Tiny Houses: A Viable Alternative?

As many of you know, I’ve been following the tiny house movement with interest, but also a bit of reluctance. Let me say right now that I am very, very interested in alternative housing, and in rethinking western norms of consumption. The explosion of the “American Dream” can be easily represented by the evolution of the typical family home from family sized to cookie cutter cathedral, as depicted in this 2006 NPR story (bear in mind, the bottom has since fallen out of the housing market, which is also a feature of this unchecked and totally unnecessary growth).

My interest in adaptive and alternative housing goes far back. I’ve lived in some unusual and un-fancy housing (a year in a tiny cabin with my husband; a couple of years in a big, concrete, former communist bloc apartment building in Romania with a roommate and some cats). Interestingly, those are two of the homes where I have been happiest, even though neither had air conditioning or consistent heat. I wrote a whole research project once on adaptive housing for sea level rise when I was an undergrad (I was looking at housing which could be moved to higher elevation over time). Since the tiny house movement captured my attention, I’ve had several questions about tiny houses. Are they affordable? The price per square foot is actually quite high (although smaller houses generally are more costly per square foot – there are some basic costs that go into housing regardless of scale, and which are reflected as greater when there are fewer square feet to divide them across, as in a tiny house). I’ve also wondered about meeting housing codes, especially because I am someone who wants to adopt a child at some point. How exactly would the department of social services (or an older child, for that matter) feel about a tiny house on wheels?

Most recently, I’ve been following Tammy Strobel’s narrative and photos of the process of building a tiny house:

Tammy Strobel's tiny house, with the new roof

She and her husband are employing a builder rather than building it themselves, and I admire that choice. It’s good to know what work you enjoy, what work you don’t, and when to hire someone very skilled to do what is in fact highly skilled work. I’m a do-it-yourself devotee, but when I build things, words like “plumb” and “level” take on relative value independent of the standards used by, say, someone who knows what she’s doing. I think that unless I learn a whole lot more, that’s a clear indicator that I shouldn’t tackle building an entire house. Not even a tiny one! So I love Tammy’s enthusiasm as she watches her home be built (most recently, it has a roof!) and prepares to move into it.

The tiny house was scheduled to be delivered to her today in Portland – there should be some moving in, picture taking, and blogging about finally being a tiny house occupant in Tammy’s future – I’ll post the link when she updates her blog with the details! Her enthusiasm has me thinking that maybe tiny houses really are a viable alternative. Perhaps not for me, at least right now (home ownership on any scale is outside of our present budget) but for others like Tammy who save up, seek out the right builder or learn the skills, and pour their hearts and souls into designing a tiny space that is custom fitted to their needs. I have loved her whole story of getting rid of her stuff, quitting her day job, selling her car…talk about someone who thoughtfully reconsidered norms of consumption. Check out her blog – it’s a neat story!

UPDATE: They’re all moved in! Check out the photos and story here.

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One thought on “Tiny Houses: A Viable Alternative?

  1. Great point about the increase in house size over the years. The house we live in was built in 1952 and was a 2 bedroom with one bath with a total of 970 square feet of living area.. At the time it was the standard ‘suburban’ home. Most people in our neighborhood raised two or three kids in the home. Today that would be nearly unheard of. Since I was a building contractor in my former life, I’ve tripled the original size of the house. But today your tiny house holds appeal. I also think the small condo approach will find more and more acceptance. Keep up the good work!

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