The Inside Story: Erika Guli

Over the years Tiny Home Builders have worked with countless people in the tiny home community, from advocates and enthusiast to building companies, and diy’ers, maybe even a few naysayers. They all have a unique story to share and this is one of them. (Please look for more stories in this blog series: “The Inside Story”)

People come to us to help them build their tiny homes with different needs and at different stages of the process.

Some need us to build them a custom trailer, others use one of our home plans, while some use our book and videos to instruct them along the way. We were pleased to learn that Erika Guli relied heavily on our video series and was excited to share with us the final product. She did such a great job that I just had to feature her home in our blog series “The Inside Story”.

Erika’s home took 2 years and 3 months to build “on and off between full time jobs and freezing cold Upstate NY winters” and cost her $35,000, $9000 for the trailer alone. (She could have gotten a better deal on a trailer from us, just saying 😉)

Who does this?

I think we are all interested in why someone would choose to go tiny, so this is the first question I asked Erika. 

“I was stuck in the day to day grind of a job I didn’t like, and a comfortable living situation that was about to end.  My sister and I shared an apartment together after college for the better part of a decade.  When it came time for her to buy her own house with her boyfriend, I had a choice to make.  I could either continue down a dead-end road at the job I hated to be able to afford my own apartment, or I could quit my job, move back home for a couple of years, and build something that was 100% mine.”

Her house turned out so cute! I was curious where she got her design ideas. The process she went through to visualize herself living in a small space was very thoughtful.

“When I first decided to build a tiny house, I knew for sure that the plan would be my own.  I started by taking an inventory of the things in my apartment, and then used the next year before I moved out to sketch up ideas of where all of those things would go in a small space.  I had my dad look over my sketches with me and discuss some of my ideas and that was about it!  I purchased a trailer and away we went, one step at a time using my sketches along with several resource videos, blog posts, online forums, and my dad’s accumulated years of carpentry and plumbing knowledge.”

Give us some details!

Tell us about your house Erika.

“My house can comfortably sleep 4 adults.  I have a queen size bed in my sleeping loft over my living room and my couch folds out into a full-size bed for guests.”

Her kitchen was so unique I had to hear more about that!

“I have a small propane, 3 burner camp stove and oven that was salvaged from an old Shasta camper.  My mini refrigerator and microwave are electric, and I also have a crock-pot and one cup Keurig with a reusable filter.  My heater and on-demand water heater also use propane.  I chose my stove because, first of all, I loved the look, and also it was gifted to me by my neighbor and I just couldn’t pass it up. I do like to cook and bake so having an oven was important to me.  I purchased my fridge, again because I loved the retro look, and when I noticed that it had a matching microwave, I figured the pair just made sense and the convenience of a microwave would be something I’d want.  I’d started out with a stove top percolator when I first moved in, but it didn’t work well and after a few days, having a quick hot cup of coffee seemed appealing. I happened to notice the little Keurig that matched my appliances, so I picked that up too.”

Often tiny homeowners are interested in off-grid options. Erika doesn’t have plans to go off-grid but the transition wouldn’t be too hard.

“If I wanted to go off-grid I could convert my electric system to solar, but for now it wasn’t necessary.  I do have a 50-gallon water holding tank under my kitchen sink for when my waterlines freeze in the winter and I have to run my system with water storage instead of the main waterline.  I also have a composting toilet and my heating systems and stove both run with propane.”

She has so many unique features in her home I asked her what her favorites were.

“I think the most unique quality of my house is my large stained-glass window that I installed in my loft (it was custom made by an artist in San Diego).  Another crowd favorite is the large world map that covers my loft ceiling, and my storage compartment that hides beneath the kitchen floor”

Any Travel Plans?

You can see from the pictures that Erika has an amazing view, but many build a tiny house for its mobility. I wondered if she planned to move her home.

“I had originally planned to move eventually but the farther along we got in the process, the bigger and heavier the house began to get, and now I honestly can’t imagine wanting to move it.  Maybe someday if the need arises to remove it from the property it’s comforting to know that I can, but for now my parents have been gracious enough to let me keep it for free on their beautiful piece of lake frontage and I can’t complain about that!  I’m very lucky.”

What can you tell us about your experience?

Building a home for the first time can be an overwhelming task. For Erika “the hardest part of the process for me was not feeling confident in my ability to complete projects accurately by myself.  There was a steep learning curve having never built anything before, and I spent a lot of time and frustration waiting for other people to help me when I felt I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do the right thing on my own.  This resulted in a lot of worry, wasted time, and trips back and forth to the hardware store buying the wrong parts etc.”

But overcoming great challenges leads to great rewards as she would soon find out. “The best part of the process was a direct result of the worst.  Looking back, I spent so much time worrying and being frustrated that I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and then I’d finish a project (even if it was just something small), and think “holy crap I just did that!”  By the time the house was finished I looked around and realized that I was able to pull off all of the things that, at the beginning, I had ZERO confidence that I’d ever figure out.  I owe a lot of that to my dad for teaching me everything he did, and the support from my mom and my sister and the rest of my friends and family that supported me and pushed me to “just work it out” when I was feeling the most down on myself.”

From this newfound sense of confidence, you will be surprised to find out that Erika would not do this all over again! “No…… I say that now.  Maybe 5+ years from now when I forget how stressful it was, I may change my mind. But for now?…No.  I’m happy the building process is done, and I can just enjoy all of our hard work.”  I think she would do it again!

We all want to learn from someone that has accomplished a goal we would like to tackle. Erika has a little advice for the would-be builder.  “Do your research! (like more than you think).  Looking back, I had made lists of what I thought would be major costs and it makes me laugh.  I was thinking appliances etc., having NO IDEA that building materials alone would eat up my budget faster than I could say the word ‘Refrigerator’.  Make sure you actually have some extra cash, a protected place to work, and the tools/help and know-how to actually build something of this degree.  Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean it’s easy or uncomplicated and the costs add up FAST.  If you don’t think you’re prepared, consider hiring someone to create your plans or build for you! Otherwise I’m not really a minimalist.  You don’t have to get rid of ALL of your stuff.  Just find smart places to put it and you can live pretty comfortably in a well-built small space.”

Even though Erika claims that she would not do it all over again it’s apparent that she is happy in her new home, is proud of her accomplishment and continues to reap the benefits of living tiny.

“I’ve been living in my house since November of 2018 and since then I’ve paid off all of my car payments, student debt, and bills that were generated by the house project.  I’m now debt free and down to about $250 a month in bills (for things like car insurance and my cell phone) and I can afford to make less money working at a place I love with a team of friends that feel like my extended family.  I also have free time and extra money to travel, which has become my priority after making some of these life changes.”

Thank you, Erika, for sharing your story! If you would like to check in on Erika and see her building process you can follow her on Instagram  @TheSunChaser521.

If you have built a home on a Tiny Home Builders Trailer or have used one of our plans, we would love to share your story. Just drop me a line at support@tinyhomebuilders.com

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