Showdown: $55K DC micro house vs $525K 1 bedroom DC apartment

It occurred to me as I’ve toured a number of 1 bedroom apartments around DC just how little additional functionality one gets for 4x the space (and 10x the price) of a decent micro house in this town.  Just for fun, I developed a matrix comparing the $55K, 210 ft2 Minim House to a fairly hum drum $525K, 923 ft2 Georgetown 1BR apartment.*  Just to check that I wasn’t cherry picking an exceptionally poor design, I also looked at similar floor plans in brand new ‘professionally designed and built’ apartments for rent at AvalonAvaGables, and Equity, all of which have 750-800ft2 one bedrooms (for $1700-3300/month), with roughly comparable floor plans.

I will let readers be the judge of the relative tradeoffs of both living spaces. In this case, functionally, it seems an additional 713ft2 (and $470K) buys two more oven burners, a dishwasher, a bathtub, and bit more closet space.  One might think professionally trained architects and builders could do a bit better with quadruple the space of a micro house.

Minim vs 1br apt

*the obvious caveats here are that the micro house price does not include land value or any building amenities, and that much of housing prices is reflected by location. This post is a basic comparison of functionality of a 210 ft2 space vs a 923 ft2 space.

A workshop designed like a tiny house

We believe tiny house workshops should be like tiny houses: small, intimate, and designed to your individual needs.  That’s why a couple of the professionals involved in building houses at Boneyard Studios put together a tiny house design workshop for the DIYer who wants more technical information and planning materials for their tiny house build. Our first workshop this past fall was a success and a lot of fun to put on, so we are redoing it again this Spring at Howard University.  Find out more details about the workshop and watch a video from our past workshop.  Check out our photos and materials from the past workshop below and see why I, Lee, was motivated to help design a workshop with these professionals after my experience building a tiny house.

Throughout my tiny house project, I have realized how much building requires project planning, understanding major decision points in the process, and a knowledge of building code and materials.  I didn’t fully understand how one decision impacted another or what building decisions and techniques were unique to tiny houses.  I had naively bought into some of the promotional materials in the tiny house world that claim you can build a tiny house with just 14 tools or that make it seem like building a tiny house is simpler and easier just because it’s smaller than a regular house.  Our experience has been the opposite: a tiny house actually requires more planning, and a pretty thorough knowledge of building science, health and safety, and codes (International Building Code, RV code (ANSI/RVIA), and city code and zoning) in order to build a structure that is safe, durable, and is an efficient use of space.  Come learn with us again this spring!

 

Studio Shed coming to Boneyard Studios

garage-5B

The newest structure planned at the Boneyard Studios lot will be a 12′x24′ Studio Shed, coming in Spring 2013.

Conceptually, it made sense to have a larger common gathering area for folks at Boneyard Studios, and hopefully the wider neighborhood of which we are a part.  So the Studio Shed is planned to serve as a beautiful community and workshop space, with a bit of bike storage on the side.  It will replace the 8′x20′ shipping container, which has never been too much to look at, is quite narrow, and has no windows or insulation.  Unlike the micro houses on wheels currently here, the Studio Shed will be foundation built.

The Studio Shed will also be an important part of the Boneyard Studios showcase.  We think this company makes some of the most attractive storage and garage structures around, and they also have a finished ‘lifestyle‘ line that are perfect for foundation-built micro homes, backyard accessory dwelling units, art studios, guest rooms, etc.  The company also shares our values about re-envisioning what our space needs are.  So we’re very excited to be able to have one of these unique pre-fabricated buildings alongside the three tiny homes as another type of small, affordable, green, and quick-to-construct housing option.  Stay tuned for the foundation pour and wall raising- they come pre-built so with the foundation in the finished structure should be up in a week or two!

The shed will look very similar to the one above.

 

2013: A year in review

It has been a tremendous first full year for Boneyard Studios since the start of our tiny project. Here’s just a little of what we’re proud to have accomplished in 2013:

Thanks for a great year of support, everyone—happy 2014!

Boneyard Studios: (L-R) Lee's Pera House, Elaine's Lusby, Jay's Matchbox, and Brian's Minim House.

the joy of limits (pt.1: grounded)

‘our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning’  Wendell Berry

Limits are a curious thing. We commonly sense there is a clear line of trespass for a range of goods: food intake, staring at the TV, resource extraction, suburban growth, car speed.  Then there fortunately exist things where generally no constraint is needed: creation of art, appreciation of nature, love, among others.  Yet a third category of things lives in the shadows- those things we often don’t think to limit (often in the name of personal freedom and liberty), but might be better off individually and collectively were some boundaries observed: plane travel, ambition and wealth, our number of offspring, time texting on the iPhone. And yes, perhaps even the size of our homes.  Here I wish to consider this last category, as there may be some unexpected riches laying unobserved in embracing constraint, some added creativity unleashed by a box we willingly place ourselves in.

Certainly many in the micro house movement sense a joy in inhabiting a limited space- a simplicity of existence, the elegant economy of form of a well designed small structure, an added freedom once unshackled from unneeded rooms and unwelcome mortgages. Could this joy found in limited space be a footnote to a larger realm?  It seems a relevant question for this site. To start, I would consider the benefits to limitations on movement, of geographic constraint.

At Carleton College every fall, students living on campus with cars were once required to sign them into ‘dead storage’, a muddy dark parking lot back in the woods. To drive cars during the school year required special permission from college security.  While some suddenly discovered new religions to allow off campus car use to attend ‘services’, most stayed put in this rural Minnesota college town, staying together after class on evenings and weekends. There was drinking, but also a blossoming of creative activity on campus as students found ways to entertain.  At the time, an unpopular policy, and seemingly un-American. Yet years later, few question the fact that this limitation was crucial in forging the surest of bonds among us, and to a small patch of campus in the middle of a cornfield.

There are other periods many of us have been willingly confined in time and place: summer camp, graduate school, long cabin weekends– all of which often lead to a harvest of meaningful memories.  Contained geographically, many find there is a certain freedom that only comes from stability, a blossoming of creativity and friendships, a deepened understanding of the place inhabited.  Xavier de Maistre, sentenced to house arrest after a duel, famously wrote a travelogue titled ‘Journey Around My Bedroom’ that explored the richness of every object and memory in his chamber.  For de Maistre, as for Proust, “the voyage of discovery lay not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes’.  For most, such constraint can be torturous if conditions are forced or unwelcome.  Yet when not, geographic boxes frequently come to be experienced far more as a comfort than as a cell.  And when the box fades, the potential to be able to go anywhere, anytime may become momentarily vertiginous.

Apart from deepened understanding and relationship, geographic constraints may promote efficiency of use, as it often does in tiny dwellings.  Urban garden plots are an apt example.  With DC’s urban gardens oversubscribed, most gardeners make do for years with single 10’x6’ plots. Initially frustrated by the limited area, necessity becomes the mother, and some gardeners come to value every inch, happen upon a long list of more intensive and efficient gardening techniques. These plots easily outproduce plots 2-3x that are less well attended.  In comparison to rural gardeners and farmers, some of these urban gardens are the highest yielding plots around.  For those that start with great amounts of land, like unused extra rooms in suburban mcmansions, a wealth of options leads to inefficiency of use.

There are perhaps more subtle lessons as well from the garden. As I planted, I found it tempting to constantly uproot and rearrange plants to gain just a few more inches of growing space.  But transplanting plants over and over was never good for their health. It was far better to plan carefully, plant deliberately, and keep them put. Certainly for the garden to stay healthy, we gardeners needed to stay in place, steadily, to water and weed. There was no app for that.

We humans are not so much like the vegetable. But after a career in international development, I found the continual movement across time zones presented a challenge to social life, good brain functioning, and a sense of place. There were many good people in this professional world, but it seemed few of us ever were ’grounded’ except on a plane.  I became envious of my tomatoes, which got to stay rooted in one place all season.  It seemed plausible that after generations of tribal living, humans might not be terribly well adapted to constant movement among places and cultures, and perhaps prone to jet set melancholia.  It may not be the case that just staying put directly leads to psychological well being, but constant movement impacts other conditions- a sense of community and personal connections, that certainly do.

So as many of us build and use our tiny houses on wheels, most of the time these wheels do not turn, and perhaps for the better.

(c) 2013 Brian Levy

Al Jazeera America airs a documentary and specials on Tiny Houses Nov 22-24

Update on dates/times for Al Jazeera specials on tiny houses:

Watch the documentary Tiny: A story about living small on Al Jazeera America station on Sunday, November 24 at 9pm EST  Details here. This is the television premier of the award-winning documentary by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith about their experience building a tiny house in Colorado with no previous building skills!

In addition, you can also check out two Al Jazeera shows on tiny houses where you’ll get to see a tour of the Boneyard Studios lot and our houses and an interview with Christopher (the filmmaker).  The Stream airs on Friday night, November 22 at 7:30pm EST and America Tonight will broadcast their special at 5 pm or 6pm EST on Saturday night, November 22.  If any of our supporters have cable and DVR and want to record these shows for us, we would greatly appreciate it! None of us subscribe to cable and Al Jazeera U.S. doesn’t post their shows online, so make sure to catch them live if you can!

aljazeera

Al Jazeera America crew at Boneyard Studios

Insulated at last…Pera house update

What a busy month it’s been.   After I finished up the siding of my house with other furloughed feds at the beginning of October, I built my my kitchen cabinets with a professional cabinetmaker at the Build Tiny workshop that my friend Robin Hayes led. Robin has been an amazing resource in my build.  As a master plumber and general contractor, she has helped me to understand how important project management is in construction and even more so in tiny house construction where every decision and detail matters.

Most newsworthy, however, is that last week my house WAS…FINALLY…INSULATED! (with closed-cell foam by AC&R insulation). Eight months after originally planned and with freezing temperatures descending upon Washington DC, it could not have come at a more appropriate time (unless it would have been installed last winter when I originally planned it to be!).  Insulation was a big step – no longer am I just building the structure of my house, but I am moving on to the interior, a more personal space.  Given that shift in the build process, I took some time the morning of insulation to do a space clearing with some sage that my friend Margaret, another tiny house builder, had given me.  When she gifted me the sage a year ago I had fully expected to be done with my entire house when I used it. Yet I felt I needed to honor this step in the build process to thank those who’ve helped me on this journey up until now, and to challenge myself to finish this project in a timely manner.  I’m now very motivated to move forward quickly with the interior of my house, and I’m excited to be working with some new builders/designers since Tony and Matt have moved on to other full-time jobs (thank you both so much for getting the exterior of my house looking so wonderful).

I look forward to posting our progress on the interior over the next couple of months.  In the meantime, check out photos from the past month, including cabinet making during the Build Tiny workshop, a trip to the Hicksville lumber mill (best prices in the area for lumber), a visit from my mother who helped me to organize my supplies and our shipping container (thanks, Mom!), and my closed-cell foam insulation.

 

Boneyard Studios featured in Dwell magazine

Boneyard Studios was fortunate to be featured in the November issue of Dwell magazine. The current issue highlights small space design and we were photographed and interviewed for an article on microhousing communities.  You can check out the article online or in the print magazine. If you don’t already “like” our Boneyard Studios’ Facebook page, go there to see some photos from the photo shoot (thanks to Eli Meir Kaplan Photography for sharing the photos) .  Also, I don’t blog as regularly as I post new photos and announcements to the Facebook page, so follow us there for regular updates or if you’re an Instagram user, link here.

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Dwell print magazine cover: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

Screenshot of Dwell November 2013 Issue: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

A few clarifications to the Dwell piece/photos:

1) We are a friendly bunch who has fun! (Dwell must have a rule on no smiling as the guys look very serious in all of the photos!)

2) Boneyard Studios is not just dudes (Lee Pera, the female founder of Boneyard Studios, and Elaine Walker, the owner of the little white house, were not on the lot the day of the photo shoot).

3) In addition, many other members of the community were also absent from the photo shoot, including our architects and and another builder.  So many thanks to Foundry Architects, David Bamford of Element Design&Build for the beautiful execution of our projects at Boneyard Studios!

minim house wins AIA award

Last week the DC Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) announced that Minim House was among the final winners of their 2013 Merit Award. Big kudos to Will Couch and Matthew Compton at Foundry Architects, who helped design Minim, as well as all amazing folks who contributed on completing this micro house (see photo below).

We’re not sure, but we think this may be one of the few (only?) trailers to ever win an AIA award, and was certainly the lowest cost project on this years AIA-DC awards roster.  Full information about Minim House is available at the Minim Homes website.

Thanks to all the invaluable contributors to the Minim House project!

Thanks to all the invaluable contributors to the Minim House project!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,798 other followers