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Living large in a tiny home near Alexandria

A former Alexandria Area High School band director had always been intrigued by tiny houses so he bought one. He lived in it through one of the coldest winters in recent memory as well as having to quarantine during the pandemic.

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Casey Skalbeck, a former Alexandria Area High School band teacher, just sold the tiny house where he lived for two winters. It is less than 200 square feet. (Contributed)
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ALEXANDRIA — For two winters, Casey Skalbeck lived in a 196-square-foot tiny house near Lake Carlos, storing his belongings in drawers built into the steps that led to his sleeping loft.

The former Alexandria Area High School band director had always been intrigued by tiny houses. So when the high school shop and math students built two tiny homes, which they then offered for sale, he figured that if nobody else bought them by the end of the school year, he would buy one.

“I’ve always loved the idea of living in a tiny house," he said. "I really liked the idea of not maintaining a large house and not having a lot of stuff.”

The houses were still available at the end of the year so he snapped one up, living in it through one of the coldest winters in recent memory as well as having to quarantine during the pandemic.

Skalbeck sold the house last week after accepting a teaching job in Bloomington. He now lives in St. Paul. His agent, Russ Hinrichs, said they gave tours of the tiny house steadily for three days and received multiple offers.

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"It's a unique property," he said. "Finding a one-bedroom, one-bath house in Alexandria is challenging."

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Skalbeck said the tiny house kitchen was bigger than the kitchen in some of the apartments he has rented. (Contributed)

The house was similar in size to a small travel trailer. Skalbeck placed it on a half-acre lot on the west side of Lake Carlos, about a mile from the public access. He traded out the composting toilet for one connected to the sewer system. He hooked up the electricity, added closet space for hanging his dress clothes, and moved in.

It was great, he said. Cleaning was a breeze and it was low maintenance. He had a wall-mounted TV, a table for eating at and working on, a shower and a loft big enough for a queen-sized bed. The kitchen was actually bigger than some of the cooking areas in his past apartments with plenty of counter space.

“I did quite a bit of cooking, so it was actually very nice,” he said.

It even worked when his girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter visited with their dog. Any more people than that, though, was kind of pushing it.

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The tiny house bedroom was in a loft with a queen bed. (Contributed)

Still, he savored the puzzle-like way everything fit together and the efficient use of space.

“It felt kinda like the difference between painting a 6X6 inch portrait versus an entire wall," he said. "You can really focus on the details of the space and make it absolutely perfect, how you want it.”

The one bummer — and it was a big one — was during the intense cold snap in early 2020, when his pipes froze. He was gone at the time. The RV-sized furnace had been turning off sometimes so he had a friend check on it. The night-time check was fine, but when the friend returned in the morning, the furnace had shut off. Skalbeck hurried home. It took 12 hours to restore heat to the tiny house using space heaters and the gas stove.

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Casey Skalbeck

Another time he was concerned was this spring, when one of the tornadoes that swept through Alexandria in May came close to his house. He was gone then, too, and hurried home sure that the tiny house would be knocked on its side. It was fine, but because it lacks a foundation and storm shelter, he arranged to stay with a friend when the weather got hairy.

During the pandemic, he had to quarantine for two weeks, and that was the only time he started getting cabin fever, he said. It was winter, so he didn't want to go outside much.

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Casey Skalbeck was able to fit a couch and a TV into the 196-square-foot tiny home. (Contributed)

The house drew curious neighbors, and he gave them tours which took, he joked, all of three minutes.

“There might have been some concerns about it looking like a trailer or like someone was living in an RV," he said. "But once they saw it has the nice cedar finish, it looks like a small cabin.”

He said the lot had been vacant for years before he bought it.

"There’s an easement that runs down the edge of the property that you can’t build on and it’s already a narrow lot," he said. "The house you would build there would have to be creative. ... This is really one of the only things you can actually do with it.”

He added a small shed to the end of the tiny house where he parked the lawn mower. He included the lawnmower in the sale of the house, as well as the portable air conditioner, queen bed, television, and sofa. It did not include a laundry area.

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A lean-to shed on the back housed a lawn mower and other yard tools. (Contributed)

The house sold for more than the asking price of $75,000. Skalbeck said a property business bought it without even looking at it. An agent for the buyer, Krystale Fee of Baxter, Minnesota, said the company is owned by a married couple and she is not sure about their plans for the tiny home. It is built on a trailer bed so that it can be towed.

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Skalbeck said he would definitely live in a tiny home again, given the chance.

"It was the perfect thing for me. It really worked out well," he said. "I was always very content and very happy living there.”

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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