Tiny Home resources
• Smallhousesociety.net (comprehensive resource)
• Tinyhomeoregon.com (builder)
• Tinhyhouselending.com (financing)
• Tongueandgroovehomes.com (builder)
• youTube.com (search for Tiny Nest — an extensive series of DIY videos)
Did you love forts or playhouses when you were a child? There seems to be something magical about these diminutive dwellings and the fantasy they can bring, but you can carry this same intrigue into your adult living with the tiny home movement.
You may have read about it or seen it on TV — people of all ages living in mini dwellings, around 200-square feet or less, built on trailer beds and filled with innovative furnishings that compound the use of every available space. You may even have asked yourself, “Could I ever…?”
If the idea of paring down your possessions, including your wardrobe, is intriguing, you’re not alone. The number of tiny home dwellers is growing.
A three-day Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last summer drew more than 40,000 enthusiasts from 50 states and 10 countries to explore the concept. Programs included a variety of classes on topics such as building versus buying and adapting to a tiny space and several workshops on decorating/storage ideas for small spaces. One of the most popular classes was on funding your dream of tiny home living.
Why the popularity? Tiny homes are economical, not only to purchase and maintain, but also to live in. There’s no room for extraneous stuff that Americans tend to accumulate, and tiny houses require a lifestyle commitment to avoid excess.
For wanderlust spirits, they can be moved almost anywhere. According to Jesse Russell and Kit Blackwelder, co-owners of Bend’s Tongue & Groove Tiny Homes, a common tiny home width of 8 feet, 6 inches with a height up to 13 feet, 6 inches can be moved without a special Oregon Department of Transportation permit. Because they’re on wheels, most tiny houses can be towed by a full-size truck. Any size larger than that requires a professional hauler. These are the allowable dimensions of the company’s signature home model.
Russell notes a tiny home builder’s goal is to create affordable housing and a sense of community by building these houses. Classified as vehicles, tiny homes are licensed, titled, given a vehicle identification number and registered as a recreational vehicle. As an RV, Russell notes, tiny houses aren’t subject to building codes, home inspections or permitting like a conventional stick-built home.
Since they’re not technically homes, tiny houses don’t qualify for traditional financing, but instead Cameron Scott of Prineville’s Tiny Home Oregon points out that financing for them can come from an RV loan, personal loan or, of course, savings.
A look at the stats
According to Thetinylife.com, the average size of a tiny house is 186 square feet — meaning that 11 of them could fit into the average U.S. home. Two out of five tiny home owners are over age 50. More women own tiny homes than men. Tiny home owners are twice as likely to have a master’s degree than other home owners. Eighty-nine percent of tiny house dwellers have less credit card debt than the average American and 69 percent have zero credit card debt.
Tiny home residents
Anyone can live in a tiny home, but some demographics apparently find them particularly appealing. Students on limited incomes, new college graduates who may not yet have jobs or those who have a job requiring work in multiple locations (like a traveling nurse), minimalists of all ages, and most recently more and more older people are taking notice.
Tiny homes can even be customized to be handicap-accessible, a particular interest of Tiny Home Oregon builders.
Building them to meet the physical needs of the resident is particularly helpful for those who want to age in place. Scott notes that the homes can easily be wheelchair accessible with the addition of a ramp, and his company’s doors are 36-inches wide for easy access. Bathrooms can be fitted with roll-in showers and the floor plan altered to create a 42- to 48-inch-wide hall along one side of the home’s length, as opposed to many plans with a centered narrow hall.
In some parts of the country, tiny houses are often used as mother-in-law apartments, keeping loved ones close by in case help is needed, but still giving a sense of independence.
Tiny homes are built on flat-bed or goose-neck trailers and can range in length from 12 to 24 feet. Iron Eagle Trailers, just outside of Portland, makes a series of trailers designed specifically for tiny home construction. In addition to that standard line of Portland Alternative Dwellings, or PAD, series trailers, the company can fully customize the frames to fit any tiny home builder’s wishes.
The mini dwellings can be directly connected to water, sewer, gas and/or electricity. Depending on the builder, many tiny homes hook up with RV-style connections. Some dwellers prefer solar panels or generators to produce their own power, and composting toilets and recycled water systems can be alternatives to conventional hook-ups. Propane is a common fuel for stoves and heating, as the tanks travel easily with the house.
Tiny houses can be totally off the grid, on the grid or a combination of dependencies, based on the location, the owner’s preferences and the build of the unit.
There are myriad floor plans for tiny homes, though they all have commonalities — a sleeping area, kitchen, bathroom and living area, sometimes ironically called the great room. While most tiny homes maximize space by locating the sleeping area in a loft above the living area and accessible by a ladder or mini-stairs, some manufacturers are realizing that the overhead location doesn’t appeal to everyone, and certainly not to anyone with limited agility (and courage). Some tiny homes offer cathedral ceilings instead of or in addition to lofts, giving the home a feeling of spaciousness.
Kitchens are usually small, though adequate with two- to four-burner stoves and/or microwaves. Some offer full-size stoves with a conventional oven. Refrigerators range from mini size like you’d find in a wet bar to apartment size. Most tiny homes are lacking a dishwasher but do offer adequate-size sinks. Depending on the floor plan, the sink may be shared with the bathroom.
Other amenities may include a washer/dryer combo, usually positioned under a counter surface or a staircase.
Bathrooms can offer a variety of options — from the RV-style toilet/shower (wet bath) combo to a separate shower/tub unit, or even a tiled shower stall or Jacuzzi tub, depending on the owner’s priorities.
Living areas are usually open to allowing for placement of furniture, or they may be fully styled with built-in furniture. The latter most often does double duty, due to the limited space available. Seats may have storage underneath, tables may fold flat against the wall when not in use or they may nest to conserve floor space. If the bed isn’t in the loft area, it may be positioned on the main floor, or fold or pull out.
Heating options vary from tiny fireplaces (wood, gas or propane) to propane or electric wall heaters. With the mini square footage, it’s easy to keep a tiny house toasty warm in winter and cool in summer, as some units are air conditioned.
On-demand water heaters are ideal for tiny homes, as they’re compact and efficient.
With the limited space available in a tiny home, many have French doors, sliders or standard glass doors. Windows let in light and fresh air, as do operable skylights. Some interior doors may be pocket doors to save the space needed for the hinged variety, and those doors may even do double duty — such as a sliding door that separates the kitchen area from the rest of the home, and when slid, it functions as a bathroom door.
Tiny home builders are very smart about the use of space, and every nook and cranny can be fully functional, whether it’s space under loft stairs, under seating, drawers under a main-floor bed, a storage headboard, shelves along the slope of a loft or hanging space for clothes carved out of an interior wall. Things that fold up, pull down or slide out bring innovative solutions to fully utilize the minimal size. In-floor storage is also an option in some units.
The outside of tiny homes varies as much as the people who live in them. Some are sleek, modern or industrial looking, while others are rustic, Victorian or Craftsman styled. The exterior material can be almost anything, from corrugated metal to reclaimed barn wood or siding.
Many tiny home dwellers have outdoor space equal to or larger than their indoor digs. Porches, decks and patios expand the living space many fold. Most are added on after the home is in place, but some tiny home plans offer fold-down decks, while others sport roof-top outdoor living areas.
Some tiny homes are even planned to accommodate an outdoor hot tub or shower, weather permitting. Storage areas can be created under the home (since it’s on wheels) and/or under the hitch portion of the frame, or even under a deck.
Is it a house or is it an RV?
The rules governing tiny homes are an area of particular concern (OK, dispute) for many cities, and rules vary from city to city and state to state, so before investing in a tiny home as your permanent dwelling, it’s best to check with planning and zoning commissions for location-specific ordinances.
In Bend, City Planning Manager Colin Stephens notes that it’s legal to own a tiny home and that if it’s licensed as an RV, it can be placed anywhere an RV is legal, like in a designated park or in some mobile home communities. Tiny homes are not classified as dwellings.
If you plan to use the tiny home as an office, studio or a hang-out space, it can be on the same property as your traditional home. But according to Stephens, some, but not all zones of the city, require you to apply for a conditional-use permit as an accessory dwelling unit. Those permits have a one-time cost of around $2,600, take 30 to 60 days to acquire, and some restrictions apply.
Stephens said the city is considering developing more specifics for tiny homes, as the city views them as up-and-coming affordable housing options. Can Bend look forward to tiny house communities like many other cities around the country have?
The tiny house experience
Tiny house dweller Cathy Freyberg has lived in her mini dwelling since June. She said she followed the tiny home movement for over a year before taking the leap to having her own — it was the perfect option after her divorce and move from “the big house.” She calls it her “no-energy home” — saying, “I have just what I need, and it takes hardly any energy to keep it clean.”
Her home is on 6 acres of rented land and has a gray-water system and solar power. She purchased plans from an Ashland company and hired a home builder to create her custom home — his first adventure into tiny home construction. Freyberg said, “Except for an IKEA sink, everything inside is custom and just how I wanted it.”
There’s another option to having someone build a tiny home for you. You can do it yourself. There are plan books available, free patterns online and hands-on how-to workshops designed to teach you the basics. PAD, an education, resource and consulting company, offers workshops for those interested in tiny house living. The next workshop is planned for Feb. 27 and 28 in Portland.
Obviously, the DIY route saves money if you have the time and skills to create your own from the trailer bed up.
Tiny Home Oregon offers three levels of completion for tiny homes, allowing DIYers to share in the fun of creating their own dwelling and saving some money in the process. If you go it on your own, consult the extensive building checklist on Thetinylife.com.
Give it a try
Perhaps you’re addicted to watching HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living,” or “Tiny House Hunters,” or DIY Network’s “Tiny House Builders” shows and wondering if hobbit-size living would suit your lifestyle.
If you think you’d like to try a tiny home out for size, Portland offers the Caravan Hotel, the first tiny house hotel in the United States. It’s a grouping of six custom-built tiny homes, all under 200 square feet, available for nightly rental. For the slightly less curious, the owners also offer Sunday tours of the homes, when they’re not occupied. Go to Tinyhousehotel.com for more information.
— Reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org