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Episode 23 – Tiny Living – Where to Start? Interview with Cody Ruffing

Discover how you can green your life by building a knowledgebase of of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends.



In this episode, we will talk about tiny living. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Cody Ruffing of CaraGreen.

JESSICA: Hi this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green, and today we are talking about small spaces. So, you can think of this as your tiny home, your van life, buses, converted trailers but really this whole shift towards living in the space that you need, not the space that you think you need. So, I think I read a statistic the other day that- well, I don't think I read, I know I read a statistic, it was probably this morning, but it was about how people's homes have grown 50 percent, but our families have shrunk by one person. So, we definitely live in more space than we actually need and use, and in fact we're recording this podcast in a room that I never come into in my own house, so, it's representative of this discussion that, you know, we just, we have a lot of space and we don't use it all, and it's becoming really popular. You see these shows on tiny homes in, what's that, I don’t know, one it's in Austin, Dallas or Austin or something, but there's Tiny House Big Living, Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunting, Van Life TV, Vantastic and all these come with their associated hashtags for #vanlife and so on. At CaraGreen, we sell a lot of products that are appropriate for these spaces because when you're living in such a tiny space, you want to be surrounded by things that are healthy. You don't want fiberglass six inches from your body at all points in time. You don't want to be eating off of a countertop that can harbor bacteria and things like that. So our products are healthier alternatives to conventional building materials and they're perfect for this tiny living. So with me today is our most recent hire at CaraGreen, Cody Ruffing, who we found through one of our healthy building materials and he is a perfect example of someone who has taken to tiny living. And in fact, he was able to pack up his tiny home in Pennsylvania and bring it down to Raleigh, North Carolina to start his job just a few weeks ago. So, welcome Cody. 

CODY: Thank you Jessica. Glad to be here, pleasure. 

JESSICA: So, Cody might be one of the sweetest people that we've ever met and he's a hands on and a thinker, so he brings a lot to CaraGreen, and, you know, one of the things that we really like about him is that he kind of lives the life that we talk about at CaraGreen and the sustainability personal health environmental health and all that. So you have a tiny home, a converted trailer.  

CODY: Yes.

JESSICA: And can you tell us about, kind of, how you decided to do that, what drove you towards that and kind of take us through your journey?

CODY: Yeah, yeah, well, I think it kind of begins- not to make it a long story- but years ago I was in college and I decided to go on a solo road trip. And so three weeks- solo road trip. Well, maybe solar some of it, but solo road trip.  All right. But anyway, so, yeah, three weeks by myself, just traveled to a bunch of national parks all over the country and I was living out of my car for that three weeks and I absolutely loved it and I realized how happy I was being in a small space. And so then, years later when I graduated college last year, I'd been looking at cargo trailers for a while and just always saw them and thought, “like, how cool that you could just get a shell so quickly and easily and then create a little home out of that.” And to me it was an upgrade going from my Mercury Mariner to a nice 100 square foot cargo trailer. And so my cousin had done it and he lives out in Fort Collins, Colorado, more particularly Lyons, but Fort Collins is a bigger town. And he did the same exact thing but not quite to the extent that I have. But yeah so, I got some inspiration from him. And then from there decided after I quit my job as a wilderness guide in January to decide to build a trailer. So, I didn't have a job yet other than I was doing a lot of work with my dad, and it was something that I wanted to do for a while. And you know when you're jobless and you're after college you're like I want to do something, I want to get my hands on something, and it was kind of that thing for me to say, “you know what, I am going to just make something happen and I think things will come from it.” And then it happened to be that things did come from it. 

JESSICA: Where do you start with something like that? I mean, I think, do you start with the floor? I mean how do you plan it out? You're taking this trailer, you know, for our listeners who might be thinking, “wow, this is inspirational, you know, I live in a Mercury Mariner.” But I know you didn't live in the Mariner, but you enjoyed that trip. Yeah, but where do you start with the trailer? I mean it's just a shell, right? 

CODY: Right yeah. It’s a long and complicated process and so many people have a lot of different approaches to it in this movement. You know, like you're saying, it's so big that there's so many different ways you can go about it. 

JESSICA: And so many people chronicle it. So many of our CaraGreen followers they have #vanlife tags or their tiny bus and things like that. 

CODY: It’s huge. Yeah, I mean it's so attractive as an Instagram or, you know, like all social media outlets, it's such an attractive thing to post pictures of and it's just very interesting to look at. It's gone so viral the shows, people are just fascinated by it. So yeah there's a lot of different things that people are doing. And when I went about it, it was just what can I do that I can afford but I can get use out of quickly. And you know it's going to really be practical for me particularly in my purposes in the future. You know there's like really hard to figure out what is the thing that I want to do with it now. But also making the decision that this can be something I can use down the road, too, when my purpose is for it change. 

JESSICA: Give me an example of what you mean by that.

CODY: So yeah, let me elaborate more. I could have gone with the van, but I thought to myself, vans will eventually stop working.  Engines have trouble, you have a lot of upkeep with a vehicle. And I want to have this- I'm going to put a lot of work into it. I want to be able to have it for a long time and cargo trailers tend to last for a really long time. So I thought to myself, if I can take care of a cargo trailer, I can keep my home for a really long time and then change vehicles, because of course you are going to change vehicles. And I didn't want my main vehicle to be a van all the time, you know, I wanted four-wheel drive. I want to be able to go up deep into the mountains and not worry about my van just constantly shaking around, having to pack everything up, because you know you have to live differently if you're hitting the road all the time. So that was one part of the reason. Two, just the additional space that comes with the cargo trailer. My concept was to live out of this full time. And so a van just wasn't going to be enough for me, I felt like. Especially if I had a job, you know, it's one thing to be living in it full time when you're just traveling. So, you know, ultimately getting the job at CaraGreen it worked perfect to be able to have enough space that I can still maintain a professional appearance, you can elaborate on that one.  But, you know, so it's enough space to make it work, I have a shower and a bathroom, you know like that kind of stuff. 

JESSICA: So we met you because you purchased the Havelock wool, you know, the utopia of insulation, right, which is the highest performing insulating fiber that you can get. And so where was that in the process though. Did you have a floor, and how did you- you know?

CODY: Okay so yeah, I am sorry I didn't elaborate more on that in your previous question. The first thing I was thinking about was insulation. That was like number one before I even bought it was, what am I going to do to make this thing more livable. And so I had been thinking about wool insulation like previous to even buying the trailer. You know, I’ve always been interested in building materials and me and my brothers are always like brainstorming on different things that we can do, ways to innovate in the building space and I didn’t even know wool insulation was a big thing, but I remember using my wool inserts on my shoes and like had a wool sweater on and I was like, “why isn't this used as an insulation more?” And then I started looking into it, I was like, “oh there's some companies that are doing it and it's even starting to become popular in the United States.” I  thought that was crazy and then when I bought the trailer, I eventually discovered Havelock particularly, I'd looked at other companies before and then so wanting to have something that was going to deal with moisture well and deal with pests, I didn't really worry about the pest part, but to have something that's going to be healthy for me to breathe and filter the air was a no brainer. And a lot of my family was like, “dude, I mean you could, we could have this thing insulated that day if you did PET board or, you know, why aren’t you doing fiberglass? It’s so much cheaper.” And I was really set on the wool from the beginning before I bought it, and even when I bought it, and I looked into other things, but it just continued to come back to that as being the best thing for me in this space.

JESSICA: Yeah, I find that sometimes research can reinforce your decision rather than give you other options and certainly in the case of Havelock wool, you start looking into traditional insulation or rock wool, which is basically slag. 

CODY: I looked into rock wool a lot.

JESSICA: Yeah because people say it's great. People say it's great, but it's slag. It's slag from coal plants and yeah so, I think people get confused that rock wool's actually wool. 

CODY: My dad was calling my Havelock wool rock wool for like a month. Cause I'd mentioned rock wool like once. Yeah, it's easily confusing. 

JESSICA: But the performance is not even close. And the health benefits, yeah, so that's great. So now you've got insulation in your walls that is basically filtering the air inside this tiny space which makes it a no brainer for anyone building a tiny space. 

CODY: And condensation with the metal box, it’s so significant that you just have to have something that’s going to deal well with that. It just seemed like I couldn't do anything better than wool.  I'd seen that personally wearing wool, you get that first hand basis, like, “oh, this stuff does do well with it.” 

JESSICA: Okay, so now you've got these, this great insulation, what did you put over it, how was the insulation suspended? Like is there a paneling?

CODY: That's a good question. So when I bought the trailer, it had plywood on top of all the steel frame. So you had aluminum sheet on the outside and then you have steel frame every 16 inches and then you have plywood. And so I took all that plywood down and put up wool in between the frames and in order to hold it while I was installing it, it’s a whole process, I was like, “how am I going to do this?” My dad's original idea was to use duct tape and I was like, that's not going to work and the fibers, you know, just pulls right off. And so it happened to be that all of the gaps in between the plywood were covered with this really thin wood, just like thin pine veneer stuff, you know. And I'd pulled all that and decided to recycle it, so I broke it off and cut it into 16-inch slabs and then I was able to stick that in between the steel frame. So my version of it was just like improvisation. I would say there's, I’ve discovered other options of ways to keep it up. But it worked really well for me. I had like old staples that were still in it and that kind of grabbed into the wool and just pinched it between the two frames. But you can get like metal wire to help you set it up. Yeah and I didn't really know about that then I also wanted like that, I was kind of in a rush to get it sort of thing, so whatever I could do at that time. So it worked for me though. 

JESSICA: Okay great. And then what do you, what other choices did you make? I mean, would you say that you chose materials based on, did you use any reclaimed materials, repurposed material? 

CODY: As much as I could. Basically everything that's in my trailer is reclaimed, like reclaimed wood all over the place. My dad, he hoards a lot of wood. I hate to call him a hoarder because I love wood, yeah but he has a lot and we have a lot of property, we own a golf course in Pittsburgh and he does a lot of woodworking commercially, you know, for different homeowners and so he's just collected so much over the years that there was a lot for me to use. So it was really fortunate to be able to have, not only someone that knew how to work with wood, but also an endless supply of it. 

JESSICA: And now you work for a company that has plenty of drop pieces of material that you could use to really fit that out real healthy, there's PaperStone you could use. That's awesome. Well great. So you mentioned something that I wanted to go back to when you said, when you were talking about living in your car for that three weeks, you said, “I absolutely loved it,” and I think to myself, “man, I couldn't sleep,” I would be like I would go stir crazy. And what kind of person or what is it about you that love, what did you love about it? 

CODY: Well, okay. So in order to love it I think I'm lucky to be, you know, stature of 5 8'' and so living in a Mercury Mariner is not terribly difficult for me. So that's one part of it. Also, I think I just really liked how at the end of the day, now it's different with the road trip versus when I was actually working and living in it, but I loved how freeing it was that everything that I had or needed was there and that I was living that small. I just, there was something simple and just mindlessly opening to it, you know like it just expands everything for me that everything I have is ready to go at any point in time. And I'm someone that really likes to travel and hit the road and hit the woods on the weekends. So you know just feeling ready all the time. You know when you don't feel ready for something, you're like you're getting ready for a trip and you're not packed up. 

JESSICA: Yes, that “what did I forget feeling.” Yeah, I get it. I mean I took my kids on a trip recently and, you know, you get there and you think, you know, one of them complains that they didn't bring their Rosie the Dog and I'm thinking, you're making a good point, there's so much stuff you don't need. And I think it sounds like you were in a situation where that you kind of came to realize that. 

CODY: Yeah. And people get so overwhelmed when they have to move.  And I’ve felt that way too and even in college I had so much stuff. I'm just kind of a, I am a nester. And so I like to have all sorts of little things that add hominess to a place. And then I'd be packing up at the end of the school year and be like, “oh my gosh, I’ve got all this crap I got to figure out where it goes,” and I don't like to be disorganized. I think that was a big part of it for me enjoying that. And then also just like feeling so close to the outdoors when I'm sleeping. You know It's just like it's right there, I’d open my sunroof and I have like leaves falling into my car, you know.  A bird like landed right on my window when it was open once. You know, I love that part of it.

JESSICA: I think it's great and I think it's you've given us a lot of good insight into kind of that movement and not everyone's necessarily at that extreme. I think, you know, there's also this big space in the middle where people just need to come to the realization that they have more space than they actually need. A lot of these tiny homes that are being built, these Hygee Supply, the Hygge movement which for our listeners that's h-y-g-g-e. It's a really cool new movement for these modular type homes that you know can be anywhere from you know several hundred square feet up to fifteen hundred or so. But it's all about comfort, and design today is about being surrounded with healthier products in the space that you need. So I think you're a great example of this and I'm so glad that you bought Havelock wool from us, because you've been a great addition to the team, and we loved hearing your story.

CODY: Thank you. I appreciate it. It's been an awesome journey with you guys so far and I’m excited for the future.

JESSICA: So if anyone wants to meet Cody, you can swing by CaraGreen and if you want to know about our products go to caragreen.com. We are a distributor and a promoter of healthy building materials and this is Build Green Live Green. Thanks Cody.

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