One Huge Tiny Idea

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TINY HOMES OF HILTON HEAD OWNER JAMES MCGRATH IS WALKING THE WALK, ONE TINY STEP AT A TIME.

Somewhere in the middle of the woods on Daufuskie Island — we’re not at liberty to say where — a tiny house is making a huge statement. It’s the affordable housing of the future, with the American dream of owning a home adjusted to the scale of modern living. It’s a statement about living in tune with the environment, completely removed as it is from the grid.

It’s a statement that James McGrath has helped others achieve as owner of Tiny Homes of Hilton Head. And now, under the watchful eyes of DIY Network cameras, it’s a statement he’s finally making for himself.

TINY HOUSE2Along with his girlfriend, Christina Rodgers, McGrath was at press time undergoing construction on Daufuskie of a tiny home, a 200-square-foot house similar to the ones he builds with his business. One striking difference about this house, apart from the reality TV show documenting its construction, is that it will be built entirely off the grid.

“We have not and will not connect to the grid unless deemed absolutely necessary,” McGrath said. “It takes a certain kind of person to bear this climate. The heat this summer was absurd. Being in the Lowcountry as long as I have, and working outdoors, I’m pretty used to it.”

There are, naturally, a few hurdles that come with living off the grid on an island as remote as Daufuskie. According to McGrath, cell service is spotty along some roads and Internet comes strictly in the form of restaurant Wi-Fi. And those are just the “luxuries” he’s given up to make his statement about affordable living. Even something as simple as drinking water becomes complicated when living off-grid on an island with no bridge.

“We have a dear friend and local captain help us with this task,” McGrath said. “We purchase distilled water five gallons at a time, we then cool it with ice and drink about a gallon a day per person. We travel with around 35 to 50 gallons; it’s a great workout.”

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To preserve his commitment to eco-friendly living, dishes are cleaned using mostly boiling water, with a drop of soap if needed. “Citrus-based soap doesn’t affect the water, therefore there are no chemicals in the rinse water.”

Electricity is provided by a generator that can run eight hours on a single gallon of gasoline to power the lights and fans, charge the 12-volt system and freeze off the refrigerator.

“During the really hot days, it costs around $4 in gas to do all this,” he said. “Most people spend more than that just cooling their cars off or waiting in line to get over the bridges to Hilton Head.”

While construction on the tiny house was underway, the couple became very acquainted with public restrooms and showers, although at press time they were working on systems with composting and combustible means to deal with wastewater.

It can be a little more work, but it’s worth it to achieve financial freedom.

“Banks lend you money, charging you to do so, but if you get sick, or hurt it’s ‘tough luck, pay your bills.’ Because it’s paid for, this house is ours,” McGrath said.

Living in a tiny house can help residents achieve a sustainable and relatively inexpensive lifestyle. Industry statistics show that 68 percent of tiny house owners don’t have mortgages, and 55 percent have more savings — $10,972 on average — than the typical American. People who live in tiny houses also report spending more time outdoors and feeling a greater sense of community. Peace of mind comes with lighter financial burdens and a greater ease of mobility

After 13 years in the construction field, and months spent building his off-the-grid hideaway on Daufuskie, McGrath is able to do what many only dream of: completely leave the rat race and build a life with his own bare hands.

He points to places like Palmetto Bluff as examples in sustainable development, but also notes the incredible price tag that comes with such a lifestyle. It’s something he sees being done on Daufuskie in a much more affordable fashion.

“People here know about sustainable practices. They hold their own farmers market. They share catches from the sea. It’s a real community,” he said.

Their new tiny home has also proven to be the perfect place for McGrath and Rodgers to reconnect and spend time with their rescues, Lenny the pit bull and Herman the squirrel, before welcoming their son to the world. That’s right: Throughout the process of building and living in an off-the-grid hideaway in the Daufuskie heat, Rodgers was expecting.

“(She) never once complained,” McGrath said. “Well, until the big fan would go off at night when the generator needed to be refueled.”

The DIY Network show documenting the build will air in spring 2018.