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Tiny Houses Are Becoming A Big Trend

Not everyone wants a big, grand house. For many who think less is more, tiny houses are becoming a big trend that promise a simpler, less expensive, less cluttered lifestyle. But tiny houses can come with some big challenges, too.

The Tiny Home Movement

The idea of thoughtfully-designed little house has been around for a while, fueled by authors like architect Sarah Susanka, who writes about housing quality over quantity. A tiny house is typically one that is 500 square feet or less (about 46 square meters).

Tiny House

Tiny hoouses have a footprint that is typically 500 square feet or less

Tiny houses tap into a an appeal that many feel for simple lifestyles, good design and economic freedom. To their fans, tiny houses are less costly, environmentally friendly housing solutions that deliver maximum functionality from minimal form.

As the interest in tiny homes grows, some are even referring to it as a movement. Dedicated conferences and events about the topic are emerging in progressive cities like Portland and Charlotte, while social media sites are filled design ideas for tiny houses (see a list of sources, below).

The tiny homes movement comes at a time when the size of the average U.S. home has increased by 1000 square feet  since 1973, despite the fact that the average household size has decreased during the same period (from 3.01 to 2.54 persons). Tiny homes today account for less than 1% of the overall U.S. home market.

Tiny Houses Have Design Challenges

Tiny home owners often obsess over every cubic foot of space in their home as they seek to optimize functionality and comfort. Some owners design their homes to have lofts and ladders, cubby spaces, tiny porches and other features that are both functional and visually appealing.

Tiny Home

A 500 square tiny house with a 7 foot ceiling has just 3,500 cubic feet of space, compared to 18,753 cubic feet for the average U.S. home.

Owners can use simple solutions to adapt to the smaller scale of tiny homes, including:

  • Jettison excess, underutilized possessions
  • Furniture and appliances that are smaller scale
  • Adjacent outdoor spaces as “outdoor rooms” when the weather permits it
  • Clever tricks to expand interior spaces (lofts, cubbies) and extend the livable space outdoors with patios or decks

Those seeking furniture and appliance ideas for a tiny house can refer to some of the solutions that tiny apartment dwellers use in “micro apartments“.

Beware Of Downsides

Tiny homes make sense in a great many ways, but caution should be made not to over-romanticize them. Some who have lived in tiny homes for long periods cite practical downsides, including:
  • Consumer products scaled for traditional homes suddenly loom large in a tiny one
  • Since fewer objects can fit in a tiny home, those that do – thinks like rugs and furniture – suffer from wear at an accelerated rate
  • Cooking smells tend to fill tiny houses and can linger there
  • Once-small pets become huge

Costs Vary, Depending On Design And Details

Varying widely in price, tiny homes can cost as little as a few thousand dollars for an owner-built home (excluding the price of land), or as much as $100,000 or more for one with high-end materials designed and built by professionals.  Lower cost tiny homes are especially appealing to those who seek financial independence or shun mortgages.

Tiny homes can also be built (or bought) on a trailer, providing owners with tiny portable homesteads that can be moved with ease. Costs for trailer-borne tiny homes vary. Those that are owner-built can cost under $12,000 (for a very basic house), while professionally-built ones can cost much more- as much as $40,000 – or more.

 Zoning Challenges

The biggest hurdle to tiny home ownership can be the local planning board or regional planning authority. In some towns, strict planning rules call for minimum home sizes and lot sizes, while also regulating water, electricity and sewage hookups.  Navigating such rules and regulations is the responsibility of the tiny homeowner, and can present a major challenge for those planning to build a tiny house.

tiny houses 3

One way that tiny homeowners have tried to circumvent zoning regulations is by putting their homes on wheels, so that the tiny house becomes categorized as a trailer. While this approach may solve some zoning problems, many towns regulate trailer usage, and may require that a tiny house on wheels be moved periodically.

More About Tiny Homes

It’s great fun to look at all the designs and ideas that people have about tiny homes. Pinterest, Reddit and Flipboard each feature a wealth of tiny home content.  There’s even a small house society.

However, a Harvard startup may have come up with the best way to test your proclivity for a tiny home. The Getaway house is an ultra-small (160 square feet) cabin on wheels designed by architects and located deep in the woods of New Hampshire.

For $99 a night you can test the depths of your love for off-the-grid living in a tiny house.  Conceived at the The Harvard Innovation Lab in partnership with The Millennial Housing Lab, more tiny houses will be built by the startup  in the future.

small houses

Research Tip: Try Pinterest, Reddit and Flipboard To See Design Ideas For Tiny Houses – Or Search Google Using  The Hashtag #tinyhomes To Find Content From Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and others.


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