AUDIE CORNISH, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
Very few do-it-yourselfers would attempt to build their own house. But if the place was only 300 square feet or less - well, that's a different story. With the Internet enabling DIYers to share their know-how, there's been an explosion of tiny house building activity.
Reporter Jon Kalish introduces us to a couple of New Englanders who are helping people construct some very small homes.
JON KALISH: The tiny house movement is far from tiny. Some people are living in tiny houses; some people use them as vacation or guest cabins. They're versatile, easy on the environment and affordable. There are a slew of websites devoted to the scene. One of the tiny house evangelists is 33-year-old Derek Diedricksen, who lives outside of Boston.
M: I'm just a freelance insane guy working out of his backyard, building stuff for people when the need arises.
KALISH: Diedricksen's backyard has a shed full of lumber, piles of firewood, a solar shower, and a handful of already completed structures. His web video series, "Tiny Yellow House," might be described as "Wayne's World" meets "This Old House." It features an irate next-door neighbor.
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CORNISH: Diedricksen, when are you going to clean this mess up?
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KALISH: Diedricksen uses discarded building materials. And a great example is a shack he calls the Gypsy Junker. The side of an old washing machine serves as a table. The bed platform is made of forklift palette wood. In one of the videos, Diedricksen boasts that this tiny structure, which is just 7 feet by 4 feet, can sleep as many as three people.
M: So if you want to have Shaquille O'Neal for a sleepover - I'm not sure why you would - someone up to 7 feet long could fit in this structure. And on the floor, if you're over 6 feet tall, you can sleep diagonally - or squeeze two people down there. So it is possible to sleep three people in here, but just beware if it's family burrito night.
KALISH: Diedricksen may come off as a wacky guy, but architects have taken notice of one of the designs in his book, "Humble Homes, Simple Shacks." And a small cabin he built in the northeast kingdom of Vermont will be featured in a forthcoming book about tiny houses.
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KALISH: Vermont happens to be the home of another eccentric figure in the tiny house movement. Fifty-one-year-old Peter King lives off the grid in a geodesic dome, and has built several tiny houses on his property.
M: I just like the sense of economy, the sense of - you can't put a lot of stuff in there, so you have to be careful of what's important. And another beauty of the tiny house is you can put them almost anywhere. They are moveable at this scale. You can easily put them up on rollers and pull them around.
KALISH: King runs weekend workshops in which participants turn a pile of lumber on the ground into a tiny house. Four students pay for the experience. A fifth person pays for the wood, and has a new house at the end of the weekend.
M: Straight claw 16-ounce hammer, 25-foot tape, carpenter's pencil...
KALISH: King is going over the carpenter's tool set before building a 10-foot-by-10-foot house in Woodstock, Vermont. This 100-square foot house will serve as a home office for a freelance writer, and will cost a total of $6,000 or $7,000.
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KALISH: Most of Peter King's students find him on the Internet, thanks to a Web video series called "Stuck in Vermont." They seem to enjoy his hands-on approach.
M: OK. So, I've got 71 and a strong three-quarter. We wanted 71 and...
M: ...five-eighths. You want 71 and five-eighths.
CORNISH: Oh yeah - 71 and five-eighths.
KALISH: Student Evan Stainman says that even though the weather has been rainy and miserable, he's having fun.
M: I'm outside, got a hammer in my hand, tool belt on, sheathing, framing, insulating. It's been a really great, relaxing weekend. Most people would call this work. I call this relaxation.
KALISH: Kirk Kardashian is the owner of this new tiny house.
M: It's a great opportunity because you get to be on a job site. And it's expected that you're going to be in the way, and that you're going to be asking questions - which if you went to any other job site, the carpenters would be upset with you for getting in their way.
KALISH: The workshop students are camping in Kardashian's backyard at the end of the first day of construction. He treats them to beer and pizza.
M: I think the fact that you can host a workshop at your house, and get a weekend of free labor from four or five people, is a no-brainer. I mean, it makes it much cheaper. And I like the camaraderie, too, of just having some strangers come over to my house. They're all gung-ho to learn how to build.
KALISH: Many of Peter King's students end up having him conduct another workshop on their own property. Mary McClements is a small-business consultant and single mom who's helping build Kardashian's house in Woodstock. She's having King do a workshop on her land in August. McClements says she can see herself living in a tiny house when her kids are grown.
M: You know, I've been a camper for 20-some years, and it amazes me how much you can do without.
KALISH: As for the house that they'll be building on McClements property in August, she says her kids already have plans.
M: They're very excited about it. They've already claimed it as their clubhouse or their playhouse, or whatever. You know, we'll see, we'll see who gets their paws on it.
KALISH: For anyone who wants a tiny house but wants to keep the DIY to a minimum, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, in California, sells kits for about $20,000.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in Woodstock, Vermont.