Simple living: Tiny House Talks explore a different lifestyle

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Simple living will be on display during a series on Tiny Houses being hosted at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha this spring.

“The tiny house movement has a lot of energy around it right now. People are interested in it, but there are a lot of questions people have,” said Emelia Sautter, Prairiewoods ecospirituality coordinator. She organized the three sessions, which include Introduction to Tiny Houses (April 18), Building Codes & Zoning Regulations (May 2) and Designing a Tiny House (May 16).

The first session will include a tour of hermitages at Prairiewoods. Less than 400 square feet each, the hermitages are simple, with a bed and small sitting area, kitchenette and a bathroom. A small wooden porch looks out on woods and wildlife.

They are meant to be places of retreat, where people can come stay if they need a chance to get away from it all in nature.

“Basically it’s just a good example of tiny house living, of how you can have a small space but still have all your needs met,” Sautter said.

They are also examples of the eco-friendly concerns that drive many people to embrace tiny houses. The hermitages were built with straw bale walls. This eco-friendly method uses dense straw bales covered with plaster for both the structure and insulation of the walls. The walls are about two feet thick, and Sautter said they help the building stay warm in winter and cool in summer. A small interior window cut into one wall gives a glimpse of the straw inside.

The buildings use other eco-friendly elements like solar power and radiant heating in the floor. Solar panels between the two hermitages power both houses. Batteries hidden inside a bench in the bathroom collect surplus energy produced on sunny days to keep the cottages going when the sun is scarce. The power is enough to run a small, energy efficient refrigerator tucked into the back corner of the one room house.

The radiant floor heat, meanwhile, features piping that runs under the floor. Raising the thermostat raises the temperature in the pipes, which in turn heat the house from the ground up.

The houses are hooked up to natural gas to heat water for showers but are designed so they could be converted to a similar off-the-grid system to heat water using solar power. Prairiewoods uses such a system for its main buildings.

All of this plays into the nonprofit’s mission, which includes promoting care for the earth and nurturing spiritual well-being.

“I think some people are so tired of all the materialism. They want to live differently than what mainstream society and culture is calling us into,” Sautter said. “Tiny house living is good not just from an ecological standpoint but also for their own well-being. Their souls are calling them to live more simply.”

Mark Stimson, of Fairfield, will present in two of the sessions. He is building a tiny house in rural Jefferson County and has two tiny houses in Texas where he and his wife stay when they want to escape Iowa winters.

He taught a tiny house class for several years in the department of sustainable living at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield.

Though tiny houses are a current trendy buzzword, he emphasizes that they have been around for centuries. In fact, most people throughout human history have lived in what Americans would today call a “tiny house.”

“The tiny house movement is kind of a return to simpler living and a mentality of self-sufficiency,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a return to an earlier mind-set.”

He also defines tiny houses more broadly than the well-designed diminutive dwellings featured on shows like HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters.”

“I grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and started as a boat builder. In one sense a boat is a tiny house. I’ve also had a long term interest in RVs and owned two or three. They’re also pretty much tiny houses,” he said. “I’ve been fascinated for years in how to live comfortably in small spaces.”


Introduction to Tiny Houses, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (4/18)

Building Codes and Zoning Regulations, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 2

Designing a Tiny Home, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 16

Where: Prairiewoods, 120 E. Boyson Road, Hiawatha

Cost: $10 per session or $25 for three week series

Registration: Requested by day before session at (319) 395-6700

l Comments: (319) 398-8434;

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