Nicolas Boullosa 2011

Tiny Houses and Microshelters

I grabbed microshelters as soon as it arrived in the library. I’m not sure I could live comfortably even in a 500 square foot studio apartment with building amenities, so I can’t quite explain my fascination with tiny houses and microshelters. Many of them are so artful and innovative that they make me want to get rid of my possessions, buy blueprints, drive my boyfriend’s car to a lumber and hardware store and try my hand at a completely different lifestyle. There are many reasons this will never work out for me, not the least of which is that I can’t drive stick, but I can still appreciate these houses for what they are!

Grouped under the umbrella term “microshelters” by author Derek Diedricksen are tiny houses, tree houses, cabins, and a slew of other small structures. If cable programming is to be believed, these types of houses have captured the imaginations and attention of the general public. People are interested enough that NAR Library put together a Field Guide to the Small House Movement for members. My DVR definitely has episodes of Treehouse Masters and Tiny House Hunters. Some of these structures are more recreational than intended for regular habitation, which makes sense when you consider that a number of the structures included in Diedricksen’s book are as small as 12 square feet. Those are intended more for reading nooks, and not a family of four. But the square footage in others reaches upward of about 300, and are used as full-time homes, which is impressive when you consider the average US home size is 2,450 square feet! Harking back to Treehouse Masters, even though these houses are lofted in the trees, the finishes the designer often uses make these spaces entirely livable, including composting toilets, sinks with running water, and kitchenettes!

Nicolas Boullosa 2011

Nicolas Boullosa/flickr/2011

It’s incredible what can be achieved in such small spaces. With the right built-in or multifunctional furniture, even the smallest of spaces can be made largely livable! There are microapartments designed so couches, kitchens, beds, tables, and bathrooms are made to fit by expanding furniture tucked into the very walls. A group of students at MIT experimented with such designs and turned it into a start up.

One of the benefits that have drawn more environmentally conscious dwellers is the fact that tiny houses are so energy efficient. The smaller spaces require less power to heat and cool, and because of this, make harnessing enough energy to be self-sufficient more easily achievable. There is even a pre-fabricated pod that can house two people and function off the grid for almost an entire year, using a wind turbine, solar cells, and a rain water collection system. Another draw is the comparative cost of tiny living to the country average. Those who build the structure themselves, and use salvaged pieces when available, can keep the cost low enough to avoid mortgages. These can be such money savers that they are attracting retirees as well.

 Nicolas Boullosa 2009

Nicolas Boullosa/flickr/2009

Of course, there are drawbacks to be considered. Not all municipalities are zoned for tiny houses, especially when zoning language prohibits homes on wheels (many designs for tiny houses are on trailers). To make tiny houses accessible to a diverse group of people, the American Tiny House Association formed. The association’s goal is “to support tiny house enthusiasts who are seeking creative and affordable housing as part of a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle.” Tiny house enthusiasts even have their own subreddit where they can exchange ideas and dispense advice.

Could you downsize and join the small house movement?

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Abby Creitz

NAR Web Content & Information Specialist

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