I’m selling all my stuff and going to live in a tiny house on wheels.
To elaborate, I’m a 28-year-old events professional selling all of my stuff, moving out of the house I’m renting and building a tiny house on wheels.
I’m doing this to combat the climate, housing and existential crises which all of us, but particularly my generation, are facing. I want to create a scalable model that can be replicated anywhere in Ireland for those who choose to spend small on a big change.
Slow down there horse, what’s a Tiny House?
A tiny house is generally agreed (amongst Tiny Housers, of which there are many abroad but few outspoken in Ireland - yet!) to be any dwelling of less than 400 square feet.
For scale, that’s about 20% of a tennis court, or the footprint of a Dublin Bus (without the upstairs). That’s too big for me though; the one I’m building will be a whopping 135-square foot, or about the size of my bedroom.
Is it not a caravan?
It's not a caravan. A caravan is a recreational vehicle, generally used for the summer. Some people tow theirs with a Nissan Micra (and fair play to them). My tiny house will weigh about 2.8 tonnes (2,800kg) so that 800kg Nissan Micra wouldn’t get too far with it.
My tiny house will have 100mm of premium insulation in the floor, walls and ceiling, double glazed passive windows, a well-engineered heat recovery air exchange unit, and will be suitable for living in throughout all four seasons we get in Ireland.
Hot rain, sideways-in-your-eyes rain, really cold rain, downright rude rain – you name it, this gaff will be fit for it.
It’ll be durable. Other than the same kind of regular maintenance any outdoor structure needs, it should last me as long as I need it (hopefully, the next 40 – 60 years).
Also, caravans aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, inside or out. My tiny house on wheels will be beautiful.
Why are you doing this?
My reasons for doing this are many: the climate crisis, the housing crisis, the existential crisis, for the craic and, also, because I can.
The climate crisis is exactly that: a crisis. Large systemic, legal and cultural change is urgently needed to address how we’ve been living our lives, ruining the planet for the last 200 years, and the detrimental impact it has had on our ecosystem.
While this kind of big change is urgently needed and necessary, it’s slow. It’s cantankerous. It’s a minefield of political and industrial agenda littered with social and class issues as well as a myriad of moral implications that often create paradoxical and oxymoronic choices.
It takes mass collectivism and often feels out of our personal control or circle of influence. I believe the movement of changing conventional house living for small is a powerful way an individual can effect positive change and live in a way that’s considerably less detrimental to the planet.
Based on the average THOW (tiny house on wheels) being 2.4m wide and 7m long inside, they’re 16.8 metres square per person (the aforementioned Dublin bus footprint basically).
According to CSO planning figures from 2020, the average apartment and house in Ireland are 78.58 metres squared and 154.6 metres squared, respectively.
Averaging occupancy at 2.77 people for both, that’s 28.37 metres squared per person in an apartment and 55.81 metres squared per person in a house.
Per occupant, a tiny house is then 40% smaller than the average apartment and almost 70% smaller than the average house. That means considerably less materials used, thus considerably less energy cost as well as far less ongoing heating and lighting costs.
Housing prices in Dublin and Ireland are prohibitively expensive. Without land, a basic tiny house from new materials should cost €30–40,000, a high-end larger unit with bells and whistles for €50–70,000. One can be built by a very small team in a few weeks; they’re cheaper and quicker to build than traditional housing.
The idea of having somewhere to live without giving away the next 20 - 30 years of my life is hugely appealing and I’d also really like that to be an option for other people who’d trade the luxury of conventional house living for the tiny house lifestyle.
Is it madness for me to invest a chunk of my savings and to try to build a tiny house on wheels?
Or, is it madness for me to sign up to the austerity of the highest interest loan most people ever take in their lives, to spend the next 30 years in the financial shackles of a mortgage, as the climate crisis worsens, when there could be a pragmatic alternative?
Is it madness that I might be one of the privileged few who even have the opportunity get that eye-watering loan? To me, at least, it feels objectively wrong.
I’ve been saving for a house for the best part of a decade. Just when I thought I was there, a big terrible global pandemic drove the world into uncertainty and the events industry, which I’ve worked in for over a decade, closed overnight, yet to reopen.
Throughout my journey to get my deposit in order, it became apparent to me that not only was this not often a viable option for many of my friends in the artistic sector (be they musicians, designers, support crew or in any creative field), unless they drastically altered their career trajectories against their passions, it would never be.
Of course, it's the same for many who work in other industries in Ireland that are underpaid and undervalued, but I’m going to focus particularly on a group I’ve worked with throughout my career.
The more cynical might say it’s a pipe dream to be a famous artist or a famous musician. To that, I’d say that you could fill Vicar Street twice over with musicians and artists that I know who’d agree with you.
Many successful Irish creatives, although they’d love to be famous to the point that it means financial success, are pragmatic and understand that it may be an unrealistic goal. These are working artists and musicians, they work on their art, they work their day job to pay the rent and put food on the table, they sacrifice a lot for their art and they graft.
To say to grafters like that, the only way you’ll get a permanent reliable place to live is if you pack in all that nice little music shite you’ve been fluting around with your entire life, is bordering on insulting, I’d say.
Who’s anyone to say they don’t deserve to pursue their art and have somewhere to hang their hat?
Isn’t is mad how so many people of home owning age in Ireland are paying giant mortgages every month. Except it’s someone else’s mortgage, and they’re paying about three times what the mortgage actually is. And the person paying the money doesn’t get to own a house in the end.
— The Blindboy Podcast (@Rubberbandits) December 20, 2020
It's troubling to think of the amount of potential Mainie Jellets and Dolores O'Riordans we could have lost as struggling young artists gave up their crafts to dedicate their time solely to safer and more conventional paths.
Blindboy riffs on this, David Kitt emigrated because of this, Emmet Kirwan nods toward this, and it’s a conversation often had behind stages at festivals and in green rooms in clubs.
And, of course, ultimately, I’m doing this for the sheer craic of it. I love building things, I love fixing things, and I love being out of my depth. I believe there’s a real need for radical change in how we live our lives and to give people a framework for an alternative to the mortgage/work-for-life scenario I’ve outlined above.
It seems like a crazy thing for me not to do, given I have the means and the opportunity. Regardless of how this experiment pans out, it’ll be an interesting journey to say the least.
Where are you going to put it?
The long-term plan here is to prop up an already existing community by getting about another 19 of these units together and forming a small ecovillage. A Tiny-House Tiny-Village of sorts. This offsets the potential isolation of living in a THOW solo. No such village currently exists in Ireland, but they do exist abroad.
Ultimately, building your house on wheels brings many challenges of its own. This first year is really a great big experiment for me. I could get a few months into this and think ‘actually this is awful, I’d like a great big house with buckets of space now please’, at which point I can sell my tiny house on wheels to someone in the UK or Europe and be somewhat back where I started, with a bag full of things I didn’t know before and more than a pocket or two of gas stories (and construction nightmares no doubt, I’m not completely naïve).
Are these allowed in Ireland?
They’re not not allowed. They’re not forbidden, but there’s no specific legislation for tiny houses on wheels. To get planning on a permanent spot, they’d of course have to get permission from the relevant local authorities.
To find a permanent place for me to park with a view to scaling up the operation to accommodate others who want to migrate to the tiny house lifestyle, I’ll have to work closely with a local council and community who are open and engaged with the idea. The search begins for this place now. I’m entirely certain there are multiple towns in Ireland that could benefit from a vibrant, friendly and eco-conscious community like this, it's just a case of finding them (if this is you, please do reach out).*
Who’s going to build this and what does that involve?
In the words of the great Limerick rapper Hazey Haze, Is Mise.
The trailer chassis has arrived in components from Germany, and I'm now buying the materials and will soon be building it in a warehouse with the help of an old friend and colleague from my events tenure, as well as (hopefully) a myriad of other friends throughout the build.
What makes you think you can do this?
I grew up around tools. My dad is many great things: a jack of all trades, a great builder, creative and resourceful, as well as an electrician.
When things broke, we fixed them. Growing up around that has given me a base appreciation for construction skills. I’ve vague memories of being a toddler and being handed a hammer, a box of nails and chunks of scrap wood and told to go wild because I kept wrecking heads trying to nail anything I could while the lads were trying to actually make something useful (it wasn’t as dangerous or irresponsible as it sounds, I promise).
Although I’ve never built something even 5% as grand or ambitious as this, I love building stuff. Throughout my tenure as an events lackey/manager/spoofer, I've been lucky enough to have had some great entrepreneurial mentors from companies like Life Festival, Ticketsolve, All City Records and most notably with Fuel.
I’ve creative or project-managed the construction of plenty of unusual structures with Fuel, such as a 12-metre-tall milk carton, an entire glittering seascape to cover a circus tent, a plexiglass fun house and various pride floats.
To me, this is just the next seemingly ridiculous and implausible thing to get stuck into.
Even if you weren’t Greta Thunberging your neighbourhood at the age of 16, or you still drink bottled water, that doesn’t mean you’re also exclusively clubbing seals and burning tyres in your back garden - it’s never too late to start making positive change.
The global pandemic has shown just how important it is that we seek long-term, sustainable solutions to the problems that continue to plague our world.
Over this next challenging, experimental and exciting year, I want to lead by example to show that the most effective changes are the ones, we can stick to. The small changes.
This is my (really big) small change.
So yeah, hopefully, I love my new life in my tiny house. Hopefully, I can replicate and scale this project for others.
And, hopefully, I can find meaningful answers to the big questions, - ‘what am I going to do to save the world?' and the less bigger questions - 'where am I going to live? How can I follow my dreams and succeed financially?’
I’ll tell you when I get there.
You can follow along with Paul’s project on the Small Change Instagram here or get stuck in here.