The tiny house movement (also known as the "small house movement"[1]) is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. There is currently no set definition as to what constitutes as a tiny house; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet (46 m2) is generally accepted to be a tiny home.[2]


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, and to 2,662 square feet (247.3 m2) in 2013, despite a decrease in the size of the average family.[3][4] Reasons for this include increased material wealth and prestige.[3]

The small house movement is a return to houses of less than 1,000 square feet (93 m2). Frequently, the distinction is made between small (between 400 square feet (37 m2) and 1,000 square feet (93 m2)), and tiny houses (less than 400 square feet (37 m2)), with some as small as 80 square feet (7.4 m2).[5] Sarah Susanka has been credited with starting the recent countermovement toward smaller houses when she published The Not So Big House (1997).[3] Earlier pioneers include Lloyd Kahn, author of Shelter (1973) and Lester Walker, author of Tiny Houses (1987). Henry David Thoreau and the publication of his book Walden is also quoted as early inspiration.[6]

Tiny houses on display in Portland, Oregon

A Wisconsin producer, Escape Homes was founded in 1993.[7] Tiny houses on wheels were also popularized by Jay Shafer who designed and lived in a 96 sq ft house and later 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).[8][9] In 2002, he co-founded, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon and Nigel Valdez the Small House Society.[10] Salomon and Valdez subsequently published their guide to the modern Small House Movement, Little House on a Small Planet (2006) and Johnson published his memoir, Put Your Life on a Diet (2008)

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.[11]

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

With the financial crisis of 2007–08, the small house movement attracted more attention as it offers housing that is more affordable and ecologically friendly.[12] 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.[13] 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.[13] Typical costs are about $20,000 to $50,000 as of 2012.[13]

In Oakland, California, Gregory Kloehn builds small houses out of found materials, for an estimated cost of $40.[14][15]

Small and tiny houses have received increasing media coverage [16] including a serial television show, Tiny House Nation,[17] in 2014 and Tiny House Hunters. The possibility of building one's own home has fueled the movement, particularly for tiny houses on wheels. Tiny houses on wheels are often compared to RVs. However, tiny houses are built to last as long as traditional homes, use traditional building techniques and materials, and are aesthetically similar to larger homes.[18]

Some companies have put into motion plans to create tiny home developments.[19]

Tiny houses offer transitional and affordable housing that is more economically accessible and sustainable. The downsizing of space and reduction of excess materials can lead us towards living simpler lifestyles.[20] Incorporating these practices allow homeowners to work in harmony with nature and the environment. Going tiny has made astounding impacts on the lives of many, allowing people to overcome economic and environmental obstacles that come with permanent housing. [21]Tiny Homes bring new and innovative housing designs to the masses, creating solutions for more environmentally friendly homes.[22]

Outside the United States

While the movement is most active in America, interest in tiny homes has been revived in other developed 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 Britain, Abito created intelligent living spaces apartments of 353 square feet (32.8 m2) in Manchester; Tiny House Scotland has created the Nesthouse [23] - a 23 m² (250 sq ft) modular moveable small eco-house to explore the possibilities of sustainable small-scale living [24] in a highly insulated timber framed structure with some Passivhaus principles ensuring very low energy usage. These houses cost 155,000 euros[25]
  • In Germany the community of Vauban created 5000 households in an old military base in Freiburg. The planned density of the building on that area is of 50 dwelling units per acre.[26]
  • In Germany, British architect Richard Horden and the Technical University of Munich developed the Micro Compact Home (M-CH), a high end small[3] (76-square-foot (7.1 m2)) cube, designed for 1–2 persons, with functional spaces for cooking, hygiene, dining/working, and sleeping.[27]


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, an alliance of tiny house builders was formed to promote ethical business practices and offer guidelines for construction of tiny houses on wheels.[28] This effort was carried on in 2015 by the American Tiny House Association. In 2015, the nonprofit American Tiny House Association was formed to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable dwelling option and to work with local government agencies to discuss zoning and coding regulations that can reduce the obstacles to tiny living.[29]

One of the biggest obstacles to growth of the tiny house movement is the difficulty in finding a place to live in one.[30] 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." [31] 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 "(RVIA)".

Tiny houses on wheels are considered RVs and not suitable for permanent residence, according to the RVIA. From RVBusiness, "The RVIA will continue to shy away from allowing members who produce products that are referred to as 'tiny houses' or 'tiny homes'. (However, the RVIA does allow “tiny home” builders to join as long as their units are built to park model RV standards.)" [32]

Lower court decisions in the US have struck down some of the zoning laws related to size that were a problem to tiny housing. One of those cases was League of South Jersey, Inc v[33]. Township of Berlin, where the court found that a zoning law related to the size of a home did not protect citizens, so the law was struck down. These decisions are still far from being the majority, but they help in allowing the propagation of the tiny housing movement[34]

In 2014, the first "tiny house friendly town" was declared in Spur, Texas; however, it was later clarified that a tiny house may not be on wheels but must be secured to a foundation.[35]

In July 2016, Washington County, Utah revised their zoning regulations to accommodate some types of tiny houses.[36]

Housing for homeless persons

A tiny, mobile house in a Portland, Oregon yard.

The financial crisis of 2007–08 fueled the growth of the small house movement. In several cities, an entrenched homeless population formed around "tent cities" or encampments that became semi-permanent housing.[37] Homelessness in these community was driven by foreclosures and unaffordable mortgages from the United States housing bubble.[38]

For thousands who lost their homes due to foreclosure or unemployment, tiny houses became an attractive option. With their low cost and relative ease of construction, tiny houses are being adopted as shelter for the homeless in Eugene, OR; Olympia, WA; Ithaca, NY; and other cities in at least 10 states.[39] Communities of tiny houses can offer residents a transition towards self-sufficiency.[40][41][42] Communities that have sprung up, including Othello Village in Seattle, WA, originally lacked electricity and heat. In Seattle, non-profits have stepped in to help provide amenities.[39]

In Reno, Nevada, faith-based groups and community advocates have legislated for new zoning for housing for homeless persons via a tiny home community. The plan would mirror some of the previous above examples. Each tiny house would cost an estimated $3,800 to build, as well as an operating budget of $270,000 for case managers to help residents find more permanent housing and a project manager position.[43]

One challenge besides zoning and funding has been a NIMBY response by communities. Communities may weigh concerns over tiny home communities becoming shantytowns or blighted neighborhoods that reduce property values of the surrounding neighborhoods. For cities such as Chicago that may have lost affordable housing units, tiny houses are seen as an appealing option to close the gap in housing availability.[44] Community planners also have concerns that communities don't devolve into shantytowns such as during the Great Depression in "Hoovervilles".[45]

Pros and cons

Smaller homes are less expensive than larger ones in terms of taxes and building, heating, maintenance, and repair costs. The lower cost of living may be advantageous to those 55 and older with little savings.[46] In addition to costing less, small houses may encourage a less cluttered and simpler lifestyle and reduce ecological impacts for their residents.[47] The typical size of a small home seldom exceeds 500 square feet (46 m2).[48] The typical tiny house on wheels is usually less than 8 by 20 ft (2.4 by 6.1 m), with livable space totalling 120 sq ft (11 m2) or less, for ease of towing and to exempt it from the need for a building permit.

Small houses may emphasize design over size,[11] utilize dual purpose features and multi-functional furniture, and incorporate technological advances of space saving equipment and appliances.[3] Vertical space optimization is also a common feature of small houses and apartments.

As small houses may be attractive as second homes or retirement houses—two out of five people are over 50—their increased utilization may lead to development of more land.[48] 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.[31] Also, neighbors may be hostile because they fear negative impacts on their property values.[49] There has also been opposition based on this fact, due to concerns about increased taxes.[50][51][52]

See also


  1. ^ Mitchell, Ryan (August 8, 2009). "What is the tiny house movement". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ "About Tiny Houses". Tiny House Town. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Carmela Ferraro (February 21, 2009). "Small but perfectly formed". Financial Times. 
  4. ^ What would our homes look like if designed around how we use them? - TreeHugger
  5. ^ "Tiny House FAQs". Tiny House Community. Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  6. ^ About Tiny Houses - TINY
  7. ^ https://www.curbed.com/2016/11/29/13769474/tiny-houses-for-sale-escape-traveler-vista-vintage
  8. ^ "Four Lights Tiny House Company". www.fourlightshouses.com. Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  9. ^ "Four Lights Tiny House Company". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  10. ^ "About". 26 February 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  11. ^ a b Al Heavens (June 14, 2007). "Smaller Could Be the Answer to a Lot of Issues". Realty Times. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  12. ^ The Economist (February 19, 2009). "Very little house on the prairie". The Economist. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Oakland artist turns trash into homes for the homeless – The Mercury News". Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  15. ^ "Homeless Homes Project". www.homelesshomesproject.org. Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  16. ^ Fox News (February 11, 2014). "High Tech Meets Low Tech in Tiny House Movement". Fox News. Retrieved March 1, 2014. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Mitchell, Ryan (November 2, 2014). "The Tiny Life". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Groups plan tiny houses in Syracuse, some as small as backyard sheds". syracuse.com. Retrieved 2015-11-05. 
  20. ^ Vail, Katherine (Fall 2016). "SAVING THE AMERICAN DREAM: THE LEGALIZATION OF THE TINY HOUSE MOVEMENT". University of Louisville Law Revie. Vol. 54 Issue 2: p357–379. 23p. – via EBSCOhost. 
  21. ^ Nelson, Anitra (2018). Shared Living on a Shared Planet: Anitra Nelson. London: Pluto Press: Pluto Press. pp. 3–18. ISBN 978-1-78680-188-3. 
  22. ^ "MANY PATHS, ONE DESTINATION". journal of Housing & Community Development. Vol. 73 Issue 3: 6–12. May–June 2016 – via EBSCOhost. 
  23. ^ Palongue, Pamela. "The House that Jonathan built". Tiny House Living. Retrieved 7 June 2016. 
  24. ^ Mackenzie, Steven. "Tiny Solution to a Big Housing Crisis". bigissue.com. Big Issue. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  25. ^ Steffen, Alex (2008). Worldchanging: a User's Guide for the 21st Century. New York: Abrams. pp. ppl: 152–154. ISBN 0810930951. 
  26. ^ Robertson, Margaret (2014). Sustainability: Principles and Practice. Routledge. pp. ppl: 208–222. ISBN 9780203768747. 
  27. ^ Lloyd Alter (July 10, 2008). "Home Delivery: The Micro Compact Home Comes To America". Treehugger. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  28. ^ Walker, Elaine (2013-06-18). "Tiny House Alliance". Tiny House Community. 
  29. ^ Walker, Elaine (2015-01-27). "American Tiny House Association". American Tiny House Association. 
  30. ^ Walker, Elaine (2015-01-27). "Where to Live in a Tiny House". Tiny House Community. 
  31. ^ a b Mitchell, Ryan (2014-07-18). "Tiny House Building Codes". The Tiny Life. The Tiny Life. Retrieved 2014-08-20. 
  32. ^ "N.C. RV Park Offers Take On Tiny House Friction". RV Business. RV Business. 2015-08-06. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  33. ^ "Home Builders League of So. Jersey, Inc. v. Twp. of Berlin". Justia Law. Retrieved 2018-03-05. 
  34. ^ Vail, Kathrine M (2016). Saving the American Dream: The Legalization of the Tiny House Movement. Louisville, Ky. : Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. pp. ppl: 357 – 379. ISSN 1942-9274. 
  35. ^ Spur, TX (July 9, 2014). "Spur Freedom". 
  36. ^ Applegate, J. (2016, July 21). Tiny house trend on the move in Southern Utah St George News. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2016/07/21/jla-tiny-house-trend-on-the-move-in-southern-utah/#.V5opR4-cHDc
  37. ^ "The world's largest architecture firm is creating a $2 million tiny home village for California's homeless". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  38. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (2009-03-26). "US tent cities highlight new realities as recession wears on". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  39. ^ a b Lewis, Paul (2017-03-23). "Tiny houses: salvation for the homeless or a dead end?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  40. ^ Heben, Andrew (2014-07-11). Tent City Urbanism. The Village Collaborative. ISBN 978-0692248058. 
  41. ^ "Tiny Houses for the Homeless". PBS. 2014-10-10. 
  42. ^ "Tiny homes with a view: Ithaca volunteers provide shelters for homeless men (video)". syracuse.com. Retrieved 2015-11-05. 
  43. ^ "Tiny houses aren't just for Millennials. They could help homeless". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  44. ^ Isaacs, Deanna. "Are tiny houses a solution to homelessness in Chicago?". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  45. ^ "Can tiny houses solve the homeless problem?". Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  46. ^ Adams, C., & Williams, A. (2016, May). Square footage. Business North Carolina, 36(5), 56.
  47. ^ Rami Lulu (March 18, 2016). "5 Advantages of Living in a Mini Home". AskAvenue. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  48. ^ a b Bethany Lyttle (February 16, 2007). "Think Small". New York Times. 
  49. ^ Carol Lloyd (April 27, 2007). "Small houses challenge our notions of need as well as minimum-size standards". SFGate. Retrieved November 7, 2013. 
  50. ^ Josh Dehass (November 13, 2008). "Laneway housing pilot proceeds despite opposition". UBC Journalism News Service. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  51. ^ Charlie Smith (April 10, 2008). "Anxiety grows over EcoDensity in Vancouver". straight.com. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  52. ^ Ned Jacobs (June 8, 2010). "The Vancouver neighbourhoods backlash continues". www.francesbula.com. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 

Further reading

  • Sarah Susanka, Kira Obolensky The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live Taunton (1998), ISBN 1-60085-047-2
  • Lloyd Kahn and Bob Easton, Shelter Shelter Publications (1973), ISBN 978-0394709918
  • Ryan Mitchell, Tiny House Living: Ideas For Building and Living Well In Less than 400 Square Feet Betterway (2014), ISBN 978-1440333163
  • Andrew Heben, Tent City Urbanism The Village Collaborative (2014) ISBN 978-0692248058
  • Ford, J., & Gomez-Lanier, L. (2017). Are Tiny Homes Here to Stay? A Review of Literature on the Tiny House Movement. Family And Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 45(4), 394-405. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcsr.12205
  • Furst, A. (2017). Finding Space. Understanding how planning responds to tiny houses for homeless populations (Masters). McGill University School of Urban Planning.
  • Turner, C. (2017). IT TAKES A VILLAGE: DESIGNATING "TINY HOUSE" VILLAGES AS TRANSITIONAL HOUSING CAMPGROUNDS. University Of Michigan Journal Of Law Reform, 50(4), 931-954.
  • Vail, K. (2016). Saving the American dream: The legalization of the tiny house movement. University of Louisville Law Review, 54(2), 357-379.

External links

Media related to Small houses at Wikimedia Commons