There are two main questions: why did I build an ‘eco-friendly’ tiny house and why did I build it in France? I’ll answer them separately.
Why build an eco tiny house?
Why build my own tiny house? and why go the ‘green building’ or ‘eco’ route?
Why self build?
There are several reasons why I wanted to build my own house. Perhaps feeling the need to create shelter is a primal thing (like a primitive attraction to fire, fishing or hunting).
Beyond this, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to design and build my own place. At the end of the project I could say “I made this all happen” and it would be a satisfying adventure. Having lived in rented accommodation for many years, it would be good to do whatever I wanted with my own place.
I also thought it would be a wise insurance policy against becoming homeless. As a 46 year old single father, with a low income, two kids and a rented apartment, I wondered where I would be living in years to come. I don’t have any assets or a fat pension and I didn’t want to be at the whim of private landlords forever, especially as I got older. So I thought it would make sense to build my own house while I still could.
With little cash (and not wanting a big mortgage) the self-build route made sense. Another plus point was that I did have some building knowledge and experience, having worked for about five years in the trade. I wouldn’t say I was a great craftsman but I at least had some skills in most areas.
Why a tiny house and why go ‘green’?
I chose a tiny house for three reasons; low build cost, quick build time and low running costs.
The low build cost is obvious. I didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t build a big house (actually, I did get planning permission for a larger house too on the same site but this is on hold for the moment).
My plan was to build the house during my children’s summer holidays. This meant around five weeks on site. As I would be working mainly on my own I had to keep the project as small and as simple as possible. Otherwise there was too great a risk of not finishing it in time.
If I ever do live in the house full time, I don’t want to be crippled with big tax and utility bills. In which case “small is beautiful”. I’m quite happy to live without too much stuff, especially if I were living alone.
The main reasons for choosing a green building approach were for my own comfort and health. Some years ago I visited an eco centre and was amazed at how pleasant it felt inside the buildings. Whether made from earth blocks, straw bales, timber or lime – it was just a completely different sensation to concrete, glass fibre, plasterboard and industrial paint. On reading about eco-building I learned how natural materials create a more healthy home environment too, with less chemical pollutants and better regulation of humidity.
Furthermore, I would be using a minimum of environmentally damaging building materials. The house would also be an example to other people of what can be done and might inspire a few to do something similar.
Why build in France?
As a Scot, living in Scotland, why choose to build a house in France?
In the UK (of which Scotland is, unfortunately, still a part) the ownership of land is concentrated in the hands of relatively few people. Presumably this is the main reason for it’s relatively high price. Whether there are other factors at play, I don’t know. But the reality on the ground can be illustrated with the following example.
This building plot in a rural area of Scotland (about one hours drive from the nearest large town) costs £57,500 (about €66,140) for an area of 1,200m2. That equals a cost of around 55 €/m2.
The land which I purchased in France, in a similarly rural area, cost €7,000 for 540m2. That equals a cost of 13 €/m2. I.e.1/4 of the equivalent cost in Scotland!
(Note: The above costs do not include estate agents fees, survey costs or other legal fees for either plot)
Quality of life
The Dordogne area of France is well known for it’s pleasant climate, nice scenery and good food. This is where I chose to build my tiny house. My piece of land is well away from the main road, about 2km from the nearest village, with the towns of Bergerac and Périgueux about 40km away. It’s peaceful and safe and the locals are friendly. As far as quality of life goes, it’s hard to beat.
I lived and worked in France from 2003-2014, in the Haute-Vienne area. Consequently, I can speak French fairly well and have an understanding of the local culture and how the country works. My two children (now teenagers) were born in France and they have a half-brother and sister who live in Bordeaux. Having a house in France would make a ‘family reunion’ holiday quite easy to organise. The house could also come in handy if my children wanted to stay there for a while for whatever reason, such as while taking a break from studies or as a base if they did some euro travelling.
So there you go. That’s why I decided to build an eco tiny house in France!