Our first resident is warm and well this winter. He says his tiny house is, too. I just got off the phone with him and mane, did we have a lot to talk about.
We talked for almost 2 hours. He says he had a good Christmas, stayed in all day, and watched the Broncos get their butts handed to ‘em. He is one of the funniest, quickest-witted characters you’ll meet in Memphis. If he doesn’t have a joke for ya, no one does.
He takes excellent care of the house, the yard, the trash, and the surrounding Orange Mound neighborhood and community. He has a lot of pride for his home and the community he’s met over the past year.
Last time I was there, he laughed, pointed to a can on the sidewalk, leaned over, picked it up and said, “Zach, I’ll tell ya. If I don’t pick up at least a few empty beer cans on the way to the store everyday and throw ‘em in the trash, I don’t feel right. I love this street, my neighbors and the whole neighborhood. Everybody’s been really nice to me, and it’s the least I can do to help keep things clean.”
When that winter storm barreled into our city on Thursday, three days before Christmas, he let the pipes drip, capped the outside faucets, and kept the heat running. “This ain’t my first rodeo, Zach,” he said.
He was born and raised in Alabama, and even though they didn’t get too much snow, it came down from time to time. I asked him if he was ever able to throw any snowballs in Alabama. He started laughing, and told me about the first time he saw a good bit of snow on the ground, maybe four inches or so.
“We were so tickled,” he said, “we got our Cub Cadet riding lawn mower, a piece of plywood from behind the house and a long piece of rope, long enough to loop around the back of the lawnmower, got on it and pulled each other around as fast as we could go. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that much snow in Alabama.”
Unfortunately, despite his preventive measures, last week his pipes froze anyway. Late Thursday night, the water in the bathroom slowed to a trickle and then completely stopped. The kitchen faucet kept trickling, but his toilet froze up. “Man, this is the first time this has happened with a toilet freezing up on me,” he said. “I just put water in the tank from the kitchen sink to get it to flush. But, it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience, and I sure was warm all week.”
The house retains heat extremely well. The kitchen and the bathroom are, of course, on the outside walls, which left the plumbing easy prey for negative-14-degree wind chills. Some of the pipes froze, but thanks for PEX, they didn’t break.
The water supply pipes (or tubing) in his tiny house are PEX. The waste and vent materials are PVC. Due to its flexibility, PEX can expand under the damaging pressure caused by ice formation. If the weather gets cold enough, PEX pipes can and will freeze like any plumbing, typically when the surrounding area reaches 20 degrees. However, PEX may be less likely to rupture as a result of freezing. In this case, his tiny house, built in 2020, prevailed.
He said he went outside today and found that the wind had blown off the foam cover our builder had given him for the exterior faucet. Last time I checked ours, a bird was living in it so I can see how losing one to wintry winds can happen. The clip that attaches to the hose was still intact, but the cover had blown all the way into the backyard, behind his towering, cloud-covering pecan tree, which still stands tall and mighty from the 2021 ice storm and this week’s gusts of twenty-five mile per hour winds.
“Yeah, the porch got hit real hard and was completely covered in snow Friday morning,” he said. “But, I was inside, warm.”
For the cost of a new SUV, a fellow human being stayed warm and dry in our city during the storm. Meanwhile, that Friday afternoon, I read that another human being had frozen to death on the streets of Memphis. Again. My heart sank. My face dropped. My fingers began to type.
Our time here is never guaranteed. For some people it’s way too tiny. For some people, Homes for Hearts’ tiny houses are too tiny. For our first resident, it’s just right.
While we were talking, he threw a few thousand more jokes around, and I exaggerated the amount of snow I walked through on a Christmas morning in Memphis. We had a few laughs about how our entire city shuts down the second we see half an inch of snow hit the ground. He told me a story from his semi-snowy childhood down in Alabama.
“Oh yeah, I’ll tell ya. When it snowed down in Alabama, the teachers would have us reach inside our desk drawers and take out a black piece of construction paper,” he said. “The whole class would go outside and run around with this standard size, 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper and watch the snowflakes hit it. If it was just a light dusting, you know. You could watch it come down one piece at a time and just melt on the paper, you know, one snowflake at a time as it hit the sheet. But, as soon as you see a light dusting on that construction paper, that was it! They got the kids on the buses and we got back home. None of the buses were equipped to handle bad weather. Same situation here in Memphis,” he said.
Memphis’ buses are not equipped to handle bad weather. Maybe the man who froze to death on the streets in Midtown needed a ride. Maybe that night, he lay there dreaming of a home. Maybe he was waiting on a bus and gave up. We’ll never know. But I will tell you what our city does know. And I will tell you what our city is equipped with. We have the tools and the knowledge to build.
Every tiny house we build can keep one more Memphis heart warm and well. Every life tells a story. And ours is just beginning.
As we brought our conversation to a close, he opened the door to his warm, dry, tiny home.
Zachary Waters is the Founder and CEO of Homes for Hearts and A Lee Dog Story. He was born and raised in Memphis, TN. Zach has always been passionate about filming a docuseries about men, women, children, and others, experiencing homelessness, so that they can tell their stories of living life on the streets in their own words. To learn more about the house and the program, contact Zach at firstname.lastname@example.org.