With great excitement I've been watching the Tiny House Movement grow from an avant-garde experiment to the topic of uncountable news articles, TV shows, blog posts, and conversations by folks inside and outside of “the industry”.  In most ways, the goals behind every one built is exactly in line with what I personally believe to be a much needed change in the way we think about housing.  Particular words come to mind:  efficiency, modesty, frugality, eco-consciousness, self-reliance, freedom from debt, and freedom in general – all of these among the most common reasons why people take the plunge into a simpler, smaller way of inhabiting personal space.  All of these have also been sorely missing in the accumulated insanity of the past 50 years of real estate hot-air-mongering.

Maybe the most famous Tiny House in America - Thoreau's Walden Cabin

However, there is one concept I worry is often missing from the Tiny House vocabulary – flexibility.  Homes need to be living things like the people who dwell in them.  Single bachelor(ette)s become couples.  Couples sometimes become families.  Families expand, then shrink, then often re-expand.  Outside of raw square footage demands, functional needs change.  Efficiency kitchens need to become entertaining centers.  Bedrooms are converted into offices.   Dining rooms become playrooms.  And, of course, aesthetic tastes change from decade to decade.

MiniMotives Blogger, Macy Miller, walks us through small addition to her Tiny Home. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-OX1dT2CfE)

In order to allow for this kind of change, I believe the typical definition Tiny House needs to at once expand and tighten.

Historic Tiny Home - Nigel Jones - www[dot]geograph[dot]org[dot]uk[slash]photo[slash]583520.jpg
While many contemporary Tiny Homes are built on trailers, this  historic"Tiny Home" in Roydon, UK isn't going down any road any time soon.

But, most importantly, Tiny Homes – in their tiniest manifestations – benefit from a sort of loophole in the building code.  Under a certain square footage, you can kinda sorta build it however you want.  (The reason for this is itself a cause for thought – it assumes you won’t ever be selling it as a house to someone else, who might not be aware that you have more, let’s say, “liberal” notions of necessary stud placement or electrical safety.)  However, as soon as you’ve expanded beyond that square footage cutoff (typically between 250-750 square feet, with the average around 450sqft), what was once a “Recreational Vehicle” (RV) or an “Accessory Dwelling Unit” (ADU) is now a “house,” and it needs to follow building code.  If it wasn’t built that way from the beginning, well, the word “salvage” comes to mind before “renovation”.

And it’s not just building code that is a concern in the generations-long lifespan of a house.  Most likely, whoever originally physically built the Tiny Home (even if that person is the owner) won’t always be the person doing the expansion/renovation work.  They won’t have access to uncommonly sized building materials, windows, appliances, and other fixtures, or at least not easy/inexpensive access.  They won’t know what to expect “inside the walls” like they would in a house built using standard building practices.  They might even insist that large areas of the home be “brought up to standard” before they’ll warranty the work they’re doing.  If there is one truism that trumps all others in construction – anything “abnormal” will result in abnormally high costs.

Tiny House infographic by TheTinyLife.com - click to enlarge

Tiny Homes are a major, positive component of a movement that has the potential to radically realign housing with the realities of the environment, economic sanity, self-reliance and determination, and old-fashioned humility.  But I think it is critical that they also serve our long-term needs, and even the long-term needs of future owners.  After all – and while it may sound strange coming from someone who’s passion is to help people build their own homes (Tiny or otherwise) – sometimes the most ecological and economic construction project is the one that doesn’t need to happen (or can at least be much tinier).

Thank you for reading, 

Dennis Michaud

(Co-Founder, Homebuilt, www.homebuiltkits.com)


Cover Image, The Good Life, by Tracy Booth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tinyhousepaintings/4262721727/

Exterior view of Thoreau's cabin, by Byron Howes, here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimdok/4954787027

Interior view of Thoreau's cabin, by Namlhots, here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thoreau%27s_cabin_inside.jpg

MiniMotives video, by Macy Miller, here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-OX1dT2CfE

Historic home in Roydon, UK, by Nigel Jones, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/583520

Tiny Homes infographic by The Tiny Life, http://thetinylife.com/tiny-house-infographic/