17 year old builds a tiny house on wheels

Austin Hay began to build himself a tiny house when he was 17 and planning to move out his parents' place. He's planning to take it to college and park it in someone's back yard or side yard. It's a snug little ship-shape thing, too:

Now, Hay is done with his house, and it looks beautiful and well-made and very, very tiny. He’s been living in the house instead of in his childhood bedroom, and he has it registered as a trailer, so he can drive it to college if he has somewhere to park it. This video combines two tours — an early one before the project was done, and a recent open house showing the finished home and its features.

This teen built his own tiny home so he could move out of his parents’ house (via Naked Capitalism)


  1. I can not bring myself to calculate the amount of money I would have saved since highschool, had I built one of these.

    1. You have to put it somewhere.  Would you want to live in a trailer park?  Many cities have rules about habitable structures and many specifically prohibit permanent occupancy of a portable structure parked on the grounds of a residential lot that has an existing structure, so that kills the plans for just parking it in someone’s yard.  Can’t rent an empty lot because utilities are unlikely to provide service without a primary structure for meters to feed to.  Can’t leave it on the street in one place for too long because police will find some code violation even if it’s hitched to a vehicle, plus no utilities.  Can’t leave it uninsured because it’s a trailer, and needs registration in many states too.

      I’m not saying that the work isn’t impressive, it is.  I’ve built garden sheds and they alone are a lot of work without even getting into the realm of power and water.  I see him as having developed a wonderful set of skills for a non-college worker or field foreman or for maybe a college-bound architecture student, but otherwise this falls into the hobbyist set of skills.   This is something that I’d expect to see hit the festival circuit, provided that it handles being towed around constantly without breaking up.  For permanent use, it’ll only really make it in his parents’ yard, and then only because no one has brought up the code violations.

      1. Hmm. My fault finder was not awake yet when I saw this. I’d be fine with most of the people I’ve taken to trailer parks as neighbors. Most people in trailer parks are not like the ones you see on TV. There is a beautiful trailer park called Camp Kegonsa on Circle Drive in Stoughton, WI. I’ve been to two others that are austere but decent. Even the rundown one on Sirloin Strip by the Hookah Lounge has a seedy charm to it, and a plurality of the people there are hard working Mexican families. Madison can’t be that unique in having decent places to put a trailer, and there is always the option of placing it on a rural lot with less regulation. If the kid is sharp enough to build a miniature house he is probably sharp enough to have looked into the logistics of finding a place for it.

        1. I’m not entirely sure how you survive a winter in Wisconsin in a trailer without spending $10,000 a month on gas, but perhaps it breeds a better kind of trailer park resident.  The trailer parks I knew in Arkansas typically made the ones on TV look quaint and gentrified.

      2. Be nice if you knew what you were talking about before making comments you know nothing about. There are plenty of States that allow Tiny Houses registered as Travel trailers. Built properly (Austin’s is) they stand up to cross country travel. Trailer built in most areas there are no code violations. Several progressive cities allow them in backyards and allow them to be hooked into the main house utilities.Look up Tumbleweed tiny homes,look up the thousands of youtube videos featuring people building and living in tiny trailer mounted homes.I am on 5 acres just north of Seattle, Wa. Trailer is insured as a tiny house when on site and as a travel trailer when on the road. Look up Dee Williams tiny house on youtube. She has been (with the city of Portland,Or. approval ) living in  a real tiny trailer mounted home for almost a decade.
        We have engineers, architecture grad students,off grid life style,and other members of the small house society
        living in tiny trailer mounted tiny houses for several years living all around this area and other areas of the country and world.
        The use of a sleeping loft allows the tiny trailer mounted houses to get around the code issues of habitable structures and most city codes allow for construction of small units under a certain square footage. He will as others have, locate a suitable place to rent a spot in someones backyard, tie into grid power and water, use his compost toilet, and attend school.
        Who left you in charge to decide what size structure makes the skill set hobbyist? The tiny house featured and  many more are all built to exceed construction codes and his construction skills are well beyond your simple minded backyard shed skill set.
        Having built a few tiny houses and lived in them for several years with no issues, you are more than welcome to issue a rebuttal. However since you have no idea of what you speak, I am sure it will come up sorely lacking.

        1. Wow. I think they post to which you reply so vociferously was mainly pointing out that these things must meet laws governing trailers and that it doesn’t live up to the utopian claims in the descriptive blurb.

          And, well, everyone is allowed an opinion. The builder of this “tiny house” doesn’t have professional skills. He does have hobbyist skills. What’s wrong with that?

          These “tiny houses” are cool, but maybe dial down the zealotry a bit, because they are, after all, just somewhat expensive, somewhat impractical hipster trailers. They are cool, and I’d love to build one, but they are what they are.

          1. I certainly did see any “zealotry” in that particular post.  He’s passionate, and the person he was responding to did make some sweeping generalizations.  He sounds condescending in his first sentences, “Would you want to live in a trailer park?”  

            As someone who grew up in very nice “trailer parks”, it’s a bit of an obtuse statement.  Why can’t we address the idea of habitation and the artificial standards propped up by local building codes, which almost always heavily favor the house as an investment, rather than a habitat for living?  

            That’s what the tiny home movement can address. 

  2. What a guy. I’ve made a concerted effort to become more of a DIYer over the past couple of years, but I’m also 32 years old. If I was as industrious as this dude at 17, that’d be something. 

    And by the time he gets to college… “if the caravan is rockin’…” 

  3. Very, very cool. I do have one question to those handier than I am:

    He’s running three gas appliances in there. Isn’t that a hazard in a space that small?

    His kids are going to have the coolest playhouse.

    1.  It needs to be vented properly both exhaust and fresh air intake but if you start with the standards for RVs which also use gas appliances and upgrade a little it will be fine.

    2. The Mr. Buddy heater you see in the video has a low oxygen shutoff feature, I don’t know about the other appliances.

      I seriously hope his parents did some research before getting him that “camp” stove to see if it can be used indoors.

      1. I use the same exact model stove/oven combo in my 136sq ft Tiny House. Common sense dictates proper use and either a vent fan or an open window works just fine.
        In the summertime Tiny House dwellers tend to cook outside and enjoy the deck, a tiny portable stove makes that very easy.

  4. In the mid-70’s, my college boyfriend, who had just graduated from the local high school, taught himself trigonometry and built a dome in his backyard so he could move out of his parent’s house. Although we both had on-campus housing, I loved going down there and playing house ; )

  5. I’m impressed up until a point.

    I’m rebuilding a 100 year old house, it’s really not as complicated as people make it out to be.  I give him some serious credit for sticking to it and seeing it all the way through.  But I imagine this wasn’t a lone effort.  I certainly know at that age I didn’t have the quoted $12k (even over the span of a couple of years) to make something like this happen.

    On the plus side if he moves into a trailer park he’ll have the nicest place around.

    1. When they interviewed his grandfather it sounded like he said they helped him out financially.  It sounds like his grandparents told him if he was serious they’d pay for it.  Pretty cool folks.  
      Not sure I could be all that dedicated to that toilet though.  Sounds like more of a chamber pot.  Have to wonder how it’d smell and how frequently you’d be emptying it out.  And where would you be dumping it?

    2. This: if I’d had the money to build something like that in high-school I could have put it into a mutual fund and bought a house by now…well, if I’d taken it out at the right time.

  6. “its more kind of like a male thing…tee hee”, oh dear, to be without imagination, and have too little experience to know how much it is required

  7. Had I forgone cigarettes and other stupidities as a teen I might well have had the cash for a project like that.

    A coastal equivalent is a boat – which can (in Canada and I think anywhere) be anchored free for up to a year.  Some maintenance required, but boat living is grand.  I lived on a 36 foot houseboat for 3 years in my early 20s and am better for it.

  8. I lived in student housing that was probably 1/4 larger than this in terms on just plain square footage but so poorly laid out that his actual living-space is larger than what I and my partner (yes two of us in a space that had a larger kitchen and bathroom but slightly smaller living space) paid more than $500 a month for. Here’s the floorplan (ours was 109, lower right of your screen) 224 sq feet:


  9. Unfortunately, I see lots and lots of legal misery in this kids future. The law doesn’t take kindly to activities like these – my family knows from experience.

    Especially if he plans on living in a college town, where so much money is made from renting, the regulations will almost assuredly be designed in such a way that they are impossible to fill, solely because they want to wring a  bit more money from him.

    It’s not uncommon for mobile homes to be disallowed in an area (competes with the rental market), it’s not uncommon for it to be disallowed to accept money in exchange for letting someone park on your land (competes with the parking lot market) and it’s often enough not allowed to sleep outside of a fixed residential structure. They told me “liability concerns” for that one, although I’m pretty sure it’s about image maintenance.

    I wish him the best of luck though – may he manage to evade the attention of the police and local government.

    1. With colleges and university towns across the country  having students and grad students building and living in Tiny houses I really wonder where you come up with the assurance that it will be impossible? Seattle has Grad students in the field of architecture and other fields of study living in tiny houses in backyards. Other cities have much the same with approval and others with a wink and a nod i.e. Portland and other progressive university towns. A tiny house is not registered as a Mobile Home. It is a travel trailer built tiny house,registered as such they are allowed in many places for periods of time from months to years with no issues at all.Don’t know what college town you live in but Liability concerns and other objections to tiny trailer mounted tiny homes will or are being changed every day.
      Of that I can assure you.
      Just one example of the change.
      http://www.denverpost.com/ci_21445749?source=bb  hundreds of Student tiny houses have been built and lived in from Seattle to Boston.
      Austin won’t have any problem finding a place to park his tiny home.

      1. My experience has been otherwise, and was a decade ago – if this is the case, and such situations are actually widely accepted and becoming moreso, it’s good to know my experience was not representative. I still hope he manages to avoid stumbling on one the places that oppose this sort of thing, but if you’re correct it’s good to know that will be more likely than I thought.

        1. The times they are a changin.
          Portland has ADU’s Seattle has DADU’s and tiny houses a plenty. A lot of other cities are following their lead. A decade ago the average house was over 2200 sq ft. in 1950 it was 800 sq ft.  seems like a return towards some sanity is at work on more levels than one. We just happen to be on the extreme end of the scale.

    2. If he goes to a university with a law school, then the Student Legal Assistance office will help him navigate regulatory issues. It would make a nice break for them from all the abusive landlord/slumlord issues they handle.

  10. I’m somewhat concerned about his “composting toilet”. If he’s going to be squatting over some sawdust and having to “dry it out in the sun” for some months doesn’t that mean that he’s going to be surrounded by buckets of crap, with smell, flies, etc?  Humanure isn’t recommended for food crops,  and I’m not sure that even a trailer park would be amenable to his ideas, no matter how ecologically sound.

    1. Unless health issues or prescription/illegal drug use prevent the complete process of proper composting Humanure is no different than Cow manure compost/humas or any other manure compost on food crops. It is peoples misguided perception that prevent wider use of what has historically been a proper practice. There are no smells,or buckets of crap as you put it when done properly.Read  The Humanure Handbook 
      excerpt  http://humanurehandbook.com/downloads/Chapter_7.pdf
      Quite a few colleges have on site tiny houses and off campus backyard tiny houses,so don’t confine his options to a trailer park. If that became a viable place to park his tiny house he could do off- site composting as several tiny house dwellers already do just that, and yes it is used on food crops.

  11. am I a minority? I’m absolutely envious of this guy. I don’t have kids at 38 but if I had a son like him I would feel like the most proud parent in the world

  12. Seriously: Chill out, people.

    It is entirely possible to build one of these yourself, and have it meet all the legal requirements. It is also not rocket science to make it as safe as a “real” house. 

    What you end up with is a mobile home (US)/Caravan (UK), and then you have to deal with the usual mobile home problems: water, electricity, sewage, and parking.

    There are lots of people doing this, and succeeding. There are books of plans to follow, websites, support groups, etc. There’s lots of discussions of all of the issues that are brought up: Legality, safety, how to find places to “park” etc.

    I am tempted to get one, myself. It would be entirely legal for me to park it in my back yard (and I have no neighborhood association CCRs to prevent it). Technically, it WOULD be illegal for it to be permanently connected to water and electricity both, and it would also be illegal for people to live in it for extended periods of time.

    But the key word is “technically.” It’s POSSIBLE that the kid and/or his “landlord” MIGHT get fined, but as long as they don’t piss off the neighbors, it is unlikely. Or at least, that’s what the popular opinion is.

    I’ve decided what *I* really want is one of these, only cheaper: http://theqcabin.com/the-teardrop-cabin-kit-images/

Comments are closed.