A Stanford grad spent $68,000 building an off-the-grid tiny house in the Malaysian jungle. Take a look at how she did it.

·7 min read
The tiny house offers a panoramic view of the Malaysian jungle.
The tiny house offers a panoramic view of the Malaysian jungle.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani
  • A Stanford grad moved to the outskirts of Malaysia's capital and built a tiny home in three weeks.

  • Atiqah Nadiah Zailani, the homeowner, spent around $68,000 building the home.

  • Atiqah relied on friends, volunteers, and professionals to complete the build.

Atiqah Nadiah Zailani grew up in an apartment in Kuala Lumpur. In Malaysia's capital city, most people live in high-rise buildings, bungalows, or traditional homes — but Atiqah found herself dreaming of a very different lifestyle.

Atiqah Nadiah Zailani, a Malaysian who graduated from Stanford's undergraduate and graduate programs.
Atiqah Nadiah Zailani, a Malaysian who graduated from Stanford's undergraduate and graduate programs.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Atiqah said she was inspired by Western camping culture and the tiny-home movement.

But in Malaysia, building a tiny home isn't easy.

"It's not a very popular concept," Atiqah, who graduated with a bachelor's and master's degree from Stanford University in 2009, told Insider. "I was interested if it was possible to have a self-sustaining home in the Malaysian context," she added.

In July 2016, Atiqah purchased 43,000 square feet of land in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. And in September 2017, she gathered a dozen of her friends and began building the home.

With a budget of 300,000 Malaysia ringgit (around $68,000), Atiqah decided she would build a 530-square-feet (49 meter square) loft-style tiny home with a balcony. Insider viewed a detailed breakdown of Atiqah's budget sheet for the project.

From the very beginning, Atiqah was up against a series of obstacles, including a time constraint and a lack of experience in construction.

Steel beams for the tiny house.
Steel beams for the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Because Atiqah works as an advisor to governments, she's often flying in and out of Malaysia. This meant she had only three weeks to build the home in between work assignments.

Further complicating the situation was the fact that the tiny home movement in Malaysia is nascent.

"In America, tools are easily accessible. You go to Home Depot and it'll be there," she said. "But in Malaysia, the market doesn't quite cater to self-sustaining homes, so I had to work a bit harder to find the right products."

Fortunately, she came across Epic Home, a Malaysian organization that trains people on how to build homes.

Construction began with piling to strengthen the jungle soil that forms the foundation of her home. It took two dozen volunteers to put up the scaffolding.

The early stages of constructing the tiny house.
The early stages of constructing the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Atiqah's house was built on top of a hill, which made it difficult to transport materials and dangerous to build a three-story scaffolding.

"I watched a million YouTube videos of other people's tiny houses and the truth is the house is dictated by the land you put it in," Atiqah said. "We built it on a slanted hill, which needs more structure and a solid foundation to sit safely."

Atiqah put out a call for more volunteers. Around 30 people showed up to to reinforce the structure, which was a mix of steel beams and wood.  Atiqah said the materials were "very expensive" and cost 16,800 and 15,300 Malaysia ringgit ($3,800 and $3,400) respectively.

The materials were sawed and hoisted up with ladders to form the outer shell of the house.

The beams of the tiny house.
The beams of the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The beams were put up in less than a day.

"I guess you only know how hard construction work is when you actually have to do it," Atiqah said. "I have a whole new appreciation for construction workers — it takes so much energy, strength, and endurance."

Atiqah turned to professional builders to get the roof's beams up.

Part of the exterior completed.
Part of the exterior completed.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The professional fees, which includes the design, construction, and management of the project, chalked up to 18,800 Malaysia ringgit ($4,200).

The wall panels were completed the following day.

Some of the friends who helped build the tiny house.
Some of the friends who helped build the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The wall panels were made out of steel and wood. But each material had its own challenge — the wooden boards broke easily when cut, and the cutting blade barely did anything to the steel.

The floorboards were wielded and nailed together with the help of professionals.

Volunteers helped her put together the gable end of the house.

The front exterior of the tiny house.
The front exterior of the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The sloping roof made working on the gable ends complicated.

"It was my first time putting things together that was larger than a small box," Atiqah said. "I think everything was new and challenging for me."

After Atiqah and her team installed window frames and a gutter, reinforced the walls, and cleaned up the veranda, the bulk of construction was complete.

Atiqah said installing solar panels was easy, compared to the rest of the house's construction.

Solar panels on the roof.
Solar panels on the roof.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Atiqah worked with Solar NRJ, an engineering company that works with installing and servicing solar panels, to obtain the materials. She said that while procuring parts to create a solar energy-run electrical system for her house was difficult, putting the system together was a breeze.

"It was just a matter of generating power when the sun is out, and storing it when it's most needed for the night," she said. "The challenge was in finding really good batteries. I resorted to using those clunky batteries that's similar to those you find in your car."

Atiqah equipped the house with an off-grid rainwater catchment system.

Meraki House, a tiny house just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Meraki House, a tiny house just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The system of installing a water catchment system was simple, Atiqah said, and comprised of five parts: the gutter, water tank, water pump, filtration, and tap.

"Parts for rainwater harvesting aren't really available in Malaysia," she said. "I had to do a lot of research to find one. But they're not very expensive to put up."

One of the most distinct features of Atiqah's house is the tall, glass windows.

The tiny house offers a panoramic view of the Malaysian jungle.
The tiny house offers a panoramic view of the Malaysian jungle.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

The glass windows cost a total of 13,200 Malaysia ringgit (almost $3,000).

"That's where I splurged," Atiqah said. "I knew I wanted to get floor to ceiling glass windows because I value those things, but for someone else, they could it really cheap if instead of glass it were concrete."

Her favorite part of the house is the balcony, which offers a view of the Malaysian jungle.

The view from the balcony.
The view from the balcony.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Atiqah said the tropical weather left her no choice but to build the house facing the south, in order to avoid facing the sun.

But the decision came with some unexpected perks.

"The view is amazing because its quite remote," Atiqah said. "We get one of the darkest skies in Malaysia so we get amazing starry night skies. And my friends and I would sit out on the balcony and look at the stars."

Atiqah is working on furnishing the house — it's still sparsely furnished, with few appliances.

The interior of the tiny house.
The interior of the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Since she travels often, Atiqah said that designing and furnishing the interior will take time.

"I was looking for a composting toilet and because I wanted a fancy one, I needed to get it from abroad," she said.

She hired professionals to fix up the house's plumbing, electrical wiring, and pest control.

Atiqah said that while tiny homes are still not mainstream in Malaysia, some locals have reached out to her in hopes of building their own tiny homes.

The living room in the tiny house.
The living room in the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

While news reports of tiny home owners in Malaysia have cropped up over the years, Atiqah said they are "very few in number."

"There's some interest but it's small," she said. "There are people who are really interested but not in the same way that it is in America, Australia, or even New Zealand."

Atiqah said the house has some imperfections because of her lack of experience, but that it was all worth it.

Inside the tiny house.
Inside the tiny house.Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

"I wanted me and my friends to each have a hand in it," she said. "So I know who built that wall, and that it's a little bit crooked — but it's great."

Read the original article on Insider