Demand for tiny homes is getting bigger

The demand for living small is getting bigger.More than half of Americans would consider living in a ...

Posted: Nov 3, 2018 1:51 PM
Updated: Nov 3, 2018 1:51 PM

The demand for living small is getting bigger.

More than half of Americans would consider living in a home that's less than 600 square feet, according to a survey done by the National Association of Home Builders. And among Millennials, interest increases to 63%.

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"Tiny is inevitable," says Soren Rose, founder of Klein, which in 2017 began seeking out renowned architects to design tiny prefab homes.

While tiny homes are attractive and novel, there are some design and logistical challenges. Rose says that it will take the combination of form, function and freedom for tiny to take off on a wider scale.

"You see these amazing tiny houses in magazines and on television programs, but you can't really buy them," says Rose. "Architects did it for themselves to prove how they can make a gem. So we thought: Why don't we work with the world's best architects on this? And make them available to everyone."

David Latimer, a tiny home designer and owner of New Frontier Tiny Homes in Nashville, says the challenges to wider acceptance of tiny homes is also procedural. Consumer financing and zoning regulations are holding the industry back, he says. "Government and financing regulation changes move slower than molasses running up hill in Antarctica."

But with some design enhancements and evolutions in financing and zoning, the tipping point to a wider acceptance of tiny living may be coming.

Architect designed

The first architect that Klein asked to design a tiny house that could be mass-produced was Denmark's Bjarke Ingels. The A45 house he and his firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, designed is an enhanced A-frame style in a prismatic shape with a square footprint. If you imagine taking a cube and pushing two opposite corners down to the ground, that is the shape of the house. The shape gives the interior a more grandiose feel, with full 16-foot height on both sides of the structure.

The 150-square-foot home is a low-impact, off-the-grid structure made of wood, glass and canvas that can be carried into remote areas and constructed by hand.

"You can see it as a surf cottage on Montauk or tucked up in the mountains," says Rose.

Klein is taking pre-orders for the home now, with anticipated delivery in the first quarter of 2019. The company's goal is to keep it under $100,000 for the full structure including interior finishes. (Permitting and clearing of the land are extra.)

But this house is only the first of six homes, each designed by a different architect and exploring a full circle of tiny home concepts.

One will be the biggest home that can be hauled by a semi-truck. Another will be a mobile tiny house. The company is even exploring a tiny home that can be taken down and put up again.

The next home Klein will introduce will be modular.

"There will be A, B and C modules and you can put them together in many possible ways," says Rose. "It has the diversity to be everything from a music studio to an extra cottage to a bigger tiny home for a family. You can customize your home to your life."

Downsize and upgrade

Moving from a full-sized home to a tiny home can be an adjustment. No one wants to feel like they are living in "less."

That's why Latimer intentionally designs his homes with full-sized fixtures and appliances, high-end finishes and the kind of craftsmanship you'd find in a custom home.

"Downsize and upgrade," says Latimer. "Every room in my homes feels full size. A lot of natural light. Full-size range. King-size beds. Oven. Big sinks."

This is in keeping with the tiny home idea of scaling back and having more.

"The new status symbol is cultivating a life of experience," says Latimer. "It is about experiences, not stuff. And small spaces allow us to do that. People are looking for smaller mortgages, smaller time lines. With more time and money for other things."

Evolved zoning and financing

A source of frustration for those who want to live tiny is a lack of easy paths to rezoning for tiny homes and access to consumer financing products.

Zoning laws are local and specific, making large-scale sales of these homes harder. In many places there are zoning laws that have minimum lot size requirements. This doesn't prohibit tiny homes, but makes them very expensive given the cost of land. Some communities prohibit additional structures on a property.

If the home is on wheels, a buyer cannot easily secure traditional financing.

But these regulations are evolving. Slowly.

A newly updated building code relaxes certain requirements for tiny homes like the ceiling height and staircase specifications, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

"The future for residential housing has to change," says Latimer. "It is an idea whose time has come."

Tiny houses on wheels will continue to have useful applications, but the increasing demand for mass market tiny homes on a foundation will help to grow an industry and a community-based movement, Latimer says.

"We're not talking about putting spaceships on land next to anyone's house," says Latimer. "It is a home, it just a little smaller. The bar can be shifted from a governmental standpoint because this is an option people want."

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