A large – but small – movement is rapidly making its way across the United States and elsewhere around the world: tiny, eco-friendly houses. As the population rises, the cost of having a home has not only depleted people’s wallets but also the Earth’s natural resources. The relationship between space and environmental impact has become a vital issue for consideration. Participants in the tiny house movement claim that living with less space may just be the solution.
In 2009, the average American home occupied 2,343 square feet and today produces about seven tons of construction waste. Meanwhile, tiny homes on average take up 1,500 feet or less and are often built from recyclable materials. They also tend to include sustainable features that allow minimal environmental impact.
Perhaps these cutting-edge, adorably compact homes sound like a bit of a novelty, but they may soon emerge as a widely available living option.
Based in Sonoma, Calif., Tumbleweed Tiny House Company designs and educates people about tiny houses. Interested buyers can choose from both ready-made and custom-built models starting at $433/month. The ready-made homes, which come in four handcrafted styles and 21 different floor plans, are mobile and can sleep up to four people.
Despite the reduced surface area, these homes still provide the basic amenities of their larger equivalents while making a significantly smaller environmental impact. In fact, in the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sold some of their mobile houses to Gulf Coast residents who preferred them to government-supplied temporary housing.
Tumbleweed also hopes to inspire others to pursue a minimal lifestyle. They hold workshops and have published their own book that teaches people how to transport their tiny homes and how to build energy-efficient abodes of their own.
The United States is not the only place where tiny homes have rapidly grown in popularity. In Ashborne, Australia, Max Pritchard Architect built a small bridge house for a client who wished not to ruin the natural beauty of their property. It includes solar panels and windows that facilitate passive temperature control.
This environmentally friendly movement has become more visible as people have started to record their experiences with the tiny house lifestyle.
TV producer and Internet vide personality Kirsten Dirksen embarked on an investigation of the possibilities of tiny homes. The cross-country investigation resulted in her documentary “We the Tiny House People”, which she uploaded to YouTube in 2012.
The series of interviews went on for several years. The documentary features Jay Shafer, the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and more recently, the Four Lights Tiny House Company. It also tells the stories of others independently building and transporting their own miniature abode. A woman in Healdsburg, Calif. showed Dirksen a tiny house in progress that was constructed of objects she found in a dumpster.
One collection of small living spaces that Kirsten Dirksen looked into was Portland’s Garden Cottages, built by self-taught designers Jeffrey Gantert and Brad Bloom. Each cottage is made of reclaimed materials, such as old chimney bricks, used in making the foundations, and Trader Joe’s brown bags, used as wallpaper. The architecture, although miniature, complements the ornate Victorian buildings in the surrounding Mississippi Historic District.
One Garden Cottage homeowner emphasized the originality they have to employ in order to achieve a comfortable living situation in a compact space. For one, multi-purpose appliances can be found in the kitchens, including a microwave that can also be used for baking.
The documentary reveals that tiny homes come in other forms that differ from the traditional trailer construction. Dirksen also interviewed people committing to a minimal lifestyle in flats, riverboats and former pigeon coops. She continues to film other small house dwellers, posting the videos on sustainability website Fair Companies.
Nearly all of Dirksen’s interviewees agreed that choosing the tiny house lifestyle required prioritizing quality over quantity. Graham Hill, an Internet entrepreneur living in New York City, spoke of how living in small boats and flats leave no room for the culture of excess upheld in society today. “I believe the skill of the century is editing- cutting back on space, cutting back on possessions, cutting back on media,” he told Dirksen.
Alek Lisefski had a similar goal in mind when he started his blog The Tiny Project, which documents his pursuit of a more conscious, debt-free life. He spent the past year finishing his tiny house so he could move it, his girlfriend Anjali and their dog Anya to Sebastopol, Calif. Every step of the process, up to their final settlement in California in December 2013, can be found on Lisefski’s website.
As of right now, the future of tiny houses’ legal status in the United States remains uncertain. On his blog, Lisefski discusses how people get around the law by building their tiny houses on flatbed trailers. This way, they can avoid the minimum square footage requirements that most municipalities have in place for permanent structures.
Tiny house pioneer Shafer has been speaking out against the legislated ban on small houses since 1999. But until any changes are made, the tiny house movement continues to persist in inspiring and educating people around the world about the benefits of simple living.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Based in Los Angeles, Daphne Auza is a current student at Occidental College pursuing a major in English and Comparative Literary Studies. Her interests lie in travel, poems, and the intersection between the arts and social justice, but her curiosity extends far beyond those realms as well. She likes to think that many of her passions are founded on her seemingly insatiable restlessness. You can check out her daily musings and other writings at candidkandu.tumblr.com.
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