Meet the 103rd Certified Living Wage Employer: Tiny Timber, LLC

The history of Tiny Timber began with Buzz Dolph, originally a stone setter, who always found pleasure derived from actively working, building whatever he could. Buzz could be described as a person who was never idle, constantly keeping his hands busy with more than one building project at a time. The idea that became Tiny Timber could perhaps be due to the fact that sometimes a passion, turns into a hobby, which then flourishes into the foundation of what could be a well marketed business. For example, as this writer understands it, it started out with constructing vacation rentals for Stone Quarry House, which he operates with his wife. For a visual backstory, the offices of Tiny Timber off Quarry Road in the Town of Dryden are nestled up a gravel driveway, where basic timber structures built as getaway vacation homes were beta developmental structures and are the erected outline for the finished product of Tiny Timber’s endeavours.

Tiny Timber worked with Noah Demarest, an architect from Stream Collaborative, to participate in the original construction of these minimalist structures. Buzz and Noah saw the potential to make these formidable little structures for a more widespread use, and the ability to proliferate these plans to create a business for homebuilding. This was a new beginning for Buzz, as he planned on going into retirement. Let us consider for a moment how exorbitantly expensive housing is in the Ithaca area: one of the goals of Tiny Timber is addressing that issue. Tiny Timber’s idea is finding a niche market to create more affordable housing. The homes are basic timber structures with a rough aesthetic. This stripped down notion requires less cost to construct, is simpler to construct, with a unique look that is easy on the eyes. All of their houses are designed as kits. The way that they are architecturally drawn is that there is a cut list for each structural piece made at a mill on a sort of production line, cutting down on the time required to assemble to homes. Each aspect to the house is constructed like an erector set, or legos.

Putting each component together before leading to a final product again cuts down on costs by reducing time in for labour passing savings down to future residents. The end goal is approximately seven weeks to completion of the homes from the original start in the mill. This helps out the community, as well as environmental sustainability by cutting down on the carbon footprint. The long terms goal of Tiny Timber is to make the process viable, beyond their own community.

Their approach toward becoming a Living Wage Employer has to do with the morality of the whole thing: it should be a right to make more than minimum wage, and they feel paying less than a living wage would be exploiting the labor force. You must work to live, not live to work. They also look to the morale aspect. If they treat their employees with dignity and respect, they strive to do well and are more productive workers. A twist to all of this is that Tiny Timber is a worker-owned company. All employees are at least a 1% shareholder in the company, in addition to wages, therefore the more revenue that the company generates the more money can go into the pocket of the labor force that carries out the work. The management feels as if they are in business with the labor force: creating the end product is something that they work on together, making the collective feel as if they are all part of something rather than simply individuals working toward the end of a day to clock out.

They envision that business should play toward a better sense of humanity, and compassion for those who work, and want to have a healthy lifestyle, and moreover be able to afford it. They think, in a practical approach, that employers will be happier when workers are not as stressed out leading to higher productivity therefore more profitable companies. You must treat someone right if you want an employee to stay. Overall, fight for what you believe in.

Tiny Timber employs workers including carpenters, masons, electricians, people who can use construction equipment, truck drivers. When they expand they use Craigslist and look for people whose philosophy matches their own, feeling it creates better cohesion within a working environment. They look for people who are ideally self motivated and have the drive and excitement and the ability to work in an environment that not only creates cohesion between start and finish but between each other. If they are excited to work for the company the company is excited to have the worker with them.

Giving Tiny Timber a culture of its own, they collectively all have a drive to provide something new and unique. To further their stance it is ecologically friendly, and good for the community by creating affordable lodging, which just makes the people within the company feel good.

The Living Wage in Tompkins County is studied every two years by the Alternatives Federal Credit Union Biennial Living Wage Study, and the 2017-2018 update will be announced at a press conference on Friday August, 18. If you are a business or organization who pays at least a Living Wage, you can apply to the Tompkins County Workers’ Center for Certification to recognize your commitment to fair pay for workers. If you have any questions about how your business (or employer) can get certified, contact TCWC at (607) 269-0409 or

by Brandon Douglas