October 22, 2021

Home sweet little home: Small space = low cost

Resourceful local residents join the ‘social movement’

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Gabrielle Chiddy built this tiny house to cut down on expenses, simplify her life and allow her to live closer to nature. She plans to tow the house, now near Sempronius, to the state of Maine.

For Shealena and Carl Hartwell, building a tiny house started as a matter of necessity.

Three years ago, Carl had just received his associate’s degree from Finger Lakes Community College and was about to transfer to SUNY Cortland. He and Shealena needed a place to live. They didn’t want to shell out of a lot of money on rent, and they didn’t want to take out a mortgage. They also didn’t want to move in with Shealena’s mother in Locke. They weren’t sure what to do.

Then they saw a TV show about people who saved money and simplified their lives by living in tiny houses. Shealena thought it was a great idea.

“And she kept saying it,” said Carl, who also became enthusiastic.

The Hartwells aren’t the only ones: Tiny house aficionados now constitute “a social movement,” according to www.thetinylife.com. There are books and scholarly papers on the subject, as well as TV shows — “Tiny House, Big Living,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters”. Advocates tout tiny houses as a means to simplify one’s life, reject consumerism and cut living costs.

The Hartwells didn’t jump on board immediately, but after a few months of mulling it over, “one day he (Carl) said, ‘We’re doing it,’” Shealena said.

And they did: In 2016, they bought a travel trailer from a man in Albion for $300, moved it to a 1.5-acre parcel of Shealena’s mother’s property in Locke. Then they got to work.

They took off the floor and put a grinder to the frame to clean the rust off. They enameled it and put on new axles and tires. Then they stick-built a new house on top of the frame.

They installed a hot water heater, wood slab countertops, a full-size range, a mid-size fridge and a full-size bathroom with a shower.

Including the two lofts, the total floor space is about 280 square feet, and the total cost was at least $18,000.

They moved in on Labor Day 2017, and they and their dog Oakley have been living there ever since.

Their monthly expenses? About $350, including lot rent, water and utilities. They get their water from the town of Locke. The house is hooked up to an existing septic tank.

For heat, they use a space heater with an automatic shutoff feature. For cooling, they have a window-mounted air conditioner.

Keeping their expenses low has allowed them to do a lot of things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, such as travel.

They traveled together to 10 countries, including the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Peru and Panama. By herself, Shealena has been to five more. She’s 28 now, and she aims to have traveled to 30 countries by the time she turns 30.

“She’s been on every continent except Antarctica,” Carl said.

Eventually they want to buy their own land and move their tiny house there, which shouldn’t be too hard: It’s already got wheels.

“It’s been a three-year adventure,” Shealena said.

Gabrielle Chiddy and Georgy Georgiev are just getting started on that adventure. They’ve been building a tiny house at 5724 Sayles Corners Road near Sempronius since March 2017.

“We were taking the slow road,” said Chiddy.

The house is 8 by 22 feet, built on the frame of a gooseneck trailer, and they built an 8-by 8-by 8-foot loft bedroom that juts out about 2 feet beyond the footprint of the trailer.

While they did the construction themselves, the electrical work required outside help for two reasons: “Because we wanted to learn it and be able to do it” and “we didn’t want to mess anything up and set anything on fire,” she said.

They’ve finished the basics, but the interior needs more work. It doesn’t have appliances, and it lacks a wood stove, all of which they intend to supply.

“The goal is to finish it by the start of next summer,” she said.

They also own 18 acres in Stow, Maine, where they plan to move the house next spring.

She has no concerns about moving it. They plan to pay someone to tow it, because they don’t have a truck. But she’s confident it will hold together. “I’m 98 percent sure we’ve overkilled it on whether it’s stable enough,” Chiddy said.

Once in Maine, the tiny house will initially serve as a vacation cabin.

“We just enjoy coming up there as much as we can,” she said.

They intend move permanently to Maine.

“For me it was kind of a financial decision,” Chiddy said. “I wanted to be financially independent and not have bills.”

Then she met Georgiev, who had the same idea. They were also both interested in living minimally, reducing waste and spending more time outdoors.

Once they set up the house in Maine, they want to build an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor bathroom. This will be in addition to the kitchen in the trailer, which will have a gas stove and electric fridge, as well as a bathroom with a composting toilet.

“We plan to be off grid,” she said. “We want to do solar power.”

They also want to have water gravity fed to the house.

“We’re trying to keep it as minimal as possible,” Chiddy said.