PEI

'My little world': P.E.I. senior builds tiny house on wheels

Ronelda Cahill, 65, has built her own tiny house on wheels using mostly second-hand materials, including some from the local dump.

Ronelda Cahill used mostly second-hand materials, including some from the local dump

'It's just a world outside of another world,' says Ronelda Cahill from St. Charles, P.E.I. 'In here, I have nothing to do. It's heaven.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Ronelda Cahill from St. Charles, P.E.I., stretches out in her tiny home on a bed she made herself out of scraps of wood.

Cahill, 65, says she has always loved to build things, starting as a kid growing up on an isolated dirt road in the tiny eastern P.E.I. community of Red Point.

"I've got an eight-year-old's imagination," Cahill said, adding "my father could do any kind of carpentry and I just watched him and I learned what I needed to learn."

It seems Cahill's world has always been small.

"I didn't even know there was such a place as Souris or the rest of the world because we didn't have a car, we didn't have electricity or anything."

'We built our house'

"When I come into my tiny house, it's the same thing — it's my little world."

'A tent, there's work to it, packing this, packing that, moving it in when you get home,' says Cahill. 'This one, you just turn off the key and go in the house.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Her love of carpentry continued when she married Cliff Cahill more than 40 years ago.

"We built our house, we built the barns. It's always been carpentry work between us," she said.

A few years ago after building a couple of small structures, Cahill said she thought it would be neat to find a set of wheels to put under one of them.

It didn't take long for her husband to come up with a solution.

"Cliff came home with a team of horses and a wagon, and he didn't use the wagon. And so I said, 'There's my wheels."'

'Boards came from the dump'

Over that winter, Cahill designed her tiny rolling dream house from scratch.

'I love to be by the water,' says Ronelda Cahill. 'If there's a house handy, I'll ask permission and drive there.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

She knew she wanted to use recycled materials.

"Like the walls here, all those boards came from the dump," she said, adding she appreciates how it looks as well as the fact that it was free.   

"I owe nothing and I don't want to owe anything," she said. 

Already has an addition

The little home on wheels has the same full-size windows a regular home would have.

Cahill designed her dream tiny house herself. 'I have books and books of stuff I've designed. I just shift anything. I never leave anything as it is.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"I didn't want it to be claustrophobic," Cahill said. 

Last year, she said she had the urge to put on an addition.

"I didn't use to have the washroom on here, but I got thinking 'I can fit that on the front.' So in the spring I put it on, double sink and all."

Licensed and inspected

Cahill figures if she had to buy a new tiny house and trailer, it would cost at least $20,000. She said she has spent only about $5,000 to build her own. 

The tiny home is even winterized, with a stove. 'And I have a hotplate that works on gas by the chimney there,' says Cahill. (Ronelda Cahill)

That figure included preparing the trailer for the highway, which meant adding lights and getting the trailer licensed and inspected. 

"They wanted a structural engineer to look at it because it didn't have a little metal plate on the trailer so he came over. That cost about $250."

The tiny house is also wired with electricity, so that Cahill can simply plug in an extension cord to any nearby outlet.

"But when I'm off on my own I have a power unit for that, and it'll run the TV and the music and one tiny light. That's all I need," she said.

'It's heaven'

Cahill's said her tiny home is her haven, even when it's just parked in the family's yard at home. 

'I didn't use to have the washroom on here,' says Cahill. 'But I got thinking, "I can fit that on the front," so in the spring I put it on, double sink and all.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

She relaxes there almost every day, listening to music or watching a movie.

"It's just a world outside of another world," she said.

"In the house, you've got your light bill, phone bill whatever, your dishes to do, blah blah. In here, I have nothing to do. It's heaven."

On the road again

Cahill usually heads out on the highway every few weeks, hauling her home behind her pickup truck. She often parks in her friend's yard in Mount Stewart.

Cahill only spent about $5,000 to build her rolling dream home. That figure included adding lights and getting the trailer licensed and inspected for the highway. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"I might stay there overnight, or any pond or any field," she said. "Wherever I see water — I love to be by the water. If there's a house handy, I'll ask permission and drive there."

Cahill is not shy about asking to park in someone's field overnight. In fact, she said most landowners are curious and want a peek inside.

'I have to stretch my money'

Cahill likes the satisfaction of always having a place to stay while on the road.

'When I'm off on my own I have a power unit and it'll run the TV and the music and one tiny light,' says Cahill. 'That's all I need.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"If I went to a park it's going to cost you $30 right off the bat. You want to stay two days, that's 60 bucks. And I don't have that kind of funds. I'm retired and I have to stretch my money so this does it for me."

She said her days of pitching a tent are long past.

"A tent, there's work to it — packing this, packing that, moving it in when you get home. This one, you just turn off the key and go in the house."

So far, the longest trip she has taken in her mini-mansion is the 67-kilometre trip to Charlottetown.

"This will go up and down the streets, over to Value Village, anywhere at all. It follows just like a little puppy."

'I'll go until I'm done'

The tiny home is even winterized and includes a propane heater. 

Ronelda Cahill hopes to be dragging around her tiny house for a long time to come. 'Forever,' she says. 'I'll go until I'm done.' (Ronelda Cahill)

"And I have a hotplate that works on gas by the chimney there." 

Cahill hopes to be dragging around her tiny house for a long time to come.

"Forever," she said. "I'll go until I'm done."

Cahill is now planning to expand her horizons by taking longer trips.

"I want to go around the Island, so it'll either be this year or next year, but it's going to happen."

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About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.

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