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Tiny Houses

By - 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 to mop?

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 expenses.

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).

Resource: Tumbleweed Houses

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Houses Under Fifty Thousand | Tiny Houses