Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Have you ever stopped to consider how much of your income - and therefore life - is dedicated to your accommodation? This thought occurred to me after spending some magnificent months traveling around New Zealand in a van.
All you need is less
Granted there are other elements in play such as the glorious changing scenery and good weather, but the main basics idea that you don't need a whole lot more than what you can fit in van to be happy and that the amount of time freed up by not having a mortgage or rent payment is substantial. When you consider the additional expenses of amenities, maintenance and furnishing a larger house, the huge economic advantage is obvious.
Ecological and economical benefits
From an environmental perspective a smaller home means less materials, furniture, energy and because of the diminished cost of living also less commuting and environmental footprint in the workplace. If we then use recycled low impact materials and renewable water and energy sources, the ecological and economical benefits are even greater!
But after having build and lived in couple of pallet tiny houses I think there are many more advantages still, such as:
The fantastic feeling of living in something you build with your own hands (and those of friends) from recycled natural materials that you do not need to spend the next 30 or more years of your life paying off.
The time and attention freed up to contemplate life and to investigate and direct it in a way that aligns with your innermost being rather that just “surviving.”
The connection with your basic needs of shelter, water, energy and thereby at least the weather if not also nature and your source of food (vegetable garden in your now free time). It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, it is always doing something for us either filling the water tanks or the batteries, and if it’s really bad, giving us an excuse to light the fire and read a book or bake something!
The flexibility of having a house that doesn’t owe you a fortune and that could be easily moved, sold or rented out.
Wild West eco wagon
And so we came to sell our house in Amsterdam to eventually build a prototype at the Casita Verde ecological centre on Ibiza. Inspired by my timber-frame carpentry background and a stint building transportable houses in New Zealand as well as Michael Renolds and his Earthships and the tiny house movement in general, I designed and built a 15 square meter tiny house in the style of a wild west covered wagon with an additional 15 square meter covered terrace and its own build-in rainwater collection tanks, solar power, kitchen with rocket stove (water)heater with oven, compost toilet and solar hot water shower.
Almost exclusively build out of recycled pallets it was a dream to live in. I took a lot of time to get the rounded shapes and proportions right so that the wagon would look at home in the countryside. It took somewhere around 400 pallets and 4 years (part time) to build. More than anything it was a great way to test my ideas and learn.
Most people do not have this kind of time to invest nor the trade skills to realise the complicated construction details involved in the wagon build, so the next prototype we tried was to build a 10 m2 dwelling with a minimum number of pallets and complicated details which could be constructed by novices in a minimum amount of time. Two weeks and 120 euro pallets later, 5 volunteers and I had constructed the “Bus-stop”, a 10 m2, fully insulated and ventilated shipping container shape with one long side completely filled with recycled glass doors for solar gain in the winter (the higher summer sun intended to be shaded out by a porch roof).
Tiny home workshop Ibiza
We structured the build as a workshop, stopping at each stage to explain the tools and safety as well as the principals of the design and the tricks of the trade. The energy and vibe was amazing! There is something so empowering about fulfilling one of our most basic needs with our own hands and those of a handful of like-minded people.
Late last year we escaped the Ibiza bubble to the neighbouring island of Mallorca half of the “Bus-stop” build team came with. We quickly got looking for pallets and by March we were constructing another pallet tiny on the concrete cover of a septic tank. By way of luck the location meant that the roof needed to be angled low to allow the winter sun access to the house next to the septic.
Tiny home model on Mallorca
The pad only had room for a 7,5 m2 structure (as we didn’t want to exceed the roof area of the metal garden shed that had previously occupied the space, so as not to raise any alarms with the council). The result was a very comfortable space for a bed, wardrobe and desk with a view, with plenty of room to add a rocket-stove and sink. The angled roof made building much less intrusive than the bus-stop model and also added a nice bit of character to the interior. Thanks to COVID19 I got to try living in her for a couple of weeks and it really is a lovely space.
“But why pallets?” you might be asking. There are a number of reasons:
Wood consumes CO2 in its production (as a tree) and is completely biodegradable after its useful life.
Pallets are the cheapest source of wood, we currently buy first grade (i.e. new looking) euro pallets for € 7 and the timber contained in them would cost € 20. Ofcourse there are nails to content with, but I find they add character to the finished space and also if you take the time to pull them out you can recycle them on the floor- and weather-boards and save on screws. Another advantage is that the blacks and off-cuts are great rocket fuel. After a build the first winters heating is already taken care of, compare this to many other modern materials of which the off-cuts are useless and often toxic.
Another great reason to use pallets is that they have already served a purpose on their way to your town.
They are available in every town allover the world, although their price and suitability to the local climate may differ. This is why we are on a mission to share and perfect what we have learned via two week workshop-style builds (the next one is planned near Bordeaux, France in October) and eventually via youtube and an e-book so that people across the world can get themselves into a pallet tiny and out of the rat-race.
Lastly I think there is a fantastic bit of symbolism in building the vessel that potentially takes you out of the consumption society out of the vessels that carry the majority of products that make the consumption society go round.
Build your own
We found that the energy and excitement of a build works a little bit like a gateway drug. The realisation that you can provide for one of your most basic needs for which millions of people work their whole lives in such an easy, fun, cheap and environmentally friendly way begs the question “what else can I do for myself?” The obvious candidates are the services that make a shelter into a home, such as running potable water, electricity, heat, hot-water, cooking facilities, toilet, shower , etc.
And so what we have been developing whilst we were exploring the pallet tinies described above is a two week intensive practical course to familiarise people with the methods that exist for them to live more in harmony or connection with nature in ways that are simple, fun and cheap.
Read more on the Two Week Sustainable Living Courses in the next blog!