Tiny house movement

A tiny mobile house in Olympia, Washington, United States

The tiny house movement (also known as the "small house movement"[1]) is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. There is currently no set definition of what constitutes a tiny house; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet (46 m2) is generally accepted to be a tiny home.[2]


In the United States the average size of new single family homes grew from 1,780 square feet (165 m2) in 1978 to 2,479 square feet (230.3 m2) in 2007, and to 2,662 square feet (247.3 m2) in 2013, despite a decrease in the size of the average family.[3][4] Reasons for this include increased material wealth and prestige.[3]

The small house movement is a return to houses of less than 1,000 square feet (93 m2). Frequently the distinction is made between small (between 400 square feet (37 m2) and 1,000 square feet (93 m2)), and tiny houses (less than 400 square feet (37 m2)), with some as small as 80 square feet (7.4 m2).[5] Sarah Susanka has been credited with starting the recent countermovement toward smaller houses when she published The Not So Big House (1997).[3] Earlier pioneers include Lloyd Kahn, author of Shelter (1973) and Lester Walker, author of Tiny Houses (1987). Henry David Thoreau and the publication of his book Walden is also quoted as early inspiration.[6]

Tiny houses on wheels were popularized by Jay Shafer who designed and lived in a 96 sq ft house and later went on to offer the first plans for tiny houses on wheels, initially founding Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, and then Four Lights Tiny House Company (September 6, 2012).[7][8] In 2002, he co-founded, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon and Nigel Valdez the Small House Society.[9] Salomon and Valdez subsequently published their guide to the modern Small House Movement, Little House on a Small Planet (2006) and Johnson published his memoir, Put Your Life on a Diet (2008)

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Marianne Cusato developed Katrina Cottages, that start at 308 square feet (28.6 m2) as an alternative to FEMA trailers. Though these were created to provide a pleasant solution to a disaster zone, Cusato received wider interest in her design from developers of resorts, for example.[10]

With the financial crisis of 2007–08, the small house movement attracted more attention as it offers housing that is more affordable and ecologically friendly.[11] Overall, however, it represents a very small part of real estate transactions. Thus only 1% of home buyers acquire houses of 1,000 square feet (93 m2) or less.[12] Small houses are also used as accessory dwelling units (or ADUs), to serve as additional on-property housing for aging relatives or returning children, as a home office, or as a guest house.[12] Typical costs are about $20,000 to $50,000 as of 2012.[12]

In Oakland, California, Gregory Kloehn builds small houses out of found materials, for an estimated cost of $40.[13][14]

Small and tiny houses have received increasing media coverage [15] including a serial television show, Tiny House Nation,[16] in 2014 and Tiny House Hunters. The possibility of building one's own home has fueled the movement, particularly for tiny houses on wheels. Tiny houses on wheels are often compared to RVs. However, tiny houses are built to last as long as traditional homes, use traditional building techniques and materials, and are aesthetically similar to larger homes.[17]

Some companies have put into motion plans to create tiny home developments.[18]

Tiny House Giant Journey travels through the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona while an RV drives by.

Outside the United States

While the movement is most active in America, interest in tiny homes has been revived in other developed countries, as well. For example,


This increase in popularity of tiny houses, and particularly the rapid increase in the number of both amateur and professional builders, has led to concerns regarding safety among tiny house professionals. In 2013, an Alliance of tiny house builders was formed to promote ethical business practices and offer guidelines for construction of tiny houses on wheels.[23] This effort was carried on in 2015 by the American Tiny House Association. In 2015, the nonprofit American Tiny House Association was formed to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable dwelling option and to work with local government agencies to discuss zoning and coding regulations that can reduce the obstacles to tiny living.[24]

One of the biggest obstacles to growth of the tiny house movement is the difficulty in finding a place to live in one.[25] Zoning regulations typically specify minimum square footage for new construction on a foundation, and for tiny houses on wheels, parking on one's own land may be prohibited by local regulations against "camping." [26] In addition, RV parks do not always welcome tiny houses. DIYers may be turned away, as many RV parks require RVs be manufactured by a member of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association "(RVIA)".

Tiny houses on wheels are considered RVs and not suitable for permanent residence, according to the RVIA. From RVBusiness, "The RVIA will continue to shy away from allowing members who produce products that are referred to as 'tiny houses' or 'tiny homes'. (However, the RVIA does allow “tiny home” builders to join as long as their units are built to park model RV standards.)" [27]

In 2014, the first "tiny house friendly town" was declared in Spur, Texas; however, it was later clarified that a tiny house may not be on wheels but must be secured to a foundation.[28]

In July 2016, Washington County, Utah revised their zoning regulations to accommodate some types of tiny houses.[29]

Communities for the homeless

The financial crisis of 2007–08, fueled the growth of the small house movement. For thousands who lost their homes due to foreclosure or unemployment, tiny houses became an attractive option. With their low cost and relative ease of construction, tiny houses are being adopted as shelter for the homeless in Eugene, OR, Olympia, WA, Ithaca, NY and other cities. Communities of tiny houses can offer residents a transition towards self-sufficiency.[30] [31][32]

Pros and cons

Smaller homes are less expensive than larger ones in terms of taxes and building, heating, maintenance, and repair costs. The lower cost of living may be advantageous to those 55 and older with little savings.[33] In addition to costing less, small houses may encourage a less cluttered and simpler lifestyle and reduce ecological impacts for their residents.[34] The typical size of a small home seldom exceeds 500 square feet (46 m2).[35] The typical tiny house on wheels is usually less than 8 ft by 20 ft, with livable space totalling 120 square feet or less, for ease of towing and to exempt it from the need for a building permit.

Small houses may emphasize design over size,[10] utilize dual purpose features and multi-functional furniture, and incorporate technological advances of space saving equipment and appliances.[3] Vertical space optimization is also a common feature of small houses and apartments.

As small houses may be attractive as second homes or retirement houses—two out of five people are over 50—their increased utilization may lead to development of more land.[35] People interested in building a small home can encounter institutional “discrimination” when building codes require minimum size well above the size of a small home.[26] Also, neighbors may be hostile because they fear negative impacts on their property values.[36] There has also been opposition based on this fact, due to concerns about increased taxes.[37][38][39]


See also


  1. Mitchell, Ryan (August 8, 2009). "What is the tiny house movement". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  2. "About Tiny Houses". Tiny House Town. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Carmela Ferraro (February 21, 2009). "Small but perfectly formed". Financial Times.
  4. What would our homes look like if designed around how we use them? - TreeHugger
  5. Tiny House FAQs - What is a tiny house?
  6. About Tiny Houses - TINY
  7. http://www.fourlightshouses.com/
  8. https://www.facebook.com/FourLightsHouses#!/FourLightsHouses/info
  9. http://smallhousesociety.net/about/
  10. 1 2 Al Heavens (June 14, 2007). "Smaller Could Be the Answer to a Lot of Issues.". Realty Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
  11. The Economist (February 19, 2009). "Very little house on the prairie". The Economist. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
  12. 1 2 3 Brenoff, Ann (Oct 22, 2012). "Downsizing: Could You Live In A Tiny Home In Retirement?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved Oct 24, 2012.
  13. http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_24869274/oakland-artist-turns-trash-into-homes-homeless
  14. http://www.homelesshomesproject.org/Media.html
  15. Fox News (February 11, 2014). "High Tech Meets Low Tech in Tiny House Movement". Fox News. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  16. Heather Dirubba (February 26, 2014). "Tiny A&E Network Unveils FYIs First Programming Slate and July 7 Launch Date". A&E Network. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  17. Mitchell, Ryan (November 2, 2014). "The Tiny Life". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  18. "Groups plan tiny houses in Syracuse, some as small as backyard sheds". syracuse.com. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  19. Tiny House Listings Canada
  20. Palongue, Pamela. "The House that Jonathan built". Tiny House Living. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  21. Mackenzie, Steven. "Tiny Solution to a Big Housing Crisis". bigissue.com. Big Issue. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  22. Lloyd Alter (July 10, 2008). "Home Delivery: The Micro Compact Home Comes To America". Treehugger. Retrieved March 7, 2009.
  23. Walker, Elaine (2013-06-18). "Tiny House Alliance". Tiny House Community.
  24. Walker, Elaine (2015-01-27). "American Tiny House Association". American Tiny House Association.
  25. Walker, Elaine (2015-01-27). "Where to Live in a Tiny House". Tiny House Community.
  26. 1 2 Mitchell, Ryan (2014-07-18). "Tiny House Building Codes". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  27. "N.C. RV Park Offers Take On Tiny House Friction". RV Business. RV Business. 2015-08-06. Retrieved 2014-08-08.
  28. Spur, TX (July 9, 2014). "Spur Freedom".
  29. Applegate, J. (2016, July 21). Tiny house trend on the move in Southern Utah | St George News. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2016/07/21/jla-tiny-house-trend-on-the-move-in-southern-utah/#.V5opR4-cHDc
  30. Heben, Andrew (2014-07-11). Tent City Urbanism. The Village Collaborative. ISBN 978-0692248058.
  31. "Tiny Houses for the Homeless". PBS. 2014-10-10.
  32. "Tiny homes with a view: Ithaca volunteers provide shelters for homeless men (video)". syracuse.com. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  33. Adams, C., & Williams, A. (2016, May). Square footage. Business North Carolina, 36(5), 56.
  34. Rami Lulu (March 18, 2016). "5 Advantages of Living in a Mini Home". AskAvenue. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  35. 1 2 Bethany Lyttle (February 16, 2007). "Think Small". New York Times.
  36. Carol Lloyd (April 27, 2007). "Small houses challenge our notions of need as well as minimum-size standards". SFGate. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  37. Josh Dehass (November 13, 2008). "Laneway housing pilot proceeds despite opposition". UBC Journalism News Service. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  38. Charlie Smith (April 10, 2008). "Anxiety grows over EcoDensity in Vancouver". straight.com. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  39. Ned Jacobs (June 8, 2010). "The Vancouver neighbourhoods backlash continues". www.francesbula.com. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
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