Do you have what it takes to live in a tiny house? You don’t have to be a tiny elf or fairy tale character yourself, but you do need some giant-sized courage to give up the materialistic lifestyle that most Americans have learned to love.
Proponents of living in tiny houses (we’re talking 100 to 200 square feet here) say the sacrifice of living without lots of stuff has immense rewards. For starters, housing costs, which the government says should ideally be less than 30% of one’s income, are relatively minuscule. Here are some of the advantages to living large in a tiny house:
- Financial. Paying off a tiny house (an average cost of $23,000) can be relatively quick, so housing costs won’t gobble up much of your paycheck for very long. Utility costs are negligible.
- Environmental. Tiny houses are easy on the earth’s resources and require only a tiny carbon footprint.
- Social. Many tiny house owners park their houses in a friend’s backyard or on a lot with other tiny houses, and work out a system for sharing or trading goods and services. Cooperative living becomes a way of life.
- Freedom. Although some tiny houses are built on regular foundations, most rest atop a trailer that can be pulled by a truck. Need a change of scenery? Pack up the house and go.
The tiny house movement began about 20 years ago and has spread from coast to coast. The cost of building a tiny house ranges from $15,000, for a DIY project with salvaged or recycled materials, to $80,000, for a contractor-built abode with the finest materials. A good resource for information on designers and builders is the Small House Society, founded in 2002. There’s even a Tiny House Magazine.
Travelers can check out the tiny house experience by renting one for a night. In Olympia, Washington, Brittany Unker rents out the tiny house she built herself. She calls it the Bayside Bungalow. Room rates, which vary according to time of week and season of the year, range from $65 to $100. The 160-square-foot house has a sleeping loft, kitchen, shower, compost toilet, electric heater and gas fireplace.
In Portland, Oregon, visitors can stay in one of four tiny houses gathered together as Caravan — The Tiny House Hotel. The houses, from 100 to 160 square feet, go for $125 a night. They have flush toilets, showers and small kitchens, though room service is supplied by a restaurant across the street. The houses surround a courtyard with a fire pit and each tiny kitchen is outfitted with all the makings for s’mores. Marshmallow roasting with other guests is encouraged.
At Portland Alternative Dwellings, a company that sells tiny house plans and puts on regular workshops for people considering building their own, customers are encouraged to stay a night at Caravan or the Bayside Bungalow, just to make sure they could tolerate such tight quarters. Workshops also offer tips on downsizing and keeping clutter at bay.
The founder of Portland Alternative Dwellings is Dee Williams, who has become a tiny house media sensation in the 11 years since she sold her large home and built her 84-square-foot home for $10,000. Her book, The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, was published in April 2014.
Another prominent tiny house designer is Tumbleweed Houses, based in Sonoma, California. Jay Shafer, founder of the Small House Society, was one of the founders of Tumbleweed in 1999. Check the website for two-day workshops held all over the country for $399 (sometimes on sale for $299). Workshops typically offer tips on sourcing materials, construction advice and making sense of zoning laws and building codes.
Tiny houses have also caught the attention of some cities, where they are being tried out as a solution to homelessness. But for most tiny house dwellers, the house is not just a shelter but a means of growing closer to nature, building community, realizing what’s truly important in life, enjoying independence and freedom of movement, and an opportunity to save money or spend it on something other than a mortgage and whopping utility bills.