What is a tiny house? Unless you’ve been living in a sensory deprivation tank, you might have heard about the tiny-house movement. After all, it’s invading all corners of the U.S. If nothing else, you may have hit upon one of HGTV’s three—count ’em, three—ongoing tiny-home series.
But you still might wonder: What is a tiny house? Sure, they’re cute, but just how small are these diminutive dwellings? How did the whole tiny-house concept come about, and why is living little continuing to explode in popularity?
If you’re considering this dramatic downsizing, let’s break down some of the basics to see if this type of house—compost toilet and loft bed included—is really for you.
What is a tiny house, and just how tiny is it?
Typically, tiny homes are between 100 and 400 square feet. While there isn’t a set standard, a tiny house rarely exceeds 500 square feet. Beyond that size, they’re merely, um, small.
For reference, the median size of a new, single-family home sold in 2015 was 2,520 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Need a visual? You could fit 144 tiny houses on a football field. Yes, we did the math.
How did the tiny-house movement start?
Multiple factors fueled the growth of the miniature-house movement. As thousands of people lost their homes due to unemployment or foreclosure during the 2007–08 financial crisis, many turned to tiny homes as an affordable alternative to a traditional house.
Those looking to shrink their carbon footprint also found living in these cozy quarters to be energy-efficient, saving a bundle on utilities. Other tiny-house owners, hoping to streamline their lives, were lured by the prospect of shedding most of their belongings and living a simpler lifestyle in a smaller space, sometimes even in an off-the-grid setting.
While it might have originally seemed like a passing fad, the tiny-home trend is actually growing. While the exact number of tiny homes is unknown, in 2015 alone more than 30 microcommunities—established or under development—sprouted up across the U.S., according to Tiny House Community, a website for small-home owners.
Watch: Can You Hack It in a Tiny House?
How much does a tiny house cost?
Just like a regular-size house, costs vary depending on the materials used and customizations added to the space. And, just like its bigger counterparts, this housing category has a wide price spectrum.
Tiny homes can cost as little as $15,000 if you’re salvaging materials and putting your DIY skills to the test. This type of house can also set buyers back as much as $80,000 to $100,00 depending on how tricked-out the space up ends up being.
Made-to-order tiny homes from Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., the nation’s leading builder in tiny-house construction, average between $57,000 and $70,000—still cheaper than the median price for a new, contractor-built, single-family house in 2015, which was $271,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So tiny living typically does amount to smaller spending.
Is tiny-house living for you?
Who doesn’t want to save money, right? Research from TheTinyLife.com, in partnership with TinyHouseConference.com and TinyHouseCraftsman.com (no, we’re not kidding), found that 68% of those who own a tiny home don’t have a mortgage, compared with 29% of all homeowners in the United States.
But deciding to swap your deluxe kitchen and bonus room for a truly tiny abode is big decision you shouldn’t enter into lightly. The idea of reducing your living expenses—mortgage, utility costs, lawn maintenance, and every other expense associated with owning a big(ger) house—is appealing, but there are a few factors that can make moving into an RV-size tiny home more challenging.
These questions can help gauge whether you’re a good candidate for the small-house movement:
- Where will you put it? If you think you’re going to build your tiny pad on a vacant piece of land, check with your local zoning board for building codes first. Putting your tiny house on wheels and parking it in an RV park is another option.
- What about utilities? How will you access sewage disposal, water, power, and internet service for your house? Or are you OK with going completely off the grid?
- How will you manage in the winter? When it’s too cold to spend time outdoors and your indoor space is limited, will you be excited about homebody living?
- Does a tiny space really fit your lifestyle? It’s tough to host your annual New Year’s Eve bash when you can fit only five people in your home.
- How well do you get along with roommates? Are you OK with the people you’ll share your small house with being just inches away in the bathroom while you’re in the kitchen?
An intimate setting can breed a little too much, er, intimacy. If you’re considering the tiny-home lifestyle, take it for a test drive before you hire a builder and go all-in. Businesses across the country are allowing the curious to rent a tiny house for a night. Vacation rental websites also let you stay in a pint-size space for yourself and determine whether you’re ready to sacrifice the square footage and join this not-at-all-tiny housing trend.
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