Tiny Houses: A Perfect FitJun 01, 2016 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle
Tiny Houses: A Perfect Fit
The move toward tiny houses has actually become a social crusade. Those inspired to downsize to such a fundamental level do so for a variety of reasons.
The American family home has grown to an average of 2,600 square feet, but there are individuals who feel they can happily and efficiently live in a 100- to 400-square-foot space, enabling them to travel, reduce their debt by way of low (or no) mortgage payments and low utility bills, and have a more positive effect on the environment.
According to thetinylife.com, “For most Americans one-third to one-half of their income is dedicated to the roof over their heads; this translates to 15 years of working over your lifetime just to pay for it, and because of it, 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.”
The Tiny Life website was spearheaded by Charlottean Ryan Mitchell. His 150-square-foot dwelling that he built in Charlotte for about $25,000 was a means to bounce back financially after a job layoff. Now self-employed, he has embraced the tiny lifestyle and has published books on the topic.
Mitchell’s site identifies two types of tiny houses: those that are 200 square feet or smaller, are on wheels and can be utilized for travel, and those under 1,000 square feet that are built on a permanent site. “Some of the most appealing versions of these small homes include ingenious design features to maximize the use of the space,” the site says.
Those looking to build their own tiny house need to realize that the “larger” small version is technically a stick-built structure and must adhere to building codes. The smaller on-wheels version is considered a mobile home and must meet the standards of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
Currently, banks don’t offer financing for tiny houses on wheels. If they did, an example of cost savings breaks down like this, courtesy of tumbleweedhouses.com: You pay $55,000 for the house with no down payment. A 30-year mortgage at 7 percent would equate to a $366 monthly mortgage payment. Additionally, utility bills would typically total $10 to $35 a month.
What’s important is that those considering a tiny house do their homework:
• Camping is a good test before buying or building to see if you actually like tiny living. You’ll need to appreciate the outdoors since you’ll be utilizing it more; it’ll, in essence, become another room.
• What is needed from – and in – the home? Those who truly wish to live off the grid may install solar panels or wind powering devices, composting toilets and rainwater collection devices. Where will you dispose of graywater and sewage?
• Is a bathtub important or will a space-saving shower do?
• Will the kitchen require a compact oven, refrigerator, and will a stackable washer/dryer be used? Or will you line dry your clothes?
• Design your tiny house with multi-purpose pieces. Go as vertical as possible with wall shelving, build a bed with storage underneath, build fold-down/fold-up tables against the walls, maybe there’s room for a loft.
At the end of the day, tiny living is a question of whether or not you can live without so much “stuff.” According to Wikihow.com, “We spend about 80 percent of our time wearing 20 percent of the clothes we own, so by getting rid of most of that wasted 80 percent, your life becomes immediately simpler: less laundry and less indecision about what to wear that day. Instead of having three TVs, two computers, a VCR, DVD, Blu-Ray, and three different game stations, reduce to one computer – transfer your movies to a hard drive, and a flat-screen monitor can double as a TV. A laptop with a TV tuner is even more energy efficient.”
Probably the biggest challenge to tiny living is where the house can be located. While houses on wheels can park at a campground and hook up to electricity and sewer service, Mitchell says, “Building codes in most municipalities set a minimum size for dwellings. Some tiny houses on wheels function as RVs, but most areas also ban full-time RV living outside of an RV park.”
Tumbleweedhouses.com offers some options for this potential problem. They recommend approaching a landowner willing to rent or barter; some tiny homeowners work for the landowner in some capacity in exchange for a place to park. Or if you have friends or family that live in the country, they may be willing to let you park your house.
“And when the time comes to move, you don’t have to worry about land ownership,” the site says, adding, “If you’re lucky enough to already live in a location where you can park a tiny house on a trailer or an RV – or maybe you can build on a foundation as a shed, pool house, cabana, guest house or accessory structure – you can start your project right away or look for the right property to buy.”
There are even websites dedicated to the buying and selling of tiny houses. Tinyhouselistings.com is based in North Carolina but posts inventory of homes from all over the U.S., stressing that location may not be an issue since these home can often be moved.
Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County
Last July, Habitat Cabarrus’ program manager, Dene Dawson, and family services coordinator, Shirley Kennerly, watched as the first Habitat Cabarrus tiny house was completed in Kannapolis and its new owner, Barbara, moved in.
As the facilitators of the Tiny House Project for Habitat Cabarrus – possibly the first of its kind in the country – they conducted what Dawson calls a beta test Tiny House.
“Habitat Cabarrus needed to find a lot to build on and a partner family willing or interested in living in a tiny house,” he says. “Kannapolis had a lot that was too small for a standard Habitat plan, so that solved the land issue. One of our transitional housing residents loved the idea of the tiny house. With those items in place, we were able to move forward. ”
“The process took about two and a half years, from initial research to completion of the project,” Kennerly adds.
The mission of the Tiny House Project is “to provide simple, affordable housing to a little-serviced target population of people with fixed incomes that fall between 20 and 30 percent of the area median income of $54,381 and/or have a verifiable income-to-debt ratio of 30 percent or under,” according to Habitat Cabarrus’ website. This currently equates to a yearly income of $12,000 to $18,000 but that is changed annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The nonprofit looks at this project as an opportunity for very low-income residents who have had challenges with renting a house, let alone been able to purchase one. In addition, these individuals or couples – whether they be seniors, disabled or are military veterans – become part of a popular, growing trend.
Barbara has gone from being homeless and living in a shelter, to qualifying for transitional housing by Habitat Cabarrus, then being accepted into its homeownership program. As a disabled woman, she can handle the interest-free mortgage and low utility costs.
The project calls for one 450- to 500-square-foot tiny house to be built each year for as long as there is a demand for the product, and now Lucy is getting the opportunity. Habitat Cabarrus will start framing its second house at the end of next month; the foundation is already in place.
Also living with a disability but able to work part-time, Lucy was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and lost everything but what she could carry. She became part of the Habitat homeownership program in 2014 and should be in her house before the end of the year.
Both of these homeowners will benefit from a house built to SystemVision energy standards. Having a Seer ducted mini-split HVAC unit should cost them about $16 monthly to heat/cool their homes. Also included are pocket doors, 36-inch door openings, a 60-inch radius for wheelchair turns, no-step front and side entrances, an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) shower and toilet grab bars, an ADA stove, allergy-free flooring, a low-maintenance exterior and third-party-built furniture features scaled to tiny house dimensions.
The Tiny House Project also gives each house a somewhat different look. “We will use the same footprint (dimensions), but will alter the exterior a bit. The exterior is subject to State Historic Preservation Office approval,” Dawson explains. “The interior floor plan will vary a good bit depending on the owner. We have several floor plans that fit the 512-square-foot footprint. Since this next house does not need to be handicap compliant, we can open the floor plan up a bit. The vaulted ceiling will cover more area, and we’re looking at large sliding doors between the living and sleep areas.”
So, whether you have the urge to travel, yearn for financial independence or want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, a tiny house may be the solution. It certainly is for those in Cabarrus County who yearn for home ownership and a place to call their own.
Article By: Kim Cassell
Lead Photo Courtesy: www.tinylife.com
Remaining Photo/Renderings Courtesy: Habitat for Humanity of Cabarrus County