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Couple’s 648 Sq. Ft. Tall Tiny House And How It Came To Be

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Post-Katrina, my partner, Sky, and I headed to New Orleans to offer our carpentry skills to help rebuilding in the area. After spending a couple of months doing all kinds of things, meeting great people, and loving the city and her culture, we decided to buy property and move here.

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The Story of Our 648 Sq. Ft. Tall Tiny House

Jane Dwinells 648 Sq Ft Tall Cottage 001

Images © Jane Dwinell

Getting Our Land and Designing Our House

We purchased a 30′ x 100′ city lot where a building destroyed during the flood had been torn down, and set about designing our house. We wanted to raise as much food as possible in such a small space, so we knew our house had to be unique so as to not take up too much of the footprint. We also wanted to design something that would be energy-efficient in the hot and humid climate.

Thus, the cupola house was born!

Because of regulations imposed after Katrina, we were required to build the house at least four feet off the ground, have an engineer design hurricane-specific hardware, and install either hurricane-proof windows or shutters (we don’t like shutters, so we have Marvin Integrity windows designed to withstand 140 MPH winds — also deters criminals). We chose to build the house nine feet off the ground so we could park our car under the house, and have a small shed to hold our tools and bicycles.

Preparing for Construction

After the pile drivers came and drove the 20 pilings 40 feet deep into the New Orleans swamp, Sky and I began building. We built the cupola on the ground, and once the house was framed up, a crane came and lifted the cupola into place! (Given that both of us hate heights, building this house was quite the challenge.) The purpose of the cupola is to allow the air to circulate — hot up and out. With ceiling fans and this great air circulation, we rarely have to use the AC.

Our Tiny House Design Concept

The house is 18′ x 18′ ( 648 sq. ft.) with two decks and one screened porch. Having these three outside spaces allows us to spend a lot of time outdoors, rotating the spaces through the seasons. The two decks face south; the screened porch, north. The three-season screened porch, in particular, is a favorite spot for morning coffee, afternoon reading, and evening dinners. It’s also the location of the clothesline, protected from sudden rain storms. The upper deck is the home of my solar oven.

Taking the Tour of Our Tall Tiny House

Downstairs is one open room sharing living and kitchen space. Kitchen has a small electric stove, small energy-efficient refrigerator (Summit), and soapstone counters. The below-counter cabinets are made from reclaimed wood. We originally installed a cork floor, but it did not like the heat and humidity, so we pulled it up and installed ceramic tile. Storage and pantry is under the stairs. Hot water comes from the solar panel on the roof, with an electric Seisco instantaneous hot water heater as (rarely-used) backup.

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Upstairs is a small bathroom (with walk-in shower, toilet, sink, and washer) and bedroom. The bedroom opens up into the cupola which, besides air circulation, allows for wonderful light to flow in. The flooring is reclaimed wood. A library ladder gives access to the ceiling of the bathroom which allows one to sit and enjoy the view (and open and close the windows). The beams holding up the cupola are a favorite playground for one of our cats (unfortunately) — though he had yet to fall, being a cat and all.

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The rest of the lot is garden — eight raised beds where we grow our vegetables and herbs, grapefruit, lemon, banana and fig trees, along with grapes and blackberries. A thousand-gallon tank sits under the deck filled via gutters, and the water is used on the plants as needed.

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How We Built It

Sky and I did all the carpentry and finish work, and hired out the rest — plumbing, electric, insulation, roofing, and sheetrock installation. Given the termite situation in the south, all exposed wood is pressure-treated, the siding is HardiBoard, and the decking is made of recycled plastic. The insulation is cellulose — 12″ in the bottom, 6″ in the roof, and 4″ in the walls along with 2″ of rigid foam board. The house stays cool when it’s supposed to, and warm in cold weather. Perfect. I would build this house in the north as well — but would put it on an insulated slab foundation for extra warmth. The cupola house cost about four times as much as our 160 sq. ft. tiny house on a trailer, and would come in about $10,000 less without the special hurricane hardware and windows.

SEE ALSO: Jane & Sky’s 160 Sq. Ft. Tiny House on Wheels

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We love our cozy, colorful, cupola house!

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Images © Jane Dwinell

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Jane Dwinell, and her partner Sky Yardley, are retired, and find many things to do in New Orleans. She is the author of Freedom Through Frugality: Spend Less, Have More, available exclusively on her website, SpiritofLifePublishing.com. You can also "Like" Freedom Through Frugality on Facebook for more from Jane.

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{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Heidi
    December 3, 2015, 3:52 pm

    The a great house for those that can still climb stairs.
    It’s funny when looking at other peoples spaces, and don’t get me wrong, I really liked how the house shows strength and beauty in a tiny house. But what I do is when I view int interiors, and I think I’m not the only one that does this, but in that washroom shower stale I would like to see those glass blocks just to get more light in that area. You know.
    You have a wonderful space that’s warm and inviting. Thanks for sharing

    • Jane Dwinell
      December 3, 2015, 5:27 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Heidi. The shower is open to the cupola above, so there is lots of light, and the steam dissipates without a fan. I took the photos on a cloudy day. And, yes, we think about the stairs — right now we get lots of exercise, but we know we would have to move if one of us became disabled.

  • Lauri
    December 3, 2015, 7:14 pm

    I love that shower!

  • December 3, 2015, 9:44 pm

    I love everything about your Cupola Home. I love the bright blue exterior the color is very vibrant! I love your gardens, and your screened in porch. That’s a great idea to have the car and shed under your house. It’s like having a garage. The rooms seem like they are a good size. I love the area above your bedroom and all the windows. Your home is very lovely! Thank you for sharing it!!

  • Lauren
    December 3, 2015, 10:49 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous! Love the windows.

  • Connie Murray
    December 4, 2015, 11:44 am

    Love your stylish house! The only change I would make would be to plant a hedge out back to block the view of the ugly building behind you. Hedges are great because they breath, they provide a place for wild life and they look great without bunches of maintenance. You could use a fence but a hedge is green and alive.

    • Jane Dwinell
      December 4, 2015, 12:41 pm

      Hi Connie,
      That ugly building is actually across the street in the front… and because our line of sight is 15′ in the air (at least), a hedge wouldn’t work. We have encouraged the owner of the building to plant some trees in front of it on their property, to no avail. Just part of living in a city!

      • Vanyel Kane
        December 4, 2015, 6:51 pm

        I can’t believe you did that! I’m glad they didn’t do anything, it’s not polite to tell people how to live and what to do with their own house. Isn’t that the problem we have in tiny houses? People telling us how to live?

        • Matt
          December 4, 2015, 9:45 pm

          People post their homes so that others can critique and discuss them. Nothing out of line was suggested, in fact the homeowner acknowledged that they pursued a similar course of action to that suggested.

        • kristina nadreau
          March 17, 2016, 4:03 pm

          there is nothing wrong in asking for what you want or need. who do you think you are to tell other people what is polite and what is not?

        • Stephan of Arkansas
          March 31, 2020, 8:06 pm

          Surely there is nothing wrong with politely approaching the neighbors to discuss and make a request. One certainly would NOT want to approach one’s neighbors like a charging rhino in heat. Polite discussion and gentle explanation, not demands. (Some of us remember how to do that.) I once had a similar discussion with a neighbor and said I would be glad to pay for the trees/shrubs and pay to have someone plant them from my own funds. (The cost was modest in fact.) My then neighbor jumped at my suggestion…. his problem had been inadequate funds. And lack of imagination. These comments are respectfully submitted.

      • CharlotteMo
        December 5, 2015, 3:29 am

        There are much worse views than a warehouse, and it’d take decades for trees to grow high enough or thick enough to do any good. Enjoy the terrific views across town. The deck looks like a great place for margaritas after dark. Beautiful paint job!

  • Keith G
    December 4, 2015, 1:42 pm

    So I used to be pretty good with word problems, but this one doesn’t have enough information to calculate: “The cupola house cost about four times as much as our 160 sq. ft. tiny house on a trailer, and would come in about $10,000 less without the special hurricane hardware and windows.” I referred back to the 160 sq ft house, and no price was given there. I could look up the price of the Marvin windows, but that wouldn’t really answer the question either. So… how much did it cost to build this thing?!! 🙂

    • Jane Dwinell
      December 4, 2015, 5:16 pm

      Sorry about that. The tiny tiny house cost $21K, the cupola house cost $85 K.

      • Keith G
        December 4, 2015, 5:57 pm

        Thank you! If I had to guess, I might have guessed around that number, or higher. I think this number shows the amount of work you guys put into it yourselves, or would have been higher! It’s a nice house!

  • Kristina H Nadreau
    December 4, 2015, 5:36 pm

    thank you for sharing this very creatively designed house. I can no longer climb stairs so I would use an elevator. I live in a country where I can get a local metal worker to make me a metal cage, using a strong metal cable hooked up to a quarter horse motor, as an inexpensive elevator. The house I am designing is longer and more narrow, than yours. It shares many of your ideas, & is also on first floor pilings, living space on second floor and very high ceilings (cupolo).

    • Keith Gardner
      December 4, 2015, 6:01 pm

      Boy, you’re scaring me a bit here, Kristina! I don’t know what country that is, but I think there’s a good reason that elevators here need to be properly designed and constructed, and inspected and maintained regularly. This is a very questionable proposition you’re talking about here, you could be putting yourself at serious risk of injury in the event of almost anything going wrong. Don’t do it that way.

  • Joni
    December 4, 2015, 10:33 pm

    Love this! I live about an hour away from New Orleans and it’s so encouraging to see more of these homes here!

  • Melissa
    December 5, 2015, 5:54 am

    I think she is done beautifully, and I love nola the history the food, I love how you also grow your own food awesome home

  • curt
    December 6, 2015, 11:31 pm

    nice house- like that you can park a car under the house. How about a bamboo as a hedge? I noticed you planted a tree eventually it will screen the road. Is it a fruit tree? the raised beds I might raise a little more to save my back. curious on the material that the piers are made with? I suspect you do not have air conditioning- do people even bother with heaters if the house is well insulated? Was the cork floor the floating floor type were the core material is a compressed fiber? I could see that the floor might swell with the humidity- in Colorado it can dry out and crumble.

    • Jane Dwinell
      December 7, 2015, 9:46 am

      Hi Curt,
      The pilings are southern yellow pine, pressure treated. Yes, it’s a fruit tree in the front yard (lemon). No bamboo as it is invasive. Yes, we have a mini-split that provides AC or heat. It’s a requirement post-Katrina that all new construction have heat and AC. We rarely use either. The cork flooring was all cork — beautiful and wonderful underfoot, but buckled in the humidity. Thanks for your comments.

  • ddan
    December 7, 2015, 8:49 am

    Cost is pretty reasonable. Colors are great.

  • Patrick
    December 13, 2015, 8:37 pm

    New construction is so often stale, unimaginative and cookie-cutterish. Not this house, though. I congratulate the owner-builders for their imagination, thoughtful design (including gorgeous color schemes), and the initiative to build the core structure themselves. I also love the home’s resemblance to older-style residential architecture. You saved a bundle in construction costs, and blessed the New Orleans landscape with your art, in the process. Very impressive accomplishment! Thanks for sharing it.

  • C Fraser
    February 1, 2016, 8:11 pm

    We are really looking into doing this so it is good to see another story and I like the idea of the elevation. Fresh ideas in this area because it’s so up and coming are always welcome! And thank you for sharing your story

  • C Fraser
    February 1, 2016, 8:14 pm

    We are really looking into doing this so it is good to see another story and I like the idea of the elevation. Fresh ideas in this area because it’s so up and coming are always welcome! And thank you for sharing your story!

  • kristina nadreau
    March 17, 2016, 4:04 pm

    this house is beautifully designed and executed at a very modest cost. Completely appropriate for them and the location.

  • Dianne Avilla
    March 27, 2016, 1:47 pm

    Fantastic home. we have visited NOLA a couple of times, and for all its problems, it is vital, alive and the music is the best. What general part of town are you in. You make it sound doable to live, where the real estate can be very expensive. I love how your general vibe fits with so much of the waters edge, south. Quite lovely

  • two crows
    June 28, 2016, 6:35 pm

    I love the idea of the cupola designed to circulate hot air upward.

    I imagine it’s elevated due to the encroaching Gulf?
    Smart move.

    When/if I can afford to take the plunge [even here in lowland Florida] I’m going to need to build on a slab. I’m 68 years old and not getting any younger so plan a walker/wheelchair-friendly open plan [geodesic dome: built-in hurricane resistance] with no step-up to speak of.

    If I were 30 years younger, I would definitely take your plans into account since, in 40 years, sea level will likely be a factor here, too. Lovely home.

    • k hantman
      August 19, 2019, 10:46 am

      Agree with the dome home idea. If we get blown/washed away, or win the lottery, I am thinking an elevated Monolithic dome. I guess you would do yours on backfill? have you researched the stability of that, or would it be full of interconnected graybeams, poured as the fill goes in? I’m thinking multi-level with parking, storage and rec room underneath, and pre-built for an elevator, which wouldnt be installed until needed. I like the idea of a smaller footprint and airflow. as well as less hardpack so the yard has better perc.

  • Joni
    July 2, 2016, 8:57 am

    Love your house! I live between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and I really appreciate all the great info!

  • Dianne Avilla
    August 12, 2019, 5:39 pm

    Your home came up again on TINY TALK. I actually caught a glimpse of it when we were driving back from Bayou Sauvage while on vacation last year. Of course I’m always twisted around when in NOLA .so I’m not sure where you are. Do you have a closet (over the stairwell)? Your home seems like a great solution for the sinking city. I’ve also thought of building on an old barge, where you car could also park and everything could float up during heavy storms. Thanks for sharing. and peace be with you. Dianne in Oregon

  • Susan
    April 4, 2020, 11:00 pm

    What a great house! I love all the outdoor deck space, and the garden. I could happily live in this home, exactly as envisioned.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 6, 2020, 3:01 pm

      That’s wonderful. I really like the garden too.

  • Peggy McCauley
    June 5, 2022, 9:15 am

    It is admirable that you invested sweat equity in your home. I too live in a house on pilings. My home is at 8′ above sea level. We watch a show called “Nightwatch” about emergency calls in NOLA. They answer up to 1,000 calls a night which are too often people wounded in the commission of a crime..
    Too much crime! On the positive side there is a strong spirit of community which can usually develop in areas where people have survived a catastrophe. On a trip my husband and I came through NOLA but were not tempted to stay. I’m glad your home is constructed in a way to deter intruders. I am an advocate of gun control but if I had the misfortune to live in NOLA I would definitely have a a xxxx kicking gun.

  • June 5, 2022, 9:21 am

    Cute little house, good use of space.
    Why are you posting 7 year old stories?
    Considering the location, this structure could have been blown or washed away.

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