Jay Shafer: The Politics of Tiny Houses

This is hot off the press and you are the first to see it. Thanks Joan and George for letting me know!

In February, 2011, we spent a couple of hours with Jay Shafer (Tumbleweed Tiny House Company), in his 96 square foot house-on-wheels in Sebastopol, California. Jay is one of the more well-known and successful tiny house designers, and there’s no denying the “curb appeal” of his designs. That appeal is generated by Jay’s careful attention to proportion as well as by his decisions about which elements to include in–and more precisely, what to leave out of—his designs. But as much as he enjoys talking about design, what he really wanted to talk about was the politics of tiny houses. Why building and zoning codes are stacked against tiny houses, how the costs of purchase and upkeep compare to the big houses he calls “debtors’ prisons”, and why, when the Big One shakes the land around San Francisco Bay, he’d rather be in his tiny house than anywhere else.

Video by: George Packard George also blogs at CuriouslyLocal.com

65 Comments Jay Shafer: The Politics of Tiny Houses

  1. Richard Gay

    I’d say the real political threat of small houses is the loss of tax revenue. If levied according to square footage of the dwelling (and some apportioned burden on the infrastructure), the resulting revenue is incredibly reduced. Jay talks about the ‘owners’ of the code (the building industry) and no doubt that is a big issue, but the tax revenue issue is an ongoing threat to the taxing authority.

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    1. Ian

      I fail to see why local governments can’t view this as a positive opportunity. If instead of taxing a few large houses on a new subdivision block, that same space could fit more tiny houses (unless you have condos stacked up) that are taxed accordingly. Not that I want to pay more in taxes, but a 3,000 sq.ft house on a half-acre that pays $10,000 in taxes could also fit 5 tiny houses that pay $2000 in property taxes (and charge them less if they don’t need sewage or gas lines through the ground as a “green credit” incentive).

      Reply
      1. Ian

        As for square footage and taxes, that means that I would pay $2000 in property taxes for 1/5th the space of a lot that has a 3,000sqft home. That means that I’d be willing to pay 5x the amount in taxes per square footage- using only 120sqft but paying as if it were a 600sqft section. It would be reasonable and equivilent for the taxing authority- not for real estate agencies, but why should they get between builders and the tax man? :)

        The cost of land- who determines that? And, how to lower the costs for the builder? If I don’t use the ground underneath the spot, I should pay less. If I improve the land like in the now defunct Homestead Act- planting gardens/farms and such, the value of the neighborhood goes up. Why should real estate developers shape a neighborhood’s infrastructure when garden activists could do that instead? Pocket neighborhoods and shared spaces seem like much better community development than ones that have excessive highways to malls and chain shopping centers from distantly located subdivisions, which could better be spent towards more, but smaller communities and fewer, narrower roads. The major interstate development since the 1950s has ceded so much U.S. land to asphalt and automobiles (a mutual business agreement) that it’s unsustainable to continue developing and maintaining such as the 270 degrees of a circle highway trying to be connected around a sprawling series of Denver’s suburbs. In Detroit, 500 houses are being demolished each year out of a total of 45,000 abandoned homes (more would be razed if it weren’t for toxic or legal issues). If anything, that new land could allow smaller, more efficient homes to prosper without building more, unsustainable housing complexes by a re-bubbling housing industry that can’t match the employment situation of the area and the country.

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    2. Terri

      Excellent observation re taxes. Insurance companies benefit, too. At one time my coziest, warmest, most affordable home was a 700′ sq ft trailer. (Huge, by Jay’s standards.) The insurance was $300 per year. I eventually sold it and moved to an 800′ stick-built home. Not much bigger. Insurance is now $620 per year. (Ironically, trailers are now built stronger than many stick-built homes.) Athough Jay’s home is a little tight for me, I love it – and agree with every observation he makes. Ownership of excess stuff, and the worries that come with maintaining it, can be costly, heavy burdens. I wish trailer homes, once again, were cute, if not “campy”, dwellings, in nice communities. If you can still find one, drive thru a well kept, older mobile home park, on a cold winter’s night, and you will understand. The warm glow from the windows draws you in, in the strangest way. (Note: Rent, “The Long, Long Trailer” with Lucy and Desi before being seduced. Will help you keep a sense of humor during the tough times.)

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  2. Bob Pritts

    Well my wee-house got a set back today….but I will find a way to move forward. I went to get my permit to build, but was told that it is not legal to live in a 208 square foot house. I have to have at least one room 120 square feet to be legal. It does not fall under normal houseing laws so we are leaning to going under the guide lines of an R.V. I have to go thru the state fire marshall’s off to get some kind of guide lines. The local code inforcement office is eager to grant the permit but his hands are tied until the state gives guidance. I have the 26 foot trailer and the material paid for….I will find a way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bob

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    1. gregor

      Hey that’s great Bob, will you share the details of your story with us when the dust settles one way or the other? I sure hope so, because real world examples are really valuable.

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    2. william carlisle

      Permit it as an office or artists studio get your C O and live in it after you get your C O they have no legal right to enter your property .

      Reply
  3. jlb

    I’ve been saying the same thing for decades as a Libertarian. Building codes mandating minimum house size, sewer hookups, water hookups, electric hookups are intentional – they keep poor people and ethnic minorities out of “your” neighborhood and they keep housing prices high. Did you know that to merely hook up utilities to a new house runs about $80,000? That’s before you’ve even nailed two boards together, your house already costs $80K.

    It’s like mandating that everyone who wants to drive must buy a car that can survive 100mph crashes from any angle with no occupant injury, and you are subject to inspections every year on your car’s condition where even a radiator leak means your car is junked – which means that the cheapest car you can legally buy is an $80,000 BMW, and you have to buy one every 5 years.

    The problem is that people love government force and meddling when it gets them something they want, but are against it when it’s something they don’t want. They don’t see that any money or power they give the government today to, say, enact mandatory recycling laws gets used the very next day to create restrictive building codes, eavesdropping on all their telephone or Internet use, or fly halfway around the world to drop bombs on children. Government power is fungible, and needs to be kept as small as possible – even if it means giving up things that you want the government to do for you.

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    1. gregor

      I can’t say I agree with everything you say, but it is certainly true that there is a cost to all rules, and this fact is often neglected.

      I have read in several places that economic analysis shows that zoning actually is directly responsible for doubling(!) housing prices (50% of existing housing cost). And this can be verified experimentally by looking at Houston, Texas, where there is no zoning.

      That’s the price, not the value. The housing in Houston is just as good as anywhere else in America.

      Now that doesn’t mean I am against zoning, but you have to wonder what would happen if they got rid of say %80 of the least justified rules, keeping the 20th percentile most justified. It could greatly reduce the price without impacting quality of life at all.

      In fact, Houston does have a lot of land use rules that are exactly like zoning, but do not use the same mechanism and there are not as many, in order to keep say noisy factories away from housing. And there are a lot of private covenants too.

      It is possible to build a convenience store next to a home though, and I wonder what increase the price would be to remove that. I bet there is analysis available on this sort of thing.

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      1. Daniel

        I’ve been looking at retirement around the Houston area. Everywhere I find HOA’s and seems very hard to avoid some sort of restrictions. HOA’s just seem be be a big waste of $$ in my opinion.
        ~Dan

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    2. Knifemouth

      As already stated, I too agree with many of what is stated here; the painful truth is that the gross majority of those who claim to be “small government” that are in power today are very much acting as BIG (intrusive and controlling) Government. It’s quite the cluster-mess, so to speak. A very painful one.

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  4. gregor

    Hey, this is great! Progress continues. People think other people are not interested in politics, but my experience has been the opposite. People are uninterested in lazy thinking, which is unfortunately very common when people express their opinions about politics.

    But when you stay reasonably good with the logic and grounded in reality and history and communicate reasonably effectively, then all of a sudden it is very useful and interesting to a lot of people.

    Richard, I am sure that is one part of many. But the approach to taxation is not written in stone. If it turns out that it is not resulting in some people not paying their fair share, the appropriate thing to do is adjust the tax code to take those outlier people into account.

    It amazes me the way people think of these things as beyond their reach, as if we were still living in a world where kings just say X and the rest of us had no choice but to work with it.

    There is already the prerequisite example of “detached accessory apartments”, which are not a major problem from a tax standpoint IIRC.

    Think how extremely grossly inefficient it is to try to raise x tax dollars by forcing people to spend 5 or more times x on extra square footage they don’t want.

    In other words taxing them 6 times as much as you will receive as tax dollars.

    It’s exactly like wasting 5 dollars of taxpayer money for every dollar of tax revenue!

    As taxpayers we should be raising hell if the government does that.

    It makes no sense at all, there are better ways of raising the same number of tax dollars you need.

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    1. Greg Cantori

      One way to overcome the loss of tax fear is to point out that tiny home dwellers will likely have much more discretionary spending on movies, dinner out, amusement parks, plays, and vacations – the law of average spending all comes out even in the end – but with more power left with those who choose tiny homes.

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  5. Epperson

    Good interview. Good dialogue going.

    Please allow me to add a few points from the Libertarian view of taxation.

    Taxes collected through the IRS goes directly towards debt obligations or interest on money borrowed from the Federal Reserve. According to the Grace Commission from the Reagan Administration, not one penny will ever reach our Federal Government to cover expenses.

    The IRS is simply the militant collection agency for the Federal Reserve Bank. This is a PRIVATE BANK owned and controlled by European Sell Side Institutions along with a few Wall Street allies.

    The Federal Reserve is unconstitutional (See: Article 1, Sec. 8) but was signed into law under Woodrow Wilson for dubious reasons.

    The Bank is charged with printing money which has no real underlying value other than mere faith through something called fractional reserve banking.

    They just print it out of thin air, loan this money to our government and we must pay it back at interest.

    In other words, our economy is entirely debt-based because the Federal Reserve owns the world’s most expensive printing press.

    If you’re thinking “scam”, you’re on track.

    So whether you realize it or not, you are a debt slave.

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  6. Ian

    This another very,very good post. I like the part in the video where he suggests there should be more communities based on tiny homes. Not a new idea (though it’s one he said before), of course, but shows what potential there could be for many places where post-industrial towns have lost their residents to a brain-drain and other more prosperous cities. Could be an inexpensive way to revive many old mining towns, for example, such as in West Virginia, with a new local economy to prevent more environmental deforestation passed by the few coal-proponent residents in the majority who remain there. The difference this time around, would be that the trailers/tiny houses could have renewable hookups from solar energy, rather from the electric company, and could even develop renewable heating and water systems independent of local natural resource depletion.

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  7. Diane

    I wonder if it’s possible to live car-free if you have a tiny house on a trailer. Can you simply rent a large enough/powerful enough truck whenever you might need to move the trailer?

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  8. Bob Pritts

    HELP…SOS!!!!!

    I started the my house plans over 4 years ago and I did check with local building codes last year and was told the permit would not be an issue…but now we have new people in the office and I was told that I was not allowed to live in any dwelling under 400 sq. ft. It is for my own saftey that the code requires a minimum of 400 square feet. Egress is the primay issue in case of fire. I did take this into account when I designed the house and Have oversized windows and a standard 36 inch entry door.

    If builT I can not call it a house because it not meet house building codes…can’t call it a mobile home because it not built in a factory and have all the industry stapms of approval on it. they say it not and RV because again it is not built in a factory and have that industries code stamps as well…….ANY ONE KNOW A STEP OR TWO TO GET AROUND ALL THIS BULL. BIG BROTHER IS TOO BIG FOR HIS BRITCHES. OUR WEE-HOUSES ARE BUILT BETTER AND STONGER THAN MOST STICK BUILT OR FACTORY BUILT HOMES, BUT YET WE AR NOT ALLOWED TO LIVE IN ONE…..WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO OUR FREEDOMS IN THIS COUNTRY?????

    SMALL HOUSES DO MEAN LESS PROPERTY TAXES…BUT ALSO GIVE US MORE DISPOSABLE INCOME BECAUSE WE ARE NOT BURDENED WITH MORGAGES AND HIGH RENT AND TAXES…..i WILL BUILD IF i HAVE TO UNDER THE COVER OF DARKNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    1. gregor

      That’s terrible, Bob.

      The thing that other people need to, IMHO understand, is that this seems to be the way it is in the vast majority of areas.

      The government ends up prohibiting tinyhouses from many different angles, not just one.

      There is, for example a sort of what might almost be considered a myth that if you put your tinyhouse on wheels you are okay.

      Unfortunately that is not true. Building codes no longer apply, but zoning and sometimes other things still do.

      I posted on my blog a link to an essay called “everything I want to do is illegal” which describes the problem in more general terms.

      We have come to the point now where only certain things are *allowed*, not certain things banned. There is a world of difference.

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  9. Mo Skba

    The challenges/obstacles to building have greatly accelerated in the last decade. That is especially true with “non-conforming” structures. There were literally HUNDREDS of NEW regulations proposed by the Dept of Ecology that effect property rights in the last two years in our state. Just keeping up is a full time job. Enforcement is inconsistent.

    It can be discouraging. Over the years I’ve learned that cash paves the way when it comes government. Pay the ransoms and they’ll usually issue some sort of exception. Sad but true.

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  10. Lucas

    No knock on Jay, but he’s not really “living” in his tiny house. He has a fixed structure next door, that serves as his residence, regardless of whether he actually “resides” in this house. What he’s showing us is a really nice backyard playhouse. When we grow up and become big kids the world’s not so nice to us anymore. You and I decide to dodge the man and build our tiny house, but still have to sleep uneasy about the feds coming in and busting up our vacation, while Jay simply jumps back into his “real” house. My guess is ol’ Jay won’t be much help then. It’s great that he’s advocating for all the zoning laws to be changed, etc. However, he also has a business interest in this endeavor. Always follow the money trail. He kind of reminds me of the church preacher that urges his congregants to live modestly and throw some money in the till as he drives away in his Lexus. I know this will read as heresy to Jay’s loyalists. I do find his houses to be appealing and don’t have problems with his cost structure, as they are very nicely appointed and look to be an excellent means of diy’ers building their own dwellings. I just think his situation makes this all seem a bit fishy.

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    1. Anne

      Well said Lucas. The arguments made are the ones being made for decades to return codes to safety only, not at all new.

      Despite Jay’s appearance as somewhat more a salesman then a true advocate, he has been adopted by the main stream media as the so-called spokesman of the most recent movement to sustainability in the form of the THM. I suppose every voice helps… though I fear the current version of it may return to bite the movement in the arse… Flavor of the month tends to have no overall effect on society.

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      1. gregor

        It is new to some people though. Besides it doesn’t have to be new; the problem is not fixed yet now is it? So keep up the pressure until it is.

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    2. gregor

      But dude, you may not be aware that he HAS lived in the tinyhouse full time. For many years in fact, until he got married and had a child.

      There is such a thing as enlightened commerce, and that is what I think Jay is going for.

      There is nothing wrong with making some money doing good in the world. People sure as hell make a lot of money doing harm, and if you have to pick one to support…

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      1. Anne

        And there in lies the problem for those of us who remember the original version… It would depend on how you define ‘lived in full time’, the tiny house was put on his then girlfriend’s lot.

        The problem does still exixt. As I said, all voices matter. But so does a realistic view of how far it has come and why. ‘Under the radar’ living has set back the movement… doesn’t matter who does it. Communities with vision are changing, but the going is and will be slow. 20 years and counting for most of us.

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      2. Anton

        It just goes to prove that tiny houses dont suit most people since they eventually get married and have children. And even before that most adults have a significant other which makes it tight but livable but absolutely no room for guests. If the guru of the movement cant raise a family in a tiny house then no one can.

        I really wish there was more focus on “small houses”. Something with 2-4 bedroom in the 500-100 foot range.

        Also, it never shows Jay’s bigger house. Does anyone have more info on it? It doesn’t look like a tumbleweed.

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        1. Kent Griswold

          Hi Anton, the house on Jay Shafer’s lot was there already. He has been fixing up the outside to reflect his design elements. I hope he will let me show off the inside sometime but I have not been in recently and I figure he is still working on it. Yes, 500-1000 square feet is what most of will most likely downsize to. I will try to feature more of that size in the future.

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          1. Anton

            That would be great. I did actually mean 500-1000 sq ft by the way.

            But what I would really like to see is designs that put as much though into the layout as tiny houses incorporating ideas from RV and boat manufacturers as well European and Asian efficient living ideas.

            It seems like there would be a very large market for this type of housing since they would be legal to build and would be usable at various stages of a persons life. After all if you are going to spend the time and effort to build something, wouldn’t you plan to stay in it indefinitely?

            I’ve been working on a 4 bed/3 bath plan under 1000 feet to suit my needs and have a couple of versions worked out but not something I’m completely happy with.

          2. Jaie

            I seem to recall an interview where they mention that the new home is still well under 1,000 square feet. It would do just as much good if he was known to still be living in a smaller home and still tout his Tumbleweed plans, rather than relying only on people thinking that Mr. Schaefer is still in a mini-house. I feel he’s still have just as much of a voice in the movement as anyone else actually living the dream.

        2. Knifemouth

          Bit scattershot: but in DWELL March 2011 there is an article on a Dad, Mom with 2 small kids and an apartment of 620sf. Sure- what they spent remodeling it to be a smart fit is more than I net or gross in 2 years. Ah, DWELL. But even so, why Jay didn’t get a bigger Tumble is a good question.

          I’d so love to see Jay with his fame, success: he must accept that many will indeed project desires and expectations on him- but I’d love to see him work IN or NEARBY his beloved town, where they love him back, to build one of his larger Tumbleweeds as a main home (a larger Whidbey perhaps) to walk the walk, and keep his Epu (?) as his backyard office. To open that chance for others: I don’t mind running electric to a nearby house if I had a small home and were saving for solar! I am not proud. But we also can’t kid ourselves that Jay didn’t live many years in an RV 5th wheel to learn, an 86sf Tumbleweed to learn more -and his company does not have him rolling in dough. My goodness.

          Many speak on places where there are no building codes, West Virginia was mentioned here- yet I for one simply can’t relocate away from a job I hold in my expensive/over-regulated state. Being handicapped and chronically sick, I can’t build my own Tumbleweed (example) and getting a built one costs far beyond my means: and banks don’t loan $15,000 or I’d have an Ozark’s built from Scott! (example). These are quite the gems as Jay says, yet as others have proven: you can have safety/warmth and a small house without insisting on being quite so very fancy on each turn of the page/choice of material. I’m a humble person. Tumbleweed’s and Tortoiseshell’s are “Lotto Homes” to me.

          So even if all my illness plural went into remission, were I able to walk away & spend all that medical money on saving for a home, if this darned Gov’t would work on making jobs instead of over-regulating MORE nonsense to break the poor yet more… the banks we saved with our tax money and the people we elect just keep us down.

          Such the very beautiful planet, teeming with the most beautiful people as evidenced here- yet somehow be it this judging- restricting this -or that judging restricting that- we seem incapable of just letting one another be happy and at peace. And I don’t think it’s ‘socialism’ to say that the poor deserve housing- and instead of (architect speak:) brutalism in building looming ‘projects’ and allowing liquor stores on every corner: creation of affordable small homes in lovely groupings or laws changed to allow us to build on our land as seen fit as supposedly free Americans, legalizing food bearing gardens and a few chickens! All over, not just -Oregon! (smile)

          I like to think that Ozark’s Scott has shown us that homes can be $7,500 and up for gosh sake. If there are trailer parks and RV parks, who can deny us tiny home parks? Trying to make a movement in the shade seems to end up with folks just getting treated or acting …shady. Like gay folks: we all need to clamor out loud all at once and get all our friends & family to do it so that we’re not some kicked about minority. HEY BRAD PITT, WE NEED YOU! These aren’t LEED certified, but they aren’t 6 figure, weekend/second homes in the country built by architects either like I see in METROPOLIS or DWELL, Wallpaper… ok, shut up and sleep for once. Sorry to yammer on so much.

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          1. Ian

            Very good points, knifemouth!

            I’m still reading keeping up with this post even though it’s a week old and currently on the second page back of tinyhouseblog. Comments usually slow to a crawl since the article isn’t an ongoing topic of interest to some. Ideally, more tiny house lobbying could be established with some sort of organization, though at the local level there seems to be just as much as potential.

  11. Bob Pritts

    I do not care if Jay lives in his house or does not live in his wee-house! He has never the less inspired andshown many of us that there is an alternitive to paying our hard earned cash on big rent or morgages…..long live those of us that are free thinkers and understand that less is not only more but for many better!!!!!!!!

    Jay you just keep doing what you do….every cause needs champions!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  12. Lucas

    Bob, I think you’re missing the point. It does matter if he lives in this thing. Afterall, he is selling it to you and I to live in. However, we don’t want a mortgaged lot/house next door to be tied to so we can live in the tiny house out back. That’s the antithesis of the movement. Sure you can pat yourself on the back for living simply in the wee house, but the person renting/owning the house & lot you reside on are in the boat you and I are trying to avoid. I’m sure this works for many partnerships, but I can’t see it being the solution to the problem or even a good compromise. It’s only a matter of time before some nosy neighbor starts pissing and whining about you camping in your buddy’s backyard in your homemade trailer home. In my book, champions of a cause practice what they preach. This doesn’t mean I expect Jay Shafer to solve all my zoning problems, etc, but I sure as heck hope he’s got some realistic ideas for me in exchange for plunking down my money for one of his plans.

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  13. Epperson

    As much as I admire the visible Tiny House designers, I think their popularity would harm the movement in the long run.

    If the movement grows, you can be sure the government would intervene and set new regulatory standards to limit its use and even set new taxes on Tiny Homes. Appearing on the cover of national publications or being interviewed by the mainstream media, Jay brings too much attention to the movement.

    In the past, the movement operated under the radar. Tiny Home Builders didn’t advertise their shelters or designs for fear of violating codes. Tips were usually passed along through word of mouth or spread through limited publications of books.

    I certainly appreciate the appeal for educating the public about alternative building methods but I just don’t see the upside if this trend were to continue.

    Our money-grubbing government loves regulation and taxation. You’re just begging the government to put their filthy hands into our movement.

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    1. Ian

      I disagree, Epperson, because the significance of tiny houses is more than their esoteric status. The internet and media isn’t intended to publicize absolutely everything to “break privacy”, but it helps when it disseminates information about a cause that may need help to a much wider audience that has resources or ideas on how to help. Just because something becomes mainstream, doesn’t mean it has lost its novelty or usefulness. There is still an environmental movement that tiny houses can help; there is still the low-income and unemployment issue that that it can help- by potentially allowing more working class individuals to own a place they can afford. As some tiny house proponents have already stated, it’s not about dodging the tax man, but paying only a proportion of the occupied land in taxes that one uses. And if someone doesn’t want to be required to buy an acre of land just so they can move into a neighborhood, then there’s no reason they should be forced to live in the gutter. Instead of trying to “lay low” indefinitely, a concerted movement/effort to establish or “found” a new town that is tiny-house friendly or tiny house-designated could be a seed crystal for a larger network of tiny houses. And that requires legislation at the state level, at minimum. Instead of having to deal with counties and HOA’s, it would be much simpler to focus on one state that would be more willing to allow a community built around tiny houses, or to completely accept tiny houses into the neighborhood of an existing town or village, and develop new laws that facilitate tiny house living. And state laws could help protect a village or town from a change of heart, is my guess. Might as well try. Again, social media has the potential to expose more people to the movement, which in turn could unite enough motivated people towards working towards a centralized starting location to reform zoning, building codes, and covenants, etc.

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      1. Epperson

        You bring up some interesting points on the community aspect of the movement through ‘consensus building’ or possibly through lobbying for legislation.

        However, your premise works on the false assumption that government is efficient and sensitive to the issues of the movement.

        Currently, there are legislative agendas at play working through various bodies–municipal and federal–that actually mandate living standards. This is derived from the United Nations Agenda 21. At last count, there are over 600 cities and towns across the country which have adopted this Agenda into their General Plans.

        It’s an attempt by the government to consolidate land, water and resources by moving people into centralized urban areas. You may have heard of it under sanitized terms like “smart growth”, “sustainable development” or “environmentally-conscious building”.

        This is antithetical to our movement, Homesteaders, the Constitution and individual rights.

        Advertising possible alternatives to legislation, subprime mess and high cost of traditional home ownership would certainly attract the tentacles of taxation and regulation to suppress the movement. If you’re a student of history and American politics, this has always been the case with government.

        The few exception I have seen are in Texas and Vermont, where over-sight is lax. In other parts of the country, not so much.

        So I’m fairly pessimistic about the viability of the movement if it keeps growing in the public eye. Greater popularity means greater risks of government meddling.

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        1. Ian

          “However, your premise works on the false assumption that government is efficient and sensitive to the issues of the movement. ”

          I didn’t say the local or state government would be immediately warm to the issue. I just said that it would require, as you say, consensus building or lobbying through legislation, and since it’s already controversial issue, it wouldn’t occur without friction. So that’s an existing hurdle to overcome. The benefits are obvious to us, so it’s something that needs activists/lobbyists to push for on a regular basis. That’s how any movement began and currently operates. This is one of those movements that requires legislation. See: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/houses/proposal-to-amend/

          Now, I am also against the consolidation of land, water and resources by any entity (gov. or business, etc) and the agendas that mandate these “living standards” (standards which have nothing to do with the structural soundness of well-built tiny homes). I am not interested in being forced to live in an urban area to link into a “grid” of urban, suburban, or exurban sprawl. I prefer the interdependence of regions and their uniqueness, as well as preventing extra farm land from being demolished to pave new McMansions or Roads to Nowhere. However, I don’t see how taxation of legalized tiny homes would constitute a infringement on building rights. I am not saying that tiny homes should be regulated to the point where they can’t be custom designed. I am only saying that tiny home living aren’t even allowed at all at the moment (in virtually every area), and regulation should only prevent some homes (of any size, not just tiny homes) from containing a structural or chemical hazard that could harm a neighboring building (such as using an industrial additive that is flammable or something that corrodes easily and shouldn’t be used as a stud, for example). Government intervention could help as much as harm the movement, depending on whether enough advocates in government are willing to pass laws that permit tiny home living. Internet and media aren’t going away, so might as well use them to promote the cause. Without it, I wouldn’t even have found out that there was a law that prohibited tiny house living, let alone tiny homes, and it was brought to my attention from tiny house proponents, not government or non-tiny house proponents.

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          1. Ian

            “However, I don’t see how taxation of legalized tiny homes would constitute a infringement on building rights.”
            For my above sentence to make sense, I assumed you read a “tiny tax,” not a prohibitively expensive fine.” :)

            “but I agree with your point that so much promotion will eventually help lead to more scrutiny of peoples’ tiny homes, and possibly lead to new rules and regulations that favor professionally built tiny houses, but make it more difficult for the little guy trying to do his own thing.”

            Josh, I think this comment can go multiple ways. Tumbleweed houses sell plans to people who know nothing about architecture but enough learning aptitude to build from a professional plan book to customize their own tiny house. I have done a lot of research on tiny houses and every blog that documented/photographed their construction using Jay’s plans has looked significantly modified to be unique (and Jay seems to encourage this type of minor to moderate customization). I am interested in building a Tumbleweed from plans because I know little about structural and measurement meticulousness to want to spend more time on that beyond the measurements he already picked out. As for other tiny homes, I am sure they are structurally sound or can be with enough planning. It’s not something that a government would necessarily ban because of its lack of safety. I don’t see how working with a building engineer for a few months to make small adjustments to a house without compromising its artistic integrity would constitute “meddling,” but I understand can see how it might cause worry if it’s a hobby of yours. The benefit I see of buying professional plans is that if I follow the instructions, I should be able to build one on my own without needing an engineer to approve it, save for maybe electrical and water wiring/plumbing. I’d also like to think we live in an age that is more supportive of DIY projects. In the larger picture of things, big names in tiny house movements such as professional tiny house builders are also more likely to encourage DIY building (last I read, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells more plans (x#) than houses they build- just 2 or 3 last year). So professional tiny house builders and custom-designed tiny house builders have a mutual incentive to support tiny house living permits through legislation and lobbying, such as the above link (though if there are more, links appreciated).

          2. Epperson

            Ian,

            With all due respect, lobbying government at the local or federal level for change in the building codes is a fruitless endeavor.

            For one, current codes are beneficial to money-grubbing government bureaucrats. Bigger homes means higher tax revenue. It also means more revenue for their corporate allies in the private sector–supply companies and the energy cartel–their political donors.

            See what you’re up against?

        2. Ian

          “With all due respect, lobbying government at the local or federal level for change in the building codes is a fruitless endeavor.”

          Gee, people said health care reform would never happen, but it did (We’re still not there yet- and by “there” I mean a public option or single payer like California is soon to pass). In 1994, Hilary tried to get a health insurance program, but look how many people started the debate again in the past three years.

          This is the equivalent of the Insurance and Finance counterparts in the “FIRE economy” (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate; look it up on wikipedia) There is perhaps a slow reform of the finance corruption with the Dodd-Frank Bill, and with Elizabeth Warren. There is the Affordable Care Act, and soon to be a better public insurance law than the one passed. But what about real estate? Why not push for the removing the last remaining vestibule of the FIRE triad? Right now, it’s kind of like 1994 with health care. The issue can make some noise, but it’s getting vilified like Hilary was. So why should we wait another 15 years, if at all, to really get the ball rolling for tiny houses?

          Reply
          1. Epperson

            Ian,

            You’re on the wrong side of the political fence.

            Big government means higher taxes and increased regulatory scrutiny.

            One can make a principled argument without invoking Marxism (since nationalized Health Care is Plank) but there’s still the Constitution to reconcile.

            Simply put, everything from Health Care to the Financial Reform Bill is unconstitutional.

            Only Congress can regulate and investigate private industries. Moreover, created agencies are historically inefficient, unreliable, corrupt and encroaches against the primacy of State Rights (10th Amendment).

            So again, the approach you recommend is a flawed one.

        3. Ian

          Epperson,

          I’m in favor of a government that doesn’t serve corporate interests over people’s interest. You seem to be equating anything “government” as resulting in more taxes, but it also leads to higher wages/income. There actually was a time when labor union representatives played a bigger role in government and helped more workers get better wages and safe workplace conditions (1930s until the late 1960s). Only in the past 40 years have there been more politicians friendly to large corporations that have resulted in what you have described- higher taxes paid by the lower classes to pay for corporate welfare, their colossal tax dodging, and their gambled risks that lead directly to lower private and public sector wages (minimum wage) compared to a decent, living wage for most public and private union workers. Some regulatory oversight is beneficial because of the very unethical practices that private companies try to hide from the public. Not that some secretive agencies of the government or such as ones that underwent regulatory capture haven’t had their share of unethical practices.

          In no particular pattern,

          Bill Gates or Richard Stallman?
          Elizabeth Warren or Gordon Gekko?
          Deek Diedricksen or Donald Trump?
          David Koch or Stephen Chu?
          Bryan Bishop or Craig Venter?
          Edward Teller or Carl Sagan?
          Schools or Prisons?
          ACLU or ALEC?

          You’re completely right about the Federal Reserve; I didn’t say anything positive about that.

          So, don’t we have more in commmon than we have have opposite? Whatever that is? :)

          Reply
        4. Ian

          “Currently, there are legislative agendas at play working through various bodies–municipal and federal–that actually mandate living standards. This is derived from the United Nations Agenda 21. At last count, there are over 600 cities and towns across the country which have adopted this Agenda into their General Plans.

          It’s an attempt by the government to consolidate land, water and resources by moving people into centralized urban areas. You may have heard of it under sanitized terms like “smart growth”, “sustainable development” or “environmentally-conscious building”.

          This is antithetical to our movement, Homesteaders, the Constitution and individual rights. ”

          You make some good points here. I would like to add that not all points here are necessarily contradictory to the interests of “urban” environmentalists. To be a bit stereotypical, there are urban, green liberals and then there are rural, green liberals. I’m somewhere in between. But this discussion helps by going back into American history to the time of when the national parks were first established, and the resistance they received. Ken Burn’s documentary on it is a very good series. Back when the population of the earth was less than 2 billion, which was before the 1950s, the earth’s resources were not as strained as they are now at 7 billion. Throughout the 20th century, many national parks took away land from those who wanted to claim it as their own. But it also protected overdevelopment and the environment (not the type you’re interested in- I’m talking about more oversized, ugly suburbs and wasteful, 8 lane “free”ways going into Los Angeles everyday. Only after real estate overdevelopment and shrinkage of farmland (except for some large corporate farms) was Agenda 21 passed, and that means that there had to be a time before that when there was a sparsely populated country that had could have had a balanced, 2 way-access/option for city slickers and rural folk who if they wanted nothing to do with each other they could stay or move to where they wanted. But now the country is at risk of having too few resources in the future such that it is critical that some land is protected for the environment and natural resources (food, water, oxygen, minerals, etc). Nuclear power plants already get first dibs on many rivers and bodies of water for active cooling. But that wouldn’t be fair for those forced to live in the city, compared to some rural folks who might be able to stay, now would it? So, one way to fairly resolve this, in my humble, but unpopular opinion, is to encourage decommissioning many suburban and urban McMansions and retail wastelands, so they become prairies again, not “fractionally”, but completely. It’s a lot harder to do that in a city center, which is already renewing itself, albeit at an exceedingly overpriced property value. So might as well start with the exurbs. But more minorities and working class people live in the suburbs now than in gentrified cities, which hasn’t happened in over a century it seems, and my interest isn’t purposefully to discourage or encourage a debate of this sort. What I would like, however, is a way for more communities to acknowledge their homes are part of environment, and that all of the cheap building materials that go into a home in addition to the conspicuous consumption that pervades society should be looked at as a drain on ones income and the environment, and the more that view tiny homes as a relief to their unaffordable mortgage, the more people can reduce the continuation and scale of suburban sprawl. Otherwise, no one will have the option to visit nature, if it’s still around, except for oligarchs while the rest are caged in an urban-exurban complex where nature can’t be seen even at the horizon.

          I’m from the city but would like to go live in the country, and use less energy than I would if I lived in the city. So I’m interested in removing my carbon footprint while at the same time having the freedom to do so out in the country- being more environmentally friendly while living in the environment, using only renewable utilities that do not directly drain or damage the environment by looking into a renewable, green manufacturing plan for energy, water, and heat. Surely, every one in the city can’t do it all at once or the environment’s national parks would be crowded and trashed in a day, but how many city-dwellers would trade spots with rural folks? This free, two-way mobility is crucial to the well being of the quality of life, without ruining the environment or making it impossible to build a home in a place where one chooses. So in that sense, tiny houses are not sub-standard to what Agenda 21 encourages, but rather, cities as an end-all solution to it, along with large houses is what is anti-thetical to it’s green goal, and so tiny homes should be the focus of a true green sustainability movement by shrinking the size of metropolises, and slowing population growth, rather than shrinking the size of habitable rural land.

          As I looked up on Wikipedia, it was Hunter Thompson who, in Aspen was interested in: “tearing up the streets and turning them into grassy pedestrian malls, banning any building so tall as to obscure the view of the mountains, and renaming Aspen “Fat City” to deter investors.”

          Kind of like how I would like any number of towns and cities to look at their own infrastructure. Towards a village, a global times over.

          Reply
    2. Josh

      If the movement grows, you can be sure the government would intervene and set new regulatory standards to limit its use and even set new taxes on Tiny Homes. Appearing on the cover of national publications or being interviewed by the mainstream media, Jay brings too much attention to the movement.

      It sounds like, from other comments left here, that Mr. Shafer is not really that interested in living the tiny house lifestyle, but is certainly concerned with romanticizing it to promote it to other people. He’s in the business of selling people on the idea of tiny houses so that he can sell them tiny houses. And if the government intervenes and sets regulatory standards, who benefits? The designers and builders of tiny houses (the companies, not individuals) I would think. The can adapt their designs and building techniques to meet with the new regulations, and it will become that much more difficult for individuals to create their own unique, one-off structures, especially using less common techniques like the straw bale construction recently talked about on this blog. He certainly has an economic incentive for promoting tiny houses in the manner he does, and that incentive becomes more apparent when considering that, by many peoples’ accounts, he never fully committed to living in tiny houses at all. Now, I’m sure he’s more well-intentioned than I’ve given him credit for right here, but I agree with your point that so much promotion will eventually help lead to more scrutiny of peoples’ tiny homes, and possibly lead to new rules and regulations that favor professionally built tiny houses, but make it more difficult for the little guy trying to do his own thing.

      Reply
      1. Epperson

        Josh,

        Jay deserves credit for introducing the topic to prospective enthusiasts but he’s a business person in this space and this presents built-in contradictions which most people may not be aware of.

        He’s plunged headlong into it with his blood, sweat and tears so any criticism against him may not be accepted objectively. Also, Jay depends on the revenue stream after all to pay for his family’s living expenses.

        For others in the movement, I think this type of high-profile exposure may undermine what we’re all trying to achieve.

        If you want a “revolution”, pick an alternative to the false left-right dichotomy and back some candidates at the local level. It will snowball from there.

        If you want to build and shape the desires of your heart into a workable existence in a Tiny Home, do it. Don’t advertise it so much. One publicized crack down is all it will take for a town, city or state to put the hand cuffs on and the fun will be over unless you’re idea of a cool Philosopher is Marquis de Sade.

        Reply
        1. Josh

          …Jay depends on the revenue stream after all to pay for his family’s living expenses.

          Of course he does. In that respect he’s not much different than any other homebuilder.

          …I think this type of high-profile exposure may undermine what we’re all trying to achieve.

          I think that’s true, but I’d take it a step further. To me (and I think many others), the tiny house movement is largely about people being innovative in designing and building their own space. It’s the person who decides to live off-grid in a yurt, or buys a piece of remote land who represents the spirit of the tiny house movement. It’s not the person who designs, sells, or purchases a house too tiny to realistically live in for between $400 and $600 per square foot. I don’t know that tiny houses will ever be accepted within among “regular” houses, but parking a tiny trailer house in somebody’s driveway and using the facilities of the house isn’t tiny house living – it’s camping. For $40k – $50k, if you want to go camping, why not just buy a nice fifth-wheel trailer?

          Reply
          1. Ian

            Josh,

            “It’s the person who decides to live off-grid in a yurt, or buys a piece of remote land who represents the spirit of the tiny house movement.”
            Nice point. Agreed; I’m not the spirit, but I support the frontier.

            It’s not the person who designs, sells, or purchases a house too tiny to realistically live in for between $400 and $600 per square foot.
            As Tumbleweed Houses have repeatedly stated, a decrease in square footage causes a increase in dollars per square footage, because but you’re not paying for square feet but for the minimum/ core appliances such as electrical, heating, and structural necessities, like the trailer itself. That’s the base essentials and core components raise the price less steeply than longer plywood and roofing does. It’s a net increase in cost that tiny house builders/purchasers have an aversion to. It’s like buying in bulk- more isn’t necessarily more affordable, nor is it really useful. Additionally, for people who make $35,000 (not my income) a year with little annual an savings, it might be cheaper to build it for $18,000-$21.000 and spend a few months not working full-time than to save for a few years and purchase it for $50,000, which is not what I intend to do. If someone makes $70,000 a year and can save $25,000 a year towards a tiny house, then they can purchase it in cash after two years. But that takes the fun out of it, unless you really can’t (have no help and/or strength), or can’t take off work for a few months to build it.

            Also, I assume that those custom-building a home and have figured out insulation needs for their homes to be energy efficient, because that’s something that can save a lot of money by planning ahead. So, I support a tiny house that takes insulation and energy costs into consideration.

          2. Ian

            “nor is it really useful.”
            nor is it *always useful.

            Also, I intended to put in quotes: “It’s not the person who designs, sells, or purchases a house too tiny to realistically live in for between $400 and $600 per square foot.”

          3. Ian

            “but parking a tiny trailer house in somebody’s driveway and using the facilities of the house isn’t tiny house living – it’s camping.”

            I plan to build a tiny house that doesn’t need to rely on any external hookups. :) It sounds like science fiction, but I actually think its possible in the near short-term and hope to solve the most pressing issues about this, after permit parking politics.

          4. Ian

            actually, i do like the idea of living on remote land (for some time). Though, if i’m living on it with a mass produced/DIY-built Tumbleweed, the picture wouldn’t be as unique as as the breathtaking ones picked out for “Tiny House on a Landscape” So I do feel like part of the spirit of the movement, just not from the design perspective (though it will probably be unique enough).

      2. Ian

        Oops, I posted this in another section that may not have reached Josh. Here it is again:

        “but I agree with your point that so much promotion will eventually help lead to more scrutiny of peoples’ tiny homes, and possibly lead to new rules and regulations that favor professionally built tiny houses, but make it more difficult for the little guy trying to do his own thing.”

        Josh, I think this comment can go multiple ways. Tumbleweed houses sell plans to people who know nothing about architecture but enough learning aptitude to build from a professional plan book to customize [or replicate] their own tiny house. I have done a lot of research on tiny houses and every blog that documented/photographed their construction using Jay’s plans has looked significantly modified to be unique (and Jay seems to encourage this type of minor to moderate customization). I am interested in building a Tumbleweed from plans because I know little about structural and measurement meticulousness to want to spend more time on that beyond the measurements he already picked out. As for other tiny homes, I am sure they are structurally sound or can be with enough planning. It’s not something that a government would necessarily ban because of its lack of safety. I don’t see how working with a building engineer for a few months to make small adjustments to a house without compromising its artistic integrity would constitute “meddling,” but I understand can see how it might cause worry if it’s a hobby of yours. The benefit I see of buying professional plans is that if I follow the instructions, I should be able to build one on my own without needing an engineer to approve it, save for maybe electrical and water wiring/plumbing. I’d also like to think we live in an age that is more supportive of DIY projects. In the larger picture of things, big names in tiny house movements such as professional tiny house builders are also more likely to encourage DIY building (last I read, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells more plans (x#) than houses they build- just 2 or 3 last year). So professional tiny house builders and custom-designed tiny house builders have a mutual incentive to support tiny house living permits through legislation and lobbying, such as the above link (though if there are more, links appreciated).”

        Reply
        1. Epperson

          Ian,

          Your comments come across more like a Tumbleweed Sales Pitch than an analysis of the Tiny House market.

          The original concern in this thread was fear of exposure for others in the movement through Jay’s constant marketing campaigns.

          There’s a political component in the movement along with the environmental and practical motivations behind the movement.

          If codes, tax laws and other regulatory restrictions were instituted tomorrow, it would negate the corollary benefits of owning a Tiny Home.

          So Politics trump other issues. And under the 1st Things argument, it’s best for low-key, low-profile movement lest we attract unwanted attention.

          Therefore, lobbying government and advertising Tiny Homes through high-profile sources would generate negative outcomes for most people in the movement.

          While people like Jay would benefit from increased revenue and traffic on his site, what about the litany of others who don’t want the attention?

          Reply
  14. Bob Pritts

    This has been a most interesting point….counter point discussion. All of you have made many valid points…both pro and con. I respect all of your opinions.

    I am now 60 years old and my wife is no longer living and my children are grown….I just want to build my 8×26 foot tiny home and not fight city hall about codes and legal size of a dwelling. I just want to live a peacful queit life and take my grandson fishing and camping.

    These are to be the years spent quietly doing the things you have had to put off because of working for the man and raising your kids.

    I grow tired of the fight to have the right to live in a small house that is built better and is mor eco friendly than what the housing industry is producing in any given community. I live in the great state of Tennessee because of nature’s beauty and as I drive around on back roads the shacks and buses that many live in is acceptable but a well planed tiny house is illegal….go figure.

    As one person suggestion I got a copy of international building codes (international, but only for North America) but thus far can’t make heads or tails of it.

    We may live in the land of the brave and the home of the free, but freedom according to whom??????

    Angry….yes…disapointed…yes, but rest assured…I will turn these lemon codes into lemonade!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    1. Anne

      IBC is a good first starting point but if your project is already underway will likely do you little good… local building codes have caused the problem. I would suggest attacking it that way. See what must be done to meet the code… try to find ways to convince them that it will open opportunity for the community in the future… Small is coming, see if there are any with the vision to be on the ground floor in your local government.

      Do you have local groups interested in green building, etc.? Local colleges are a good place to start. If your local high school has a building/shop program see if you can convince the teacher or other admin that it would be good experience for students… many programs are short of projects with the dip in funds… If it had been a small house instead of a tiny it may have been easier… Good luck to you Bob.

      Reply
  15. Gene Wallen

    Building and trying to sell tiny houses where they are not legal is not profitable. Selling an idea and plans should be, so this makes Jay one of the few people who makes a deserved profit from the “movement” that for the most part he started.

    Reply
    1. Ian

      So what? You’re criticizing the one real estate agent, out of a million of them, who makes the smallest markup on his idea/plans (either one) compared to the rest of the industry out there, who sell people 2000% more than what they need, and make a huge markup on it. You’re right, he deserves it, not them.

      Reply
  16. Katie

    I just viewed Jay’s video and discovered that he actually doesn’t live in his Tiny House. I also read the post where he parked his Tiny House on his girlfriend’s property before they were married. For some reason, the information was very disappointing to me since he is such a big advocate of the small house movement. Every article or video I’ve seen before this gave me the impression that he was single and living in a Tiny House. It seems like a “Do as I say, not what I do” situation. I’m new to the Tiny House philosophy and am exploring living in a structure less than the 1000 sq. ft. I already own. Maybe people who actually live in Tiny Houses should be featured more than Jay.

    Reply
    1. Anne

      Try not to get discourged, Katie. There are many out there living the real (and more realistic) dream, and even Jay had his innovative moments, use of a marine stove (unaffordable to most) and wedging shelves for storage virtually everywhere(highly affordabe)… if you can find his original vid on YT (before the bath was added) watch it, you will see the original appeal. Before he became what I tend to think of as the Kevorkian of the most recent tiny house movement (right religion, wrong messiah…)

      Reply
  17. Cheryl

    Go for it Bob…cheering you on. Think code enforcement has some good use pertaining to safety but feel it has gone too far on other issues. King county WA is like that.
    Yeah make lemonade!

    Reply
  18. Beth

    Wait one minute. I have an important question. Why does Jay have this wee house for himself, but his wife has the other house with the baby? It just wouldn’t fit our minds if his wife were to have her own little space and Jay live with the baby in their house now would it?

    This struck me as interesting because I can imagine there are a lot of wives and mothers who wish they had their own little house…

    I am not Jay bashing- just a thought because I would love to have my own little house. But 500 square feet would be just right!

    Reply

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