Belfast Telegraph

The Northern Ireland couple who are building their (tiny) dream home - measuring just 160 square feet, sitting on a trailer and costing less than £20,000

Co Down couple Michael Rauch and Alex Connolly tell Stephanie Bell how living in a tiny abode in New Zealand convinced them it was the eco-friendly way to live off-grid when they returned to Northern Ireland

Michael Rauch and Alex Connolly are building their own ‘tiny home’
Michael Rauch and Alex Connolly are building their own ‘tiny home’
The couple at work
The couple at work
Michael Rauch and Alex Connolly
The new house takes shape
The new house takes shape
The new house takes shape
The new house takes shape

By Stephanie Bell

A young Co Down couple are hoping to embrace a simpler lifestyle by building a tiny house on wheels. Michael Rauch (25) and his girlfriend Alex Connolly (25) are building their first home on the back of a flatbed trailer.

The entire house, which includes a galley kitchen with sitting area, a small shower room and loft bedroom, will extend to just 160 sq ft - and with the average semi offering around 1,300 sq ft, the couple will certainly be cosy in their new abode!

Michael is carrying out much of the work himself and already has the walls up and the windows installed. Once the structure is complete, the couple will focus on kitting out the interior of their unique house which they hope will be completed by Christmas.

Although there will be no room for a Christmas tree, precious little storage and they won't be able to stand up in their bedroom, Michael insists it will be the home of their dreams.

"It is tiny but it is exactly what we want," he insists.

And he says that though their families were sceptical when they first outlined their plans, they were now enthusiastic about the project too.

"Our families thought we were a bit mad when we told them what we planned to do," he admits. "They didn't really get it at first but now that it is taking shape and they can see it, everyone thinks it is a great idea."

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When complete, Michael and Alex will be joining a global 'tiny house' movement which started in America in the 1990s and is all about living simply and moving away from a consumer-driven mindset.

Netflix and YouTube currently are awash with videos featuring inventive tiny homes built by eco warriors across the world.

It is just this year that the idea has caught on in Northern Ireland and in recent months a series of meetings have been held in Belfast to gauge interest in establishing a tiny house community here.

Michael, who graduated two years ago with a degree in design engineering, and his partner Alex, who has a degree in fashion and textile design, came across the tiny house concept while living in New Zealand for a year.

The couple took a year out after graduating to travel to the other side of the world, living in a tiny house built on a trailer during their time there. Even before they had returned home to Northern Ireland, they had decided they wanted one of their own.

Michael explains: "I had been aware of tiny houses before we went to New Zealand and over there it is really popular. They really are everywhere. Seeing how people live in these tiny houses inspired me that it could be done here too.

"We lived in one of them during our time in New Zealand and loved it. It did simplify our lives and it was a bit more sustainable which is a big thing is for us.

"We don't like the idea of renting for the next few years or being tied down to a mortgage and this allows us to be flexible, plus it is a bit adventurous."

Michael, from Killinchy, met Alex, who is from Saintfield, while they were still at high school. The couple started dating seven years ago. Since coming home from New Zealand, Michael has been working as a cleaner in a restaurant and building their new home in his spare time.

Alex teaches piano and works part-time as a visitor guide for the National Trust.

The couple currently live with Michael's mum while their home is being built on the back of the trailer at a friend's house in Lisbane. Michael hopes to build his new home for between £15,000 and £20,000.

Explaining what is involved, Michael explains: "I'm doing all the work myself to save money and to learn a few new skills along the way. I did a lot of research online and took the best bits from different designs to create our home.

"I was able to use my degree to do an online 3D model. The first thing we needed to do was buy a trailer and that really was the biggest part of it. We were lucky to get a second-hand one for £2,000 and then it took another £2,000 for work to prepare it for the house. New trailers start at around £4,500."

The dimensions were crucial at this point. While there are no height restrictions on a house that can be towed by a trailer, the couple are confined to a maximum length of seven metres and a maximum width of 2.5 metres.

Michael has used a lightweight timber for the walls and second-hand PVC windows. "I'm at the stage where I am putting the cladding on and we are using a material like corrugated steel and it actually looks quite nice," he says.

"We will then have to start on the inside where we are having a small bathroom with just a shower and toilet which will be very basic, then a galley kitchen with units on each side and at the far end, in the corner we will have a seating area with a stove.

"Our bedroom will be a sleeping loft above the kitchen."

The couple plan to live off-grid in their new home with solar panels providing electricity and rain water harvesting. They have also started to grow their own vegetables and it is Michael's dream, despite his engineer expertise, to eventually run his own business selling organic produce.

"We have only in the past few years started to think about sustainability," he adds. "When you see the state of the planet you realise that we all have to start doing something about it.

"We've really been thinking about our cooking and what we eat and where we shop. We have found an organic vegetable shop in Helen's Bay and we try to get there once a week.

"We don't like all the plastic packaging you get in a supermarket. Eventually my dream would be to have my own business selling organic vegetables.

"The trailer house is another step towards living simply and neither of us has much stuff so while it will be small, we love that and it will be enough for us."

While there are other people in Northern Ireland living in tiny houses converted from large vans and trailers, Michael believes his is the first purpose-built tiny home.

He doesn't see it as their forever home and along with his dream of growing and selling organic produce he hopes in the future to be able to buy a plot of land and build an eco house.

His immediate challenge, however, is finding a place to park his new home and he is hoping a family member or friend will come to the rescue. Eventually he hopes to buy his own plot of land to park his new house on.

He adds: "People might think we are crazy because it is so small but we don't have a lot of stuff and it's grand for us - we enjoy living in a small space and living simply."

Belfast yoga teacher Anna Lecky (25) is leading a new charge to establish a tiny house community in Belfast, supported by the Eastside Partnership.

She currently lives in a shared flat with friends in the city but hopes to one day have a tiny home of her own.

Anna has held a series of meetings in communities across the city in recent months to gauge interest from the public and has been surprised by the response.

She hopes if she can prove there is demand, the council will donate a plot of land for the new community as part of its plan to construct 31,600 housing units between 2020 and 2035.

"We are hoping to persuade the council to give us a piece of land where we could have around 30 tiny homes," she says. "We will have a mix of homes which people have built themselves, others to rent for social housing and also some for homeless people.

"We have held a series of meetings to see what the interest is so that we can go back to the council and prove there is demand.

"We've been amazed at the interest and it's not even a generational thing. We do have young people who want to live a simpler life, but we've also had people in their 30s who are getting married and people in their 50 looking to downsize."

Anna, who runs her own drama company Three's Theatre, is attracted to the tiny house movement because of its sustainable approach. She has an eco blog and is currently trying to live plastic-free.

"The whole idea of a tiny house is to live a more simple life which is what I am passionate about trying to do," she says. "It's about making life more meaningful and being more sustainable.

"Even though I don't have any skills to make a tiny house I have the passion and driving force to encourage it to happen.

"It's really big in America and Australia and its getting bigger in Europe. An entire house can be built for £18,000 or less so it is also very affordable."

Anna has a Facebook page for anyone interested in joining the tiny house community. Go to tinyhousecommunityBelfast

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