Nano-Houses


Early Neolithic Homes

Today was a rainy day so we didn’t get to do much work on our Big Project. In any case, the concrete needs watering so the rain isn’t wasted. The above little houses, nano-houses, are getting wet too. Those are very early models of our house. They look more like igloos for gnomes. They do have real granite floors and window sills, just like our cottage.

Small houses are in vogue. We didn’t build our cottage small because of some fad or environmental concerns. Yes, it took little to build and uses very little energy, but that wasn’t why we built a tiny house. We built small because it was what we could afford in money and time before winter hit hard. Good thing we did it at a reduced scale because we barely got the house closed in before the winter snows hit hard.


Saturn on Dog House

It took us two months of intense effort working full time to close in the house. Doing out the math shows that compared with having a mortgage or paying rent it would be cheaper to take a year off and build your own home. The numbers work. Building small houses make the numbers work even faster. The maintenance and taxes are also far lower, added long term benefits. We’ll never paint this house and never need to re-roof it once the final roof layer is on and the grass is planted. A concrete roof lasts, especially when protected from the elements and sun. Even the dog house, exposed to the weather and sun, looks great after years of freeze thaw cycles.


Tiny Cottage in Bloom

Prior to building our tiny cottage, the real one, not those fun models, we had built several pig houses and a dog house. I do things by practicing in small steps, over and over, each time working out technique. The dog house is a 3′ roof. One of the pig houses was four feet. The cottage roof is a 14′ clear span barrel vault. Our Big Project will have a 34′ clear span barrel vault. Ever onward and upward.

Outdoors: 50째F/26째F Rain, Clouds, Sun, Foliage
Tiny Cottage: 66째F/63째F

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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18 Responses to Nano-Houses

  1. Michelle says:

    ..We'll never paint this house and never need to re-roof it once the final roof layer is on and the grass is planted…

    Do you mean that you are going to plant grass on your roof?

  2. Aye, that we will. The cottage is set into a cut in the hill side so that we can eventually merge it into the hill. This will provide further protection from the harsh winter winds and severe cold. The earth is not an insulator so much as a buffer. But before we can earth shelter the house we will be adding an extension to the cottage to add on cold storage space.

  3. That is one dog house I would not mind being in ! I especially love the headstone at the peak of the brick arch. How did you mold the concrete around the top ?!?!

  4. The dog house roof is ferro-cement. This is the same way that we built our cottage roof as well as the Nano-Neo-Lithic homes.

    Essentially, we made a supporting wooden form, a barrel, and then arched steel over that and plastered it with concrete making a thin layer that once cured was self supporting and strong. This allowed us to remove the wooden supports. On top of that we did a layer of insulating concrete and then a layer of hard concrete to top it off. These last two layers are in the future for our cottage.

    For more details see these posts which have lots of pictures and discussion of doing the dog house and see these posts for discussion and photos of doing the cottage roof.

  5. Servius says:

    Will you have a back door to that house once you bury it in the hillside?

  6. Ryan says:

    The engineer in me wants to know. Is it all self experimentation or are you looking at engineering books and historical records?

  7. All three. I do a lot of reading, a lot of designing, a lot of experimenting. MXSteve's work is the inspiration for some of the details in the roof although I'm not fond of his color schemes. Frank Lloyd Write, of course, is another inspiration. Isn't he for everyone? Ancient dwellings that have lasted are key. I've been working on designing our home for over 40 years, since I was a child. Needless to say, many iterations pass, many variations.

  8. Dee says:

    Hi Walter
    I just found this blog thru the homesteadingwomen yahoogroup – I've actually followed your NoNAIS blog for a couple of years now – and when I saw your farms name thought that it sounded familiar – then I saw your picture – and knew it was you –

    I see that you seem to be aware of many alternative living ideas and that you probably are already aware of the radon issue, but, I thought I'd double check – I read here that you're going to use granite flooring? You are aware that some granite off-gasses Radon? In small doses, radon is being used to treat cancer and other dis-eases – but, in larger doses and in enclosed spaces can actually cause problems – like radiation therapy currently being used for cancer – they will use high dose treatment, but, refuse to use low dose – and will even say that it is dangerous – (me – scratching my head – huh???) isn't that backwards –
    I worked in health food stores for 12 years, and was fortunate to be introduced to many alternative therapies and life style ideas, and we all need to understand that we need to take back responsibility for our health and our lives – which is what you're promoting here –
    Keep up the good work Walter –
    Thank you for everything you do and for sharing it with us –
    Love & Blessings
    Dee
    From the Virginia mountains, with goats, chickens, pigs (mine are pot belly – started as a wedding gift – teehee), guineas, 6 Great Pyrenees, cats and a donkey – and oh yeah, one wonderful husband (career firefighter) my hero –

  9. Hi Dee,

    Welcome to Sugar Mountain Farm. Great to hear you're up on the NAIS issue.

    You are very right and radon is a big issue in our part of the country. We have it due to the deep granite that makes up our land.

    One of the reasons I wanted to get us out of the old farm house is that it was virtually impossible to stop the radon in that building. I spent years learning about how to 'fix' it and investigating ways to do it only to come to the conclusion I was going to sink money down a black hole. The old farm house has a dirt cellar, wood heat and a tall chimney that sucks the radon gases out of the soil and into the building. As I tightened up the old draft building it just got worse. Venting was the best and even then I could only get it down to about a 6 on the radon tests by putting in earth air pipes. That helped but not enough.

    When designing our tiny cottage I specifically put in place systems to prevent radon from being a problem for us. They are integrated into the very fabric of the cottage. It starts with a ventilated gravel pad under the cottage to shed radon away from even entering the cottage, then a ventilation and moisture barrier of plastic and metal below the concrete slab of our floor.

    Next we have excellent ventilation in the cottage itself. Extra ventilation is provided for with earth air tubes that warm the winter air and bring in copious volumes of air to get rid of indoor pollutants. Sometimes you can't eliminate it so the solution to pollution is dilution.

    On top of that we spend a great deal of our days outdoors working on the farm breathing that healthy mountain air.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  10. tmongan says:

    This is a great Blog. I have a brother in law who is a concrete contractor and we always talk about making a house out of concrete. Is there a size limit to these houses? Keep up the good posts!

  11. Hmm… if you use really fine grain sand you could probably make the houses really, really small. Maybe a quarter square inch floor area. Oh! You meant upper size limit. :) There are some huge ones. The opera house in Sydney Australia is pretty massive. There was a mosque(?) I read about someone building in Asia that was really big. Unfortunately I don't have a link to that but see this for some ferro-cement projects. Ours is a combination of RC, FC, brick and stone – a composite of techniques as each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

  12. Anonymous says:

    sounds like your a busy farmer. good on you mate. if you are ever looking for a secure chicken coop for your hens please consider to buy chick coop plans for a fraction of the price compared to buying a pre built coop. Your purchase is %100 risk-free for more information please follow the link.

  13. That was spam above about the coop plans. Interesting how the spammers are sometimes personalizing their spam. I deleted the link back to their web site. I appreciate all real comments and feedback from real people. Spam is better fried. :)

  14. Henry says:

    I love your house. I think you are doing the right thing not just building small to save energy and be moresustanable but also that you do it yourslves as a family. I love that. I would love to see more details about the floor plan and how you build. You should write a book. As if you didn’t already have enough things to doright!!

  15. shelly strickland says:

    I am a mom and grandmother with a son who is all about community gardening, earthships and tiny homes. Keith has a little girl who will be 4 in Aug. and he wants to raise her different. He says it takes a village to raise a child, his favorite quote. We would build a home together but between my Multiple Scleosis and his broken back and smashed feet that is not going to happen. Do you need any helpers on the farm?
    I would pay for the build of them a small home just for the peace of knowing the will not be homeless again. Please call if you are interested in being paid to building for others. Thank you, Stansbury Park/Tooele Utah

    • I’m sorry but I don’t do construction contract work, we’re too busy doing the stuff on our farm, and I don’t travel. But if you can find someone locally who is good with concrete they can probably do something very similar to what we did. Our materials costs were about $7K. Figure again that much for labor, maybe more, I’m not sure of the rates. It took us about two months to close in and then more time to finish off the interior to the point where we could move in. Best of luck in your endeavors.

  16. Adam says:

    Just found your blog here from your post over at permits on the woes of earthship building. We are not building an earthship but are going the route of a timber frame and straw bale home. I like how you practiced over and over on small scale before putting the effort into your home where it would really matter on a life/comfort scale. We are practicing our timber framing on everything from outhouse/showerhouse to woodsheds and rain barrel frames trying to work out the kinks. Thanks for sharing your journey through the blog, I’m going to sit down some time and read through what you’ve got posted here. Cheers and Blessings

    Adam

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