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Living Small Kalamazoo’s Habitat for Humanity build a “Tiny House”

Ben Brown of Kalamazoo is building a new house — it’s not just a place to live; it’s a statement.

“I asked myself, ‘What would make a structure a home that my heart and soul could relate to?’” Brown said.

He is the owner of Kalamazoo’s first “tiny house,” a 230 square foot (total) house being built on Kalamazoo’s east side with the help of Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity, led by construction manager Tom Tischler. Ann Kilkuskie, Director of Community Relations, said the house, which was started in September, should be ready for Brown to move in by March or April. It’s located on about a quarter-acre of land on Kalamazoo’s east side.

Though it’s much smaller than most homes (the average home throughout the U.S. is about 2,000 square feet), it has all the features any home would offer. Cabinets and a shower door were being installed in February. Brown had to search for a while to find a heat pump that was small enough to fit in the house. A traditional furnace was
far too large.

“The question is, ‘How do you work within your limitations and find what you need?’” Brown said.

Making his home — and his lifestyle — fit within limitations has been a task for Brown almost all his life. He grew up on a family farm in Van Buren County, then worked at a factory. Over time, he was exposed to toxins like pesticides used on the farm’s crops and industrial treatment at the factory. Brown discovered he was losing coordination and the ability to speak.

“My immune system bottomed out,” Brown said.

While recovering, he started to learn more and more about environmentally friendly living. He found he didn’t need a large house to enjoy his living space. Brown now works part-time as a hospice aide, and wants to get back to farming once in his new home. He said he’s living and growing a garden in the Kalamazoo city limits simply because it’s what he can afford.

“A Habitat for Humanity house allows me to own my own home,” he said. “Everybody worked really hard to make the house; I could have done it myself — if I had another 40 years.”

He’s also a committee member for the Southwest Michigan Group of the Sierra Club, and drives a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, a compact, all-electric car.

But it’s his tiny house that might get the most attention.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Brown said. “Industry has taught us to always get bigger and bigger. I’ve had people who have seen the house say they could actually imagine living in that space.”

You can see more of Andrew Domino’s writing at www.dominowriting.com

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