Two years ago, Stephanie Barber was looking for an answer to her problem. The Zionsville resident wanted to move out on her own, and be independent. Her issue was a lack of resources.
“I knew I didn't want to have an apartment, because I felt like you throw thousands of dollars in rent money away each month,” she said. “So, I wanted to invest in something that I could eventually sell and make a profit with.”
Her solution was to construct a tiny house, which is usually between 100 and 400 square feet.
“I started to think, 'Well, I can only spend this amount of money, and a tiny house fits the budget just perfectly,'” she said. “I also wanted to travel, too. So, not having rent or mortgage at all really frees up a lot of money to save it for traveling.”
As luck would have it, her father, Jim Barber, owned HouseWurks and was a residential contractor and remodeler.
“At that point in time, our relationship was somewhat strained because of a divorce I had gone through with her mom eight years ago,” he said.
But, Jim was skeptical of how serious Stephanie was about the idea, telling her, ‘'Yeah, I'm sure you're going to build a tiny house one day. We'll just wait and see.'”
Then, one cold day, his phone rang.
“She called me up one day and said, 'Hey, I bought a trailer, so let's go pick it up.' And, then it's just like. 'Oh, my God, here we go,'” he said. “So, we brought the trailer back from Iowa on a 20 below morning on a weekend and let it sit at her mom's place for about two months and we weren't able to build because it was so darn cold outside.”
The duo formed a business, Milkweed Tiny Haus, and got to work on designing and building Stephanie's tiny house. From April 15 to May 15, 2018, they housed the trailer at a warehouse facility so they could build the flooring, framing, and windows. They then moved the work in progress to Stephanie's mother's property.
“The agreement was that we're going to take our time,” said Jim. “We're going to build it. It's going to take us a year to do all this. We'll have fun doing it.”
It was then that Jim saw a post on Facebook saying a TV show called Tiny House Nation was conducting a casting call. Jim had never heard of the show before, but decided to reach out anyway.
“I thought, 'Oh, what the heck. I didn't make it on Survivor and I didn't make it on Fear Factor, so maybe this is my chance,'” he said.
After a flurry of emails back and forth between Jim and a producer in New York City, it was time to involve Stephanie.
“She was out at the bars with her friends, and I said, 'You've got to take this call. You've got to take this call.' And, so she did,” said Jim. “And, after about 30 hours worth of Skype interviews, we got selected for the show.”
The Tiny House Nation episode featuring the Barbers, “Going Tiny To Make Things Right,” will premiere at 10 p.m. Wednesday on the A&E network, and will replay at 8 p.m. Thursday on the FYI network. After that, the show will appear on Netflix in the fall.
'Every inch matters'
Jim said the biggest difference he found between working on a traditional house and a tiny one was the need to conserve space wherever possible.
“The difficulties were that every inch matters in these spaces, so you've got to learn how to save an inch to provide the extra square footage that ultimately will give enough space,” he said. “Stephanie had a wish list for what she wanted in her tiny house and we were going through that process of, ‘Can we do this? Can we do that?’ and that's probably the most challenging just to conserve on space.”
Stephanie's design was challenging, but she said they worked well together when it came time to put their ideas into action.
“I would say I'm definitely a dreamer and [Jim is] more in touch with what's realistic,” she said. “So, it was a good balance. But, I'm pretty stubborn too, so I didn't want to budge on a lot of things in the house, so I really forced him to think of a way to get it done and he did.”
Challenges of tiny living
Stephanie said she is currently living by herself in the tiny house with her chihuahua on her mother's property. She said the house itself is 8 feet across, so it can fit in a normal parking space width-wise. However, since it's 28 feet long, it takes up at least three parking spaces length-wise.
“There's not really codes or rules for it where I'm at,” she said. “It definitely changes when you get more into the city. So far I've been good to go on my mom's property.”
Jim said tiny houses are an emerging market in the construction industry, with the recreational vehicle industry now providing a set of guidelines on how to build for mobility and for sanitation. He said it helps solve affordable housing needs for young people like Stephanie.
“People are looking more and more into it,” he said. “The millennial generation is a tough generation, in terms of when they look at the wages that they're trying to make a living at. It's much more difficult than when I was her age. You could go out and get a nice paying job and move into a 3,000 square foot house pretty quickly. It's a tougher market now for the millenials in terms of living in a fun and comfortable place.”
There were surprises in store for Stephanie once she actually moved in. Stephanie said living in the tiny house in the winter was particularly difficult once the temperatures started to fall.
“It was definitely a shock at first,” she said. “I hadn't fully thought about what winter would be like and experiencing how cold the floor would be in the winter. I had pipes freezing up all winter, so I had to move into my mom's for a month or so to let the ice thaw.”
Stephanie said her friends were a bit confused by her choice of housing at first, but have since come around.
“It's taken a little bit of explaining and what exactly a tiny house on wheels is, but everyone is really, really excited to see the show and they're all very happy for me,” she said. “It's been well received.”