Eco architecture Homes & Tech

Save the Wee Abode! The Tiny House Movement Under Threat

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Home is where the heart is…no matter the size of your household. Recently there have been a variety of minuscule abodes featured on TV and in other media that have taught people how our lives can be richer by stripping away the excess and living more simply.

And so the tiny house movement was born. Many have been inspired to downsize their homes not only for the obvious  financial benefits of not having to furnish and maintain a larger house, but also to help promote environmental consciousness and self sufficiency.

But this movement is now under attack and needs our support. In some places in the USA, tiny homes are banned; for example, Etowah, TN and Wasilla, AK don’t allow homes of less than 600 square feet and 700 square feet, respectively, and Boise, ID doesn’t allow homes of less than a few hundred square feet. These states argue against small houses despite their style and efficiency, claiming that permitting them will lead to decay and “unsightly little cabins plunked down next to traditional homes.”

Los Angeles lawmakers even protested tiny homes for the homeless, shockingly calling them “a threat in many ways to our public safety.” According to The Free Thought Project, Wasilla, Alaska residents are baffled by the tiny home ban, which seems to run contrary to Alaska’s wild and free nature.

Banning tiny homes makes absolutely no sense at a time when climate change is a major threat.  Most of these homes are able to produce all their own energy from solar and wind sources, collect rainwater and reuse graywater. Those who put their tiny home on a piece of land away from crowded spaces – with the intention of living off-grid through renewable inputs – are considered outlaws if they don’t link into the utility grid.

There’s never been a better time to fight for the right for a tiny home, and to support the movement. So here’s our selection of some of our favourite Tiny Houses and their owners from around the globe.

Joshua Woodsman’s Tiny House

Joshua Woodsman has come up with a series of ingenious tiny house plans, as well as already built pin-up houses, that tribute the convenience of the cottage lifestyle. As someone who lived most of his life in a cabin, with a Masters in Architecture, Woodsman has created a team of engineers who spread the tiny-house movement worldwide.

One of his most recent creations is the Tiny House France that has 21 insulated panels, connected with threaded rods, that allow the house to be assembled in just one day. There are three main areas: a blue space to sleep (the colour is no casualty since studies attest it provides a better sleep); a white-coloured space that serves as the day zone with multifunctional seats and a table; and the red space for the wood-burning stove and kitchenette. These three colours together create the flag of France, hence the name.

Images: pinuphouses.com

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The Tiny House Family

Commercials and movies have brainwashed us into thinking that you need an incommensurable amount of rooms if you have a family. The Berzins Family changes the game. For Mama Hari, Papa Karl, and the kids Archer and Ella, wasted space has never been an option. In 2011 they bought a small portion of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they built a 320 square foot new home using salvaged materials. A year later their story became so inspiring that Anderson Cooper asked the family to appear on his daytime talk show.

Questions from the media and the Internet came pouring in, asking how one can lead a zero-debt lifestyle, living more connected to the land, food and of course one another. So much so, that the Tiny House Family have used web services to create their own blog to help people imitate their off-grid lifestyle. To get there, it takes time, but as Mama Hari says: “slow and steady wins the race, just like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. We can learn a lot from a tortoise.”

Images: tinyhousefamily.com

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LaMar Alexander

After a divorce and sudden illness, homesteader and author LaMar Alexander found himself homeless and penniless. As the Latin phrase says, Mater artium necessitas, Necessity is the mother of invention! LaMar got creative with a portion of land he had inherited. On top of it, he started building a self-sufficient 400 square foot cabin, powered by a 580-watt solar system and a 400-watt wind power system.

In full respect of Mother Nature, Alexander’s tiny home includes a rainwater and greywater harvesting system, a solar composting toilet, and a propane-heated shower. LaMar built his solar cabin, with a sleeping space for up to six people, in only two weeks for less than two thousand dollars. Today he is an author of several e-books that inform people on the way they can build their own off-grid cabin.

Photos: LaMar Alexander

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Macy Miller

Macy Miller transformed a 196 square foot trailer in her dream home, equipped with a bed, a composting toilet, a recycled, 4-burner, small oven and  gas stove. She also installed an under floor electric heating system, and repurposed old wood pallets for siding. As an architect, Macy knew exactly how to use reclaimed, recycled and left over materials to her advantage. After two years, when her partner James moved in, Macy added some space to her house, making it now a total of  232 square feet. She has done a remarkable job in making her tiny home warm, joyful and practical over the course of time.

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Steve Areen

After a long career as a flight steward for Delta Airlines, Steve Areen decided where to land permanently: Thailand. But instead of buying a house, he built one with two helpers in just six weeks time, using locally sourced concrete bricks and naturally growing materials like bamboo.

His resulting “Dome House” looks as if it had come out of a tropical fairytale. The bedroom dome is capped with a traditional Thai grass roof, and the bathroom and atrium are filled with plants – even the bathroom faucet is made from bamboo, and it funnels water into a beautiful bowl. The unstoppable wanderer has set his roots in a home that is conscious, affordable and nurturing for the soul. If you visit him, you’ll surely have the sensation of being in an unconventional Buddhist temple that fulfills your every need.

Images: steveareen.com

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Rural Studio 20K Home Product Line

Students from Auburn University have been working with Rural Studios to launch a line of attractive homes that can be built for just $20,000. The aim is to give affordable housing to Alabama residents and improve their living conditions.

To make this dream come true, the group launched a fundraising competition in order to build eight of the reasonably priced dwellings with the intention of scaling up production. The premises seem encouraging: in the past Rural Studio built 12 houses, some with passive heating and a safe-room in the shower, which proved to be necessary after 23 people died in the devastating Moore tornado in 2013. Ever since its foundation in 1993 the studio has worked wonders, but the best is yet to come.

Images: ruralstudio.org

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Megan Lea’s Backyard House

A certified sustainable building advisor, Megan Lea has come up with what she calls a “beautiful, useful, artful, and comfortable space, while minimising environmental compromise.” Her Backyard House is a delightful den in a colourful, rustic style, made by using recycled barn boards and copper roofing. Megan built the tiny cottage in her backyard herself, to create a conscious hangout for friends and family that would blend with her sustainable garden. 

Images: riseoverrun.biz

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Main image: Kućica na Steni, a tiny house in Serbia



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