On Fires, “Security,” and How to Rebuild After a Loss

I want to provide some background for you all on why I’m so concerned with getting Gyrtle registered as a self-built, live-in camper so that she can be insured for the full amount needed in the event of a total loss.

Here is an excerpt from an email my mom Robin sent out on June 16, 2013 (I’ve added some photos in for reference, as well).

“Dear Folks,

“You’ve probably heard of the fire in Colorado Springs known as the Black Forest Fire.  The fire started Tuesday on the north side of the road that leads to where my tiny house on wheels (Gyrtle, short for Gypsy Turtle, soft “g”) is situated. Because the winds kept blowing north my home was never actually in danger.  Unfortunately some 470 homes across the road burned.  I’ve been evacuated since Tu. or Wed.  I went back in over land on foot to move mulch away from my house and wet it down.  They have started to open up areas around the mandatory evacuation area and let people back in.  We can’t get in on our street because of being only connected to Shoup Rd. and because that is where the fire started and there are so many affected homes down the road.  I’ve been well taken care of and have had a lovely place to stay.


“I’ve been fine and my house is fine.  Biggest problem is that we can’t get back home because the road that we get to our houses from is closed.  The fire started right across that road from us and luckily it never crossed the road anywhere near where we live.  It did further east.


“I’ve lost some work do to the fire – that’s a little bit disconcerting because I’m not really making enough yet to get by.  But I’m sure something else will come through.  Our trio managed to rehearse yesterday – we have our first concert on July 2nd.  The cellist and I were both evacuated.  Luckily we rehearse at the violinist’s house.

“I’m determined now to find a way to insure my house.  And I’m going to park my truck on the property where my house is!  I’ll let you tiny house people know what I did to get insurance once I do.

May Your Life Sing,
Robin Kissinger

My mom drafted this blog post shortly after the Black Forest Fire that made mention of other folks who’ve been threatened by or completely lost their tiny homes due to a fire. The reality is that, especially during construction, the risk of fire for tiny homes is large, while the chances of having building or tiny home insurance is small.

Kim Langston of Olympia, Washington lost her tiny home in an unexplained barn fire partway through construction. Having spent all of her savings and some of her friends’, she had nothing left with which to rebuild. Luckily, the tiny house community is tight-knit and familiar with both seemingly insurmountable obstacles and otherwise unworldly perseverance. Kim created an Indiegogo campaign to fund her second build and was met with a generous amount of support. She has since finished construction and moved on to living out her little dream.

Likewise, my mom spent her entire savings to build Gyrtle, and the threat of losing everything loomed large during Black Forest. I am similarly wary of being uninsured now, not only because wildfires remain a threat where Gyrtle is stationed in Colorado, but also because the idea of transporting a tiny across state lines or actually using the experimental systems she needs to run is terrifying without a financial safety net. I, too, don’t have the funds to re-coup this testament to my mom’s dreams should she be destroyed.

That’s why I’m simply taking things slow. When it comes to tiny living, it truly is better safe than sorry. I’ve reached out to the one multi-state provider of tiny house insurance that I can find for a quote and have started the long process of appraisal and re-registration that I outlined in my last post.

Sorting these issues out hasn’t stopped me from exploring all the options out there for Gyrtle’s next move – when she’s ready to take it. I recently spoke about the potential for tiny houses to contribute to affordable housing and adaptive reuse projects here at the Ignite Phoenix conference on April 1. I’m looking forward to sharing the video when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I have several more posts to come with news about mom’s journey both during Gyrtle’s build and beyond, plus a few more about the plans I see taking shape. I hope you stay tuned.

Happy Trails,

Gyrtle on the Move: Tiny House Registration and Insurance

Hi, Folks,

Though it’s been over a year since I last posted, I haven’t been sitting pretty – and neither has Gyrtle! Get ready, because you’re about to get hit with a slew of updates.

Last month I set out from Phoenix to Colorado, where Gyrtle has been nestled since my mom’s passing in a little nook in her friend and fellow musician Pam’s yard. For several reasons, including the fact that it’s time to  weigh and re-register Gyrtle as the amazing tiny home she is (an important step for getting tiny house insurance), it was the moment for my mom’s house to find a new, if temporary home. So with the help of an old friend, Deb, and a new one, Morgan, we hitched her up.

It wasn’t easy! Deb, Morgan and I all had to take turns cranking Gyrtle’s weight onto and off of the hitch.

The story of how we found Morgan, who’s a former semi-truck driver turned firefighter and horse rancher in Colorado Springs, is remarkable in and of itself. Deb and I had been discussing Gyrtle’s future a few weeks prior, and we decided it was time to move her.

“Now all we need is a driver!” I told her, and Deb promised to send it up for the angels to deal with.

Would you believe it, the next day Deb was driving home and saw a truck in front of her with the exact hitch we needed to tow a fifth wheel gooseneck like Gyrtle is built on. Bold as she is, Deb decided to follow that truck a ways down the road.

When Deb noticed the license plate on the truck included her birthdate, it was a done deal. Deb trailed the truck all the way home, which happened to be around the corner from where Gyrtle currently stood. She explained our story and our needs, and Morgan agreed to help. Woohoo!

Gyrtle’s new pad.

Gyrtle’s new home came in the form of another friend’s generosity. When my mom was looking for a place to land, one spot she considered was a beautiful lot close to Elbert in El Paso County, CO. The land is owned by an engineer who is an inventor in his own right and, clearly, also a very kind soul. Our rag-tag crew scoped it out, and the next day we were ready to move.

After hitching her up, we had to run by the weigh station off I-25 in Monument to get Gyrtle weighed. She came in at a whopping 24,000 lbs! The weigh station inspector said that weight was within normal limits for an RV…now we just have to hope the DMV thinks so, too! But Gyrtle sure drove pretty, according to Morgan, who manned the wheel of the truck that hauled her. From my perspective in the passenger’s seat, the ride seemed plenty smooth…though I was incredible nervous the whole time.

Driving passed the scales.

From there it was smooth sailing out to Elbert, where Gyrtle got settled on her new pad – but I can say for a fact that without Deb and Morgan’s help, the entire process would not have ended nearly as pretty and pain free as it did. All told, it took us four hours to move Gyrtle from one spot to the next and get her weighed without incident.

Me and Morgan after unhitching the house.

It was a truly productive trip, and to have Gyrtle weighed and re-situated where people are ready to help take care of her is a huge weight off my mind. But there was still more to do.

I needed a certified VIN inspection before Gyrtle could be reclassified by the DMV as a live-in mobile camper rather than a flatbed, and I spent my entire trip trying to find a certified state trooper to do it. On my last day, with just hours to go before I flew home, I found one! He even met us out near Elbert, so we didn’t have to move Gyrtle again, and by the time he finished up I still had time to get to the DMV. I thought, “For sure, I’m gonna walk out of here the proud owner of a registered, self-built tiny home on wheels.”

But, alas, I was getting ahead of myself. While everything I’ve done to this point has been a necessary step, I still need to head back out to Colorado again to have a bond appraisal for Gyrtle that declares her value as an off-grid THOW (“tiny house on wheels”) so the DMV can issue a new VIN that accurately reflects what she is.

Ultimately, getting the bond appraisal is an important step in the registration process, ensuring that I walk away with paperwork that reflects all the hard work and improvements that my mom made to that flatbed trailer she bought almost four years ago. I need these documents to be accurate so that when I reach out to one of the only providers of self-built tiny home insurance, I get a policy for the correct amount to protect against anything that might happen.

While it is somewhat disheartening to not get everything taken care of at once, I take solace in the fact that nothing in this process has moved too fast. In fact, sometimes moving slowly is a blessing so that things get done right. I’m also lucky, since I’m already planning to return to Colorado in August for the National Tiny House Jamboree! That will give me a good chance to get some more things checked of the registration and insurance list.

The best news is that outside of the paperwork, some amazing things have been happening in my life that directly support my mom’s vision for Gyrtle and her attempts to spread the seeds of sustainability overall. I’ll be sharing them in the next few weeks, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s where Gyrtle will be, safe and sound – for now.

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Blessings and Happy Trails,

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