Building Blackbird Studio, My Own Tiny Home

Reader Contribution by Elizabeth Richardson
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Elizabeth “Neko” Richardson is a licensed counselor in the State of Texas, a veteran, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. She currently lives in Hunstville, Texas, where she is building and designing her own home and studio using reclaimed and salvaged materials on a budget of $16,000 or less. She also works as a carpenter’s apprentice under the mentorship of Dan Phillips. Follow her building progress living experiment in design on her blog, Salvaged Homes.

Blackbird Studio is the working name for my 333-square-foot living experiment in design.

It’s called “Blackbird” because its shed roof, together with the main house’s shed roof, will create the look of a “V” or wings. More specifically, I was inspired by the lyrics of the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” and I thought the moniker fit completely. Blackbirds are also a very common bird in North America and I would like these type of small homes to become as common as blackbirds in urban areas.

In “Blackbird” I wanted to make a working model of a more sustainable way of life. I wanted to show myself it could be done, as we have very few models of what smaller and more sustainable homes look like in a city limits.

What is different about my tiny studio is that I am building this studio and home all according to code and with the blessing of the City of Huntsville. Special thanks here to the local building code department and the City of Huntsville as they have been a huge help and have shown themselves to be fearless leaders in the small and sustainable housing movement.

Many tiny homes are built in locations where there is no code in order to circumvent laws that would prohibit small square footage. While I applaud the ingenuity of the designers who have done this, and believe the tiny home movement started off-grid and off-code, it is not practical for most people who would like to live in a tiny home but have work and family in an urban area.

Tiny homes on wheels are very popular. I also think they are great, and in most cases these are allowed in the city. A potential draw back here is no permanent utility hook up and a transitory nature. For people who like to travel this is ideal; for staying in one place for a long time, this may pose challenges within a city.

My interest with “Blackbird” was to create a tiny home that could be built in any city, that an average person with no special carpentry skills and without much money could build. For people to make more sustainable choices, they need to have more sustainable options.

“Blackbird” is what I have come up with to meet these objectives. Blackbird Studio will be in the city limits, on an average-size city lot. The studio and home will be built of at least 80 percent salvaged or reclaimed materials and designed using the methods of Dan Phillips.

When the studio is complete, I will move in and then begin work on the house which will be around 650 square foot. When the house is complete I will be able to use my studio as my work space. The square footage of my home and work space combined will be just under 1000 square feet.

The truth is, even this much space is probably not needed, but I wanted to show two different sized plans or two options for live and work space. My plans also include a garden and water catchment, and while I will be hooked up to the grid, I will also incorporate alternative energy sources. I will also be within biking distance to most everything I need in my community.

My carbon footprint, without need for consistent use of a vehicle and with small utility use, will be very low.

At the completion of “Blackbird,” I will have a home and work place that are free of a mortgage, requires no commute, provides me with the space I need to earn an income, provides me with a large percentage of my produce intake, keeps waste out of the landfill, has a low carbon footprint, and is an artful place to live that I made with my own hands.

“Blackbird” will also effectively be my retirement. If my home and much of my food is paid for forever, and I have no daily need for a dependable vehicle, and my utility use is small, the amount of income I need to earn is negligible.

Please join me here at Natural Home & Garden magazine, and on my blog, as I write about my progress building my studio and about working with Dan Phillips.

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