Tiny House Evangelist Hosts How-To Workshop In NEK

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People have been building tiny houses for vacation homes, guest cabins, offices and, of course, as primary residences. Tiny houses, which are usually 300 square feet or less, have become appealing because they’re much cheaper to build and maintain.

There are a slew of blogs devoted to the tiny house scene. One of the more entertaining is done by Derek Diedricksen, a 35 year-old tiny house evangelist who lives outside of Boston. When he’s not posting pictures and commentary on his Relaxshacks.com blog, Diedricksen scavenges for building supplies and produces Tiny Yellow House, a popular web video series. His web videos have been described as "Wayne’s World" meets "This Old House."

Diedricksen is a six foot four inch drummer who plays in a Rage Against the Machine tribute band. He is also the father of two young children. He has an off-the-grid "camp" in the North East Kingdom.

On the weekend of July 6th about 20 people from around the country gathered on his property for Tiny House Summer Camp, a four-day intensive on how to build a house of your own. The 10-acre spread near Orleans was overrun with fans of the wisecracking blogger and author. (Diedricksen’s book, "Humble Homes, Simple Shacks," has made a big splash in the tiny house movement.) The 20 "campers" referred to Diedricksen by his nickname, Deek and, though they had never been there before, they seemed to be familiar with the his camp, which has been featured on his blog and in his videos.

"I’m just trying to give people some hands on skills," Diedricksen told VPR News during a break from supervising the construction of an 8′ X 8′ structure that half of the campers were working on. "You can read books or watch videos on YouTube till you fall unconscious and you’re not going to really learn the skills that you would just doing it."

The campers ranged in age from 13 to 62. Two teenage brothers from Madison, Connecticut who met Diedricksen during a book talk at their local library were dropped off by their mother. Maxwell and Chet Simms stayed in the loft of a log cabin that belongs to "Uncle Bob", a neighbor of Diedricksen’s who drove around in an all-terrain vehicle with a small dog in a front basket. 

"We’re sleeping with a black bear rug that watches us at night," observed 17 year-old Maxwell Simms, who is considering enrolling at Bennington College in a year. "It’s an interesting living arrangement. Weird debris is all over the floor, a strange smell. But it’s good."

The weird debris turned out to be the putty used to fill the space between the cabin’s logs. Simms and his kid brother Chet shared the cabin with Kathy Flynn, a computer teacher from Falmouth, Massachusetts. Her home abuts a forest and she plans to build a treehouse near it as a little retreat.

"I do meditation and I just wanted to get a little closer to the birds and to the sky," explained Flynn who was taught how to play "Blackbird" on the guitar by one of the Simms boys.

A father and his teenage son came all the way from Oakland, California for Tiny House Summer Camp. 15 year-old Wilhem Smith-Clark insists he’s "not some super, hard-core DIY person but once I’m done with college, if I do end up going to college, I’ll hopefully find a cool place to live and build a tiny house for myself."

His dad, Jeff Clark, shared a treehouse with him on Diedricksen’s property during the four day workshop. The treehouse is not tall enough to stand up in, only to sleep. Diesricksen built it for his brother Dustin’s 30th birthday and dubbed it UB30.

Jeff Clark said his son had been obsessing about Diedricksen’s web site for quite some time and Diedricksen’s book as well.

"He started to build some things in our basement and so I thought he’s reasonably committed to it," said Clark. "I can see that Wilhem is really happy doing this. He’s engaged in all aspects of the project, so it’s thrilling for me to see how much he’s learning here."

The participants at Tiny House Summer Camp built two structures, the larger of the two was just eight feet by 10 feet. Bill Foxhill, a professional carpenter from the Adirondacks helped Diedricksen supervise the construction. Both hand tools and power tools run off gas generators were used.

One of the Tiny House Summer Camp participants already owns a tiny house. 62 year-old Jan Kenny hopes to start a tiny house community in Maine when she retires. She currently lives in a tiny house that sits on a trailer bed parked on a friend’s property outside of Philadelphia.

"It’s basically off the grid and it is the most peaceful place in the world," Kenny said. "I have no TV. I am hooked to to wifi for the internet and I have found that without all of the stuff that I had, I feel completely free. If I wanted to move, all I would do is batten down the hatches and sort of box things up that are in the house since that’s all I own and could go anywhere."

Three of the Vermonters at Tiny House Summer Camp seemed to be keen on the idea of building a tiny house and putting it on a trailer because the structure would be deemed a recreational vehicle and thus exempt from property tax. Keith Williams, a 57 year-old business consultant who lives in Bristol, says he’s been working on a design for his tiny house and is about to start building it. 

"I haven’t found a spot to put it," explained Williams, who pushed a pencil in his thick, bushy beard for safe keeping.." I’ve got two kids that live down in North Carolina and I am thinking that maybe I will move it down there and spend time with my daughters and grandkids. The biggest thing for me with [the tiny house] being mobile is being able to just park it some place and not pay property taxes. I don’t want a big mortgage. I don’t want a lot of taxes. Hopefully, this’ll help me get there."

But Williams concedes that no matter where he parks his tiny house on a trailer, he’s going to have to build a shed for his collection of guitars and other stringed instruments. 

Psychotherapist Jonathan Stein is also planning to build a mobile tiny house. Stein is currently living in a tent he erected on a friend’s land in Putney while he builds his tiny house. He seems to have caught Derek Diedricksen’s zeal for using found construction materials in his project.

"If you look at my car out there," he said pointing to a field on Uncle Bob’s property that served as a parking lot for Tiny House Summer Camp, "it has a small stairway on the roof that I found on the side of the road on my way here. And my mind’s just thinking of this all the time. Everything I see on the side of the road, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I could use that for the house, in some way or another.’"

Vermonters can to learn how to build a tiny house in weekend workshops given by Bakersfield carpenter Peter King. He’s built 27 tiny houses in Vermont and neighboring states over the last three years, including one last weekend near Lake Carmi. Derek Diedricksen will do a two-day tiny house building workshop at his home outside Boston on the first weekend of November. Diedricksen, who has appeared on a number of cable TV shows devoted to home design and was featured on the front page of the New York Times home section not long ago, will make a number of appearances in the months ahead on the DIY Network.

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