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Do-It-Yourself Downsize: How To Build A Tiny House

The only thing tiny about the tiny house movement is the size of the houses themselves. There are a slew of websites devoted to the scene, and tiny house evangelists based in California and Vermont are busy traveling around North America helping people build these little homes.

"I'm just a freelance, insane guy working out of his backyard building stuff for people when the need arises," says Derek Diedricksen, 33, a tiny house enthusiast who lives outside of Boston.

Diedricksen's backyard resembles a junkyard with piles of unlikely building materials and a handful of already-completed structures. His web video series, Tiny Yellow House, might be described as Wayne's World meets This Old House.

Diedricksen uses discarded building materials for much of his construction. In one shack, called the Gypsy Junker, the side of an old washing machine serves as a table. The bed platform is made of forklift pallet wood. In one of his videos, Diedricksen boasts that the Gypsy Junker, which is just 7 feet by 4 feet, can sleep three people.

"So if you want to have Shaquille O'Neill for a sleepover -- I'm not sure why you would -- someone up to 7 feet long could fit in this structure," Diedricksen says. "It is possible to sleep three people in here, but just beware if it's family burrito night."

Diedricksen may come off as a wacky guy, but architects have taken notice of one of the designs in his book, Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, and a small cabin he built in Vermont will be featured in a forthcoming book about tiny houses.

Vermont happens to be the home of another eccentric figure in the tiny house movement. Peter King, 51, lives off the grid in a geodesic dome and has several tiny houses on his property.

"I just like the sense of economy," King explains. "The sense of: you can't put a lot of stuff in there, so you have to be careful of what's important. And another beauty of the tiny house is that you can put them almost anywhere. They are moveable at this scale. You can easily put them up on rollers and pull them around."

King runs weekend workshops in which participants turn a pile of lumber on the ground into a tiny house. Four students pay for the experience, and a fifth person pays for the wood and has a new house at the end of the weekend. Most of King's students find him on the Internet thanks to a web video series called Stuck in Vermont.

On a recent weekend, King was working with students to build a 10x10 foot structure in Woodstock, Vt. The 100 square foot house will serve as a home office for a freelance writer and will cost a total of $6,000 or $7,000.

Evan Stainman, one of King's students, says that even though the weather was rainy and miserable, he was having fun.

"It's been a really great relaxing weekend," he says. "Most people would call this work. I call this relaxation."

Journalist Kirk Kardashian will be the owner of this new tiny home.

"It's a great opportunity because you get to be on a job site," he says. "It's expected that you're going to be in the way, and that you're going to be asking questions … If you went to any other job site, the carpenters would be upset with you."

The workshop students are camping in Kardashian's backyard. He treats them to beer and pizza at the end of the first day of construction.

"I think the fact that you can host a workshop at your house and get a weekend of free labor from four or five people is a no-brainer," he says. "I mean, it makes it much cheaper, and I like the camaraderie, too, of just having some strangers come over to my house. They're all gung-ho about learning how to build."

Many of King's students end up having him conduct another workshop on their own property. Mary McClements is a small business consultant and single mom who attended the workshop in Woodstock. King will do a workshop on her land in August. McClements says she can see herself living in a tiny house when her kids are grown.

"I've been a camper for 20 some years and it amazes me how much you can do without," she says.

McClements isn't sure what the tiny house that will be built on her property later this summer will be used for, but her children definitely have an idea.

"They're very excited about it," she says. "They've already claimed it as their clubhouse or their playhouse or whatever. You know, we'll see, we'll see who gets their paws on it."

For those who want to build a tiny house but have a limited ability to do-it-yourself, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in California sells kits for about $20,000.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jon Kalish