Small house movement

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A tiny mobile house in Olympia, Washington, USA

The small house movement (also known as the "tiny house movement") is a popular description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes.


In the United States the average size of new single family homes grew from 1,780 square feet (165 m2) in 1978 to 2,479 square feet (230.3 m2) in 2007, despite a decrease in the size of the average family.[1] Reasons for this include increased material wealth and prestige.[1]

The small house movement is a return to houses less than 1,000 square feet, some as small as 80 square feet (7.4 m2). Sarah Susanka has been credited with starting the recent countermovement toward smaller houses when she published The Not So Big House (1997).[1] Earlier pioneers include Lloyd Kahn, author of Shelter (1973) and Lester R. Walker, author of Tiny Tiny Houses: or How to Get Away From It All (1987).

Tiny houses on wheels were popularized by Jay Shafer and Gregory Johnson, who together founded the Small House Society in 2002. Shafer designed a tiny house for Johnson to live in, and then Shafer went on to offer the first plans for tiny houses on wheels, initially founding Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, and then Four Lights Tiny House Company (September 6, 2012).[2][3]

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Marianne Cusato developed Katrina Cottages, that start at 308 square feet (28.6 m2) as an alternative to FEMA trailers. Though these were created to provide a pleasant solution to a disaster zone, Cusato received wider interest in her design from developers of resorts, for example.[4]

With the financial crisis of 2007–2010, the small house movement attracted more attention as it offers housing that is more affordable in acquisition and maintenance and ecologically friendly.[5] Overall, however, it represents a very small part of real estate transactions. Thus only 1% of home buyers acquire houses of 1,000 square feet (93 m2) or less.[6] Small houses are also used as accessory dwelling units (or ADUs), to serve as additional on-property housing for aging relatives or returning children, as a home office, or as a guest house.[6] Typical costs are about $20,000 to $50,000 as of 2012.[6]

Interest in very small homes has been revived in other countries, as well. For example,

  • In Japan, where space is at a premium, Takaharu Tezuka built the House to Catch the Sky in Tokyo, a 925-square-foot (85.9 m2) home for four;
  • In Barcelona, Spain, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores presented the 300-square-foot (28 m2) House in a Suitcase;
  • In England, Abito created intelligent living spaces apartments of 353 square feet (32.8 m2) in Manchester;
  • In Germany, British architect Richard Horton and the Technical University of Munich developed the Micro Compact Home (M-CH), a high end small[1] (76-square-foot (7.1 m2)) cube, designed for 1–2 persons, with functional spaces for cooking, hygiene, dining/working, and sleeping.[7]
  • In Russia and Germany, architect Maxim Kurennoy from Futteralhaus GmbH developed the "Futteralhaus Modell FH_25" (25 m2), designed for family with 1-2 kids, a studio with bath, kitchen, sleeping nook, living area and terrace space.

Current movement[edit]

Small and tiny houses have received increasing media coverage [8] including a television show, Tiny House Nation,[9] in July 2014. The possibility of building one's own home has fueled the movement, particularly for tiny houses on wheels. Tiny houses on wheels are similar to RVs, but built to last as long as traditional homes. However, unlike traditional homes, tiny houses on wheels do not require building permits.

Tiny House Giant Journey travels through the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona while an RV drives by.

This increase in popularity of tiny houses, and particularly the rapid increase in the number of both amateur and professional builders, has led to concerns regarding safety among tiny house professionals. In 2013, a Tiny House Business Alliance was formed to address ethical and safety issues.[10] Additionally, various professionals hold workshops nationwide to teach tiny house enthusiasts to build their own homes safely.[citation needed]

One of the biggest obstacles to growth of the tiny house movement is the difficulty in finding a place to keep one. Zoning regulations typically specify minimum square footage for new construction on a foundation, and for tiny houses on wheels, parking on one's own land may be prohibited by local regulations against "camping." In addition, RV parks do not always welcome tiny houses. DIYers may be turned away, as many RV parks require RVs be manufactured by a member of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

In 2014, the first "tiny house friendly town" was declared in Spur, Texas. [11]

Pros and cons[edit]

Smaller homes are less expensive than larger ones in terms of taxes and building, heating, maintenance, and repair costs. In addition to costing less, small houses may encourage a less cluttered and simpler lifestyle and reduce ecological impacts for their residents.[1] The typical size of a small home seldom exceeds 500 square feet (46 m2).[12] The typical tiny house on wheels is usually less than 8 ft by 20 ft, with livable space totalling 120 square feet or less, for ease of towing and to exempt it from the need for a building permit.

Small houses may emphasize design over size,[4] utilize dual purpose features and multi-functional furniture, and incorporate technological advances of space saving equipment and appliances.[1] Vertical space optimization is also a common feature of small houses and apartments.

As small houses may be attractive as second homes, their increased utilization may lead to development of more land.[12] People interested in building a small home can encounter institutional “discrimination” when building codes require minimum size well above the size of a small home. Also, neighbors may be hostile because they fear negative impacts on their property values.[13] However, this concern may be baseless, as there is evidence that small homes actually increase property values through increases in density.[14] There has also been opposition based on this fact, due to concerns about increased taxes.[15][16][17]

Zoning Concerns: One negative point to tiny homes are the absence of current legal statutes providing these houses the status of "dwellings". Some counties in America view tiny homes as "camper trailers" others as unregistered accessories. Very few counties will recognize a tiny home as a legal primary dwelling without approval from the county building and zoning department. This can be a lengthy and expensive process. In most (if not all) situations one cannot simply place a homemade tiny home on a property (even land that a person owns outright) without going through this zoning and permitting process.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Carmela Ferraro (February 21, 2009). "Small but perfectly formed". Financial Times. 
  2. ^
  3. ^!/FourLightsHouses/info
  4. ^ a b Al Heavens (June 14, 2007). "Smaller Could Be the Answer to a Lot of Issues.". Realty Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  5. ^ The Economist (February 19, 2009). "Very little house on the prairie". The Economist. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c Brenoff, Ann (Oct 22, 2012). "Downsizing: Could You Live In A Tiny Home In Retirement?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved Oct 24, 2012. 
  7. ^ Lloyd Alter (July 10, 2008). "Home Delivery: The Micro Compact Home Comes To America". Treehugger. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  8. ^ Fox News (February 11, 2014). "High Tech Meets Low Tech in Tiny House Movement". Fox News. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
  9. ^ Heather Dirubba (February 26, 2014). "Tiny A&E Network Unveils FYIs First Programming Slate and July 7 Launch Date". A&E Network. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Tiny House Business Alliance". Tiny House Community. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
  11. ^ Spur, TX (July 9, 2014). "Spur Freedom". 
  12. ^ a b Bethany Lyttle (February 16, 2007). "Think Small". New York Times. 
  13. ^ Carol Lloyd (April 27, 2007). "Small houses challenge our notions of need as well as minimum-size standards". SFGate. Retrieved November 7, 2013. 
  14. ^ unknown (April 27, 2007). "Laneway housing handout". SFGate. Retrieved March 4, 2009. 
  15. ^ Josh Dehass (November 13, 2008). "Laneway housing pilot proceeds despite opposition". UBC Journalism News Service. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  16. ^ Charlie Smith (April 10, 2008). "Anxiety grows over EcoDensity in Vancouver". Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  17. ^ Ned Jacobs (June 8, 2010). "The Vancouver neighbourhoods backlash continues". Retrieved July 27, 2012. 

External links[edit]


Organizations and resources[edit]