October 23, 2017

Tiny house, big living

Webster University student Meghan Panu wanted to learn what it is like to live small. After watching a Netflix documentary, the idea hit her.

Panu would start constructing her own tiny house. It is a house so small, it can be moved around on a trailer.

“I’ve always wanted to figure out what it’s like to live without a lot of stuff instead of being tied down to material possessions and all these things that I don’t really need,” Panu said.

Panu said she is figuring out what her next move will be after she graduates and how she wants to live.

Panu’s inspiration was the Netflix documentary, Tiny. The documentary follows a couple’s journey to build a tiny home with no construction experience. The film also follows other families who are living in houses smaller than average parking spaces in attempts to downsize.

Panu began a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website, which raised nearly $1,500 to pay for a trailer as the foundation of the home. The remainder of the cost she will match with her own money.

She said she met someone through Craigslist who builds tiny houses and trailers in the St. Louis area and it would only cost $3,000 for the trailer size.

“When it’s the foundation of the house, you want to invest in something that is sturdy and durable and will last for as long as the house will,” Panu said.

Panu said tiny houses can be used in many different ways. Some cities are using tiny houses to combat homelessness by filling empty lots with inexpensive houses to meet basic needs.

She said she is using the tiny house as a model for an independent study in sustainability to show people how they can be more sustainable in their own lives. She said it has not been easy to find advisors for her study, but her English professor, Karla Armbruster, helped guide her along.

Armbruster directed Panu to John Wylie, professor in the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, because she knew the Conservatory builds a lot of sets that could make for useful material.

Panu had an initial goal of $7,000. She realized she could cut her cost in half after Wylie offered her some materials for free.

“Eventually I’ll have enough [materials] where I’ll have a structure and its functioning,” Panu said.

Once the structure is built, the next step is installing the plumbing, which would need to be worked through the walls. Wylie said everything is so specific that he is not sure how much material they will be able to use.

The individual components the Conservatory builds, like platforms and walls, can be reused, but it has its difficulties.

“It’s a lot of time-consuming effort to take apart the stuff that we do for the theater… but I’m not sure how much [time] it’s going to be,” Wylie said.

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Webster University junior sustainability student Meghan Panu is on a mission to construct a small, mobile house as part of an independent study. She is receiving help from many sources, including Refab, a nonprofit organization that retrieves materials from houses slated for demolition. CAROLYNNE BARROW/The Journal

 

Wylie said the Conservatory tries to reuse sets as much as they can from other shows, but the rest end up in storage or landfills.

Now that Panu has made steps in creating a budget and getting the support she needs, she said it seems more possible that the project will get done.

“I want the house to be made out of mostly second-hand materials and I know I have to be patient with when I get to collect things [for the house],” Panu said.

Panu has reached out to Refab, a nonprofit organization which deconstructs buildings that are slated for demolition and refurbishes those materials for resale.

Webster’s sustainability coordinator Kelsey Wingo wrote a letter of support from Webster, which Panu brought to Refab to show the project is happening. Refab agreed to donate free and discounted materials as long as Panu promotes their organization.

Before construction begins, Wylie said he wants to have a plan where everything is going to go to avoid any problems later.

Panu said her vision of the house has a lofted bed, living room, fully functioning kitchen with a stove, small fridge, table and a bathroom with a shower.

“You think of it being tiny and having to exclude some of those things but I want to be able to incorporate all the amenities that you would have in a normal house,” Panu said.

For Panu, she said it was most challenging to be mindful of space and where you put things because everything has to have a purpose.

The tiny house will also be installed with solar panels instead of hooking it up to an electrical outlet.

As for the bathroom, Panu said she was thinking of doing a composting toilet where waste can be used later as soil for plants. She said she is doing her part to have the lowest impact by living a more efficient and sustainable life.

“I’m environmentally conscious and I am a firm believer in climate change and these things terrify me,” Panu said.

She said she wants to make this project happen and she is pulling from multiple artists and talents to make it happen.

Wylie said the arts department has the resources and students who are excited about crazy projects and the ability to draft them.

“Meghan’s got the dream and I think [the arts] have the technology to help make it happen,” Wylie said.

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