When Allie and I tell folks we’re going to live in a travel trailer and we’re not anywhere close to retiring, we sometimes get questions about this so-called “Tiny House” movement.  I don’t ever claim to be part of the movement – the reasons we are choosing this are personal (see previous post).  As I understand the movement, it was born from Susan Susanka’s Not So Big series of books starting in the late 90′s.  She believe that we should focus on design and quality in a smaller space rather than building huge, cheap homes.  I am behind that all the way – I love technology and I think if you’re going to choose simplicity, you might as well get the best bang for your buck.  Things like high efficiency appliances, thin LCD tvs, latest and greatest in gauges and monitoring, the nicest wood finishes available – all of these will help you enjoy your space to the max.

However…this great idea has taken a turn towards the absurd.  It’s recently been championed as a way to live cheaply and environmentally friendly..y.  You have blogs like the Tiny House Blog and companies like Tumbleweed Houses touting this as an incredibly revolution in human living while trying to turn some quick money on a trend.  Here’s an example of a tiny house featured on Tiny House Blog:

Are you kidding me?  That’s an abandoned shack.  They’re acting like this idea of living in a small space is a new idea for humans, that we’ve all had palatial caves since the beginning of time and now we have to be more responsible.  The idea is more in less space, not less in less space.  Most of the featured designs are minimally built with cheap materials, not innovative designs that maximize the living experience.  Oh, get this, squatting is a totally legit way to “tiny house” it these days.  It’s infuriating, really.

The other big issue I have is over the big money grab by folks unqualified to drive this movement.  I count the often blogged about Tumbleweed Homes as one of the worst.  They sell completed homes or plans so you can build your own home.  Their plans range from $17.00 to almost $1000.  You get promises of your very own incredibly home, cheaply built, and completely portable in some cases.  I really liked their Popomo house since it seems like a slightly more stylish box than the others.   Maybe an alternative to the ever-popular airstream – even has a metal skin!  A few things bothered me though – thick steel siding adding weight, rigid architectural features that may not stand up to stresses of moving, and the lack of RV hookups.  I sent a message over asking about the road durability of these houses and got this back:

Jay’s Epu had over 4000 miles on it and there was never any signs of wear and tear on the house. Our homes on wheels are designed to be moved and can stand up to the rigors of being on the road. We have never had a single customer complain about the construction of the homes or their road-worthiness.

Thanks Brett!  4000 miles!  That’s incredible!  And not one single complaint over any bit of construction?  That’s an unprecedented track record.  I’m not sure even a manufacturer like Airstream or Casita could claim that level of satisfaction!

Here’s the facts:  these homes cost between $20,000 (if you make it) and up to the $50,000 to $60,000 range if you have them built by Tumbleweed.  They weigh in the range of 1000 to 2000 lbs more than their travel trailer counterparts.  The trucks they use to pull them are heavy duty trucks that are far from environmentally friendly – Tumbleweed’s TV spot gave me a glimpse of the massive dually used to pull the 89 s.f. house they were showing off.  The plans only tell you how to frame the house, and mention nothing as far as water systems and power systems – leave that to the professionals, they say.  All in all, not quite the bargain you’d hope for.  I can’t really speak to their land-based homes, but I’ll bet it’s a similar story.  Let’s compare this to what I’m looking at for a 26′ used airstream:  total cost with a full gut and refurb:  $10,000.  Weighs less, designed for hauling, and actually has reasonable power and water systems.

I could go on and on (and I probably already have), but I think a great, simple idea has been hijacked by folks unqualified to speak on elements of design.  I’ve watched this go from a cool, practical movement to something overrun with advertising, workshops, overpriced products, etc.  I’m all for making money, but the method seems counter to the supposed ideals.  I’m also all for quality construction and materials, something usually lost in tiny home “designs”.

Here’s my personal tiny house philosophy:

  • Belongings are a burden.  While they are enjoyable, most of them are not needed or even used on a regular basis.  We adapt to our given space – going small simply forces you to downsize.
  • Small doesn’t mean cramped or cheap.  We plan on making the most of every square inch of our living space and having the best of everything (within reason).
  • Small CAN be cheap!  You can build your own home on your own land for far cheaper than many of these sub-100 s.f. living spaces.
  • It’s not for everyone.  A lot of folks like big TVs in big houses.  There’s nothing wrong with that and this isn’t a condemnation of American Excess, it’s a personal choice.

Done with the ranting.  Hope it gives you a little insight.