Henry and Sophie Jungbauer are currently living in their self-designed and built tiny house on wheels in northern Minnesota. Their goal in going tiny was to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and live more intentionally while sharing their journey along the way. What started as a dream after writing her senior paper on the tiny house movement in 2015, Sophie and Henry are so excited to be living in their tiny house and hope to inspire others by living out their values. They challenge you to explore how culture influences your life, and to rethink what achieving the “American Dream” can look like.
I (Sophie) currently work in the commercial architecture industry and Henry worked as a residential framer for 2 years before embarking on our build. During my senior year at Luther College, Dee Williams came to talk to my senior capstone sustainability course about her experience. She also hosted a talk later that evening on campus which I attended and subsequently purchased her memoir “The Big Tiny” that evening. I also took a course called “Consumption and its Consequences” that challenged my perspective about what is truly needed in life to be happy and also opened my eyes to the negative environmental impacts that a typical American’s consumption habits can have. I chose to write my senior paper on the Tiny House movement and titled it, “Rethinking the American Dream: Downsizing as a Sustainable Solution”, which is where we got the idea for our Instagram handle “@RADtinyhome”
The ethos of the tiny house movement and a strong connection to sustainability is what drew us to live tiny. The movement was pioneered by individuals building their own homes, some with no prior building experience whatsoever. It was very empowering for us to see others successfully complete their builds and honestly, we never gave much thought to not build it ourselves. After graduating from Luther College, I did a 2-year technical program in architecture technology and started working in the field of commercial architecture. Henry worked as a framer for a high-end custom home builder. We figured with our combined skill sets there was no reason that we wouldn’t be able to build our own. One of the unique things about tiny houses is the opportunity to design a space specifically for how you live. We knew that we wanted to build our own home so that we would have control over the design and materials used, have a real sense of ownership of the home, and save on labor costs by constructing the house ourselves.
Before starting the build we watched tons of episodes of Bryce’s Living Big in a Tiny House. After each episode, we’d talk about what aspects of the design we liked and what wouldn’t work for us. Understanding our lifestyle and how we utilized space in our current apartment really gave us insight into what features were most important to us in the tiny house. Our priorities were function, natural light, having seating area(s), and a large kitchen with plenty of counter space.
The building process took much longer than we had originally planned. We’re not sure if we ever had a goal finish date in place, but we both thought it would take somewhere around a year to complete. However, we were both working full-time jobs, Henry worked Saturdays and I was helping coach my alma mater’s Nordic ski team in addition to my full-time job. I also had a second job for additional funding for the build. Our build site was about an hour away from where we lived at the time, so for the first eight months, we were only able to work on the build on Sundays. Driving to and from the house and cleaning up (which included tarping the house since we were building outside) automatically took a large chunk of time out of every build day. This often meant working well into the dark which came with its own challenges.
One of the more challenging parts of the build was being mentally tough and dealing with the weather since we were building outside. We built through all kinds of conditions, from snow to thunderstorms and high winds making it incredibly hard to tarp (let alone be on a ladder), two different weeks that progress was halted due to crazy cold snaps (where it didn’t get above 0F), to the other end of the spectrum when it was 95F and humid while installing our flooring and cabinets.
We picked up the trailer from Portland in late April of 2018 and moved into the house late August of 2019, so the entire building process took about 16 months. Because there were many aspects of the build that we had never done before, some pieces took a lot longer than we had anticipated. For example, we had planned 2 weeks to install the shiplap on the walls and ceiling, when in reality it took about 6 weeks until the last piece was nailed up.
We mostly used new materials, but worked very hard to purchase locally when possible. We purchased all our shiplap from a local lumberyard and the birch plank for our living room ceiling came from a sawmill in northern Minnesota, very close to where we live now. A local craftsman built our custom cabinets and our maple countertops were sourced locally. Our front door and windows were purchased off of craigslist. Our large windows had been previously installed on a job and rejected by the homeowner, so not only did we save them from the landfill, but also saved ourselves a decent chunk of money. Our sink and flooring came from a home improvement outlet store.
Our house is on a 28’ triple axle trailer with a 2’ cantilever in the main loft with integrated storage sheds on the front and rear and guest loft situated over the bathroom. It has gray steel siding and a blue shed-style roof with the high side of the roof on the entry (passenger) side so if it’s raining the entryway isn’t getting drenched. We opted for a galley-style kitchen, white shiplap, and natural wood on the stair treads, countertops, open shelving, bathroom door, and living room ceiling. We have 9 windows in total if you include the full-lite front door so there is plenty of natural light! A 30” farmhouse sink is centered on an 8’ (96”) window and an eating area that can also be used for food prep looks out a 5’ (60”) window.
Functionality really drove the design from the start. We knew we wanted a staircase leading up to the main loft for ease of use, but also to double as storage. Living in such a cold climate for 1⁄4 of the year we had to think about where we’d store winter coats, outerwear, and shoes so that it wouldn’t feel cluttered. We decided to paint the shiplap and staircase white to make it feel more open, and liked having the kitchen and seating area in the “great room” where the ceilings are around 10’. I’ve always hated the inefficiency of corners in kitchens so that factored into why we went with a galley- style. Many design decisions were impacted due to our climate; the plumbing needed to be on one side so we could minimize pipes within the walls. This meant the shower needed to be on the same side as the kitchen sink. We also considered weight distribution during transit—we figured it would be good to have the sink, fridge, and shower on the opposite side of the house as the staircase. We custom-designed the cabinets so they would use space as efficiently as possible and ran the plumbing for the sink through the back of the cabinets. We integrated our recycling/landfill bins into the cabinets, and also incorporated a 42-gallon freshwater tank into the cabinetry so we could be partially off-grid if needed. We wanted to have a cozy living room which was achieved by bringing in the birch tongue and groove ceilings. Functionally we wanted a large kitchen with a lot of counter space and to have a feeling of warmth and openness in our home. For us, the kitchen really is the heart of our home!
The most striking feature of our home is likely the 3’ circle window in the living room. Our blue cabinetry and large 30” farmhouse sink centered on an 8’ window are definitely not seen in most tiny houses and we have the most countertop space I’ve seen in a tiny. Another awesome design feature is our custom-made wood art from local artists Anna and Nathanael Bailey (@baileybuilds). We incorporated a piece of their work into our cabinetry and also collaborated to come up with the first piece of wood shower art I’ve ever seen as the ceiling of our shower.
Finding creative storage solutions was my favorite part of the design process. We have storage sheds on both the front and back of our home. Right now the front stores wood for our small wood- burning stove and the back hold collapsible stools for when we have guests, recreational
equipment, a cooler, and two 30lb propane tanks that our oven/range and on-demand water heater run off of. We integrated storage into both loft floors and purchased a couch that has storage space in the base. Our stairs have room for shoes, coats, hats, and sweaters. We have a false wall in the bathroom closet that hides our plumbing stack and on-demand water heater and then removable shelves sit in front of the false wall. We also integrated a medicine cabinet in the interior wall of the bathroom between the studs. In the kitchen, we planned for a 42-gallon water tank to fit integrated into the cabinetry, designed a drawer to fit our cordless vacuum, and incorporated trash/recycling bins in the cabinets. We built a custom shelving system in the kitchen specifically to store mason jars containers for easy (and visual) access to foods purchased in bulk, helping to reduce our environmental impact. We are still working on designing the storage in our guest loft but plan to have a designated area for out-of-season clothing (living in the Midwest we have 4 distinct seasons).
I don’t know that there’s a particular feature that is my favorite, but rather the feeling it gives me every time I walk in. The high ceilings and natural light make it feel larger than it actually is and the wood used throughout makes it feel homey. The fact that we built it ourselves from the trailer up gives me a feeling of accomplishment and gratitude for the whole experience so it’s hard to nail down just one thing that is my favorite.
We live in a rural area and haven’t even finished putting the blinds up after living here for almost a year! I enjoy waking up in our loft and being able to see the sun rising—the tiny house lifestyle has brought us a little closer to nature which was something Dee Williams talked about in her memoir. In the winter months, I can wake up and know when I see a little ice has formed on the window nearest our bed that the temperature outside must be in the negatives (F). I also can wake up and see there was a fresh snowfall, meaning I need to get up a little earlier to account for a slower commute. We can tell when it’s a clear night because the moonlight will stream through the house with all our windows. In the warmer months, we leave the windows in the loft open at night, getting a cross breeze and serenade from the crickets. We designed our house to feel very open, so we intentionally did not close off the main loft to the rest of the house. With two of us living full time in the tiny house we have found that having two lofts and a living room allows for plenty of space to have some alone time when needed.
We have hosted quite a few guests in the tiny house! The guest loft (above the bathroom) is carpeted and easily sleeps 2 people quite comfortably on a futon mattress. Our couch also has good reviews from guests, so in a pinch, we could fit 4 guests if someone was willing to sleep on the floor, but 2-3 guests are probably the most that would be reasonably comfortable.
The overall cost of our build was approximately $50k (USD). We did hire some professionals to help us with the build and the labor costs electric and plumbing alone was near 6k, so we generally exclude that figure from the overall. We saved tons of money on purchasing our windows and doors on Craigslist but splurged on some nicer finishes. It might be surprising to some but our trailer was the single most expensive item for the build. We went with the Healthy Home Kit from Isabelle Nagel-Brice @atinygoodtiny that provided us with some of the highest quality building products in the market (interior and exterior building wrap, mineral wool insulation, and an HRV system) which was not something we had necessarily budgeted for, but are so happy we incorporated into our build. We rarely paid full price for anything and waited to purchase when things (like appliances) went on sale. We also reached out to a few companies to see if they would be willing to offer a discount for our unique project. We were lucky to have a lot of friends and family members volunteer their time to help us with the build; Henry’s cousin works in HVAC and was nice enough to hook up our mini-split for us—something we otherwise would’ve needed to hire out. We also had friends who had some electrical experience so we ended up wiring the outlets and some switches ourselves with their help.
We built our house on private property within an hour of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) and then hired a professional driver to pull it up to Duluth, Minnesota where we’ve been living since August of 2019. Currently, we are renting a parking spot on private property that is outside the city limits. We are able to plug right into electricity and connect to septic for our gray water.
We are located in a rural area that has hosted tiny houses in the past. When we started looking for a place to park our house we knew that the regulations for parking tiny houses around the Twin Cities would make it near impossible to find a viable option without terrible commutes so we started looking elsewhere. We thought about other areas we’d like to live and Duluth came to mind. It is a very outdoorsy city in northern Minnesota, just a few hours from the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). I was a member of a Minnesota based Tiny House Facebook group so I did a search for “Duluth” and found an old thread where someone had been looking for a place to park a few years prior. I messaged that person to see if they had ever had success and he connected us with our current land-owners.
We pay a monthly rental fee of $400 for the spot plus the electric we use and propane. Trash, recycling, and the internet are included in rent. We have all LED lights and an efficient heat pump so the electric bill is normally not very significant. Through the winter months, we use a heated hose to run water to our house so that tends to run up the electric bill. Once we install our woodstove that will also help with heating costs.
The idea of going tiny took hold in 2014. In 2013 I had taken a course on consumerism and after that, I really started being more selective about new purchases and the possessions I already owned. American culture tends to perpetuate the idea that to be happy you need things. Anytime you go against the cultural norm there are likely going to be challenged. Downsizing certainly wasn’t easy but I think the shift in perspective was crucial and having the goal of a simpler lifestyle in mind made it much easier to let go of stuff. We let it be known that we were planning to go tiny before our wedding and opted out of doing a formal registry. Our first apartment after college was a small 800sf 1-bedroom apartment and shortly after we got married we downsized into a smaller studio apartment that was less than 400sf. Before moving into our tiny house we lived with friends while finishing up the build, so moving twice in a short period of time helped expedite the downsizing process. We gave a lot of things to family and friends and tried to be responsible for finding good homes for our former possessions. I sold some items on the Facebook marketplace, on craigslist, in local Facebook groups, and consignment shops. I believe that you don’t have to get rid of all your things, but rather you get to keep and surround yourself with the things that have the most meaning/strongest connection. We prioritized kitchen space in our tiny and still have many kitchen gadgets and do-dads that make cooking easier. One of the really neat things about designing your house from scratch is being mindful of how you will store/display the items you choose to keep.
I love the freedom that comes from owning our own home. It is also nice that it is movable so we have the flexibility to make big life changes and bring the house wherever life takes us. I also feel a sense of community both within the tiny house movement and with our new neighbors. We previously lived in apartments and didn’t know anybody in our buildings. There is a little maintenance associated with tiny house living but much less than a standard house. For example, we’ll never have to worry about basement flooding, dishwasher or laundry machine maintenance (since we don’t have those appliances), and many of the things that come with traditional homeownership. I love all the natural light and connection to nature in our house. We have days that we don’t need to turn on any lights until dinner time, and can tell when the moon is bright from the moonlight streaming in. Because we built it ourselves there is also a sense of accomplishment that it is truly ours, and designed for our needs. The worst thing is the cold floors. For the first few months, our ceiling fan was not wired properly but once we got it running that really helped with the air circulating and keeping them a bit warmer. We’ve learned to adapt and always have slippers available (during the colder months) so it’s not a big issue. It doesn’t bother us, but some guests might be wary of using a compost toilet. It does admittedly get a little cramped with more than one guest over (especially overnight guests with a lot of luggage). We’re hoping to expand our outdoor space by building a deck that we can use to entertain. The worst thing is having to empty the #1 receptacle for our compost toilet. The last thing anyone wants to do at 9 pm is that chore, but it’s really not bad—it is just required more frequently than we had anticipated. However, if we were to do it again we’d probably go with the same setup. We like that the toilet is off-grid because it uses no water and can be composted given the right setup. Living in an extreme climate there is always the chance of things freezing – our drain froze on us this winter for a week and if we had modified the compost toilet to feed directly into the septic we would’ve been without a toilet for that entire week. Because of its small footprint, we do tend to vacuum and clean more often and things do get cluttered faster, but on the flip side, cleaning is quick in a small space! The only other negative is that it is hard to find parking in an urban setting so although I enjoy living in a rural setting we both have longer commutes to work.
I’m not sure there if there is currently a better option out there but with our cold climate the steel flange where the exterior walls are attached and the corners where we installed HTT’s from Simpson Strong Ties to attach the structure to the trailer definitely allow for some thermal bridging that is noticeable below 0F. We would probably reconsider building outside throughout the winter— but I do think the whole experience taught us a lot about perseverance. We also designed space for a custom-ordered water tank to sit in our cabinets so that we would have a way to have running water if we were off-grid. Since we are able to hook up to water in our current parking spot it might’ve been wiser to have planned for it but be able to use the space for storage in the meantime and saved the money on the tank/pump upfront. Henry would say he wishes we would’ve allowed for more space in the entry room to function as a drop spot/mudroom. Overall we love living tiny and are really happy with our layout.
We had to uproot our lives to make our dream of tiny living a reality. We spent the better part of a year building and putting all our time and money into this dream. Downsizing really makes you appreciate the things you have and also understand what is really important in life. When parts of the build got really tough we were forced to look at the big picture and focus on why this lifestyle change was so important. Designing and building our home allows us to live within our means and help us save for the future. It is hard to describe the feeling of owning our own home versus renting but I’m so glad we went for it. During the build, I remember my sister saying that completing our house would be our biggest accomplishment, and I have to say she was right. I am most thankful for my husband Henry for continuing with the build even when I had to resume working, and for all the help and encouragement we received throughout the build from family, friends, and members of the tiny house movement. It really would not have been possible without their support—we built on land rent-free, overstayed our welcome at friend’s and families’ homes after moving out of our apartment, were fed countless pizzas, cheered on, borrowed tools and equipment—the list goes on. The sheer amount of hours it takes to complete a build was daunting but it was helping hands from family and friends that got us through to the finish line. Learning about the tips and tricks of DIY’ers before us and following along other builds that coincided with ours while cheering each other on really stuck with me. The biggest takeaway for me is although the tiny house gives us a lot of freedom, we found that in order to get to where we are today we had to rely on our community.
Our best advice is to plan ahead! We had many days that we showed up at the house Sunday morning, ready to tackle the next item on our to-do list, only to realize we had many minutes or even hours of planning to do before we could even start with that task. Things like the placement of the largest window being determined by the size of the kitchen sink or having to adjust the height of the loft framing minutes before installation because you realize the shower and required plumbing will not fit under the loft with the current plans. Learning to think about the implications a single decision could have down the road served us well and helped us avoid unnecessary headaches. Another reason why planning ahead is important is because of lead times – if you are ordering specialty items there is often a fulfillment/shipping timeline that you have no control over. It also can allow you to incorporate reused or reclaimed materials, which is a great way to not only save some money on material costs but to make your build more sustainable. We were lucky enough to find all our windows on Craigslist, but it took some time to track them down, and we were not able to finalize our framing plans until all the windows had been purchased. Planning ahead is such an important part of designing and building your own tiny home. That being said, sometimes the plan works out, while other times it has to be tweaked on the fly or abandoned completely. Staying positive and emotionally resilient is what got us through. Looking back, some of the best days were when the plan was kicked to the curb and the end result was all the better for it. If you aren’t planning on building your own house, planning ahead is still very important. Start downsizing before you need to, stay in a tiny house to help visualize yourself in a similar space, get to know other people in the tiny house world, and above all else, JUMP IN! We could’ve spent years planning with nothing to show for it. In the end, having time to plan and think ahead is great but if you never take action all that planning was for nothing. You will always hit unforeseen roadblocks or delays, for us learning how to navigate around them while staying positive was an invaluable lesson.
We documented our build and continue to share our journey on Instagram. You can follow along @radtinyhome
The trailer is 28’ but there is a 2’ cantilever in the main loft. We kept the width and height to the legal limits of 8’-6” and just under 13′-6″ respectively. We never got an official weight of the house but the professional who towed it to its current parking spot estimated it weight around 12k empty. Our 28’ trailer from Iron Eagle has three axles rated at 7k apiece. There is 212 SF on the main level and 112SF in the lofts for a total of 224sf.
We are passionate advocates for sustainability and strive to live a low waste lifestyle! If anyone has questions about our build feel free to reach out, the best way to get ahold of us is on Instagram @radtinyhome. We were also honored to be guests on Ethan Waldman’s Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast (episode 107) so if anyone wants to hear more about the build and our experience living tiny in a northern climate they should take a listen!