By Mitchell Clute
We’ve seen them celebrated in magazines and on the Internet, those quaint rolling homes with their cedar shingles and postage-stamp porches. If tiny houses were once a mere trend—and a trendy one at that—they’re now a full-blown movement. Who are these rolling residents? Why have they chosen life on wheels? And is it really possible to build one by yourself? The answers just might surprise you.
Is Smaller for You?
“There are different types of people drawn to tiny homes,” says Ross Beck, operations manager for Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Sonoma, California. “Some are in financial distress and can’t afford a standard mortgage. Some are young, saddled with school loans, and really want to take control of their own destiny. Some, like me, just want to downsize for all the positives it brings, including
a lot more free time.”
Beck had a big house with an art collection on a 200-acre spread; he traded it all for the freedom and savings of micro-home ownership. And he’s not alone: 40 percent of tiny-home owners are over fifty, and they’re making an educated decision—literally. Tiny-home owners are more than twice as likely as the population at large to hold a master’s degree. Two-thirds have no mortgage, compared to just under a
third of “standard” homeowners; and as a group they are also more likely to have less credit-card debt and more savings.
When Less Is More
Over the past half century, houses have gotten bigger while families have gotten smaller. “The average American home is 2,400 square feet,” Beck explains. “The average tiny home is under 200 square feet. That’s a tenth the cost of maintenance, utilities and upkeep.”
It’s also, for better or worse, a tenth the space. But that too can be a blessing, Beck claims. “I was happy to donate my classical albums, books and artwork,” he says. “Now I have seven thousand books on my phone, I can visit museums, and I’m not burdened with the expense of so many material goods. It’s all about focusing on what brings you joy.”
Build Your Own Future
Whether intended as a guest house, home office or full-time home, tiny houses fit a growing niche. The biggest hurdle is that many municipalities don’t yet have zoning regulations to account for them. Tumbleweed prebuilds road-ready homes that are certified as recreational vehicles, so they can be parked at RV parks and even some mobile-home parks under current laws.
But the company is probably best known for their workshops around the country, led by people who have already built their own homes from the company’s plans and can share both the troubles and the triumphs of the process. This year, the company will host more than two dozen weekend workshops around the country, with 2,500 expected to attend.
How long will it take before tiny houses are everywhere? “Think of where recycling, solar power and water conservation products were in the 1970s,” Beck muses. “Now they’re standard. When it’s legal to live in a tiny house on your own land, or rent space on someone’s property, then we’ll solve the huge issue of affordable housing. And sales will explode.”
For more information on weekend workshops, plans and prebuilt homes, visit www.tumbleweedhouses.com.