By Steve Gillman - 2011
It isn't quite a large movement yet, but there are people
who want tiny houses. No, not just smaller homes, but truly tiny
ones, like the ones built by Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Houses.
Although the plans he sells include one or two homes that exceed
700 square feet, most of the houses he designs are between 99
and 130 square feet. In other words most of his homes are smaller
than the average bedroom.
There are several reasons for the growing popularity of tiny
houses. One is the reduced environmental impact. Of course it
takes fewer materials to build a 100 square foot home versus
a traditional one. But it also takes less power to light it,
less gas or oil or wood to heat it, and fewer cleaning products
to maintain it and keep it looking good. If you choose to live
off the grid" you will need fewer solar panels or a smaller
wind-power generator to run a smaller house.
There is also a more personal advantage to the buyer/occupant
of a tiny house. There is a lot less work necessary to maintain
such homes. Many people find that as house sizes have expanded
over the years they spend more and more of their time just cleaning
and maintaining their homes. But how many widows can there be
to wash in a 100 Square foot house, and how much floor space
Lower cost is another advantage, although the savings are
not as much as you might think. In fact, with many of the homes
sold by Tumbleweed costing around $50,000 delivered and being
only around 110 square feet, that works out to over $450 per
square foot. On the other hand, $50,000 is still a lot less than
many traditional homes, and the savings will come also from lower
heating bills, lower cost for insurance, and lower maintenance
For those who are good with their hands or can hire help locally,
there is another option. You can buy house plans for prices ranging
from about $50 to $850 or so. The cost to do the rest yourself
is estimated at around $21,000 for materials. Put that on a $28,000
improved lot in a small town and you have a place to live for
under $50,000 total.
But can you put it on a lot in a small town? One of the biggest
obstacles faced by potential buyers or builders of tiny houses
is local zoning and building permit rules. It is very common
for cities and even counties to have minimum size restrictions
for houses, and more often than not these minimums are well over
600 square feet. There are a few ways to get around these problems.
First, you can try for a variance, and promote the "green"
angle. Be sure to bring a photo of a cute tiny house, so local
authorities will see that your home will not be an eyesore.
Another tactic is to buy one of the tiny houses that come
with a trailer. The key here is to say that you are simply "camping"
on your land, which is often allowed for extended periods without
the need to comply with home size rules.
If you own land which is isolated enough, your best strategy
may be to just put your tiny home there and don't worry about
it. It is often better to not ask the authorities. Don't come
to me complaining when they come after you--that's a possibility.
But it may be years before anyone says anything, and then you
can claim it is just a shed for storing things (who is going
to argue when it is 100 square feet), or you can say that is
is an RV (if it's still on a trailer) and you are camping.
Another option is to park one of the trailered version in
friends back yard. If it's out of sight all the better. You can
pay your friend rent for the space, and if you are asked by local
officials to leave you can find another yard or piece of land
to move to.
Finally, trailer parks may allow you to park your home there.
The lot rent may be more than the cost of buying a small lot
somewhere, but you'll have easier access to electricity and a
pump out station (many tiny houses have a setup similar to an
RV for their sewer system).