Mortgage-Free Living in a Hand-Built Tiny Home

Owner of Shelter Publications and godfather of the hand-built homes movement, Lloyd Kahn brings us another great book on tiny homes, chock-full of examples of small houses anyone can afford to own.

| August/September 2012

An Authentic Life, Doin’ What He Loves

Just a few years shy of his 80th birthday, Lloyd Kahn is among the most enthusiastic, dedicated, hardworking and athletic — yes, athletic — guys I know. If they were to put a photo next to the definition of “authentic” in the dictionary, it could be a picture of Lloyd. 

When Lloyd came back from his stint in the Air Force in the late ’60s, he went to work as an insurance broker. But what he really wanted to do was surf and build houses, and he seems to have quickly picked up the habit of doing what he really wanted to do. 

His first building project had a living roof. Then he built a home in Big Sur from railroad timbers and used lumber. He built geodesic domes for five years, before concluding that they don’t work well as homes. His present home in Bolinas, California sits in the midst of a large vegetable garden, includes a striking 30-foot-tall hexagonal tower and is covered with hand-split cedar shakes. 

Today he is one of the world’s leading voices in creative, environmentally sensitive, human-centered building practices. His early books were about domes. Later his passion grew to encompass anything built with creativity and a conscience. 

A Lifetime Achievement Award. For more than 50 years, Lloyd has been sharing his passion about building with the world. His company, Shelter Publications, has published his series of unique books that have inspired thousands of us to build our own homes. (For more information about his books and a special discount offer, keep reading.) In recognition of Lloyd’s exceptional contributions to wiser living, MOTHER EARTH NEWS presented him and his Shelter Publications team with a Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this summer (we’ve dubbed it the “Mommy”). 

— Bryan Welch, MOTHER EARTH NEWS Publisher and Editorial Director 

2/15/2013 11:07:19 PM

I live in Mountain View, Arkansas, in Stone County. There are very few building codes here. The city is about 3-4,000 pop. and a great place to "retire". Outside the city there is only one building code I know of and that's the saturation (?) test to put in a septic tank. Your land has to pass that, but I think after that your on your own. There are not a lot of jobs here in a good economy so people have had to learn to be self-sufficient. Our winters are fairly mild and our summers are hot & humid. We get a lot of rain in the spring & fall. There is plenty of land for sale and the taxes are ridiculously low. There are some amazing houses around here and I'm sure they would not pass any code rules in a bigger city. Stone county is in the north central part of the state but if you want to get Really, Really natural go to Newton County. It's just north west of our county. There are plenty of trees,hills natural springs, rivers & creeks. So don't be frustrated move to Arkansas.

Doug Pitcher
10/5/2012 5:38:12 PM

I think some people are getting around the building code issues by building a tiny home on either wheels or skids. If it's movable I think some places will let you get away with it. (tumbleweed homes) I guess there are a few options to get around the building code dilemma. If you are wanting to build a bigger building building codes come into play. We wanted to build a garage type structure to live in until we could afford something bigger/more permanent. We ended up scraping the idea because by the time we met all the building codes it was going to cost a significant amount of money that we just put into our permanent home. I like the self sufficiency is a direction approach. We started with a small home in our plans but ended up with a big home but far smaller than we would have if we didn't have self sufficiency in mind.

Allie Engle
9/14/2012 6:56:50 PM

Building codes are a concern for me too. I'd like to build a tiny (10x25) guest house in our woods, but I don't know if I'll be able to get the composting toilet approved! The woods are landlocked, only accessable on foot or horse, and that's another concern for zoning purposes. Then there's the fact that it rests on a north slope. So much for solar. :( Wind's not looking too good either, and the only water source is ground water.

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