By Aaron Kuehn
I’m not ready. At least not yet. Every day I get closer. Closer to being ready to live in a tiny house.
Living “tiny” is not a new concept to me. When I was a child, my parents were avid fishers and we would spend months at a time in the deep woods of Canada. My dad, mom and I lived for those extended periods of time in a 23-foot travel trailer. It never seemed cramped nor odd to me. It was cozy and comfortable. We had everything we needed. Even as a kid I marveled at the efficiency of that RV. Every nook and cranny was used for something.
I’ve also been impressed by the clever layouts that hotel designers have pulled off. In small spaces they have created functional and comfortable environments. I often find myself saying “I could live here” when spending time in a hotel room.
So the tiny house has always been on my mind and I believe that someday my lifestyle and a tiny house will merge. As time goes by, the practicality, and thus the reality, of such a life change becomes all the more tangible.
There are many perceived barriers to living in a tiny house. Most of them revolve around the “tiny” part: we hunger for space and we fear letting it go. However, the past several years have seen several technology improvements that allow for more efficient use of space and thus make the tiny house choice much more attractive.
When the power goes out usually the first thing I miss is the TV. We have now said goodbye to the large, heavy, tube-based TV set in favor of the small, thin, lightweight, cooler, more efficient flat-panel design. This is a change that huge numbers of people have adopted in their homes. But it’s an even bigger deal in the tiny house.
Think of the cubic feet of space required for the old-fashioned TVs of just a few years ago. In a tiny house a large percentage of space was required to have a TV, particularly if you wanted one with a serious viewable area.
Today you can have a TV that literally takes no more room than a piece of hanging art. And it’s sizeable enough to actually enjoy the picture and the pricing is no longer the obstacle it once was.
If you choose to get your viewing by satellite, that continues to have little impact on the tiny house footprint. But over-the-air signals are now delivered in high-definition so you have real viewing options with small HD antennas. These antennas can simply be hung on the wall next to or behind the TV. You no longer need an aerial on the rooftop or rabbit ears sticking into your ribs to get a signal.
New TVs also offer the advantage of being easily mounted on arms that allow the TV to be viewed from a variety of vantage points in the tiny house. Doing so with a 50-pound TV was possible, but rarely practical in a tiny house.
A similar shift has taken place with computing options. Not that long ago if you wanted to have serious computing power you needed a computer tower, a monitor (practically the size of a TV set), speakers, cables, cords, a desk, a printer. The list could go on.
Recent trends in computing technology and Cloud computing make it totally practical to use a laptop or even tablet as your sole computing appliance.
The space savings are enormous. Today’s tablet computers, taking no more space than a magazine, coupled with wireless access and Cloud-based software and storage, mean you can have all of the computing power in negligible space. You need not give up a thing.
Even in my un-tiny house, I have moved most of my computing to a laptop computer. In fact, the vast majority of the time my 10” tablet is all I need.
For those considering the tiny house lifestyle, the ubiquitous computer no longer needs to be a behemoth in the corner that requires its own furniture. Rather it is a small, efficient portable tool whose space requirements are nil.
Even if you make use of a library, books still take up space. And if you purchase books, still more space is needed to keep and organize the printed word.
Today it is possible for the tiny house dweller to enjoy an even larger library housed within the confines of a small reading device or the Cloud. You can save even more space by using your primary computing tool (laptop or tablet) as your reading platform as well.
Now you can buy, borrow and read to your heart’s delight without the need for shelving and other storage. A tablet or laptop is all that’s required. Just a few years ago if you had a tiny book collection your tiny house would need to devote precious real estate just for those books. Today there need be almost no thought given to the storage of reading matter.
MOVIE RENTALS/ON DEMAND
The convenience of today being able to stream or rent video entertainment on demand has changed the way we might enjoy tiny house living. As always, everything we bring into our houses requires some amount of storage: everything has a footprint. Even if the “thing” is just a videocassette or a DVD sleeve, it must live somewhere. And it needs a space-consuming device in order to play it. Now whether you use satellite, cable or the internet, you can get on-demand video without additional space requirements. The savings of having to drive, pick up, drive, return may be obvious. But there are additional savings for the tiny house dweller: no additional space is required if you suddenly want to wrap up with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy a flick.
TINY IN THE KITCHEN
Popcorn leads us to the kitchen. Popcorn of course isn’t the best example here. We’ve had microwaveable popcorn in tiny space-saving bags for a long time. But other changes have made the tiny kitchen in the tiny house a more useful place as well.
The kitchen is perhaps a harder place to save space because so many of the tools required in a basic kitchen have a minimum footprint with which you cannot barter.
Silicone cookware is an amazing alternative to traditional baking sheets, muffin pans and baking dishes. Silicone is so flexible you can roll it up and squish it into otherwise unused space. You don’t have to give up on the baking options available to you, nor do you have to devise complicated storage methods. Silicone can give you all the options in the space of a few inches.
Another way to save space in the tiny house is to make each tool do more than one job. More popular today are convection microwave ovens. These dual-purpose tools give you the speed of microwave cooking as well as a traditional oven all in one. In the past the tiny house dweller would probably have both a microwave and an oven. Without giving up on capabilities, you now can have a single tool that does both.
Popular in Europe for years but now seeing some traction in the U.S., on demand or tankless water heaters offer a tremendous space savings in the tiny house.
You don’t need to compromise on a small quantity of hot water nor give up the space of a small closet to house a traditional tank model water heater.
Even if your tiny house plans call for an RV-style water heater, which on its own doesn’t take up much space, a tankless unit provides greater efficiency and none of that sudden chill when the hot stuff runs out before you’re done with your shower.
A tankless water heater can hang on the wall, even inside a cupboard, and provide nearly endless hot water. Not only do you get a more energy-efficient system, you get all the hot water you want without dedicating much space to the unit. In this case you get so much more for so much less.
For me one of the worst household chores is laundry. The tedium is multiplied if I have to schlep the dirty clothes to a pay laundry. A huge part of a house being a home for me is being able to do my laundry at home.
Perhaps the obvious choice for those who want to incorporate clothes-washing in their tiny house is a stackable washer and dryer. Another option is the combination unit: a single machine that washes and dries.
Taking up the same space as a single machine, the combination option frees up the storage bonanza that would be taken by a dryer in a traditional stackable unit.
Living in a tiny house is getting more and more practical with each passing improvement. This short list alone shows that living in a tiny house is less about what you must give up or adapt to and more about embracing the lifestyle of less.
I may just be ready after all.