20 Truths About Tiny Houses
Tiny houses are so hot right now, with growing numbers of people ditching the dream of a big, sprawling property — and the associated costs — in favor of a far more minimalist option.
While miniature houses are all kinds of cute, the perks of tiny house living deserve to be taken seriously. “In addition to being more affordable to purchase than average homes or mobile homes, today’s tiny houses are cheaper and easier to maintain,” said Matthew Davies, founder and president of Harmony Communities, which operates manufactured home communities across the western United States and is currently converting several of those communities to neighborhoods of tiny homes.
But do good things really come in small packages, or is tiny house living a trend that won’t stand the test of time? Here’s everything you need to know about living in a tiny house — the good and the bad.
1. ‘Tiny House’ Has an Official Definition
In 2017, the International Code Council (ICC) approved an official definition of a tiny house: “A dwelling that is 400 square feet (37 sq m) or less in floor area excluding lofts.” This was welcome news to those who wanted to get a building permit and Certificate of Occupancy from the building department.
However, it also sparked great debate about whether park models (trailer-type RVs), RVs and manufactured homes (dwelling units with a permanent chassis for transportation) can be called tiny houses. Tiny home purists say no; others argue that it’s about size and nothing else.
2. Tiny Houses Are Energy Efficient
According to Davies, a tiny house requires only around 7 percent of the average kilowatts required to light an average-sized American home and can reduce electric bills by 75 percent. A tiny house can be a more energy-efficient home in many other ways, such as through the use of specially designed ventilation systems.
3. Tiny Houses Generate Less CO2
It’s undeniable that a tiny house generates substantially less CO2 than the average regular-sized home. “Heating and cooling a tiny home generates approximately 558 pounds of CO2 (to heat) and 286 pounds (to cool) per year, compared to 8,000 pounds and 4,000 pounds to heat and cool an average home,” says Davies.
4. It’s a Greener Model
Far less waste is generated during construction of a tiny home simply because it’s, well, tiny. “During construction of an average 2,000-square-foot home, four to seven tons of waste can be generated; tiny homes generate significantly less waste in their construction,” said Davies. Plus, the manufacturers of tiny homes tend to use more sustainable materials in general.
5. You Have to Be Aware of Potential Code Violations
Zoning “grey areas” could make living in a tiny house in your area difficult. “Municipals that see tiny homes as violations can claim that they are recreational vehicles if they have wheels and a hitch,” said Shawn Breyer from We Buy Houses Atlanta. “RV campgrounds may not consider them RVs and won't allow you to stay there. These incidents won't occur everywhere, but they are something you need to consider when purchasing a tiny home.”
Some states are responding to public requests and considering ways to implement building standards for tiny houses. A bill in New Hampshire, which has passed the House and the Senate, will form a commission to study tiny houses and add building standards to state law. And lawmakers in the state of Washington have submitted a bill that allows dwellers in mobile home communities to use tiny houses on wheels as their primary residence.
6. Relocation Is Easier
If you need to relocate to another city for a new job, you don’t need to put your tiny house on the market, pack up all of your stuff into a moving truck, pay realtor fees and buy a new house. “You can hook your tiny home up to your truck and move to the next city to find a plot of land to park your home on,” said Breyer. “If needed, you could even find temporary parking at campsites until you find a plot of land to rest your tiny home on.”
7. Tiny Houses Offer No Tax Deduction Benefits
Since a tiny house is not considered real estate unless it’s attached permanently to the ground, it doesn’t come with the same tax deduction benefits as a traditional home. “Tax deductions are a great reason to make an investment in real estate, can account for thousands in tax savings annually, and can even negate your tax liability completely,” said Breyer. “If you're looking at it from an investment perspective, a traditional home is the way to go.”
8. Tiny Houses Come With More Costs Than You Might Think
It might be cheaper overall to live in a tiny house than a regular-sized one, but it still comes with significant costs. For starters, you need a full-size truck to tow a tiny home. “Tiny homes generally weigh around 5 tons so you're looking at an F-350 sized truck,” said Breyer.
9. The Tiny House Rental Market Has Potential
Outdoor accommodation portal Glamping Hub has seen a big increase in growth in tiny house resorts and communities, and now has 196 tiny houses listed for rent in USA, Canada, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, Greece, France, Montenegro, Slovenia, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Ecuador, South Africa, Italy and The Philippines. The average nightly price for a tiny house on Glamping Hub is $175 per night.
10. Noise Is a Concern
A common issue with tiny house living is noise, especially during bad weather. “A well-designed roof system can incorporate sound attenuation materials such as insulation or air gaps to reduce the transfer of noise from the rooftop to the structure itself,” said Todd E. Miller, president of Isaiah Industries, Inc.
11. It’s Gotta Be Rainproof and Windproof
A minimal lifestyle might be attractive in many ways, but you still want you and your family to be protected from the elements. Again, it comes down to a good roof system to ensure rain water is directed away from the home (and the people inside). “A roof system that does not have any gaps where water might enter the walls and begin to cause mold is critical,” said Miller. “You also need drip edges and trim that kick the water away from the home’s exterior walls.”
The roof on your tiny house also needs to be able to withstand high winds, whether you intend to find it a permanent site or occasionally pull it down the road. “Metal roofs typically have interlocking panels for wind resistance, which are more effective than overlaps or adhesives,” said Miller.
12. Proper Material Choices Are Key
A tiny house needs less material than a regular house, but you could end up with a large maintenance bill if you don’t make the right material choices. “Because of the small roof space involved, it’s easier for tiny houses owners to invest in high-end lasting roofing materials that won’t require maintenance,” said Miller. For instance, vents in the roof system to let moisture escape is important to avoid mold issues inside the home, caused by moisture from bathing, cooking and doing laundry. That moisture has to go somewhere, and in a tiny home, it ends up being contained in a very small space.
13. Fire Safety Is Critical
In the event of a fire, the time from ignition to complete destruction in a tiny house is very short. Miller recommends metal roofing and siding materials to offer great resistance to airborne sparks and embers — and help prevent your tiny house going up in flames.
14. Tiny Houses Make Great TV
It appears that Americans don’t just want to live in tiny houses. They want to watch them, too. “Tiny House Nation,” which premiered on cable channel FYI in 2014 and is currently in its fifth season, follows renovation experts John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin as they give homeowners from all walks of life tiny solutions to their particular living challenges.
In HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters,” which streams on Hulu and also premiered in 2014, realtors help people find the right miniature dwelling to suit their lifestyle, from full-time permanent family residences to vacation boltholes, and participants get to choose from three options before deciding what is best for them.
15. Tiny Houses Don’t Always Work Out
It’s not always “happy ever after” for tiny house dwellers. In a 2016 episode of “Tiny House Hunters,” a couple named Jordan and Aubree bought what was basically a burned-down shack for $155,000 (although it was already zoned for residential living). The filmmakers built and moved into a 333 square-foot tiny house on the land… but recently closed on a standard-size two-bedroom house. “It was all about the bed thing,” Jordan explained to Slate. “When your bed is in your living room [...] you just start to devolve into this primal human that’s like, ‘I could just do everything in bed.’”
16. You Can’t Simply Shrink Everything
Tiny house doesn’t necessarily mean tiny everything. If you reduce your bathroom space or bed size too much, you sacrifice the quality of living space. Instead, it’s wise to explore multifunctionality through furniture pieces with multiple uses, like storage beds, and adaptable, innovative architecture, such as walls that pull out to form seating then slot back into place.
17. Don’t Forget the Foundations
If you want your tiny house to be easily transportable (when you move to another state, or want to get out of the path of a hurricane), it makes sense to build it on a trailer. But tiny houses can also be built on stilts, skids, concrete slabs or post-and-beam foundations. Most tiny houses are still built on trailers, largely due to the legal issues relating to tiny house living.
18. Not All Tiny Houses Are New
In 1925, nearly a century before tiny homes were a thing, a super-slim duplex was built in Seattle. The railroad-style house measures about 56 feet long, so it looks like a regular house from the front, but it’s only four-and-a-half feet wide. However, at 860 square feet, it might not meet the modern definition of a tiny house.
19. Tiny Houses Don’t Always Have Tiny Price Tags
Architect Clay Wallace paid $375,000 for this Seattle house in 2014, unable to resist its 1,000-square-feet of Spanish Colonial Revival charm. Wallace put his tiny house up for sale for $499,000 in 2016 and it sold for $500,000. Two years later it was back on the market for $599,900 and its current owners paid $630,000 for it.
20. You Can Buy Tiny Houses on Amazon
Supporting the argument that you can buy anything and everything on Amazon, the online retail giant has a whole category of modular and kit-style “tiny house” structures. Options include the 172-square-foot Allwood Solvalla, which costs $7,250 and sold out in 2018 when it enjoyed 15 minutes of viral fame. For a more traditional cabin style, check out the Lillevilla Allwood Getaway Cabin, a 292-square-foot (with an additional sleeping loft), three-room home with a wooden deck and a price tag of $18,800.