In recent weeks I’ve been watching a popular stateside show, ‘Tiny House, Big Living‘. The Tiny House Movement is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. This is especially true of Texas, which is facing a housing crisis.
The attraction of Tiny Houses is clear though – relatively cheap and very mobile. The reason most people opt for them is simple – mortgage-free living and a lifestyle that is less consumerist. After all, you can’t buy everything on a whim when you own a tiny home. There’s only so much space available for ‘stuff’.
You can buy ready-made tiny homes, but most either build them themselves, or have a bespoke home built for them. The advantage of course being that they get a style and layout that is suited to their way of life. Given that they’re mounted onto trailers, they’re almost always built with ‘off grid’ living in mind. With technology advances, off-grid living is increasingly viable.
How Tiny is Tiny?
It’s generally accepted that a Tiny Home is anything smaller than 400 square feet. Some are as small as 80 square feet! That compares with 200 square feet for a typical towing caravan, and around 600 square feet for a static caravan. Most Tiny Homes I’ve seen however also include a mezzanine level, which increases the feeling of space while retaining a small footprint. Despite their small size, the fact they are timber framed (rather than aluminium or fibreglass, as with caravans) means much better use of space is possible – you can utilise the walls as well as the floor space. The examples I’ve seen don’t ‘appear’ small, though they clearly are.
A Solution to the Housing Crisis?
I’m cautious of using the words ‘housing crisis’, because I don’t really believe there is one. What we have is a ‘housing price crisis’. I’m fortunate to own my home, having bought it 10 years ago when my income was much higher than it is today. In today’s market, I quite frankly wouldn’t stand a chance of getting on the property ladder. That, sadly, is the case for most people now. Even a modest home is likely to cost 10 times the typical annual salary. There was a time, not too long ago, when the same houses would cost only 3 times the average salary.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course – those that bought their houses 20 years or more ago have seen its value sky rocket. My own has only recently started going above what I originally paid for it.
For the upcoming generation through, it’s likely a life of renting unless they’re fortunate enough to inherit.
While there have been some implementations of ‘tiny’ styles here in the UK, they’ve always been apartments. Places such as Abito pack a lot into 350 square ft including kitchen, bathroom and bedroom – and they don’t feel cramped as such (though I’m of the view that adding a mezzanine to those would have made them so much better!). Inevitably though, they tend to be marketed as, and used as, ‘crashpads’. A great number are second homes, or rented out to those with active social lives that simply want or need somewhere to sleep and little else.
There has been little to encourage small, and clever, ‘homes’.
Tiny Homes in the UK
There are Tiny Homes available in the UK, though the movement is significantly smaller than the US – thanks in part to the fact our road network isn’t quite as suitable, and of course finding places to actually put one! If you’re prepared to build one yourself, a kit can be had for less than £10,000. A complete, ‘move in’ tiny home will set you back around £25,000. For a lot of people, a bank loan would therefore get you your first home, rather than the hassle of a mortgage.
The problem is, where do you put it? The cost of ‘suitable’ land is prohibitive for most, and ‘cheap’ land – agricultural, green belt etc – couldn’t be used to site a tiny home under current rules. I’m not sure I personally would fancy touring the british road network towing my house!
Time to relax the greenbelt rules?
For the most part, I support the idea of the greenbelt. I don’t want to see huge areas of green and pleasant land turned over to concrete. But I would like to see some rules relaxed. Right now, you could own an acre or two of land and not even be allowed to put a greenhouse on it(!), which I personally think is too far.
The problem with the tiny house concept in urban areas is that they will inevitably be claustrophobic. Tiny Homes ‘work’ because they’re intended for people living for the outdoors. I don’t believe a huge amount of space is essential – space akin to an allotment (250sqm) would, in my opinion, suffice. The problem is, that kind of footprint is enough for a 3-bedroom house. If a 3-bedroom house can be built on a space, it will be.
For that reason alone, I’d like to see some relaxation in terms of greenbelt rules.
Certainly not a ‘free for all’ by any means, but something that encourages ‘off grid’ eco living and sustainability. Tiny Homes would fit in here perfectly. They leave no permanent footprint behind, can be self sufficient and are perhaps well suited to the kind of people that would most like to ‘live off the land’.
Of course, what nobody wants is for the greenbelt to become no more than a ‘travellers’ playground. Perhaps it could be policed in some way or another. Maybe planning permission should still be required, but with provision for such use allowed. For example, for those wishing to establish a smallholding. Perhaps we ask that such people be ‘qualified’ in some way or another – maybe an RHS Level 2 or above is a prerequisite.
While some of the people featured on the show had children and dogs – all living in these Tiny Homes, I can’t see it being viable for most people. For that reason, I doubt it’s something I will ever do, regardless of the appeal.
Watching the show has however sparked some ideas of how I can best utilise the space in my (future) 8×6 shed – which is the whole reason I started watching in the first place!