Tiny Houses: Houses Without Place

The Myth

One of the reasons the tiny house movement is so popular at the moment is that its followers believe they've successfully removed place - something many can't afford or don't want to pay for - from the equation of housebuilding. Not considering place when it comes to owning a home is an unrealistic, financially silly, and environmentally sorry way to start a house building project of any kind - big, small or tiny. It's also a bummer to get emails from people who've not considered the realities of building a house without land.

So Many Reasons to Consider Place

Neglecting place is just not a good way to approach building anything. It's a good reason why post-WW II cookie cutter tract housing is so lame. Place should never be removed from the building process

For any house the consideration of place revolves around first and foremost where it'll be located. If it's on wheels, great, but it's still going need to be some place, so where is that some place? Is it an actual destination or do you just dream about towing a four ton payload, a bona fide nightmare for more than a few, down some nameless, if peaceful, Robert Frost-inspired country road? Wake up! You're going to need a place to park that tiny house as well as a place to dump its waste - unless of course you plan to use someone else's shower, toilet and sink. You're also going to need a big truck and enough dough to pay for that horrendous 10 miles per gallon (if you're lucky) gasoline that'll be required to haul it around.

You might also consider that place entails the other places (plural) too - the places used, and sometimes used up, to supply the modern materials for your tiny house. Even a tiny house has a serious embodied energy factor, which is a good segue for this idea: If you've already got a house, and don't need the money, keep it. Here's why. If you need to build a house build a small one, if you can a static one, and build it competently enough to last generations.

tiny house under construction

One last place to consider is the dump. A crummy tiny house will fall apart just like a crummy traditional house, possibly even sooner, so truly build the best you can. If you can't afford good materials, wait until you can. If not, your tiny house will find its ultimate place in the garbage dump alongside the dismal remains of other crummy houses. For all that I hear touted about how "green" tiny houses are - and some aren't all that bad by the way - waaaay too many are poorly built - yes, even by the alleged pros, so be cautious. If you can, build a house yourself using as much quality (keyword here) local and recycled material as you can obtain. But remember: just because something is local or used doesn't mean it's worth using. Anything made with crummy materials is still going to be crummy. 

Final Warning

Tiny houses can be useful. They already play a role in modern housing. Just make sure you actually have a place for yours because a tiny house is not always as easy or straightforward to live in as it's advertised to be, trust me on this one. I've built one, lived in one, and design them for others. If reading my emails is a reliable litmus, this is one fact tiny house purveyors would blissfully have you ignore. Please don't. Not many places, MOST places, are governed by building departments and zoning laws that are outright unfriendly when it comes to non-code compliant tiny houses (which is basically all of them) for a host of reasons, some good, many arbitrary.

Shawn A. Dehner