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The Tiny House Movement. Legal Note There are many photos and videos in this presentation I gleaned from online sources. Some I have given the source to, and others I have not. I do not own any of these photos. This presentation and their use are meant for purely academic purposes.

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the tiny house movement

The Tiny House Movement

Legal Note There are many photos and videos in this presentation I gleaned from online sources.

Some I have given the source to, and others I have not. I do not own any of these photos. This presentation and their use are meant for purely academic purposes.

By Austin Griffin

questions to consider
Questions to Consider
  • With energy and resource prices rising, savings falling, and global climate change looming, is the tiny house movement a possible solution for some people?
  • Is a tiny house more energy and resource efficient than the average American household?
  • And further, can you actually go about building or buying and if so, what are the benefits and drawbacks?
  • What are the legal issues that can arise with Tiny Houses?
  • And how might they be overcome?
historical context
Historical Context
  • The average U.S. house size (in sqft) has gone from 1000 sqft in 1950 to 2000 in 2000, up now to 2400 sq ft.
  • Building permits are at a 5-year high for new homes.
  • Average # of people per household has been dropping for 50 years. (Now 2.6)
  • Energy costs aren't getting any cheaper.

Does the data line up?

What might be a solution?

what is a tiny house
What is a Tiny House?
  • "I never really make a definitive definition of what is small and what constitutes a small house." -Jay Shafer, founder/designer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
  • The definition stems not from the actual house, but the deliberate choice of the owner (usually builder) of simplifying, reducing, and becoming more efficient (whether for economic, conscious, or other reasons).
  • But really, what's a tiny house?
tiny houses common characteristics
Tiny Houses: Common Characteristics
  • Usually under (or just at) 1000 sqft (the 1950 average house size).
  • Almost always handmade, owner built, or built by small companies.
  • Can be split into four informal categories by size, from largest to smallest: Cottage (up to 1000 sqft or more), Classic (100-300 sqft), Micro/Pico (under 100 sqft), Short-term (Wee Shelters) (even less than 100 sqft - includes reading shacks).
  • Note - These categories are just one way to understand tiny homes, apart from the panoply of styles, materials, etc.

what is the tiny house movement1
What is the Tiny House Movement?
  • Movement traced back to Henry David Thoreau and his cabin in Walden in 1854.
  • The surge in automobile ownership in the 1920s brought "autohomes" that were handmade.
  • Others see backlash against suburban ideals in the 1960s with a resurgence in the 1990s.
the not so big house
The Not-So-Big House
  • Sarah Susanka, American Architect, is credited on starting the modern (90s to 00s) movement with her book series, The Not So Big House (pub. 1992).
the movement in quotes
The Movement in Quotes
  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." -H. D. Thoreau, Walden.
  • “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.”― Albert Einstein
  • "If you own a rug, you own too much." - Jack Kerouac
  • The small house (tiny house) movement can be seen having surged in the past decade due to rising energy costs, global climate change concerns, aging Baby Boomer Generation, and economic downturn.
  • It's almost all online - including ebooks, blogs (lots of blogs), house plans, forums, etc. BUT - actual workshops are appearing in more states.
  • Please use this link to an infographic about the modern movement:
benefits of tiny houses
Benefits of Tiny Houses

The Efficiencies of Energy, Economics, and Ecology.

  • Due mostly to their size, tiny homes are incredibly energy efficient.
  • The 2012 average monthly consumption of electricity for the residential customer in the South Atlantic region (EIA's designation for FL, DC, NC, SC, DE, VA, MD, & WV) was 1,079 kWh.
  • The average monthly bill for 2012? $122.71
  • Assuming the house size is the national average, 2400 sqft, then this works out to be about .45 kWh per sqft per month to run the household and everything in it.
  • Using the Tumbleweed Tiny Home as an average (tiny homes are all across the board in materials, styles, and quality), most people have utility bills that range from $10 to $35 a month. (Yes, all utilities - electric, water, sewer, and propane).
  • Many tiny houses also include solar systems built in which, if installation is not counted here, bring the electricity bill down to $0 or close.
  • Heating is almost always a nautical propane heater.
economic a big reason why many switch
Economic (a big reason why many switch)
  • The average price for a new house in 2012 was: $272,900.
  • The mortgage for this house ran an average of: "$222,261 with a $1,061 average monthly payment for a 30-year mortgage at 4 percent." - Lending Tree, Nat'l Ass'n of Realtors.
  • Of course, this is assuming you're in the market for a new house.
  • The average tiny house? Depends on the size, materials, builder, etc, but an Elm tiny home (the "classic"), purchased ready made, is $57,000 with 10% down with a 6% APR on a 15 year loan. Or, $433/mo.
    • But no mortgage.
a single mother built this home for 4k
A single mother built this home for $4k.

Since most are handmade, you can control the expenses and seek out salvage. Some have been built for only $4000.

according to the owner builders of this house minimotives the total bill so far is only 11 900
According to the owner/builders of this house, minimotives, the total bill (so far) is only $11,900.
  • A large part of the tiny house movement is reducing (quite literally) the owner's carbon footprint.
  • Due to their artisan nature and small size, tiny homes frequently utilize much more sustainable, eco-friendly, or local materials and products in their designs.
  • This of course includes things like No-VOC paint (and even some milk-based paint), sustainable wood, solar systems, etc.
  • For instance: "Ecovative" Myco-insulation. Insulation that is fire-resistant, incredibly efficient, and biodegradable (and won the first Cradle to Cradle design award) - it's made of mushrooms.
psychological efficiency
Psychological Efficiency?
  • Tiny House owners tend to list among their benefits not a "quantifiable" efficiency, but a sense of organization, well-being, and peace from the ability to have "just what you need" and no more.
  • Obviously, the "tyranny of stuff" referred to by some minimalists is minimal here. You just don't have the room.
  • Plus, many tiny homes are mobile, allowing for spur of the moment travel and the freedom that arises from that.
the drawbacks of tiny homes
The Drawbacks of Tiny Homes

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud.

  • Tiny houses are frequently built on wheels because zoning regulations require larger houses or won't allow such a structure to be placed on that area.
  • Variances can be sought and received, but these are frequently expensive and take a long time to get (if you do at all).
  • Permits for building (if foundation, not wheels) are only allowed for buildings up to code - specifically with size.
  • Banks don't want to loan money for Tiny Houses - it's too small for a mortgage and not as recognizable.
  • Insurance assessment is usually dismal, as well.
    • Tiny dwelling, one entrance/exit, use of lofts, etc.
  • If wheels are on your tiny house, you can get an RV loan BUT you will have to build it according to RV specs (which can be exacting).
  • Some manufacturers, like Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, offer their own loan programs, but most others do not, due to the artisan nature of the structures.
  • Housing Code enforcement disrupts tiny home building. (focus on "enforcement").
  • "Habitable dwelling" and "habitable room" standards require minimum square footage, certain kinds of plumbing (some T/H are off grid), etc.
  • Bathroom is considered one of biggest problems to get past the housing codes (many are “wet” baths, meaning the room doubles as a shower).
  • Of course, most of the enforcement is on a complaint-based system. You're at the mercy of your neighbors.
  • Conceivably, though, you could live illegally on your friend's land or in the country and not have these problems.
  • Can be overcome using a trailer in (many) instances (DMV v. Building Council).
when the building code inspector comes by a common ploy
When the building code inspector comes by, a common ploy:

“This is just an enclosed trailer parked here that meets all the road safety qualifications.”


“This is my tiny house.”

most tiny home dwellers live currently under the legal radar
Most tiny home dwellers live currently under the legal radar.

Please see video: We the Tiny House People

Stop Around 6:00.

Or continue later, it’s a complete documentary on the movement.

some colloquial legal advice from cracking the code by ryan mitchell of the tiny life
Some colloquial legal advice from: Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life

“1. Most cities are “complaint driven enforcement” meaning if your neighbors don’t say anything, they don’t seek you out.

2. In 2012 and 2013 most cities started cutting back their code enforcement staff and they’d rather leave you alone.

3. If you maintain an address at a traditional home, its hard for them to prove you live in the tiny house.

4. They won’t say it, but they think tiny houses are awe some and the wave of the future.

5. Most campgrounds limit your stay to 14-21 days, but if you have two campgrounds in town you can alternate until one of them likes you enough to invite you to stay. Private campgrounds are more willing to do this.”

it s still somewhat of a niche market
It’s Still Somewhat of a Niche Market
  • Affects price, accessibility, legal changes (for zoning and the like).
  • Apart from Tumbleweed, Four Lights, Zip Shelter, and IKEA, there are not many options for pre-made tiny homes.
  • Most are owner built, which creates an assumed DIY culture that can be intimidating for newly interested parties.
  • Prices are high partially because of the niche aspect of the market.
  • Doubtful that this will change in a big way any time soon, looking at housing size growth on average, but the numerof T/H is growing.
social stigma
Social Stigma
  • This social stigma can be seen in the local land ordinances/inspection laws but also in mainstream culture.
  • Consumerism/ Expansionism is still the dominant cultural trend and tiny houses go directly against that.
  • The question many will ask is "are all tiny house owners granola-eating, mantra-chanting Hippie Communists? (The answer is no, but it can be a deterrent, if it "looks weird" to do).
  • Interestingly, not even in Portland, OR (a hotspot for tiny house enthusiasts), you are not allowed to "front" your home - that is, make it visible on the street.
in some ways the biggest benefit economy is also the biggest obstacle to the tiny house movement
In some ways, the biggest benefit (economy) is also the biggest obstacle to the tiny house movement
yes but you re going to want to research and consider a few things first
Yes, but you're going to want to research and consider a few things first:
  • Rent, buy, or make?
  • Owner-built, consulted, or professionally-built?
  • Plans or your own design?
  • Kits or your own materials?
  • On grid or off grid?
  • Legal or illegal?
  • Wheeled or stationary? (Or a boat?)
  • Do you have any good friends with big yards?
don t want one other uses for tiny homes
Don’t Want One? Other Uses for Tiny Homes:
  • Dormitories
  • Hotels (in Portland, OR)
  • Nursing Homes
  • Homeless Shelters (on the smaller side).
  • Office space for telecommuting
  • Small-scale business space.
  • In-Law suites.
  • Retiree housing.
  • Disaster Relief (already proven in the Katrina Cottages).
finally a tiny house built by students of the yestermorrow design build school in massachusetts
Finally, a Tiny House built by Students of the Yestermorrow Design Build School in Massachusetts…
  • Tiny Homes offer a different, counter-cultural way of living which provide some very clear benefits of efficiency and peace of mind. They are more flexible than the traditional suburban home, but have distinct drawbacks that must be considered and remedied for their widespread use.
  • However, just as the almighty dollar has prevented their spread, the dollar can react to an increase in tiny homes as well, opening the market to future “contraction” of the American home.