Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Observations Of Living In A Small House

I was able to get my hands on a copy of interview transcript with a town planning consultant who is all about Tiny Houses.  He has just moved into a Tiny House and has learned some critical lessons that I’d thought I’d share.  He now lives in a Katrina Cottage, which I have a special affinity towards, it reminds me of the older style of a shotgun style house; I talked about them in this post. Here is what he had to say, remember he is talking some specifics about the Katrina houses.

Dropped randomly into acre-lot subdivisions and diminished by surrounding McMansions, they look eccentric and experimental. They need small-lot site-planning and the company of friends.

Here he talked about how things need to be somewhat uniform in size, the human condition likes patterns, to have a house that is dwarfed by others leaves us unconsciously unsettled.  So there is more to us wanting a Tiny House community, it will allow us to bring in honest proportions.

Here’s the second lesson confirmed by my life in 300 square feet: The space has to be beautifully designed and the construction detailed perfectly. Otherwise you’ve got exactly what Katrina Cottage critics warned against – a tricked-out trailer.

When you compress the volume, the first thing to go is wiggle room for sloppy decision-making. Compromise on design and construction quality, including material choices, and you’re off to the race to the bottom. That’s why Cusato, Tolar, Steve Mouzon and others fight so tenaciously against cheaping out on ceiling heights, window selections, flooring, roofing, and trim details.

That’s bad news for workforce housing advocates committed to driving prices per square foot down. Better to achieve the savings by intelligently compacting the space, as opposed to competing with production builders who amortize prices per square foot over thousands of under-performing square feet.

There is more to good design then just being high quality, in a small space, its impact is magnified as the space is reduced. I am often asked by people”what is the difference between a Tiny House and a trailer/mobile home?”  I am quick state: “a high level of design and attention to aesthetics”.  I firmly believe that Tiny Houses must maintain a high level of design to not follow in the steps of mobile homes.  (On second glance, this sounds almost elitist, what do people think?  Does the Tiny House Movement have a sense of elitism?)

8 Comments
  1. In a way I think tiny houses are elitist, but in a good way. I see the whole tiny house movement as a a few simple “guidelines for living”.

    1) I don’t need 500 – 1000 ft/sq per person to live comfortably
    1a) Provided the space I do have is used well.
    2) I don’t want to spend (or can’t afford) a $150,000 – $200,000 on a house
    3) I want to live in a house that is built with all the best methods and materials. Hardwood floors, granite counter tops, Lo-e windows, the works.
    4) Because of tennants 1a, and 3, Mobile and modular homes are out.

    So yeah, it is kinda snobbsh / elitist, but I don’t think it is wrong to want to build a high quality house that you can afford. In this economy, and with land prices what they are Tiny houses are the ONLY houses that make sense bang for buck, even if their price per ft/sq is much higher than a “normal” house.

  2. The source material came from Ben Brown, on the PlaceShakers blog. You can see the whole post here:

    http://placeshakers.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/livin’-large-in-small-spaces-it-takes-a-town/

    Thanks for the notice!

  3. I’ll I found that last paragraph sounded a bit elitist. There is very obviously a stigma against mobile homes here, but I think we should remember when it comes down to it that it is all a matter of taste, as well as economic means. I think everyone should build and live in the size and kind of house they what, built out of whatever matierials make sense to them, and I think its important not to stigmatize certain options.

    • I pointed out that because it struck me as elitist, which I didn’t quite like that I had initial thought. But at the same time, I think regardless of what materials you use, you should do so with an honest approach and pride in quality craftsmanship. I have been in trailer homes that were quite nice, but the owners took huge pride in the little $5-10 upgrades/details. They did those little upgrades with quality. For example one that jumps out to me was a person took a dresser they got for free, spruced it up and added it as a built in, it looked great.

      I think my big issue with trailers homes is that they are generally manufactured at a low quality. They are insulated really poorly and next to no design.

  4. Okay, it sounds eliteist. Still, I want a Tiny House. I currently live in a 2002 mobile home so I have firsthand knowledge here. Not only that but it’s not the first mobile home I have lived in. My home is about 1200 square feet and we placed it on our 40 desert acres. It was much cheaper than a stick-built home and we needed that lower price enough that it meant home or no home to us.

    Our house has 6″ walls and vinyl, double paned windows. It’s not a fancy home for sure and some of it could have been built better or stronger. Mainly the interior walls could have been 5/8″ drywall rather than 3/8″ which is it’s biggest drawback.

    My daughter lives in a 3500 sq.ft. California home and after one of the doors fell off it’s hinges my husband went around and replaced every possible variety and size of screws used to hang them with some good quality screws. They’ve had more problems with their home than we have with ours. Yep, you’ve got an eliteist attitude but frankly, I am designing my tiny home with all the nice little upgrades that are too expensive to put in a big home like my daughter’s or too nice to have been put into my economy mobile home. It
    s kind of like the three bears – I want the one that’s just right! If that makes an eliteist stance then I am there with you.

  5. I like the concept of tiny homes. It would be nice to have one that’s expandable. And why can’t the quality of trailers be increased to make them more liveable?

  6. I would love to live in a tiny home – I love the look of the Katrina cottages. But, I think you have a point – the home needs to be in an area with other like-minded homes – there is no point putting a home like a Katrina cottage in with a lot of McMansions.

    Even though the cost of outfitting a Katrina home with high end finishes might make it more expensive (to begin with) than a more cheaply built larger home, you are still going to save money in the long run with lower utility bills, property taxes, maintenance and repairs etc.

  7. Elitism might have something to do with it, but how I see it… It all has to do with opinions and preferences. I personally prefer a well built, sturdy home with lots of character and charm, but some people are happy with other options that are slightly easier to obtain. For others, it’s fine, but I know living in a mobile home would drive me insane.

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