The Building Aspirations of a Social Entrepreneur

It was back in 2011, when the Seattle real estate market was still suffering from the impact of the recession, that as a real estate agent, I had some time on my hands. I listened to news on the radio and read my local newspaper. But instead of tracking the local market, I became captivated by the stories of tornadoes hitting the country. I grew up in Kansas, where tornadoes were simply a part of the news, but suddenly I was hearing about tornadoes in other parts of the country. Then came the repeated stories of devastation, shock, resilience and rebuilding. But the rebuilding was slow, and I quickly became obsessed with its timeline. Why must it take so long to rebuild? I thought there must be more efficient ways to save these communities. Before I knew it, I had enrolled in graduate school with post-disaster housing on my mind.

Fast Forward to ASPIRE

Fast forward to present day where I have ASPIRE, a Tiny House on Wheels DIY Kit, sitting in my backyard, thanks to my Close to Home team. She’s the result of countless hours of research and “time in the field”, years of working on a solution to a problem with no guarantee that we’ll get it right. But I’ve been obsessed, and I’ve managed to draw some really great people into the work with me. We’ve learned a lot along the way and we now have ASPIRE to share with communities that need her. Designed with Structural Insulated Panels for the entire building envelope, you can assemble the shell of the tiny home in just two days! Day three is for window and door installation. And then you proceed with the rest of the build.

Rachel & Jennifer, in front of ASPIRE tiny house on wheels DIY Kit
Rachel & Jennifer, Close to Home

Proof of Concept

Our build took nine months because we were proving the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) concept as we went. Meaning, basically, if I could do it, it was really DIY! If I needed help, consulting, or an expert, then we understood that our client would need them as well. I started the project with basic home repair knowledge – the kind of basic stuff you learn as a homeowner. In my twenties, I installed laminate flooring in my home, learned about tiling, and had some fun with a reciprocating saw as I helped remove an ugly fence. As a real estate agent I have attended countless home inspections, gleaned knowledge from those processes, but beyond that, I was pretty much starting from scratch.

In the Beginning

Patrick Sughrue, directing the panel assembly

We started the build the day after our trailer and Structural Insulated Panels arrived. We gathered a good team of volunteers with the ability to lift the panels onto the bed of the trailer. With our collaborator from Artisan Tiny Homes, Patrick Sughrue, supervising and directing the panel assembly, we were in good hands. Jennifer and I, the Close to Home Team, were able to take care of the details and document the process. After the panels were assembled, Patrick steadily backed the beginnings of the tiny house into her building spot in my backyard, and Jennifer and I said goodbye to Patrick. We had the next step of painting in hand and with a paint sprayer we made pretty quick work of the interior priming – easiest to do first thing while we had an empty shell.

Wrangling Volunteers

Installing ASPIRE's Western Red Cedar Siding
Buz Hager, Volunteer with a Smile

We wrangled volunteers to fill in where help and expertise were needed. A family friend stepped up to help me with a lot of the work and we ended up trimming and siding the home together.  I asked another friend who is a professional builder to lead the window installation and with him in the lead and three dedicated helpers, we had the nine windows installed in just over three hours. That’s a perfect example of planning for expertise to lead willing volunteers in building success. Everyone left that day with a feeling of accomplishment.

Volunteer Window Install Team
Tess Schorr, Dan Young, Mike Rehder – Volunteer Window Install Team

We had electrical volunteers who came over to consult and advise, as we needed their expertise. Some camaraderie over an interesting project and some food served during a lunch hour, helped bring folks over when we really needed their help. We learned that plumbers in the area are in high demand and we simply had to pay for that expertise. Doing as much planning and materials purchasing as possible beforehand in order to expedite the work helped us save money where we could. And all of that knowledge goes into the Kit for future builders to use.

Make it Work, Designers!

Sustainable “green” flooring, paneling, windows & paint

We made some design changes as we built – all the while thinking about making the build as simple as possible for those following us. What was the easiest way to trim the windows while still using simple, affordable, beautiful wood? Because, oh yes, we designed ASPIRE with sustainability in mind. She’s got high-quality sustainable product choices everywhere – from the paint to the windows to the floor. And now we estimate that a team could build this tiny house in just a fraction of the time it took us to build – 6 weeks, we estimate – it all depends on the knowledge and the hours of work of the assembled team.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

My local Home Depot became my “Cheers” – where everyone knew my name – or at least knew that I was “the tiny house lady”. There were days that I just went in for a little cheering on. Those folks knew that I was often in three times a day! The whole idea of the Kit is that we’ve gone to the hardware store 300 times during the build, so that YOU only go 3 times! You’ll receive absolutely everything that you need for the Kit – from the screws required for each component, plus appliances and furniture, right down to the light bulbs.

We’ve Just Begun – A Post-Disaster Housing Solution

It has been a journey, and now she’s all complete and ready for tours. What a feeling of accomplishment. But I know that we’ve only just started. Designing and then building her were only steps one and two. Now we’ve got to get ASPIRE to where she was designed to go, to post-disaster communities where families want to return to their homes TODAY – not in two years. Because ASPIRE is on a trailer, the Kit can be shipped to a neighboring town where volunteers have access to motels and diners. Then volunteers can build out of the way of teams working to repair the local devastation. Volunteers can build ASPIREs for families who want to “live tiny” in their own community as they rebuild their original home and their town.

Everything you need!

Housing Affordability

ASPIRE's cozy sleeping loft holds a queen mattress
ASPIRE’s cozy sleeping loft holds a queen mattress that is included in Kit!

ASPIRE is also a solution for the many organizations looking to tiny houses as they work to house those in need in their communities. Close to Home has done the work in design and product choices. All these groups need to do is to fundraise – and we’ll even help with that as we’ve set up some templates on “GoFundMe”. People want to help, and people understand the importance of home. Not much can be done in the world when people don’t know where they can rest their heads and hearts at night. The entire idea of providing this Kit is that we see over and over again that people will volunteer to build for those in need. ASPIRE allows organizations to put that sweat equity and volunteer drive to work – with the years of preparatory planning and work done for them, by Close to Home.

Washer/Dryer Combo included in Kit
Washer/Dryer Combo included in Kit

The Continued Need for Solutions

And so that’s where I am this August of 2018. Seven years after the start of my post-disaster housing obsession. The affordability crisis has risen all around us in the country since then. And as I finish this blog, the California wildfires are raging once again and we have fires locally here in Washington again as well. There is only an increasing need for innovation in housing each year. The Close to Home team is hoping that ASPIRE is one solution that will help many.

 

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