Tiny living is affording a growing number of people financial freedom and a simpler, but more fulfilling lifestyle. Many are finding that they can live mortgage-free, without necessarily giving up more conventional paths to financial security.

For example, some might be paying off a mortgage on a regular-sized home, but to do so, they rent it out and live in a tiny house out back, as Steve, a firefighter from Edmonton, Canada is doing in his Earthship-inspired tiny home on wheels.

earthship inspired tiny house steve living big tiny house

Steve designed the size of his 10′ by 17′ house to fit in the backyard of the main house, which he rents out, using that income to pay down the mortgage on that building. He was inspired to seek a mortgage-free life after taking a year off work, and travelling down the continents in a van, volunteering on various building projects, such as tiny houses and earthships. In addition to savouring the community of kindred spirits surrounding these projects, he learned many new skills, and when he returned, started a tiny house project of his own, in Edmonton, where he now works as a fireman.

Steve’s 140-square-foot house was built as part of a weekend workshop in collaboration with Vancouver tiny house builder Ben Garrett. Inside, it’s a light-filled space that is well-proportioned and features a lot of interesting design ideas, gleaned from Steve’s time as a volunteer builder.

For example, the dimensions offer a much more generously sized living room, which Steve — in an experiment — attempted to heat passively with the thermal mass of a brick-lined floor. But in Edmonton’s extremely cold winters, this didn’t work so well. Steve plans to replace it with wood flooring instead. Nevertheless, the home stays warm and cozy with the help of three different heating options: woodstove, propane heater or electric patio heater.

Loft-haters will be glad to see that there isn’t one in this house; instead, there’s a pull-out queen bed that’s hidden under the kitchen platform. It rolls out in the living room area during the night and during the day, it rolls back in, and partially becomes the L-shaped sofa. The bed box has storage space, and a clever little coffee table is hidden under the bed, and can roll out when necessary.

earthship inspired tiny house steve living big tiny house

The kitchen is simple, yet well-configured. Its L-shaped layout echoes that “work triangle” of ergonomics for efficiency of movement in the kitchen. Cooking is done with propane, and there’s a small refrigerator. There’s integrated wall shelving, for food and for plants.

Since Steve’s home is located in an urban setting, and since composting toilets can be a hard sell to most conventionally minded people, Steve decided to install an incinerating toilet in the bathroom. Hot water comes via a propane-powered on-demand water heater.

The home has been designed to be flexible with its hook-ups: it can go off-grid if Steve purchases some more land to put it on, but currently, Steve uses the utilities off the main house. Of course, as a firefighter, Steve has built his home to meet building codes for fire safety: adding egress windows, fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

In the end, Steve spent about CDN $50,000 (USD $38,910) on the entire build, and he figures that if he lives in his tiny home for at least four years, it will pay itself back, thanks to the arrangement he has now with renting out the main house, while keeping his own living expenses low through simpler living. He says:

For me, it was how the economics of it make sense. I rent the big house out and the tenants pay the mortgage, so by me staying in the small house in the backyard, I’m living a mortgage-free lifestyle right now, immediately, while I’m still collecting equity in the main house. So that makes sense to me and that’s a good situation to be in.

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