The End – This Tiny Free House Will Not Be Completed

Tiny Free House Fall 2011

I’m sad to report that I won’t be completing this Tiny Free House, but I can share my lessons learned and what I’ll do differently the the next time I attempt to build another free house.


  1. Choose a place to build the house close to home. Building a house, even a tiny one, takes time. So if your time is scarce, it may be difficult to schedule serious work trips to the build site. In my case my time is incredibly scarce and spent mostly with my children, wife, day job, and blogging work.
  2. Choose a place to build that you own and/or control. If you build on someone else’s land like I did, you’ll be subject to the other things happening there. In my case most of what was the family farm was sold off in a bitter dispute between the owners. A tiny portion was kept but now the atmosphere there is not conducive to visits. So in other words if you don’t own/control the build site you’ll be subject to the random events in other people’s lives.
  3. Avoid taking shortcuts on quality. My worst mistake was building on a free and low-quality trailer. It works fine for moving the house around the property but I wouldn’t want to pull it down a freeway.
  4. Make wise choices for when to use reclaimed materials. I built this house with shipping pallets and did everything I could to built it strong. But with the benefit of hindsight I would have searched harder for free normal dimensional lumber for the framing and used the pallet wood for floors, siding, cabinets, and furniture.
  5. Don’t rush things. This is hard to do when you have little time, but essential for a quality home. Do the job right the first time and avoid trouble down the road.
  6. Weight the cost in time against the cost in dollars carefully. When I started this house in 2008 I wasn’t planning on factoring my time into the budget, which was a mistake. My time is worth a lot. So I can make a lot more money by spending time doing things like blogging than I can save scavenging for materials. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pull over and toss something in the back of my truck when I see good stuff free on the curb. I should always do that, as well as browse the free stuff on craigslist over a cup of coffee while taking a break. But time costs money so avoid selling your time cheap – even to yourself.

Next Time

I will attempt this again, but next time it will be on my own property, where I live, and with enough space for storing found materials. I’ve also learned a lot about building on a dime over the past few years and won’t be using pallets in the same way again.

Pallet wood is great stuff and if handled with care can be reused safely – my milage. The main issue with all reclaimed materials is that you don’t know anything about its history. Pallets may have been fumigated with some nasty stuff, so it should not be burned and when cut, a respirator should be worn. When you work with wood, whatever is in the wood may be released, so extra care should be taken with materials that have questionable histories.

Instead of pallets I think I’ll build with dirt. I’m leaning toward earthbags because they can be found in the waste stream. So if I could find some regular users of feed and grain bags, and ask them to hold them for me, I could theoretically collect many without spending a bunch of time. Other needed earthbag building materials are things like barbed wire, wire pins, rough lumber for lintels and door & window rough bucks. All these things can be found for free and inexpensively.

So in a nutshell I think it’s totally possible to build for free – except for the land. It’s not as easy as spending money, but for those with the time, skills, and desire I think building for free or cheap is totally within reach.


Corrugated Roof

Yesterday, before the rain started, my father-in-law and I got the roof covered with corrugated steel. So now the structure is mostly protected from the weather. To seal the house up I just have the end wall to cover with plywood, a layer of housewrap to add, then windows and a door. I’ll need to build a door, but I have everything else already. It feels nice to be back on the horse.

I also want to thank my father-in-law for all his help on the roof. He not only scored the material but had the necessary agility, at 20 years my senior, to fling himself on top of the roof and finish the ridge. He came off with a double back-flip.

Here are some photos of the house with it’s tin roof. First photo by Sherry Johnson.

Added more plywood sheathing

I spent another half day at the farm this past weekend right before the storms blew back into northern California. I got a few more pieces of plywood screwed onto the exterior of the house.

The only wall left is the back wall and then I’ll trim off the bottoms of the plywood where they run too long and cut the wheel well openings. The trailer has no fenders like you see on so many tiny houses built on new trailers so I’ll need to frame the wheel openings in with wood and cut the exterior wall sheathing and siding over the wheels in arches to make it look right.

I’m still on the lookout for the right kind of roofing. I’m holding out for corrugated metal roofing. I hope to finish the roof before moving onto the siding.