For starters…what is the “tiny house movement?” A “tiny house” is generally anything between 100 and 400 square feet. As in the entire “house.” Bedrooms in a “normal” house are often bigger than 100 square feet and master bedroom suites can easily run to 400 square feet. In fact, most building codes require that no room be smaller than 70 square feet and at least one room be at least 120 square feet…which is why the tiny house movement resorted to trailer beds. In order to circumvent building codes many tiny houses are built on trailer beds, making them mobile…and therefore, in theory anyway, not subject to building codes. But a trailer bed (and mobility) restricts the size of any such house to no wider than 8 ½ feet, no longer than 18 feet and no higher than about 13 ½ feet (think bridge overpasses). If you do the math, the footprint is just over 150 square feet (although some tiny houses gain some additional square footage via the use of sleeping lofts).
Since 1973 the average size of new construction in the US has gone from 1660 square feet to just shy of 2700 square feet in 2013…at the same time the average family size has gone from 3.01 people to 2.54 people…fewer people with more space. In fact, where I live the new construction I see is well above 2700 square feet, instead generally in the range of 4500 to 5500 square feet. Some of this is driven by economics…land is so scarce in greater Boston that builders have to put up as much house as possible to recognize a return. But it is also driven by consumer demand…people seem to want bigger and bigger spaces. But like everything in the US, while some people want more, there is a growing movement towards less, towards simplification.
So if the average home size is getting bigger, who is behind the tiny house movement? Well, for starters, recognize that the tiny house movement still represents a very small piece of the pie…only 1% of the homes purchased in the US today are less than 1,000 square feet. The actual number of tiny homes is a bit hard to quantify…many are built discreetly, and many that are mobile don’t require the same kind of permits, making numbers more difficult to determine. Generally the tiny house concept is embraced by the 18-34 demographic looking to own their first home without going into enormous debt. There is also a component made up by the 55+ crowd looking to downsize. And ironically, Jay Shafer, owner of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, estimates about two-thirds of the tiny house plans he sells are being used to build “backyard retreats.” Ah yes, because with our living and family rooms, media rooms, finished basements, home offices and huge master suites we don’t have quite enough room. Interesting that people feel a need to “retreat” to something small and compact.
Despite all that, there is a small but growing movement to build smaller and smarter…to make rooms function for multiple purposes as opposed to having a room for every purpose…to make use of every square inch of space. For some, the tiny house concept offers a chance to own a home for a fraction of the cost of an average home…tiny houses can start as low as $23,000 (if you build it yourself…ready-made begin at closer to $60,000)…this at a time when the average price for a new home in the US now exceeds $300,000. For others the tiny house movement is about mobility…while “large” in the sense of a mobile home, tiny houses can still be pulled on the road and moved from location to location. On the television show “Tiny House Nation” I have seen tiny houses embraced by people whose jobs require them to work in different locations for periods of time. I have also seen a home perched on a mountain top in summer and moved to a valley in winter. The tiny house movement also appeals to those looking to reduce their carbon footprint…tiny houses use fewer resources to construct and fewer resources to heat, cool and run. And the tiny house movement appeals to those looking to simplify, those who decide their lives are ruled by too much stuff.
While the tiny house movement may not take over the world, and it may not be for everyone, there is a certain appeal to less space, living more simply. And maybe that doesn’t mean we all have to downsize to 400 square feet…but it sure is making me rethink my 3,000 square feet.
What are your thoughts? Could you see yourself living in 400 square feet or less? How big is your current home? Can you see yourself doing with less?
Resources and further reading:
The Tiny House Movement by Michael Salguero
The Tiny House Movement by Jame Siebrase
Let’s Get Small by Alec Wilkinson