DIY Shacks With Punk Rock Style

Derek "Deek" Diedricksen has self-published a punk rock/indie-'zine-inspired book about tiny homes. Renters with the itch to have a place of their own should take note.

The Relaxshax blogger has written and illustrated the 101-page book "Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts (And Whatever The Heck Else We Could Squeeze In Here)" as a "culmination of my love for ultra-tiny living, and it covers some of the small houses and cabins I've unprofessionally built."

With its pages of hand-drawn getaways, the xeroxed, spiral-bound book is a charmer and reviewers describe Diedricksen's style as "Gary Larson meets Bob Vila."

What we learn from the pages of this DIY manual is that owning a house is simple if you make your own. Derek calls his expertise 'Larkitecture', since he claims to have no professional training, and, in his words, "have instead built my "abilities" off of years of simple and unschooled fort building, chicken coop construction, and small cabin erection."

Structural engineering notwithstanding, that sounds pretty cool.

We spoke with Deek about what he'd recommend for a renter dreaming of building their own tiny shack-like getaway...

Finding a Site to Build

Rented Spaces (RS): Assuming you don't own land, isn't it unwise, perhaps even illegal, to build covertly on other people's property?
Derek "Deek" Diedericksen (DD): I'd say that aside from building covertly (at your own risk!), never be afraid to ask like-minded people you might meet, or even neighborhood people in the area you'd like to live, if they would allow you to park or build a structure for a small amount of rent each month (or in exchange for labor, upkeep, and/or keeping an eye on their land/place). You could even possibly leave a few select letters - given you a more thorough chance to express your intentions to prospective land owners - in mailboxes. In this economy, you might be surprised at who might be game for this set-up.

Land-wise, check out the less populated states. Some areas of Maine let you do and build almost anything you want as long as it's measured later for tax purposes. The result is often some wildly creative structures! I've seen land for sale out west for as little as $1,000 an acre, too. I bought 1/2 an acre of junk New Mexico land a ways back for real cheap.

What You Need to Get Started
RS: How do you get started?
DD: You just get going. In decent weather all you need is the initial frame and the shell of a living space to get started- which could be erected very quickly and cheaply, even without much carpentry experience. Thousands of people live this way. Once set-up, you could live within this bare-shell, as you slowly pick away at the rest of the project when time and money allows.

RS: You're all about building on the cheap, and green, too, right?
DD: Yes. Building on the cheap - with as many recycled and free materials as you can find. You'd be surprised at the stuff people chuck on a daily basis, and what you can build with it, or sell it for! I just sold a $3.00 tag sale, 1947 formica table on craigslist for $550.00! That money will and could finance all the materials for a modest shed-cabin or shack.

In this case, I'm putting some of the funds towards an ultra-mini A-frame cabin which I will build for my own uses, and then perhaps sell to others (and/or the plans) for a really affordable price. I also have two existing mini-cabins on my suburban lot now - one of which I might sell since I need to clear out space. (If anyone's looking - contact me! They're tiny and mobile.)

Remember, in the woods, or with a purchased or rented piece of land, you can always save money and time by tent camping on the land while under construction. And facility-wise - rain barrels for some water, composting toilets (which work great and can be built for almost nothing!) - are great solutions, even if only temporary.

Recommended Tiny Home Styles
RS: What architectural styles or construction methods do you recommend?
DD: Construction-wise, aside from my loving their look, A-frames are the easiest to build. But head-space, and square footage-wise, A's aren't always so space efficient. It just boils down to what you're looking for and what you need. You'd be surprised, if you scale your belongings down, at how little space you can get by on. Cabin ideas in my book range from nine square feet to only a couple hundred - all of them pretty darn easy to build. Remember, too, you can always add on down the road...

Also, prefabricating the structure, or designing it so that it can be simply unbolted and transported in sections is a huge plus. Also helpful in the event that you have to move off the land.

Try not to cement anything into the ground. The concrete work requires water carried in to remote sites, and backbreaking labor (and wasted time and money). Down the road if the land under your cabin settles, you can use a simple car jack to level the cabin out.

Labor and Construction
RS: Do you build it all yourself or do you seek out help?
DD: For labor and material hauling, it's always fun and easy to organize a "cabin-raising" party, where you feed your friends/helpers with some bbq and beer or whatever in exchange for their help. Most people though, will be so interested in your project (and the bragging rights in having had a hand in building a cabin) that they'll be willing to help for nothing at all.
All an all, keep in mind that carpentry is pretty easy! All you need to start are a few simple tools, and you'll continue to acquire tools, methods, and shortcuts along the way. I continue to learn from each and everything I've built - and I've built about a half dozen cabins (nevermind the forts, and sheds I built in my high-school years, and earlier). The book offers up almost fifty cabin designs, and then a whole other section on harvesting rainwater, building bridges (which may be needed in some locales), furniture, staircases, homemade windows and doors, and tons more!

And remember, have fun with it- and if you can build your structure on a large, wheeled trailer, all the better (again if you have to move it, or even sell it, down the road). Make sure you plan out your ideas and brainstorm it with others. In my case, my brother Dustin is my "devil's advocate" who is always quick and helpful to point out bad ideas or their shortcomings.

More Info...
RS: What else do you need to know to get started?

DD: Read a ton of books and blogs. I recommend David and Jeanie Stiles, Lloyd Kahn, Lester Walker, Dan Price, and Mimi Zeiger, for ideas. RentedSpaces readers should feel free to email me directly with any questions of comments, book orders, or whatever at

RS: Cool! Thanks for your ideas and great book, Deek...Look forward to seeing your next project.
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