Episode-1131- Melanie Sorrentino on Tiny Houses — 40 Comments

  1. Check out You can sometimes purchase repossessed ones at a steal!

  2. Love your story, and am happy that you made those decisions while young. But you don’t have to be young to do it. I lost everything in ’96 and thought I could start over, but with a death in the family , I quit my jobs to stay home with three young grandchildren. I was buying a used camper trailer (maybe 100 sq.ft.) so I parked it behind their house and lived in it five years. But life was stressful, so for awhile I lived in an intentional community in a hermitage, 12 x 12, catching rain water, and cooking on a sterno stove. My stuff was outside in tubs, so at one point that son bought me a 14 x 40 minibarn to put my stuff in. It was impressive as you might imagine. I went to China for three years and lived on what I made there, leaving my social security in the bank. I was able to save 14K with which I turned the mini-barn into a wonderful house with hardwood and tile floors. I added on to one side, so now this house is about doubled, with one water faucet, and elec. but no bathroom. I cook in a solar oven and a one-eyed hot plate. I’m fine. I take my showers at the community center ten miles away in the winter and use the garden hose in the summer. And I’m 75.
    This is the life I want with my dogs, rabbits and chickens. I sell eggs. This building cost 6K , and the improvements were about 4K. So I have a great house for 10K, plus the add-on.
    I wanted to tell Jack that the minibarns don’t come with insulated floors, but you can arrange for that with your order. And the floors give, so you can’t put down ceramic tile as I have learned by that mistake. Otherwise, a nice long building as I have would make a great place with individual cubbies or open dormitory. I would caution that if you’re thinking about toilets, showers, etc.
    you check to see if your place will perk that much. An outhouse may be your answer, with an outside shower. I wonder if your septic tank is big enough for all the guests for the workshops? I could get five 8×14 rooms in my place with five outside doors, which could house ten people.

    Good luck with the intentional community, Melanie. I think it’s a great idea. Risk taking can be so much fun and never boring.

  3. 4 years ago when I found the survival podcast I had NO idea how my life was going to unfold. I had been working since I was 14 years old and could only see as far as my next paycheck. listening to this podcast was really at the heart of us taking steps towards our independence. you could say that we are a testament to the survival podcast! thank you jack!!!!

    • Melanie, your story is inspiring. Thank you. How did you decide on Arkansas?

  4. I can not wait to listen to this episode. I *love* tiny houses and have extensive plans to build in between one and three tiny houses on my property as a B&B serving permaculture / Willamette Vally Wine / Road Biking / stay-cation attractions.

    • As dumb as this sounds I had never considered basing a tiny house off a shed. I have been looking at the fancy tiny houses. Found some local shed builders and they are quite reasonable. This revelation may cut years off my first tiny house out building.

      Great episode!

      • I have thought about it for years, just never saw many people do it. Every trip to HD or Lowes I find myself designing cabins out of the sheds in the lots. Man I saw one yesterday that was 20×20 with a huge deck and a half loft, the loft easily could have been the bedroom.

        That is 400 SF and you don’t have to give up any space for a bed and that loft, you could toss a fricken king mattress up there. Price was 14,500 with 6 really nice windows and the deck had to be about 8 feet wide and of course it was 20 long, went across the entire front.

        I was thinking to me that isn’t even a “tiny house” it is a small cabin. Now if I can just find the right piece of hog infested river or creek bottom land!

  5. Fantastic interview. Loved hearing the story. I am a small place lover. Always have been. When we got our land we built a 12×16 barn with a loft. I stood back and said put a wood stove in and we could live in this. Family of 4. bought and paid for. Hubby said no way to small. This interview brought all those conversations back to mind. Humm he did say it would be easier to clean a bigger house. Wonder how he would feel about that today.

    To me a house is to sleep and eat. Well ok shower. don’t think I would do without running water. To have a larger barn / shop That is really where all the living happens besides outside.

    Good for you guys . Had to get your book One I am curious about how you did things and Two I want to support your dreams and dedication. Besides hubby may change his mind about bigger land smaller house for retirement. Not quite 100sq ft small I am thinking 500-800 so I guess that you would say is a mc mansion. Best of luck to you may you have few pot holes and lots of flowers on your journey.

  6. Clever shortcut and admirable persistence. The Sorrentinos’ home looks surprisingly comfortable. We’d definitely be interested in hearing more tiny home shows.

  7. Watched the money video. Loved it straight forward down to earth tells it like it is. Best part worked by a real person in real life that was not making 200k per year. Would recommend this to any one to watch. The dedication commitment and consistency is impressive for someone so young. ( Dang I am old enough now to say something like that) Those lessons are life long and important at any age. If you notice they stayed focused on the goal. Would defiantly recommend this. Just don’t expect any magic message or fancy stuff this is straight forward reality and down to earth.

  8. Badass episode Jack! This was something I have been researching for awhile. In fact, its one of my 13 skills, a tiny house. 🙂 thanks for the inspiration Melanie. Now it time to replay this episode to the family…….

  9. Smart idea of Melanie and Mark consulting a shale map to minimize the likelihood of relocation through something like eminent domain.

  10. I feel like this would violate building codes… I mean an earthship decimates building codes, how did you get around those issues?

    I wouldn’t go that small, but it gives me some ideas for a temporary structure. Either something like that or a trailer.

    • In the surburbs yes it MIGHT, though many people put them on property with a house and call it a shed or camping. In a rural area anywhere other then some stupid ass nanny state there is basically no problem with this, especially done the way they did it. Now here is a thought, how cool would one of these sitting over a small basement be?

      • “Now here is a thought, how cool would one of these sitting over a small basement be?” Yep I thought the same thing! Tip of the iceberg concept!

      • this has been my thought recently too. Something simple but with a slightly greater level of security like maybe a block/concrete construction. Might help with some thermal mass in the summer as well not sure… The “Bungalow in a box” guys have some photos of their “madison” model sitting on a pretty secure looking basement. A good way to increase the house’s 384 sq ft. (plus a partial loft).

        best o luck Melanie! thanks for another great episode Jack.

    • for some reason ALL of the land touching our piece has different restrictions. when we were excavating our land one of the land owners came up and was worried that we were going to pay a bunch of money for something that we couldn’t have. he made a copy of his deed showing us his restriction. we called everyone in the county to find out if there were restrictions that we didn’t know about. turned out that there was none, just as we thought when we bought it… but not for anyone else out there. I’ve never heard of such a thing!?!?

  11. are there any photos of how it is arranged inside? I would be interested in some of the organization tips.

    • have you watched the video or looked at pictures on our website? i’d love to help. we have lots of shelves, under the counter space and our counter rolls over the deep freezer to provide more room to cook while making use of the space below.
      this documentary shows how people who live in as little as 90sqft make it happen:
      lots of ideas here!

  12. One of my ideals is to buy a piece of land, leave the city and live a simple life in the country side. Nothing more and nothing less.

  13. Wanted to chime in on the land/building codes thing. The wife and I are in the process of buying some property and we have learned tons about codes on land that is NOT located inside a town. We are financing our land and a manufactured home. Because of this, the FHA requires that the land contain approved water (well), septic, electricity, foundation and access driveway in order for the loan to be approved. If we had the money to outright purchase the land, (baring any deed restrictions to the contrary) we could have put a tent on it and lived there in the tent forever. Hope that clears up some of the questions on how they are able to have the tiny house without plumbing.

  14. Response to the building code question. I have built and live in a 66sf house while I build my “real” house (252sf and a legal residence that meets IRC) which is now about 85 percent complete.

    Tiny homes less than about 250 square feet won’t meet code, but don’t let that stop you. You just need to work around the system. Your options are:

    1. Put it on a trailer. That makes it an RV…the inspector can go pound sand.

    2. Put it next to a real house. No one except nosy neighbors will figure out you are living in it. Most tiny home dwellers take this route combined with option 1. Note that some towns do have bylaws restricting this…so blend in if you can.

    3. Find a place with no building codes. They exist, but even in these places there is usually a requirement for a septic system. Some places can file criminal charges if you are caught with an outhouse, or discharge grey water….do some research and be careful.

    4. Buy 2 or more small lots and move your tiny house on wheels to one of the lots. When you are caught ask for hearings with own officials, reschedule, eventually agree to remove the house. Move to your backup lot, rinse, repeat.

    I know someone with 5 lots he bought at town land auction for an average price of $2500 (small chunks of land people stop paying taxes on). None are buildable but he rotates his house every couple months to keep the sheep at bay.

    Tiny homes give you a lot of freedom. I moved into my mini tiny house a year ago and have zero regrets. I do look forward to the additional space when I get my new house done….66sf is too small…120-150 is probably just about right.

  15. I just listened to this podcast and I am soooo psyched! My fiance and I have been working towards a similar goal. She’s REALLY against the idea of living in a tiny house… I mean our apartment is a small one bedroom and this is too cramped. But this story is so motivating. We down-sized to pay off debt and we’re almost done with that. I can only imagine what we could accomplish once we manage to buy property in the area we want to live!
    Thanks, Jack for having her on and Melanie for sharing this story.

  16. I know I like the concept of a tiny house, but I also know the reality of it isn’t for me. Still, it was a really fascinating show to listen to.

    And might I add Melanie’s got some awesome ink. That owl on her neck had to hurt!


  17. I really love this story and the idea of tiny houses. Unfortunately, I think this interview went the way that so many do with tiny-house-dwellers. Maybe it’s just the type of people who end up making it work, but it seems like they always focus on the lifestyle and organic nature of it and forget to talk about all the real, tangible benefits of it. If I was trying to “sell” this idea to a new generation, I’d really be hammering on the financial aspects of this a lot more, focusing on removing these unreasonable expectations about McMansions, taking the opportunity to easily get out of the rat race EARLY.

    Maybe it’s just me though, looking at this idyllic lifestyle from miserable suburbia, wishing I would have made these kinds of decisions before I bought into the “career” life and had kids. Now it looks so much more intimidating to get off that hamster wheel of monthly bills.

    I really did enjoy this interview, and I love the life that you’ve made for yourselves… but the analyst in me wants to hear more about the financial plusses and minuses and not quite so much about the mental-health aspects (admittedly, these are probably just as important, it’s just not where my head is at for the moment).

    Great job Jack and Melanie!

    • I think it is just you, we talked about the monetary component quite a bit. As for how it allows them to live you would hope most people would extrapolate it is the way they want to live, hence doing this would allow you to live the way you want, no matter what way that is.

    • She did speak of some of the financial benefits, but I suspect her situation was a bit different than most of us. If you are coming at tiny house downsizing from a big house, job to pay for it, etc, etc then maybe you need some different data points.

      Several years ago I built a 66sf “XS house” paid as I went, used some recycled materials to save money. This place cost about $7000 when all was said and done. It was a large expense, but spreading it out helped to reduce the pain.

      Having tiny house building experience, I began planing to build the tiny place I wanted to live in. I used my big house to purchase a chunk of land in the boonies. Then I moved the tiny house there and pulled permits. I then sold the big house and began living on site in the tiny house (under the radar of course).

      Living in the tiny house let me save the mortgage, homeowners insurance, flood insurance, and taxes. That savings translates into nearly $16,000 which I can tell you buys a *lot* of building materials. My slab only cost $3000, and my first lumber delivery was $6800 which included framing lumber, insulation, and roofing material.

      When I am done I will have a house that has no electric bill, no heating bill, no mortgage. I will have to buy a bit of propane (20lb every 60 days +/-), and a very small amount of gasoline in case I need to run the generator…and of course cut firewood. I can only imagine what kind of financial freedom I will have after a couple years living in this place!

      As Jack suggested, extrapolate all this to your situation. Tiny house living is getting some traction. I spoke at a workshop a couple weeks ago with a room full of people all excited to build tiny homes….its becoming a movement.

      • See from that angle I would say as long as your existing conventional house has equity in it, then it is likely easier to do this then as a young person who has nothing and is just starting out.

        Gomer, on this second house how big is it going to be sf wise? No electric? So off grid right? What climate is this in, I think you would want to kill yourself if you tried it in Texas or need a REALLY tiny house and a BIG solar system to drive a very small AC.

        Also how rural are you, sounds like you did keep your j-o-b while doing all this so I am guessing you found land close to where you were? Land where you could also do this.

        I am telling you folks off grid does have challenges but it makes a lot of other two legged problems (bureaucrats, inspectors, complaining yuppie neighbors) all go away as well.

        • Agreed, young people are at a disadvantage these days and I’m afraid its not going to get better for them. Out of a room of 120 people at the tiny house workshop more than half were young people. Many were of the mindset that there was no way they could ever afford to buy a house….#1 issue student loans!

          Second house is going to be 252sf…which just barely meets building codes. My inspector is open minded which helped.

          Climate is Northeast and I will have maybe 30-90 days of cooling per year. I’ve put stupid amounts of insulation on the place, and kept trees enough to stay shaded in summer (can always cut them later). My theory, its easier to heat in winter than cool in summer. These things and the really small house size I *think* will let me run a very small AC sparingly off of a small generator (there are some variable speed split units I am looking at).

          Land is super rural but located near a major highway and gives me an hour commute more or less. As my finances shake out after the build, the need for a j-o-b becomes less of an issue and I can make adjustments.

          The communist state I live in (guess which one) the inspectors have little respect for private property and want permits for everything. I have had to bite my tongue and hold my nose to get some of this done. I’m not sure how much being off grid has helped me.

        • Ding Ding Ding….

          The shot may have been heard round the world, but the noise from it died out many years ago.

      • Gomer, I’ve been reading your blog religiously for several months now. You’ve done an incredible job so far, and it’s coming together really nicely. I’m constantly impressed with your level of technical knowledge about all sorts of detailed and specialized building skills.

        If I could make one suggestion? Make sure it’s updated first thing Monday morning before I get to work! Keep the pics coming, the place is looking amazing!

  18. Ah, MA! I know that should have been my first guess. NJ I hate so much it clouds my vision but after I posted I though, shit if it was Jersey he’d never even get it done there.

  19. About codes. I live in a freedom pocket in TN without codes. To get elec. we needed a septic tank, but our limestone place wouldn’t perk. So we put the minibarn on it, without plumbing and applied for temp. elec. A year later the elec. company required something permanent so we got Commerical elec. for the cabin as a workshop. A year later, the elec. company converted it to residential…why? I don’t know. Then the neighbor put in city water, but needed to cross our land, and gave us a hook up with a meter off his line, so we pay him about four times a year; since we don’t have a bathroom, we don’t use much. We put in a frost free faucet outside by the door, so that it appears we don’t have water inside, but we do have one sink that drains onto the garden. TN is the third free-est state, so come to TN and find a freedom pocket and build anything you want, any way you want.Taxes are low and neighbors, while friendly, mind their own business.

  20. “I think it is just you, we talked about the monetary component quite a bit.”

    Yeah, I suppose you’re correct here, after going back and listening again. I’m definitely looking at this from a different perspective. I am interested in the how much the structure costs, what features it has, etc… but I’m more interested in hearing how others have come to that “Moment of Clarity”, when they realize that they’ve been spending their lives paying for things they don’t need, or even want. (“Why did I spend an extra $50k on a bedroom that gets used twice a year and a formal dining room that hosts one family even per year?”)

    I think Gomer spelled it out for me pretty well… I guess I just connect more with the tiny house stories that are about downsizing. Starting out the way that Melanie and her husband have is a great story that’s worth telling (and inspiring other young people to try), but now that it’s too late for those of us who already bought into the system, I love hearing about how people disengage and get back to where they’re starting at.

    Thanks again guys!

    • I’ve written about it in my ebook, every penny we spent on everything. I’ve put in on sale for under $5 at but you’re welcome to ask me any specific questions, as many as you’d like. i’m very willing to help. I think you have good questions. write me if you’d like, there’s a contact section on our website.

  21. Thank you, Jack and Melanie, for this episode. I really enjoyed this interview. I want to own my own tiny house and land, and this episode was very inspirational. I am going to buy the e-book from Melanie with my next paycheck, but I have a question. Do you have to obtain an occupancy permit to live in a tiny house? If so, how do you overcome the challenges of the permitting process. If not, where can I move that will allow me to do this? I currently live in the Northern Virginia area and even worked in the land development industry for 10 years, but this issue is a mental stumbling block for me. I would greatly appreciate any clarity that Jack or someone from the expert panel could bring to this occupancy permit issue. Jack, is the permit/no-permit a category(ies) that you would consider adding to the Walking to Freedom website? This would greatly help with deciding where to move for greater freedoms. Thank you so much for the show. I look forward to learning about this issue/non-issue.