Tiny House

Want the freedom to live in comfort without committing yourself to a lifetime relationship with a soul crushing big bank? Kiss the mortgage goodbye and say hello to a tiny house.
Photo credit: RowdyKittens via Flickr

Littler is better. A Brief History of the Tiny House Movement

As Oscar Wilde is famously quoted as saying, "Everything popular is wrong." Finding evidence to support this material is easy, from reality TV to McDonald's super size me approach to everything. We also are increasingly super sizing our homes. In 2009, the average American home size was 2,164 square feet, which is a 140% increase from the average home of 1950, which was only 983 square feet. In 2012, the U.S. Census reported that the average new construction single family home has increased to 2,505 square feet.

How much is enough? There are economic as well as environmental implications of a love affair with ever growing American homes. Fighting against this tide is the Tiny House movement, with its focus on thoughtfully designed, fully functioning abodes smaller than 1000 square feet. Indeed, because the creative use of space and intelligent design is laser focused in a Tiny House, residences can be as little as 100-400 square feet and in some cases are less than 100 square feet. The point of these tiny houses being to minimize one’s footprint – structural as well as carbon.

What Does a Tiny House Cost?

In addition to environmental drivers, other factors are making Tiny Houses compelling to the next generation of potential homeowners. The U.S. economy is shifting from one of employment to a free agent nation. This is causing young people to rethink the concept of taking on a mortgage, which was embraced by our parents' generation. Today, however, rising energy costs, fresh memories of the 2008 mortgage crisis and job uncertaintly have made tiny houses affordable to purchase, maintain, and heat.

According to Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, building a house that's 70 to 800 square feet costs just $20,000 to $90,000 to build. Contrast this with the average U.S. home cost of about $221,800. And the purchase price isn't the only benefit because Tiny Homes are much less expensive to operate. According to a New York Times article, one tiny house owner and dweller, Dee Williams of Olympia, Washington, sited both the low cost of her monthly energy bill (between $4 and $8 per month) and the fact that home repairs were almost nonexistent, as being major reasons why she's embraced the tiny house movement.

Eco-celebrity Graham Hill, Founder of TreeHugger, is one of the pioneers in expanding the Tiny House movement to urban areas. His 420 square feet New York City apartment can seat 12 for dinner, sleep 3 to 4 people, and includes an in-home theater.

How is this possible? The way to make these seemingly uninhabitable tiny spaces livable is by carefully selecting and designing the layout, house wares, and furniture.

Tiny House Design and Layout

Storage and dual utility are key in giving a small space all of the same functionalities of an average size home: living room, dining room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, library, guest room, etc. Floor-to-sealing and wall-to-wall storage help keep the limited footprint clear and usable. Obviously, tidiness is a prerequisite for owning a tiny dwelling.
Since Americans tend to value their privacy, it is also important to separate living spaces both visually and acoustically. By incorporating private areas, the space can feel bigger than it really is. The use of acoustic barriers as well as visual barriers like screens or partitions can create distance and retreat space for inhabitants. Graham Hill uses moving walls to incorporate certain functions, like guest bedrooms when there is a need for extra sleeping space, but allows Hill to repurpose that space when guests are not spending the night. Hill also incorporates soundproof walls in his bathroom in order to incorporate a sense of privacy in his small living quarters. The area can be used for private phone calls or act as a retreat.

House Wares

Choosing products very carefully will also help to maximize tiny house space. It is important to look for appliances that are mobile and easily stored, as well as appropriately sized for the space and future use. For instance, it is likely that a two-burner stove or a plug in burner is adequate for a single person living in a tiny house. Other appliances like a chest refrigerator and freezer can be built right into the kitchen counter. It also saves a significant amount of energy since refrigerators normally use almost 14% of a home’s total energy.


Furniture, which traditionally is a space hog, can be used in clever and sophisticated ways in order to maximize square footage. Murphy beds are a staple on sleeper trains, but have the potential to be functional in a tiny house as well. Other bed innovations include electric airbeds, theater bed combinations, and a wall bed that converts from a couch/storage space to a queen size bed. A unit like the living cube can act as the entertainment center, bedroom, closet, and storage area all at once. Also, folding and stackable furniture becomes very important in tiny living spaces allowing for easy set up, storage, and multipurposing.


Living in a tiny house gives residence the freedom from material goods. The option of having belongings that are unnecessary no longer exists. A tiny house only allows for the exact number of plates that will be used, keeping clothes that do not get worn is not an option, and frivolous electronics have no place to go.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, than people who live in tiny houses, must be pretty close to godliness, because a mess or disorganization is impossible. Tiny house owners also save beaucoup bucks on normal housing costs. Maintenance as well as energy costs stay very low, and are not subject to much variation. Also, the price of the structure is much less than a traditional residence.

Of course, the ultimate perk to living in a tiny house is the smaller carbon footprint. The tiny house lifestyle does not allow for excess in any aspect of living. There is no gratuitous use of fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and lighting. Fewer virgin materials are used for construction since the space is smaller, and more appliances and home goods have duel uses, so fewer objects are manufactured and purchased. The tiny house lifestyle is a shrewd choice for the resident’s purse and for the environment.


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