. I wanted to garden and do some landscaping and it’s just not practical on someone else’s property.

Is there anything from your old life that you miss?

Honestly, there really isn’t anything I miss. The most dramatic change was the difference in lifestyle between the city and the country. Conveniences you take for granted. No 5 minute trip to the grocery store in the middle of the night for a Haagen Dazs craving or whatever. In the country, if you need a repairman, they charge extra for gas and travel time. And I don’t have trash service, so I have to take it myself to a transfer station, but its not too far from home.

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?

The biggest benefit hands down is that going tiny made home ownership possible. I built what I could afford. I paid off my home in a couple of years and I now live debt free!

My tiny home has all the nice features of an average-sized new construction home, just scaled down!

What about some challenges?

Learning how much Less really is More. You can’t enjoy your tiny home if you cram a bunch of stuff into it. Then, your space will feel and look larger. In my experience, if lives more comfortably being able to move easily throughout.

There were things I didn’t anticipate. It was harder than I thought to find a builder who would build a tiny home (in my state, anyway) and to get financing. The majority of lenders do not understand “tiny homes”.

Finding quality in smaller. Since this would be my year-round residence, I wanted attractive-looking, good quality appliances.

Same thing when it comes to furnishings. A lot of stuff made for a normal home doesn’t easily transfer over to a tiny house. While I have pretty amazing storage considering, the spaces are smaller. It really does force you to make hard choices if you don’t want a lot of clutter.

I’ve come to the conclusion that customized features are the way to go for better compatibility and duo-functions that are so incredibly helpful. I was unable to go that route, but I have some ideas I want to do in the future, now that I’ve lived in this space a while.

Finally, I thought I would have to clean LESS because it’s smaller. But you actually have to clean more because it’s smaller. A smaller space gets dirtier faster.

What makes your tiny home special?

I love the rustic style and the way it lives large. The vertical windows look out into the woods so the eye has someplace to go beyond a wall.

Part of the living “large” part is an upstairs loft with its own private space. I love having the bedroom on a different level. I have real steps (not a ladder) and the view at that height puts you right up there in the trees. I have a little stream that crosses my property on its western border. When I leave the bedroom window open just a bit, I can hear the rushing of the water. It’s very relaxing at night.

I especially love the bay window and custom craftsman-style features my friend helped me design. I love all the wood accents that make it feel warm and cozy.

The woodsy setting makes all the difference in the world. It’s peaceful and quiet. I’m a nature girl at heart, so for me, it’s thrilling to hear the hear owls and occasionally coyotes. I love seeing the stars at night. It feels like a never-ending camping trip!

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?

Research a LOT! Watch some you tube videos and look at lots and lots of plans. While many tiny homes are on wheels, you can build one on a foundation, too, just like I did.

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Natalie C. McKee

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 two little kids. She and her family just purchased a small fixer-upper and are starting a self-sufficient homestead on their happy little acre.
{ 48 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Linda Baker
    October 18, 2020, 9:44 pm

    I’ll assume the bedroom is upstairs, do you have storage there as well – I have a 400sq ft park model with a bedroom (queen) and closet/drawers built in as well as overhead and under bed storage is yours comparable? Do you have a coat/storage closet? I think the kitchen is wonderful as is the bathroom and wood used throughout – bravo!

  • Avatar Maureen (Mo) MacCracken
    October 19, 2020, 2:35 am

    Great story Kris.. i had no idea you built a Tiny Home…next time you are at Thrifters in Palmer look for me and we can talk Tiny Houses!

  • Avatar Mike
    October 19, 2020, 4:15 am

    Any way to see a sketch of the floor layout? I like the photos, I’d love to build one of these.

    • Avatar Sytske
      October 20, 2020, 7:42 pm

      I found one when searching for images

      https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOIP.WqJQ5PbXmX9ov5AVJxgXDQHaFP%26pid%3DApi&f=1

      I hope it works for you.
      It’s a shame the plans aren’t for sale anymore, I would have bought a set. If you happen upon a place where they are sold, let me know?

      • Avatar Mike
        October 21, 2020, 12:25 pm

        Thank you. I think I can draw up a set of plans for constructing it now. (I’m an old design draftsman) worked for many years with different architects and engineers. I appreciate this.

        • Avatar Mike
          October 23, 2020, 1:42 pm

          I have the floor plan drawn out so far, Still have to dimension it and add notes and call-outs. Too bad I can’t upload a copy of my plans when I finish.

        • Avatar Robert Riegler
          April 10, 2021, 7:50 pm

          The photo’s in this article do not match the plans in the email chains? i.e., the kitchen appears to be a short L with window above sink and to the right of the dishwasher vs. on plan with no window and no L? Frankly, the pictures look a lot more friendly. Also in the bathroom, the sink/toilet appears to be on opposite wall of the shower and stack W/D with the door in the middle vs. the plans?
          This would be a great plan to do take offs on, switch out swing interior doors for raised panel wood pocket doors saving a TON of space. Window trim outs natural wood all around(where finished!) nice touch. Nice use of tile. Plan shows wood stove(?insert?), fireplace? Such a small space would easy peaky heat.

          Is there any way “Mike” could consider mailing USPO plans he draws up? I’d gladly pay him!

        • Avatar Mike
          April 18, 2021, 4:02 pm

          Robert Riegler, email me at “n0klu at embarqmail dot com” and I will send you the pdf copies I have done.

      • Avatar Mike
        October 21, 2020, 12:38 pm

        Found ouit why these plans are no longer available…. https://www.novacremate.com/obituary/Andrew-Sheldon/Alexandria-VA/1736170

        • Avatar Carrie
          February 13, 2021, 11:04 am

          I used to get his newsletters, they were so cute. It would start off with “Andy here…..” I miss them & even though he is passed his designs live on & they are beautiful 😍
          Thank you for the post too!

  • Avatar Donna
    October 19, 2020, 9:34 am

    I like the tiny house idea. I’ve never thought of this before, but it’s a neat idea. Thanks for showing your tiny home.

  • Avatar sheila
    October 19, 2020, 11:50 am

    I love this tiny home. Is classy, the kitchen, living room is perfect. Stairs is real nice. A lot of thought and love went into this tiny home. Bathroom is nice.

  • Avatar Kathy Handyside
    October 19, 2020, 1:35 pm

    It’s absolutely beautiful! I love the design. It’s so much nicer than the current “railroad box car” styles we so much of these days.

    • Avatar Eric
      December 20, 2020, 3:52 pm

      Touché

  • Avatar janet pierce
    October 19, 2020, 1:40 pm

    Lovely place you have there Kris. Thanks for sharing. I grew up in Anchorage, (50s and 60s) and familiar with your area, even all the changes through visits over the years.
    Anyway, I’ve been stateside for many years now and am settling into my own ‘tiny house’…284 sq. ft in Central KY. I too have been single for many years and moved here from a ‘small’, (750 sq. ft. ) apartment . I’ve now done three major downsizing and don’t miss any of what I’ve given or thrown away. Thank goodness for places to sell and donate.
    I like what you’ve done with yours. Lovely kitchen , sitting area and bathroom. I’ve tried to find a balance between ‘homey’, ‘convenient’ but without ‘clutter’. It looks like you’ve found that balance. Again, thanks, janet

    • Avatar Kurt
      October 20, 2020, 4:41 am

      Hi, I’m interested buying my own land and building a tiny home on a foundation, but I understand it is nearly impossible to get building permits for this in most states. Besides Alaska, do you know of any states/towns that allow such a build? Thanks…

      • Avatar janet pierce
        October 21, 2020, 11:20 am

        Kurt,

        Many municipalities are changing their zoning…even here in Kentucky. Zoning for ADUs, (Accessory Dwelling Units) as you probably already know, is more common today. My son and wife looked for homes with a ‘mother in law’ apt….granny flat…tiny house etc., but nothing affordable was found. The two closest urban areas changed their zoning and so did our rural county. My small place is attached to a garage next to their house and is designed to be rent-able in case I decide to leave town or ‘kick the bucket’…or whatever comes first. The kids got a building permit and were able to access the money by refinancing their house. They used a contractor who’d never built anything smaller than a duplex but he was reasonable in cost and kept us up to date on being able to make other choices as he went…like changing the roof pitch on one side to allow some high transom windows and building a door into an area of dead space in the kitchen cabinetry…(‘dead space’ when living in a 284 sq. ft home…h*** no). Owning property in the area of AK that Kris built in is usually not under zoning regulations but for us down here in the ‘lower 48’ it’s something most of us have to deal with…good luck.

      • Avatar Betty Mahoney
        October 23, 2020, 12:28 am

        I build a tiny house on a foundation in Connecticut with a wonderful builder. I have a well and septic, and the house feels very spacious at just under 300sq ft.

        • November 1, 2020, 8:04 am

          Hi there! Love all things Tiny House related and currently live in one in Adirondacks NY.. Originally from Connecticut and couldn’t find land there to build my Tiny House.. whereabouts in Connecticut is your Tiny House and did you have to buy the land outright? Land was unheard of in Connecticut during my quest ..thank you for sharing!🙏

        • Avatar sharon purcell
          January 30, 2021, 9:10 am

          Betty I live in Connecticut and have wondered about building a tiny home in the Barkhamsted (Litchfield hills) . Where are you and are there any restrictions?

  • Avatar Theresa Perdue
    October 20, 2020, 8:15 am

    I absolutely adore her tiny home. I am not going to list what I like about it because we would be here all day. Basically I would love to be her.👍

  • Avatar Jamila
    October 20, 2020, 4:11 pm

    It is so cute and I really like it even though I’m more of a small house person. Is there a stove in the kitchen? I would need a stove with oven cooking is what I do!
    This is perfect for one and your pet!

    Thank you so much for sharing and I would love to have a little bit bigger house to live in.

  • Avatar Alex
    October 20, 2020, 4:29 pm

    Congratulations! You have created a tiny house that doesn’t have the sometimes cramped feeling that many THOWs have. It looks very comfortable and most important, livable. I would have added a tiny wood stove, but that’s just me, I love heating with fire. I understand that the plans are copyrighted, but a quick sketch of the layout would help me visualize the space better.

  • Avatar Greta
    October 20, 2020, 4:35 pm

    Your tiny home is lovely, but I am really confused by it’s lay out. Could you please provide a sketch of the layout. Even totally basic would be tremendously helpful to orient myself. Thanks so much! Your home is charming,

  • Avatar T palmer
    October 20, 2020, 7:47 pm

    What a delightfully sophisticated tiny home! It feels warm and has tons of character, things you don’t normally find in a lot of tiny homes. Thank you for sharing your home!

  • Avatar janet pierce
    October 21, 2020, 11:32 am

    To Kris,

    Another comment….I really like your place and the location brings back memories… I have a cousin in Wasilla/Palmer area who’s an artist and has her display at the Fair every year…I can’t help but wonder if you know each other.

    Anyway…I’ve lived in my ‘tiny house’ long enough to feel akin to you… the ‘cleaning’..it seems like I’m cleaning all the time, but it goes so much faster. I have a couple of parakeets who have the run of my place and who shed dust and feathers. My handy little hand vacuum takes care of it all in a jiffy…so cleaning more often but only takes a minute or two.

    I guess your Fall is winding up and ours is in full color…I’m sure you’re enjoying your views and the wildlife there.

    Again..thanks for sharing your story.

  • Avatar Linda A Feletar
    October 22, 2020, 7:47 pm

    Cozy and charming but did I miss a picture of the bedroom? I assume it is upstairs? If so. is the ceiling high enough to stand up in the room?

  • Avatar Michael L
    October 22, 2020, 10:56 pm

    You’re a real inspiration… I do want my own tiny house. After living in a tiny cottage, all 312 sq ft of it, I know tiny is the way to go. Just need to find the right place to settle! Thanks for sharing your beautiful home.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      October 23, 2020, 2:15 pm

      I hope you find that perfect spot!

  • Avatar Wynne Wigderson
    October 25, 2020, 3:05 pm

    Would have loved to see a video of Ms.Stewards tiny home… it looks very interesting & I would like a lot more detail! Ty
    Respectfully, Ms. Wynne Wigderson

  • Avatar Bessie robinson
    October 28, 2020, 11:18 am

    I live in Florida have acreage in a small town but zoning has been a problem how do you get around the zoning laws if it’s in municipal area. Thanks

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      October 29, 2020, 12:58 pm

      In most cases people just do things illegally like put a THOW on the land until someone complains. Otherwise, they complain to the authorities and try to get like-minded people to help them change the laws. Or, they see how small they can build legally, and then build that tiny, but to code.

  • Avatar Marsha Cowan
    October 30, 2020, 10:15 pm

    This tiny house is so adorable! It has so many nice touches and personal effects. I love the stairwell “windows” and the entryway. The shower is pretty, too. Great job and enjoy your comfy cozy lovely home.

  • Avatar Tina M Eckart
    November 1, 2020, 8:10 am

    Beautifully done!🙏 Love the cozy feel and quaintness…I did the very same thing with my Tiny, getting land outright in Adirondacks and having Amish build my lifted Tiny House…also have an artesian well so I know the tranquility the sound of water brings to our lives! Thank you for sharing your Tiny 🏠.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      November 2, 2020, 7:58 am

      Have we featured your tiny home, Tina?

  • Avatar Susan
    November 25, 2020, 1:11 pm

    This is a lovely home. We need more communities/cities, to allow small homes on foundations.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      November 25, 2020, 1:23 pm

      I completely agree.

  • Avatar BONITA STANDRIDGE
    January 27, 2021, 10:46 am

    I still would like a ballpark figure for the house, and the house only. I have property ,a well and septic paid for.
    Thanks, Bonita

  • Avatar Robert Riegler
    April 10, 2021, 1:33 pm

    Has anyone ever gotten even “rough” plan for this home? How do you get to the ?room with the round window above the bathroom? I too would be interested in the bedroom ceiling height?

  • Avatar vee
    April 10, 2021, 6:49 pm

    This is a lovely, charming tiny home. I love all of what I have seen of it. I also just love that it is set in the “woods” — seems to fit in perfectly as the outside views are wonderful. I moved a few times to smaller houses and love the freedom and joy of less cleaning! A smaller place does require keeping clutter OUT!
    But, I have found I can clean quickly and easier than ever as there isn’t all that much to clean!!!

  • Avatar Mike
    April 10, 2021, 10:18 pm

    Kris Spencer, on the way out-side chance, would you still have a copy of the plans to your tiny house? As they are no longer available on the market and the copyright holder is deceased with no one holding the rights to these house designs. I have the original plans to the #CT1612 cottage (on page 16 of the catalog) but it ended up too big for my wife and I now that the kids have all grown up and flown the nest with families of their own. I would love to build the #CT103 here in Missouri.

    • Avatar Sytske Wijnsma
      April 11, 2021, 9:28 am

      I’d be interested as well. However, if the copyright holder had heirs then they have the rights, for 70 years after his death (at least this is the case for books). I don’t want to infringe on any intellectual property rights, but I’d love to know how this house is put together.

  • Avatar Sara
    April 12, 2021, 12:01 am

    This is just lovely. I’d like to see more photos of the details, and maybe a video. She’s right about smaller spaces needing to be cleaned more often. I live in a tiny apartment, and it needs to be dusted about every day. Even with good air filters.

  • Avatar Mike
    April 18, 2021, 3:56 pm

    I now have some simple floor plans, but don’t know where to send them to… Give me the authors address and I’ll send them to her to add to this post.

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