Last summer, our Instagram account started getting tagged in posts by another account called "RAD Tiny Home" (@radtinyhome). We scrolled through their photos and realized that the DIY duo behind the account, Henry and Sophie Jungbauer, were on a journey to build their dream tiny home. With a little help from us (see question #5 below!), Henry and Sophie finished their tiny home and, in the process, gained a ton of invaluable insight and experience about DIY home projects (#planningiseverything).
We asked Henry and Sophie about their inspiration for this project, incorporating sustainability into their tiny home build, and much more. If you're DIY-obsessed like us, their story will resonate with you. You may discover some nuggets of inspiration, too. Enjoy!
1. What attracted you to the tiny home "movement" and why did you guys decide to build your own tiny home vs. purchasing one?
Henry and I (Sophie) met in college where I majored in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. During my junior year, I took a class called “Consumption and Its Consequences” which really opened my eyes to the negative environmental impacts that a typical American’s consumption habits can have. During our senior year, Dee Williams (an early pioneer for the modern tiny house movement) gave a talk at Luther, and afterwards, I read Dee’s memoir called “The Big Tiny.” In her memoir, Dee talks about the experience of building her own tiny house and how a shift towards simplicity made such a positive impact in her life. I chose to write my senior paper on the Tiny House movement and titled it, “Rethinking the American Dream: Downsizing as a Sustainable Solution”, which is where we got the idea for our Instagram handle “@RADtinyhome”. After that I started researching different layouts and dreaming about having a tiny house someday, but it took some convincing for Henry to come around to the idea. After living in a 1 bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities, we found that we were slowly filling our space with things we didn't need, and we weren't utilizing the space we had well. At this point, Henry started to see some of the benefits of going "tiny" and real discussions about building our own tiny house began. Additionally, paying upwards of $1,000 a month in rent for a modest 1 bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities was stretching our budget and not allowing for much savings.
Honestly, we never gave much thought to not build it ourselves. After graduating from Luther College, I did a 2-year technical program in architecture technology at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and started working in the field of commercial architecture. Henry worked as a framer for a high-end custom home builder in the cities. The tiny house movement was spearheaded by people building their own homes, some with no prior building experience whatsoever. We figured with our combined skill sets there was no reason that we wouldn't be able to build ours. One of the unique things about tiny houses is the opportunity to design a space specifically for how you live. We knew that we wanted to build our own home so that we would have control over the design and materials used, have a real sense of ownership of the home, and save on labor costs by constructing the house ourselves.
2. Did either of you have any previous experience with major home building/renovation projects?
Henry worked on a crew framing houses from the ground up for 2 years. After the second winter building outside in Minnesota, only halting work for -20 degree weather, he decided to change career paths. Ironically (and definitely not planned), our build really got underway during the heart of the winter so Henry had to endure working in less-than-ideal conditions once again.
Henry had helped out family with installing a new roof on a family cabin and some odd project here and there, but had limited finish carpentry experience. I had watched my dad and his friend build their “hunting shack” in my early years and was familiar with commercial construction. However, the only hands-on construction I had ever done was building a dog-house kit with my dad in the third grade. Together, we had the design and framing skills, but everything else took a lot of research and trial and error to figure it out.
3. How did the building process go? Were there any unexpected hurdles for you? Conversely, was there anything that went smoother than expected?
The building process took much longer than we had originally planned. We're not sure if we ever had a goal finish date in place, but we both thought it would take somewhere around a year to complete. However, we were both working full-time jobs, Henry worked Saturdays and I was also helping coach my alma mater’s Nordic ski team. I also had a second job for additional funding for the build. We were also building about an hour away from where we were living at the time, so for the first eight months of the build, we were only able to build on Sundays. Driving to and from the house and cleaning up (which included tarping the house since we were building outside) automatically took a large chunk of time out of every build day. This often meant working well into the dark which came with its own challenges. We picked up the trailer from Portland in late April of 2018 and moved into the house late August of 2019, so the entire process took about 16 months. Because there were many aspects of the build that we had never done before, some things took a lot longer than we had anticipated. For example, we had planned 2 weeks to install the shiplap on the walls and ceiling, when in reality it took about 6 weeks until the last piece was nailed up.
A good example of a hurdle was hiring professionals to do the electrical and plumbing. The biggest reason this was a hurdle was how it stretched our budget. Additionally, the anxiety that came with relinquishing some control over the build was a bit hard to swallow, especially since neither of those professionals had ever worked on a tiny house and thus did not understand many of the intricacies specific to tiny home construction. Getting past these hurdles wound up being more than worth it, as they both sped up the process and gave us some peace of mind that many of these important details were done by licensed professionals.
We did have a few nice surprises for things going quicker than anticipated which helped keep us sane on the build days where it felt like progress was at a standstill. A good example is how smoothly the "walls up" day went. We used a 3D computer software (called SketchUp) to design the house and create wall framing plans. We built the walls over the summer, with each of the "long" sides of the house broken up into 3 separate wall sections that had to be assembled as they were attached to the trailer. With the help of plenty of volunteers from both our families assembled at our build site, there was some pressure to have things moving along and not have any major hiccups. To get all the walls raised and secured, with all the ceiling trusses installed, it took only 8 hours. To our delight, the walls fit together perfectly and were situated on the trailer exactly as planned! This was made possible thanks to our very detailed and accurate framing plans, not to mention a lot of precise cutting and assembly.
4. How did you incorporate sustainability into your tiny home? Why was that important to you?
From the start, sustainability was at the core of the build and a big part of our “why." A tiny house will most likely consume less water and require less energy than a traditional home because of its size. One way we are drastically reducing our water consumption is using a compost toilet, which does not use any water. We also installed low-flow fixtures and our lights are all LEDs. The ceiling fan helps to redistribute heat and reduces the need for air-conditioning. Our main source of heat/AC is a mini-split system that uses less energy than a traditional furnace/air conditioner. Heat pumps are inherently more energy efficient than traditional heat units because they work with heat's natural tendency to move from warm areas to cool ones.
We wanted to have a very energy-efficient and sustainable home; this idea helped guide our design and material selection. We used Pro Clima’s exterior and interior house wraps to create a sophisticated building envelope and Rockwool insulation in the floors, walls, and ceiling, which has a higher R-Value per inch compared to other batt insulation options. We purchased reclaimed windows from Craigslist, bought an energy star refrigerator, purchased lumber locally, and chose to use steel siding that is durable and can be recycled at the end of its life. The carpet we chose for the lofts can be up-cycled through its manufacturer.
We also decided to go with a light color for our siding to help keep the house cooler in the summer. We installed large windows for natural lighting and the abundance of windows allows for cross-breezes, reducing our need for A/C. We truly believe the best way to get people passionate about our environment is exploring the great outdoors, and we love that with our many windows, no matter which direction you look in the house, nature is beckoning. We also designed a very functional kitchen that has plenty of storage for foods purchased in bulk, and by using our own containers we are able to greatly reduce single-use food packaging waste. Plus, we have a designated spot for our compost pail!
We think we have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than when we entered it, and for us that centers around living a sustainable lifestyle and considering our environmental impact. By living out our values we hope to inspire others to do the same.
5. How did you hear about us? What did you purchase from MN Home Outlet that found its way into your tiny home?
One of our good friends had been doing some home improvement projects of his own as we were beginning our design and build. He enthusiastically recommended we check MN Home Outlet! One day as we headed out to our build we made a pit-stop in Coon Rapids. We noticed the MN Home Outlet store and remembered how our friend had spoken so highly of it so we decided to stop in to see what it was all about. We were blown away by all they had to offer and thought it would be a great way to save some money on new or good-as-new products. We made multiple trips to both the Burnsville and Woodbury locations in search of the perfect kitchen sink. To our excitement, we found our large farmhouse sink in pristine condition at the Woodbury store and could not be happier with it. This beauty is the centerpiece of our kitchen!
During one of the stops at the Coon Rapids location, we came across a pallet of luxury vinyl plank. One of the boxes was open, which is truly the only thing that was not "brand new" about the pallet of flooring. We are very pleased with the product and love the warmth that the color brings to our space! It is also durable and waterproof!
6. Any words of advice for DIY'ers looking to build their own tiny home?
Our best advice is to plan ahead! We had many days that we showed up at the house Sunday morning, ready to tackle the next item on our to-do list, only to realize we had many minutes or even hours of planning to do before we could even start with that task. Things like the placement of the largest window being determined by the size of the kitchen sink or having to adjust the height of the loft framing minutes before install because you realize the shower and required plumbing will not fit under the loft with the current plans. Learning to think about the implications a single decision could have down the road served us well, and helped us avoid unnecessary headaches.
Another reason why planning ahead is important is because of lead times – if you are ordering specialty items there is often a fulfillment/shipping timeline that you have no control over. It also can allow you to incorporate reused or reclaimed materials, which is a great way to not only save some money on material costs, but to make your build more sustainable. We were lucky enough to find all our windows on Craigslist, but it took some time to track them down, and we were not able to finalize our framing plans until all the windows had been purchased.
Planning ahead is such an important part of designing and building your own tiny home. That being said, sometimes the plan works out, while other times it has to be tweaked on the fly or abandoned completely. Staying positive and emotionally resilient is what got us across the finish line. Looking back, some of the best days were when the plan was kicked to the curb and the end result was all the better for it.
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