Tiny Houses

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The Elm by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company can be transported. COURTESY OF TUMBLEWEED TINY HOUSE COMPANY

Time to downsize?

Tiny Houses Build A Market

By Anita Rosen, arosen@bigcanoenews.com

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the average size of a single-family house in the U.S. was about 2,400 square feet, a steady increase from the 1,660 square feet of 1973. At the same time, the number of people in an average American household decreased from three to approximately 2.5.

Logically, less space is needed for fewer people, but most folks – particularly Boomers and Gen-Xers – still prefer spacious accommodations. But, hold on; here come the Millennials. Many – in addition to #FeelingtheBern for Bernie Sanders – are spurning signs of wealth and embracing a simpler lifestyle, inspired by literature from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” to recent publications, such as Sarah Susanka’s “The Not So Big House” series, which offers plans for downsized, energy-efficient homes without a loss in amenities and charm.

Small – 400 to 1,000 square feet – and tiny – less than 400 square feet – houses are getting a lot of media attention, including TV


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The interior of The Elm by Tumbleweed has a country feel. COURTESY OF TUMBLEWEED TINY HOUSE COMPANY

shows like “Tiny House Nation” (fyi.tv), “Tiny House Hunters” and “Tiny House Builders” (HGTV). Interest in these structures has driven workshops, fairs and conferences across the U.S. In August 2015, a two-day jamboree expected to draw 10,000 was held in Colorado Springs; an estimated 40,000 enthusiasts attended.

In addition to altruistic reasons, some small house dwellers, caught short in the financial and housing crises of the early 2000s or faced with reduced income upon retirement, turn to these structures to maintain a single-family residence. Small houses also have found a niche providing lodging for the homeless and as an alternative to FEMA trailers after natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina.

For now, however, most small houses are used as onsite lodging for aging parents or children who have yet to leave the nest. Additionally, they make terrific offices and guest houses.


The cost of running and buying a tiny house is, not surprisingly, less than that for the average 2,400-square foot home, but squeezing all that utility into a small space can be expensive. According to Erin Carlyle, www.forbes.com, April 28, 2014, these structures “typically cost $200 to $400 per square foot. On a square foot basis, that’s far pricier than the average American home – and tiny homes don’t include land.”

One of the founders of the small house industry is Jay Shafer, who not only walked the walk but talked the talk by designing and living in a very tiny house – a mere 96 square feet. In the early 2000s, along with three other entrepreneurs, he founded the Small House Society and opened Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and, later, Four Lights Tiny House Company.

Tumbleweed’s options can be viewed at www.tumbleweedhouses.com. One of the basic models, The Elm, ranges from 117 to 176 square feet for a cost of $58,000 and $70,000 respectively. This home, advertised to sleep three, comes with a front porch opening to a great room/kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor. Upstairs there is a sleeping loft. In the 117-square foot model, the great room is 6’8” x 9’, the bedroom 3’10” x 6’3” and the upstairs loft a generous 6’8” x 6’10”.


While the industry has drawn both professional builders and do-it-yourselfers, these houses are not finding a universal welcome. This is, at least partially, what is motivating the former group to establish safety standards and business practices.

In 2015, the nonprofit American Tiny House Association was formed “to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable

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The galley kitchen offers ample room for food prep in The Elm by Tumbleweed. COURTESY OF TUMBLEWEED TINY HOUSE COMPANY

dwelling option for a wide variety of people.” This group is striving to support those who choose a tiny/small house as a residence by gathering information about building quality structures while networking with “government agencies, educational institutions, development organizations, and private industry to address these stated purposes.” (www.americantinyhouseassocaition.org)

According to Tumbleweed’s Operations Manager Ross Beck, one of the challenges for tiny house dwellers is getting permission from building departments on where the house can be placed. In Big Canoe, a homeowner last year investigated the possibility of bringing a tiny home onto his lot. Architectural and Environmental Control Department Manager Treena Parish advised him the structure was too small to fit in with established standards.

If camping is forbidden on a property, the tiny homes on wheels can keep on rolling in pursuit of an accepting destination. Even in RV parks, where regulations usually require the mobile home must be manufactured by a member of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, they are not generally welcome. Tumbleweed’s Beck writes his company’s wheeled models are “Certified RVs, which are allowed in RV Parks and some Mobile Home Parks.”

The future

In an era of heightened awareness of resource use, tiny homes may be entering a period of increased sales. As Tumbleweed’s Beck writes: “The Tiny Houses movement is similar to other changes in our society over the last 30 years that addressed pressing resource needs: recycling … water conservation … and alternative solar energy …. We believe affordable housing is the next major issue and Tiny Houses on wheels address many of those related issues.”

For those who have decided a tiny/small home is the right next abode, www.tinyhouselistings.com can help locate your dream house. The next chore, uncovering a tiny/small home-friendly locale, also is getting easier. Listings for communities throughout the U.S. can be found on many websites, including www.tinyhousetalk.com.

As reported by Laura Link in Smoke Signals, Aug. 2, 2015, last year Blossman Propane brought a 300-square foot tiny house to Big Canoe for residents to inspect. Link writes, “Inside Blossman had outfitted it with a propane furnace, wall heater, stove and washer and dryer. Couples going through were all in agreement only one person could live in the tiniest of small houses in harmony.”

Is a tiny house in your future?

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