A Tiny Home, Larger Living

Jul 21, 2014

(Editor's Note: "Home" is shaped by individual circumstance and generational view. In this three-part series, a free-thinking Millennial (born between the early 1980s and 2000), rebounding Gen-Xer (born from the early 1960s to early 1980s) and determined Boomer (born following WWII through the early 1960s) share stories from the recession that helped define how they live today.)

My Home View: Part 1 of 3

Confident. Connected. Open to Change.—Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends on Millennials.

In 2008, fresh out of grad school, Ryan M. was living the Millennial dream. He had a great apartment near Charlotte, NC, worked as a corporate recruiter in a busy office full of like-minded young co-workers, and in short was "doing great."

Six months later, on a Friday afternoon, his circumstances changed. The company was closing and he was let go on the spot. "My coworkers and I were all standing outside with our desks in a box, worried about how we would pay rent and what would become of us," he recalls.

Luckily, Ryan found a new job quickly, but he remained uneasy. "A lot of good, hardworking people were losing their homes during the recession, and I knew I never wanted to be in that position again," he explains.

Sustainable Lifestyle

Ryan looked closely at his finances and realized half of his income was going to pay rent. He was at a crossroads faced by many people his age, according to Fannie Mae research, to continue renting or buy a home.

In Ryan's case, he continued to rent while starting to build a "tiny house" that he would own outright.

Big Change

If you've been watching "Tiny House Nation," or caught other recent television or print coverage, you'll know a tiny house has the amenities of larger homes kitchens, bathrooms and sleeping areas but comes with a smaller square footage and price tag.

The average tiny house is 186 square feet and costs about $25,000. The smaller price tag means most people can buy tiny houses outright – 68% have no mortgage, according to thetinylife.com.

Tiny houses can be started from recyclables like rail cars, school buses or sheds—or built entirely from scratch. They fit on a trailers and can be tucked anywhere allowed by local building codes: near a larger home, in an alley or backyard, or join a tiny home community with 20 or so homes located on a single acre.

According to thetinylife.com, the typical tiny house dweller:

  • Is likely an open-to-change Millennial or Boomer (especially those who lost their 401K savings during the recession).
  • Is a woman (56%)—many of whom build their own house.
  • Has a higher-than-average income ($42,038), $478 over the average American's.

And it's not just Americans or certain demographics who are opting to live tiny. Tiny houses are popular worldwide with all ages as primary residences, vacation homes, or hostels, often designed by top architects.

Personal Choice

Ryan started his tiny house blog in 2009, when just a few people in the U.S. were living in tiny houses, as a way to chronicle building his own Tumbleweed Fencl house, a do-it-yourself design that allowed him to make some modifications like using an on-demand tankless water heater (the Fencl uses a standard RV water heater). The house measures 8.5' x 19.5' and now sits on a 26-acre wooded lot he's leased.

Permitting for power and water proved challenging—something Ryan chronicles in his blog. Even so, he's convinced that tiny living has been the right housing decision for him overall.

"The economics of tiny living made homeownership appealing to me," he says. "It's not so much that I'm rejecting bigger houses, but embracing the benefits of smaller living—no debt, having to work only a few hours a week, and able to pursue my passions, hobbies, and interests."

Stay tuned for next week's My Home View story…