Tiny house, but perfectly formed

Noel Higgins has discarded his belongings and downsized to a 16ft x 8ft abode, says Louise Roseingrave

It’s a move from mass-consumption. When you live in a small space, it forces you to think what you need and don’t need

NOEL Higgins will raise a glass to his tiny, wooden house-on-wheels on Mar 17 to mark the first year of a radical lifestyle change.

Noel’s €6,000 transportable home is part of a downsizing trend — the tiny house movement.

The ethos is simple living, free from debt, with reduced running costs. Tiny houses are a move away from consumption, as there is no room for clutter. The upside is lower living costs, no property or water tax, and less maintenance.

The tiny house movement was a response in the US to mortgage default and repossession. For Higgins (40), downsizing has been easier than expected. “These little houses are cheap to build, low-maintenance and exempt from planning. It’s a move away from mass-consumption. When you live in a small space, it forces you to think what you need and don’t need. I wasn’t really sure how I would adjust to living in a small space, but it’s been an easy transition,” he said.

Getting rid of his belongings has been a challenge. Higgins gave some things away, but has some in storage. “I had to do a fairly serious clear-out. Moving house is a great opportunity for that. It’s amazing how quickly you forget about all that stuff you have that you never really use,” he said.

Blessed with a mild first winter, Higgins’s dinky wooden pad was warm and cosy, even when spring arrived with a cold snap. In picturesque north Leitrim, amid flutterings of snow, he encountered an unexpected upside.

“Before Christmas, it wasn’t really cold, so it was fine. In fact, I found it almost too warm, with the fire burning in the stove. It’s such a small space, it can overheat easily and regulating the temperature can be difficult, especially when I have friends around. But when it got colder, it was cosy. It’s been a nice change to other places I’ve lived, which were always either cold or damp in winter,” he said.

An electrician, it took Higgins eight weeks to build his 16ft x 8ft foot home, largely from salvaged materials. The stud wall is made from white deal and is clad in Irish-grown, western red cedar. The corrugated tin roof came from an old shed and he used sheep’s wool for insulation. The floor boards, the windows and doors were salvaged, and the kitchen is carved out of a fallen tree.

He crafted a wood-burning stove from an empty gas cylinder, which doubles as a water heater. For fuel, Higgins chops trees for landowners and takes blocks to burn as payment. Higgins’s only outgoings have been food and mobile phone and internet. “There are no real running costs,” he said.

A 50-watt PV panel, charging a 12 volt battery, has provided power for light all winter and a charge for the laptop. He recharges his phone in his jeep. Higgins’s next project is a wind turbine to charge the battery.

He cooks on a two-burner gas stove. “I do miss having an oven, I used to do a lot of baking. And I miss some of my old kitchen utensils, things I just don’t have room for now,” he said.

Circumstances led Higgins to embark on this adventure.

“I always had an interest in building with reclaimed materials. I was aware of the tiny house movement in the States, but had no reason to build one until two things happened. The owner of the farm I was looking after returned to the farm, and I split from my partner.

“I didn’t want to have to rent. Being on my own, it’s expensive. It was a good opportunity to build something. I had no land, so I built it on wheels — that made sense. I think, in the back of my mind, I’d wanted to do it for a while,” he said.

So Higgins moved from a four-bed bungalow, which was costly to heat and maintain and was cluttered, to an abode of his own imagining. His clever, space-saving design captured the imaginations of others when it featured on the Tiny House Movement’s Facebook page.

He held two open days last year, in Leitrim and at the eco-village in Cloughjordan in Tipperary. People sit in the house to see how it feels. “I’ve had a lot of interest, lots of enquiries around design detail and pricing. Some queries are ongoing, though nothing is nailed down yet. I’m hoping people will act on that interest. I haven’t come across anyone else building houses on wheels in Ireland, so far, but I’m keeping an ear out for it. I guess people just take their time to decide what they want,” he said.

Higgins has completed a ‘wee’ timber-frame structure for a friend in Leitrim and is looking out for his next project. “Because it’s on wheels, any jobs I do I can just take it with me and live in it. I’m reliant on friends, too, to park up, but I have a growing network of people. I’m very much just playing it by ear, right now. I’ve no major plans for the house. But if my situation changed, the house could change, too. I might need to upsize it a bit in the future. Or, it could be used as extra space, for an office or for yoga or anything really,” he said.

If Higgins opts for a more conventional lifestyle, he can transfer his clever house to a plot of land. “I designed it so it could be unbolted from the wheels,” he said.

See Higgins’ page ‘Teach Nollaig’ on Facebook, or ‘Tiny House Blog’, on Facebook.


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