Learning to live sustainably, with less and within a smaller space is an appealing idea to many, but the cost of building a 'conventional' tiny home from scratch may not be affordable to everyone. While there are tiny homes to rent, there are also plenty of vintage trailers out there that can be purchased for cheap and renovated into small, sustainable homes.
Taking the vintage camper route is Worcester, Massachusetts-based eco-designer and DIYer Mariah Pastell, who has been transforming a 1960's Avalon trailer into The COMET (Cost-effective, Off-grid Mobile Eco Trailer). Mariah lives in this lovely camper year-round, towing it to warmer places during the winter. Check out this excellent video tour from Spaces TV:
Originally purchased for $500, Mariah has gutted and redone the COMET's 8 by 14 feet (112-square-foot) interior beautifully, intending to convert its retro form into an off-grid, mobile classroom:
[The COMET] is a preservation of incredible design of the past meshed with the essential design of the future. The plan is to turn this 1960's Avalon trailer into The COMET: a full-time healthy living space and mobile classroom that is completely self sufficient and has no environmental impact. [..] The COMET will be an interactive space so that it can serve as an educational tool and mobile classroom as well. Clear wall panels to expose systems in action? A little window through which you can touch the super soft non-toxic insulation in the wall? You may see things in The COMET that you wouldn't see in a traditional home, but it will make it more fun to learn from!
The emphasis is on non-toxic, sustainably or locally-sourced, repurposed materials. So far, Mariah has redone the electrical wiring, installed non-toxic UltraTouch Denim insulation, and is in the process of installing 555 watts of solar photovoltaics on the trailer's roof. She also plans to build a "bumper garden" out of cedar and aluminum soon. She's kept the original, hand-powered "rocket pump" for water, and has also opted for a composting toilet.
We asked her why she chose to renovate a vintage camper versus building a tiny house, and she relates her experience:
Tiny houses are warmer because they have real insulation, they are very difficult to move and tow, and very expensive for what you get. If I had had $20,000 and more time I would have maybe built a tiny house, but I had $500 and an urgent need. I love my camper and it was definitely the right choice.
The more people I interview and the more I see, I realize that the recycling of a vintage camper is superior to a tiny house on wheels green-wise in many ways. People think that a tiny house means mobility, but that's a misconception in my opinion. Towing a camper that was meant to travel down the highway and is somewhat aerodynamic is hard enough, towing a tiny house regularly is insanity. The more I discuss with people the pros and cons, the more people that I know that originally wanted to do the tiny house thing end up going the vintage trailer route.
It's a good argument for re-purposing all those old yet still usable trailers out there and on places like Craigslist; many of them have great retro design attributes and just need someone with the right do-it-yourself attitude to give them a second chance.
Eager to spread the word about DIY and tiny home living, Mariah and her partner Matt offer "tiny transition" consulting and design services, and regularly give talks and workshops all over the country (one of her favorite stops is the all-girls engineering program in Austin, Texas' Ann Richards School). Mariah is a real inspiration to tiny home builders and power-tool-loving girls and women everywhere!
We'll be excited to see more of The COMET, and you can keep updated with Mariah's progress on the COMET Camper website.