LJWorld Green

Tom Thumb’ home project with recycled goods becomes a small house, but a big idea

Home designer and builder, Kenton Knowles talks about his "Tom Thumb" home. At a 120 square feet and without any electrical or utility hookups, Knowles said that building permits wouldn't be needed to construct one.

Home designer and builder, Kenton Knowles talks about his "Tom Thumb" home. At a 120 square feet and without any electrical or utility hookups, Knowles said that building permits wouldn't be needed to construct one.

September 24, 2008


Small home, big idea

Home designer and builder Kenton Knowles constructed a 120-square-foot building out of mostly recycled materials and with a variety of green features. Watch as he describes how the home could be used. Enlarge video


Welcome to our ongoing project, LJWorld.com/Green. Here you can find tips on how to make your life environmentally friendly and read stories about what others in the community are doing to live a more green lifestyle. Eat local, conserve resources, be green.

The possibilities are endless for the 120-square-foot building sitting behind Kenton Knowles' house: a writer's cabin, community gardening shed, guest cottage, self-contained entryway, a mobile living unit that could be set up in a friend's backyard for the summer.

The structure is about the size of a Tuff shed, but that's where the comparisons stop. Few storage sheds have tiled floors, wooden cabinets and stairs leading to an upstairs loft.

Knowles likes to call the design his "Tom Thumb homes," and the building sitting just behind his Vinland house is the green version.

Between jobs last winter, Knowles - a home designer and builder - decided to try something small: a building that could be constructed in his backyard and then moved to its final resting place.

In constructing the tiny home, Knowles put to use his background as an architect in Sweden, where he designed boats and lived with his family of five in a cramped city apartment.

He estimates the Tom Thumb home could sleep two comfortably, though four would be tight quarters.

While the size is the attention grabber, there are other green features.

The building was made almost completely out of recycled materials.

Passive solar energy was factored into the design with a wall of windows intended to sit 10 degrees to the southeast to catch the full extent of the sun's warmth in the winter. An overhang blocks the sun in the summer.

A solar panel sits on the roof. Hot water warmed by the solar panel could then be stored in a 55-gallon barrel in the living area. At night that water can be circulated in tubes throughout the floorboards for added warmth.

It's a small house with big ideas. Knowles believes such a house could be used at schools to teach children how to build green, become a hobby that is tinkered with over a few years or a design that is used in disaster-relief areas, providing a place to live that is eventually connected to a larger house.

"It opens all kinds of ideas of living simply and basically," Knowles said.


ASBESTOS 8 years, 6 months ago

What about building codes? Just because someone beat a bunch of nails and wood into submission and called it "green" does not make it so. NOr does it make it an actual "house" of "legal structure" of any kind. Houses that have been built closer to the codes have been torn down and made to start over than this "experiment".Let's get some intelligence in the fruits and nuts crowd.

FMT6488 8 years, 6 months ago

Building codes were created to force home builders to build dwellings that would not later burn down, collapse, of otherwise harm the people living in them. If someone wishes to build their own house and then live in the result, I have no problems with that - it is the builders own life and health at stake. There should be an exclusion for such projects in the building code - as long as the constructed building would not harm other buildings around it.

phenommenom 8 years, 6 months ago

Sounds like farmgal has got some beef with the Dg. Zoning Dept..

BigPrune 8 years, 6 months ago

I remember a girl who dated a guy she used to call Tom Thumb.

Chris Ogle 8 years, 6 months ago

That is way cool.... Thanks for having an open mind....

Chris Ogle 8 years, 6 months ago

get_a_grip_on_reality (Anonymous) says: this structure is not code compliant and cannot be used for a dwelling in any shape or form. It is a shack.Why even print the story???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!because it matters.

Chris Ogle 8 years, 6 months ago

You should be proud of the fact that your house is paid for.... not much left after bailing out the "wanna-be" rich who live/frequent Alvamar.

Matt Schwartz 8 years, 6 months ago

that shack looks nicer than quite a few of the places around north lawrence and the student ghetto...get off your high horses and give him a hand

farmgal 8 years, 6 months ago

What a great idea, but Shardwurm has a good point with the possibility of a grumpy neighbor. Hope that doesn't happen, but... And then there's Do. Co. Zoning with their hundreds and hundreds of far-reaching rules and regs. I think the 120 sq. feet is small enough that the builder didn't need a building permit, but if the county finds out it's being used for human occupation, that could be a problem for them. It's too bad Do. Co. Zoning takes all the fun out of living in Do. Co.

Shardwurm 8 years, 6 months ago

Or an eyesore that the neighbors complain about.The possibilities are endless.

BigPrune 8 years, 6 months ago

I don't think it is "code" to use used building materials in the construction of new structures.

lori 8 years, 6 months ago

Building codes don't usually apply to such small structures.I would love to have such a nice little hut of repose in my yard. ReadyMade magazine featured a similar structure in one of its magazines:http://readymade.com/project/gimme_shelter/This shortened form of the article doesn't discuss building codes, but the full length one does address the issue.

farmgal 8 years, 6 months ago

Enter one angry neighbor (getagrip...). It doesn't look like a shack to me. It looks like someone who was creative, makingsomething fun and living within their means, instead of beingin debt up to their eyeballs trying to keep up with the Jones'sOh, I forgot, Do. Co Zoing won't allow people to live within theirmeans.

webmocker 8 years, 6 months ago

farmgal: Further down in the "readymade" article it says that they had him design a version that costs $1,500.grip: I suspect there are people in New Orleans would prefer this structure that "cannot be used for a dwelling in any shape or form" to their government approved "code" trailers. It appears to be well-lit, seems able to protect its occupants from the elements, has its own energy source, and offers a pleasant interior. Some may not like the mix and match look of the exterior, but some do not like mobile homes, McMansions, or Escalades. We still manage to let them be.

farmgal 8 years, 6 months ago

Wow! 15 Grand; I like Mr. Knowles' structure better. More responsible to use used materials and much less expensive.

farmgal 8 years, 6 months ago

I think anybody with 1/2 a brain should have a problemwith Do. Co. Zoning and their excessive rules & regs.Any government agency that prevents people from beingecologically responsible is a bad thing. People shouldalso be allowed to live within their means. Many of thezoning regs prevent this. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.Sitting in silence will not help. Being vocal draws attentionto something that needs to be changed.It has little to do with safety and more to do with greedand $s. If people are allowed to use reclaimed materials tobuild themselves a home, that means less sales tax collectedon the sales from Home Depot. Then there's the property tax...Do. Co. is running off a lot of good people due to their ridiculouszoning regs. Not a very friendly place to live anymore.phenommenom, I'm not the only one in this county who feels thisway...I still contend that the little "shack" in question, featured in thisarticle, would be a problem for Do. Co. Zoning because it isbeing used for sleep-overs. If it were just a tool shed or a playhouse for children, then, not a problem for D. C. Zoning. Whydoesn't someone from the Zoning department enlighten us?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.