What Is a Tiny House?

Updated on November 2, 2018
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Freelance writer trying to defy the Millennial stereotype through hard work. Joy is in the little things.

What Is a Tiny House?

While the tiny house movement is rapidly growing in the US and the Netherlands in particular, many people still don't know much about tiny houses, or the social movement they have inspired. So what is a tiny house? Real estate code defines a tiny house as a dwelling that is 400 square feet or less in floor area excluding lofts. On a more general level, a tiny house is a small, portable dwelling designed with the aim of minimalism. Due to this goal, tiny houses generally display clever ways of utilizing space. Ideally, they are self-sufficient, or at least mostly so, and they function as full-time dwellings. While some tiny houses are mobile, not all are, and it is not a requirement.

Traditionally, Tiny Houses are approximately 8' x 16' in size, with the purpose of promoting simple living for the sake of freedom from debt. Smaller home, bigger life. The typical Tiny House contains a living area, a sleeping loft, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Many are built to be off-the-grid and self-contained, generating their own water and electricity. While many people build their own Tiny House, there are pre-fabricated options for sale.

What Is the Tiny House Movement?

The Tiny House movement revolves around the philosophy of being content with having just the necessities on a physical level, and bring brought back to the essence of living. The point is to create a healthy, environmentally friendly lifestyle that is as debt-free as humanly possible. This leaves the owner free to spend more time and money on building relationships and having memorable life experiences, rather than on rent and other material but unnecessary things in life.

The average home size has continued to grow over the years, as the average family size has begun to shrink. The Tiny House movement is about reconciling our ideals to our needs, and focusing on bigger lives and smaller spaces. Things do not (or at least should not) make us happy. Life should make us happy. And Americans in particular have become disillusioned to the fact that having more expensive things means we are living a bigger, better life.

The Tiny House movement originated in the United States in response to the housing market collapse and natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina that left many young people in a position where buying a home was difficult. The need for affordable housing grew rapidly, and some people began building tiny houses as a means to meet this need. Jay Shafer and Dee Williams are among those that pioneered the Tiny House movement. Many of these pioneers began building their homes on trailers, which allowed them to bypass limiting regulations on minimum measurements for dwellings. This is why so many Tiny Houses are portable.

The movement grew more rapidly than anyone could have foreseen. There are books, TV shows, and movies on the topic, and about 40,000 people visited the first Tiny House Jamboree in 2015. The rest of the world soon took notice and began to follow in the footsteps of the American movement, and Tiny House builders and enthusiasts are popping up in Europe and across the globe.

Types of Tiny Houses

There is no universal size, shape, or layout to Tiny Houses. They come in the form of everything from log cabins to repurposed shipping containers to smaller versions of traditional houses.

Some of the more notable types of Tiny Houses include:

  • Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. The four basic house models from this manufacturer all have wood exteriors, though they vary greatly in style from rustic to modern. They range in size from 117 to 221 square feet, and are all trailer-mounted and mobile. Tumbleweed offers built-to-order Tiny Houses as well as plans to build your own dwelling.
  • Tiny Texas Houses. These Tiny Houses are a bit larger and more permanent than those made by Tumbleweed. They come in two sizes, 240 or 336 square feet, are built entirely out of salvaged materials, and are built in Luling, Texas and then shipped to and installed on the homeowner's site.
  • Shipping Container Homes. Metal shipping containers are a common salvaged material used to construct Tiny Houses. Reusing these containers isn't generally cost effective, so they often ended up scrapped. Therefore, Tiny House manufacturers such as G-Pod have taken to using them as shells for dwellings.
  • Tiny Luxury Homes. Although tiny houses are small, there is nothing saying they can't still have the feel of a luxury house if that's what you want out of life. Some Tiny House owners fill their homes with amenities such as home automation, surround sound, radiant in-floor heat, and tiny hot tubs - all for a fraction of the price it would cost to have a traditional home with these things in it.
  • Micro-Apartments. Some Tiny Houses are actually apartments. Usually less than 400 square feet, micro-apartments offer single people just starting out the chance to afford a place in big cities, where the rent on a full-sized apartment would be simply impossible.

Benefits of Tiny House Living

  • Freedom. Tiny Houses offer owners the ability to move about as they please without having to sell and repurchase a home each time they relocate. This is particularly appealing to many Millennials, whose jobs are remote or who live a freelance lifestyle and don't need to remain stationary for work.
  • Simple Living. The entire point of the Tiny House movement is simple living. Many people choose to live in these homes because the modern-day standard of living doesn't matter to them, and actually creates a conflict of values for them. Tiny House living relieves this and lets you focus on what's truly important to you.
  • Sustainability. Anyone who is working to be more environmentally conscious should at least look into Tiny House living. You produce less waste, use less energy, and overall reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Money. Tiny Houses alleviate the debt problem that is plaguing our younger generations. On average, regular home owners spend 25 to 50 percent of their income on housing costs. Tiny House owners are able to take a large chunk of that income and use it for other expenses or luxuries such as traveling, taking more time off of work, or whatever else it is that is important to you in life.
  • Social Connections. People who own Tiny Houses are forced to go out into the world for things like laundry and internet connections. This means you'll meet many of your neighbors that you otherwise wouldn't have if you holed yourself up in your full-sized house all day. This also supports your local economy, as the laundromat makes money and a family is supported by the business you bring to them.

Disadvantages of Tiny House Living

  • Zoning. Codes and laws change from state to state, and sometimes from county to county within a single state. This means finding a place to set up your Tiny House legally can be a research-intensive endeavor. Many places consider Tiny Houses RVs, and therefore will not let you reside on a property in a "vehicle" for over 30 consecutive days.
  • Financing and Insurance. Finding financing and insurance for this type of structure can be a challenge, as the value of a Tiny House isn't easily determinable, and that many don't quite consider it a vehicle and don't quite consider it a house.
  • Builders. Finding a Tiny House builder you can trust can be a challenge. In such a new industry, there aren't many builders with extensive enough experience, and many of the people who will offer to work for you will never have built a Tiny House before.
  • Less Living and Storage Space. Obviously, one of the challenges of cutting down on space is that...you have less space. Many Tiny House owners spend a lot of time planning their dwelling to maximize space capacity, as it's important to make sure you can fit what few material possessions you deem necessary into the space you build for yourself.

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