By Brian Troutman
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Resting on a trailer bed and boasting less than 200 square feet in space, the tiny house is the modern day's best example of simple living.
While the home is simple in the resource it provides, it is anything but simple in design. It's builders argue it is more than a shed on wheels. It brings to life a vision of sustainable living -- from the composting toilet to the hybrid electrical system.
It's the dream home of Cedric Baele and Andrea Tremols.
The home the couple has built is not an original idea. Tiny house designs and concepts have been mainstream for about eight years. Since the fallout in the economy, the affordability and adaptability of tiny houses has increased their popularity.
The design of the couple's home is one that has taken influence from concepts used in recreational vehicles and boat building. Baele's father was a boat builder in Charleston, and Baele said he himself has spent plenty of time restoring boats with living spaces. He says his knowledge of building with limited space and research, backed with insight from Tremols, has played a large role in what he describes as a "design that just makes sense."
With a grin on his face, Baele will admit a large part of the build was spent at the Charleston County Library. He said they spent about a year researching tiny house designs before they stopped talking about tiny houses and decided to build one.
"This is a very small project, and this is an extreme," Tremols said. "It doesn't have to be this small, but it can still be this affordable. It can still be this comfortable."
Due to the home's size, the couple has spent countless hours brainstorming how to best utilize every inch of space. At one point, they even tore it down and started over.
"I want people to know you don't have to get rid of comfort to live this lifestyle," Tremols said.
There's space for a stove, a small refrigerator, and a sink. The bathroom is about the size of a of a public restroom stall, complete with a small stand-up shower area. There is sitting space, a couple of feet of it, and the loft upstairs is a closed loft.
The couple said the loft was originally planned to be open, but they later figured it would be good to close it to allow the opportunity for either of them to have private time.
From the amount of counter space to the sleeping loft, flexibility was kept in mind to make the most out of space and make every space comfortable.
"In terms of versatility, this is a pretty cool thing," Tremols said.
Why a tiny house?
Not long out of college, uncertainty in the current economy is what the couple says was a key element in their decision to enter the tiny house market.
The couple says any time they talk about the house, there is plenty of interest. They hope their construction will spark enough interest to spread the popularity of tiny houses and their benefits.
"People my age, people I talk to that don't want to be indebted, people that are coming out of college in an economically unstable time. ...Many are interested," Tremols said.
Tremols graduated from the College of Charleston in 2008, and the economy had just tanked. She said she feared not being able to ever find a comfortable place to live. The tiny house construction has eased her mind.
"This is an opportunity for those people like me to own something for themselves," she said.
For Baele, living in debt for 30 years just wasn't appealing.
"It seemed pretty clear that this was the right idea for us," he said.
The home is nearly complete, missing only appliances, bathroom furnishings a few panels and love. In all, Baele said they have spent only $7,000 on their dream home, though he admits the cost in hours of work is much different. It's a 6-month project the couple hopes to have wrapped up by the end of January, and Baele has worked eight hours or more almost every day of the 6-month period.
Luckily, Baele works a seasonal job as a bicycle tour guide that has made spending a whole lot of time working on the house possible. Tremols, a Spanish teacher at Mount Pleasant Montessori, has spent breaks from school, weekends and as much time after school hours as possible helping Baele in whatever ways she can.
Baele said he wouldn't change things if he could. Constructing his own home has brought a sense of fulfillment he says is unrivaled. In one word, he described the feeling as "empowering."
"There are very tangible benefits for building your own shelter," he said. "I was kind of thinking back on it the other day and it kind of blew my mind to think I had touched every single part of the house -- every nail and everything."
In addition to the satisfaction the couple feels in their building of the home themselves (with the help of a few friends from time to time), they say it is also rewarding to be reminded that most of the materials used to build the home were recycled.
The couple volunteers with Rebecca O'Brien of The Sustainable Warehouse in Charleston. In exchange for their work deconstructing homes and helping to organize materials, they say O'Brien has been generous enough to let them use items taken from old structures.
"Sustainability -- definitely a buzz word these days," Baele said.
More than 90 percent of the tiny structure was built with reclaimed materials. A ventilation system that doesn't actually use AC, modern insulation, plans for solar energy use and a design that will make the best of cross ventilation and natural heat are what Baele says make the home a premiere example of simple, green living.
"Sustainability for me means living with only the amount of resources I truly need," Tremols said. "That came out of living abroad and having lived on organic farms and having lived and worked with people who lived only with what they absolutely need."
The couple said the reclaimed materials in their home have helped not only to build the structure but also to build the home's character. From the home's maple floor taken from the old Charleston cigar factory to the cypress siding taken from an older home in Awendaw, the home offers a history lesson of sorts.
"Every piece of the house has a story," Baele said. "It has a sort of whole history here in Charleston and just using that makes the house, even though it's new, have a sense of place."
The composting toilet
It's one of the things the couple says they are most excited about, though they understand it may be considered a silly idea by some of their family members and friends.
A composting toilet uses little to no water. Waste is mixed with sawdust or similar absorbent natural materials. Once waste is decomposed, the reservoir can be emptied and used as fertilizer.
"That's sort of a radical idea for a lot of people, but it really works pretty well without using extra resources," Baele said. "It seems illogical for us to use fresh water for the sewage."
Making the tiny house a home
The couple believes though the house will be simple, they will be able to make it home just as anyone would.
"We will make it home with the things everyone makes home with," Tremols said. Pictures, good food, bright colors, things that I plan on using from our families...
The fact that the home is on wheels will also play a role.
"We love Charleston, but we don't love it in the summer when there are hurricanes and when the temperature is 100 and humid," Baele said. "So, the idea is that we might eventually move it seasonally -- between here and the mountains."
Baele said they don't plan on moving the home often, but will view the whole world as their backyard as they have a small home they can take practically anywhere.
"I'm excited," Tremols said. "I can't wait to face the reality of our choices."