(Tiny) life at 9,318 feet
Cabin fever not a problem for Silverton's first tiny home village

(Tiny) life at 9,318 feet

Michael Ackerman and his roommate, Lulu, are the first occupants of Silverton's first tiny home village./ Photo by Jonathan Romeo

Jonathan Romeo - 08/17/2023

Living in a tiny home at 9,318 feet, in the middle of winter, with snow piled up, negative temperatures and 50 mph winds roaring, may not sound like the ideal living environment for some.

But since its incorporation, the mountain town of Silverton has always attracted a rougher sort.

“I don’t think of it as cabin fever,” Michael Ackerman, the first resident of Silverton’s first tiny home village, said. “I think of it as a cabin homecoming.”

This year, the first-ever tiny home village in the town of Silverton opened. Already, two residents in two separate units are set to move in. But living in the Colorado high country is not for the faint of heart, especially in close quarters. And, certain alterations to the tiny homes had to be made to adapt to such a rugged environment.

Paul Joyce, owner of the property, said he wanted to open a tiny home village to help provide housing for the working class in Silverton, which, like many mountain towns, is in a bit of a housing crisis.

Indeed, DeAnne Gallegos, executive director for the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, said addressing Silverton’s housing shortages is one of the town’s top priorities.

“The working class are slowly getting squeezed out,” she said. “They literally can’t find a rental unit and then have to leave our community, not by their own accord. But, the Town of Silverton has really been working hard trying to get ahead of this.”

Little steps

About five years ago, Joyce first eyed a property for sale on the corner of Mineral and E. 17th streets, finally making an offer in 2019. At the time, he thought about constructing modular or spec homes, but soon realized those were not built to last harsh mountain conditions.

Then, Joyce and his wife, Becky, stayed in a friend’s tiny home in Arizona.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I thought it’d be a great idea for this property.”

Joyce then entered talks with the Town of Silverton, which had not previously approved or had a specific process for tiny homes. Town administrator Gloria Kaasch-Buergerdid not return a request for comment.

Ultimately, Joyce was approved for three units on the property, which is less than a quarter acre.

“The town needs workforce housing,” he said. “We have all these restaurants, hotels and shops – these are real jobs – and these people need someplace to live.”

(Out of curiosity, The Telegraph checked to see if Silverton had the highest elevation tiny home village in the state. But alas, Leadville does, at 10,158 feet! Jeremy Ricci, owner of that village, said it has about 22 units, mostly vacation rentals, with four rented out to full-time residents.)

Built to last

Ackerman is the executive director of the Silverton Avalanche School (the same Michael Ackerman who was the former principal at Animas High School). Between a break in storms this past winter, he moved his tiny home onto the plot.

“If we had waited any longer, we would have been skunked,” he said.

Ackerman’s unit was built by Rocky Mountain Tiny Homes, a local tiny home builder, and was outfitted to withstand the elements. The insulation in the walls is “battleship thick,” he said, and the highest level of double pane windows was used.

One of the biggest issues is making sure piping for water and plumbing doesn’t freeze in the winter. So, Ackerman purchased piping for plumbing from the oilfields in North Dakota, built for the extremes.

Ackerman also has a backup generator for when the electricity goes out, like it did this past winter about 19 times, he said. For heat, Ackerman uses a micro wood stove, custom-made for small spaces, though his primary heat source is a mini split heating system.

But there are challenges. Winds, for instance, can reach 50 mph, so he had to orient his unit to take the brunt of the gusts. In the winter, the sun is only up four hours of the day, so future solar potential is limited. And the snow. Oh god, the snow.

This past winter resulted in one of the biggest snowpacks in recent years. It was a good test, Ackerman said.

“You shovel until you can’t anymore,” he said. “Then you snowblow until you run out of room. Then you use a skid steer. And then you bust out the snowmobile and just ride over a berm all winter. But this is Silverton. You know what you signed up for.”

Making it home

Used to living in small quarters, Ackerman said his 280-square-foot tiny home is perfect for him and his roommate, Silverton’s official avalanche rescue dog, Lulu. Plus, his work at the avalanche school has him outside most days, and in his free time, he’s usually recreating in the mountains.

“I’ve got my own hut, and it’s pretty darn spacious,” he said.

What’s more, he has made his tiny home his. The outside is outfitted with avalanche debris he sourced from around the San Juans. He used beetle kill for the ceilings. And he hit up his neighbors for extra scrap metal.

“It’s all sustainable,” he said. “The ecological footprint is important for me.”

Case in point: from January through the end of April, Ackerman went through just one 30-gallon tank of propane.

Joyce’s second tiny home is set to be rented out to a woman relocating from the Front Range to teach at the Silverton School. Previously, Joyce thought he could buy a premade tiny home, but soon realized he needed something hardier. This unit was built by a company in Olathe.

“You need something that’s going to hold up the winter,” he said.

Not lying down

Of course, the backdrop to this tiny home village is the fact that Silverton, like most desirable places to live, is suffering from an extreme housing crisis. Joyce, who has lived in Silverton since 2005 and teaches at the Silverton School, wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem.

“You can’t find anything here under $600k,” he said.

Making matters worse, there isn’t too much more room to build new homes in Silverton. So, it’s even more important to make the most out of the available space.

For years, tiny homes were not necessarily embraced by the community, Gallegos said. But now, with so much pressure on housing, people have more open minds, as evidenced by the approval of Joyce’s first village.

“Normal working class citizens are probably having the most difficult time we’ve seen in the last couple decades in struggling to find reliable and consistent housing,” she said. “That’s just our new reality, as it is for most mountain towns after the pandemic.”

With worker shortages, businesses are forced to close a couple days a week. That takes a huge bite out of a profits during summer, by far the town’s busiest time of year, Gallegos said.

But Silverton isn’t taking it lying down. Recently, the town bought property for an affordable housing complex. And, Gallegos is petitioning for a legal housing authority to better position the town for grants and outside funding.

In the meantime, Joyce said he has one more unit available in his village for rent (BYO tiny home, however. Google “Min3 Tiny Home Village” for more info). And, Ackerman said that now Silverton has its first tiny home village, others may soon follow.

“It needed someone in the community to offer a viable alternative for housing,” Ackerman said. “If this kind of life fits with your ethos, it’s a super viable solution.”