The Micro Home Market

Marketing An Inexpensive Micro Home Trying to make a difference in America

Guest Post by Walt Barrett

It’s not like the “Micro Home” is a new idea that was recently invented by some modern day genius. New England is loaded with them. I would venture to say that the micro home was invented in Africa in prehistoric times seeing as mankind came out of Africa to begin with. I just wanted to get that little fact out of the way. I consider any home under 700 square feet to be a micro home. My parents built our home themselves with the help of a few friends and neighbors in 1929. It was 20′ x 24′ with a fully divided loft for sleeping. I came along in 1933 and the three of us lived there together until I left for the Korean war. It was a great little home and is now a wing off our new home and offices that we built to green specifications in 1998. Now it is 1700 square feet including the offices. We have family members living with us, or we would still be living in the renovated old micro home my parents built. As a point of reference, many micro apartments in Japan and New York City are only 250 Square feet in Size. Why not, if you are hardly ever home like many people are these days.

Because of my background having lived the first nineteen years of my life in a micro home with no central heat, or plumbing except for a small kitchen sink, I have been following the micro home business with great interest. My son John and myself actually built an 8′ x 8′ model with a full sleeping loft giving us a total of 128 square feet of space which are really too small for most people. We did that to give our company a little more credibility when we speak about micro homes in the market place. Believe me, we learned a lot with that little exercise. Not being carpenters didn’t help a bit either, but we got the job done, and that is what counts. We won’t make the same mistakes twice. I have wanted to build a totally off the power grid micro home for forty years, and now we have done it. I visualize these homes as being mass produced as kits and costing completed as little as the price of a clean used car. In other words, totally affordable.

The current high costs of micro homes is what I am leading up to here.

There are actually three markets to serve today.

  1. The DIY market.
  2. The dying lower to middle class, trying to survive in a nearly dead economy.
  3. The extremely wealthy, price does not matter market.

I am concerned about the first two groups. The wealthy are quite capable of taking care of them selves. Please, let’s not forget about the others. We need an inexpensive route for them to follow. I remember when when my poor young wife and I had three little kids and were living in a housing project in Providence, RI. We were desperate for a home in the country so we could get the kids out of the project. After a year we found a great buy in the country for $8,750.00 which was like a gift even in 1958. The Realtor wanted us to have it so badly that she even lent us the money to add to ours so that we could make the $1,000.00 down payment, She didn’t have to do that because she was one of the biggest Realtors in RI. We paid her back, and we never forgot that nice lady. She could have sold that house to anyone and would not have had to lend them money. That loan was a total act of Charity.

Now I find it extremely alarming when I see prices climbing towards $300.00 a square foot for a micro home. Those kind of prices are totally out of line with the income levels of the working class market. I just had a very nice lady, and here husband write to me and they ave manages to save up $6,000.00 towards a micro home and felt that they just didn’t have enough money when they saw the high prices they are quoting on the Internet. Well we sent them a free 45 page set of plans for a home they can build on a DIY basis, and they are now very happy. We have got to spread the word that micro homes do not have to cost a fortune!

My own personal idea is to not go insane with the interior, or exterior including all the fixtures and finishing materials. We used composite hardwood flooring material and we used bead board on the walls which is dirt cheap, and only costs about $11.00 a 4′ x 8′ sheet. If you follow this line of thinking you can come up with some unbelievably low prices per square foot, and you still get a very nice look to the interior. Stay away from the exotic and expensive building materials for the interior unless you have money to burn.

We used Texture 111 siding with a high quality exterior solid stain on it. We rolled it on before we installed it. Micro homes are small and do not require a lot of materials. They are also much less expensive to build labor wise and heating or cooling are very low. Even propane is only about $200.00 a year according to my sources.

I see building any home today as an exercise in the material science of the building material industry. For instance, we now have both roofing and flooring that anyone can install easily, and are both rich looking and inexpensive. I prefer metal roofing over the composite sheets because my friend had a bad experience with it in the hot weather.

We work with the new LED lighting in either 12 volts DC or 120 volts AC all powered by solar modules. Because of the LED lighting, there are fewer solar modules required. The biggest deal killers are the electric appliances. Most people want a washer and dryer and they use a lot of energy. We are constantly seeking ways to cool food and wash and dry clothes. Clothes can be hung, or use a gas dryer which would also heat the home when running if you put a heat exchanger on it, but that still leaves the washer and refrigerator.

Lighting, computers, radios and TV’s are really cheap to build a solar power supply for.

Well anyway, my plan, as soon as we have a market for these units, is to mass produce micro home frame kits and complete micro home package kits in a local factory. God knows, we have enough of them empty around here these days. These kits are highly shippable on wooden pallets. I think the frame kits are the best because:

  1. They are cheap to ship.
  2. They are totally pre-cut including all the difficult rafter angle cuts etc.
  3. They come with a full set of assembly plans including a full cutting schedule in case you ever have to duplicate any pieces.
  4. They have all of the holes drilled in the studs for the wiring
  5. They are not that much more expensive that the original cost of the raw lumber because a factory pre-cutting line move like lighting compared to doing your own measuring and cutting.
  6. They can be built to any width as there are no shipping problems. All pallet loads will fit inside of any shipping container. Shipping by rail is very inexpensive. I was surprised.

I would like to see more companies follow these conservative guidelines, and just work on a reasonable and fair markup. We all like to make money, and make a good living, that’s understandable, but let’s not be gouging people. Let’s not ruin the dream of so many Americans to have a nice little place they can call home. Everyone deserves a home. Remember Henry Ford, he built a car for the millions, and as I recall, his income was not to shabby. The real wealth in this world comes from when you help others. I know, I have spent my life helping others and God has been very good to me and my family.

Walt Barrett

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Dwight - October 28, 2010 Reply

Thank you for a thoughtful article.

I have an idea concerning the dryer/heater problem. I think a person could hang wet cloths in the restroom and then run a dehumidifier to dry the cloths and make heat for the house. The dehumidifier uses a little less electricity than an electric space heater on low power. The heat it contributes could be about right for a tiny house.

It I have no problems drying my cloths this way in a 1300 square foot house located in a very wet climate. I haven’t been able to test it in a micro house because I don’t have one yet.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Dwight,
    When I was a kid and also when we were newly weds, we routinely dried clothes in the house on a folding rack. Everyone used to have them. And to this day we routinely dry clothes outdoors on the line on sunny days, as long as they don’t freeze.
    The dehumidifier does use electricity and that must be kept in mind. Whatever works for you is all that matters.
    Thanks for commenting
    Walt

Epperson - October 28, 2010 Reply

Interesting analysis.

The expensive models and plans offered by the popular brands and builders of the movement are simply a gateway drug. Once would-be builders identify cheaper alternatives in this space, the decision becomes a matter of taste and preference.

As I’ve noted in other comments, my concern is over the growing popularity of the movement. We have a Federal Government which is bent on the destruction of the U.S. through various encroachments against personal liberties defined in the Constitution.

If enough Tiny Homes in the media catch the attention of money-grubbing policymakers, they’ll change the codes to close out any loopholes. And Tiny Home “faces” love attention. They want to sell plans, books and overpriced sheds on wheels.

The irony is that Lloyd Kahn produced a book way before the term and commercial aspect of the movement took shape with photographic accounts of how back-the-land Hippies developed alternative building methods or used proven ancient ones.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Epperson,
    Well it seems that there will always be friction between the free thinkers and the government. God knows, I have had my own share and look upon the government (politicians) as the number one enemy of small business,and green energy. Check out the Reagan years. He was all about big energy, and big business
    There are always going to be people in any emerging industry that are solely out for the buck. However, there are many reputable people who have struck that certain level between profit and serving their fellow man. Remember, their can never be a totally free lunch as a wise man once said. There is a point where based on life experience and logic that you have to place some trust in business people. We are living in very troubling times.
    Thanks for commenting .
    Walt

scott - October 28, 2010 Reply

I would like to hear more on the pricing, do you have an idea of what you plan to offer a kit for, say the 8×8 you mentioned?

Thanks,

Scott

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Scott,
    We have not set any prices on our kits because we are not seriously trying to sell any at this time. If we ever find a market we will mass produce frame kits as they are highly shippable.
    I’m not sure it will ever happen though. Some of you may remember the geodesic dome fad that fizzeled like all fads.
    Basically, Our corporation is financing experiments on homes and hardware to make it possible for people to own inexpensive homes that are totally off the power grid. We derive our main income from manufacturing battery restoration chemicals, selling farm equipment, and solar energy devices. We are freely passing on any help we can to assist in solving the housing and energy problems, and unfortunately,no one is really paying much attention to us.
    I can tell you that using all new materials which is not necessary, The 8′ x 8′ Gambrel we built would have a materials cost of $4,500.00 complete with composite flooring, and bead board interior, Galley, shower, and a composting toilet we built. There is no labor in that and I bought the best of everything. I could have saved a ton of money by going the salvage route, but with me, it’s all about time. Personally a unit twice the size would be much more comfortable as a permanent home. Just make sure you follow all the codes. They are there for a reason.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Epperson - October 28, 2010 Reply

Also, as much as I like your enthusiasm in bringing Micro Homes to the market, realize that despite the limited resources of the average consumer in this space, they are still staunch individualist.

They don’t want a cookie-cutter home.

Homes are personal expressions of its inhabitants and Tiny Home dwellers are artists in this regard.

Your best bet is to offer customizable plans based on a template. Most Tiny Homes assume basic spatial assumptions because of the limitation so this would make it easier to accomplish.

Shipping something across state lines in a wood box consumes nonrenewable resources. This is a huge tension with the underlying motives of the movement.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Epperson,
    We are not really pressing at this time to sell plans or micro home. We are primarily engaged in research to solve the problems of which there are no shortage. The material science of buildings and the energy to power them is changing from day to day
    You have the right idea, Make a perfect plan for your affordable home and stick to it.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

Good afternoon,
I have read the three comments above. I have been engaged in a huge negotiation in India all morning, but I promise to comment in detail on all the comments. it may be several hours, but I will get it done.
In the meantime Kent has two of my videos of
the 8′ x 8′ Gambrel on this blog somewhere. I did not notice if he had linked to them or not. Please look them over. They are also on You Tube.
http://www.youtube.com/user/chinadepot#p/search/2/7Tea0YrB0NU
http://www.youtube.com/user/chinadepot#p/search/0/_at6yG9pTYI
I will get back with answers to all comments later today.
Thanks,
Walt

Hope Henry - October 28, 2010 Reply

I have always enjoyed designing homes, (even built a “Tarzan” hut in the back yard as a child, using building materials gleaned from the bayou down the street). I have several floor plans to choose from, when we are set to build our “tiny” house. I am trying to incorporate as much recycling as possible. My husband and I want to help other people with their dreams of an off-grid home of their own, without the thirty year slavery to your house. I am designing with the use of pallet wood in mind, as well as other widely available free or low cost materials. We have both been unemployed for several months, so have had to wait to achieve our personal goals. I have decided to forge ahead with what I can aquire now, and build as much of our tiny home as possible, adding what I can afford as it becomes available. It will be built in panels, and then assembled on whatever property we finally choose (or on a trailer, if we decide to live a more mobile lifestyle).
We all need to encourage and provide ways to help one another. I personally enjoy looking at the more expensive tiny homes, for inspiration and with less expensive (or free) material substitutions in mind. If you keep an open mind and imagination, you can usually find what you need and use it in an attractive manner.
Those who are building more expensive tiny homes are a part of free enterprise. Their products will be bought by those who can afford them. The rest of us must be innovative and learn to produce for ourselves, and to help others to do the same, homes that are attractive, comfortable, and affordable. That is the American Way.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Hope,
    I do not disagree with any of your ideas. As a matter of fact, I encourage anyone that can do it to design, and build their own home. Based on my own experience and mistakes, I strongly advise you to seek the advice of the local building inspectors to make sure that you meet the building, wiring and plumbing codes for your own safety and well being. Have your plans approved by the inspectors. Get copies of the codes from the city or town, and remember, they vary from place to place, and get books from the library to save you a lot of heartbreak. Mistakes are very expensive. My goal is simply to see everyone gets a decent home. My real expertise is designing and building low cost off grid solar electric and heating systems, but building homes is not rocket science if you follow the rules.There are no shortcuts! There is currently very little market for micro home kits, at least not in our area.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

ginmar - October 28, 2010 Reply

How feasible is it for tiny home builders to insulate homes to a greater extent than is usual? I just had my attic re-done and insulated with energy efficient windows and it’s like my own little tiny house in my house. But it’s also so well insulated that a tiny electric space heater on low will actually make it so warm that I have to turn the heat off for long periods of time. With a tiny house with a much lower amount of floor spaces the inches lost would translate to comfort and efficiency gained.

About washing clothes, doesn’t Lehman’s offer a little washing machine that’s totally hand-operated? Big things like blankets would have to be taken to a laundramat or a friend’s house, though.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Ginmar,
    Super insulation is fine, but make sure you allow for the humidity to escape or you will actually have puddles of water up there, and could rot your roof out. I have seen them rot in less than five years. Also,aways allow for fresh air changes,and seek advice from a pro on insulating. The big box store lumber yards offer many free classes.
    There are many companies on the Internet that offer hand operated devices of all kinds. the same thing goes for 12 volt appliances. Remember, if you have to you can operate certain 12 volt DC devices from you car or truck battery but it gets wasteful from a fuel consumption standpoint.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Mo Skba - October 28, 2010 Reply

Perhaps my experience as a carpenter is biasing my opinion but I’m not a big fan of “Kit” lumber packages for homes, sheds or gazebos. I’m much rather start with a lumber list and have the flexibility to choose my kings/trimmers, plate stock, rafters, etc. That gives me much more control over the quality.

Around here a lumber package and framing labor is in the $10-15/sf range using standard materials. Design, site accessibility and prep can greatly add to those costs but comparatively less than what the kits I’ve seen cost for the materials alone, and those materials are not what I would describe as premium quality then though some are sold as such.

The cost of construction that has risen the fastest in the almost three decades I’ve been in the building trades are those dealing with permits, codes, tax and insurance. On my own little place permits, compliance and tax accounted for at least 25% of the total cost. YMMV but here you aren’t just dealing with the building dept. You must deal with planning, health, dept of ecology… and that is assuming your on a good site. Any site that requires “alternative” anything will boost costs higher and sometimes MUCH higher.

    Walt Barrett - October 29, 2010 Reply

    Hi Mo,
    I agree with everything you say 100%. Of course if you buy a bargain kit, you get bargain lumber and labor skills as part of the package. Kits are only for the least skilled of us all. Obviously the least expensive and highest quality home of any size is the one that you can scratch build yourself piece by piece. It also allows you to salvage perfectly good lumber from your own local area.
    I’m glad you brought up the various inspectors and environmental people because anyone who tries to short cut the process could end up wasting thousands of dollars. Don’t break any rules. Do things properly and get the local blessings or it could be all for naught!
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Bill Zaspel - October 28, 2010 Reply

I think that each of your comments have extreme merit and obviously create profound feelings in more than a few people.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Bill,
    Well thank you very much. I’m at a loss for words, and that is very unusual.
    You know Bill, if we are going to solve these problems we are call going to have to put our heads together and share the technology. There are many different ways to build and heat or cool a home. It doesn’t have to be too small either, just efficient in every way. If it works for you, then, it works for me. Everyone deserves a decent home.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Felicity - October 28, 2010 Reply

I really appreciate this article. I have also been bitten by the tiny house bug and have been stunned by some of the prices I have seen. I could buy a 1200 foot house for the cost of land and a tiny house – that seems ridiculous to me. I do want small but I don’t want to pay more for it.

So I enjoyed reading this article and hope to see more like it. It gives me some hope. Thank you.

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Felicity,
    I just found your other comment. In my mind’s eye, after you raise the money for the home, the two remaining and discouraging problems are the high cost of land, and minimum home size regulations. Where there is cheap land, there are no jobs, and where there are jobs there is no cheap land. I have several partial and different solutions. I will share them with you and a lot of them can be shot full of holes but will work for some people.
    1. The easiest one to get by the inspectors legally and get the biggest bang for the buck is to build a group of micro apartments big enough to to meet the standards. Make sure they also qualify for section 8 housing. It can make you rich.
    2. If you are retired with an income move to an area you like that has cheap land and reasonable laws.
    3. If you have an internet business that allows you to live anywhere. Find the right land, and buy a satellite system for the Internet. With solar, electricity is no longer a problem. We sell a ton of solar water pumps too BTW.
    4. Build a secret micro apartment in the local mall and tap into the power like the guys in Providence, RI at the Providence Place Mall did and live there for several years.
    5. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s the Flower people used to sneak onto the Federal land and build small geodesic domes. I love it! I think underground micros would work better though.I think it’s a great idea.
    I have been working since 5 AM, and it is now 9:30 Pm and I cam getting tired. I’ll finish the rest of the comments tomorrow. I have to rest now or I will start making typos and misspelling words..
    Thanks for commenting Felicity.
    Walt

    Brook - October 30, 2010 Reply

    Felicity,
    You don’t need to buy land. If a MLS or tiny house classified was available there would be places to hitch your little house. Plenty of areas have property where you can put an RV. Same thing. You may even be able to find a job or community to be a part of. I’ve lived at a number of jobsites and such. I have a tiny house camp in Lake Tahoe. A tenant would help me with costs and we could help with projects. There must be plenty of older folks, farmers and financially strapped people who wouldn’t mind a tenant who was not a housemate. Just thinking out loud. good Luck.

jon - October 28, 2010 Reply

I bought a 1/4 acre very inexpensively last year in Highlands county Florida, its in an undeveloped area, two hours away from my current Condo (which I hope to sell ASAP for even $ someday soon) there is a lake nearby, few houses, no sewer or water lines, i just want to build a LEGAL small-tiny-micro, home. I called the zoning people today and was informed the smallest legal square footage is 1000 sq. ft. for a 1 story dwelling. I dont really WANT that much, but would like to build it out of CBS block for the strength, security, and low maintenance factor. Any suggestions?

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jon,
    Personally I think that minimum housing size should be unconstitutional. This is a problem nationally and another case of governmental abuse on a local level. If you cant beat it, you can still build it with a smaller footprint by going two stories. Make sure they approve the plans in advance and be careful not to go under size. I would go by the inside dimensions, not the outside. See if they allow composting toilets and gray-water systems. Off hand, those are my suggestions.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

    Brook - October 30, 2010 Reply

    Shipping Containers. Simple pier foundations. Buy one forty foot box. (400 s.f.) build a small building on top( 300 s.f.) and a small “lean-to” and you’ve gota super simple 1000 S.F. house.
    There are a million cool designs snd very cheap and easy just make friends with a good metalworker(no big deal) and your structural engineer will have no problem

Felicity - October 28, 2010 Reply

Jon, would a porch count toward the 1000 square footage? Have you priced sewer and water lines?

    Walt Barrett - October 28, 2010 Reply

    Hi Felicity,
    I doubt that they would count the porch unless it resembled a sun room with jalousie windows. It’s the building inspectors call.
    Walt

Joe Chipman - October 28, 2010 Reply

I’m impressed with your composting toilet design low cost and built to last, maybe something I could incorporate in to the the hermit deluxe I am building. Is there any more information on this product to review?

    Walt Barrett - October 29, 2010 Reply

    Hi Joe,
    I will send Kent a little article loaded with photos so you can copy, and possibly improve my design. Keep an eye out for it next week. I have designed a urine separator that is adjustable to fit various size people and plumbing designs. Look for it next week. Why buy it if you can build it? We don’t sell enough of them to merit going into production anyway. BTW one of my friends that has our unit found that he does not need the urine separator id he uses cat litter, but that is very difficult to dispose of because it doesn’t compost very well. I prefer the urine separator myself.
    Thanks for commenting and have a great day!
    Walt

alice - October 28, 2010 Reply

I ran into a minimum square foot situation once, and there was also a minimum dimension limit that came totally out of the blue. My log house was just barely passed, thankfully the inspector decided an outside measurement of 18′ to the very end of the projecting thick logs was OK and I had to change my (luckily!) quite high crawl space to a full basement with not too much hassle or expense. One thing you can do with a minimum square foot requirement is set up your house to have a separate apartment area, which is what I did with the basement. I sort of fudged it as a ‘guest bedroom suite’ but it ended up a fully fledged little living space with it’s own entrance and came in handy for friends between homes and all kinds of stuff. Some people don’t want to share their little space, that’s fine too, so you could set up an open workshop area in the extra space or even make it a performance space for visiting musicians, artists etc. If you build carefully you can have the extra space set up so it doesn’t require heat in cold weather until you actually need it. Then again, the extra space might come in handy later if you end up starting a family. Flexibility is a great asset!

Walt Barrett - October 29, 2010 Reply

Hi Alice,
You just made my point for me about regulations and inspections. It could have cost you a bundle.
Another thing to look out for is many areas do not allow apartment in any way, shape, or form, so look out for that pitfall.
I like a design that is three levels including a walk out cellar where all the utilities are tucked neatly into one corner, and the cellar becomes a micro apartment. Duplex and triplex homes are a good way to own your own home quickly, and when it is paid for it becomes almost like a pension plan income. If you go section 8 housing you cannot get burned by a bad tenant, and they are responsible to pay for all damages. You need to build to meet their requirements. I would like to build about 20 section 8 apartments, but we are far to busy with Battery Chem at this time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_8_(housing)
Make sure that you have smoke alarms, CO detectors and all of the safety equipment.
Well, I finally caught up with the comments this morning. Kent is going to have his hands full for a while. This has been an incredible response to an article. I will do the composting toilet design article for next week.
One more thing, I want to make it clear that we are not offing micro home kits at this time. I have decided that in order for us to do it we would have to mass produce them and the business is just not there yet. However, I am happy to share what little knowledge I have with the rest of the world. I will write an article in the near future on the least expensive ways to take your home of the power grid completely.
Now I have to go and make some movies today for my business. Any questions, contact me.
Thanks for commenting.
Walt
http://www.waltbarrett.com

chis - October 29, 2010 Reply

I think a market exsist now for a small homes. I just don’t think it is as small as 400 sq feet. Those homes make great offices, teen quarters and can provide a great solution to the homeless program and in some cases they meet the needs of single renters who find more value in that than just renting a 200 sq. foot room. In Ca if a person has as little as a 1/4 acre most are allowed to build an assesory house. This house can be used to bring in additional income. This is a win investment for most people at this time assuming then can keep the building costs witin a range. In my area 400 sq feet would still fetch $900 a month in rent. I could have two small houses in my back yard. But, I am finding that the prices for a well made unit are still too high. I looked high and low for a factory build unit at around 650 sq feet. Could not find one so I am now building from scratch. Well.. I did find one at 120K. I do not want a trailer on wheels. The market exsits .. and with somebrainstorming.. I think you could find a new business.

    Bill - October 29, 2010 Reply

    Chris, you can definitely build your own small trailer house for much cheaper than 120k. I am building one, and did not go for all the fancy interior items either. My biggest single cost was the trailer itself. Even then, my overall costs will be about a sixth of that trailer. While it as taken me much longer to build than I planned, it has been a very good learning experience. If I can build another, it will probably take less than half the time to complete. Kent did an article about my house here – http://tinyhouseblog.com/stick-built/bill%E2%80%99s-solar-tiny-house-update/

    If you are not building one on a trailer, Kent has a nice set of plans called the Sonoma Shanty very inexpensively. I plan to use these as the basis for my house, when I find a location and some land. While I built my trailer house for a specific purpose, it will also work as a temporary house as well.

    Good luck.

    Walt Barrett - October 30, 2010 Reply

    Hi Chis,
    If you have a place to do it, the hardest part is behind you. Just design what you want, and go through the process properly, then build it yourself if you can. I am against any kind of expensive solutions to the housing problem. It’s us poor people that need housing, the rich can tale care of themselves.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

Dayle Ann Stratton - October 29, 2010 Reply

Thank you so much for addressing some of the concerns I’ve had about the trend in commercial “tiny houses” and the odd focus on houses on wheels. The key to me is twofold: one is simplifying to live a more meaningful life. The other is as important; making living space accessible to low income people and people who are in transition economically.

I bought a 1300 sq ft fixer almost 7 years ago at a good price. I love the house, but it is too large for me, and has a lot of unusable space. In addition, the upstairs and part of the downstairs is surplus space for me. I computed what I actually use, and it comes out to around 690 sq ft (based on how this house is built). I could do with less if I were to build a modest house that used space and materials efficiently. I want and need a house that is attached to the earth and has room for a producing garden.

So thank you for bringing this discussion back to basics. I much appreciate it.

    Bill - October 29, 2010 Reply

    I think a lot of the reason the tiny houses on wheels get so much attention is that is a way around the zoning laws in many areas. If they are a trailer, then the house size regulations do not apply. And, in many circumstances, people are looking for a house they can move to a land site they may acquire, for temporary housing or permanent as needed.

    Walt Barrett - October 30, 2010 Reply

    Hi Dale,
    I believe that Bill has it right. Zoning is a major problem.
    Suggestion, This is just a thought, but if you are happy with your location you might consider building a micro apartment right in your existing home if you can work it out design wise. Lots of people do it here, and it has to be less money to do. If you want to send me some digi pix of the inside and outside layout I will be happy to eyeball them for you. wbarrett1@aol.com
    Interestingly enough, most of them never reported it either. You could put your renter down as a room mate, or some other excuse. We have three in our neighborhood and I could care less as long as there are no problems.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Walt

      Gregor - October 30, 2010 Reply

      Just so people know, in almost all areas, trailers are still subject to zoning restrictions of some sort or another.

      It’s not usually subject to the same minimum square footage reqs, though. I have never managed to figure out the building-code-like rules that apply to trailers, there are some, the HUD codes in the US, above a certain sq footage. and I think there are standards for even stuff below that, but they become industry standards or something…

      Anyway, zoning, which I think is by far the biggest problem, controls “land use”, so it is not specific to buildings. Zoning laws outlaw, in several cities like LA and Toronto, working at home. Seriously. Including freelance writers (and probably bloggers). I have a post up on my blog with a link to an article that mentions this (click my name), it’s the “reading material about zoning…” one

Walt Barrett - October 29, 2010 Reply

Hi Bill,
I believe you are exactly correct, but I think that you can only carry the trailer thing so far. There are whole towns in our area that do not allow trailers, or campers to be used as permanent residences. Land costs, zoning, and permitting still remain the major obstacle.
Thanks you for commenting.
Walt

    Brook - October 30, 2010 Reply

    Here is alittle known secret in the building department. In most areas they have very little interest in enforcement and bad publicity. It is usually possible to get a variance to certain code. Also, after the work is done they rarely make you remove it. As they say it is easier to ask forgiveness than permision. I have an acre in a town limits in california. I am very low profile but when I’m there I have a trailer house, a luxury shed and a shipping container conversion. total 450 s.f. This lets me enjoy my property plan my super green vacation house and build fun little buildings to use and share.

      Walt Barrett - October 31, 2010 Reply

      Hi Brook,
      That sounds great, but I can’t encourage anyone to do that. It would not fly here and they would make you tear it down. That would be heart breaking and I would never want to be the cause of that.
      If you can get a variance that’s the way to go.
      Thank you for commenting.
      Walt

paddy - October 30, 2010 Reply

You can pick up a 8′ x 12′ Loft barn shed at your local Lowe’s for around $2,000. You and a buddy can add electrical, insulation, cheap wood paneling and set-up a RV style Kitchen and bathroom for the Interior for around $3,000. Anyone with limited skills can build a Micro House over a Weekend for around $5,000. Why spend $10,000 for cheap Micro House when you can DIY for half the cost.

Walt Barrett - October 30, 2010 Reply

Hi Paddy,
Yes, those sheds are cheap. Just as long as they are built to your local codes I would agree with you. The trouble is that the ones I have checked out here are made from 2″ x 3″ for framing and rafters, but would still be better than nothing. The best way is to build your own from am approved plan. I think my all time favorite is to build a home using the available materials right on the land. I really like adobe too, and stone slip formed into a nice little cottage. Free materials are the way to go if you can do it.
All these ideas are very helpful to everyone. I just want to see everyone have a decent and affordable place to live.
Thanks for commenting.
Walt

Gregor - October 30, 2010 Reply

Hey, Walt, I just wanted to mention that I have a blog post up about laundry. Click my name, and it’s the “laundry options…” one.

There is more stuff there about building, many times with an emphasis on off grid and low cost.

However, I try to keep in mind that the main problem anyone who wants to use a tinyhouse faces is not technological or the construction, but bad government. Particularly the zoning problem.

Bill Asdal - March 21, 2011 Reply

Hi Walt,
I applaud and agree with your practical approach. We are completing a prototype of about 700 s.f. which will be a 200 year asset of great durability. There is radiant heat and the best of housing science (common sense) fully deployed. We have completed a number of research projects and are grafting all the best ideas and work practices. Stay tuned !
Best regards,
Bill Asdal

bridget - November 6, 2011 Reply

Walt
I have been wanting to simplify and build an small eco house for years. I haven’t been able to find land with water that I can afford. I found a seasonal camp on some acreage- it has a well and septic- though i was hoping for a compostable toilet- but its in the woods and solar is not a possiblity. I can’t believe how many restrictions are placed on building a little efficient home, most building codes in areas i search will not allow that size structure, or a yurt. Is it worth it to try to convert an old house? bridget

Larry - February 5, 2012 Reply

Great article Walt Hope you do well.

-Larry

connie - April 1, 2012 Reply

Very cool info. I hate housekeeping. Could spring clean this place in 1/2 hour. Less is really more.,

LB - April 2, 2012 Reply

Thank you so, so much for mentioning the poor. For a decade I’ve wanted a small home and at times- like the folks you mentioned- saved up 5 or 6 thousand dollars. Then there’d be something happen like a huge SUV coming through their red light and totaling the car, parts of me…

It’s always something, but I tell you I have never been more scared than these days we are in right now- and I certainly had no easy coming up in this world.

I have come to believe that ‘poor’ is simply one of two things to many Americans- unimaginable or something that they choose not to think on. Unimaginable is giving people the courtesy of maybe… the ones that just put us out of their minds wholly are the ones passing these budgets with no help for those devastated.

I’ve been spending weeks on end just putting hope aside because it was altogether to painful to bear- so I want to thank you for acknowledging us in a very real way so that I could come forth after a while gone to say that no matter what they say on TV, to be sickly and hurt is no kind of thing I would wish upon anyone and forbid the day should come, but were I to need assistance… that is not a person being lazy and wanting a handout. To all those who are right now trying to blindly destroy programs for the elderly, the sick and so on- I question your core humanity and you’d better keep a 4leaf clover in your shoe or some wives tale for surely it was cruel coincidence that brought me here and who can say what poor soul might be blindsided themselves next.

Thank you and as always thanks to Kent & the regulars here as well.

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