White Bear Lake builder of tiny homes provides a truly different option
Ice houses are a favorite winter retreat in Minnesota, but could you call something that small your home?
From his blue, steel framed workshop in White Bear Lake, Jim Wilkins has built six homes for people across the country who are comfortable with less – much less.
In 400 square feet or less, Wilkins’ Tiny Green Cabins have a living room, kitchen, bathroom, loft bedroom and porch on the frame of the trailer able to be pulled behind a pickup trunk. With wood siding and traditional windows and doors, these structures are far more homey than Spartan ice shacks on a windswept lake.
Wilkins business was featured in a short documentary on sustainable shelters from the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. The documentary correlated the size of the home to energy use and pollution emissions. The Bell Museum presented Tiny Green Cabins as a way to shrink your carbon footprint – or foundation.
Wilkins, 62, is the only builder of tiny houses in Minnesota and his customers range from Texas to Massachusetts with just as a wide a range to live in them. A North Dakota teacher bought one to get away from house payments, a Colorado mathematician purchased one to use as a writing retreat, a Wisconsin recluse sensitive to chemicals has one because Wilkins uses natural materials.
Wilkins built his first tiny house in 2008 when he was mired in a divorce and struggling to make house payments with an underwater mortgage for his ranch style home in White Bear Lake.
“That’s why I started building tiny houses; I thought I was going to be living in one.” Wilkins said.
A visitor to the website tried to call out Wilkins, presuming he was building them without having lived in one himself..
Well, the barrel-chested 6-foot tall man not only lived in one for a year but he called the experience “magical”
“When you climb in, it would be like climbing in a tree trunk to sleep like a troll or an elf,” he said. “It made life real simple because you are reduced down to the bare essentials.”
When the divorce was complete and the mortgage was worked out, Wilkins said moving back into his old house felt strange.
“You get so accustomed to it being small that you get lost when you go back,” he said. “You realize how much space in a house that a person doesn’t use.”
Regulations pose a challenge for buyers of tiny homes. The homes can’t be wider than 8′-6″ without a road escort and must be less than 13′-6″ high to clear bridges. Also the International Code Council states that no habitable rooms can be less than 70 square feet and city ordinances on minimum requirements for home sizes vary.
“A lot of people build them and license them as an RV” Wilkins said, “and when they park them they change them into a seasonal home.”
Andy Greder is a free lance writer based in St Paul, MN
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Tiny Green Cabins
Tiny Green Cabins delivers a Tiny House to Western North Dakota
White Bear Lake, MN–November 1, 2011 - Tiny Green Cabins provides a solution to the western North Dakota housing crisis – one tiny house at a time.
Living in a smaller, sustainable, healthy home is becoming the choice of many: young singles find an easily affordable home, young professionals on the move or retirees wanting to downsize have less up-keep, and the appeal of creating a custom portable space is also attractive to those who travel frequently, as well as to the avid sportsman or outdoorsman.
Tiny Green Cabins is excited about shipping its latest healthy tiny house creation – The Wildflower II – to a western North Dakota school teacher. She has fulfilled one of her age old dreams: to have a tiny house built to her exact specifications, one that she can take with her wherever life takes her.
The Wildflower II is a tiny house with a main floor that measures 176 square feet, and a loft of an additional 120 square feet. This is a house built to be transportable with added features to make it a year round residence, such as custom trailer foundation by Fellings, welded steel framed structure, insulated floor, walls, and ceiling, metal roofing and siding, in-floor electric heat with back-up propane fireplace, incinerator toilet, custom stairs to loft with built in storage, reserve water storage, grey water storage, ash paneling throughout the home sealed with hand rubbed Tung oil, just-in-time hot water system, LG washer and dryer, kitchenette, small front porch, Marvin Integrity Ultrex windows, smoke and CO/Propane alarms, and a barrel vault roof /ceiling at lofted area.
Western North Dakota is in an interesting predicament with the oil boom of 35,000 workers in less than a year, and an unemployment rate of just 2%. These workers have moved into “man camps,” motels with campers in parking lots, college dorms, and anyplace else that will have them. Housing is at a premium, and with predictions of another 200,000 workers moving in, finding housing is a practical impossibility – where do you put all these people in the Badlands with winter fast approaching?
After careful deliberation, the new owner turned to Tiny Green Cabins for a solution to her very own housing crisis. The delivery of her tiny house this week will assure her of a healthy place to live and call home in western North Dakota, or wherever life takes her.
If you would like to learn more about Tiny Green Cabins, check http://www.tinygreencabins.com.