The Tiny House Village at Earth Day Texas was one of the most attended exhibits in 2016, and we’re bringing it back even bigger in 2017 (including workshops for tiny house enthusiasts to develop communities of their own, and for land owners willing to have tiny houses on their property). Ahead of this year’s event, we talked to one of the leaders in the world of tiny houses, B.A. Norrgard, about her journey to the lifestyle, stories from the road, and what you can expect at EDTx 2017:
ED TX: How did this come about? What was the genesis of your move to a tiny house?
B.A. Norrgard: I worked for the same attorney for a little over 20 years, and he was talking about retirement. He suggested that maybe I should try to find something else to do. I didn’t want to switch law firms, and at about the same time, we had a really bad hail storm in the summer of 2012. I had been thinking about making a change in my style of living. Those events intersected and prompted me to sign up with a career transition coach, with whom I studied for nine months trying to figure out what my skills, talents and passions were, and what would motivate me to want to get up in the morning. I just decided I wanted to do something completely different. I had an estate sale and sold pretty much everything I owned except my power tools and camping gear. Then I put my house on the market, and it sold in less than 24 hours. I signed up for a tiny house workshop, my first one, in February of 2014, and things moved very rapidly after that.
EDTx: So fast-forwarding to today, for those unfamiliar with what life is like in a tiny house, can you give people a verbal tour?
BN: Most tiny houses are on wheels, and they are on wheels to get around the restrictions that codes and zoning impose on this lifestyle. It’s not because we all plan on moving around a lot, although some of us do. But most tiny houses have a regular kitchen and bath, but the bath is a composting toilet, so we don’t have to connect to city sewers. Most of us connect to electricity and water just like an RV would. Houses that don’t travel a lot are often equipped with solar, so they can be more off-grid. Kitchens vary – typically people have a small gas stove or an induction burner. A toaster oven or smaller oven, and they do have running water. After that, it’s just open to what your style is.
BN: When you travel in a tiny house, every stop you make turns into a tiny house tour. Whether you’re pulled over at a rest stop or gas station or Home Depot, it instantly becomes a house tour. Meeting the people is really amazing. My favorite is when I was parked in Northern California for about three months, and I had a vineyard on one side and an apple orchard on the other, and it was like out of a movie set. Three months is the longest I’ve ever parked anywhere. I also often get pulled over by law enforcement just to ask for a house tour. Law enforcement has been very kind to me. There’s all kinds of adventure on the road.
EDTx: How was the preparation to make the transition to live in a tiny house? Was there anything that would surprise people?
BN: There’s a lot of that goes into it beyond just downsizing into a small space. There’s a lot of emotional and mental work too, because you really need to be evaluating what is important to you, and what do you need? Your house is a custom house. What do you do everyday? What are those activities, and where do you do them? The nuts and bolts of it. What do you want your day-to-day life to look like? There’s a lot of self-reflection. You can’t keep everything. People are like, ‘oh you probably have a storage unit!’ No, I don’t. People get caught up in the cute-ness of tiny houses, but it takes one to two years and some really hard personal work, to get into a tiny house in the manner that it will benefit you. It’s a very intentional lifestyle.
EDTx: Can you tell us about TH Lab and the Tiny House Collaborative?
BN: The collaborative started with a group of seven of us who all knew each other from Facebook and being online. We all went on a hike in Colorado at the first Tiny House Jamboree in 2015, and as we hiked and talked we were comparing notes about how difficult it was to be trying to make a difference on your own. As we looked around we all realized we had various talents. One was really great with graphic design, one was great with maps and zoning. We’re now in our second year and we teach tiny house workshops and are working with municipalities to do capability studies for cities that want to start a community.
EDTx: What would you say to someone who is really interested in the tiny house movement, but is not living that lifestyle themselves? How can they help?
BN: They can certainly approach their local building officials, the permit department and city officials, and express an interest in having zoning changes in their area to allow tiny houses. We encourage people to approach their municipalities in a friendly and informed way.
EDTx: You were very involved with Earth Day Texas last year. Tell us about the response you got last year, and what can people expect for 2017?
BN: We had 1,500-1,700 people a day go through my house in 2015, and in 2016 I asked for eight tiny house friends to come and we arranged the houses in a Tiny House Village. In two and a half days we put just under 38,000 people through those houses. I knew the response would be big, but I didn’t think it would be quite that insane. We were thrilled. This year we’re changing a couple things. There will be multiple villages, including a commercially-built village in a separate location than the DIY houses. The DIY houses will be clustered, which should help the congestion. We have a couple repeat houses and a few new ones for this year – even 2 schoolies! I have friends in the midst of construction right now that are scrambling to finish by April. I expect we’ll have one or two that are not complete, which is a great way to see how these tiny houses are built.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Sign up NOW to see the tiny houses and much more at Earth Day Texas 2017 – April 21-23 in Fair Park in Dallas.