The first-week Paul Christian Benton, sophomore in chemical engineering at the time, moved into his new house, he heard a knock on his door at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning.
“I’m like half asleep, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure. Come on, it’s fine.’”
Having complete strangers knock on his door and ask for a tour of his house is nothing out of the ordinary for Benton. Now a junior, Benton lives south of campus in Gentilly Park in a tiny house that he built himself.
Having become popular in the past few years with people wanting to downsize, live simply, save money or travel across the country, tiny houses are just what they sound like: very small houses, often built onto a trailer for transportability.
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With only a little help from his parents, Benton built his 24-feet by 8-feet house over an eight-month period during his sophomore year. Benton and his dad would watch HGTV house building shows together, and he got the idea to build a tiny house from there.
“I was like, I can do that,” Benton said. “We found a good deal on a trailer, and [my dad] was like, ‘Go for it. Try it.’ My mindset going into it was like, I’ll try it and if I don’t like it, I don’t think I can do it. I’ll just sell it and live somewhere else. I built it, and I was like, ‘Nope, I want to live in that.’”
Benton started the project mostly to see if he could take on the challenge, but now, he said it makes sense economically.
“It was a lot of money up front, but now I own my own home,” Benton said. “I can take it with me when I graduate. I don’t pay rent to anybody. I pay a lot fee to live here, but that’s nothing. Utilities are a lot less. I love it, I love living in here.”
Including all full-size appliances except for a dishwasher, the tiny house cost Benton $8,500. He purchased the materials as he built, working at a bar to earn the money — all while taking classes.
“It was a lot, but it’s worth it now,” he said.
Benton designed the tiny house himself.
“I just took a piece of graph paper and sat there and probably made 500 different designs, and finally, when I found something, I was like, ‘That might work,’ and I went with it,” he said. “I probably redesigned it 100 times. Even after I started I would just be like, ‘Nope, that’s not going to work,’ and I’d do it and go back and start over.”
Benton included some different design features in his tiny house: A galvanized horse trough for his bathtub, hinged kitchen shelves above his stove that flip up and latch out of the way when not in use and a large window that is actually a glass door turned on its side opening from his kitchen to his front deck.
Benton’s mom, a nurse, gave him a hospital television wall mount to put his television on, allowing him to move his T.V. and watch it from his couch, loft bed, front deck and even bathtub.
While Benton had previous woodworking experience, building and selling things to earn money, he’d never taken on a project this big before. He learned as he went, often driving to building or hardware businesses and asking the owners how to correctly construct something. He learned how to install much of the electrical and plumbing this way.
Benton had to meet several housing and transportation regulations.
“Before I was allowed to live in it, I had to get it inspected by the city, the state, a licensed plumber and an electrician,” he said. “I actually slept on a friend’s couch for a month, even though my house was already in Auburn because I wasn’t allowed to live in it.”
He had to keep the width to 8 feet, as that is the maximum width allowed for moving something on the road without a special license and an escort car. Benton can haul his tiny house with a heavy-duty truck.
Benton said there’s a big difference living in a tiny house compared to a regular apartment.
“My freshman year I lived in Aspen Heights,” he said. “Those are big and spacious and stuff. I had two roommates and whatnot. So, it was a big change, but I enjoy it.”
Benton said there are definitely disadvantages to a tiny house.
“You have to compromise on some stuff,” he said. “I was a very simple person, to begin with. I didn’t have a lot, but I did have to downsize a little bit.”
One of the biggest issues is the limited space.“You can’t just have five people over,” he said. “There are not that many places to sit and hang out.”
Benton recommended other students try living in a tiny house.
“For a semester, I think everybody should try it,” Benton said. “It just makes you be a whole lot simpler, really lets you focus on what your priorities are.”
He doesn’t know if most people could handle building one, though.
Benton said the tiny houses featured on TV shows are much more expensive due to labor costs.
“When you have to pay somebody else to do eight months of work, it’s expensive,” he said. “And those are big too. Mine is only 24 feet. Some of the ones they show on TV are like 32 feet and like 12 feet wide.”
Benton thinks tiny houses could become more popular.
“I just think people have to find a way to make it more efficient,” he said. “Because if you don’t know how to build, most people can’t drop $80,000 on a tiny house.”
Benton’s not sure if he’ll continue living in his tiny house after he’s graduated from college or not.
“I’m in chemical engineering, and I want to go into the petroleum field with it and all the jobs for that are out in Texas and Louisiana,” Benton said.
He considered taking it with him or selling the little house to another student when he leaves the area. Benton has certainly had no lack of interest in his tiny house from curious strangers and even interested buyers.
“The first night it was down here I had to let it get inspected, and I had to leave my name and phone number just right here in my window,” Benton said.
Someone called him immediately offering to buy the house. He told the interested customer that the house was not for sale, but the buyer continued to press. He offered cash if he could buy the house on the spot.
Benton said people knock on his door all the time asking if they can look around. He’s had families want to rent the tiny house for a game day weekend and even the mail carrier will often ask for a tour after delivering a package.
For this tiny house builder, though, the attention doesn’t bother him.
“I’m proud of it,” he said. “So, I like showing it off.”
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