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Small is Beautiful - The Tiny House

A Tiny House on Wheels - Fixed or mobile, most are prefabricated and transportable, saving time and money in construction

-This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

Still thinking about housing. This time I'm looking at Tiny Homes, not the least because youngest can’t get a place to live, nor even to rent, because there’s simply nothing affordable in his price range. In Queensland, at least one place is renting out shipping containers for $200 per week. By using standardised components, fewer materials, prefabrication and economies of scale, tiny homes  can indeed be much cheaper to build than conventional ones, but given that even wealthy people such as Elon Musk are choosing to live in a tiny home, there must be other good reasons for considering them.  Here are some of the main ones.

Speed of Construction, Transportability and Flexibilty

Tiny Homes come in a wide range of configurations and can usually be adapted to your specific needs. Standardised and pre -fabricated, they can be erected in a fraction of the time it takes to build a conventional house, saving not only time but money. Many people made homeless by Australia's 2019 bushfires are still waiting to be rehoused. Imagine how much better it would have been, had we already had a stock  of such houses, especially as severe weather, storms and floods become more frequent. They could also help to resolve Australia’s pre -existing housing crisis, which is now affecting rural communities as well as cities.

A Smaller Environmental Footprint, Sustainability

Less material used in construction already means less need for timber, concrete, transport and the like. However, tiny homes also take up a lot less space. This means fewer trees need to be cut down and less habitat is destroyed by development. In the long term, it would reduce commuting times and costs, rather than allowing our cities to keep on sprawling outwards. Denser settlement would also mean less expenditure on infrastructure such as roads, water and power supplies and would make public transport  more economically viable.

Small dwellings also use far less energy to run and need less heating and cooling. See Elon Musk’s $10,000 home below for example, which generates its own renewable energy, making it not only much cheaper to run for the householder, but reduces emissions over all, especially where conventional power comes from fossil fuels. Going completely off-grid is also an option in some locations, though less and less so in Australia.

Lifestyle Reasons

Many celebrities are eschewing conspicuous displays of wealth and are looking for a life which involves less consumption, less responsibility or is more in tune with nature. Some do it for convenience. Others such as Chuck Feeney – co – founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group, have bought them in order to spend more money on philanthropic projects. Simplicity, practicality and the idea of minimalism have also played a role.  Musk hasn’t just sold all his other properties and chosen a tiny home for himself. He has also bought into the company that makes them! 

For those doing it out of necessity rather than choice, owning a smaller place means more peace of mind, the possibility of being able to live within one’s means and less risk of being thrown out onto the street, especially as rents or interest rates continue to rise.

 Students and adult children who are presently condemned to living in the parental home can gain more independence in a small but separate dwelling. Older family members can stay nearby, rather than being shuffled off to an aged -care home. I personally like the idea of having less cleaning and maintenance to do, but let's not forget the downsides.  Here are some of the major challenges.

The Disadvantages of Tiny Homes

Finding Land, Council Restrictions

Finding land for a Tiny Home is a big problem. It’s expensive and hard to find, even in rural areas. Most councils in Tasmania at least, do not allow building of even a granny flat, unless there is already a full -sized house on the property. If there is a home on the property, subdivision - if allowed at all, may come at considerable cost, as would site works and connection to services. Building Codes are complex and vary around the country too. There are 29 different municipalities in this small state alone and they all have different rules. Many Tiny Homes produced elsewhere would not meet council specifications, especially with respect to new regulations such as those about wind, fire, insulation and even condensation. The last one will come into effect in October in Tasmania, due to concerns about mould.

Finance and Insurance may also be more difficult to obtain.

Lack of Space and Privacy

This is rarely a problem for those who travel a lot or spend most of the day at work and who do not yet have a clutch of children. However, I notice that many of the Celebs mentioned in the Best Life article, did go on to buy larger homes once children came along. My own house at 10 sqm is classed as a Small Home rather than a Tiny House, which can be as small as 4 sqm. It works reasonably well for singles or a couple, but it’s all open plan and it doesn’t allow much privacy if anyone else stays here. If you are planning to share with someone, you would want to make sure that you get along really well first, though a Tiny House would certainly bring you physically closer.

There’s almost no room for hobbies or exercise equipment of any kind and too bad if you don’t like the music or viewing your partner likes, unless you each have an iPad and noise cancelling head phones. You would also want an outdoor area if you plan to do much entertaining. 

The Storage Problem

Storage, or rather the lack of it, can be a big problem too. Many elderly people would have to give up furniture and treasured possessions to fit into a tiny home. 

The following video is a bit long but has some additional advice about living an a Tiny House. note particularly what the presenter says about condensation and how to beat cabin fever, both of which are important in colder, wetter regions such as ours.

Though there is much we can learn from Tiny House living, you do have to wonder how large families managed in our 'traditional' tiny homes – one lounge, one bedroom with a lean-to kitchen and wash house -if you were lucky. For ways to deal with some of the other challenges click here. Whole communities have sprung up - mostly in the USA, but also online to help you to overcome them and for mutual support.

Tiny Houses aren't new. They just weren't called that. This beautifully restored Milkman's Cottage dates from 1890 and shows what can be achieved with a small space. It now boasts a modern kitchen and bathroom and a pocket handkerchief-sized bit of outdoor space
There is even a dedicated workspace

While Tiny pre-made and modular homes do have the potential to solve some of our housing problems, they are no a substitute for a decent Housing Policy which recognises having a place to call home as a basic human right and as a precondition for everything else. The biggest advantage in the meantime, comes from the sense of security that comes of owning a piece of real estate where you can be the master or mistress of your domain.    

Next Time: Why don't we Re -purpose empty Office Buildings for Housing?