Weekly Feature



2017-08-17 / Lifestyles

Going green by living in less

Woman builds tiny house to embrace more sustainable lifestyle
by HOLLY N. LIPKA
Reporter


Michelle Bernas creates the illusion of holding her tiny house in the palm of her hand. The blue and silver tiny house on wheels is 24 feet long, 8 feet wide and around 13 feet tall. 
Photos by Sarah McIlhatten. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com. Michelle Bernas creates the illusion of holding her tiny house in the palm of her hand. The blue and silver tiny house on wheels is 24 feet long, 8 feet wide and around 13 feet tall. Photos by Sarah McIlhatten. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com. Michelle Bernas grew up in a duplex with her grandparents, two aunts, parents and older brother in North Tonawanda. She shared a 9-foot by 10-foot room with her brother until she was 12 years old. “When we were young, we never thought about how small the room was; it was just a happy time,” said Bernas.

Also, each summer, Bernas and her family would visit her cousin’s cottage on Trout Lake in Barry’s Bay, Ontario.

Bernas recently discovered what these memories had in common.

“I realized the happiest times in my life were in tiny places,” she said.

With this in mind and her passion for sustainable living, Bernas sold her North Buffalo home, quit her job and moved to Iowa in 2016 to build a tiny house. Now, she’s back in Western New York to find a place to reside in her tiny home with her half-beagle, half-Jack Russell terrier, Griffis.


Michelle Bernas stands on a handmade wooden tabletop that is now embedded in the floor of her tiny house. She’s also holding her 1-year-old dog, Griffis, who is named after Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, New York. Michelle Bernas stands on a handmade wooden tabletop that is now embedded in the floor of her tiny house. She’s also holding her 1-year-old dog, Griffis, who is named after Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, New York. Bernas was inspired to build a tiny house after reading an article in Mother Earth News magazine in 2013.

“I thought the article was so interesting,” said Bernas. “The idea of living with just the bare necessities endeared me.”

Bernas made tiny-home living a reality last year when she quit her job after 16 years as assistant director of intramural sports at the University at Buffalo. She then moved to Iowa City in January 2016, where her girlfriend at the time lived.

Bernas and her girlfriend watched YouTube videos of others who built tiny houses and started sketching. In need of some professional assistance, Bernas found a builder from Cole-Train Productions in Iowa City.

Together, they built the 24-foot by 8-foot tiny house with wheels in six months. It was completed in August 2016. The blue and silver tiny house features two loft areas, a kitchen, pantry, bathroom, living area, hardwood floors, reclaimed wood walls, a glass garage door that lets in fresh air, and a lot of hidden storage.

For example, there are toe-kick drawers underneath the kitchen cabinets and pullout drawers that also act as stairs, which lead up to the sleeping loft.

“You always have to have dual purpose for things in here,” Bernas said.

Propane fuels the stove and heater, and for electricity, an electric cord plugs into a 120-volt socket.

A few sustainable elements of the tiny house include a composting toilet and a gray-water system, which employs gently used water from the sinks and shower.

Bernas uses only 26 gallons every 10 days with the gray-water system, compared to the average use of 80 gallons of water per person each day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Bernas eats a plant-based diet and stores her food in Mason jars. She also stores vegan dog treats for Griffis in a Mason jar. For hygiene, she uses a metal razor and a bamboo toothbrush.

“I’m trying to get rid of this disposable society we live in. Recycling is great, but we need to stop buying items that need to be recycled,” Bernas said.

Some features in her tiny house won’t be found in others. A fishing dock sign from the Ontario cottage that reads “Midge’s Dock” hangs above the couch. “Midge” was Bernas’ childhood nickname. Her aunt and uncle framed the sign as a college graduation gift.

“As a child, this was the world to me,” said Bernas. “It has hung in my living spaces since.”

Bernas’ favorite part of the house is an old vintage farmhouse sink. She bought it at the ReStore in Iowa City.

“I love the thought that it was once in a farmhouse in Iowa. There’s a story behind it,” she said.

Some tiny-house owners travel with their houses, but not Bernas.

“Ultimately, I’d love to buy a house with land, rent out the house and live on the land,” said Bernas. “It’s hard to explain how much I love living in here, but homestead living is what I want to do. This is my forever home.”

To contact Bernas with a possible location to park her tiny home, email her at mbernas pha@gmail.com.

Page design: gcinotti@beenews.com

Return to top