Beyond single family homes, apartments, condos, and downtown lofts there are many housing alternatives for those who desire something different. Cottages, cabins, houseboats, dome homes, earth homes, and even communal living are all decades old concepts but are still a niche market. However, within this niche market there is a growing movement raging on called Tiny Homes. Occurring world wide, tiny homes (commonly defined as being less than 500 sf) are offering incredibly sensible solutions to a diverse population for many reasons. The main factors driving this trend are:
- Those looking to buy are priced out of the market to shoulder the crippling and heavy mortgage burden, however still desire the high demand locations.
- Those wanting to reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint, live off grid, or live a sustainable lifestyle more in tune with nature.
- Those yearning for a simpler life with less stress by reducing the required upkeep of a larger home, limiting the consumerism ideals of wanting and buying more, or living minimally with only necessities and truly desired items.
- Those desiring to travel and need a home base to return to at the end of a journey. Many tiny homes are mounted on trailers for this reason, thus the owners can then take their home with them on road trips.
Whatever the reason is, many of these tiny homes are simply beautiful! When the concept of a home is streamlined to the basics the finesse of a well thought out design occurs due to spatial necessity. Still utilizing standard building materials of stud walls, insulation, shingles, double pane windows, skylights, wood floors, tile and so forth these homes can hold their own in style and craft way better when comparing to its cousin the RV, built of plastic, laminates and vinyl. However, due to the small size of these buildings, creativity is also needed in working with current building codes.
Many of these homes are mounted on trailers for this reason but then cannot be considered homes. Being mounted on trailers, many tiny homes average 8 ft wide by 24 ft long, and 13.5 ft tall due to DOT road regulations. To maximize interior space within these confines, many work out to be 150 sf-200 sf with the addition of loft spaces. Placing these homes permanently on a plot of land is another hurdle they face. In many municipalities they can only be classified as secondary dwellings or auxiliary spaces. This means they cannot be the primary residence of the land owner and have to locate on someone else’s backyard. Additional workarounds often have to be considered such as skirting the trailer wheels from sight, proper utility hookups, waste water management and so forth. However, those who are fortunate enough to be able to locate their tiny homes on open land without zoning restriction and completely off grid are living large! The lifestyle freedom these tiny homes bring is phenomenal and the views from their windows can be breathtaking.
As I mention on my website, my design studio is also the combination of the hobbies that keep me up at night. One of my guilty pleasures is watching tiny house videos on YouTube. As a designer, I analyze the homes’ level of craftsmanship, layout efficiency, and sustainable practices/environmental considerations. My favorite video producer by far is Bryce Langston and his “Living Big in a Tiny House” project based in New Zealand. With many kiwi residents either priced out of the expensive Auckland housing market or have fallen victim to the massive earthquakes in Christchurch, tiny homes are becoming a fast trend and valid housing solution. With his friendly interview style and genuine interest in tiny homes, Bryce’s videos showcase different tiny homes all over New Zealand. The additional scenic aerial drone shots are breathtaking and just add to the videos’ charm. He also includes construction tutorials from his own tiny house building project that are very informative and supportive of those looking to build their own homes. I can’t wait to see how his tiny house ends up and look forward to viewing his new videos this year. He’s currently interviewing in Japan and is coming to the USA this spring to learn more about the American tiny home trend. Learn more about Bryce and his living big project at http://www.livingbiginatinyhouse.com/
There is also a subset within Tiny Homes called Micro Homes. These differ slightly as they usually average under 100 sf! These are super stripped down and answer the requirements of absolute basic living. Extremely portable, these homes have also offered some larger cities solutions with helping the homeless find transitional housing for example. Watching YouTube videos on this topic, names start to repeat and those in the Tiny House community refer to each other for design assistance or inspiration. One such name is Dee Williams. Found at https://padtinyhouses.com/, she has downsized her 80 sf micro home to a new vardo gypsy wagon style under 60 sf. She’s truly a minimalist and revered in the tiny/micro community.
While my design specialty is historic preservation and renovations, I have always enjoyed making floor plans more efficient, analyzing every nook and cranny for unused space, and removing unneeded open space. My internship back in college was even analyzing the spatial efficiency of a hospital of 3 million sf to see if they were maximizing their space utilization. Buildings are priced out per square foot, so I like to make sure every one of them is used effectively. Designing a large building is easy but many times the functional space remains the same and circulation space (walking around) is what increases. Many daily activities occur in spaces less than 100 sf and human interactions occur within 10 sf. Shrinking that large building down and still maintaining all functions becomes the challenge, where the creativity begins! Hence, why I love studying tiny homes.
The American dream used to be buy a large chunk of land, build a big impressive house and feel satisfied saying “I’ve made it, I’m a success.” However, I feel that idea is shifting. With land prices soaring, the environmental impact becoming more evident, and lifestyles becoming much more mobile, that dream has new ideas. Cities are being more gentle with natural resources with recycling programs and encouraging water conservation with many states facing droughts. Solar panel installations are becoming increasingly popular and hybrid/high efficient cars are now common place. Businesses too are downsizing, people are now working remotely or on location, thus reducing the amount of office space the company needs to lease. Now, with the tiny house movement, cities have a new option to create affordable housing that can also be a lighter burden, if they choose to accept them into their zoning. I’ve recently read that tiny homes are becoming an appendix to the International Residential Code for 2018. Its still in the review and adoption process by the International Code Council, but the induction is finally here. Many building officials currently don’t know how to approve Tiny Homes as they’re in no mans land for building codes. Yes, restrictions will then occur for the DIY’ers but only through code regulations will municipalities be able to bring main stream acceptance. Then, tiny homes could exist on their own yard screaming “I’ve made it, I’m a success!”
The idea of home is many things to many people. At the end of the day however, all you need is protection from the elements, a cozy place to rest and cuddle with a loved one, a way to prepare nourishing food, and a facility to refresh. How you define those is what makes your home truly yours, whether its big, tiny, or somewhere in the middle. Go find your tribe, the home and community for you is out there.
Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ
Studio Owner & Interior Designer
Daricilar Design Studio – Medway, MA