The Tiny Cottage in the Big Woods is where we live on Sugar Mountain. We built our high mass, super insulated masonry cottage in the late fall of 2005 and have only spent about $7,000 for materials.
It is so thermally efficient that it takes only a fraction of a cord of wood a year for heating. Due to the large thermal mass the cottage stores the day time passive solar gain and heat of the small wood stove to make it energy efficient. The roof is a 1.5″ thick barrel vault of ferro-cement. This makes it strong enough to hold the deepest snow depths and eventually to be bermed into the earth. Being made of stone, brick, glass, concrete and cedar the cottage is low maintenance, easy to clean and minimal impact.
Most of all, it’s comfortable and a lovely place for us to come in from the weather. From here, nestled into the mountain ridge, we can see the beauty of the sunrises, sunsets and rainbows.
There are a lot of posts about our Tiny Cottage here on my blog. Here are a few key ones:
First Cottage Post – Pouring the slab
Walls Rising – Floor Plan
Back Arch Up
Front Arch Up
Trusses for Roof
Barrel Vault 1st Layer
Bed and Bath Arches
Bedroom Ceiling Pour
Master Bedroom Inlayed Ceiling
One Year Mark
Earth Air Tubes
Three Year Update
Five Year Update
From these pages move forward and backward through the posts to see what is around those key points of construction. Building our cottage was practice for building our Butcher Shop.
Is it possible to get a blueprint and a materiallist? We are looking for a “green” home easy to build and cheap.
I don’t have blueprints or material lists available but there are lots of posts that go into the various details of how we did things. See the Tiny Cottage in the tag cloud at right or by using the search box at right. You can find a rough floor plan in this post. Construction is fairly simple and straight forward. Easy enough that as a family of five (with two being young children) we did most of the work in two months.
Very nice cottage, what is the price for that ?
It cost us just over $7,000 for the materials. We supplied all of the labor, taking about two months to go from ground to closed in and then a bit more work at a much more leisurely pace before we moved in.
What a beautiful, practical home! When my husband and I first married, we lived in a third story apartment. We made the move to buy a home so we would have room to garden, get chickens, and take steps toward a more self-suffi cient farm life. Currently we live in a conventional (1950’s ranch) home on 2/3 of an acre within city limits – we aren’t free to do everything we’d like with the space and residential code restraints in our current location, but we have raised chickens, rabbits, quail, and a vegetable garden. Ultimately our goals include a tiny home on more land, and for this to be a full-time venture for at least my husband (and maybe me, if we can get to a place where we can support ourselves on just the farm income). I was wondering what your life was like before you moved into your small home, and how the “downsizing” experience was for you & your family.
Those are great animals to start with on a small space. Rabbits make lovely fertilizer pellets that don’t burn the plants.
Prior to moving into our cottage we lived in a 1777 farm house just down the hill. We did a lot of work to try to make it air tight, renovating and all that but it was really just about impossible to heat. The cold came in right through the walls following the old beams and nails. It was technically about 2,700 square-feet including the shed but we only really used about 700 sq-ft so moving into the 252 sq-ft tiny cottage wasn’t such a shocker. Quite importantly is that our cottage is just us. Livestock aren’t supposed to come indoors. We use the old farm house as a barn for our farming now. If we need to shelter an animal extra then it can go in there. When we lived down there we also had animals in the kitchen when they needed hatching or hospice. I’ve very glad not to share space so much. :)
The other detail about the old farm house was it was impossible to clean for two reasons:
1) It was right next to the dirt road so fine dust was constantly billowing up from the road and into the house during the non-winter months.
2) Since that had been going on for over 200 years there was fine silt in all the cracks of the house. You just couldn’t get it to be clean.
The cottage is much easier to maintain and clean. Check out this article about A Wife’s View of the Tiny Cottage.
I’m really awestruck by the work you and your family does. how you work together and all that you accomplish. You’re inspiring. My wife and I would like to have a home of our own but houses are so expensive. This winter we’re planning to look for a little parcel of land where we can build a little house similar to your cottage. You have inspired us to do it ourselves. The fact that you were able to do it in two months with your kids is just awesome. Do you have blueprints that you sell for the house? Your posts about it have been very detailed and I think we can do it from those but you should write a book on this.
Hmm… An interesting book idea that several people have suggested. For now I’ll stick to posts on the blog though. Books are a bit off in the future. I don’t have blueprints nor would I want to pass out the engineering details because of liability and the fact that I am not a licensed engineer, architect, etc. However, it isn’t hard to build and I think most anyone who is determined, methodical and handy could do what we’ve done. Keep it small and simple. Do some small models such as table top versions, then animal huts, dog houses, tool sheds, etc to develop your skills. Look at the blog posts about the butcher shop for a lot more articles about construction techniques we use. That may give you more ideas. Practice, practice. Work safely.
Great story. When you say your cottage is superinsulated, do you mean that there is a lot of insulation on the inside wall of the block? For your next tiny cottage, you might want to use insulated thermal mass, where the insulation is in the middle of the block. This keeps the interior warm or cool. Thermal mass exposed to the interior, with insulation on the exterior, is the most thermally efficient way to build with mass walls. NRG insulated blocks add an exterior layer of thermal mass, which makes for a healthy, energy efficient insulation/thermal mass sandwich.
No, the insulation is on the outside of the walls so that the thermal mass of the 100,000 lbs of masonry is inside the insulating envelope. There is a parge of masonry outside the insulation to protect it fro the elements. See this post about Insulated Mass. This makes it so that the house stores heat in the winter and coolth in the summer very efficiently so we don’t have to cool the house and it takes only a minimum amount of firewood (<0.75 cord/yr) to heat it.
If we were to put the insulation in the middle of the thermal mass as you are suggesting with the NRG blocks we would lose nearly half our thermal mass making the cottage less efficient. I've seen the NRG blocks and they are not as thermally efficient as our method of construction because they have less insulation on them and put more of the thermal mass outside the insulating envelope. By our putting virtually all of the mass inside the insulating envelope we gain that thermal mass for tempering the cottage and we have a thicker layer of insulation than you get with the NRG blocks.
The NRG blocks are also a lot more expensive than what we did and would have doubled or tripled the cost of building our home while also resulting in less insulation value and less thermal mass. With reusable forms we built we are able to achieve a greater strength, greater interior thermal mass and greater insulation as well as more flexibility in construction than can be achieved with a commercial product like the NRG blocks. We've now had the cottage for seven years and it has worked so well that we did this same thing of our custom forms and putting the thermal mass entirely inside the insulating envelope when we built the butcher shop.
Love the cottage!
I have found that concrete homes feel quite “dead” to be in, do you find that this is the case for you?
Not at all with ours. How they are built, designed and the architecture are probably a big issue. I studied acoustics and experimented before we began building our cottage.
How did you build the barrel vault?
Did you use a fabric sowed to the wire mesh and spray cement over it?
I built a set of arch forms, then wire, then mesh, then a thin layer of concrete, let that harden and then added the rest to bring it up to 1.5″ thickness. See these posts for details and photos.