Authors: Jay Shafer
THE SMALL HOUSE BOOK
First published in the United States in 2009
by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
Post Office Box 1907
Boyes Hot Springs, California 95416
Copyright 2009-2010 Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
Designed, photographed and written by Jay Shafer
Additonal photography by...
Povy Kendal Atchison, pages 14, 16 & 17
Janine Björnson, page 196
Mike Johns, pages 70-76
Greg Johnson, page 64
Jack Journey, pages 138-145, 148-155, 160-163, 188 & 189
Michael McGettigan, page 59
Marty Shafer, page 5
Mary Wolverton, pages 62 & 63
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise.
Confessions of a Claustrophile
A Good Home
Portfolio of Houses:
I live in a house smaller than some people’s closets. My decision to inhabit
just 90 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger
house would have on the environment and because I just do not want to
maintain a lot of unused or unusable space. My house meets all of my do-
mestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle
it affords is a luxury for which I am continually grateful.
If smaller, well-designed houses aren’t the wave of the future, they certainly
are a significant ripple on that wave. On these pages, I explain why. I also
share my personal experiences with living in diminutive homes, meeting
codes, and designing small spaces that work.
This book is a revised edition of the one I published several years ago under
the same title. To this edition, I’ve added a section on how to build your own
tiny house and a portfolio of my own designs. I hope you enjoy it.
Jay, at home.
There is only one success – to be able
to spend your own life in your own way.”
Living Large in Small Spaces
I have been living in houses of fewer than 100 square feet for nearly twelve
years. The first of my little abodes was a fourteen-foot Airstream. I bought
it in the summer of 1997 for three thousand dollars. It came as-is, with an
aluminum shell as streamlined and polished as what lay inside was hideous.
The 1964 orange shag, asbestos tiles, and green Formica would have to go.
I began gutting, then meticulously refurbishing the interior in August, and
by October, I was sleeping with an aluminum roof over my head. The place
looked like a barrel on the inside, with pine tongue-and-groove running from
front-to-back and floor-to-vaulted ceiling.
I settled in on a tree-lined ridge at the edge of a friend’s alfalfa field. It was
a three-minute walk to Rapid Creek Road and a ten-minute drive from there
to Iowa City. I carried water in from a well by the road and allowed it to drain
from my sink and shower directly into the grass outside. I carried my sawdust
toilet (i.e., bucket) out about once a month and took it to the sewage treat-
ment facility in town. My electrical appliances consisted of a fan, six lights,
a 9-inch TV/VCR and a small boom box. A single solar panel fed them all. It
seemed that this simple existence would provide all I needed.
Then December came. I had reinforced most of the trailer’s insulation, but
some areas remained thin. I spent over a half-hour each morning, from Christ-
mas until Valentine’s Day, chipping ice and sponging up condensation from
my walls, floors and desktop. This went on for a couple of winters before I be-
gan construction on the tiny house I have since come to call “Tumbleweed”.
It was not until after I thought I had al-
ready finished designing my little dream
home that I became familiar with the term
“minimum-size standards.” Up to this
point, I had somehow managed to re-
main blissfully unaware of these codes;
but, as the time for construction neared,
my denial gave way to a grim reality. My
proposed home was about one-third the
size required to meet local limits. A drastic
change of plans seemed unavoidable, but
tripling the scale of a structure that had
The Airstream’s exterior...
been designed to meet my specific needs
so concisely seemed something like alter-
ing a tailored suit to fit like a potato sack.
I resolved to side-step the well-intentioned
codes by putting my house on wheels.
The construction of travel trailers is, after
all, governed by maximum - not minimum
size restrictions, and since Tumbleweed
already fit within these, I had only to add
some space for wheel wells to make the
At about eight by twelve feet plus a porch,
loft, and four wheels, the resulting house
... and interior.
looked a bit like American Gothic meets the Winnebago Vectra. A steep,
metal roof was supported by cedar-clad walls and turned cedar porch posts.
The front gable was pierced by a lancet window. In the tradition of the formal
plan, everything was symmetrical, with the door at exterior, front center. In-
side, Knotty Pine walls and Douglas Fir flooring were contrasted by stainless
steel hardware. There was a 7’ x 7’ great room, a closet-sized kitchen, an
even smaller bathroom and a 3’ 9”-tall bedroom upstairs. A cast-iron heater
presided like an altar at the center of the space downstairs. In fact, the whole