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Tiny House, Big Dreams: Student Changes How Millennials See the Tiny House Movement

While other college seniors were preparing resumes and cover letters, Sarah Hastings was hard at work creating her dream home - a 190-sq.-foot home built on a 27-foot-long gooseneck trailer. She affectionately nicknamed the tiny house "Rhizhome," a play on the scientific word for an underground plant stem.

Building Rhizhome was Hastings' senior honors thesis at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, where she held a double major in Architectural Studies and Environmental Gioscience. Hastings combined these two passions in her quest to build a tiny home that was also environmentally friendly and sustainable. "While aspirations can seem far in the future, I saw this one right in front of me: this pocket of time in college as an ideal opening for executing my dream," explains Hastings.

Hastings has always been interested in designing her own home, but it was when she learned about the tiny house movement as a first-year in college that the idea really took hold. She was reading a creative design blog when she discovered the movement, and her dream home was born. " I needed a home that would create opportunity, possibility, and new experiences!" Hastings says.

Her senior honors thesis gave her the freedom to explore her ambition, and as part of the project she tracked the environmental sustainability of her tiny house as well. She used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to track the origin of all the materials used for creating Rhizhome. All of her materials - some new, some upcycled - came from within 200 miles of Mount Holyoke, where construction took place.

"Simpler living means being a steward of the earth and knowing the ins and outs of daily resources," Hastings explains.

After graduating from Mount Holyoke in May 2015, Hastings found a place to live out her sustainable dreams - on a beautiful farm in Hadley, MA, where she moved the house in June from its original construction site. She spends most of her time advertising her house so she can find a permanent spot to park it.

On the farm, Hastings has her own vegetable and herb garden, and she's still working on the interior of Rhizhome - installing shelves, installing light fixtures, and buying dishware. On the side, she is making a name for herself as a tiny living consultant and is building her own database for others interested in the movement. She helps others find parking for their tiny homes and gives legal advice to those in the construction and design process.

Hastings has been interested in architecture and nature since childhood. She grew up in Braintree, MA in a Colonial-style - regular-sized - home. She says, "Some of my most colorful memories are illustrated by the imaginative world my siblings and I created out of cardboard forts." As a kid, she spent a lot of time outdoors camping and it grew into one of her champion causes in high school as she learned more about environmental issues.

Most of Hastings' peers were more than supportive of her designing and building Rhizhome, but she did get a few confused looks at the beginning. She knew that some people would see her tiny house as a "hippie parody" and would question her ability to live in it. But she stresses that the support she received vastly outweighed any skepticism. "My dad came over to my college on the weekends to build with me and teach me what I needed to know about carpentry," Hastings explains. Her father was instrumental in her process and assisted with construction the entire way through the project. She says she couldn't have done it without him.

The community was supportive of her endeavor as well. She got high-quality used windows from the EcoBuilding Program in Springfield, antique architectural salvage from New England Demolition and Salvage in New Bedford, solar panels from Sunlight Solar Energy in Waltham, and metal roofing from Farmer's Supply in Amherst.

Hastings had a "secret weapon" in her project to build Rhizhome - Tom Musco, owner of Royalston Oak Timber Frames, who helped her create her trusses, mentored her, and provided her with countless resources. Carpenter Chuck at the Mount Holyoke Facilities Management also became integral to Hastings' team by helping her install many of the important elements of her tiny house when she was running low on time.

The Tiny House Movement has been gaining traction in recent years, and Hastings is currently at the helm of it. She believes that millennials are drawn to the movement for many of the same reasons she is - flexibility, affordability, and sustainability. She also says that retirees are interested because it allows them the opportunity to live lighter and simplify their lives. Hastings would love to see more people become involved in the Tiny House Movement, including families and working professionals.

One of the main issues Hastings - and others in the movement - is facing is the legality of tiny houses. Despite all the hype surrounding them, the legality of these houses is murky. Tiny homes are largely unaccounted for in bylaws in many states, and are usually put in the class of mobile homes. Hastings has special permission to live in Rhizhome where she's currently located, but urges others to make sure they are well-versed in their research before they try to live in their own tiny house. Because of this roadblock, Hastings is becoming more involved in amending local bylaws and zoning codes so that tiny house living can be accessible to everyone.

During the creation and design of Rhizhome, Hastings learned a lot about carpentry, networking within the community, and finding sponsors for her tiny house. She built a tiny house that started a big conversation - about how we use our resources and live simply and sustainability in modern everyday life.

She sums it up this way: "I also learned that Rome was certainly not built in a day, and nor was the tiniest house in Rome!"

Visit her on the web at www.rhizhome.com and www.facebook.com/rhizhome.

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