At 180 square feet, it's still home

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:37 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Alicia Harris and her father, Paul, built a 180-square-foot home on a flatbed trailer. She shares the tiny house with her 120-pound Great Dane, Roscoe.

COLUMBIA — Alicia Harris doesn't want to be trapped in one place, but she doesn't mind living in tight quarters.

With plans to graduate in May, the MU student has found a way to satisfy her aspirations to be mobile and own her own home.

Harris lives in a 180-square-foot house, built on a flatbed trailer, in Cottonwood RV Park north of Columbia with her 120-pound Great Dane, Roscoe. Despite its small size, her home has a kitchen, a bathroom, shower, bedroom and living area — even a closet and bit of other storage.

Harris finished building the house with her father, Paul Harris, in May 2013 and lived in it for two months this past summer while interning in Amarillo, Texas.

The two spent seven months creating the portable house, complete with electricity and plumbing, atop a 7.5-by-18-foot flatbed trailer.

Paul Harris used his years of construction experience to bring the idea to life. He created his own blueprint based on the layout of a model house by Tumbleweed Tiny House — a company that builds and delivers custom houses.

The purchase of a Tumbleweed Tiny House costs $57,000 to $66,000, and Paul Harris said his daughter's house used about $22,000 of supplies.

Even with the option of eliminating months of hard work, Alicia Harris didn't want to buy one, she wanted to build one. "What makes it so meaningful to me is that we built it," she said.

They had help from other family members and friends, but the project especially brought Harris closer to her father. She spent a lot of time riding horses with her mother, "so building the house was a great way to spend more time with my dad," she said.

Tiny houses have been a growing part of the movement toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Harris wants to travel a lot so the most attractive aspect was the mobility. But she has no complaints about the sustainable qualities her house offers.

"A perfect example: My first month's electricity bill was $4, and the second one was $10," she said, "and that was living in Texas in the middle of summer."

When Harris first moved in, she was worried that Roscoe's size and lack of room to run around inside would make the change difficult.

"He's handled it really well actually," she said. "There was one time he started biting at the wall because he started getting anxious after being inside too long, but other than that he's been good." 

Harris has to make sure that Roscoe gets plenty of exercise, so she brings him to work at Fox Run Stables — where she cares for the horses.

The move forced Harris to make some big lifestyle changes.

"I don't really buy many groceries anymore because when I bring something in, I need to take something out," she said. "I had to learn how to live with much less."

Debby Richman, a marketing spokeswoman for Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, said the lifestyle began to gain traction in 2008 when the economy was troubled because people were looking for ways to avoid a mortgage and minimize electric costs.

Tumbleweed has seen the number of people interested increase every year. The firm didn't sell any houses in 2012 but sold 25 in 2013 and expects sales to quadruple in 2014, Richman said.

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Karen Mitchell January 14, 2014 | 8:24 p.m.

This is inspiring. I don't know if I could actually live in a space this small, but the Harrises sure made a nice looking house.

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