Couple built floating tiny home and won’t go back to living on land


Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. The couple built a floating home in the middle of a lake in North Carolina. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses Sarah Spiro and Brandon Jones live in a floating tiny house on a North Carolina lake.The couple estimate they spent about $90,000 building their floating home.”Our only bill, since we’re off-grid, is the $5,000 a year for our mooring fee,” Spiro said.

For a couple who enjoy water sports and spent most of their dates on Fontana Lake in North Carolina, a floating house was the perfect place to call home.

“We would pass by these floating cabins all the time. And in my mind, I was always thinking, ‘Gosh, what do I have to do in life to get one of those?'” Sarah Spiro, 27, told Business Insider. “That would be my ultimate dream — having all my hobbies right at my doorstep.”

Luckily for Spiro and her partner, Brandon Jones, 40, they managed to turn that dream into reality three years ago when they bought their first floating home on the lake.

Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro built a floating home on a lake. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

It was a complete renovation: While the roof and the studs of the home were original, almost everything else had to be replaced. “It wasn’t livable at all, so we had a lot of work to do,” Spiro said.

But after two years, the couple had an opportunity to build a new, bigger floating home from scratch — and they jumped on it.

“It seemed like a win for us because we could size up slightly, have a guest room and a place to host our friends and family,” Spiro said.

The couple on the front deck of their first floating home. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

This also gave them a chance to rent their first, smaller floating home for extra cash — which they did for one summer — before they decided to sell it off, she said. “We ultimately realized that we’re just not landlords. It’s so much work.”

Building a new floating home

There are strict rules about building floating houses on Fontana Lake, which is managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“You still have to buy an existing one in order to build a new one,” Spiro said.

Spiro posing on a floating platform where the couple planned to build their home. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

In their case, there was a permit for a floating house to exist on a specific spot on the lake, but the structure didn’t exist anymore because it had collapsed and was removed some years ago, she added. All the couple had to do was buy over the permit.

The TVA didn’t respond to BI’s inquiry regarding the number of floating homes on Fontana Lake, but the Asheville Citizen-Times reported there were an estimated 400.

Spiro said there were only about 20 homes in the harbor where the couple live.

“There are about five harbors in total on the lake, and this one, by far, is the least populated. There are a couple of them that have 150 or more — they’re kind of like small towns,” she added.

A progress photo of the floating-home construction. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses Two months from start to finish

The couple took only two months to build their new 360-square-foot floating home, which came with 400 square feet of dock space outside.

While having prior renovation experience helped, Spiro said the biggest motivation for them to complete the build quickly was needing to finish it before their jobs got busy. They said things would get busier with work between late spring and fall.

The couple installing their ceilings. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

Spiro works as a guide at an outdoor adventure company, while Jones is a marina manager at the Fontana Lake marina.

“It was really quick, but we were working on our house every single day, eight to 10 hours a day, just nonstop,” Spiro said.

The couple lived in their previous home — in the same area of the lake — during those two months of construction.

“That was another big motivation to get the house done because we were thinking, every single day that we’re still living in the previous place, we can’t be renting it out,” Spiro said.

The couple’s floating home. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses How living on the water works

Spiro estimated that they spent about $90,000 building their floating home.

“We didn’t do a great job of keeping track of everything,” she added.

Apart from the house permit, the couple also have to pay a $5,000 mooring fee yearly. Spiro said the mooring fee varied across the different harbors, depending on the amenities they offer.

The entrance to their floating home. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

“We have a place to dock that’s included in that, so we can come and go from our cars,” she said. “It also gives us water — we have city water that’s run underwater from the marina.”

Fontana Lake is nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. The couple live about 40 minutes away from the nearest small town, Robbinsville.

The challenges of building in the middle of nowhere

The logistics involved in securing and transporting construction materials were the most challenging part of the project, Spiro said.

The primary living area is right by the entryway to the house. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

“We’re about an hour and 15 minutes to the nearest Lowe’s, which is our biggest hardware store here,” she said. “It’s a couple hours round trip already, and then you have to unload them onto a boat and get them out to the house.”

Spiro added that if they ever forgot something at the store, there was no way they could run back quickly to get it.

A tranquil life

Their current floating home — although larger than the previous one — is still considered a tiny house. Tiny houses usually range from 60 to 400 square feet.

But one thing Spiro said she loved about this house was the high ceilings, which help open up the space.

The windows they installed all around the home also mean they get great views of the water.

The kitchen. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

“I just love that no matter what you’re doing, you can look out the window and have this super peaceful view — even if you’re just doing dishes,” Spiro added.

While she admitted this lifestyle wasn’t for everyone, she said it was perfect for her and Jones — so much so that they had no plans to go back to living in a normal house.

“I guess it depends on the person, but for us, we would never go back,” she added. “It beats living on land.”

Not only does she get to enjoy all the lake activities at her doorstep, but she said living in a floating house was also much more affordable.

An overview of the bedroom and the living room of the floating house. Both rooms are separated by a partition wall. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

It would have been difficult to get a house for $90,000, Spiro said. And even if they did, it probably wouldn’t have included the cost of the land, she added.

“And here, I just feel like we have a really beautiful, brand-new house that we’re so happy with that’s totally paid off,” she said.

“Our only bill, since we’re off-grid, is the $5,000 a year for our mooring fee,” she continued, adding that this excluded other “little things” they paid for, such as their Netflix subscription.

The primary bedroom. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses Changing perspectives

Living on water has opened Spiro’s mind to other forms of alternative living.

“We have big dreams of one day living on a sailboat, for instance. And I think five years ago, I would’ve thought that was crazy,” Spiro said. But now that she’s living in a floating house, the sailboat idea no longer seems so far-fetched.

“A lot of times, it’s not as crazy as you think, once you kind of get the hang of it,” she added.

Satisfaction also comes from being able to broaden other people’s perspectives on social media, including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

The loft. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

Although they started posting about their life on water as a way to keep their friends and family in the loop, they’ve since gained a considerable number of viewers who are interested in their lifestyle.

They have 147,000 followers on Instagram and 189,900 followers on TikTok.

“A lot of people thought that it was really cool,” Spiro said. “It was also encouraging to see how many people had an open mind to something different and were just genuinely curious about how things work.”

Check local regulations before diving into this lifestyle The couple live with their dog, Iko. Brandon Jones and Sarah Spiro/keepingafloatwiththejoneses

For those who want to live on a floating home, Spiro said it was important to check local regulations before rushing into building one.

“This isn’t allowed in most places, unfortunately. So don’t just see that we did it and think you can go out and do it,” she said. “But as long as you can find a place that allows this, I would say absolutely go for it.”

She said it wasn’t all that different from a normal house, and most people would be surprised to find out what a comfortable way of living it actually is.

“Just give it a shot. And if you don’t like it, I can guarantee you somebody else will. You’ll certainly have good resale value since these aren’t super common,” she added.

Have you recently bought or renovated your home and want to share the details and photos of the process? Email this reporter, Amanda Goh, at agoh@businessinsider.com.





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