The Tiny Home On Wheels Jay Shafer Built

Tiny Home With Jay ShaferWho is Jay Shafer?

Jay Shafer is an America who made history by building a tiny home on wheels that was awarded the “Most Innovative Design”, in Natural Home’s Magazine 1999 House Of The Year Contest.

He was born in the state of Iowa but lived with his parents and sister in Orange County California until the age of fourteen.  The Family then moved back to Iowa because the parents no longer felt California was a positive environment for their children to be in.

His father worked as an airline pilot.

Jay Shafer went to the University Of Iowa to study art.  Architecture was his first choice; however, he did not have the means to pursue it.  He got his bachelor degree in art in 1989.  He received a master degree in fine art painting from City College in New York City in 1992 and thought he would become a painter.

Instead, he ended up working as an art teacher and in the grocery department of a natural foods co-op for ten years.  He also served as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Drawing for more than ten years at the University of Iowa.

Here is a short youtube video on Jay Shafer  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJLSoUkh1Vs

Jay Shafer’s Housing History Before He Lived In a Tiny House.

Once his family returned to live in Iowa, they resided in a four-thousand-square-foot house, which the parents saw as a status symbol.  His sister and he did all the cleaning chores.  They had to take one day a week to do so.  He detested doing these tasks along with extra space.  He did not view the house has a success symbol.  His parents ended up selling that house and buying a smaller one.

There was no bedroom for him in this new place.  His parents told him he could sleep on the floor in the den but he preferred to spend the night in the cab of his father’s pickup.  Thus he began to make himself at home in vehicles and small spaces for sleeping purposes.

His grandparents who resided mostly in Florida did spend a quarter of the year in Iowa inhabiting an Airstream trailer.   This living situation of theirs planted the idea that living in a vehicle was a natural action to do or that having a home with wheels was just normal.

When he attended The University Of Iowa he lived for a short duration in a room with twelve other students trying to make the situation work.  He found out how he functioned with a small amount of personal space.

When he went to live in New York City the experience was frightening at times.  Life in the city was not his cup of tea. He witnessed too much violence such as having a gun pointed at him, having a guy with a bullet in his head die on a sidewalk in front of his building, and having his roommate save a man on a subway who had been stabbed.

He returned to Iowa City and lived in a pickup truck and later a 1964 Airstream trailer that needed to be fixed up. He did the improvements himself with wood and spare aluminum highlights, then moved into a trailer park. There a neighbor’s trailer got a bullet hole in the side.  The incident made him think he should leave before anything bad happened to him.

He moved to a friend’s organic hayfield where he found out he had a severe grass allergy.  In winter ice froze on the Airstream’s walls.  He realized he needed a place with insulation.  He needed a better-built home.  Something like a real house that would not cost him too much money and keep him in debt for a very long time.

On the plus side living in a trailer taught him what he needed in terms of space and what he didn’t.

How He Came Up With His Idea For Building A Tiny Home On Wheels

Shafer designs by subtraction.  He draws imaginary houses that become smaller as he begins to figure out what he can get rid of because much space is not being used efficiently.  It is important to him that the space in tiny homes always be used well.

Japanese and Scandinavian houses are known for using space well and Jay Shafer is greatly influenced by these two cultures.  Subtraction and simplicity in design and architecture are what both these cultures believe in.

Efficiency by itself nonetheless, is not enough, the tiny home has to be good for the environment.  This is the reason most tiny homes have composting toilets and solar panels on the roofs.

He was also influenced by a book titled Tiny Houses, by Lester R. Walker

Inside Jay Shafer's tiny home

The Challenges Jay Shafer Faced When He Built His First Tiny Home On Wheels.

Jay Shafer secretly drew plans for a tiny house he would have liked seen built without actually having any plans of making that home become a reality himself.  He changed his mind when he found out that his secret house could never become a reality because it violated too many building codes.

The building codes were adapted from recommendations made by the International Code Council, a domestic trade group.  The code specified that a house must have at minimum one room of a hundred and twenty square feet and that no habitable room could be smaller than seventy square feet.  The smallest a house could be and still conform to the codes is about two hundred and sixty-one square feet.

Jay Shafer had not thought of actually building a house, now he had to do it.  It was just the way it was when he was told he could not do something.  The home he would build could not be a trailer because he had already lived in one and he wanted something better.  It had to be similar to a house.  Putting it on a trailer nevertheless would make it a trailer load.  The housing codes would not apply in that case.  He would just have to build a tiny house on a trailer.

Jay Shafer had to finance his tiny house project on his own through his credit card. Banks won’t finance tiny houses because they are difficult to mortgage.  Luckily he was able to pay back the debt within a year which allowed him to live mortgage free like he wanted.

He lived in this tiny home in Iowa for five years.  He was able to do so by buying some land that already had a house on it.  The city was told by him that he was living in it when really he was renting it and living in his tiny house instead.  Iowa City law lets citizens have an accessory building that is smaller than a hundred and forty-four square feet on their property.  The law does not specify what the building needs to be used for and does not stop a person from sleeping in the place every once and a while.

The tiny house Jay Shafer built was a hundred and ten square feet, with a steep gabled roof and a porch.  He eventually sold it and build another one.  He has lived in five tiny houses since 1999.

After he got married, had a son, and moved to Graton, California, north of San Francisco, he still kept a tiny house meant for one person to live in.  It is his office now.  He had another bigger tiny home build for his family installed beside his tiny one in his yard which he refers to as the “man cave”.  Don’t worry ladies, he also believes in a “woman cave”.

Jay Shafer having a discussion

Jay Shafer’s Influence On Other People

Jay Shafer loves the freedom his tiny houses have given him in terms of keeping him mortgage free.  The maintenance costs have not been high either.  It has given him the time to do the things he loves to do because he does not have to work all the time to pay things off.  Other people have been influenced to live like him.

The whole tiny house living has not always been rosy despite the benefits.  There was a tiny period when Jay Shafer feared he would be forced out of his home with handcuffs.  Fortunately, that never happened to him but he is aware of the challenges other tiny home dwellers face.  These challenges are due to the fact that tiny homes are not easy to occupy legally.

-Tiny homes get classified as recreational vehicles and sometimes you can’t live in one, but you can camp out.

-They are excluded from many R.V. parks because they are too tall.  They also have corners instead of rounded edges like R.V.S.

-They are not a practical substitute for a mobile home since they are expensive to tow.

-In some places, you can’t camp out with them.

For these reasons, he is aware that many tiny home dwellers are choosing to live in illegal situations and feel they are being forced to live in big houses by home builders and banks.  Owners of tiny homes tend not to speak about them and they move them around so they don’t get caught with one.

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