A Tiny House On Wheels Comes To Chatham

By: Tim Wood

The Box Truck on the road. COURTESY PHOTO

Anyone who has scoped out real estate in the past few years knows that nobody builds small houses any more. If it's not 5,000 square feet with a half dozen bathrooms and a bonus room or two, it's not suitable for modern living.

But is all that space really needed, or just a way to impress the neighbors and hide away from the world? Who stays inside their house 24 hours a day?

“To me, life is outside. If we're building these huge houses, we're avoiding the real world,” said Alex Eaves, a reuse expert and director of the documentary “The Box Truck Film: Building a Reuseful Home.”

The 72-minute film will have its Cape Cod premiere at the Chatham Orpheum Theater Saturday, Sept. 3. It takes its inspiration from the tiny house movement, which focuses on the efficacy of living in small, useful spaces. In this case, though, the small space is constructed almost entirely of repurposed, reused or recycled materials. Eaves and co-director Derek Diedricksen chronicle the transformation of a 17-foot U-Haul moving truck into a 98-square-foot tiny house that doubles as a reuse education center.

“Every single piece” of the tiny house on wheels was assembled out of reused and recycled material, except for a handful of items like caulking and some tubing, Eaves said in an interview last week. Even the hardware, down to the screws, was pre-owned or repurposed.

“It feels like there's three rooms,” Eaves said of the mobile abode, “but it is essentially one big room.” There is a door on the tiny bathroom (which has a composting toilet), a bed and an office area that faces a window. “It makes it feel like it's multiple rooms.” The truck/house will be at the Orpheum for people to tour.

The screening is hosted by Sustainable Practices, the Brewster-based nonprofit that is working to make Cape Cod more sustainable. While the tiny house on wheels scraped together with reused material is something of a novelty, it gets at a serious point, said founder and executive director Madhavi Venkatesan.

“I hope it will drive home to people the idea that there are infinite resources as long as you can pay for them is a fallacy,” she said. “Just because we can afford it doesn't mean we should be wasting it.”

The film is both entertaining and informative, she added. “It gives you an opportunity to see how these things can get done, without being too intellectual about it.”

Eaves, who grew up in Norwell, connected with Diedricksen while making his last film, “REUSE! Because You Can't Recycle The Planet.” A professional tree house and tiny house builder who worked on various building focused TV shows, including HGTV's "Tiny House Builders,” Diedricksen, a Stoughton resident, came up with the idea of turning a box truck into a tiny house, Eaves said. This was pre-pandemic, and at the time Eaves was mostly living in his car, touring with his film and selling his reuse apparel brand Stay Vocal, trying to demonstrate how to live a “reuse life.”

“You can only show so much living out of a car,” he commented.

Reuse has become a way of life for Eaves. Certified a “master reuser” by the Reuse Institute, repurposing things has been a part of his life since he was young. He remembers his father, a mechanic, repairing and reusing items, and as a teen skateboarder he created a ramp with an old door.

“The big game changer in my life was in 2004, when I was working in the T-shirt industry, and one of the bands had ordered shirts, but the design was not what the guitarist wanted.” The shirts were going to be sent back, and when he asked what would happen to them, he was told they'd be shredded and made into rags. “I was blown away. All of these shirts that were pretty expensive to begin with were shipped across the country, and now were being shipped back to be destroyed.” He had already started his own skateboard company, and bought the shirts at a discount, put patches on them and sold them under his own brand.

“I just started seeing waste everywhere,” he said. In 2008 his brand became 100 percent reused materials, as did his personal life to the extent possible. “Pretty much any choice I make during the day I consider the reuse option first.”

He acknowledged there were times when it was challenging finding reused materials for the box truck house. At one point plywood of a specific thickness was needed, “and we just couldn't find it.” But, he added, “that's where the fun of reuse and the creativity comes in.” They ended up getting a piece of red cedar in the needed size donated by a museum in Brockton. “It came out way better than we expected.”

Eaves moved into the box truck house in 2017 and traveled around in it for three years, visiting 25 states from Florida to Illinois. During the pandemic, both the house and Eaves stayed at Diedricksen's home; during that time he concentrated on finishing the film. He's now living in the truck and on the road again to screen the film. When he spoke last week, he was in New York, after which he was going to Pittsburgh and then to Chatham.

The Orpheum screening begins at 10 a.m. and will be followed by a Q&A with Eaves and Diedricksen. The tiny house will be open for tours from noon to 3 p.m., and Eaves' reuse apparel and Diedricksen's reclaimed art will be on display. Tickets are $15 and available at the door and online at the Orpheum website and at boxtruckfilm.com.

“The Box Truck Film” marks the return of Sustainable Practices' Sustainability Film Series, which had been online during the pandemic. The program's fifth season continues Oct. 1 with “The Toxic Signs of Resentment” and Nov. 5 with “A Silent Transformation.”