Tiny house, wide impact

Graduate architecture student Ben Kraft works on his thesis project, a tiny house, behind Rapson Hall on Monday. Kraft and his wife intend to live in the 221-square-foot home when he graduates in the spring.

Juliet Farmer

Graduate architecture student Ben Kraft works on his thesis project, a tiny house, behind Rapson Hall on Monday. Kraft and his wife intend to live in the 221-square-foot home when he graduates in the spring.

Ellen Schmidt

Behind Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank, architecture master’s student Ben Kraft spends 14 hours a day building a miniature home for him and his wife.
 
Kraft’s work building the 220-square-foot house, which serves as  his final thesis project, is part of a recent nationwide tiny house trend in which people are striving to downsize, cut costs and live more sustainably.
 
Kraft, who is originally from southeast Alaska, said his home state inspired him to build the tiny house. 
 
Many of his hometown friends and other young people in southeast Alaska are struggling to own homes because they’re too expensive, he said. So he set out to learn how to maximize quality of life in minimum space.
 
“My project focuses on the potential of tiny house design in principles to alleviate the financial barriers to housing that many families in southeast Alaska experience,” Kraft said. 
 
Tiny housing is a more affordable option than traditional architecture largely because of its sustainable aspects, he said. A small home requires less lighting and overall utility use.
 
Where the typical American home is about 2,600 square feet, tiny houses normally range from 100 to 400 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website dedicated to the tiny house movement.
 
The University’s Center for Sustainable Building Research in the College of Design gave Kraft input on how best to build a structurally sound and sustainable home. 
 
“The wall has to do a number of things including holding up the roof, keeping out the rain, keeping the heat in and deal with any drafts or unwanted airflow,” said
Dan Handeen, a research fellow at the center. “So we were helping him figure out what materials and structural system were the most appropriate.”
 
Kraft said his house will cost $12,000 in total, which includes furnishings. 
 
Although that may be a higher initial investment than many people might spend in a monthly rent or mortgage payment, he said, it pays off. Kraft said he’ll be debt-free within two years.
 
And because the house costs so little, he said he’ll be able to afford more sustainable options like solar panels and high efficiency faucets, showers and water heaters.
 
One of the most important parts of building a tiny house is designing it to meet your lifestyle, Kraft said. 
 
Unlike a regular home where homeowners can adjust it to fit their preferences, a tiny house “has to be designed around your schedule, your patterns [and] your lifestyle from the very beginning,” he said.
 
Because Kraft’s wife is a chef and pastry maker, he built a kitchen larger than the one in their current apartment to accommodate  her needs.
 
Once he completes the home he’s been constructing since December, Kraft and his wife will take their new home on the road to wherever he finds a 
job.
 
“It’s going to be used as an experiment,” he said. “I feel like I have to live in it to get a full experience of what it takes to live in a [220-square-foot home] because, realistically, a lot of people have bedrooms larger than my entire house.”