The Creation of Phoenix House Tiny Home

Phoenix House, the name kind of says it all. We built this 450 square foot tiny home to resemble the rebirth that comes after destruction. It was built on the 1990 Kalapana lava flow. Everything in this life is temporary, nothing stays as is it. We are ever-growing and ever-evolving in our families, society, and relationships.

To start, this is not the normal construction site. The lava is an extremely uneven surface, with sharp, jetting lava boulders, human-sized crevasses, and porous glass-like shards of lava strewn about the place. We had no road leading to the build, so we would park about 100 yards from the actual site and walk all materials out to the location from the truck through this treacherous scene. With no shade over the exposed landscape, the sun was intense and harsh. The wind whipped past our faces like a slap to the cheek. I can remember one day watching Jeff carry plywood out to the site. He almost flew away until he realized he was just going to have to let it go. This became a major theme for us out there…letting go.

80% of the build was done by just two of our team members, Jeff Buss (ArtisTree’s Lead Builder) and Forest Croft (Project Manager). The foundation was the first order of business. We started with cement blocks that Jeff and Forest poured themselves with rebar going straight through the middle of the block and 12 inches down into the lava. The whole structure is in two connected parts, the main house, and the bathhouse, although from both the outside and inside, it all just looks and feels like one cohesive unit. The main house is 10×24 and is built on 10 of these cement rebar foundational blocks, while the bathhouse is 10×8 and on 4 blocks.


When the foundation was completed, we had another friend come out, Aiden (A builder and friend to the ArtisTree team), to help set up the framing and roof. It proved to be a very tricky job with the highest point of the walls of Phoenix House being 16ft. Setting them up in the wind was not for the faint of heart. We worked tirelessly and managed to get all the walls set in just a few days.

Once the walls were set, the siding was next, but we always had to be one step ahead. We couldn’t set up the OSB (oriented strand board) siding until all the felt was accounted for because rain is frequent out there and a larger storm was supposed to roll through. So, we had to follow each other around the tiny home with two people putting up OSB and two felting behind them. For this project, we had a very efficient, but still a rather ambiguous, scaffolding that we conjured up to move from place to place on the tiny home as we worked from one side to the other and bottom to top. The relocating of the scaffolding was a more confusing issue than one might originally anticipate. Moving it up and down while still having something to stand on was a challenge.

After the felting was complete, we started putting up the Shou Sugi Ban siding, which is burned cedar. We added this effect to really immerse the tiny home into its surroundings, matching the lava and also making the cedar more resistant to bugs. After all the siding was up, we set into place the corrugated metal roofing.

Once the exterior was done, we set into motion the foundation for a corrugated metal water tank. This tank was about 15.5 ft in diameter and could hold up to 5,100 gallons of water. With a 360 square foot roof, we could collect 225 gallons of water per inch of rain. On the Big Island, there is no city water and most of the population has water either delivered to their tank or, if in the right spot, solely count on rainwater collection. With this in mind, we set up an efficient system of gutters around the house to collect the most water possible.

We situated a small utility shed next to the tank to store the battery bank for solar and the on-demand hot water heater for the shower and sinks. The solar takes up about 200 square feet of roofing and still allows us to use that area to collect rainwater. The solar power system is 48 volts with a 6 Aquion battery bank.

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After the utility shed was in place, we started on the bathroom. We wanted to make this tiny home moveable due to the temporal nature of the land on which it sits. The lava flowed through this particular area in 1990. It has been almost 30 years since it has seen lava, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever again, since Mauna Loa is the biggest and most active volcano in the world. Like the Phoenix, we wanted to show that you can rise from the ashes, and by honoring our tribal ancestors, who moved with the seasons, we made this house a moveable entity. With the main structure being 10×24 and the bathhouse being 10×8, we could move Phoenix House on the back of a truck in two separate pieces, if the lava were to show itself to this area again.

The bathroom consists of a shower, sink, and low-flow toilet, which we dug out of a cesspit. The lava may seem porous, but in reality, breaking it up to build a road and cesspit requires some pretty sizeable equipment and a knowledgeable team. We hired out a local crew, and the funny thing about Hawaii is that everyone turns into Ohana (family)…this crew of locals turned into just that. They were such an accommodating and extremely talented group of men. One proud father even bring his 4-year-old daughter out to watch them in action, and she loved it.

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Once all the structures were in place, we jumped into the interior. Here at ArtisTree, we fabricate everything from beginning to end. This includes window frames, doors, cabinets…the works. We had to build strong window frames to withstand being opened in the high wind received on the lava. With the windows installed and door frames built, we moved on to cabinets and creating a staircase to lead guests to the loft area. After this, we installed all the electrical for efficient LED and soft, ambient lighting.

As our deadline was quickly approaching, we hustled to paint, install the floors, and do all the little finishing touches before putting in all of the furniture. As we furnished on one side of the house, photos were taken on the other side of the house. We were literally crawling over each other to finish by May 3rd, 2017… When it seemed like it may never be finished, all of the sudden…it was. There she stood in all of her glory, Phoenix House.

Check out the final result of Phoenix House over in our Gallery.

To make reservations for your stay at Phoenix House and check out the reviews go to our AirBnB page.

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