Tiny house in Oakland built for $5k

NewImageLloyd Kahn, author of Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, posted this photo of a 120-square-foot house built on a trailer chassis. The house will feature a full kitchen, composting toilet, outdoor shower, sleeping loft custom built in furniture and a fireplace. The siding is reclaimed redwood fensing and flooring is maple re-purposed from an old roller skating rink in Petaluma.

Oakland Tiny House


  1. Does being on a trailer like that let get around paying ridiculous amounts of property tax and construction licensing fees on it?  Serious question!

    1. Yes.  As well as all sorts of safety and code requirements like having a closet and egress windows in your bedroom, indoor plumbing, minimum sq. foot requirements, etc.

  2. Wouldn’t it have been smart to have the rain run off the roof on the side without the door?

    1. I think the idea is that the (relatively) tall wall is now completely available except for that one window on the far left, and it doesn’t rain that much in Oakland. At least I hope that was the idea. Maybe it was just habit!

    2.  Actually, considering it further (for some reason this fascinates me), maybe it is habit. I imagined it flipped the other way, and it just looks like a Shed.

      My brain expects the roof to slope down from the center of a House even if there’s no house there.

  3. Uhhhhh…. permits, taxes, inspections, electrical, fire department approval, insurance, etc.???  
    Good luck with that $5k dream home when the neighbors find out you’re endangering everyone.

    1. Do you know that a lot of people keep a big hunk of metal and plastics that combines both electricity and gasoline sitting around on their streets, even in their garages?

      1. I keep a filled propane tank in the basement near the gas boiler…
        Across the room sits several fuel containers as well.  I like to live life on the edge.

        Bonus, the gas line going into the boiler has a tiny tiny leak

        1.  Better than countless clay pots of wildfire in your castle’s nethers, though, I reckon.

  4. The builder’s definition of a “full kitchen” and my definition of a “full kitchen” are definitely NOT the same thing.

  5. So, like, remember when they had that earthquake in Haiti and there were lots of deaths because people were living in cheap, unregulated sheds? Um…yeah.

    1. You really want to compare being crushed by crumbling, cut-rate, un-reinforced concrete ceilings to what is essentially a nice lightweight RV with wooden siding instead of plastic and aluminum?  

    2. So you would rather be a concrete skyscraper during an earthquake than this shed? The mind fails to grasp…

    3. Oh dear, my house has collapsed in an earthquake.  I am buried alive.
      (tosses aside some planks)

      Oh dear, my house has collapsed in an earthquake.  I have a splinter in my hand.

  6. I think this is a really cool, well constructed example of a tiny home. Putting it on a trailer ensures that it could be moved off the property, therefore it is a temporary structure. A whole heck of a lot more consideration has been involved with this tiny home’s construction than many of the granny-units, basement and garage apartments that are common in our state. I would wager that this doesn’t endanger anyone, Tim. Also, Toon, this shed is hardly cheap from the construction photos I have seen. The walls look built to code as far as I can tell. 

    So many negative comments about something that is so cool. I am tired of commenting to combat the pessimists. You people need to lighten the F up.

    1. I agree.  If someone else wants to live there, that’s great, I just have no desire to.  The only real issue I see is the potential to be blown over/away in a strong storm, other than that “code” on this scale is almost impossible not to meet.

      Besides I’d think neighbors would have a bigger issue with the composting toilet and taking a shower in the yard.

        1. Funny, I’ve had half a dozen 50 foot trees ripped up by winds with a few feet of my patio in the last couple of years. MY previous house had the roof torn off.

          1. But such storms are extraordinarily rare in the bay area. Actually, I can’t recall the last time I heard of anything like that happening here, except for the weird freak mini-tornado that hit Santa Rosa (I think it was Santa Rosa) a year ago or so.

          2. I’m assuming you’re referring to the storm in ’95, which was nearly 20 years ago and was one of if not the strongest windstorm to hit the bay area in like a hundred years? 

            That’s kind of the exception that proves the rule isn’t it?

      1. >The only real issue I see is the potential to be blown over/away in a strong storm

        Or by big bad wolves. Brick is MUCH safer in that situation.

    2. I’m not so much skeptical as curious as to what problem this structure was built to solve. Are you looking for a small, portable home, with low environmental impact that you can use to live alone in your parents backyard in a relatively warm location (think: outdoor shower)? Then, bravo! This is a nice solution. The other 99.9% will have to keep on looking…

      1. I’m not sure it’s meant to be a universal “solution” to anything.  Housing isn’t really a one-size-fits-all thing.  It solves something for the folks who built this particular house, and solves something for people building similar houses.

        And by the way, I’ve seen similar tiny houses with indoor showers/plumbing, same as you’d find in an RV.  Sometimes really nice indoor showers.  

    3. I learned a thing or two about what is considered to be a temporary structure while relocating/remodeling my wife’s studio. It WAS a 22 x 24′ cottage which we had hoisted onto the back of a flatbed and moved down the road. It’s now a roughly 34 x 36′ studio/cottage; but because it was moved there – and because we installed it on concrete posts instead of a foundation – it’s considered to be a mobile home. Oh, and a temporary structure too – because it was initially assessed as a cottage. Never mind the fact that some “cottages” in this area go for $1 million+ and are anything BUT temporary – some of ’em are built like bunkers.

    4. Lighten up? All I can think of are the frowns on the faces of those poor children in Petaluma, forced to skate in the streets by this selfish bastard. They’ll probably skin their knees and get gravel and shit in there and die.

  7. My big issue with “small houses” below a certain size is that they can easily end up being a waste of materials (even recycled ones) for the simple reason that they end up having very little enduring life. I’ll be the first to admit that I live in a house that is really much too big for my current household, and probably was always on the large side. But this house will continue to be attractive to successive, similarly sized families for at least another hundred years, and its done that for the past hundred.

    Its clear that we live in an era when there are compelling reasons for some people to live in shelter that is MUCH smaller than anything conventionally available, and its good to see some creative solutions for this. But if you are doing this for a few  years in your late twenties before settling into a long term co-habitation or having children, is the construction of these charming small houses any more than self-indulgent 3D art? Not that there is anything wrong with self-indulgent 3D art either, but lets call a spade a spade …

    1. I have similar feelings about them here.  At least when I hear people touting the supposed environmental benefits.  They are essentially disposable, and treated as such, even more so than your average McMansion.  

      I think the people doing it for lifestyle (simplification) or financial reasons are almost certainly being more honest with themselves.

      1. There are plenty of mobile homes California that are 50 or more years old.  I can’t see why this would have a shorter life.

      2.  Also, consider how much of this material is repurposed material.  The wood and such is, and the facilities inside can always be reused.  A composting toilet can be removed and taken somewhere else.

        1. For 5K I can recycle an entire 1965 vintage airstream trailer, take care of it, and sell it to someone else in 10 years for the same price

  8. My issue is that tiny houses are cool and neat, yet I read comments alluding that this tiny house might endanger everyone, violate safety codes and will collapse in an earthquake just like in haiti and blow away in a storm. 

    1. Clearly, it will blow away in a storm, but that hasn’t stopped the mobile home industry has it?

        1. Well really considering the back wall looks to be 12′ high or so and it’s only 5′ or 6′ deep.  If it wasn’t attached to any type of foundation it looks like a good 40 mph wind in the right direction could easily tip it over. 

          Even where I live on the east coast we don’t get 30+ mph winds that often, maybe once a year (unless it is cause of an incoming hurricane, which wouldn’t be an issue on the West Coast.)  But still once a year is enough to “throw caution to the wind”.

  9. when whomever wants to quit living in it, they could sell it, or give it to someone who wants to live in it.  the cabin we have in the woods is about this size and can house the four of us for a weeks at a time.

  10. How many tiny houses can fit on the head of a pin?

    Eight if they’re skinny. Four if they’re fat. 

    Many, many, more if they’re dimensionally transcendental.

  11. I have nothing snarky to add, just curious, is this really considered to be in Oakland proper? Looking at a map I guess the city extends into the more sparsely-built-up hills but it’s not what I think of when I think of Oakland. 

    I was kind of expecting a tiny cabin on a suburban sprawl lot – you could probably build several on a lot, closer toward Berkeley, and rent them out to students for more in total than a single house :)

  12. Has anyone made one of these yet that is set up to be parked in a tree to do double duty as a tree house? Or bolt on some pontoons and make a houseboat? It would probably be too heavy to serve as the gondola for a hot air balloon. Maybe with some modifications it could be my future retirement home.

  13. I think these are neat and applaud the effort.

    The cheapskate in me cringes at the cost of units like these.  I personally think you could get much more bang for your buck by getting a travel trailer -12 or 16 footer and rehabbing it. You could easily gut it and rebuild the interior the way you want or just modernize pieces while leaving other parts stock.  

    Travel trailers already come with neat nooks and crannies for storage and while the existing tables and cushions are towards the end of their life they can be refurbished to be sturdier.

    1. but…but…then you are living in a trailer and are subject to the accompanying stigma.

      1. Hmmm…the potential stigma that some might spew lies more with living in a trailer park with the other poors, than simply living in a trailer somewhere, say in rural plot you either own or rent — or in a backyard, safely obscured from view.

        If you have an Airstream or some other retro and therefore acceptable trailer parked on the correct, hip side of the tracks you’re good. Otherwise I suppose you could put some sort of siding on it, like the subject of the linked article.

        1. Or you could have a trailer in the fashionable Bing Crosby’s Blue Skies Village in swanky Rancho Mirage, California.

          1. I hadn’t heard of Blue Skies so I Googled it. Below is the first link:

            Wow – really cool…I didn’t really think any more of these existed. I remember visiting retired relatives in communities just like this – palm trees and all – when I was a little kid in the 70’s – in California – not sure if in Palm Springs – I’ll have to ask. 

            Thanks for the reference – for shits and giggles I’ll maybe I’ll check how much these go for – certainly less than a re-tooled garage in London I imagine.

            Of course the Pacific Heights carriage house my parents rented in San Francisco in the mid-to-late 60’s for 200 monthly sold a few years ago for 2-plus million so who knows.

  14. OK, the objections raised here are spurious.  The house can be made not to blow away in a storm by anchoring it to hooks driven into pilings or by guy wiring it strongly.  You’re going to want to block up the trailer frame anyways, because you’ll want to avoid wearing down your tires and trailer axle.  Some of the other objections about waste, etc etc., are unfounded.  The criticism I have is cost.  5k?  Seems a bit pricey.  1k for the trailer.  1-2k for the wood and materials.  Salvaged windows.  What else?  minimal plumbing, wiring, etc?  5k seems to me to be about 1 to 2k too high.

    I looked into one of these from the Tumbleweed house people.  The thing was GREAT.  Loved poking around in it, felt very cozy.  The problem is… TOO COZY… for a family of 4.  I thought about building 2, one for the kids, one for the adults…  and then I just kinda gave up the dream and went back to my day job.  But it was a nice fantasy!

    1. Small houses are built on trailer frames to avoid having to comply with housing codes which are not written for such small houses and so become almost impossible to comply with when making such a tiny home. This is not meant to be mobile home; it’s just that “technically” this is a mobile home since it’s on a trailer frame. 

      I live in a houes that is less than 1000 sq. feet with two adults, 1 teen. We love always being close to each other but can have some privacy. The design of the house helps a lot – we have bedrooms upstairs and living spaces down. You would need just a little more space for 4, depending on kids ages. The biggest issue is that certain elements of the home were not designed for this many people, like, we’re going to have to dig a new cesspool because ours just doesn’t handle the volume of laundry and dishes we do – actually, we’re going to route these out of the cesspool altogether and have a dry well for the gray water.

      1. Most of the houses in my neighborhood growing up were about 1,000 sq ft. Some of the families had seven children. Three girls in one room, two boys in another and the youngest two in trundle beds in their parents’ room.

        1. At that point abstinence kicks in as a means of birth control. 

          No doubt the other common feature was handyman house additions featuring lots of cracked foundations and extension cords plastered into the walls. 

          1. I don’t know a single person who built an addition. In small town New England in the 60s, building an addition to accommodate your dozen children would have been viewed as rich folk and their hoity-toity ways.

          2. In the DC area where the 800 sq ft ranch house was the norm, they sprouted improvised additions like tumors even though the soil had horrible problems with settling.  

            But during the real estate boom, the nicer earlier 20th century 800 sq ft  cottages were expanded in a variety of architecturally sound ways. 

      1. There’s a 275 sq ft garage for sale in London right now listed at £500,000.

  15. meh. my brewing equipment would barely fit in there. Come to think of it, a mobile brewery might be kind of useful…  

  16. The biggest safety issue with the tiny houses is fire. The smaller the house the faster it burns and fills with choking smoke. You don’t have to go far for news stories to find out how few seconds people had to get out in a regular trailer fire.  Many builders of tiny houses just make assumptions about fire safety and egress thinking they are no different from a standard size house which for something that uses combustion fuel in stoves for heat is a bad idea.
    The other issue with most tiny houses is they are ableist in design thus exclusionary to a large swath of the population. Well also the movement has a lot of pretentious wankers in it like any other alternative life style philosophy but you can ignore most them. They mean well in the community they just need to get up to speed on safety issues and handicap accessibility.

    1. It seems to me that most tiny houses are custom built, and so are in fact the direct oposite of “ableist in design.” The house can be built to suit the exact needs of the occupant.

      That doesn’t mean that my house will necessarily fit your needs or visa versa.

      That comment just feels a little bit like saying “the problem with DIY clothing is that they are all size 4, thus exclusionary to a large swath of the population.”

    2. I had to think pretty hard to figure out that “ablelist” means “not handicap accessible.”

      Let’s be realistic: it just isn’t possible to build a house with wheelchair space that’s only 100 square feet. That’s 10 x 10. I’ve been in accessible restroom stalls probably 2/3 of that size.

      The fact is that tiny houses are not for everyone. They’re suitable for the people who are able to put them to good use, as are the vast majority of conventional houses. Most houses in my area are two stories, with all bedrooms up. My mother-in-law seldom comes to our house, because she finds the two steps into the house almost impossible to navigate.

      But mobility disabilities (probably not the current polite term, sorry) aren’t the only sort. A tiny house might be good for someone who is blind, or has developmental disabilities. Small efficient space, a place for everything, and very little upkeep.

  17. “ableist in design”? You could just as well say suburbia enables cars, large houses enable over-consumption, 4 bedroom houses enable families that are too large.

    I’m a 50+ grandmother and I live in a 120 sq ft house. I designed it myself, not to code. It’s not for everyone but then no houses are.  I’ll happily live here until I’m no longer able.

    Tiny homes are not built with same materials as trailers making the fire hazard smaller. I have 3 ways to exit my house within arms reach – how many do you have?

    1.  You seem to have no clue what ableist means.
      Just because you have managed to create a tiny house that works for you does not mean there isn’t issues in the movement or the DIY designs. But that’s a good dose of hostile self righteousness you got going.

      1. I don’t see any hostility in ET’s post, unless you interpret what you perceive as disagreement with your post to be hostile. 

      2. Well also the movement has a lot of pretentious wankers in it like any other alternative life style philosophy but you can ignore most them.

        That was you, right?

  18. You know, a used airstream is like $3,500. With all the carbon you save you could probably justify not spreading your own fecies on your front lawn.

      1. Nothing, but  I bet that the toilet is probably just $1,500 out of the 5K.  And I might imagine there is a smell that could be an issue when no place in your house is more than 5 feet away from it.

  19. Good lord. What a bunch of wilting cowards in this thread. OH NO WHAT MIGHT GO WRONG.

    It’s a wonder anyone ever got out of Europe.

    1. Yes, Indeed.

      To read the comments – I would think I was reading  the Gawker comment section* – not BoingBoing’s. 

      *Just sayin’, just an observation, no offence or insult intended towards the Gawker Commentariat, which I also read and enjoy for the snark.

    2. > It’s a wonder anyone ever got out of Europe.

      You mean, it’s a wonder anyone ever got out of Europe ALIVE. Why? In the late 1400s, people lived in small houses. Which are clearly all death traps.

    1.  Larger on the inside? Why is it NOT BLUE, THEN?!?!?!

      Hah! Busted!

      (Actually, yes – it looks quite nice. But it doesn’t get very cold in Oakland (or whereever you’ve taken those pictures), does it? Otherwise it would just be a tad uncomfortable in winter…)

      1. If the Kindle or any other e-book database had half the dead-tree books I own…well, I would still be missing half the books I own. 

        Would love to minimise, but it’s just not possible at this point.

  20. Ummm….yea….5k is a fortune for this. Come to Louisiana sometimes and you’ll see things like this made for a few hundred. Seriously, people make things like this as hunting cabins in a weekend with a few friends.  

  21. ok the comment about a small house being a fire hazard made me laugh. I think its extremely save, your always close, so you can spot a fire, and you are out the door in two steps. Who cares it fills with smoke quick, i can walk 2 steps in smoke. getting down the two stairs from a master bedroom in a full sized house might me kinda tricky tho…

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