What Is The Tiny House Movement?

by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist

Published in Lifestyle on 10th September, 2018

The tiny house movement is taking off around the globe, with thousands of people looking for a simpler lifestyle and more affordable homes. The tiny house concept was initially brought into the mainstream by Jay Shafer, who designed and lived in a house of only 96 sq ft. Since then the movement has grown exponentially, with people all over the world designing and building their own tiny houses, as well as taking the concept to new heights in unexpected ways.

tiny house

What Is A Tiny House?

First of all, what is a tiny house? What qualifies your house to be "tiny"? The word tiny is pretty subjective, but nowadays a tiny house is classified as a residential structure that is under 500 sq ft. However, the typical tiny house that you'll see will be around 120 sq ft or less. Compare this to the size of the typical American home of 2,600 sq ft and you'll see why they're called "Tiny Houses".

What Does A Tiny House Look Like?

Tiny houses come in all shapes and sizes, many of the more popular tiny houses are designed to look like small versions of a traditional house, with front doors, windows, a porch and a living area that emulates the typical structure of a modern house. Lot's of people love the idea of having a tiny house that they can tow around, while still having a space that looks and feels like an ordinary home. Others decide to ditch all pretense of a modern house and design their tiny house to look like log cabins, trains, fairytale castles or even greenhouses. The design opportunities are practically endless, which is to say that there is no right way to build a tiny house, you can be as traditional or as eccentric as you want.

What's Included In A Tiny House?

Tiny houses are often designed to suit their owners specific needs, and thus every tiny house has a slightly different feel to it. However, there are some common attributes that almost every tiny house will share. A place to sleep of course is essentially if you're going to be living in a space, many tiny house beds are lofted to maximize space. A kitchen is normally included too, as well as a living space (that will often have many different functions) and a bathroom area.

tiny house

Traditional Tiny Houses

A traditional tiny house is normally a stationary house, built onto a deck of some sort but generally, immovable. They'll tend to stay under 400 sq ft and will often look like a regular house, just much smaller. Even with traditional tiny houses however, there's still a lot of room for experimentation. A quick look on Youtube and you'll find an abundance of tiny houses of all different shapes and sizes. These tiny houses will generally be built on land that the person living in the tiny house owns. Of course, not everyone owns land or can afford to buy land straight away, which is why some tiny house owners opt for a "tiny home on wheels"

Tiny Homes On Wheels

You'll often see tiny houses being built on large trailers that can be towed around, and this is quickly becoming one of the most popular methods of tiny house living. Building a tiny house on a trailer gives you a solid base to build upon, but also the freedom to create whatever style of tiny house you want, so long as it's within the limitations of the trailer itself. Not only do you get a house that you can transport, but you also have a house that is uniquely yours, and can be customized to suit your needs.

Vans and RV's

Another type of tiny house on wheels is the increasingly popular trend of turning a Van or RV into a permanent living space. Vans in particular are popular because they are so versatile and customizable, as well as being affordable. Once you've bought the van, it's a fairly simple process to strip it, insulate it and then create a livable tiny home inside. This is an awesome option for anyone who perhaps hasn't got the money to afford a traditional tiny house yet, or is intimidated by the idea of having to build an entire home. Vans and RV's are also popular because they are a lot easier to move around than a trailer-based tiny house, as the house is part of the vehicle itself and therefore you don't need a separate vehicle in order to tow the house, and you it's a lot easier to park in hard-to-reach destinations.

tiny house movement vans and rvs

Off-Grid vs On-Grid Tiny Houses

A lot of tiny houses are built to be "off-grid" or in other words, they don't rely on utilities companies to supply their water, power or any other services. You'll see a common theme with tiny houses is to have the entire roof covered in solar panels, with composting toilets and alternative water supplies. This provides a number of advantages to tiny house owners, the main one being that they do not need to pay utilities bills anymore, or if they do - they are greatly reduced. Plus, since they're not connected to the grid, you don't have to worry about the power going out if weather events take down local power lines. Although living off the grid can have a lot of difficulties, it also provides a lot of independence, which is why it's so popular with the tiny house movement. Of course, there are still plenty of tiny houses that can be hooked up to the grid, so it's entirely a personal decision.

The Tiny House Manifesto

There's a lot more to tiny house living than simply building a tiny house, the community has adopted a set of values that tiny house living strives to embody. Of course, to live in a tiny house you don't have to embody all of these yourself, but these values do give a more in-depth look at why people move into tiny houses, and how such a large and giving community has formed from this one architectural idea.

Environmental Responsibility

Many people turn to tiny house living in an effort to try and find a way to become more environmentally conscious. Today's building regulations and materials mean that modern housing is incredibly wasteful and damaging to the environment, with the construction industry contributing huge amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The tiny house movement aims to combat this by advocating for housing that not only uses less material, but uses sustainable materials and is built and run in a sustainable way. Many tiny houses are designed and built by the owners themselves, and often feature reclaimed materials and more eco-friendly building alternative. Plus, with many tiny houses being run off renewable energy such as solar power, tiny house owners can live in peace knowing that they're not paying for their energy to come from large power stations.

tiny house movement


The tiny house movement has created a large, global community, but that also translates on a smaller scale. The shared interests of simple living and environmental awareness lead many people to form "tiny house communities" of several families living on some land, who share out resources. This has become one of the pinnacle values of the tiny house movement - a focus on community. Modern housing often leaves us feeling very isolated, even when we live in very built-up areas, but tiny house living aims to combat this by encouraging community living and shared resources.


Tiny houses are arguably much more sustainable housing solutions than our current model of housing. Today we see many people buying or renting living spaces that have far more square footage than they need, while many more are living homeless on the streets. The tiny house movement aims to combat this by encouraging people to create their own homes to fit their needs, but no more. That way, the extra unused land and materials can be used by someone else who needs housing. In fact, the very concept of tiny houses came to fruition after the devastation of hurricane katrina, where many were left homeless and destitute. In response to this crisis, architects came up with the very first models of "tiny homes" - houses that were easy and cheap to build, and didn't take too much space up, in order to provide necessary housing for hurricane victims.

Financial Freedom

The average tiny house costs between $30,000 to $40,000, but they can be as cheap as $10,000. Compare that to the price of the average American house at $200,000 and you can instantly see why tiny houses are a much more affordable option for anyone looking to buy a house. The movement advocates that in order to buy a house, we shouldn't have to plunge ourselves into debt that we may never be able to pay off. The affordability of a tiny house makes it so that many prospective home-owners can pay for their tiny home in full, without ever taking out a loan or mortgage. This means that tiny house owners generally have much less debt, and much more financial freedom. In fact, recent research has shown that 68% of all tiny house owners have no mortgage, compared to just 29% of all US homeowners. This means that tiny house owners can actually save up a lot more than the average person, because they aren't having to pay rent, or a mortgage. Add that to the fact that your utilities bill will be greatly reduced if not completely discarded as with an off-grid tiny house, and the savings made from living in a tiny house are substantial.

tiny house movement financial freedom

Simple Living

To live in a tiny house, you need to live with less, and to people who live in a tiny house this is an amazing opportunity and blessing. By living in large, modern housing we naturally tend to accumulate much more than we actually need. By living in a tiny house, we are forced to re-evaluate and cut down our possessions to live more simply. This not only means that we spend less on unnecessary junk, but can actually benefit our mental health. Studies have shown that when we eliminate the junk from our lives and have less stuff to deal with, we become more relaxed and more focused. Plus, there tends to be a lot less cleaning and tidying to do.

The Benefits of Tiny House Living

There's pro's and con's to everything, so if you want a well-rounded and informed perspective of the tiny house movement, you'll have to look at both. Here are all the benefits of living in a tiny house.

Less Debt

If you're looking to buy a traditional house, you'll probably have to get a mortgage and this can not only be intimidating, but also pretty difficult. The prospect of being in potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is not a pretty one. Tiny houses help to avoid this altogether, or at least lessen the amount of debt. Tiny house can come very cheap, in fact you'll often be able to save up and buy one in a relatively short amount of time. All in all, less debt, more freedom and less financial stress.

tiny house movement less debt

No Rent

Have you ever thought about just how much of your money goes on rent? If you've ever rented a place, you almost definitely have. Rent prices are soaring all around the world, and in major cities like London, New York and Tokyo, it's becoming almost impossible for everyday people to afford rent and save money. Tiny houses solve this problem by providing an affordable housing solution that you don't have to pay rent on, meaning you can save money and live well.

Little to No Bills

What if you never had to pay for your electric bill, ever again? Or you never had to pay for your water? How much money would you save over time? Probably a good amount, and by living in a tiny house, you can actually do this. Switching to an off-grid tiny house may have more upfront costs, but the savings you make in the long run can more than make up for any investments you make. Plus, you get to live in the satisfaction of knowing that all your energy comes from a renewable source.

Simpler Living

As already touched on, the simpler and more minimalistic lifestyle that tiny house living requires can greatly benefit your mind, body and finances. Studies have shown that having a lot of stuff leads to over-stimulation, and this can reduce your ability to concentrate and sleep well. Ever heard the phrase "a cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind" - well this applies to your living space too. The more clutter there is, the more stressed you are likely to be, and the more time you'll have to spend cleaning up. A reduction in bills and debt also means that you may not have to work as much, and that pressure can greatly benefit both your mental and physical health.

Ability To Move

If you opt for a tiny house on wheels, you'll be able to move your house as and when needed. This is great for anyone who doesn't like the idea of staying in one place for a long time. The ability to leave, towing your entire home around with you can be incredibly empowering and provide a lot of freedom while also bypassing any need for moving trucks. You get the comforts of home, wherever you are.

The Downsides Of Tiny House Living

Potentially Substantial Upfront Cost

In order to live in a tiny house, you need to pay for a tiny house in the first place, and while this can be significantly cheaper than a regular house, it doesn't mean that you'll be able to afford it right away.

If you're looking to create an off-grid tiny house, you'll need to invest in a decent solar system, plumbing system and more, all of which can substantially increase your upfront costs.

Building The Tiny House

You can buy "packaged" tiny houses that will make the building process a lot easier, but there is still some element of construction involved. If you don't have the building skills or time to create your own tiny home from scratch, which many of us don't, you'll have to hire people to create your home to your needs, which isn't cheap. Sourcing the materials for your tiny home can also be difficult and may need a lot of planning and possible cost more than you originally planned.

tiny house movement financial freedom

Finding A Place To Put It.

If you have a plot of land that you own, then you're already in luck - you've got the perfect place to put a tiny house and you don't need to worry. If, like many, you don't own a plot of land, then you're going to run into probably the biggest drawback to tiny house living: figuring out where to put it. Tiny houses exist in somewhat of a legal gray area - they're not illegal so to speak, but you also can't just park them on the side of the road and stay there. As the movement grows, a lot of tiny house communities are popping up, but nevertheless, you'll still most likely be staying somewhere on the goodwill of the owner, which can be difficult.

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