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Man Builds Tiny Home in 9 Days for $1600 on No Code Land

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Several years ago John Wells bought 40 acres in this West Texas area called Brewster County for $8,000 after selling his mortgaged home in upstate New York. Then he built his own debt-free tiny home within 9 days for only $1600.

As time has gone on he has created his own solar shower, composting toilet, bicycle-powered washing machine, greenhouse, and more. The property now even has an Airstream trailer guest house, office space and additional housing made out of shipping containers, a solar oven, chicken coop, and a water collection system. His tiny house also features a swamp cooler (also known as an evaporative cooler) which he made himself to cool his cabin for next to nothing. John has the ability to store up to 21,000 gallons of water on his property.

“The main reason I came to this area is because there are no building restrictions whatsoever and that’s really hard to find in this country,” says Wells. “I came out here to get away from debt.” John went from a 2800 sq. ft. house with loads of debt to a 128 sq. ft. tiny house with zero debt and lots of self-sufficiency.

Man Builds 128 Sq. Ft. Tiny Home for $1.6k on Land w/ No Codes


Images © Faircompanies

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Images © Faircompanies

Video: From Upstate NY in 2800 Sq. Ft. to Land of No Codes in 128 Sq. Ft.


Our big thanks to Faircompanies for going out and sharing this inspiring tiny house / simple living story with us!

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 39 comments… add one }
  • Cahow
    December 9, 2014, 3:04 pm

    Is that a CABINET full of bullets!? :0

    Duck Dynasty: Texas Edition. LOL

    Wonder what he does for income, way out yonder?

    • Alex
      December 9, 2014, 3:19 pm

      Not sure about income. I’m sure he was able to get some money off the house he sold. And yup, cabinet full of bullets! He says the cops can take up to an hour and a half to get out there so you gotta be able to protect yourself.

      • Cahow
        December 9, 2014, 4:52 pm

        How’s that old saying go: “Be Careful What You Ask For?” LOL

        We were all moaning like a Greek Chorus, yesterday, when there was a serious lack of interior shots on that one home. I guess a photo of a bazillion bullets is our Just Deserts. ~snort~ (and I did spell “deserts” correctly!) 😉

        • Alex
          December 10, 2014, 10:50 am

          Lol 😀

      • jerry
        December 10, 2017, 12:05 pm

        There are lot of places and one doesn’t have to go to some God forsaken place like this part of Texas.
        I’m doing one and legally needing no permits with concrete slab of 288sq’ for just $3k, easily 2+ x the size of his just outside Tampa by studying the local code, found some loopholes you can drive a TH compound through.
        One you can build a ‘shed’ up to 150sq’ without permits, etc so I built 2 and now building another 2 right next to each other simply by leaving a covered seam separating them by a 1/4″.
        I did my first by buying a lot with a bad but legal trailer on it so I took everything off the frame in the front 50% and ‘Repaired’ it into a TH.
        So soon I’ll have a 3 unit TH compound for about $40k plus I’ve lived here 27 yrs near free having paid the lot off in 5 yrs for less than
        Remember most places anything done before a sale are grandfathered in on sale unless really bad.

  • Anne
    December 9, 2014, 3:16 pm

    Dont mess with Texas!!

  • Bonnie merchant
    December 9, 2014, 3:36 pm

    I’ll take codes anyday as opposed to having this shack as a neighbor

    • TheHabMan
      December 10, 2014, 7:52 am

      And I would take 1000 of those shacks next door before I would live next to someone that believes that their opinion of what I do with my property is any of their business.

      Bonnie, please, please, please stay in a nasty dank city or some McMansion fulled suburb that doesn’t “allow” anything under 2500 sq ft to be built and leave people who wish to live small alone to do so.

      Everyone has the right to live as they wish

      • Andrea Hardy
        December 10, 2014, 11:46 pm

        thehabman, LOL, agreed!

        • TheHabMan
          December 11, 2014, 8:23 am

          I have no idea why people think that they can force others into following their wishes.

          The biggest problem with building tiny houses is building codes supported by people who think they will drive down property values. But even when you move out to the middle of nowhere there is someone who wants to complain.

          It is like the people in my area that moved in next to a 75 year old horse farm, then started to complain that it smelled like horses. That is stupid enough, however they tried to force the farm close. Like I said, stay in the cities if you want to control everyone.

        • morbious
          December 12, 2014, 7:13 am

          No complaints about how it’s built. When it collapses on his head, he can crawl to the nearest town for help. Always nice to watch a survivalist find out he can’t.

      • Terressa
        December 11, 2017, 2:11 am

        AMEN!!! The nerve of “some people!”

    • Erin
      May 7, 2016, 11:28 am

      Bonnie it’s most certainly individuals such as yourself whom give others such as this man, a bazillion reasons as to why he moved out to the sticks in the first place. I’d rather 50 of him, than one of you. God bless us all.

  • Comet
    December 9, 2014, 3:39 pm


    He’s gotta have SOMETHING to plink away at all those empty cans with!!!!

    I’ve driven thru West Texas and it is extremely EMPTY. We stopped at a “lake” which had dried up I suspect during the 1700’s–altho there were modern signs “Welcome to Lake ZYX” ==hmmm–and there was an old section of fencing (like guardrail) and a rabbit was stretched out in the “shade” —he was sooooo stretched out I thought it was dead! Then the skinniest coyote I had EVER seen came around one of the old buildings and one of my kids let out a scream and the rabbit shot off into the “brush” and the coyote just looked at us, annoyed.

    It was 121* that day—some where with thermometers that recorded this—surely even hotter out there.

    Clever place he has here tho==

    No Texas for ME thanks!

    • Cahow
      December 9, 2014, 4:47 pm

      FANTASTIC story, Comet! You wrote it so well, I could feel the heat on my neck! Yeah, I’ll leave everything South of the Mason-Dixon Line to y’all. Scandinavians think 60 degrees is a heat wave! LOL

    • Kat
      December 10, 2014, 10:02 am

      The lake is seasonal, and serves as a collection point for rainwater during monsoon season. There are times of the year when that guard rail is probably quite necessary.

      Also, having a gun available when living in an isolated area on the border is not a bad idea. While Brewster County doesn’t see the highest volume of smuggling and violent crime out of all the border counties (Ajo sector in Arizona usually wins that dubious “honor”), it is still a violent and active drug corridor. Like most long-time border residents, I doubt he’s much concerned with undocumented persons being a threat, but smugglers, banditos, and idiot “militia” from other parts of the US can be a problem, even if you live in a town. Living far out like that (and remember, an hour and a half response time is probably the response time with good road conditions–flooding during monsoon season can mean much longer response times)…I’d have a gun and ammo, too.

      It’s also not just humans to worry about out there. When you live way out like that, the wildlife may not be as afraid of humans as they are elsewhere. He has livestock and greenery and water, which will draw in predators like Mexican wolves, cougars, and even potentially the very few jaguars that range the border. So the guns are also a precaution against potential animal problems.

      Not to mention rattlesnakes, though a gun is a bit overkill for a snake, in my opinion. I’d much rather avoid creating snake-friendly areas near my home, and then hassle any that still arrive into living elsewhere.

      And 121 degrees? Pffft. Try 130 degrees with 100% humidity (which means no swamp cooler will work). That’s when you really find out who the true desert rats are. 😉

  • Steve
    December 9, 2014, 4:08 pm

    I’d love living out there, in fact I’ve been looking at a 40 acre piece of land and maybe building a village out there.

    • Alex
      December 10, 2014, 10:48 am

      Building a village out there or somewhere else similar would be awesome. Especially since there are no building codes you literally could create a tiny house community with plenty of space to spare for each resident/lot owner. Would be cool!

    • Jennifer
      December 11, 2014, 2:47 pm

      if you do create a community on your land please contact me. thank you!!!!!
      [email protected]

  • Comet
    December 9, 2014, 5:54 pm

    You are welcome! That trip was hysterical and never to be repeated. From NY to AZ with three kids under the age of 10 in a Jeep that had issues —and ONE adult!

    Now trying to be some where LESS cold than NY—but not QUITE so hot as Texas!

  • AL
    December 9, 2014, 8:17 pm

    I think it is awesome what he is doing & it is all off the grid!!! Bravo to John. May it be even better than what he imagined. 🙂

    • Alex
      December 10, 2014, 10:41 am

      Thanks AL!

  • Karen R
    December 9, 2014, 8:30 pm

    The fact that I don’t like Texas, wide open spaces, extreme heat, or bullets is of no importance; this man is following his dream. More power to him!!

    • Alex
      December 10, 2014, 10:40 am

      Yup! That’s exactly the point. Thanks Karen!

  • Brent
    December 9, 2014, 8:36 pm

    I can speak of many things this patriot said as I live in South Texas. I am about to head out on a pilgrimage of sorts to what I hope becomes my homestead where I will likely start the same way. I have however put some lessons into effort here in town that will be employed. The metal building(containers) description is fact. An oven in the summer and icebox in the winter. A second roof system is not a bad idea with a ridge vent. I hope that my several years planning and learning will give me a head start. I have learned, as he, that I do not need a lot of living space, just a clean place to retire each day. I do need a big barn or garage though.

    • Alex
      December 10, 2014, 10:39 am

      Thanks Brent! I agree with you too. In a situation like that I’d absolutely love a tiny cabin. As small as possible. But with the addition of a large garage, barn, or warehouse for projects, storage, etc. on the homestead.

  • Denise
    December 11, 2014, 9:09 am

    This man is very industrious and displays a great work ethic. He has thought of every angle, and even has a soft side with the flowered pink and blue bedspread. 🙂 The only thing I would change is put the loo in an outhouse otherwise one could end up with a tumbleweed in their lap or an unfortunate encounter with wildlife while doing business. 😀

  • December 15, 2014, 8:56 am

    This guy totally gets it. I would love to do this, if only I could figure on a way to run a kiln I would be there pronto. I am a hermit by nature and love the quite, I could have my dogs, chickens and guns and bring a tiny house with me. Yeah, its do able.

    • Terressa
      December 11, 2017, 2:24 am

      @PennyinSC Depending on what kind of pottery you do, you can always do an underground kiln. Check out underground cooking and get some ideas off of that as to how to set one up.

  • mimi
    February 11, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Oh my gosh! This man is awesome! He’s doing exactly what he wants to do and not “bothering” anyone else along the way. I must admit that I DO love living within the code limits here in FL but it’s not for everyone that’s for sure. I admire him for following his heart and ridding himself of a huge mortgage and the stress of the city…….or even upstate NY. GOOD FOR YOU! And the cabinet of bullets? Love it! 🙂

  • Brian
    February 27, 2015, 2:28 pm

    Watch out for SNAKEs!!! I was into this life style 25 years ago. Then Realtors try to sell you a dreams and SCREW You . then guys like this man tell the world about it, then next thing everyone wants to live there and don’t know why they do, cuz they got a handling him, then it starts costing an arm and a leg to live a simple life. Cuz Man is never happy!.

  • RoSee
    March 9, 2016, 9:08 pm

    Love what he did out in the middle of nowhere and for 1.6K, I call that impressive. Wish I knew where he got all the supplies to built his little kingdom! Had a good laugh over his open-air outhouse! Good for you John!
    I’m a Scandinavian myself, and find that 55 degrees is hot for me. I like it cold, I mean B-r-r cold! Sorry, John I can’t join you down in Texas!

  • Tim
    March 9, 2016, 9:31 pm

    Always have to have the Nay Sayers to complain.
    May they all stay in the city.
    This man has done a great job of making a home just the way he wants it, as he wants it, and when he wants it. Personally I think people are just jealous when they see someone that is happy doing what they want and living in peace.
    Good job John Wells!

  • kristinà nadreau
    March 9, 2016, 10:57 pm

    Few people are willing or have the skills to live like this man has chosen. He does live in a shack. And it is legal and his choice. I live in an area where no one is following any codes of any sort. I have friends who lived quietly for many years and then a guy came next door and built a block factkory. It is dusty and noisy 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I like building codes for many reasons.

  • Jack
    December 10, 2017, 12:12 pm

    I find it funny how so many Texans invest such a disproportionate amount of their money into ammo. He bought a ton of ammo to stop people from stealing his ammo? Dude, seriously.

    • El
      December 11, 2017, 11:55 am

      No, he bought a ton of ammo because he lives out in the back of beyond and it takes law enforcement over an hour to reach him. Plus he has livestock and needs to protect them against wolves, cougars, coyotes…

  • Lee Price
    December 10, 2017, 7:55 pm

    I want to know how he build the shower and washer/bike machine. Also how to operate the washer, you know wash rinse cycles.

  • Louisiana Nomad Lawyer
    December 12, 2017, 6:46 pm

    Pretty cool digs for that little bit of money. You have to be a tough SOB to survive like that off-grid way out in the middle of nowhere West Tejas. If that’s what makes him happy, great! Dude is living life on his terms, modestly, simply, sustainably, happily, minding his own business and not hurting anyone. Nothing wrong with that!

    • Alex
      December 13, 2017, 10:54 am

      Well said!

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