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The Tiny House Movement

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by

Austin Griffin

on 19 December 2013

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Transcript of The Tiny House Movement

Benefits of Tiny Homes: The Efficiencies
Drawbacks of Tiny Homes
Can I get one right now?
Yes, but you're going to want to research and consider a few things first:
Rent, buy, or make?
Owner-built, consulted, or professionally-built?
Plans or your own design?
Kits or your own materials?
On grid or off grid?
Legal or illegal?
Wheeled or stationary? (Or a boat?)
Do you have any good friends with big yards?

Conclusion
What Is the Tiny House Movement?
THE TINY HOUSE MOVEMENT
What is a "tiny house?"
Historical Context
The average U.S. house size (in sq ft) has gone from 1000 sq ft in 1950 to 2000 in 2000, up now to 2400 sq ft.
Building permits are at a 5-year high for new homes.
Average # of people per household has been dropping for 50 years. (Now 2.6)
Energy costs aren't getting any cheaper.
Average U.S. House Size 1950s on.
U.S. Energy Consumption 1950-2000
Do the data and consumption line up?
What might
be a solution?
Tiny houses - common characteristics.
Usually under (or just at) 1000 sq ft (the 1950 average house size).
Almost always handmade, owner built, or built by small companies.
Can be split into four informal categories by size, from largest to smallest: Cottage (up to 1000 sq ft or more), Classic (100-300 sq ft), Micro/Pico (under 100 sq ft), Short-term (Wee Shelters) (even less than 100 sq ft - includes reading shacks).
Note - These categories are just one way to understand tiny homes, apart from the panoply of styles, materials, etc.
"I never really make a definitive definition of what is small and what constitutes a small house." -Jay Shafer, founder/designer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
The definition stems not from the actual house, but the deliberate choice of the owner (usually builder) of simplifying, reducing, and becoming more efficient (whether for economic, conscious, or other reasons).
But
really
, what's a tiny house?
Some Examples of Tiny Houses
What is the tiny house movement?
Movement traced back to Henry David Thoreau and his cabin in
Walden
in 1854.
The surge in automobile ownership in the 1920s brought "autohomes" that were handmade.
Others see backlash against suburban ideals in the 1960s with a resurgence in the 1990s.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." -H. D. Thoreau, Walden.
“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.”― Albert Einstein
"If you own a rug, you own too much." - Jack Kerouac

THE MOVEMENT IN QUOTES
What about now?
NOW
The small house (tiny house) movement can be seen having surged in the past decade due to rising energy costs, global climate change concerns, aging Baby Boomer Generation, and economic downturn.
It's almost all online - including ebooks, blogs (lots of blogs), house plans, forums, etc. BUT - actual workshops are appearing in more states.
Ecological
A large part of the tiny house movement is reducing (quite literally) the owner's carbon footprint.
Due to their artisan nature and small size, tiny homes frequently utilize much more sustainable, eco-friendly, or local materials and products in their designs.
This of course includes things like No-VOC paint (and even some milk-based paint), sustainable wood, solar systems, etc.
For instance: "Ecovative" Myco-insulation. Insulation that is fire-resistant, incredibly efficient, and biodegradable (and won the first Cradle to Cradle design award) - it's made of mushrooms.
Energy
Due mostly to their size, tiny homes are incredibly energy efficient.
The 2012 average monthly consumption of electricity for the residential customer in the South Atlantic region (EIA's designation for FL, DC, NC, SC, DE, VA, MD, & WV) was
1,079 kWh.
The average monthly bill for 2012?
$122.71
Assuming the house size is the national average,
2400 sq ft
, then this works out to be about
.45 kWh per sq ft
per month to run the household and everything in it.
Using the Tumbleweed Tiny Home as an average (tiny homes are all across the board in materials, styles, and quality), most people have utility bills that range from
$10 to $35 a month.
(Yes,
all
utilities - electric, water, sewer, and propane).
Many tiny houses also include solar systems built in which, if installation is not counted here, bring the electricity bill down to $0 or close.
Heating is almost always a nautical propane heater.
Economic
The average price for a new house in 2012 was: $272,900.
The mortgage for this house ran an average of: "$222,261 with a $1,061 average monthly payment for a 30-year mortgage at 4 percent." - Lending Tree, Nat'l Ass'n of Realtors.
Of course, this is assuming you're in the market for a new house.
The average tiny house? Depends on the size, materials, builder, etc, but an Elm tiny home (the "classic"), purchased ready made, is $57,000 with 10% down with a 6% APR on a 15 year loan. Or, $433/mo.
Law
Housing Code enforcement disrupts tiny home building. (focus on "enforcement").
"Habitable dwelling" and "habitable room" standards require minimum square footage, certain kinds of plumbing (some T/H are off grid), etc.
Bathroom is conisdered one of biggest problems to get past the housing codes.
Of course, most of the enforcement is on a complaint-based system. You're at the mercy of your neighbors.
Conceivably, though, you could live illegally on your friend's land and not have these problems.
Can be overcome using a trailer in (many) instances (DMV v. Building Council).
Loans
Banks don't want to loan money for Tiny Houses - it's too small for a mortgage and not as recognizable.
insurance assessment is usually dismal, as well.
If wheels are on your tiny house, you can get an RV loan BUT you will have to build it according to RV specs (which can be exacting).
Some manufacturers, like Tumbleweed, offer their own loan programs, but most others do not, due to the artisan nature of the structures.
Land
Tiny houses are frequently built on wheels because zoning regulations require larger houses or won't allow such a structure to be placed on that area.
Variances can be sought and received, but these are frequently expensive and take a long time to get (if you do at all).
Permits for building (if foundation, not wheels) are only allowed for buildings up to code - specifically with size.
Still somewhat a niche market
Affects price, accessibility, legal changes (for zoning and the like).
Apart from Tumbleweed, Four Lights, Zip Shelter, and IKEA, there are not many options for pre-made tiny homes.
Most are owner built, which creates an assumed DIY culture that can be intimidating for newly interested parties.
Prices are high partially because of the niche aspect of the market.
Doubtful that this will change in a big way any time soon, looking at housing size growth on average, but the # of t/h is growing.
Social Stigma
This social stigma can be seen in the local land ordinances/inspection laws but also in mainstream culture.
Consumerism/ Expansionism is still the dominant cultural trend and tiny houses go directly against that.
The question many will ask is "are all tiny house owners granola-eating, mantra-chanting Hippie Communists? (The answer is no, but it can be a deterrent, if it "looks weird" to do).
Interestingly, not even in Portland, OR (a hotspot for tiny house enthusiasts), you are not allowed to "front" your home - that is, make it visible on the street.
Since most are handmade, you can control the expenses and seek out salvage. Some have been built for only $4000.
A big reason why many switch.
A $4k Vardo
Built by Single Mom for $4k
288 sq ft
But NO Mortgage
Psychological Efficiency?
Tiny House owners tend to list among their benefits not a "quantifiable" efficiency but a sense of organization, well-being, and peace from the ability to have "just what you need" and no more.
Obviously, the "tyranny of stuff" referred to by some minimalists is minimal here. You just don't have the room.
Plus, many tiny homes are mobile, allowing for spur of the moment travel.
Questions to consider...
With energy and resource prices rising, savings falling, and global climate change looming, is the tiny house movement a possible solution for some people?
Is a tiny house more energy and resource efficient than the average American household?
And further, can you actually go about building or buying and if so, what are the benefits and drawbacks?
What are the legal issues that can arise with Tiny Houses?
And how might they be overcome?
“This is my tiny house."
V.S.
“This is just an enclosed trailer parked here that meets all the road
safety qualifications."

When the inspector comes by.
Most tiny home dwellers live currently under the legal radar.
$75 million, 90k sq ft.
I think that one of the biggest benefits is one of the biggest opponents of tiny homes.
Tiny Homes offer a different, counter-cultural way of living which provide some very clear benefits of efficiency and peace of mind. They are more flexible than the traditional suburban home, but have distinct drawbacks that must be considered and remedied for their widespread use.
However, just as the almighty dollar has prevented their spread, the dollar can react to an increase in tiny homes as well.

Any Questions?
According to the owner/builder's blog, this was built for $11,900 (so far, they're almost done).
Don't want one? Other Uses for Tiny Homes
Dormitories
Hotels (in Portland, OR)
Nursing Homes
Homeless Shelters (on the smaller side).
Office space for telecommuting
Small-scale business space.
In-Law suites.
Retiree housing.
Disaster Relief (already proven).


“1. Most cities are “complaint driven enforcement” meaning if your neighbors don’t say anything, they don’t
seek you out.

2. In 2012 and 2013 most cities started cutting back their code enforcement staff and they’d rather leave you alone.

3. If you maintain an address at a traditional home, its hard for them to prove you live in the tiny house.

4. They won’t say it, but they think tiny houses are awe-
some and the wave of the future.

5. Most campgrounds limit your stay to 14-21 days, but if
you have two campgrounds in town you can alternate
until one of them likes you enough to invite you to stay.
Private campgrounds are more willing to do this.”


"The Not So Big House"
Sarah Susanka, American Architect, is credited on starting the modern (90s to 00s) movement with her book series, The Not So Big House (pub. 1992).
Full transcript