A good question to be sure. The phrase ‘tiny house’ can refer to just a very small home, but in the context of this article we’re talking about the portable home phenomenon that has swept the world in the past couple of years. Read on to learn what exactly the tiny house movement is and how you can get in on the booming new trend.
Not quite a caravan and not quite a house, a tiny house is a combination of the two, bringing together the best of portable living with a touch of real home comfort. Tiny houses are versatile, customisable and, perhaps most importantly, portable.
But why would a person choose a tiny house over a traditional bricks and mortar home? After all, as their name suggests tiny houses are, well, tiny. Someone living in that sort of space would surely start to miss the wide open amenities a normal home provides, wouldn’t they? Maybe, maybe not, let’s take a look.
This is a crucial factor, because there’s only so much space you can give up before things start to become seriously cramped. A tiny house design has to take this into consideration more than most – a single square foot of unusable space is a big loss when you’re working with floorplans of less than 40 metres squared.
No one wants to live in a space without enough room to turn around in, which is why tiny houses have to be so careful to maximise floor space as well as storage and facilities. In a normal home one can be substituted for another, but in a tiny home they have to be made to work together.
It’s thanks to clever design that tiny homes are able to feel so much larger than they really are. Queen sized beds are made possible thanks to lofts, tables and chairs are able to be folded away to create floor space and patios are extendable to function either as walls or outdoor spaces.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that with reduced floor plans comes a reduction in facilities. Can you live without a rumpus room? Can you do without a guest bedroom? Is your attic empty and your basement a dark wasteland? If you answered yes to any of those questions then perhaps a tiny house is for you. If you can’t imagine yourself doing without them then perhaps not.
If you want to pack your life up and travel the country while still living in relative comfort, then what’s to stop you buying an RV or caravan? Well nothing, but even though tiny homes and RVs are basically portable houses at heart, the former offers more in the way of style and even comfort. This is going to depend pretty drastically on makes and models, but the reason tiny homes have taken off lately is due in a large part to their aesthetic. They look like houses, are available in any style you can imagine (just like a real house) and can generally take your own sense of style into account far more than a motorhome can.
Tiny homes are popular among the eco set due to how inherently low impact they are. Their small size makes them quick and easy to heat or cool as necessary, and due to their low power draw they are excellent candidates for solar panel installation. This is particularly important as, thanks to the portability factor, many tiny homeowners are going to find themselves disconnected from mains power a lot of the time. With a handful of rooms at most, all the power needs for the house can be accounted for by a relatively rudimentary solar array.
Tiny houses also force you to downsize simply by design. There’s no room for a lot of the things you used to own, and for this reason those who live in tiny houses tend to have fewer possessions than those in traditional homes. There’s nothing wrong with having stuff of course, but there’s no denying that consumerism does have an impact on the environment. Downsizing, whether voluntarily or through necessity, will inevitably have an impact on how green your footprint is.
This is where things can get a little shady. Is a tiny home really going to save you a lot of money over a traditional one? Well, overall the answer is almost certainly yes, but what about relatively? Let us explain what we mean.
A tiny house costs far less than an ordinary one to buy upfront. Prices are highly variable, but in as a general rule you won’t be spending more than 100k. If you’re prepared to do a bit of assembly yourself then the total could be ten times less than that. So to purchase outright, yes, tiny homes are more affordable. The conjecture comes when you start to talk in terms of price according to floor space. Generally, tiny homes are more expensive in this respect than ordinary homes. Again, the actual number is going to depend on the model and level of self involvement, but for the sake of argument let’s assume you’re paying someone to build you a tiny home and a traditional home: Forbes cites figures for the US that put tiny homes as costing anywhere from $200-$400 per square foot, while ordinary houses are well below that average in most states. The tiny home will cost you less, but the normal home will cost you less per metre.
So why do tiny homes cost more compared to the amount of space you get? The answer is surprisingly simple: tiny homes require more thought and innovative design to get right, which inevitably ups their price point.
But upfront cost isn’t the only thing that goes into making a home affordable. Like we mentioned earlier, tiny homes use less in the way of water and electricity. This will have an impact on your wallet apart from just your emissions.
And this is why it can be so hard to accurately measure just how much cheaper, or at least cost effective, a tiny home will be to own and maintain. Apart from up front and running costs there are things to consider such as property taxes, utilities and much more. The final number will depend a lot on your own situation.
Who Are They Actually For?
A tiny house isn’t going to be the ultimate solution for everyone. No matter how they try to spin it, a family with three kids and a dog is probably not going to be able to make a tiny home work for them.
This sort of living is applicable to certain types of people. Those who want to travel in style, who want to reduce their impact, those looking a comfortable temporary living space, singles or couples with low needs and those looking for a cheap yet functional alternative to a full on house to place on their land should all be seriously looking at a tiny home as an option.
With the industry accelerating at such a phenomenal rate, it will be very interesting to see in which direction things head over the next few years. At the moment, laws and regulations governing this unusual hybrid of RV and house are thin on the ground, which can make the whole process a bit of a confusing grey area for newcomers. However, with the right research and an open mind, the coming storm of the tiny house revolution has a lot of exciting potential for those who have room in their lives for a life with less room.