Kristie Wolfe builds a tiny slice of paradise on a shoestring budget

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Kristie Wolfe's tiny vacation home in Hawaii (Photo: Kristie Wolfe)

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Designer and dressmaker Kristie Wolfe is the handy type, and a few years ago she dove headfirst into the small living movement, constructing herself a 9 sq m (97 sq ft) home in Boise, Idaho. This proved so successful that she decided to build another, this time an off-grid vacation home near the town of Volcano in Hawaii. The recently-completed treehouse cost around US$11,000 and took three months to build. Including travel costs, the purchase of land, and all additional expenses, the whole project came in at just $23,000.

Located on a 2,000 sq m (0.5 acre) plot of dense rainforest near Volcano National Park, the treehouse is raised 4.5 m (15 ft) off the ground on stilts and comprises a total usable floorspace of roughly 21 sq m (230 sq ft). This is split between just three areas: a large bedroom, a small bathroom with a toilet and shower, and a "kitchen area" that's really more of a nook in a hallway and doesn't yet contain a hob or sink. In the space underneath the home proper, an old trampoline has been converted into a hanging daybed.

Each room looks finished to an impressive standard, especially considering the budget Wolfe had to work with.

Access to the home is gained by a steep staircase and trapdoor, and a wooden wraparound porch offers a 360-degree view. The interior features a natural finish, with some nice little touches like a homemade chandelier, a raised bamboo bed, homemade porthole windows, and large sets of louvered windows in the bathroom.

The treehouse is built from wood and clad in plywood and bamboo. Wolfe reports that the temperature in the area stays a steady 25 degrees Celsius (78° F), so no insulation, heating or air-conditioning is necessary. The vacation home operates totally off-grid, and a roof-based solar array feeds a couple of batteries, which are used to power the water pump for the shower and some USB ports and plugs. The system offers enough charge for running devices like laptops, etc, but larger energy-hogging devices don't last long. Though the home contains no fridge or freezer, a small electric cooler is installed.

A gutter-based rainwater catchment system feeds both a shower and a toilet, but this isn't suitable for drinking, and thus all drinking water is provided by stored water bottles. The toilet is interesting, and features a system in which when you flush, the sink is first filled with fresh water for washing your hands, before being drained into the toilet for flushing. This then exits into a septic tank.

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