Small Houses, Big Sustainability

Small houses are about much more than looking cute. They are part of a growing movement that promotes sustainable community development. Did you know that the typical American house is around 2,600 square feet? Despite the fact that the American family size has shrunk over the years, the square footage of American homes continues to increase.

Since 1970, Americans have quadrupled residential living space per person. So even with all the talk of “green” materials and sustainable architecture, the sheer size of an American home & its unutilized space becomes synonymous with waste and inefficiency.

Sustainable, earth-friendly living begins with the home that you wake up in every day. For those who wish to contribute to a greener future, one single change in lifestyle can make all the difference in the world: living in a small house. Just as using an electric bike or motorcycle is more energy-efficient than a vehicle, so is living in a smaller house. This is the belief on which the tiny house movement was founded.

What is the ‘Tiny House’ Movement?

Tiny-Houses-and-the-people-who-live-in-them

Image Courtesy of tinyrevolution.us

The Tiny House movement comes as a response to inefficient living spaces that characterize most American homes. More and more people are joining the small house movement for various reasons, but the most popular ones include environmental concerns and financial considerations.

“The tiny house movement is an anti-establishment movement that examines the anti-American Dream wherein need overshadows want and relationship is valued over consumption.”

A recent study revealed that approximately half the income of working-class families is dedicated to the roof over their heads. Since approximately 76% of Americans are living pay-check to pay-check, this means that nearly 15 years of working during a life-time are required to pay for the house they are living in.

According to Wikipedia, the Tiny House Movement (or the ‘small house movement’) refers to the social & architectural movement that advocates simple living in small homes. This sustainable alternative represents a feasible solution of escaping the cycle of debt in which more than half of Americans are trapped.

“There is currently no set definition of what constitutes a tiny house. However, a residential structure under the 500 square feet (46 square meters) is generally accepted to be a tiny home.”

Tiny Houses

The Benefits of Living in Small Houses

Tiny living represents the focal point of a larger system that aims to address certain issues such as environmental consciousness, life simplification, life adventures, self-sufficiency, and financial freedom. There are a plethora of advantages to living in a smaller home.

Some are purely personal:

  • Tiny homes are inherently energy-efficient.
  • Tiny homes are cheaper to build, buy, and maintain.
  • Tiny homes take less time to clean.
  • Very small or non-existing mortgage.
  • Upfront costs for small homes are far less than those of normal homes.
  • Quality over quantity. Small homes require fewer materials. This means that you will be able to afford superior materials with fine craftsmanship.

While others are deeply rooted in the philosophies of social & sustainable movements:

  • Small houses will serve your most basic needs, thus enabling you to devote more of your leisure to hobbies and social activities.
  • Smaller homes = smaller footprint = fewer trees cut down & land bulldozed.
  • Long-term costs & environmental impact of tiny homes are considerably lower. A small house that also uses green materials and appliances will guarantee long-term ROI.

Small Houses for Sustainable Living

For most people, small houses are associated with cramped & inconvenient spaces. Architects have already come up with clever designs to solve these challenges, thus demonstrating that smaller homes can also be transformed into comfortable living spaces.

Non-toxic furniture, energy-star certified appliances, and green light bulbs can help you reduce your household’s environmental impact, but as worldwide population increases, we have to think of the bigger picture. The fact of the matter is that the more living space we allocate to each family, the more resources we are going to consume. Considering that the average American home is approximately 2,600 square feet, that’s a lot of space going to waste.

Tiny House

More and more architects & home-owners are recognizing the utility and beauty of mini house designs. Some are experimenting with modular design while others are even moving into repurposed shipping containers. What’s more, most small homes are 100% sustainable, as they are built from local or recycled materials and make use of landscape features and natural lighting.

“A smaller home means a smaller footprint on the Earth, in every measurable way: fewer trees cut down, less earth bulldozed, less petroleum burned, less steel mined, less usage of every resource… A small house IS an eco-home.”

How Little Homes are Built

Many small houses are DIY projects. For example, Austin Hay – the youngest member of the Small House Movement – built his own 130 square feet tiny house with scavenged materials. His house can be plugged into the electricity system of other homes.

There are other examples of DIY small houses, including Macy Millar’s viral 196 square-foot dream house that demonstrate the sustainability and financial advantages of building one’s own tiny home. Nevertheless, building a tiny home from scratch requires a lot of patience, time, planning, and a solid infrastructure (e.g. waste stream handling, utilities, security, storage, solar exposure, etc.).

If you aren’t sure how your tiny house is supposed to look, you can get your plans from several online sources such as Tumbleweed, the Tiny Project, MiniMotives, or Small House Catalog. These sites also shared their step-by-step process to building small houses, which you should definitely check out if you’re planning on building your own mini home.

The Challenges of Building Small Houses

While there are, indeed, many areas in which tiny houses will help save money, the reality is they aren’t cheap. There is a common misconception that small houses cost less than $5,000. However, the upfront costs of a tiny home may vary between $12,000 and $40,000. Needless to say, this doesn’t even compare to the + $200,000 costs of traditional homes, but it often leaves people wondering how small houses can be so expensive.

There are a few challenges to building tiny homes that most people neglect. Let’s quickly overview them:

  • To build a small or tiny home you will need lots and lots of consumables (nails, screws, bolts, glue, brackets, fasteners, etc.). These aren’t things that you’ll find lying around your home or that you can re-use. Sure, some bolts and brackets may be reclaimed, but you will have to buy most of your consumables off the shelf. This will probably result in approximately $3,000 expenses.
  • Cutting corners when it comes to appliances might save you a few thousand dollars, but that isn’t necessarily the right choice. Instead of going for a basic kitchen with a water container and camp stop on top of your counter, you might want to opt for a tumbleweed style kitchen that has hot water, a working sink, and concealed gas lines. Investing more in appliances will ultimately reduce your long-term costs.
  • Build Site. Choosing the right location to places your tiny house can be a daunting task. Your home can be built on a rented space, but you will have to hook it up to existing power & water lines.
  • If you’re going to do your own metal cutting, welding, and building, you will need a lot of equipment. To reduce tool costs, you should browse bargain sites and local flea markets.
  • One of the biggest challenges associated with tiny homes is the time spent to build one. It takes a huge amount of time to find reclaimed materials and put everything together. Your time is certainly not free, so you will have to factor this into your decision to go small. If you decide to hire house builders for your project, you should know that labor costs can be anywhere between 40 and 60 percent.

creative design for small houses

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Creative Design Ideas for Little Homes

Think of your home as a tailored suit, which should be big enough to fit you seamlessly. Below are a few creative design ideas that will make your small home plans work:

  1. Make maximum use of outdoor spaces. Most small houses make use of semi-outdoor spaces such as roof decks, pergolas, patios, or porches to maximize usable area without adding to cooling & heating costs.
  2. Don’t forget about natural light. The vast majority of tiny houses are also mobile. Their orientation on the site & window placement should maximize natural light usage. Wall space is precious in a small house, so you might want to use clerestories, nooks, and bay windows.
  3. Plan Circulation Patterns. To make each place feel whole and undisturbed, you will have to carefully plan circulation patterns. Eliminate unnecessary hallways and use an open floor plan.
  4. Build for Daily Life. A huge living room may accommodate all your family for Christmas Dinner, but it will be too large for 364 days of the year.
  5. Borrow from Nature & the Community. Studies have shown that urban areas with common public spaces and parks are happier sites for small houses.
  6. Create spaces with multiple uses. Your kitchen can double as a place to play board games or for children to do homework. A study room can double as an office space. Every space counts!
  7. Design for privacy. Quiet activities should be separated from social ones through the use of doors and sound-insulated walls.
  8. De-clutter & Re-purpose. Small homes make it extremely difficult to store unnecessary stuff. Furniture pieces for your tiny homes can be re-purposed from

Five Examples of Innovative Tiny Houses

Want to check out some exciting and comfortable small house designs and find inspiration for your own? Here are a few notable designs for your appreciation:

1. Joshua Tree House

Size: 387.5 square feet

Joshua tree small house

This prehab home was designed as a vacation or mountain retreat. The small home features two space-efficient bedrooms, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. To ensure that the house meets sustainability standards, it was built from recyclable metal, wood, and cladding. Illumination and ventilation are provided through several skylights, and the electrical & plumbing systems leave no visible mark on the terrain.

2. Macy Miller Home

Size: 196 square feet

macy miller's small house

I’ve mentioned Macy Miller’s house before, but it deserves a second mention. The Idaho architect wanted to escape a 30-year mortgage by building her own $12,000. The 24-foot long, 8-foot wide structure rests on a flatbed trailer that ensures maximum mobility. The interior features an eco-friendly composting toiler, a recycled oven & gas stove, siding repurposed from wood pallets, and a floor electric radiant heat system.

3. Innermost House

Size: 12 square feet

Innermost House 12 square feet

From the outside, most tiny homes seem cramped and unforgiving, but upon stepping inside you will discover more than enough space for daily activities. The twelve-feet square home is placed on a hill that rises to the north. The inside features a study, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a sleeping loft above that can be accessed by a wooden ladder.

“Pause for a moment and try to remember the single most moving and meaningful conversation you ever had. Now, how would you design, build, and furnish a place so that those conversations could happen every day? That is the questions we asked of every detail of Innermost House.” Source: TinyHouseBlog

4. Ufogel

Size: 484 square feet

Ufogel 484 square feet

Ufogel is a small compact house built almost entirely from larch wood. Despite its unusual design, the interior of the home feels incredibly comfortable and inviting. The large windows strengthen the relation between the inside and the outside, thus enabling inhabitants to enjoy nature while sitting comfortably inside.

Ufogel House Collage

 

5. Student Tiny House

Student Tiny House

Size: 107.6 square feet

Small houses have also been designed with students in mind. Tengbom Architects designed this eco-friendly, smart tiny unit that caters to the basic needs of students. The home features a bathroom, a sleeping area, and a kitchen that doubles as study room.

student house collage

Other Small house designs:

Image Credits: 123, 45, 6, 7, 8Homedit.com

 

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Tyler Szeklia
 

I am a web developer who is working as a freelancer. I am living in Canada with my young son and an old cat named Oscar.

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