Interview: Living in an expanding, off-grid tiny house
We cover a lot of tiny houses here at New Atlas, but it can be difficult to get a handle on what it's actually like to live in one. So, when contacted by Newt Hau, enthusiastic owner of a recently-purchased tiny house we wrote about, we jumped at the chance to ask him about his experience so far.
Hau purchased the Aurora, a novel tiny house by Canadian firm ZeroSquared. While it has the usual tiny house features like optional off-grid tech and space-saving furniture, it also features motor-operated slide-outs that increase its width from a road-legal 8.6 ft (2.6 m) when towing, to 15.10 ft (4.6 m) when parked up.
There are other tiny houses that do this too, and slide-outs are pretty popular in the RV scene, so the Aurora isn't doing anything new or unique. That said, the home does offer a particularly nice interior layout that seems more like a studio apartment on wheels than a typical tiny home.
New Atlas: Thanks for taking time to chat with us. Please tell us a little about yourselves.
Brooke (36) and I (40) currently live in Hawaii working as federal government employees and have been together for five years, having lived four of those years in Japan. We are a fun-loving and laid-back couple that likes to question social norms while enjoying a meal during our travel adventures.
New Atlas: Living in a tiny house is a major lifestyle change, is downsizing something you've long been interested in?
Going tiny has been a little like a snowball, where it started out small and slow and then just took off. It pretty much started when we lived in Japan and our quality of life increased dramatically and we were wondering why. We realized it was because our home was on the smaller size – about 1,300 sq ft (120 sq m) – we had less furniture and belongings, and it was easier to maintain. All of that translated to more time and money to do what we wanted, which was immerse ourselves into the Japanese culture and also travel the Asian continent. Around that time tiny houses started to pop up in various media outlets and it immediately struck us as a potential way to live, it just made total sense to us. After TV shows and tons of hours on the internet, we knew going tiny was in our future, we just didn't know how and when.
New Atlas: There are so many models on the market, how did you go about choosing one?
It was 2016 and I had already combed the far corners of the internet for tiny home designs. I had become fatigued by the monotonous THOW [Tiny House on Wheels] design of a lofted low-ceiling bedroom, galley style kitchen, and an awkward precarious staircase, and as much as I wanted to go tiny, none of these designs were going to get me into a tiny house. Then I came across one of your articles on New Atlas featuring the Aurora and was captivated by the rendered images that led me to ZeroSquared's website.
The only feature that truly mattered to me was the massive double slide-out design that nearly doubles your square footage. With that, you're able to get a first floor bedroom with a high ceiling, a dedicated living area, a kitchen with all full-size appliances, and a nice bathroom giving you a total of 374 sq ft (34.7 sq m). The center wall perfectly complements the slide-out design that physically and visually breaks up the space into distinct living areas, making cohabitation a little easier.
New Atlas: How did the purchasing process go?
Buying the Aurora was a pretty simple process. ZeroSquared offered reservations on an Aurora unit in exchange for a refundable deposit of CAD$1,000 (around US$767), which I placed back in October of 2017, making me third in line. Their staff reached out to me for selections on finishes and any possible upgrades such as cabinetry or off-grid options like a composting toilet and solar. I made my selections but informed them that I was not ready to build immediately, so they just checked in with me on occasion.
When I was ready to build about nine months later, I signed a contract detailing exactly everything I wanted in/on the tiny house and how much it was all going to cost, which is also when the first one-third of the total payment was due. I made the next payment a few weeks after construction started and the final payment upon completion and delivery.
New Atlas: Did you go for any modifications, or leave everything as standard?
We wanted a number of options and upgrades to personalize our home. Most of them are offered through ZeroSquared, while the interior design was done by a third party, where we specifically asked for a Japanese Modern aesthetic. We really wanted a specific look reminiscent of our time in Japan and that really comes through in the modern shoji door and the awesome pebbled flooring in the bathroom, as well as the Yakisugi fire technique applied to the dining table and mantel.
The Aurora came standard with most of the appliances to even include a dishwasher, but we added the washer/dryer combo for the sake of convenience. The standard layout was pretty hard to improve on, but there were certain things we wanted upgraded like the integrated minimalist cabinet handles, an electric fireplace for that homey feel and those colder nights, and you can't miss that folding elevated outdoor deck to enjoy the amazing views. I wanted the flexibility to be on and off-grid, so we have a 6-panel 10-kWh battery solar system but still have the option to tie into the grid or use RV hookups. I also plan on adding smart home tech in the future with locks, lights, and plugs.
New Atlas: Are there any misconceptions that you've found about living in a tiny house?
The misconception I think many people have and I admittedly had too, is that somehow you're going to have to make significant sacrifices or at least compromises in your design. Brooke and I were in 90+° F (32° C) summer weather a few weeks ago and the insulation in our Aurora was so good we didn't even turn on the A/C once. Some friends and family thought that we would be cramped and hunched over in parts of the tiny home, and looking at 99.9 percent of other THOWs on the market, that might have been the case, but once again this specific design addressed that concern. With our tiny home, we can't think of anything we're compromising on, we have every convenience and comfort that we want and we still constantly exclaim how much room we have. There's also tons of storage too.
New Atlas: What would you say are the primary benefits to downsizing?
The main benefit is just emotional, financial, and temporal freedom. If you can imagine a life without a mortgage and less space to fill with random, mostly useless things, and then add more free time to pursue the things you most enjoy, it should equate to an optimized version of you because the two most valuable finite things to a person is time and money and it's now tilted more in your favor. In order to make tiny living work though, you have to really know yourself and your living partner and you have to already have a strong and proven relationship because you both have to really want to live tiny in order for it to work. If you have that, then you can work through the debates on which tiny house design to go with or what location to place your tiny home.
Last thing to add is that you have to at least loosely subscribe to the theory of less is more. So if all of that resonates with you, you should consider tiny living and keep in mind that tiny living is not for everyone, but it might be for you.
New Atlas: Looking to the future, what are your plans?
Our plans right now are to place our tiny home in the outskirts of Calgary overlooking a lake and the Canadian rockies. It will sit on a foundation and be tied to utilities, but we still need to get the lot ready so that could take 6-12 months. That should coincide with my retirement from my current job and we would then be living there six months out of the year (avoiding the harsh winters), and then travel the other six months and repeat indefinitely.
That rounds out our interview with Newt Hau. If you'd like to check out the home in person, SerendipTiny will be presented by ZeroSquared at the Tiny House Jamboree in Austin, Texas, from today. You can also follow Newt and Brooke's adventures on their Instagram page @SerendipTiny_Haus. For those interested, there's also more information about the Aurora on Zero Squared's website.