Building an independent, self-sufficient, and debt-free lifestyle has become the dream for many people. Couple that with the ability to live remotely and even location-independent — this is where tiny houses come into the picture. One of the easiest ways to begin living off the grid is by climbing the tiny house movement bandwagon. Tiny houses are built to last as long as conventional homes do, using traditional building methods and materials, and are somewhat like the miniature adaptation of a typical larger house. People who choose this lifestyle often reassess their values and embrace the freedom, simplicity, and frugality that come with it. It helps avoid the trap of consumerism and strengthens community experiences while promoting environmental awareness, reducing ecological impact, and encouraging spending more time outside. The movement is therefore regarded as a potential green alternative to the existing housing industry and a viable solution for individuals without a place to live.

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A tiny house community _©Karl Hedin on Unsplash

The average costs to build a tiny house vary between $10,000 and $30,000 for a DIYer, double that if hiring a builder. Prices can vary based on different options, however. Usually, the size is less than 400 sq ft (37.2 m2), typically ranging between 100 sq ft and 300 sq ft (9.3m2 and 27.9 m2). Building a home requires roughly 500 hours of concentrated time. However, experienced builders may do it in only 300.

A tiny home’s use of sustainable, recyclable, or renewable building materials is one of its defining characteristics. These homes have minimal energy demands compared to average-sized counterparts, and many have pre-installed roof-mounted solar panels, which increases the structure’s energy efficiency and reduces reliance on publicly-produced energy.

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A tiny house with solar panels and a timber facade_© Harry Pepelnar on Unsplash

Toilets are another crucial aspect of tiny houses in terms of ecological impact. The amount of water used in a home dramatically reduces by incorporating alternatives to flushing toilets. For instance, compost toilets remove waste by degrading it via evaporation, while incinerator toilets burn it instead of flushing it out. Both are standard features in tiny homes. 

HISTORY

The predecessor to the tiny house was a compact, one-story structure popular among urban Black Americans from the late 19th century to the Great Depression of the 1930s, called the ‘shotgun shack.’

Jay Shafer is credited with initiating the movement and popularizing tiny houses on wheels back in the late 1990s when he designed and built his 96 sq ft (8.9 m2) home, after which he developed the first plans for tiny houses on wheels and began to sell them. 

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Typical plans for a tiny house_ ©realestate.com.au/advice/tiny-house-designs-and-plans/

The tiny house movement gained popularity during the 2007-2009 economic recession since it provided affordable and environmentally friendly housing alternatives. 

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Tiny house interior_ ©Jed Owen on Unsplash

CHALLENGES

Finding a location to live in and ensuring an adequate water supply are some of the main challenges when adopting the lifestyle of living in a tiny home. Zoning requirements often specify minimum square footage for new foundation-based construction, and parking tiny houses on wheels on one’s own property may be against municipal “camping” laws. 

Tiny house on wheels _©Tiny Heirloom

RVs and tiny homes on wheels frequently draw comparisons. If they do not exceed specified size requirements, that is, 540 sq ft (50 m2) in Canada and 400 sq ft (37 m2) in the United States in particular, they are called park model RVs. Therefore, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association states that tiny mobile homes are not suitable for permanent living. State, provincial, and territorial building codes still apply, though. RV parks may not always permit them unless they meet the requirements for RVs.

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RV (left) and a tiny house (right) _©archive.curbed.com/2016/9/26/13060326/tiny-house-trailer-rv-camper

Depending on the land they occupy, tiny homes can be considered costly.

COMBATTING HOMELESSNESS

Tiny houses are used as homeless shelters in American cities due to their low cost and relatively simple construction, allowing residents to transition to self-sufficiency. Non-profit groups are the primary actors behind constructing and financing tiny homes for the homeless.

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A tiny house pulled by a truck _© WikiMedia Commons

Tiny houses can be built on wheels or erected on a foundation and be either rented or owned. While some are bought, converted from trailers, or assembled from a small house kit, others are planned and built by the owner themselves. The majority are standalone structures; some are situated on a plot of land along with other buildings or a bigger house, while others are situated on a separate lot. They exist in various shapes and sizes, but their essence lies in promoting a simpler, efficient space focusing on what is essential. The options are endless, and the outcome—including the lifestyle change—can be pretty satisfying.

Reference List

[1] Wikipedia (2022). Tiny House Movement. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiny-house_movement Accessed: 24 December 2022].

[2] The Tiny Life (2022). Off-Grid Tiny House Guide. [online]. Available at: https://thetinylife.com/tiny-houses/off-grid-tiny-house-guide/  [Accessed: 24 December 2022].

[3] Rank S. (2020). The Ultimate Off-Grid Tiny House Guide. [online]. Available at: http://bhutan.com/culture/architecture  [Accessed: 24 December 2022].

[4] Johnson C. (2014). How to Live Off-the-grid in a Tiny House. [online]. Available at: 

https://www.shareable.net/how-to-live-off-the-grid-in-a-tiny-house/  [Accessed: 24 December 2022].

Author

A graduated BSc. in Architecture and soon-to-be master’s student, aspiring to specialize in sustainable and energy-efficient built environment. Having lived in both the Middle East and Europe has ignited travel as a passion, which she considers a valuable learning experience in the architectural profession, contributing to a spark to explore further through writing at RTF.

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