The Tiny House Movement, sometimes called the Small House Movement, started out as much a social movement as an architectural one, and now it’s gaining even more attention for its low-cost housing options during tough economic times.
Do the math. You can buy a ready-made tiny house—I found estimates online ranging from $40,000 to $60,000—or you can purchase plans on the Internet to build your very own tiny house, usually for under $25,000. If you can forage building materials, you could do it for even less.
When we talk about tiny houses, generally we mean those with a floor plan of just a few hundred square feet, up to a maximum of 800 square feet. Compare this to a typical American house that covers 2,500 square feet. You can see why the tiny house costs a lot less. You can also see how living in a tiny house forces its occupant to live a smaller lifestyle.
The movement is about 15 years old. Wikipedia gives credit to Sarah Susanka, author of “Not So Big House,” published in 1998, for helping launch the small house philosophy. It is all about people choosing not only to downsize their living space, but also to simplify their lives in general—no big mortgage, no big energy bill, no big house to clean, no place to acquire and store so much stuff. You get the point. The movement drew people with a social and an environmental conscience and those who wanted to embrace the values of minimalism and simplicity in their lives.
Tiny house designer Jay Shafer, who himself lives in a tiny house (he says that one of the smallest he’s ever lived in was just 89 square feet), observes that the hardest thing is the downsizing—deciding what you need and want to keep when you move from your big house into your tiny house. Once you’ve moved in, everything gets much simpler, he says. As he sees it, “There’s freedom in living small.”
Some tiny houses are built on a permanent foundation, while others are on wheels for ease of picking up and traveling. Tiny houses have a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a main area for sitting and hanging out. Most have room for a small washer/dryer combo. Some have a front porch. Commercially available tiny houses are generally very attractive, designed and built by professional architects.
One of the biggest commercial firms is Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Each house shown on the Tumbleweed website (they have 17 different models) shows multiple photographs—inside and out—plus a floor plan. Tumbleweed’s smallest tiny house—it fits on a trailer—measures 11 x 7 feet, with a living space of 73 square feet; their largest offering on a travel trailer is 172 square feet. Tumbleweed’s permanent, stationary homes (they call them cottages) start at 261 square feet and go up to a two-story, three-bedroom tiny cottage at 884 square feet.
Not every community welcomes tiny houses, so if you want to build one, be sure you check out local zoning laws and building codes—even health codes. In addition, some housing developments and subdivisions have private covenants that prevent building tiny houses. Finally, some municipalities treat them like travel trailers if they’re on wheels. So check out your local rules and regulations.
Tiny house resources
You could spend all day on the Internet reading the growing number of tiny house websites. Here are some sites you might enjoy perusing:
www.thetinylife.com  • www.tinyhousedesign.com 
www.smallhousestyle.com  • www.tumbleweedhouses.com 
tinyhouseblog.com • tinyhousetalk.com