Downsizing is growing among people seeking to decrease their environmental footprint and declutter their lives. Enter tiny houses. Beyond simplifying lifestyles, the tiny house movement seeks to curb overcrowding, overconsumption, and overspending. The average cost of building a tiny house is $23,000, according to a survey by The Tiny Life. Tiny living isn't for everyone, but if extreme downsizing appeals to you, a tiny home could be your next do-it-yourself project. Here are 12 tips to help make it easier to adjust to a tiny house lifestyle, prioritize a budget, and make other important decisions before diving in.
12 Tips for Building a Tiny Home You'll Love
A typical U.S. home spans more than 2,000 square feet. A tiny house fits single units of the same basic amenities -- kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living space, storage -- in about 100 to 400 square feet (average 186 square feet). Designed correctly, tiny houses are highly efficient, compact, and simple. They can't house a large library or electronics collection, but for many people, they're in the Goldilocks Zone of "just right." They can generally accommodate one to two adults, though it's certainly not unheard of for families with children to occupy tiny houses.
Rural areas sometimes have liberal zoning rules that allow for a tiny home to sit on open land -- a deal can be struck to place a tiny home on a homeowner's lot or land. A tiny house on wheels can reside in an RV park, although mobile homes need to meet standards of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association for towing and moving. Houses with traditional foundations need to adhere to building codes where they're situated, and a plot may need to be purchased -- adding significant cost. Local regulations vary, so be sure to do some research before deciding what kind of tiny house to build.
Designing and customizing a tiny home can be exciting, but there are many important decisions to make. For each person, plan to budget at least 100 square feet, and don't forget pets, who will also need their own space. To make a tiny home feel brighter and bigger, consider using an open floor plan, rather than partitions between rooms, and amply sized windows. Also, limit the number of storage cabinets hung above waist height. Some experts suggest using floor tape to create life-size blueprints and get an idea what will feel comfortable before commiting to a design -- especially for passageways and doors.
Different roofs suit different tiny house designs. A shed roof peaks on one side, forming a slant. It's great for creating a loft space or harvesting rainwater. While shed roofs probably offer the roomiest accommodations, saltbox roofs add room and a bit of style. They are asymmetrical, with one side having a greater angle than the other. Other tiny house roof types include arched/rounded, flat, gable, and gambrel (barn style). A gambrel roof allows for a loft space that is both high and wide, but the design is more complicated and can add significant cost.
Tiny house designers almost always recommend high ceilings and copious windows to make a small space feel open and airy. Use light colors for paint, furniture, fixtures, and wall art for the least claustrophic sensation. A large hanging mirror creates the illusion of more space. Collapsible and sliding walls can open up and close off areas as needed. These gadgets are an investment, but the total cost of a tiny house, even if it's pretty tricked out, will likely be far less than a regular house. A cheaper solution is to use opaque curtains between spaces.
Although tiny house owners like to go as minimalistic as possible, they still need storage space. After purging all unnecessary possessions, get creative. Hidden spaces in the floorboards, seating benches that pop up to reveal hidden crates, hollow ottomans, and under-the-bed vacuum-sealed bags all help hide stuff. And don't forget potential space under the stairs, if present. If there's still overflow, many areas have storage units for rent for a small monthly fee. Even with this additional expense, the cost of a tiny house will still be significantly less than a regular house.
Saving space wherever possible is a tenet of tiny house building, and one way to achieve that is incorporating folding furniture. Desks, chairs, and tables can be constructed to fold into a wall, or have wings that swing up and down during and after use. When it comes to sleeping, tiny house builders could opt for a Murphy bed that folds up during the day, although lofted beds tend to be more comfortable and practical than hideaway beds.
How does a tiny house get electricity? That depends if it's on the grid or off. A house parked in a mobile home or RV park or near other electric lines can be configured to connect. Other tiny house owners opt for solar panels for all their power needs. Installing a solar system requires technical know-how, so unless you're MacGyver, professional help is best -- and a sunny climate is required. There are increasing (and legitimate) options for getting internet and phone service "off the grid."
A tiny house can connect to public sewer and water services, but owners who opt for traditional plumbing must pay for licensed plumbers and inspections, and the area must have access to a sewer or septic system. To save costs, some tiny house residents choose a composting toilet, which is easy to set up, uses less water, and has less environmental impact. While it's possible to go totally off the grid, collecting, storing, and transporting water is pretty extreme. Owners can hook up a tiny house to existing water supplies or set up a hybrid system.
Tiny houses predictably feel cramped from time to time, particularly when there are multiple residents. During the building process, consider incorporating porches, decks, and surrounding outdoor space where affordable seating can be set up. These features allow people sharing a tiny house to have some alone time, preventing claustrophobia from setting in and arguments from breaking out.
Climate control can be tricky in tiny houses, but smart owners are not doomed to sweat profusely in a small space. For cooling, if open windows and fans don't cut it, look for a compact portable or window air-conditioning unit with about 5,000 or 6,000 BTUs of cooling power. Companies such as GE and Frigidaire make models under $200 that are Energy Star certified to keep usage costs low.
Finally, colder climates require special accomodations in tiny houses. The roof should be built to accommodate the weight of a snowfall. During building, caulk the cracks in windows and doors, design for radiant heating in the the floors, splurge on double-pane windows, and add sufficient insulation to the roof, walls, and floors. It's also a good idea to wrap plumbing and pipes with heat tape or foam insulation, and put a heating pad around the water pump. And, don't forget a carbon monoxide detector.
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