Operation "Tiny" Fix-It Event

 Hello there, Ky, Shantae, and JP DeBuse here!
In 2015 our family of three decided to “go tiny”! We were both college students and more importantly, parents who needed a stable environment around us to thrive in. The town of Northfield (while being one of the best in America) can be a terrible place for renters who are looking for safe and inexpensive housing. We had a couple terrible experiences and ended up moving every year for 5 years! We decided enough was enough; we NEEDED to have our own place…somehow. The way we figured, we could buy a house and have literally every penny we make go to paying for our mortgage, utilities, and necessary supplies. That sounded like hell for people who value travel, giving, or the freedom to wander and experience both. Nevertheless we went the traditional route initially but as our final papers were being drafted up on a beautiful 3 bedroom house we were purchasing in the area we looked up at one another and asked, “What in the world are we doing?!” We walked away that day with the mutual understanding we would have a tiny house we knew we could afford while still being able to experience life. The only question that remained was how exactly we could accomplish that.

After months of calls and research we found a tiny house builder that said he could complete the home with our limited budget and timeline. This builder had been featured on popular tiny house shows so I figured he had to be good, right? We contacted Scott in September when he said he could build our house within 10 weeks for $45,000. It would be a 30 by 8 foot trailer with 2 lofts, full kitchen and bathroom, plus a small living room as well as a “secret” office. With this understanding we plunged head first into tiny living, giving away a large part of our belongings and adapting a different way of looking at what ‘home’ meant to us. We drew-up all of our own plans* and had a detailed layout that Scott seemed excited to take off with. He asked a few questions regarding esthetics then suddenly everything went silent.

We had no communication from Scott regarding our home and questions were met with silence or the cold reassurance that things were going swimmingly. Our intuition knew better. Our 3 part check installments meant we paid for the trailer with the initial check, supplies with the 2nd, then delivery and finishing with the 3rd. As Scott suddenly demanded his 2nd installment we decided to take a trip to Arkansas (where he lived) to check the progress. We were concerned about our home and frankly when we told him we were coming he seemed concerned as well. We arrived in Arkansas on December 4th which was ironically the time we were supposed to be receiving the tiny house per our 10 week contract. Suddenly Scott had to leave town to do a load to Branson Missouri and wouldn’t be back for a while; so we waited.

He contacted us that evening after it was dark saying we could come to the worksite but wouldn’t be able to see the front of the house at all because he wanted to preserve a “surprise” he had for us. We were also informed we would have to stay about 10 yards away since it was dark and he couldn’t guarantee our safety at the worksite. He invited us into a show house that was warm and looked immaculate where we talked for a while about plans and life. We both couldn’t take our mind off of how sketchy the whole thing was and how heightened our anxieties were. We did voice these concerns at this time where they were met, again, with excitement and the reassurance we would be happy with his work. We left Scott and Arkansas with the knowing that something wasn’t right but with faith it would turn out okay in the end. “What else could we do?” we thought.

It would be over 2 months before Scott delivered our house to Minnesota. In this time our lease had expired and thinking it was short-term, we moved in with my parents. Anyone out there lucky enough to have parents knows how much fun that can be! Also during this time I was finishing a degree and driving to Minneapolis most days for an internship at a local youth shelter while Ky was working full-time at our local Co-Op as the dairy buyer. We knew it would be tough but little did we know this would be the beginning of a very trying time for our family.

Scott delivered our house on February 18th 2016 after a long 4 days of delivery where apparently our house almost didn’t even make its journey. The appearance was aesthetically appealing and we were so happy to actually have the house and frankly to never see Scott again. We started finding problems with the house immediately and had tried contacting Scott multiple times but Ky was in hospital at this time therefore it was hard to assess until we could all fully move in. Scott acted shocked and accused at everything we had to say but still acted like he’d help with any fixes to make things right, mostly because he felt bad Ky was sick.

When we moved in it was still cold and we started to notice we couldn’t keep the house warm. There are drafts everywhere that we can never seem to find so during the winter months we had to buy 3 electric floor heaters to constantly run as well as the house unit. After inspection we found that the house has no insulation on the bottom and the insulation in the wall was not wrapped or secured so it’s essentially floating freely between the walls, along with every bug you could imagine. We also discovered large holes under the stove, washer/dryer combo, dishwasher, compost toilet, shower, and both sinks where the hoses or pipes come out. That’s a lot of draft and critter access! We took out the washer/dryer combo immediately as well as the dishwasher because we quickly found we’d have to re-cock every pipe as they’d fall apart every time we’d start the water. The pipes were under the house exposed so there’s also no way to have water running through them in winter. This of course meant no running water for us!  Our composting toilet was NOT the one we paid for and we ended up having to replace that although it still cannot operate at full capacity because of the improper ground insulation. Every time it rains or snows we get water inside the house through the back windows which were built without flashing coupled with poor roof coverage that brings water straight into the house. With the insulation in the walls being exposed the water quickly resulted in mold to many areas of the home.

We have been informed by our doctors that we can no longer live in the house under such conditions and frankly, we don’t know if we can brave another winter! We have been given various forms of breathing antibiotics and had stints of reoccurring pneumonia that was not a concern prior to our tiny house. We did attempt to sue the builder in Arkansas this past year which only resulted in added stress and further financial chaos. We quickly learned it was virtually impossible to sue him without it costing us thousands. We accrued $4,241.50 worth of fees, mostly from write ups and calls with us. Our lawyer charged $300 an hour and informed us we would need to hire another lawyer in Arkansas, and that was just the beginning. Scott would have had 10 years to pay back his debt, if ever he wanted to. We simply do not have the means to go on with the suing process any longer.

The whole experience has been mentally draining for us all but we try to wake up thankful for what we have been given. Regardless of the wrongdoing, owning a tiny house and staying committed to the tiny lifestyle is still very much our dream. This isn’t really about the builder or how much this experience has tested us; it’s about moving forward. We want to move forward with our lives and leave this place of worry in the past, where we can learn from it. That’s where all you beautiful people come in. We have begun telling our story to folks in the community and thus far we’ve been met with a lot of interest and enthusiasm by individuals who would like to help in any way possible. We were not expecting that response but we feel so blessed to live in a community full of helping souls.

We are now seeking the help of those souls as well as our friends and family to aid us in this fix-it extravaganza! We are in need of anyone to donate time to help with demolition and remodeling, supplementing funds, providing food, materials* water, lending tools to be used, or even sitting around the fire and making us laugh. Any way you can help will be accepted with open arms and we hope to see you there.

All monetary donations will be used for materials, labor, lawyer fees, and other necessary "tiny" expenses.  We were quoted at $25,000 to take this apart and fix it the proper way. We think with help and some skill we can accomplish our goal under that amount. 

*Original specs, contract agreement, flyer, and chronological order of events are attached as uploads here: "Tiny" Fix-it Blog 

24063744_1507000400.3197_funddescriptionMelted snow dripping down the walls onto the ground in Novemeber of last year, with the water freezing on the interiors.
24063744_1507000420.9048_funddescriptionPool of water from snow melting on a warm winter day. 
24063744_1507000452.4959_funddescriptionFrozen water on wall.24063744_1507000582.1366_funddescriptionOpen holes found throughout the house.  Above is the floor from underneath the bathtub.  Below is the propane hose 1in. diameter with 3in diameter hole in flooring.
24063744_1507000645.4908_funddescription24063744_1507000887.6232_funddescriptionConstruction of many unsafe parts of the house, these are the stairs to our son's loft.
24063744_1506998490.6298_funddescriptionWater pouring in during a thunderstorm this Spring. 
24063744_1507000030.4029_funddescriptionThe axels that have pipes duck taped to them. 
24063744_1507000054.8147_funddescriptionUndercarriage with no insulation and improper exposed
pvc greywater system, making it very diffcult to use.
24063744_1507000117.3749_funddescriptionPictures above and below show that the water heater pipes are also exposed to the elements and aren't properly fed throughout the house in the correct ways, causing flooding when we attempted to have water nor does the hot water keep heat as the builder proclaimed it would. 
24063744_1507000179.1664_funddescriptionThis is a picture of the denim insulation that was put in the house from the outside of the siding.  As you can see there is no sheeting thus causing in the elements to absorb and mould the insulation making it ineffective in the places it is installed in. 
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Shantae DeBuse 
Northfield, MN
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