Feature

The tiny house

Green Lifestyle Magazine

Proving a family can thrive in a house of miniature proportions, we take a wander through the newly finished tiny home at Milkwood Permaculture.

Milkwood Permaculture tiny house

The main posts and beams for Milkwood Permaculture's tiny house were salvaged from a demolished bridge and purchased at a farm clearing sale nearby. Nick had some help knocking the rusted bolts out of the round logs that were then squared-up with a portable saw mill.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Kitchen

The kitchen’s wood stove serves many purposes, with the couple raving that they’re able to “cook dinner, bake bread, and heat the water for the house all at once”.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Floor

”The floor itself is just a concrete slab, so it’s probably the least environmentally-friendly part of the building,” says Nick, adding that at least it’s a waffle-slab, which means it’s partially-insulated. The concrete was tinted chocolate brown before laying, and then sealed with beeswax and linseed oil. If he had his time over Nick says they would have made an ‘earth floor’ which uses hardly any concrete.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Windows

The house was first modelled in 3D, so when it came to sourcing double-glazed windows, Nick could approach a local glazier for his misorders. “We could then build the house around windows that we had... but we had to be flexible enough to change our plans.”

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Wall bed

A wall bed means that one room can serve two purposes – a playroom for three-year-old Ashar by day, and a bedroom for the whole family by night.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Toilet

Nick and Kirsten says that the composting toilet in the house is very functional and they haven't had any drama's with using it.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Outdoor dining

The family spend as much time outdoors as possible. The pergola – soon to be shrouded in a deciduous vine – provides a perfect venue to cook and eat outside in summer. The gabion retaining wall in the courtyard captures heat and stores it, making it pleasant to sit outside even in winter.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Family

There’s no plans for more little ones, but Asher’s parents expect he’ll want his own space when he’s older, so they may add a strawbale extension on for him.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

High ceiling

The high ceilings contribute to the amount of light in the house, and prevent the home from feeling like a cave, despite the its tiny size. This red sofa couch was found on the side of the road - it fits perfectly into the lounge room and folds out for when guests come to stay.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Cooking

The family love cooking in the small kitchen, because it doesn't have an excess of utensils - only what they really use and need. "Because space is limited we don't have much stuff, which is great because it means we don't have as much to clean," says Kirsten.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Earthbag dome

Milkwood Permaculture is an education hub that people visit to do permaculture and garden-related courses. All that home-grown fresh produce to be served to staff and guests produce doesn’t cook itself, so an earthbag dome was built to house the on-site chef. “The dome was actually built as an experiment,” says Nick. “It’s made by pounding dirt into a long snake-like bag that is then formed into a ring and rendered. It has a huge mass so it is very cosy and comfortable inside even though it has no insulation.”

Credit: Seth Buchanan

wood stove

In the earthbag dome, the little wood-fired stove quickly heats up the dome for chilly evenings, and boils a warming cuppa for the chef.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Kirsten and Nick

Kirsten and Nick outside their tiny home. "Passive-solar design captures the best of the winter sun, and effective insulation keeps the house comfortable year round," says Nick.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Asher

Young Asher Ritar.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Milkwood Permaculture tiny house

The Milkwood Permaculture tiny house in the Mudgee region of NSW. "Our goal was to use only local or recycled materials, so it's pretty much an old house that feels like new," says Nick.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

garden

Just one small section of the organic market garden at Milkwood Permaculture.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

Honey

If you're lucky enough to do a course at Milkwood Permaculture, no doubt you'll be treated to some delicious, home cooked treats. The local honey is full of healthy goodness!

Credit: Seth Buchanan

cupboard

A small salvaged 1950s pantry provides plenty of space because most of the food they eat is fresh vegies that sit in or on the ground until they're ready for harvesting.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

bookcase

A lesson in minimalism - only the most essential, used or beloved books sit on the shelves.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

tea

Enjoying a cuppa with the folk from Milkwood Permaculture.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

tomatoes

Home-grown, home-made, tasty organic produce from the farm at Milkwood Permaculture.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

fruit

Home-grown fresh organic citrus fruit from the farm at Milkwood Permaculture.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

flowers

A flower arrangement fresh from the farm at Milkwood Permaculture.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

book and rug

Some reading for Asher on a beloved home made blanket.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

teepee

A second hand teepee, handed down from a relative is Asher's own place for outdoor playtime. In the background the gabion retaining wall can be seen - it captures, stores and radiates heat.

Credit: Seth Buchanan

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Artists-turned-permaculture experts, Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar, moved to the Mudgee region in NSW from suburban Melbourne just over five years ago.

“We originally moved here because it was Nick’s family’s farm, and we thought we’d just chuck up a quick little shack out of recycled materials while we contemplated our next move,” laughs Kirsten. “We hadn’t really seen any other examples of tiny houses when we started, we just wanted something small because we didn’t want to spend all our lives at the farm inside the house... but we found it much more difficult to build something well than we’d expected!”

“We used as many local and/or recycled materials as possible for the entire house,” says Nick. “Using recycled materials is time consuming, but we did it because of the ethos; building materials can have savage ethical conundrums associated with them, so by using pre-loved materials we knew we weren’t contributing to the problem and were actually diverting from landfill.” Before moving into their tiny 60 m2 home, the couple lived on the property “in a mixture of pop-top caravans, other caravans, sheds, and the small original cottage of the farm”.

Kirsten says “I love the simplicity that comes with living in a small place; you’re really forced to value what you do have”.

LESS IS MORE ENERGY:
“It was going to cost us $40,000 to get the power connected to the house to use the grid, so instead we opted for a stand-alone solar system,” says Nick. “We moved in on August 11 last year, and so far we haven’t had any need to use a back-up power supply. We have a refrigerator that uses very little energy, and the lights are all efficient LEDs.”

The solar hot water system was bought second-hand at a garage sale, and is backed up by a Rayburn wood stove in winter. Kirsten says, “the gas cooktop is awesome in summer when you don’t want to fire up the woodstove, but for the most part we’ve been cooking on the BBQ outside.”

BRIGHT AND LIGHT:
“The passive-solar design catches light very effectively,” says Nick. The dam directly next to the house on the downhill north side is integral. “The dam acts as an open space to allow light to come into the building, and it also acts as a reflector – a big mirror – so the light reflects off the dam up into the ceiling of the building all winter long.”

Kirsten also adds that the high ceilings contribute to how spacious the house feels “because we didn’t want to feel like we were living in a cave”.

CONSTANTLY COMFORTABLE:
The tiny house is built using passive solar design principles which use the surrounds, and the building itself, to collect and store the sun’s heat in winter, and to reject the sun’s rays in summer. With temperatures ranging between -10°C to 40°C at the farm, the house is prepared with 3-12 inch insulation, and a lot of internal thermal mass. “The house is very heavy; everything’s got a lot of mass to it, and that mass resists changes in temperature,” says Nick.

Being such a small house, it’s not difficult to get the temperature right, but the nearby 1.8 megalitre dam also influences the environment inside the house. Kirsten tells us that when she gets home she’s sometimes feels as though she’s stepping into something that is alive. “You get in there if it’s cold outside and it’s like the same sort of warmth as an organism... it’s this radiant heat that’s different from a fireplace or anything else.”

ROOM TO MOVE:
The rooms are kept basic to allow for future re-jigging. “We won’t put built-in wardrobes in because we might want that room to become a lounge room one day,” says Kirsten. A wall bed is the only permanent item of furniture, and the only piece bought new. “It was a great investment as it frees up room for our son’s play area. I was expecting it to be too much of a hassle, and that we’d only end up putting it up once or twice a year, but it takes no more than 30 seconds so we do it pretty much every day.”

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS:
“The toilet is a humanure compost toilet that’s built on the Lovable Loo design,” says Kirsten. “We built the bathroom on the cool side of the house, and it hasn’t got smelly at all. It’s kept simple so there’s less that can go wrong; it’s a bucket with a box around it and a toilet seat ontop. After every deposit, we add a scoop of sawdust, then every four to five days we take the bucket to a compost system, and cover with a lot of straw. A year later it makes amazing compost that’s full of earthworms which is completely safe because the human pathogen cycle doesn’t make it past nine months. We use this on our fruit trees, not veg, just because we don’t want to freak people out!”

ORGANIC MARKET GARDEN:
Now in it’s second year of production, the market garden provides food for the crew and students of the courses held at Milkwood Permaculture. “We’re proud to produce 70–80 per cent of the vegies and 100 per cent of the greens we need!” says Kirsten. “We’ve now got a full time market gardener, Michael, and he’s amazing.” The fertile patch of dirt that has taught hundreds of green thumbs’ is fenced off to protect it from rabbits; the picture to the right shows just a portion of the 1000 m2 productive garden.

A PLACE TO LEARN:
“Milkwood Farm itself is a permaculture education hub. People come here for up to two weeks for intensive courses learning about small farm design, integrated animal systems, beekeeping, market gardening, permaculture theory and design, and more,” says Kirsten. “For us, it’s just about learning good life skills, which can also be applied in the urban sphere. We encourage the re-learning of skills to feed, clothe and house ourselves, our families and our communities more sustainably.”