As a rule, Americans like their houses big. The United States Census Bureaureports thatin the year 2014, theaverage size of a new house in the U.S. wasmore than 2,400 square feet. American houses have more than twice as much space as British, Italian, or Japanese houses, and three times as muchas thosein Russia or China, according to the environmental website Shrink That Footprint.
Yet even as typicalnew housesgrow larger and larger, some Americans are bucking the trend. They’re choosing to live in houses with no more than500 square feet of space – less than one-quarter the size of the average new house.
This is the tiny house movement, and it’s a big deal.There are three TV shows dedicated to tiny houseliving – “Tiny House Hunters”and “Tiny House Builders”on HGTV, and “Tiny House Nation” on FYI – as well as a movie called “TINY: A Story of Living Small.” Tiny houses have been featured inCountry Living,The New Yorker, and YES! Magazine. The phrase “tiny houses”gets more than 240,000 searches on Google every month.
People have all kinds of reasons for choosing to live tiny. Some are looking for ways to own a home without a mortgage, some want a house they can take with them wherever they go, and some are just trying to tread more lightly on the Earth. Whatever their reasons, they’re part of a growing trend that’s gradually changingthe way Americans talk – and think – about home.
Types of Tiny Houses
Tiny houses come in a wide variety of shapes and styles. A tiny home can be a log cabin in the woods, a luxurious waterfront cottage, or even a repurposed shipping container.
Some examples include:
- Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. One of the best known manufacturers of tiny houses is the Tumbleweed Tiny HouseCompany. Its four basic house models all have wood exteriors, some rustic in style and some modern. They range in size from 117 to 221 square feet, and all of them are mounted on trailers for towing. Buyers canhave a house built to order or buy the plans and build their own.
- Tiny Texas Houses. Owners who want something a bit larger and more permanent can try Tiny Texas Houses. These come in two sizes,240 or 336 square feet, and are built entirely out of salvaged materials.Designed in a casual, rustic style, these houses are built in Luling, Texasand then shipped to the buyer’s site and installed.
- Shipping Container Homes. Another type of salvaged material used in tiny houses is metal shipping containers. Once these have served their purpose – carryinggoods from one location to another – it usually isn’t cost-effective to ship them back empty so they can be reused. Rather than letting them end up as scrap metal, tiny house manufacturers transform them into modern-looking prefab homes. One example is the G-Pod, which containsall the materials necessary to build the house inside acontainerthat can be shipped, unpacked, and assembled on-site.
- Tiny Luxury Homes. Although tiny houses are small, they don’t have to be simple. A story in Forbes features tiny luxury homes, tricked out with amenities such as home automation, surround sound, radiant in-floor heat, and tiny hot tubs. Although these houses are very expensive when priced by the square foot, they offer an opportunity to own a luxury home for as little as $35,000 – less than many luxury cars.
- Micro-Apartments. Some tiny homes aren’t even houses – they’re “micro-apartments” for rent. These tiny apartments – usually less than 400 square feet – offer single people just starting out the chance to afford a place in the city, where the rent on a full-sized apartment would be out of their price range.Micro-apartment buildings tend to feature amenities such as shared space for entertaining and storage, which helpmake up for the tiny size of the apartments themselves.
Tiny houses take the pros and cons of small house living to their extreme. Compared to the average house, or even a more normal small house, a tiny housegives youless of everything: less space, but also less expense, less maintenance, and less energy use.
On top of that, tiny houseshave a whole extra set of unique benefits and problemsrelated to their extremely small size. They can go places a regular house can’t – but in many communities, theycan’t stay inplaces where a regular house can.
Advantages of Tiny Houses
People who have live in tiny houses speak glowingly about their many benefits. They say living tiny has made their lives better in numerous ways, such as:
- Lower Expenses.A tiny house costs a lot less to build than a full-sized one.According to The Tiny Life, it’s possible to build atiny house for $23,000 on average. The average price for a full-sized house, by contrast, is $272,000 – more than 10 times as much. Cutting back on housing expenses enables tiny house owners to put more money toward luxuries (such as travel), save for retirementby using what you might have been spending on a house payment to put into an IRA with TD Ameritrade,or simply work less.
- No Mortgage. Most peoplecan’t afford to buy a house withouttaking out a mortgage, which only adds to the long-term cost. A 30-year mortgage at 4.5% interest raisesthe overall cost of the average house to$482,000. The Tiny Life reports that68% of tiny house owners own their homes free and clear, as compared to just 29% of all homeowners.
- Lower Energy Use. Tiny houses don’t just cost less upfront – they’re also much cheaper to maintain.Bills for electricity, fuel, water, and waste disposal are all much lower. In addition, it’s much easier to live off the grid in a tiny house, since you canheat the entire space with a small wood stove and power it withasmall solar array. Many tiny houses even have composting toilets, which break down waste without needing to be hooked up to a sewage system.
- Freedom of Movement. A tiny house has a small footprint, so it doesn’t require a large plot of land. In addition, many small houses are built on trailers, so their owners can take them along whenever they move to a new city. For many people, this is a way to enjoy a life on the road without giving up all the comforts of home.
- Easier Maintenance. A tinyhouse is easyto take care of. Withless space to clean and fewer appliances to repair, tiny house owners can spend less time on chores and more on their work, hobbies, and relationships.
- Harmony With Nature. The tiny house movement goes hand in hand with the environmental movement. Tiny houses require less material to build and less energyto power. Also, their small size makes themeasierto sitein a place that’s closeto nature.
- A Simpler Life. Atiny house doesn’t have room for any kind of excess stuff: bulgingwardrobes, elaborate electronics, and huge libraries of books and videos.Tiny homeowners pare their belongingsdown to the essentials, keeping only the itemsthat truly enrich their lives.
Disadvantages of Tiny Houses
Living in a tiny house isn’t completely idyllic. Any home with less than 500 square feet of space has a few obvious drawbacks – and a few others that are less obvious.
- Less Living Space. A tiny house doesn’t have room for a full-sized luxury kitchen or bathroom. Tiny house owners often have tomake do without a bathtub or full-sizedkitchen appliances, unless they’re willing to sacrifice other space for them. And while a tiny housemakes a comfortable home for one or two people, it canget crowded witha whole family sharing such asmall space. It’s especially difficult for families with teenagers, who want more privacy for doing homework and hanging out with friends.
- Less Storage Space. For most families, movinginto a tiny house means getting rid of a lot of belongings, and not all of them are unnecessary junk. Episodes of “Tiny House Nation” show downsizing families reluctantly giving up some of their favorite possessions: kids’ toys, home brewing equipment,exercise equipment, and most of a prized shoe collection. One coupleeven has to give up two cats they’ve had since before they were married, because the cats can’tlive peacefully together in such a small space.
- Limited Entertaining Capability. It clearly isn’t possible to host a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people when your table can barely seat four, or have your in-laws come to visit when there’s no room for an extra bed. Many tinyhouse owners try tomake up for these problems by adding more outdoor living space, such as a hot tub or a deck for picnics. Some even build a secondtiny house to use as a guest cabin.
- Zoning Rules. Although a tiny house doesn’t require much land, many towns make it difficult to build one. Zoning laws often include a minimum size fordwellings, and a 200-square-foot tiny house isn’t usually big enough to make the cut. To get around these rules, some tiny house owners buy a full-sized house, rent it out, and then park their tiny houses in the backyard as either “outbuildings” or “vehicles.” Trailer parks can also provide a home for a tiny house.
- Financing. For those who can’t afford to buy or build a tiny house for cash, getting a loan is more challenging than it is for other home buyers. It usually isn’t possible to take out a standard mortgage loan, because banks don’t consider a tiny house to have enough value to make good collateral. Some tiny house buyers are able to finance their houses with personal loans from a company like SoFi, while others borrow money from friends and family members. Another approach is touse a home equity line of credit from Figure.com. Once the line of credit on your current home is paid off, you can sell and move into your tiny home full time.
Who Lives in Tiny Houses
Tiny houses appeal to a surprisingvariety of people.Some tiny house owners are single, while others share their tiny homes with their partners or families. Some live out in the country, some park their tiny houses in town, and some cluster together in tiny house communities. Their stories illustratethe wide variety of reasons people have for living tiny, and the wide variety of benefits they get from the arrangement.
A Tiny Solo Life
Ryan Mitchell, who runsThe Tiny Life, lives in a 150-square-foot house in Charlotte, North Carolina. He built the entire house with his own hands, working nights and weekends over the course of about a year. Even though he had no previous experience with construction, the only parts he hired a professional for were the roof and the electrical system.
Mitchell’s house isparked on a 32-acre parcel of land in the city,whichhe leases from a friend for a nominal fee. He keeps it tucked out of sight in the woods, sinceit’s technically illegal for him to keep it there; after several rounds of back-and-forth with the authorities trying to get a building permit, the localcode enforcement officer finally advised him to take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. The house is mostly off the grid, with propane appliances, solar panels, a composting toilet, and a greywater system to process the waste water from the shower and sink. The only utilities he receives from the city are his water and cable internet.
Mitchell says living tiny has dramatically lowered his cost of living, enabling him to pay off most of his debts and start a business. He has more free time, more money in the bank, and lower stress. He loves being able to “take long walks most days, take more vacations, and have lunches and dinners with family more often.”
Living Tiny With Kids
Two familiesinterviewed in YES! Magazinetalk about the challenges of sharing a tiny house with kids. Kim and RyanKaslof Minnestota share a 207-square-foot tiny house with their two children, ages six and four. Ryansays the kids absolutely love their tiny home and have had no complaints about giving up their bedrooms and many of their toys.
The Kasls’ tiny house is not only their home but also their kids’ school. Kim says having less work to do at home gives her more time for teaching, and the small space forcesher to be more creative in her choice of activities. The kids’ education includes nature walks, field trips, visits to the children’s theater and science museum, and visits torelatives who teach them about sewing, construction, and raising animals.
The other family, Andrew and Gabriella Morrison of Oregon, share a 207-square foot tiny home –plus an additional 110 feet of sleeping loft space – with their teenagedaughter, Terra. Theirson Paiute has moved out, but for a while the four of themshared the small space, and Andrew says it made them much closer as a family. He admits that they have “clashes” like any other family, but living in such close quarters forces them to communicate and work through them.It also helps that the house has“guest cabins” for visitors, allowingthe kids to have sleepovers with friends or to enjoy a little private time.
Some tiny house owners band together to form tiny house communities, with several houses parked together on a single lot. One example is the Simply Home Community, a group of four tiny houses parked behind a full-sized house in Portland, Oregon. Thefour owners met through agroup for tiny house owners in Portland and decided to shop together for a housewith a large yard where they could keep all their “tinies.” They eventually boughta house and went through a lengthy permitting process to extend itsplumbingand powerlines into the back yard for the tiny houses.
The community now includes the four tiny house owners plus three more people who share the main house. As a group, they share outdoor space, including a garden and fruit trees, which they work together to maintain.Tony Diethelm, one of the owners, explainson the Sustainable Cities Collective website how the group “spent many months hashing out community agreements” about such matters as pets and shared chores. The members all get together regularly for meetings and dinners to hash out any problems and keep their collectiverunning smoothly.
A much larger community, Quixote Village, comprises 30 tiny cottages spread across a two-acre lot in Olympia, Washington. Owned and managed by a nonprofit organization called Panza, it provides permanent housing for formerly homeless adults, including those with mental and physical disabilities. The village started out as a homeless tent camp, known as Camp Quixote. Eventually it managed to build its permanent home at Quixote Village with the help of a variety of grants and donations, including a cheap $1-a-year lease on the land.
Each 144-square-foot tiny house in Quixote Village housesone person, and a larger community building holdsa common kitchen, showers, laundry, and meeting and gathering rooms.Residents pay one-third of their monthly income – whatever thatis – in rent and share responsibility for maintaining the village’s common areas, including a vegetable garden and a berry patch. They continue to live by a code of conduct they established back in their Camp Quixote days, electing their own leaders and holding regular meetings and community dinners.
Not all tiny communities are equally successful, however. Boneyard Studios in Washington, D.C., was a tiny house “showcase community” with three tiny houses parked on a 0.9-acre lot behind a graveyard.This community had legal problems from the start, as the city would allow the tiny houses to park in this legally “nonbuildable” lot but wouldn’t recognize them as officialresidences. Eventually, according to NPR, the three owners “had an ugly falling out” and separated, although two of them still hope toreassemble their tiny house community in a new spot.
Resources for Tiny Living
If you’re interested in joining the tiny house movement, or just learning more about it, your first stop should be The Tiny Life.Here you’ll find information on all sorts of topics related to tiny house living, such as:
- Designing andbuilding a tiny house
- Finding land for your tiny house
- Setting up utilities
- How much it costs to build a tiny house
- Barriers to tiny house living and how to overcome them
- Floor plans for tiny houses
- How to transport a tiny house
- E-books on home wiring, building codes and zoning laws, and retiring in a tiny house
If you’dlike to see plansof actual tiny houses, you can buy them fromTheTumbleweed Tiny House Company,Tiny Texas Houses, orTiny House Design. Tiny Texas Houses also offers a set of plans free of charge when yousign up for the companynewsletter.
If you’re more interested in having a house built and delivered to you, you can shop on theTumbleweed siteor Tiny Texas Houses, or check out the list of builders atTiny House Listings. This site can also help you find existing tiny houses to buy or rent in your area.
If you’d like to give tiny house living a try on a short-term basis, you can renta tiny house for your next vacation. Tiny House Vacations has listings that you can search by type, occupancy, location, or price. Finally, if youwantto see some more examples of how people actually live in tiny houses, check out the show“Tiny House Nation” on FYI.
Living in a tiny house isn’t for everyone. Anyone who is claustrophobic or is deeply attached to belongings that take up lots of room won’t feel comfortable in a space this small. And of course, the bigger your family, the harder it is to live together in a tiny space – though there are various ways to work around that problem.
In general, tiny living works best for those who arewilling to abandon the widespread social idealthat “bigger is better” and replace it with “less is more.” That is, having less space, and less stuff to fill it, means more money, more freedom, and more time for the things that matter most. That’s the ethos of the tiny house movement, and the key to its appeal.
Wouldyou like tolive in a tiny house?
The tiny-house movement is an architectural and social movement that advocates for downsizing living spaces, simplifying, and essentially "living with less."What are some cons of tiny houses? ›
- Less Living Space. A tiny house doesn't have room for a full-sized luxury kitchen or bathroom. ...
- Less Storage Space. ...
- Limited Entertaining Capability. ...
- Zoning Rules. ...
Tiny house communities foster a strong sense of community and belonging. Living close to people who have the same values and goals as you does make for a helpful and close-knit community. Community events, meetings, and shared places help people meet each other, work together, and make friends that last.What are the three benefits of a tiny home? ›
- Ease of Cleaning. Cleaning 400 square feet is certainly easier and less time-consuming than 2000 square feet of space. ...
- Easier Customization. A tiny house is also easier to customize than a normal-sized house. ...
- Tiny House Living Improves Your Well-Being.
Less Space Makes Tiny House Storage a Challenge
Having a small home means way less storage for leftover foods, no more shopping at Costco and no buying in bulk, there's a limit to guests, you find yourself cleaning all the time because one thing out place equates to massive clutter in your tiny home.
The tiny house movement is continuing to grow as more people are attracted to its minimalist lifestyle, cost-efficiency, and environmental sustainability. There are now countless tiny house ideas, ranging from converted shipping containers to custom-built homes on wheels.Why are people moving into tiny homes? ›
Tiny homes are less expensive to build and maintain, provide mobility when built on a trailer, and yield a reduced environmental impact. At an individual level, to live 'tiny' necessitates taking a closer inventory of our wants and needs.Why are people against tiny homes? ›
There's No Space To Expand Your Family
A tiny home that works for individuals might not work for couples. And, what works for a couple might not accommodate a baby and the supplies that come along with having one. Even bringing a pet into the mix can overcrowd your tiny space.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. ...
- Save money. ...
- Live like a minimalist. ...
- Improve your lifestyle. ...
- Test out a small space. ...
- Start downsizing. ...
- Start designing. ...
- Be patient.
Tiny homes have a tiny footprint
They also have much greater flexibility for positioning on site, meaning you can take advantage of any passive heating and cooling potential and find the best way to hook into existing services, live off-grid, pay back into the grid, or use renewable energy sources more easily.
Tiny homes can last between 30 and 50 years with careful maintenance. Naturally, many different things will affect this, such as the materials used to build it and the construction method. A tiny home without a base typically breaks down faster than those on wheels.Are tiny homes good for retirement? ›
You Want Homeownership Without the Maintenance
But if you want to be a homeowner without the stress of constant upkeep, a tiny house can be perfect. Smaller size means minimal maintenance and less time cleaning, which allows the perfect amount of freedom for you to pursue your interests in retirement.
Small houses use fewer building materials. An ordinary house requires about seven truckloads of lumber whereas a tiny house requires half of one truckload. This means fewer trees cut down for lumber, less fuel used in transporting materials, and other associated benefits.
Conclusion. There is little doubt that living in a tiny house will save you money. In fact, 58% of people who live in tiny houses have about $11,200 more saved in the bank than the average American and 65% of them have no credit card debt.What are the biggest issues with tiny homes? ›
- In a tiny house build, you're going to be thinking a lot about poop. ...
- Zoning laws are no little problem for tiny houses. ...
- Tiny house builds are not cheap. ...
- Obtaining insurance for tiny houses can be difficult. ...
- Tiny house occupants need storage space.
Living in a smaller, more energy-efficient home with fewer belongings helps them reduce waste. In fact, a tiny home uses only about 7% of the energy that a traditional house does. Even if you're not totally off the grid, tiny homes can help you live sustainably, especially if you install solar panels or use wind power.What are the challenges of living in a tiny house? ›
- You'll have less storage space. ...
- You'll have less personal space. ...
- You must be up to date with the laws. ...
- You must get creative. ...
- You'll have to sort out your things. ...
- You'll have to learn to do more with less.