Tiny homes: Living large by living small

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"Tiny homes: Living large by living small"

Today’s guest blogger is D. Salmons.

Today the trend for the environment-conscious consumer is to live in more modest means. Instead of searching out the next McMansion, we are looking for practical size homes that are easier to maintain and has less of an impact on our limited resources. But some people are following this to an extreme, and are living in what could be considered a tiny home.

How Tiny is Tiny
TH_TinyhouseWhen we talk about a tiny home as compared to a typical family dwelling, exactly how much smaller is it? Well, tiny homes come in many shapes and sizes, but a 500-square foot home is typical of the type. And with the diminished size comes a diminished price tag, with most tiny homes going for $40,000 – $50,000 in a ready to go state.

Of course, a 500 square foot home — or less — is probably not going to meet a lot of existing housing regulations, and for that reason you will find most tiny homes fully equipped with wheels. But it also simplifies the delivery process, and allows for future flexibility. But tiny homes are built to a higher standard than a typical mobile home, and you find them in many more eye-catching designs.

Full or Part Time Housing

Not everyone uses a tiny home as a full time homestead. Some people park them in woods or other ideal locations and use them as minimalist vacation retreats. Still others see the tiny homes as a great home office for the back yard. But most people that are buying or building tiny homes are using them as their primary residence.

In today’s seemingly consumer driven world, downsizing drastically to a tiny home might seem to be bucking the trend, but it would appear to be a good move to make for saving financial as well as planetary resources.

Kent Griswold, the guy behind the Tiny House Blog, sees an interest growing in tiny homes from both the young starting out and the retiring. According to Griswold,

There’s been a huge interest in people downsizing and there are a lot of young people who don’t want to be tied down with a huge mortgage and want to build their own space.

Growing Interest

Jay Shafer, co-founder of the Small House Society and author of “The Small House Book”, has seen the interest in tiny homes grow a lot in the past few years. The Small House Society has seen its subscriber base expand to 1800 from only 300 five years ago.

Another tiny home venture that Schafer is co-owner of is called the Tumbleweeds Tiny Home company, and they have seen home blueprint sales increase to about 50 per year, up from 10 or so five years ago.

The Tiny Home Lifestyle

Of course, living in a tiny home requires a certain mindset that many consumer driven types might find difficult to master. According to Gregory Johnson, the other co-founder of the Small House society,

You start to peel away the things that are unnecessary. It helps you define your priorities with regard to your material things.

Johnson should know what it takes to live in a tiny home. His experiences in living small led him to writing the book, “Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet”.

To live in a tiny home, one does need to determine what is important to their lifestyle, and focus on only that. When you simply do not have room for a lot of extra junk, you soon find that the idea of buying is simply not a driving force in your life anymore. The entire process can almost be a re-focusing of both energy and resources.

Of course, you do not have to live in a tiny home to cut back on your excess stuff. One great place to start is probably with Peter Walsh’s book, “It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff”. But with a tiny home you may find that taking such an approach is a requirement to comfortable living.

Other Companies Dedicated to Tiny Homes

Many other companies are popping up across the country dedicated to tiny homes. Stephen Marshall, who started the catchy named Little House On The Trailer builds and sells tiny homes that go for $50,000 and under. Marshall is quick to point out that, not only do they cost less than the typical construction project, they can be resold later to recoup the majority of the initial cost.

Apparently Marshall’s points are making sense to buyers. His small company has already sold 16 houses this year, and plans to increase sells next year. What is driving his sales? Not only are conservative minded people buying them, but economically motivated buyers as well. According to Marshall,

A lot of families are moving in with one another. A lot of young people can’t afford to move out. There’s just a lot of economic pressure to find an alternative way to provide for people’s housing needs.

By buying tiny homes that can be used and resold after the need is up, the planet’s resources can be put to better use. Not only are tiny homes easier on the immediate impact, they can also be easily recycled.

When you add up all of the advantages of tiny homes, from the better use of resources and smaller environmental impact to immediate and longer term financial advantages, it might be good for anyone wanting to conserve to take a look at tiny homes. In fact, it might make sense for anyone to take a look at a tiny home for a really simple reason – it helps you identify what is important in your life, instead of simply surrounding yourself with junk. And that is something practically all of us could use.

Guest blogger D. Salmons is a freelance writer and social media consultant for several companies, ranging from individuals to Fortune 500. She strives to reduce her carbon footprint and teach her little son how to be environmentally aware and respectful of his environment. D. Salmons is a bit of a geek and enjoys writing about tech gadgets at TestFreaks.com, a website that collects product information from thousands of sources.

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15 Responses to Tiny homes: Living large by living small

  1. Robert says:

    My only question would be as the weather becomes more extreme, will the these very small houses be able to take a beating without flying off to OZ?

  2. fj3 says:

    There is at least one manufacturer making living & office spaces out of shipping containers described as being hurricane proof; perhaps seriously appropriate for accelerating climate disruption.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Thank you, ‘D’, for the very interesting, informative, and enjoyable post. And thanks to Joe and CP for running it. Bravo!

    It makes me think, a bit, about Diogenes.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  4. Peter M says:

    Well too small is just not going to work- When I retire in about 5-6 years- looking for smaller digs- I live in a large townhouse currently.

    Single now- I could live in as little as 720 square feet- 55 and over community- Green- manufactured home perhaps. Nothing opulent or pretentious- not rich.

  5. Jane Leaper says:

    As a European, used to living in small homes, 500 squ feet doesn’t seem that small.

    The smallest place I ever lived in, in London, was no more than 300 squ feet. It was a 2 bed apartment. It was very well insulated and cost very little in fuel. I was very comfortable there, and the lack of space meant I wasn’t tempted to over consume and accumulate unnecessary possessions. I’ve known people living in house boats with less space than that. My last home in the UK, shared with my partner was 650 squ feet. That was a 2 bed house. Again we were quite comfortable. That’s about the average size of a 2 bed terrace in the UK, and millions of people live in them.

    I’m living in a 1,200 squ feet bungalow in Canada now (with another 1,200 sq feet in the basement). Space is very badly organised, and as a result it doesn’t feel much bigger than our old home in England. The forced air heating system is horribly inefficient, warming up a lot of unused space in the basement. I hate cleaning the house, so much work.

    When we go back to the Uk in a couple of years time, we will move back into a house of under 800 square feet.

  6. Kris Kaul says:

    George Monbiot had a great article recently about the “other” housing crisis in the UK – at the same time that there is an increasing number of people needing housing and unable to get it, there is also an increasing number of houses with surplus (unused) space.

    Home Rule
    by George Monbiot
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2011/01/03/home-rule/

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ve always lived in small places-inner-city terraces, and now a stone-house built in the 19th century and delightfully cool in summer and easy to heat with slow combustion fire in winter. The stone-house we now shade from the western sun with deciduous trees and the giant oak planted, by the looks of it, when the house was built. The possibilities of passive design are endless. Australian homes used to be built with verandahs, to cool the inside, and a fine place to retreat to on hot summers’ evenings. Nowadays the McMansions sit, obese and immovable like their occupants, taking up most of the block, without verandahs-are you joking! Most of these monstrosities do not even have eaves. They are crammed in so close to one another that there is no room for them. The house is therefore at the mercy of the sun, exacerbated by the use of lots of glass in huge windows. Of course this therefore requires giant air-conditioning units, often left on all day, or turned on by timer, to ensure that the occupants return, from their lonely commute, to an ice-cold house.
    When you contemplate a public policy disaster like this, the inevitable result of greed and stupidity meeting the market, lubricated by gigantic indebtedness (our housing bubble is even bigger than yours, but hasn’t popped yet, thanks to the Chinese)you really have to laugh at that old silliness, the self-description ‘sapiens’ we affix to our hominid identity.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    In 1995, I built 300 units after the earthquake in Kobe, Japan. They were two rooms plus bath and kitchen. Size? 288 square feet.

    The Japanese are ingenious at saving space through things like shoji (pocket) doors, sliders to the outside, and overhead storage closets. These units were quite comfortable, including large tubs, and after permanent housing was ready in a few years the mostly elderly occupants didn’t want to leave. A big reason is that our units were framed in steel, making them safer in earthquakes and fires. Many of their friends had died in the Kobe quake from fires that were in turn caused by broken water mains and gas lines. The old wood houses burned in no time, trapping occupants.

    If anyone is interested in the details- or would like me to build some for them (we completed all the Kobe houses in three months), send me an email at mike.greenframe@gmail.com.

  9. Barry P says:

    With the mining boom in Western Australia we have seen a massive increase in the number and size of homes. All utility costs are on the rise and in time I forsee many of the mansionettes becoming energy guzzling white elephants. While the evidence I have is only anecdotal I have heard there is also a social cost as well with family members living in their self entertainment cocoons loosing much family interraction.

    I live in a one bedroom apartment and will move into something a little bigger in time, but there is no question that I enjoy comparatively low water, gas and electricity costs. Being in a high density area I get the advantage of excellent public transport.

    Small is smarter.

  10. Theodore says:

    “He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    I have observed some who accumulate so much stuff throughout their lives that simply caring for it becomes a full-time job, absorbing nearly all of their time in constant maintenance of their large house filled with huge amounts of nearly worthless junk. A large yard and garden finishes them as a force for any task outside themselves and their possessions. They are effectively neutralized by their inability to shed their precious accumulation of acquisitions.

    I am an advocate the low-maintenance life. I have only three kinds of possessions: (1) things that I am using, (2) things that I plan to use, and (3) things that are on their way out the door. It works well. I have almost nothing and like it that way.

    He who would live happily must live light.

  11. KenL says:

    To add to what Mike Roddy said about Japanese housing–

    Typically and traditionally, the Japanese use a single room as bedroom, living room and dining room. Futon are laid out at bedtime, and in the morning are stowed in closets (oshi-ire). A single room is used for multiple purposes.

    Instead of central heating, and wastefully heating even rooms not being used, space heaters (electric, kerosene, etc) are used only in rooms being occupied.

    And the kotatsu, or low table with a quilt spread between frame and table top and an electric heater under the top, is a wonderful way to stay warm in the evenings using almost no power.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kotatsu

    No doubt other cultures offer similarly ingenious innovations for green living….

  12. Michael B. says:

    The greenest and most amazing project I have come across: “The Phoenix Commotion” builds homes from scrap materials that would otherwise go to the landfill. I wish we had them in every county.
    http://www.phoenixcommotion.com/

  13. Gerda says:

    i live in a large caravan. under 20 m^2, but, i also have half an acre of outside and several sheds. here’s my favourite small dwelling;
    http://www.simondale.net/house/

  14. George says:

    It is a neat idea. Unfortunately, zoning restrictions often limit the placement options for such houses.

  15. Alex says:

    I’ve been doing my best to keep things simple without going way too extreme within 600 square feet. In the future I see myself going smaller/mobile to travel and cut down costs even more.