Archive for the Essentials Category

Top 5 Biggest Barriers To The Tiny House Movement

I was driving into work today when the idea came to me for this article.  Why does it have to be so difficult to achieve the life so many of us would love to live?  There are no simple answers to our reasons, but we need to face them head on.  Since I don’t like to focus on the negatives too much, my next post will be on some of the possible solutions and approaches to overcome these barriers.

UPDATE:   Here are the solutions to these:   Part 1  and Part 2

 

Getting Land for sale

Land

One of the largest hurdles for people wanting to live in a Tiny House is access to land.  Land is expensive, in growing short supply and people want a balance of having land and being close to city or town centers where they can access services, entertainment and employment.  These things are often in conflict with each other.  The closer to the city center, the smaller and more expensive the lots.  To have a Tiny House, you don’t need much land for the actual house, but you do need enough to be able to obscure the house from prying eyes in order to fly under the radar of code enforcement and curmudgeons.

Problem Getting Land

Loans

At this point, banks don’t feel that Tiny Houses are a viable option because they don’t have a good resale value.  This means their loan isn’t secured with collateral.  It is this dynamic that means for us to get access to loans, we need to get creative.  Some borrow from a family member, some save up years to pay with cash, others use credit cards and carry a balance.  There isn’t a good answer in this area yet, it’s a tough problem to crack.

Tiny Home Violations

Laws

Despite the approach of putting a tiny house on trailer, this isn’t the magic bullet that it is often claimed to be.  The issue comes when you look at your municipality’s minimum habitable structure definition.  These definitions almost always exclude Tiny Houses from being a dwelling and give code enforcement a strong leg to stand on when it comes to condemning your Tiny Home and/or levying fines.  This code does serve a good purpose; it prevents abuse on the part of slum lords and gives a mechanism for the courts to hold slum lords accountable.

Laws and zoning

Social Pressures

In our society today, bigger is better, more is better, we are conditioned to want more and more stuff.  These cultural norms are a very strong current in maintaining the status quo.  Tiny Houses fly in the face of such things, questioning much of what people hold dear.  People can react in a very visceral way when we suggest there is a problem with the way things are.  People work their whole lives to get as much stuff as they can, to suggest that is wrong, in a way, is to suggest their life’s work is wrong.  People can get very defensive and social pressures can make the shift to living a simple life in a Tiny House very difficult with some people.  We need to be sure not to come off as judgmental or preachy, we want to present it simply as an alternative.

Don't be afraid to fail

Fear

This ties into a few of the above points, but is none the less a real barrier.  When faced with the prospect of bucking the system, initiating a radical lifestyle change, and spending a good chunk of money to do it, it can be scary.  I know from personal experience when you are close to the moment where you must make the decision, where you have to take the leap, a whole series of self-doubts come to the surface.  You are left trying to decide if these doubts are simply normal big decision jitters or if they are valid concerns your unconscious is trying to make you aware of.  The sorting of these thoughts and processing of them is taxing, a little emotional, and of course scary.  Even those of us who deal with change well will struggle with this significantly, fear is a powerful emotion and we must face it to achieve our goal.

What are some ways we can over come these?

Let us know in the comments!


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Top 10 Tiny House Questions

I realized the other day when I speak about Tiny Houses I almost always get these questions and figured people coming to the site might find useful.  So here we go:

1. What is a Tiny House?

A Tiny House doesn’t really have a definition, which is one of its strengths, it is a creative and flexible concept.  The general gist is that we are looking to design and construct a dwelling for one or more people that is proportional to the number of people who live in it, but is smaller than the typical American Home.  I generally classify a Tiny House as under 200 square feet and a small house 200-400 square feet for a single person.

2. Why the hell would you live in a Tiny House?

There a are a whole slew of reasons why we want to live in smaller spaces.  Most people will point to three motivations: Environmental impact, financial reasons and life simplification.  I am not going to argue about environmental issues, but the fact is we need to live smaller in all meanings of the word.  We have to reduce our impact, our waste, our inputs, our outputs, our footprint and shift to a resilient and sustainable future and that isn’t a “sustainable” future like the commercial interests want to sell you.  There are also many who look at the current true cost of homes today and question the wisdom in purchasing such a large investment that is seen as a debtors prison.    Finally, living in a Tiny House allows you to bring focus and intentionality to your life, allowing you to focus on what is important in your life.  When you aren’t tied to a home that you owe on, when you don’t have heaps of clutter you can focus on things like relationships, yourself, learning, etc.

3. How much does a Tiny House cost?

I have seen people who have went through great lengths to recover materials from dumps/Craig’s list/etc and already had the tools, they built it for under $3000.  On the upper end, using top shelf materials and paying for someone to build it for you, $50,000.  The average Tiny House person spends around $20,000 and does the work themselves.

4. Isn’t a Tiny House on a trailer really just a trailer home?

I would say no, but other disagree.  Trailer homes often are much more expensive, the ones coming out of the factories have next to no appreciation for aesthetics, they often don’t focus on minimizing environmental impacts and often are made of low quality materials.  There are a whole host of social consciousness issues surrounding Tiny Houses.

5. I have a family, you’re crazy to think that it is a practical option!

The Tiny Houses I typically talk about are around 150 square feet, but what people seemed to have selective hearing on is when I talk about the definition of a Tiny Houses is that a Tiny or Small House is respective to the number of occupants.  A small house for a family of 5 might be 1000 square feet.  I also write from the perspective of a single male who doesn’t wish to have kids, but would probably build a bigger house when I get married.

6. Aren’t they dangerous, what about tornadoes or hurricanes?

We work to make our houses to be as safe as possible, there are codes which promote safety, but sometimes codes lag behind and out of date.  Building Tiny House can adhere to most of the same codes or even exceed them.  Since many Tiny Houses are built on trailers, they have to be road worthy, which means it can tolerate stresses far beyond those of a traditional housing.  For high winds, we use hurricane strapping which anchors the house to the ground more strongly than most houses are built today.  The use of higher quality materials and better construction means you are better protected.  Finally, in the event of serious danger, you are able to hitch your house to your car and drive out of harms way, which is pretty useful for flooding, just drive to the high point.

7. Are they legal?

In many cases they operate in gray areas.  There are some municipalities that will work with you and I encourage you to do so, but sometimes they simply won’t.  Having good relationships with your neighbors, large enough land to hide it, use loopholes, and flying under the radar is sufficient for most.   Often it comes down to semantics:  it is not a dwelling, it is a storage shed; it is a trailer, not a home.

8. Where do I put all of my stuff?

When you move to a smaller home you need to weed through your possessions, many of us find that there are many things that we haven’t used or needed in years!  It really starts with an understanding of consumer culture, the problems it brings and the benefits you gain by at least partially removing yourself from it.  We are always going to need things, we will always need to purchase things, but the differentiation between needs and wants is a difficult thing to start doing.  We also need to be cognizant about how our culture influences us in this aspect, because it has a strong hold over many of us.  I am still in this process of myself, getting rid of what is not truly needed and reducing my possessions to the basics. There are those who try to do the 100 thing or 300 thing challenge, I don’t necessarily do that, but I have been able to shift my mind set to really question my stuff and my purchases.

9. Do they have running water, flushing toilets and lights?

Yes and no.  It depends on the house, there are many people who live in Tiny Houses who have all the creature comforts of modern society.  At the same time, there are those who bring in their own water, use composting toilets, and capture their power from the sun.  Many call this “off the grid”, my hope is to design my home to be able to tie into the grid fully, but can also operate off the grid.

10. Awesome!  How do I start?

My post on Monday will outline how to get started moving towards living in a Tiny House!

 

The difference between a tiny house a mobile home or trailer?

I get this question a lot: what is the difference between living in a tiny house and living in a mobile home/trailer?  It’s hard to put into words but I’ll give it a try.  First off a Tiny house doesn’t need to mobile, they can be built as a traditional slab foundation.  The purpose of having your home on a trailer, is that it allows you to get around many building codes due to the fact that people at city hall scratching their heads saying “its kinda like a trailer”.

Aesthetics:

I feel there is a much larger push for aesthetics than your typical RV, Trailer or mobile home.   The cost per square foot of tiny homes, is often much higher than your standard built homes.  The limited space means you much pain painstakingly maximize every inch.

tiny house looks better than an RV or camper

The use of high quality building materials, meticulous design and some style are a huge departure from the quintessential mobile home.  I would even go a far to say they are often built with these tenant (materials, meticulous design and style) more so than most traditional homes today.  I live in Charlotte, NC which has see and continues to see huge growth.  Thousands of new homes are being built every year and they lack these things.

Philosophy:

A big driving cause for people wanting to live in these homes is because they want to downsize.  They have been buying into the notion that bigger is better for most of their lives and have come to realize, well maybe its not better or maybe it is not for me.

tiny house living as a lifestyle

In our world of consumerism, our culture of ownership, we have come to see that materials things are not the most important things in our lives.  While we still  participate in this consumer economy, it is at a much lesser degree. We have changed the focus of importance from things to people, relationships and free time for pursuit of things which hold intrinsic value to us.  The key thing to realize is that we choose to live in a small house because of the lifestyle it affords us.

Environmental Impact:

There is a very strong underlying trend which is associated with living small.  By doing so, you contribute much less in terms of emissions, waste, etc.  A tiny house requires allot less materials to build and can be built of renewable resources.  At present the average construction of a home yields over 4 tons of waste to build.  While you may not be a “hippie” or a card carrying member of Greenpeace, you know that because of you, the earth will be a little bit greener and that’s not a bad thing.  In addition to using less resources, it takes less resources to run and keep up.  When you are heating and cooling a tiny house it takes the same amount of energy as small bedroom.

Efficiency:

Tiny homes are built to generally be a normal house quality, often better.  While many trailer/mobile homes and RV/campers are not.  One thing of note is the insulation, these homes are well insulated and often better than a traditional home.  This results in a greater return on energy spent on heating and cooling.  This is one example, but in general, you see better efficiencies across the board.

Financial:

The financial benefits are astounding, from no mortgage, to less costs of renovations, maintenance and initial building costs, you save allot of money.  The average home price (before the economic downturn) was around $230,000 by conservative estimates!  Tiny homes have been built for as little as $5000, much less than many of us pay in rent or mortgage in a give year.

living debt free in a tiny house

Time and time again I here the woes of neighbors who are in financial trouble, who were laid off and had no way to pay their mortgage.  I have seen people be slave to their homes, forcing them to get a second job and spend more time away from their families.  Is it worth it?….maybe not.  While being smart with your money and having a budget are concepts that should be used by anyone, you begin to see how its much easier to stay in the black during hard times.

The average person will spend a third of their income over their lives on housing.  Crunching the numbers on the typical home in America, based off the US income average for a single person, we will typically spend $465,000 in our life time. (based off US census 2007 information)   I personally would rather allocate that money to travel, education, hobbies or charity.

DIY and the Renaissance man/woman spirit:

Now this will not apply to all of you, in fact, it may not be any of you, but a large appeal is creating something with your own two hands.  The costs savings are obvious where labor cost of construction often amount to about 40% or more, but its more than that.  In America there many of us whom would be classified as white collar or have specialized trades/skills.

There exists a conflict within me which I find unsettling, that is:  If our way of life were to cease to exist tomorrow, what good am I?  I specialize in human resource consulting, where does that fit into things, if the grocery store ceased to exist, if the power was never going to come back on. While this probably won’t happen, the idea of knowing that I have no real worldly skills (carpentry, metal working, farming) is unsettling.  What is more, these things interest me as hobbies as I like to tinker.

The notion of a Renaissance man, originally from the Latin phrase “homo universalis” translating to Man of the world, was a phrase used to describe a person who excels in many areas.  This is something that I feel is missing from modernity and perhaps creates a conflict in our world which focuses on specialization.  Perhaps building a tiny house help address this….but that might be a reach.

Going against the status quo:

The paradigm of what makes you successful, a big house, job, spouse, 2.5 kids and a dog all with white picket fence sounds nice, till you realize its being shoved down your throat.  While you can certainly be happy and seek this life, it isn’t for everyone, infact, I don’t think it is for allot of us.  It is not that they are wrong and we are right, that their plan is flawed or drives some agenda, its that it is what society tells us we want, when we should be the ones who decide what we want.  There are many socialized pressures that tell us what to do, what to buy, how to live, etcetera etcetera.  This doesn’t come out of wanting to be deviant, to get back at something or someone, or to be a rebel, it is being what we want to be.

That’s the basics of how a tiny house is different from a RV, camper or mobile home.  They are quite different in many regards.