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CCU Atheneum: The Baird children – 4-year-old Evan and twins Jessica and Jasmine, 9 – play in the front yard of their tiny house.
The Baird children – 4-year-old Evan and twins Jessica and Jasmine, 9 – play in the front yard of their tiny house.

Faculty family living large in tiny house

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Coastal Carolina University philosophy professor William Baird and his family of five (plus three cats and a hamster) last year, joined the newest housing trend – they went small, downsizing from a 1,700-square-foot “normal home” to a 40-by-12-foot tiny house on wheels at a KOA campground three blocks from the beach. The cabin on wheels has 440 square feet, which is about one-quarter of their former home’s size, and they have been customizing it to fit their own needs.

Baird, a CCU alumnus (’06), teaches philosophy at Coastal; his wife, Laura, also an alumna (’05) has her master’s degree in forestry and worked as a nature educator at Myrtle Beach State Park this summer. During the school year, she homeschools their three children – Evan, age 4, and twins Jasmine and Jessica, ages 9.

Their reasons for going tiny are in sync with their philosophies and lifestyle.

“I believe the pluses of living in a tiny house far outweigh the minuses,” says Baird. “Just running the numbers, tiny living saves a lot of money, energy and other resources. However, what draws me to the tiny house movement are the values of ingenuity, family closeness and sustainability.

“I am captivated by the ways tiny houses utilize space in imaginative and beautiful ways,” he says. “Living tiny brings with it numerous technical challenges (what is a philosopher to do with all the books?), and overcoming them through creative architectural design is a lot of fun! I thoroughly enjoy finding ways to use our spaces more effectively. Our next venture, for instance, is to install a sink toilet tank topper that will run when the toilet flushes, allowing gray water to flush the toilet after it is used to wash hands (and providing an effective reminder to the little ones that they should wash their hands after using the potty).

“The thing that has made living in a tiny house most rewarding from my perspective is the closeness that a small space fosters. Our house has enough room that privacy is available at all times, but usually we cook, eat, read and play in the same room. Because of this, we interact with each other much more frequently than we probably would in a larger house. Our family has grown much closer by living here.”

“Lastly, tiny living is much more sustainable than living in larger houses. Our house uses fewer utilities, required fewer building materials and has room for less stuff (leading to many fewer purchased goods) than larger dwellings. It also costs much less, so we can spend money on more important things and reduce stress by not having a mortgage hanging over our heads. (They pay $4,000 a year to stay at the campground, which includes water, sewage, internet and cable, as well as pool use and kids’ activities; cable is the only perk they don’t take advantage of.) Because of the tiny spaces, our carbon footprint is necessarily smaller than when we lived in 1,700 or 2,100 square feet (our last two houses). And, as opposed to what many people think, living tiny does not require much sacrifice at all.

“Our house has all the amenities we want and more than enough space to accommodate typical daily activities. Recent studies on family behavior have found that typical American families of four only utilize around 400 square feet of first-floor living space on a routine basis. Of course many variables cannot be accounted for in such studies, but it remains true that families often do not use anywhere near the full space under their roofs. How many folks have a living room and den or a kitchen dinette and formal dining room, only one of which is used even on a weekly basis? Tiny living cuts out such underutilized, excess spaces, saving a great deal of resources and avoiding unnecessary pollution.”

Laura also appreciates that the smaller house results in less upkeep, less electricity, less impact on the environment and less use of resources.

And nine-year-old Jessica Baird agrees that the smaller space has brought the family closer, especially since “every room has at least one cat in it.”

The Bairds made the following additions:

The front porch was converted into a bedroom with a queen lofted bed and storage space at the head and foot of the bed. They moved the former exterior windows to the new exterior wall that used to be the front porch and built rough-cut oak bookcases over the openings of the old window locations. A fan was added to blow cold air from the living room to the master bedroom, and they installed a high-power fan above the loft.

Laura built a spice storage area in the three inches of wall separating the kitchen and the bathroom.

They built a foldout dining table with three stages—folded under the counter and out of the way, folded into a small table that the five family members eat from, and folded out all the way for guests. There is a stand that supports it when fully extended. William designed the table, and Laura built it out of a couple of displays from a clothing store that went out of business.

They built a sofa bed to fit the space, with a memory foam mattress seat and cushions. It has two rollout storage bins underneath. A pullout step tucks under the sink and console in the bathroom to make it easier for the kids to reach the sink. They built a cat litter room under the stairs, with a cat door going into the second step and a door that opens for changing the litter in the kids’ bedroom.

The loft posts were wrapped in sisal rope for the cats to scratch. A wine glass rack was built under a cabinet made out of out of leftover tongue and groove cork flooring.

“Our move to this house was an excellent decision—we LOVE it!” says William Baird. “As is apparent in the video, which will be updated soon as many of the projects are now finished, there are still things we want to do in the house, but we are very happy with where we are right now.”

 

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