ESCAPING THE TINY BUSHFIRE MYTH

by Tom Coupe, Tiny House Builder & Designer

Floating beneath an industry built on romance and Instagram delights lies a simmering potential of trauma and devastation. Looking from inside the Tiny House industry and also from within a community devastated by fire, I see some dangerously poor attitudes growing within Victoria. I tell this story as I see it from my home in Kinglake, the crowning point of the world’s worst bushfire.

The Black Saturday fires of 2009 struck this town and those around it with a ferocity which still leaves people short of breath. I didn’t live here in 2009, on that day I found myself in Neerim South, bunkering down to fight a fire which had burned through the Bunyip State Forest. Like many people on that day, I had underestimated the fire and overestimated my capacity to fight it. I made the foolish decision to drive around roadblocks and get ahead of the fire to help protect a friend’s house. The fire front was so large that it created its own lightning, the resulting spot fires prevented any escape along any of the three main roads where I was situated.

The main fire never reached us that day, with about 10 minutes to spare we were saved by the same wind change which doomed the towns of the Kinglake ranges and Marysville.

’m glad to say this is my closest brush with bushfire. The rest of my knowledge for this article and my work is sourced from the people of this town, my friends, my family, statistical analysis and my time with the Tiny House community of Victoria.

Maybe if 2009 was a one-off we could move past it, but it’s not. It’s just another chapter in the history of Victoria. Black Saturday was only a mid-sized fire by a geographical measure and it wasn’t unparalleled in its ferocity, the devastating results lay with its speed, proximity to Melbourne and the modern year in which it struck.

When it comes to a bad record of bushfire, only Tasmania has a comparable record of
losing lives and buildings, ln large part due to a single deadly fire which struck the capital city of
Hobart in 1963. If you wanted to, putting this fire in the ‘one-off’ basket could be understandable,
if not advisable.

Internationally, Victorians are even further out ahead, both Spain and California have lost an enormous number of lives and buildings to wildfire, it is their population of over 40 million and larger geographical size which reduces this risk to something lesser than what we experience here in Victoria. The stats below can never be completely accurate, they are of-course, approximations. But they do illustrate without doubt the severity of Bushire within our Southern states.

These stats are the reason why I believe that Victorian Tiny House culture should differ from much of Australia and the world.

When researching Bushfire, it becomes plainly obvious that the majority of losses have occurred on just a handful of days. Out of the 5 most significant Fires in Australia’s history, 4 happened in Victoria. Those four days are responsible for around 75% of buildings lost to bushfire in Victoria. These days are when resources become spread thinly across multiple districts and states and fire fighters are unable to reach the fire front due to the speed of its approach, these are the conditions which I consider when building for fire. It’s these days which should be considered when planning your response.

Governments like to put a dollar figure on these events but the real cost can never be calculated. Grief lies deep within effected community’s, so does the financial and social effects. Even with monetary support from the government and insurance companies, rebuilding a house and creating a home can be a very long process, only around half of the houses destroyed in 2009 have been rebuilt. Many people were unwilling to rebuild in the hills, others have been emotionally or financially unable to do so. Often the price of rebuilding has risen and the regulations have tightened since the original construction.

The key here is that houses were lost, I do not want to gloss over the tragic loss of life, it’s a loss which can never be replaced, but I do want to explain the importance of a home, a neighbourhood and a community.

Having a home to return to can ease the grief associated with the loss of people, pets, livestock and materials. If you are free from the burden of grief then you can assist those around you who were not so fortunate.

It’s not just enough to have your own house survive, nor is it enough to have only your neighbour’s houses survive. Survivor’s’ guilt is real and crippling, so too is the hostility which can be directed towards those who retain their properties, as a result, neighbours of burned homes can be victims too. We could see ourselves as obliged to build fireproof homes to protect our neighbours and retain our communities.

I wish I could say that Tiny Houses are somehow immune from this natural disaster, they are my passion and my occupation, but they are not immune. Quite the opposite, they are built from light, soft and often cheap materials, then they are parked amongst the bush where they are free from prying eyes and close to nature. They can also bare the marks of poor workmanship, gaps and cracks which allow a fire to break inwards.

Troublingly, some Tiny Houses are now being chosen as a way of bypassing strict bushfire construction regulations. These regulations, whilst frustrating to deal with, are intended to protect the owners and occupants of country houses. If we go outside these regulations, we take this burden upon ourselves.

When discussing this problem with Tiny enthusiasts I am commonly confronted with two solutions. The first solution is to let it burn and collect the insurance money, “it’s only small, I’ll build another one”. This solution swells a few emotions within me, to think that something which I may have worked on for months could be viewed as ‘disposable’ is a little heart-wrenching. Coupled with this is the overbearing attitude of disposability within our modern life, in a social climate where shopping bags are no longer disposable, I find it strange to hear that houses are not afforded the same respect. The last thought that comes to mind is the reality mentioned above, the timeframe and frequency with which houses are actually rebuilt after a disaster. To assume that an insurance payout or government handout will be sufficient to keep you on a level financial footing could be wishful thinking, and to underestimate the emotional energy which it takes to build a home could be costly.

The second and most troubling solution to bushfire is the notion of towing a Tiny house away from a fire. This possibility is only available to those who are owners and occupants of Tiny Houses On Wheels. Many Tiny houses are holiday homes, BNB houses or rentals, the occupants may have no interest in saving that Tiny. For anyone who plans to make this mistake, here is my 11-point check-list for moving a tiny house away from a fire.

1. Are you home when a fire breaks out? They don’t all happen on Saturdays, but they will do most of their damage during daylight hours. In years gone by, you could drive to the head of a fire to protect your assets or tow them to safety, you can’t now, police and VicRoads could actively block roads to the public, even keeping residents away.

2. Do you have the vehicle to tow your Tiny? Australian Tinys are pretty big on average, and our cars are pretty small when compared to North America. If a Tiny resident enters the lifestyle to reduce living costs and their environmental impact, then it’s unlikely that they will own a fuel-guzzling V8, equipped with electric brakes, the appropriate towing gear and the required capacity.

3. Is your house ready to drive? Usually, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Permanent connections to power, sewer, greywater, drinking water could be a hindrance, so too are the access stairs, stumps and garden beds. Furthermore, many Tiny Houses on Wheels are not actually intended to be towed on their own wheels at all, there is a growing trend of installing wheels on a Tiny purely to avoid building regulations, then hiring a tray truck to move it.

4. Load limits? Are you confident that you are within the load limit of your trailer, it’s easy to make post-installation additions that take you past the original weight. This is not the time to be pushing these limits.

5. Do you have the skills and equipment to move this by your-self? The chances of you receiving help from a neighbour or a mate are slim, so assume this will be done by yourself. In my experience, Tiny House owner/occupants do not often have lots of experience in moving heavy equipment in a hurry. I would like to have a lot of experience around trailers, trucks, mechanics and lifting equipment before I attempt to move one of these quickly, even doing it slowly is nerve-racking. I say lifting because that’s exactly what is needed to remove the stands, stumps or blocks that the house sits on. So, does Jacking up a 4-tonne house and moving it quickly, on your own, fall within your skillset?

6. Is there an easy escape route? Moving a Tiny into the desired location often involves winches, tractors, tow trucks and Time. And many access roads are tight, rough and shrouded by trees.

7. What are the weather conditions? On Black Saturday, the air in front of the fire was around 60 degrees, moving at 100 k/h. in addition, the smoke reduced visibility for hours and breathing conditions were bad at best. Some people who were fit, healthy, mentally prepared and well equipped were able to operate in those conditions, but it’s enough to put some people in hospital.

8. Are the road conditions safe? I wouldn’t tow a Tiny house in a 50k wind, I don’t imagine that it gets any easier in an emergency. Your car could overheat, there may be tree branches on the road, and the power lines will have sagged to their lowest height ever. That is all standard for a Total Fire Ban, fire or not.

9. Will you panic? You are your own biggest hurdle in this operation, people do strange things under duress, people drive too quickly, forget basic process, get lost, get angry, get trapped. This is not the mindset you need when moving your home.

10. Will you affect anyone else’s escape? On a good day, with a straight road, I can tow a tiny at around 75-80 ks an hour and only annoy a few motorists per minute. In limited visibility, on windy roads, with a boiling engine and a full load, a Tiny House would become a rolling roadblock. The gut-churning hypothetical of this could be a Tiny house accident on a valuable escape route, trapping others behind it. Too many people who perish in a fire, die on the roads, around half. A plan to move a Tiny House away from a fire can only increase this risk, both for the Tiny owner and other residents.

11. Will you return? Scorched black earth isn’t inviting, no one could blame a Tiny occupant for relocating to a less burned patch of earth, but then what happens to the neighbourhood that you left? To them, your house may as well have burned, you have vanished when they needed their community the most, and you now need to create a new home. Even a successful escape is a loss to many.

If all goes well, one house being moved away from a fire seems possible, if not likely. However, I would like to throw one more situation into the mix, the situation of multiple Tiny Houses in a single cluster. If you have been to a Tiny House festival, or the street of houses at the home show then you might be able to imagine the logistics that come with this situation. Panicked people, pets, children, cars and Tiny houses, all trying to fit out the same entrance in a hurry. This is a troubling image.

There is, of course, a contrasting dynamic and a precedent for escaping fire. There is evidence in North America that Tiny Houses are burned less often than permanent dwellings, they have, in fact, been successfully towed away from wildfires. There are at least three factors at play here, possibly four.

The first factor is the vehicles, cars with a 3 or 4-tonne towing capacity are commonplace within North America. The owner of an American Tiny is much more likely to be able to tow their own house than here in Australia.

Secondly, the roads are enormous, wide and straight. We are lucky to have pretty good roads here in Victoria but in comparison, driving through the US is a dream for large cars and trucks.

The third is the speed of the fire, I would not describe North American conifer fires as slow, but I would describe Victorian fires as unbelievably quick. To drive from Strathewan to Kinglake takes around 22 minutes, the 2009 fire did it in around 10. In several cases, fires have been recorded hitting maximum speeds of 80km per hour in short bursts. North American forests are combustible and burn with an intense heat, but they are not the highly flammable eucalypts of Australia.

The last factor is the houses themselves, it’s difficult to know for sure, but much of what I have seen here Australia suggests that our Tinys are not as easily moved as their American counterparts. We have developed a strong coulter of putting houses on wheels to avoid regulation, not for ease of transport.

As stated above, it’s not the regular yearly bushfire which I consider with this assessment. Most fires do not destroy houses on mass, in a slow-moving Victorian fire, your Tiny House has a significant chance of survival just by staying put. Water bombers, fire trucks and occupants are commonly able to defend against fire in these circumstances. If the fire permits you to tow your house away, your house may not have needed moving at all.

Well if you can’t tow it away and you don’t want to let it burn, there are still two solutions to this problem. The easiest, live well away from a fire zone, the more difficult, but achievable solution is to design your house and home to survive a fire.

It’s been 35 years since the first fire-resistant houses were developed in Victoria, it happened in the wake of Ash Wednesday. These methods work, there are surviving examples and good science behind them. There are many misconceptions around fire resistance, too many to break down here. I will say that the cladding of a house is rarely the weakest point, and that fire proofing is in the details. Not all fire-resistant houses look like bunkers, many features are unidentifiable to the untrained eye.

There are three brushfire resistant Tiny Houses on wheels in existence to my knowledge, two of my own design and one by Tiny Solutions. The latter house is based on a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) 40, my own houses are based on BAL 29 for medium resistance. Currently in construction is a BAL 50 or FLAME ZONE house, the highest rating in existence. These ratings determine the proximity to bushland for the house to be considered ‘likely’ to survive a fire.

As a very general rule, the BAL rating can be calculated by subtracting the distance to the closest eucalyptus trees from 60. For example, 30 metres from the bush will typically score a BAL 29, 20 metres from the bush will score a BAL 40. This is an extremely rough guide with many variables to consider.

These houses are of course un-tested, there is no bushfire regulation for houses on wheels but to my best assessment and to good acclaim by those in the know, they are fire-resistant. All these houses are surprisingly light, practical and could be copied into many different aesthetic forms.

I’ve documented my work in this space as best as I can to help others create their own fire-resistant tiny houses and improve on these adaptations.

Equal in importance to the house construction is the location in which it sits. Both the broad geographical location and the immediate surrounds will impact the likelihood that a house will survive a fire.

In addition to the vegetation proximity is its management, both inside and outside of the local bushland. The clearing of undergrowth, separation of tree canopies, mowing of grasslands and reduction of garden beds will greatly reduce the temperature of the fire in the immediate surrounds.

In some circumstances, for some people, the ability to fight the fire is important, the above-mentioned vegetation management will assist in these efforts. Bulk water sources, heavy-duty pumps, protective equipment and experience can go a long way to protecting your assets, however, I never expect this to eventuate when I design a Tiny House. Staying and protecting is no longer advised by the CFA and for many Tiny House residents, this level of preparation and skill is simply not a reality.

It is with this in mind that I say my houses are not intended to be life-saving devices, they carry a lock-up and leave instruction. If any lives are to be saved from these houses it is from people leaving at the first glance of a fire in the knowledge that their house, home, neighbourhood and community will be there to return to.

With the right design, location and preparation, I would hope that the houses I build will survive without fire fighting intervention. This is a new reality for fire-resistant homes, they may need to be self-sufficient as the trend of evacuation continues to grow.

When tackling this design problem, I had a few motivations, one was the community side of fire protection, another was my environmental concerns. It’s simply not sustainable to build houses twice and here in Victoria, we will lose too many Tiny Houses to bushfire to consider it a sustainable movement in its current form. The fires aren’t going away, on the contrary, they are becoming larger and more frequent around the world, so something else has to change.

Further to these environmental concerns and the community aspect, I could predict that councils would request compliance with the house building regulations at some point. This has proven to be true as this request has since been made, not too far from my home base in the town of Whittlesea.

BAL assessments, council planning permits and building certification can be a costly and draining process, I don’t wish that upon the Tiny House community. What I do wish for in the current climate is for a bushfire to be understood, respected and planned for. I would also like to see a collaborate effort by Victorians to claim this problem as their own, swapping and comparing information the same way that we do with space-saving techniques and solar systems. If we can do that then we may be able to maintain the Tiny House lifestyle for the next generation.

Simplified Checklist

1. Will you be close to your Tiny House when a fire breaks out?

2. Do you have the vehicle to tow your house?

3. Is your house attached to services? 4. Are you confidently below the load limit?

5. Do you have the skills and equipment to move this by your-self?

6. Is there an easy escape route?

7. Are the weather conditions safe for towing a THOW?

8. Are the road conditions safe?

9. Will you affect anyone else’s escape?

10. Could you panic?

11. If you do escape, will you return?

We’re so happy to receive these comfy warm socks from @smokywillowsocks, big thanks! ? Make sure you check them out, th…

We’re so happy to receive these comfy warm socks from @smokywillowsocks, big thanks! ? Make sure you check them out, they make donations to charities from each sold item ? @smokywillowsocks ?
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Picture Credits- @stichoza
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• Now Build the best tiny homes & cabins/sheds⛺️on your own from the scratch with step-by-step instructions and save tho…

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Details of the Garden Shed Plan? • Building Area: 24m.sq? • Complete set of shed plans & construction progress ? • Co…

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• Complete material list + tool list?
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? Now build your own sheds with step-by-step instructions with Shed Plans Package and save huge amount of?⚡️ [ Link In Bio @diycabins ] .
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All Rights Reserved For Respective Owners ®️.
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Half and Half DIY Kit Cabin

Details of the Half and Half
• Building Area: 210sqft
• Complete set of Drawings and assembly guide
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@diycabins All Rights Reserved For Respective Owners ®️.
Credits: Unknown
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Australian Designer: @hydrowood⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀ -⁠⠀ Project feature:⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀ Lewisham Pod by JAWS Architects⁠⠀ Lewisham, TAS⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀ -⁠⠀…

Australian Designer: @hydrowood⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
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Project feature:⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
Lewisham Pod by JAWS Architects⁠⠀
Lewisham, TAS⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
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About the Project: @hydrowood Oak took centre stage this spring at the Australasian Timber Flooring Association (ATFA) Awards for Excellence taking out three awards including Overall Winner Floor of the Year.⁠⠀
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The award was won for the Lewisham Pod floor that was recently showcased on Grand Designs Australia. In addition to the top award of the night, @hydrowood won Recycled Solid Timber Floor of the Year and Avant Garde of the Year for the Lewisham Pod Tasmanian Oak couch designed and made by Simon Ancher Studio. ⁠⠀
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@hydrowood is unlike any other recycled timber, because it is reclaimed from the depths of a hydroelectric dam. The forest beneath lake Pieman was submerged over 50 years ago, and the timber has laid dormant beneath the depths, preserved. It is now being repurposed as @hydrowood, with an incredible story of provenance embodied in the timber. ⁠⠀
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www.hydrowood.com.au⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
#hydrowood⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
@tasmaniantimber⁠⠀⁠⠀⁠⠀
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Photographer: @adam.gibson.photo⠀
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Tiny Cabin Plan Complete set of shed plans & assembly guide.

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LONG TIME, NO WRITE

Hello Tiny Lovers!

It has been a while since my last blog. So much has happened
since the last post that I’m not sure where to start. Wow, what a year! Ups and
downs, swings and roundabouts. Never have I had a year so personally
challenging, so sweet, so bitter, and yet so inspiring on the tiny front. This
post is going to be a bit of a mixer: an update and a slightly different style
than my previous posts. A lot to share so here goes.

Here are the cliff notes (both personal and tiny related):

Itty Bitty –

My first tiny build happened, with blood, sweat, and – yes –
tears, but we got there eventually. I love her!

Although not a full tiny house, more like a tiny camper, my
first DIY was hard work and I had a lot of help and support from people with
professional skills. This build taught me some valuable lessons.

1. Build close to home! I live in Melbourne, and built in
Colac – What was I thinking?! Not building close to home adds substantially to
the expenses, energy, stress and effort for all involved. Suggestion: be
smarter than me.

2. Work with people who say what they mean, and mean what
they say. I cannot tell you much unnecessary stress was due to this one
element. Sure, everyone needs to be flexible, but being organised and working
with reliable people makes all the difference to the process.

3. Recycled materials require a much higher level of skill
to use and can consume much more time and energy. Preloved products are not
always the most cost-effective way to go, even if you do collect for almost two
years beforehand like I did. I am all for recycling and upcycling, but when
racing the clock and for the inexperienced, straight lines do help a lot!

4. When it comes to structural elements, if unsure of the
stability of the recycled material, it is better to err on the side of caution.
The original target was 75% recycled and upcycled materials, but we ended up
below the mark at 63% to ensure safety. A compromise I was comfortable with.

5. What works for a standard house build doesn’t always work
for a tiny, and following your instinct is a good thing. I made the mistake of
assuming a professional builder knew more about how to build a THOW than I did,
despite all my research. I could have saved us a lot of time and headaches had
I not second-guessed myself, and asked more questions earlier on. Thankfully we
had the collective skills/knowledge to work through the unexpected challenges,
but I won’t be so shy in coming forward again.

6. Underestimating timeframes is another rookie error. It
took us nine weekends, loads of sleep deprivation, and more coffees than could
be considered healthy, and our original timeframe had flown by. Sure, we didn’t
have all expected hands on deck, but even if we had, our original timeframe (just
four weekends – FOUR!) was naive, to put it mildly. On top of full-time jobs,
my work with Tiny Non Profit, and all our other commitments, building even a tiny
tiny in a month was a crazy idea. Did I not expect us to eat or sleep?!
Pure madness.

Suggestion – Before, I would have said double the expected
build time but now, I lean more towards saying triple it if it is your first. I
had built a tiny in a 5-day workshop before, but that was under the guidance of
someone very experienced. Not a good reference point if you don’t have the tiny
house builder at hand. If you finish early, bonus! More time to enjoy your
tiny. If not, then you have your buffer, and buffers are so often underrated.

Would I do it again? Maybe, maybe not. I love being on the
tools, and I enjoyed creating and problem-solving, but Itty Bitty was no walk
in the park. The circumstances would have to be spot on for me to consider it.
Close to home, the right team, more time, etc.

The design for the larger tiny home is far more complex. I think I will employ professionals for the next build as more engineering and electrical is required. Plus, if wanting insurance, going professional is the easiest way. I will get on the tools go (it’s fun!), but I think I’ll work on the internal design elements for the next one.

Tiny Solutions

Next up, and straight off the back of Itty Bitty, Our first
Tiny Non Profit event.

Tiny Solutions at Melbourne Knowledge Week, hosted by Melbourne City Council, allowed us the opportunity to exhibit three beautiful tiny homes, one by Tiny House 2 Go, one by Tiny Footprint, and the third by Rob Scott for Big Tiny. Tiny Solutions was a collaborative event involving many tiny house industry leaders. The event was designed to educate the public and decision-makers alike. Despite being a complete washout the first day, and by washout, I mean flooded, the event was very well received with thousands of people coming to view the tiny homes and listen to our panel of experts speak — a great turn out!

Tiny House Community Garden

While preparing for Tiny Solutions, we received a very
generous offer from a local community member in St Kilda. The proposal was the
use of some land for a Tiny Non Profit project, a Tiny House Community Garden.

With the help from Permablitz crew, and the support of Tiny
House 2 Go, and the generosity from some kind-hearted volunteers, we quickly
got to work after Tiny Solutions getting a plan together for the Tiny House
Community Garden to submit to Port Phillip Council and to apply for the Pick My
Project Grant.

Unfortunately, we missed out on the grant by not many votes
for our sector, but the money went to other worthy causes, so we weren’t too
disheartened. Still, we do need to secure more funding, so if anyone is looking
to support a great project financially, you know where to find me.

I’m happy to say that the response from Port Phillip Council has been positive, and we are just waiting on one last element from Council to move the project forward. Our project has been a challenging one for them to place, given it is the first of its kind, but hopefully, we will have the green light to take the project to the next level soon. In the meantime, the vacant block is getting cleaned up, the Tiny Non Profit is gathering resources, community support, and we continued to have in-kind donations of support and materials the project. In May, international artist, My Dog Sighs, created the first artwork for the garden and it is beautiful! If you look closely, you will see the outline of a row of tiny houses in the eyes. Neat right?!

By My Dog Sighs

And then, a bomb! (the personal bit I warned you about)

Shortly after the Pick My Project campaign came to a close,
I found out my mother had cancer. Unfortunately, mum was too far gone for the
doctors to assist, so she opted to stop her dialysis and took her own life. We
said our goodbyes a little under a year ago. Having just lost my Godmother, and
having both my mums go in such a short period, I was heartbroken. Though not a
unique tragedy, it can be a brutal experience, and it certainly took the wind
out of my sails.

Shortly after, the second bomb hit. Entirely out of the
blue, as if my body was pulling out a “stop” sign, I became really
unwell with a mysterious illness. Doctors went looking for all kinds of scary
stuff. As you can imagine, I was more than just a little concerned. Thankfully,
the Doctors found the issue earlier this year and I’m fighting fit again.
Actually, better than fine. I have my Tigger bounce back again, and I’m back in
full swing doing what I love.

The combination of the above, my world did a 180 and, honestly, tiny blog posts weren’t up there as a priority for a little while. I have to say I was surprised by the tiny house community’s support and kind-hearted enquires. People close to me noticed my energy drop off but, to my surprise, some people from the tiny house community did as well and took the time to check in and see how I was going. The support moved me. It’s lovely to know that the work connects with people. Thank you!

Anyway, enough of all that emotional stuff. Back to the
bigger picture and tiny news. What’s happening in the tiny world now? So much!

The US is still leading the charge with laws starting to be
changed and more tiny home and tiny house villages popping up.

Here at home:

The Victorian State Government has opened a consultation on the Caravan Parks and Movable Dwellings Regulations, with a set to start addressing some challenges around tiny houses. Submissions have now closed, and it has progressed to the policy development stage. Thank you to all those who took the time to make a submission and share your views.

 

Here in Vic, Jan Stewart from the Tiny Non Profit is pushing ahead Tiny Homes Sweet Homes project for the homeless in Castlemaine. Go Jan! Contact Jan if you are keen to support.

More tiny house businesses are popping up everywhere, meaning more choice for the tiny home buyers market.

The Australian Tiny House Association is starting to pick up steam and have not long appointed a new President, Ric Butler. A great man, with a newly well-formed team of tiny experts behind him. After having a year to lay the groundwork and build a great group of volunteers, they are now hard at work developing more information and resources. One to watch.

Kellie from the Tiny Homes Foundation is continuing to do brilliant work creating houses for the homeless and for those at risk of becoming homeless. Having proven that the Tiny Homes Foundation model works, Kellie has set her sights on a new demographic but needs support to roll out her solution. Get behind that one if you can.

Grant and the team from Designer Eco Tiny Homes sold their 100th tiny home, and are still building more. Congratulation to Grant and Co!

Last year saw over double the number of tiny house events than the previous year, and with 39 events already scheduled for 2019 (more than last year already) numbers are looking like doubling again this year. This is excellent news for those wanting to see a tiny up close or educate themselves before going tiny. See Tiny Events for a list of events in your area.

Media coverage is becoming more common, and tiny homes will feature for the second year running at the Home Show, both in Melbourne and Sydney. Tiny houses are now touring trade fairs and exhibiting in a variety of forums, from tech, through to glamping and off-grid festivals.

There’s movement in WA around accommodating tiny homes. Check the article out here.

 

The conversation around tiny homes in Australia has changed dramatically over the last 18 months, going from “what is a tiny house?”, to “what’s in the way?” and “how can we make it happen?” and it looks like the conversation is set to continue evolving. Exciting times!

More resources are now available, for both DIYers and buyers, including a nationwide interactive log of how councils are responding to tiny homes.

Please be sure to contribute if you have any relevant information/resources to add. Every bit helps. Click here to get in contact if you have any resources to share.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to say thank you to all the solutions-focused people for putting in the effort to help change the landscape for tiny homes here in Australia. With so much activity, the collective result of everyone’s action is, from my perspective, making a real difference. So, if you do not hear this elsewhere, your time, effort and energy are very much appreciated. Thank you!

A big update, I know. Back to a more topic-focused style for
the next post.

Until next time, happy building Tiny Lovers!

A TINY PORTLAND GARAGE

 

Earlier in the year, I received an invitation to meet with friends in Oregon, USA to see the eclipse and attend a music festival. Given that tiny houses are very popular in that area, and that they had a tiny house model that was working better than any we have here in Australia, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to go and do some research, see the eclipse and have a holiday with some friends. I mean, who wouldn’t right? Three birds with one stone. Brilliant!

 

Once we had made the decision, it was time to get to work. My friend Cam and I started planning. I began looking up what tiny house resources that would be in the areas we would be visiting and started writing to a bunch of people who I had never met. Thankfully, and surprisingly, this strangers’ messages and emails were well received, and we found a great group of people that were more than happy to help in the research goals. I even had a few strangers reach out to me and offer their assistance and extend invitations. It’s amazing how things, with some effort, just came together beautifully.

 

So, after months of planning, on the 7th of August, Cam and I excitedly jumped on a plane bound for Portland. The journey wasn’t without it its hiccups. A couple of delays getting into LA, luggage transfers, issues finding suitable SIM for data to help us get around and blog with ease (what the heck did I do before mobile phones and the Internet? I vaguely remember getting along just fine without it. May be time to unplug for a bit). Despite the challenges, we made it, exhausted but happy to be there.

 

First stop, a tiny house Airbnb in Portland to rest, recharge and recover from our trip.  Before I go into too much detail about the tiny house itself, I’d like to explain why tiny houses are working better in Portland than here in Australia.

 

Compared to Australia, America has more flexibility when it comes to tiny house design. This flexibility is due to things like towing rules, building codes and the size of the trucks allowed on the road (that had Cam drooling like Pavlov’s dog every time a Chevy truck went past. ?), but I’ve spoken about those things before. I won’t bore you with them again now.

 

In 1979 Portland adopted an urban growth boundary (UGB) to control the use of land, protect forest and wildlife and limit the impact of urban sprawl into the surrounding areas. Since adopting this policy, the boundary has been amended 35 times to cater to the growing city, but the population is booming. Despite these changes, the UGB has meant Portland locals have needed to use a limited space to house the population and has led to more creative solutions to cater for the growing requirements of the city’s residents. From the conversations I’ve had, there are many mixed views on the UGB.

 

Now, I must be clear that I don’t have enough information to speak of all the pros and cons of the UGB (but I’m happy for someone to sponsor me to go back to do further research. Just saying. ?). I can only speak from a visitor’s perspective. I understand that this model creates higher density and drives up living expenses for those living in that area. Although the cost of living is far lower than here in Australia, the minimum wage is also far lower, so there are many factors to be considered before I could come close to claiming to have a well-versed view.

Personally, I like the idea of capping urban growth to protect the environment and farmland, slow sprawl and encourage urban density, by surrounding an area with a preservation ring of large-lot agricultural zoning. When speaking with tiny home owners, I found out that Portland is not without its own set of tiny home challenges, but the UGB combined with the sheer determination and persistence of tiny home owners has helped push through some tiny homes as legal builds in the city of Portland. I also found that not all tiny homes are constructed legally, and many people are banking on flying under the radar, so it’s not all smooth sailing. Still, tiny homes are more accepted and get the relevant approvals far more easily than what we do here in Australia.  Another plus that kept coming up was that the UGB does seem to challenge more people to live with what they need, rather than what they think they need, and from my perspective, that’s a significant side effect. Don’t get me wrong, consumerism is still at a CRAZY level, but those living in a smaller environment tend not to purchase as much stuff to fill the space as someone occupying a larger property (minimalists living in larger houses being the obvious exception). It just makes sense to me that more people living in smaller environments cannot consume as much unnecessary stuff and are forced to think more about their purchasing habits.

 

Anyways, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Now you have a little bit of a back story, back to the tiny home.

 

This place was cute! A converted garage in the backyard of a property, not too far from a lovely little shopping district in Portland. I would consider this Airbnb to be more of a short stay granny flat/guest house than a home that could be comfortably lived in the long term.  The tiny consisted of two main spaces, a general living area (lounge/bedroom and kitchenette), and a bathroom area.  Power and plumbing supply for this tiny house is hooked up to the main house systems, and it had all your basic creature comforts that you would expect to find in a holiday unit.

 

The living area had a bed that could be folded up to make a lounge if you wished and a fold out table big enough for two people to share a meal. As much as this was functional, I didn’t feel it was a great use of space. I wouldn’t want to fold a bed up daily, and having both the table and the bed down at once did make the living area feel cramped. Opening the doors to the patio did help the area feel less congested, but personally, hating the cold as much as I do, I don’t like the idea of the sense of space being compromised by the weather. Also, general storage would be an issue if you were to be living in this tiny full time as the only storage was bathroom storage.

The bathroom was nicely done, and it had a great feel to it. A full-sized shower, a standard flushing toilet, and well-designed bathroom storage. When the door was closed, you could almost forget that you were in a tiny house.

 

The overall design was contemporary, clean, light-filled, and charming. I especially liked the skylights, the exposed beams, the design of the kitchenette and the French doors that opened onto a covered patio area. However, any stay for an extended period would require a much more thought-out design and the addition of some smart storage solutions.  Still, this tiny was well-crafted and well suited to its purpose as a short stay Airbnb.

 

Would I stay again? Oh, hell no! Although the tiny home was charming, our host certainly was not. Well, she was fine at the start, but overall our experience with her most definitely soured the start of our trip. That’s a whole other story, and I’d rather not waste my energy or focus on that. I’ll just say that if you are thinking of going down the Airbnb road, then having a high level of professionalism, crystal-clear communication, and warm hospitality is a great place to start. People are paying for an experience, and I don’t think the host should carry themselves in any way that takes away from that experience. Thankfully, every other host we encountered while in the Oregon was delightful, and the bad experience we had had with our first host was quickly put behind us as we moved on to the next part of our adventure.

With the tiny house movement gaining steam across Australia, places such as Melbourne are also starting to realize that tiny houses could be a viable part of the solution to density issues here as well. Personally, I’m excited to see how the movement is unfolding, and, from what I’ve seen in the last 12 months, there looks like there is going to be a lot of tiny house action over the next few years.

 

Happy building, tiny lovers!.

 

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