Ultimate Downsizing: A $200 Lilliputian House


There is a great need for innovation that can maximize how we use resources. Imagine this challenge - design and build a home using recycled or re-purposed materials - with a budget cap of $200. Derek Diedricksen from Massachusetts accomplished this not only under budget, but with some charm. Sorry - no garage or jacuzzi, and you might need a sleeping bag.

As reported on The New York Times blog House Proud:

Checkout the slide show here.

At about 24 square feet, the Gypsy Junker, made primarily out of shipping pallets, castoff storm windows and a neighbor's discarded kitchen cabinets, is the largest of Mr. Diedricksen's backyard structures. The Hickshaw, a sleeper built on a rolling cedar lounge chair (or as Mr. Diedricksen calls it, "a rickshaw for hicks"), is considerably smaller, at 2 1/2 feet wide by 6 1/2 feet deep. The Boxy Lady, two cubes on a long pallet, is the smallest: 4 feet tall at its highest point.

Even better:

"The idea was to see if I could build a homeless shelter for under $100," Mr. Diedricksen says. "Or you could make it into a tree fort."

What is it called?

"The $100 Homeless Hut," he says. "I made up the name right now."

He points out its various features.

"The pickle-jar window allows in light, but it could be storage. Or if you capped it, a horizontal terrarium. You can't mount it yet, because it has to be with silicone caulk, and it won't cure in this cold."

If you fill it up with stuff, how is it going to function as a window?

"You'd have to leave some space," Mr. Diedricksen says.

He leads the way down the hill to his backyard, where there are three structures of diminishing size, and shows the reporter into the Gypsy Junker. With a roof height that ranges inside from 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, this is one that Mr. Diedricksen, who is 6-foot-4, can almost stand upright in, at least in some places. Like many a fancy camper, it also has a bump-out -- an 8-foot sleeping pallet -- although this bump-out is permanent. Guests can sleep on the four-by-six-foot floor, although if they are tall, they would have to sleep diagonally.

Sawed-off yellow, blue and green wine bottle bottoms make for a colorful lower-level window in the guest area, and there is a heating unit with an exterior vent built from a frying-pan base, with a broken brass cymbal that serves as a heat reflector. (Vegetable oil is the suggested fuel.) The most expensive items were the four sheets of corrugated plastic on the roof, which came to $80.


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I just came over from reading an entry on the tinyhouse blog.

It's not that great a blog, but the whole "tiny house movement" is interesting. There are some people, including students, including grad students, that are living in (slightly fancier ones) full time. Here is an example of a graduate student couple using one.

"Elizabeth Turnbull" is another example I have heard of, a yale grad student living in a tiny house full time.

Why? Because it is the fraction the cost of renting a decent apartment, and you can put it in a better environment like a backyard or whatever where the neighbors are not a problem, you actually own it, and you can take it with you if you move. Plus enviro cred and it's kinda cool.

I would totally do it too, but the zoning is the main barrier right now. But truly, I think this sort of thing has broad appeal. Tinyhouses were mentioned on Zuska's blog once ("grannypod"), that is the only other time I have seen them on scienceblogs.

I like the tiny house movement, but most of them are extraordinarily expensive in ways this one is not - so I find this admirable. The larger issue I see with the tiny house movement is that you can't park one on public land - they require you to have friends with paid up backyards, and they ignore the fact that it makes much more sense to move people into foreclosed McMansions and simply take in housemates than to build elaborate, expensive, decorative personal shelters (not that this one isn't awesome).

Consider that in 1950, the average American had 250 square feet of space per person. By 200, it was 850. Then add in the estimated 1 million houses above and beyond demand, as baby boomers age and seek smaller houses, and you can see that America's homelessness problem could be solved pretty quickly. Still, there's a place for the $200 tiny house - that's really great.