A few years ago, Austin Hay thought it would be cool to build himself a tree house. But then he got to thinking: Why put all that work into something he couldn't take with him when he went off to college?
Then he heard about a guy in Graton building fully functional miniature houses, and the answer became clear.
Instead of building a house in a tree, he'd build one on a trailer, and when it was time to move out of his parent's Larkfield home, he'd take his tiny house with him as a kind of mobile dorm room.
So began a three-year project that has changed the life of the Analy High senior.
"It's made me a better person in general," says Hay, 18.
When Hay was in sixth grade, fire nearly destroyed his family's house. When his dad, Gordon Hay, started to rebuild, Austin helped out, learning a thing or two about carpentry and construction along the way.
He beefed up those skills with shop classes during his freshman and sophomore years. Around that time, he hooked up with Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., who was getting plenty of press for building homes no larger than a typical garden shed.
The company agreed to give Hay a free set of plans for their 130-square-foot Fencl home if he would blog about the experience.
Using money he'd largely saved from his work as a camp counselor with Santa Rosa's Recreation and Parks Department in 2010, when he was just 15, Hay set about constructing his tiny house on a trailer in his backyard.
First came the rough framing of the walls, sleeping loft and roof. While thrilling to see the project becoming a reality, this phase also was daunting as he contemplated the work that lay ahead.
"It became so real, it was scary how real it was," Hay said.
The installation of the electrical outlets, insulation and windows followed. Hay started sleeping in the structure when it was still a shell, but it has come a long way since. It is equipped with its own shower and composting toilet, functional kitchen and built-in desk and bookshelves.
Many of the furnishings, such as the shower stall, were recycled to keep costs down. Others, such as the stove, where gifts from family members.
Keeping construction waste to a minimum has been one of his goals. The whole project has produced just three barrels' worth.
All told, Hay estimates he spent $12,000 of his own money, plus $2,000 in donations.
Nights can get a little frosty, especially this winter, but he's got a space heater that warms the place up pretty well in the mornings.
But he, like other people who have gravitated to the tiny house movement, gets satisfaction out of knowing his resource footprint is super small.
"You're happy because you know you're doing a great thing by saving the earth," Hay said.