Can the 'tiny house movement' last?

| 3rd September 2018
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Those living in tiny homes are seeking a simpler, more sustainable way of living. However, tiny homes can be expensive and not ideal for everyone. Due to the limitations, time will tell whether or not tiny homes are a fad, writes EMILY FOLK

For some, this way of living might be perfectly sustainable. Many, though, grow tired of this eventually, often after they decide they want to have children.

The tiny house movement in the United States - which trades traditional homes for much smaller alternatives - is growing in popularity but still represents a small share of homeowners. As the movement continues, some are asking whether it's a fad or something that will last and become mainstream.

There is some disagreement regarding this question. In fact, there’s even confusion about how one defines a tiny house.

Tiny houses are — as their name suggests — small dwellings, typically between 100 and 400 square feet, according to the website the Tiny Life. They’re often mobile but can also have a foundation, and they are available in many shapes and sizes.

Tiny houses are as much a movement as a type of structure. They've come to represent simplifying, self-sufficiency, freedom and environmental awareness.

Zoning Headaches

The above definition is not official, per say. Most zoning rules don't include a definition for the term tiny house, and most local governments don't really know what to do with them. In fact, in many areas, they are technically illegal.

Several cites have passed ordinances in support of tiny homes, but even in many of these leading cities, it’s only legal to have one as a secondary dwelling. In most places, they’re in a legal gray area. Sometimes they fall into the RV category, and sometimes state and local laws conflict.

This uncertainty forces many tiny homesteaders to live off the radar and sometimes move from place to place.

If the tiny home movement is going to stick around, local governments will have to come around and pass the necessary rules. Although some have done so, many cities seem reluctant.

Sustainable Lifestyle?

Moving into a tiny home requires substantial lifestyle changes. This is, of course, part of the whole idea, but it's what makes living in these small spaces challenging.

Living in such a small space often requires getting rid of belongings and keeping only the essentials, part of a lifestyle often referred to as minimalism. This requires a substantial change in thinking for many people.

It also limits things that are more impactful than physical belongings. Tiny homes may work well for individuals or couples, but if you decide you want to start a family, you may need to move to a larger place. It also limits what you can do in your home. Having guests over, for instance, would prove difficult.

Tiny home advocates would say these challenges are just part of the lifestyle. It forces you to choose what items are truly important to you, which helps you simplify. If you want to have guests, you just have to spend more time with them outside your home.

For some, this way of living might be perfectly sustainable. Many, though, grow tired of this eventually, often after they decide they want to have children.

Cost Considerations

The affordability of tiny homes is one of their biggest draws. It's much easier to afford a small house rather than a large one. Because the space is small, energy bills will likely be low, too. It's even easier to go solar and produce your own energy.

If you’re buying land on which to put your tiny house, it will be a significant factor in determining cost. This means they’ll typically be more affordable in rural areas than urban ones.

If cost remains a major consideration, we may see people moving out of tiny homes when they start making more money. For instance, a recent college grad may opt for one but move out when they start earning more. This high turnover rate could prevent tiny homes from being seen as more legitimate.

Small Market

Perhaps in part because of these limitations, the tiny home market remains relatively small. It's difficult to get exact numbers on small homes because of their ambiguous definition, but records suggest that less than one percent of homes sold are less than 1,000 square feet.

While the fact that the tiny house market is small isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does present some challenges to the compact home movement. The small market makes it harder to sell, making a tiny home a riskier investment.

Until more people choose small homes and they become more mainstream, their legal status will likely remain foggy. Without concrete legal status, the future of the tiny home movement will always be a bit uncertain.

However, that legal status is one of the biggest reasons the tiny house market is as small as it is, making this a challenging problem to solve for small house lovers.

Will the tiny house movement stick around? Only time will tell. It's especially hard to say because it is such new, unexplored territory. The movement does face some significant challenges, though. For the tiny house trend to become sustainable, it will need changes to laws and a substantial shift in the way we as a society think about what it means to have a home.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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