‘You can do it this way’ – At 81, David Emerson still building a model for tiny houses

Woodworker David Emerson prepares to drill to attach support beams of the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property.

Woodworker David Emerson prepares to drill to attach support beams of the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Woodworker David Emerson enters the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12.

Woodworker David Emerson enters the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Woodworker David Emerson drills to attach support beams of the tiny house he is modifing on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12, 2024.

Woodworker David Emerson drills to attach support beams of the tiny house he is modifing on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Woodworker David Emerson is modifing a tiny house on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12, 2024.

Woodworker David Emerson is modifing a tiny house on his Canterbury property on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Woodworker David Emerson peaks out of the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property on March 12.

Woodworker David Emerson peaks out of the tiny house he is modeling on his Canterbury property on March 12. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-19-2024 5:30 PM

Modified: 03-22-2024 4:21 PM


It takes David Emerson an extra second these days to climb his ladder and drill a bolt into the beam overhead. At 81, he’s built a number of structures, including his own 3-bedroom home on his 25-acre property in Canterbury.

His newest new project is a tiny house model that he’s chipping away at – day by day.

Emerson has heard the phrase “tiny house” thrown around by lawmakers, among other carpenters and in advertisements on his TV. These homes are a trendy alternative for someone seeking a place to live but wants something small and affordable. Tiny homes are viewed as a possible housing solution to transition people out of homelessness. But for Emerson, these proposals come with an unnecessarily high price tag.

So he set out to build a model himself.

“They make it as complicated as they can and fancy and throw as much into it as they can,” he said. “I really wanted to do one of these to prove that it could be done for a lot less.”

In 2021, Emerson was driving home with his wife when they saw a trailer for sale on the side of the road. They pulled over and he bought it for half price. That was the start of his tiny home project.

Here and there he started to purchase and collect materials to build the frame.

Emerson’s sketch of the floor plan is now laminated on a workbench in the structure. The drawings are of a 9-by-26 foot house, with wooden beams across the top of the ceiling and a kitchen area separating the bedroom from a bathroom space.

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“I knew I had to be interesting and feel somewhat spacious. You know, good light,” he said. “And I needed to have separate spaces so two people could do different things in it.”

The details in the wood and the ability to hold furniture make the space exciting for Emerson, he said. He plans to cut a slab of cherry for the kitchen countertop and envisions adding Windsor chairs under one window as a seating area.

“I like the idea that you can fit real furniture in here, rather than just have endless built-ins,” he said.

Emerson spends a few hours a day in the tiny home, tinkering with his project. When it’s done, which he hopes to be the case by the end of the summer, he estimates he’ll have spent $20,000.

“I wanted to have something that I could show people and say, ‘Look you can do it this way. You can do it cheaply and you can have a nice place to live’,” he said.

While tiny homes can offer a more inexpensive solution to today’s housing shortages, zoning codes can complicate matters on a local level. In 2019, a committee established to study tiny homes released a report suggesting that permitting these smaller models could help increase the affordable housing stock in the state.

The report also presented guidelines on sanitary requirements, property tax collection and inspections. Since the report was published, though, legislative attempts to define and regulate tiny homes statewide have failed.

To Emerson, tiny homes are a clear solution to the state’s growing need for housing. And the 200 square foot living space he’s built could also be a model to provide housing for people experiencing homelessness.

After Patrick Walsh, who was known within the community as “Mountain Man” died last month while living unhoused, Teri Gladstone, a homeless advocate, and other people experiencing homelessness began to think of ideas to honor their late friend. A tiny home park would provide stability and shelter to the couple hundred people living outdoors in Concord, she said.

Gladstone points to Emerson’s project as a model for the type of houses she’d like to see built. And when Emerson’s project is complete, he hopes to show it to those interested as a model for what tiny homes could contribute.

“It’s not just providing housing, it’s providing housing that’s reasonable,” he said. “We can’t possibly house people the way we’re doing it now. So you’ve got to come up with something like this to be able to even begin to deal with the demand.”