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They’ve got their own TV shows, websites, and Instagram accounts: Tiny homes have reached celebrity status. Find out what they are, what’s involved, and if one might be right for you.
SEVEN BIG BENEFITS TO GOING SMALL
What exactly is a tiny home? While there is no formal definition of what one is, the generally accepted definition is a single dwelling unit that is 400 square feet or less. While each of these dwelling spaces is unique and frequently custom-built to the needs and requests of the residents, these small houses include all the typical comforts of home—sleeping area, food-preparation area, storage, and basic utilities such as electricity and water—just on a much smaller scale.
While many tiny homes are stand-alone small but permanent structures with foundations, often technically referred to as accessory dwelling units (ADU), other tiny homes can be transported or even built with attached trailers, frequently referred to by the acronym THOW, standing for “tiny houses on wheels.”
The overall tiny-house movement has been around for a long time, but rising modern housing costs, an inadequate supply of affordable housing, and increased media attention have all combined to help these increasingly appealing homes go mainstream. In addition to these big-picture reasons for their increased popularity, there are several large benefits to going small, and Money Crashers outlines seven of these major reasons:
- Lower expenses—At an average cost of $23,000, a tiny home costs less than 10 times as much as a traditional full-sized home at $272,000 (and even less than an average new car). Those household savings can allow owners to save more, spend more on things they value such as travel, or simply work less.
- No mortgage—Most people can’t afford to buy a home without a mortgage, adding to long-term costs. However, nearly 70% of tiny-home owners own their home free and clear, compared with just 29% of traditional homeowners.
- Less energy use—Tiny homes cost less up front and are much more inexpensive to maintain. What’s more, you can consider taking your tiny home entirely off the grid with solar electricity and other environmentally friendly energy and utility solutions.
- Freedom of placement and movement—Tiny homes have small footprints and can be sited on minimal plots of land. And if you go THOW, you can often take your entire home with you.
- Low maintenance—Less to clean means fewer chores, leaving tiny-home owners more time for work, hobbies, and other priorities.
- Green living—Tiny homes require much less material to build and much less energy to live in, reducing your impact on the environment.
- Simpler life—With less household room for less random stuff, tiny home-owners’ belongings constitute what’s most important to them.
NOT-SO-TINY THINGS TO CONSIDER
While tiny homes offer a simpler lifestyle, there are some more complicated considerations possible residents should think about prior to going all-in. U.S. News & World Report offers some food for thought for those considering their own tiny homes:
- Where will you put it?—Will the tiny home be on an existing lot with a larger home, in a rural area, or on wheels in an RV park?
- ADU or THOW?—Are you staying put or going mobile?
- Who will live in it?—Will the tiny home be for one person, a couple, or an entire family? And don’t forget about pets!
- Can you try before you buy?—Considering renting vacation cabins of various sizes and designs to see how you like living in a small space. Camping is another way to determine what you really need to get by.
- How about the outdoors?—Porches, decks, and room to roam outdoors become more important when your indoor space is limited, so be sure to think about those key areas as well.
- What’s your motivation?—If your tiny-home motivation is strictly to save money, investigate other alternatives as well: In some areas, buying or renting an existing house or apartment may be cheaper. Before you commit to living in a tiny home, know it’s a financially sound decision and you’re doing it for the right reasons.
- Have you thought about utilities?—If you park your THOW in an RV campground, you likely will have access to electricity, running water, and sewage disposal, but if you build or park on your own land, how will you handle sewage disposal, water, power, and internet access? Consider the cost of incorporating utilities into your tiny home when crunching the numbers on housing expenses and hammering out logistics.
- Do you know the codes?—Building codes exist for a reason, as do the codes for recreational vehicles. Any tiny home needs to stand up to hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or the stress (and cost) of towing it on the highway.
LICENSED PROFESSIONALS CAN HELP
Now recognizing them as “an essential component of California’s housing supply”, our state recently passed legislation to encourage construction of tiny homes, specifically ADUs. However, as with other permanent housing types, tiny-home building codes and permitting requirements are defined and overseen by local agencies and jurisdictions. So before you start pouring concrete in your backyard for that tiny-home foundation, consider contacting a professional for assistance: Licensees of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ California Architects Board can help you plan your dream home—tiny or otherwise—and licensees of the Contractors State License Board can build that dream into a reality, while ensuring all building codes, permit requirements, and safety standards are followed. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.
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