The Case for Tiny Homes

Wed 2015-06-17

Society seems to glorify working jobs we hate to afford giant homes that we never have time to enjoy (or clean). We become slaves to our mortgages, our energy costs, our water bills. What if you could live mortgage-free and eco-friendly while improving the quality of your life? I want to talk to you about a growing trend in real estate - tiny houses. But first, let’s talk about the “norm.” The American standard house size has been steadily increasing over the decades as seen in the below infographic.

Source: Census Bureau

That’s a huge growth! And jumping back to the 50’s, homes were even smaller. The average was less than 1000 square feet.

50s versus now

To reiterate the infographic -- One person in 2011 has as much individual space as an entire 1950’s family of four! Do we really need all that space?

Definitely not, especially considering all the problems of large homes. First of all, the actual cost you pay for home ownership is much more than the actual price tag on the house. Besides the down payment and the monthly mortgage payments, there are many other costs, including but not limited to:

  • Insurance

  • Property taxes

  • Utilities

  • Appliances

  • Furniture

  • Repair and maintenance

  • Yard care

  • Pest control

  • Remodeling

  • Homeowner’s association fees where applicable

If you would like to read more about how buying a home is a bad move financially, check out “Dumb moves that sound smart: Buying a house” by Kathy Kristof on CNN’s MoneyWatch.

Not only is homeownership a financial drain, it drains your life away as well. All that time, energy, and effort towards maintenance and cleaning reduces resources for things you actually want to do. All the stuff you don’t need that you pack into your oversized house is mentally clouding. All that energy spent heating and cooling the extra cubed footage is a huge environmental cost. All these external costs paired with the heavy financial cost of homeownership has inspired the Tiny House Movement.

The Tiny House Movement (aka the Small House Movement) is exactly what it sounds like -- a social push towards smaller, simpler living spaces. Tiny houses are typically 65 to 400 square feet and small houses are about 400 to 1000 square feet. That means that according to the previous infographic, the average 1950’s family of four lived in a house that would now be called part of the Tiny House Movement.

There are many benefits to tiny or small houses.

  • They cost a LOT less to buy! It all depends on what type of tiny house you’re looking into, but a single or couple can build a trailer-based tiny home for usually $10-20k (or less if you get clever) or buy one for around $30-70k. Foundation-based small homes vary even more, but generally cost $100k or less. Definitely a lot less than your typical American house that’s up in the hundreds of thousands or more.

  • They also cost a LOT less to own! All those extra costs in home-owning are minimized or even eliminated in tiny homes. Insurance isn’t required, property taxes are a lot lower, utilities are minimized in the tiny space or eliminated if you’re off the grid, appliances are smaller, there’s a lot less furniture, the repair and maintenance goes way down, yard care isn’t as complicated as with a fancy suburban home, it’s much easier to prevent pests in the small space and costs less if you do get them, remodeling and renovating isn’t necessary to maintain its value, and there aren’t any homeowner’s fees.

  • You’ll have a lot more resources to spend doing what you want to do. All of that time and money that it takes to maintain a large house is saved and you can use it for absolutely whatever you want. It also takes a lot less time to clean, which gives you even more free time.

  • Tiny houses involve little to no debt and a lot less financial risk. If you follow the common recommendation via online calculators to find out “how much house you can afford,” they give you a price based on 28% of your net income. Why should you spend that much and risk getting foreclosed upon when instead you can spend only 15% or even 0%?

  • The environmental impact of tiny homes is much less than that of regular homes. Less resources are required to build it and maintain it. Also, it’s really easy to get your tiny house off the grid, which further reduces your environmental impact.

  • With a family, you may be thinking that a tiny space would just cause conflict. However, a smaller space literally brings you closer together. Sharing space with each other will encourage everyone to get along. Instead of each member having essentially an entire house to themselves (as in the infographic), the family will be living in the home together. And they will still have their own bedrooms for those times when they need sanctuary to recharge.

  • You’ll spend a lot less money on things you don’t need simply because you have no room for them. You’ll also spend a lot less money decorating since you have less space to decorate.

  • If you live a portable lifestyle where you move and travel often, the tiny trailer will fit you very well. They are made within trailer dimensions and can be towed by a truck, so either buy or rent a pickup truck and you can take your tiny house wherever you go!

  • Many tiny houses can be classified as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) so it’s easy to just park your tiny house in your parent’s backyard or buy a house with your sister where she gets the house and you convert the garage into a home for your family. There are also tiny house communities where you can live near like-minded people. But the most popular option is to buy yourself some land! All of the options are much less expensive than buying a house.

  • Since tiny houses are so affordable, they are easy to sell. Many people can afford them, so you don’t have to worry about another housing crisis reducing the value of your home for a loss of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and preventing you from selling it if you need to move.

  • It is said that the more possessions we own, the more they own us. Living tiny forces you to evaluate what you have versus what you need and downsize your belongings. It is very mentally liberating to let go of all the extra baggage and live clean, lean, and free. To quote a famous ice queen: “Let it go, let it go!”

All these benefits have convinced me that I would like to live small and simple, so I have been researching tiny houses and have been developing a plan to build one for myself and my boyfriend. Here are our personal reasons why the tiny life appeals to us:

  • Debt-free life! We want to build a tiny trailer and at a price of $10-20k, we can pay all the costs up front. My mom would love to have us stay in her backyard (where I plan to build it) or we can buy land in Gloucester County for ~$15k or in Philly for ~$5k. With our dual engineering salaries, it’s easy to afford all the costs upfront with no loans.

  • Simple life! Rob especially has been very interested in living simple. The zen approach to life is very attractive to him and he values experiences over things.

  • Environmentally friendly! This is my favorite part. Living off the grid is something I’ve dreamed of for years. And now, with a tiny house, I can do it using solar, composting, filtering grey water with a vertical garden, and such. My chemical engineering knowledge will be especially helpful in coming up with more cool, innovative, green designs!

  • Freedom! We aren’t tied down to a location, to a lease, to a mortgage. Even if we buy land, it’s cheap enough that we can get some somewhere else and move our tiny house right away before selling our old land. I also love the option of becoming an ADU off of a family member’s home. My family loves being close and my mom is very excited that I might live in her backyard at least for a while. The freedom to move and live wherever we want without moving out of our house and without spending tons of time and money is very valuable to us.

  • Low financial risk! A house is like a very bad savings account. It can go up or go way down depending on the market and you can’t just buy and sell it like you would buy and sell stocks. It’s a ball and chain dragging you deep into the ocean. Rob has become very interested in investing and instead of investing in a house, he can invest in something more easily controlled, something more profitable.

  • Back to the basics! Building our own house, growing food for ourselves, and generally living a self-sustaining life are reminiscent of an old-fashioned homestead. It feels like a very fulfilling and satisfying way of life.

  • Fun! Rob and I have a lot that we want to do during our lives. Travel Europe, go on backpacking adventures (after I get a little more fit), and generally do a lot of fun and exciting things. Lots of those require money. If we spend a lot less on our living expenses, we will have a lot more money for what we REALLY want to spend it on!

But before I can get started building, there’s a lot of research to do. There are tiny house resources all over the internet though I believe at this point I’ve exhausted them. I purchased “Tiny House Design & Construction Guide” by Dan Louche for more specific and concise information on my [hopeful] project. I’ll make further blog posts on the topic of tiny houses and maybe in the future I’ll be posting my tiny house project!

By Britt, Category: Lifestyle

Tags: persuasive / tiny house / green /