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Microbuilder on freedom of tiny homes: few codes, no loans

Derek “Deek” Diedricksen’s backyard is filled with- what to the untrained eye- might appear children’s forts, but these tiny dwellings are actually how he makes his living (mostly).

Ask him his job title and he’ll reply, “I call myself a tinkerer or I’ve come up with bizarre-chitect or lark-chitect being kind of a fake architect.”

Diedricksen’s obsession with tiny architecture began unsurprisingly, with the backyard forts of his youth. But he wasn’t your average construction-minded kid.

Timeline of a micro home builder

At age ten he built his first cabin, complete with electricity, insulation, heat and a platform bunk. When he was 14 he read Lester Walker’s book Tiny Houses and discovered there were others out there like him.

By the time he stumbled upon the Small House Movement a decade or two later, he had already built dozens of tiny structures. “Tiny architecture, micro architecture seems very newsworthy these days. I’ve been doing this for literally almost 20 years or so and up until a few years ago I never realized there was a whole movement. I was just some schmo in my basement with a gigantic collection of tiny housing books, building cabins in the woods as an adult.”

Today, his backyard is filled with tiny cabins, forts, retreats, shelters, shacks and no two are alike. Most of his dwellings are multi-purpose: there’s the 20-square-foot travel trailer/emergency homeless shelter (Gottagiddaway), the roughly 6 square foot treehouse/chicken coop (the Wedgie) and the 30-square-foot kiosk/single-sleeper (the Gypsy Junker).

A $110 sleeper hut and a $80 micro office

He builds small and he works with a micro-budget. His Gottagiddaway AKA “$100 homeless hut” was built for about that (or perhaps as high as $110). His 32-square-foot micro-office (where he filmed his interview) was built for $80 from barn sale/ barn demo materials.

His materials are salvaged from old buildings, lumber mills, recycyling and the dump. His windows are made from old office water coolers, soda bottles, pickle jars and even a washing machine window (a side from the same machine has become one if his drop-down tables).

One discarded cedar lounge chair inspired an entire cabin. The Hickshaw- a “rickshaw for hicks”- has the same dimensions as the chair (2 1/2 feet wide by 6 1/2 feet deep) and can be rolled by one person.

None of Diedricksen’s backyard creations are lived in full-time though he has camped in at least a few of them, uses them for a bit of shedworking for writing his blog and reserves the right to send unwanted guests in that direction.

Tiny homes as punk rock

Building tiny is also a way to rebel a bit. “There’s almost this whole outlaw aspect of it. I’ve kind of been a little anti-authoritarian most of my life playing in punk bands and what-not and a lot of the housing codes and rules to me, while some of them make good sense, a lot of them are just ridiculous and very antiquated.”

In 2009 he self-published (from his basement) his own hand-illustrated ode to tiny dwellings: Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts. He’s sold 3,000 copies to date and is releasing the second edition early next year.

His mini-dwellings are mostly just prototypes for “larger” 100- or 200-square-foot homes, but through his miniature bungalows, he hopes to show the world that living small is normal.

“It’s the way I grew up, I just love it,” says Diedricksen who grew up in a small home and today lives with his wife and two children in a 900-or-so-square-foot home. “Why waste most of your life paying for a house you’re never going to be in because you’re out working 80 hours a week to afford it, but you’re working so many extra hours for this huge house that you need to heat, you need to furnish, you need to maintain, you need to clean. The bigger the house, the more of your short and finite life you’re using up to make those ends meet when you don’t really need a house like that.”

[Music credit: Bill Bracken, acoustic guitar]

[Photos credit: Bruce Bettis]