On May 6, 2014, Dee Williams, the author of "The Big Tiny"-- a book about how one woman built and lived in an 84-square-foot home for more than a decade -- carved a little time out from her two-week-long book tour in eight states in order to talk with the Atlanta Top News Examiner about her fascinating experience.
You've likely seen or heard about this unique woman and her tiny house on CBS News, The LA Times, The New York Daily News and ABC Online, as she has garnered a lot of publicity about her achievement so far, so it's a real treat to get to pose questions to Dee after personally reading her book.
Interview with Dee Williams, the author of "The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir" by Blue River Press:
Examiner: Forbes recently published a piece on tiny homes, showcasing some unusual ones, but at a much, much higher cost than you spent to build your tiny house, Dee. So do the homes you help friends and others build now still fall into the $10,000 range yours cost you? Or, are those homes costing more to build ten years after you built yours?
Dee Williams: "Most little houses cost more than $10 to build, in part because they're bigger and also because they integrate amenities like on-demand hot water systems, beautiful (expensive) French doors and more windows."
Dee's tiny house does not have running water or plumbing, and there are no fancy French doors. Instead, she relied on friends who lived on the same property where her home resides when it came time to have a place to take a shower, or to use their outdoor faucet for her water needs. So that saved her a lot of money. But she does have several windows in her little home, including a skylight right above her dreamy loft bed.
For those wondering how Dee managed to spend only $10,000 when some are spending $40,000 to build a home of approximately the same size, design and function capability, then they should know that this sustainability advocate says that during her weekends off work she scoured Portland's Rebuilding Center as well as the Habitat for Humanity Restore, in addition to using salvaged materials and the help of friends and neighbors, who provided free labor.
Dee Williams: "My friends Chris and Malissa at tinytackhouse.com have a large refrigerator, water holding tanks and a massive solar array to power their gadgets. So...it really depends. My company, PAD (Portland Alternative Dwellings), did a nice blog post on the cost of building a little house."
Examiner: In your book, you mention your solar panels were far too expensive when you built your home. What option would you recommend for would-be tiny home builders now as an alternative solar panel product for electrical needs?
Dee Williams: "I usually recommend trying to do without, or at least working hard to minimize your electrical demand before you ever consider an off-grid generator like wind or solar. My (current) system generates way more utility than I need, so the generating capacity is wasted."
"If I had it to do over, a better use of the money and equipment would be to install a grid-tied solar system at my neighbor's house, then run an extension cord over to my house."
In Dee's book, she recalls one harrowing night when a storm was beating ferociously outside at about the same time she remembered she had not reconnected the grounding cable for her solar electrical system. It could have been a real disaster, but it wasn't. And the way Dee retells the story in her book helped put a funny spin on it. But suffice it to say, it was just one of several "aha" moments the 51-year-old experienced during the course of building and living in an 84-square-foot dwelling.
Examiner: What would you say is the one thing you hear over and over again from prospective tiny home builders about their motive for wanting to build a tiny house?
Dee Williams: "The one thing they all seem to have in common is that they all want to be happy. Some express that by way of economics-living with less debt, or living without the stress of high utility bills, a mortgage or rent," (Dee could fall into that category, as her home is paid for in full, and her utility bill runs about $8 per month, for propane fuel).
"Others express it as a way of walking their talk different,' Dee says, 'so they can be the kind, generous, socially and environmentally responsible person they always hoped to be."
Dee could fall into that categorical description too, as she finally eschewed her hectic, full-time work and homeowner lifestyle, which was draining her budget and time excessively, so she could move into a simpler and smaller home, where she would no longer have the demands on her that prohibited her ability to help others with her money and time. This also coincided with her own heart health scare, making the change all the more important.
Dee says that some people want to embrace the tiny home movement for themselves, like she did, downsizing their lives and expenses, while others want to embrace it as a specific way of helping others, like friends, family or homeless folks, who might need a place to stay without the expense of owning a larger home property.
But don't think you can't do both, as Dee was able to address her own health concerns, reduce her carbon footprint and also have plenty of money and time to spend on others, like her elderly backyard neighbor Rita, who she shared a give and take relationship with that only deepened over time.
Dee Williams: "I feel very lucky to have gotten to live in the shadow of an 80-year-old for nearly nine years, tucked in my tiny house within shouting distance of Rita."
So whatever the reason you might be considering downsizing from a large home to a smaller one, there is one thing for certain: Dee Williams' "built-it-myself" memoir is as critical a road map for you to read before you start your project as it is for a novice hiker to read Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" before they set off to hike the Appalachian Trail.
In other words, it pays to read how someone else did it--and what mistakes they say they learned as a result, so you don't repeat them.
Examiner: What's next for you, Dee?
Dee Williams: "Ahhhhh, such a great question. I'm not sure, but here are some of the great things I love doing: Hanging out with friends and family, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying, but always understanding there's no place else I'd rather be; Building stuff out of salvage/recycled materials...continue teaching workshops through my company Portland Alternative Dwellings...and I'd like to go for a long backpacking trip with my niece and nephew, where during the day we'd hike up to alpine lakes and remote rocky crags, and at night we'd giggle about the fact that our dinner was laced with bark and bugs, but still the best meal ever."
It sounds like Dee Williams is a ripe candidate for Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" book and experiences now, and maybe Bill will send her a copy of it when he asks for one of hers, as her tiny house experience sounds like something he would enjoy reading about.
Fortunately, Dee says her heart health is good right now. Her defibrillator hasn't fired in awhile, and she says her cardiologist reassures her that her health problems are manageable, telling her that "as long as you have more good days than bad, you're doing great." So downsizing from her larger-than-life job and house responsibilities seems to have worked for her. And maybe it will work for those of you looking for a simpler life and lower expenses, too.