Tiny Houses: Are They Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

Tiny homes have become a trendy option for a lot of people looking to downsize and simplify their lives. Specifically, two demographics are driving the tiny home industry growth, Baby Boomers wanting to downsize and retire, and millennials that want flexible housing options without debt. People are also interested in a more environmentally friendly way to live, and municipalities are starting to embrace tiny homes as a way to provide low-income housing. Whatever the reason, tiny homes could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Tiny Homes seem to be a trend that is here is to stay. Photo credit: Nikola Johnny Mirkovic via Unsplash

It’s hard to get a reliable number on the amount of tiny homes sold every year in the United States, let alone worldwide. It’s just as challenging to get people to agree on the definition of a tiny home. Regardless, they’re known for being more affordable than standard stick-built houses and typically are smaller than 500 feet. According to census data, the median sale price of a new home in the United States as of May of 2017 was $345,800. Traditional homes also continue to get larger, which has a lot to do with why they are so expensive.

 The average size of a new single-family residential home in 1973 was 1,660 square feet, and by 2015 it increased 64% to about 2,600 square feet in 2015, this despite the fact the average size of a family has diminished. Many consumers don’t want or need a McMansion, or they can’t afford one.

You instinctively know that when there is an industry association developed for a given industry, it’s becoming mainstream, and there is now one for the tiny home industry. The Tiny Home Industry Association is an advocacy group focused on creating sustainable, adaptable codes for the creation of tiny homes and tiny home communities, as well as developing sustainable building regulations. They also work with municipalities to adopt zoning and ordinance policies for tiny houses and their communities. 

Many people choose tiny homes so they can live a simpler lifestyle with less debt. Photo credit: Nicolas Boullosa via Flickr

There is also the American Tiny House Association, which represents around 350 members, mostly providing DIY services and kits. Tiny homes enthusiasts often see a tiny home as a way to fulfill their dream of homeownership. Some people just want to live more simply, while others are more concerned with keeping their costs down while living on a fixed income. 

Some municipalities have struggled with adapting to the trend. They may consider tiny homes on wheels as recreational vehicles, or, if it’s on a foundation, it might be viewed as an ADU (accessory dwelling unit). Since they’re usually small and portable, they can create confusion when it comes to zoning rules and building regulations. The biggest issue for tiny homes seems to be zoning, especially in major cities. Even many areas that are known for being progressive for allowing tiny homes are still struggling with regulations. For example, Portland and Seattle, often considered as tiny house-friendly, still don’t permit tiny homes on permanent foundations to be the main unit on a lot.

There are indications that smaller dwellings such as tiny homes are gaining more acceptance with government agencies. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are considering a new loan program that provides more accessible financing to people seeking smaller, nontraditional types of homes. Also, high-design ADUs are shedding their granny-flat reputation and were recently recognized for superior design by the AIA (American Institute of Architects).

Cities such as Atlanta recognize the opportunities of these non-traditional smaller homes and recently passed new laws allowing tiny houses to be built on lots that are zoned for multi-dwelling living. Some entire towns are welcoming tiny home communities. Their challenge has been convincing municipalities and politicians that tiny homes aren’t “shanties” that will attract a bunch of “undesirables” but can actually strengthen their communities. 

Tiny homes come in all kinds of sizes and shapes. Photo credit: Boneyard Studios via Flickr

Washington and Oregon are progressing leading the way by allowing for RV certifying of self-built tiny houses. The American Tiny House Association has also formed construction guidelines to help DIYers build their tiny homes to current recreational vehicle codes, but unfortunately even these don’t guarantee certification approval as an RV. In Portland, the company Orange Splot is working tirelessly to use the city’s property maintenance codes to create broader legal pathways for tiny homes on wheels (THOWs). 

It’s  encouraging to watch an enthusiastic community of tiny home advocates devoting itself to overcoming tiny house challenges by finding new legal pathways for their industry. Also, organizations such as the American Tiny House Association and the Tiny Home Industry Association are providing essential educational resources for tiny home hopefuls. 

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