So, You Want To Live Tiny? Here’s What To Consider When Choosing a House, Van or Caravan

Yves here. Only at the end of this article do we read that very few people live in tiny homes. I am at a bit of a loss to understand why they are more appealing than a small apartment, perhaps because I never had noisy neighbors despite having lived in thirteen apartments. See my general views on houses here. But having said that, one of my larger apartments would still smell for days after I had cooked scallops.

Admittedly, one attraction of living small, if you are handy, is the possibility of getting very cheap digs by turning an old bus or van into a residence. The article politely underplays the fact that one reason for considering minimalist housing is the increasingly punitive cost of real estate.

It also appears, reading between the lines, that Australia might be less restrictive about RVs and mobile/sort of mobile housing than the US is generally. Can anyone help calibrate?

And an “almost tiny” option is pre-fabricated homes, where you can apparently get pretty nice ones that are 400 square feet and have high ceilings to make them feel roomier and allow for extra storage.

By Heather Shearer, Research Fellow, Cities Research Institute, Griffith University and Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, Originally published at The Conversation

The reasons for choosing to go tiny range from reducing debt, inability to afford a conventional home, the search for sustainability, a life crisis, or even preparing for an uncertain future in the face of climate change by going off-grid. Or perhaps a combination of these.

An important first step is to decide what type of tiny house you want. To many, the phrase “tiny house” brings to mind an archetypal tiny house on wheels, a miniature cottage on a trailer, often made of wood, with a pitched roof and dormer windows.

Indeed, most tiny housers prefer some degree of mobility, whether a ready-made or DIY tiny house, converted caravan or bus/van. A survey by the Australian Tiny House Association found most (78% of 109 respondents) lived in tiny houses on wheels, but a small but growing proportion live in converted caravans, vans or buses.

Cost and type of tiny house. ATHA Survey, 2019

Why Do You Want To Go Tiny?


Tiny houses can be established or on wheels. from www.shutterstock.com

First you need to evaluate your motives, which may differ according to your situation or stage of life. The most important question here is, how often do you want to move?

Do you want to be ultra-mobile, and live like a digital nomad, perhaps in a “stealth van” in the city, changing parking spaces every night? Or do you want to travel around Australia like a “grey nomad”, staying in caravan parks or roadside camps for a week or so before moving on?

Alternatively, do you want to be more settled, perhaps moving occasionally, to be closer to work, medical facilities or schools for children? (Yes, some tiny housers have children). Or do you want to travel between the houses of adult children or do petsitting, staying from weeks to months?

Many off-the-shelf caravans are extremely well designed and are accepted everywhere, at caravan parks or roadside parking areas. On the other hand, a tiny house on wheels is less mobile, and not suited to frequent moving (they are also extremely heavy, not aerodynamic and large tow vehicles are costly).

They’re also less accepted in caravan parks, and most local councils consider them caravans, with restricted periods of occupancy and often onerous conditions. Vans and buses are the most flexible (in the “stealth van” or vanlife movement, people live rent-free by parking, mostly illegally, often in industrial estates, and using public or work/gym bathrooms).

They are, however, extremely small and while it may seem glamorous to live in a van like celebrity rock climber Alex Honnold, the reality may not be practical.

What Can You Afford?

Cost will likely be the next factor to consider. Ready-built tiny houses range from around A$50,000 – $120,000; DIY are cheaper, especially if self-built, with some costing under $2,000. The higher end, architect-designed ones are more expensive.

Converted caravans can be affordable, even under $10,000, but prices vary markedly, with some ultra-luxurious five-wheelers costing more than a typical suburban house (>$600,000).

Converting old buses and vans is much cheaper, with the cost of the vehicle tending to be under $20,000. Of note, unless you are living under the radar or free camping, you are going to have to factor in the ongoing cost of renting someone’s backyard or caravan park space.

How Sustainable Is Your Choice?

Sustainability is a more nuanced aspect of tiny house living; living small means less energy needed for heating and less room for superfluous stuff, encouraging or enforcing a minimalist lifestyle.

Most tiny houses on wheels are off-grid to some extent, relying on solar power, rainwater and composting toilets. They are often built entirely out of sustainable or reclaimed materials.

On the other hand, most caravans and vans are not particularly sustainable — they’re often built out of mass-produced material and may produce outgassing from carpets and paints. Vans and busses are generally no more or less sustainable than any similar vehicle.

What Kind of Life Do You Want?

Tiny houses, whatever the type, are just that: tiny. Space is at a premium and living tiny requires reducing stuff, such as clothes, sporting and hobby equipment. Tiny houses on wheels, where parked more permanently, allow for decks and even sheds, but caravans and vans are self contained, unless in a permanent caravan park.

If you are used to living in a very large space, it may take time to adapt to the practicalities of tiny living; people often complain about cooking smells and composting toilets.

Despite the popularity of tiny houses however, very few people actually live in them. Nonetheless, the vast majority of people who live or have lived tiny, view their experience positively, and feel it has greatly enriched their lives, and helped them re-evaluate their life choices, especially consumerism even after moving to more conventional dwellings.

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93 comments

  1. Mark

    “It also appears, reading between the lines, that Australia might be less restrictive about RVs and mobile/sort of mobile housing than the US is generally. Can anyone help calibrate?”

    I’m Australian. Though I’ll have to be brief with this post so it might ramble and not be fully researched.
    For starters I think some of the links might give the impression that living small or living on the road is common in Australia. I don’t believe it is. I’d say it is more common in the US.

    These are my observations having LIVED in Australia and haven lived the VAN life in USA.

    -RVs and mobile housing isn’t nearly as much of a ‘thing’ in Australia compared to USA
    -We have few trailer parks with permanent/semi-permanent residents.
    -Our trailer parks are often holiday camping destinations and are generally working class and middle class income earners rather than the bottom of income range
    -The few permanent residents at trailer parks I’ve seen are retirees who are living cheaply but not in noticeable poverty

    When it comes to lifestyle choice people living on the road I think it is more common in the US. This is my observations and I’ve been well hooked into the networks of people who live such lives and I spent 6 months living this way in the US.

    As far as restrictions go Australia is generally more stringent on rules regarding fixed dwellings. Though when it is a mobile dwelling then as long as it meets our stricter road rule standards then you are all good.

    Finding public parking and facilities for a mobile dwelling in Australia is probably easier. Public facilities away from city centers are safer and more frequent. Except in touristy areas nobody cares if you are parking and using facilities. The police won’t harass you and if they do they’ll be polite about it.

    That said my experience on the road in the US was great the only exception was National Park Rangers who are a little heavy handed but they also have a job to do and US National Parks need some control in peak periods.

    If anybody has questions feel free to ask. I have several friends who live the van life even while getting paid ~$70 per hour for their work.

    Reply
        1. JBird4049

          Using ebooks? And burning my precious babies? Barbarians!

          Okay, sadly yes, I do use ebooks. (Bows head in shame)

          But there is nothing like a real book in one’s hand, even if I could store all nine hundred books on a flash drive. I like to get up and pull a book out from one of my bookshelves. Also used bookstores are a friend to this broke college student.

          And I would have to scan some of them or hope that there are ebook versions to rebuy what I already have, which is not always true especially some of the more esoteric history books. Although a person can always get the latest electronic version of something like Love’s Palpitating Passions or some other highbrow reading. :-)

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            I imagine a sequel to “Love’s Palpitating Passions” would be “The Cast Off Children.”
            Other tomes in my imaginary ‘Light Reading’ stacks:
            The Adventures of Chelsea
            Scheme and Grow Rich
            Political Expediency: The Myriad Meretricious Methodologies of Meritocracy
            Frommer’s Club Fed
            Davos Devos: Zeta Reticulans in High Finance (How to spot them. How to avoid them.)
            Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Philosophy of Austerity (Kleine Reich Press)

            Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      I’d just re-purpose a bookmobile with living quarters and say half the shelves.

      My mom related that the ‘librarian’ who drove the bookmobile which came by our house 3x a week in the 60’s & 70’s, told her that our family read the most of anybody on his route.

      I suppose there must be a few nooks & crannies in the country with bookmobiles still, but I haven’t seen one in ages, the last sighting being the Dunedin, NZ rolling library about a dozen years ago, along with the bookmobile @ Burning Man.

      Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I have the same problem. One solution I thought of but haven’t completely thought out was using a steel container. I know Lambert is not keen on containers for housing but some of their disadvantages — like the insecticide residues some still contain — might offer advantages for keeping a library. I tend to regard containers as a purely structural feature of a building. I haven’t studied building envelope design adequately and haven’t completely thought things out — a steel container might be an adequate structural support to augment walls of cellular concrete created by the tilt technique and strong enough to support themselves but not truly serve as a structural support for a building. I visualize placing my building on a concrete slab surrounded with a drainage system and inset into the face of a rise or berm. I’d try to grow deciduous vines over the building to provide some heat reflection in the Summer and to facilitate solar heating in the Winter. Later as the climate becomes more harsh I would probably change to a perennial vine and plant some bamboo wind and sun shelter along the sides of the building.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        From my experiences with re-purposed steel containerized cargo “sheds,” the main problem is moisture control. Those steel walls will condense moisture out of the air quick and promote decay of the structure’s contents. Adequate ventilation will be key.

        Reply
  2. Bill Carson

    I’ve never lived in a tiny house, but I’ve watched the shows about them on TV and the youtubes, and I’ve thought about giving it a go.

    I think the thing that attracts people to tiny living is the same thing that attracts people to camping in a tent or having a cabin in the woods—-it is a small, simple dwelling with minimal accoutrements, it is likely closer to nature, and you can escape the troubles of the world for a time.

    Now another reason that some people chose the tiny life is that it can be cheaper, sometimes much cheaper, than conventional housing. On the other hand, this is not always the case, as I’ve had clients who have spent $80,000 or $100,000 for new tiny homes with only a couple hundred square feet.

    Finally, some people get into tiny homes because they are the only small, affordable option in many zoned areas. Here in Colorado, even the rural counties have zoning and land-use ordinances, with minimum square-footage requirements for “stick-built” homes, plus building codes and licensing-requirements for contractors, deed restrictions, and strict rules from homeowners associations. That’s why the tiny homes have wheels–because if it has wheels and is not affixed to the ground, then it doesn’t have to comply with the zoning ordinances. It’s ridiculous the way that works, really. And people think we live in a free country.

    These tiny homes can fill a need for inexpensive housing that used to be met by the mobile home industry. Unfortunately, in my neck of the woods, mobile homes may not be allowed in many areas due to the aforementioned land-use restrictions.

    The final thing I will mention about tiny homes, converted vans, rv’s, and mobile homes, is that there are hidden dangers and expenses related to them that many fail to consider. These abodes depreciate in value like nobody’s business, they may be expensive to insure, they may be inefficient to heat and cool. But the real thing to keep in mind is that owning one of these small-living options is not any better than renting if you don’t own the land. Renting a small space in RV parks, tiny home parks, and the like can be surprisingly expensive, and there’s no certainty that the landlord will renew your lease at the end of your term or raise the rent from year to year.

    Personally, I think it would be neat to have a cabin or tiny home up in the mountains where I could escape on weekends or short holidays, but I don’t think there is any way that I could make one my primary home. I hope I don’t have to find out what that’s like.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      the american Ideal of “Property Rights” clashes with the de facto reality of zoning and especially “homeowners associations”. My only real experience with the latter is vicariously through my dad, brother, etc…I’d never live in such a place,lol. At dad’s, in the Clear Lake, Texas area, a mean woman with a little kindergarten ruler comes around and measures the grass….and thats a rich neighborhood, with pretensions of elitedom. Once, she took exception to me sitting on the front “porch” in my bathrobe with coffee and a cigarette. Where i live, people run the risk of getting shot for that sort of behaviour.
      I’d rather live in a van, frankly.(did just that for 5 or so years(my “Wild Years”), from El Paso to Tallahassee)

      Part of my long term plan for my Hermit Kingdom is a few tiny houses/cabins/ school buses(I’ve always wanted a school bus) for either/and/or Poor Man’s BnB, or for rent to young people in exchange for a day or so a week of farm labor.(considerable lack of affordable housing out here, in spite of the empty/falling down houses in the Barrio(s))
      this has been blocked, like so many aspects of the Plan for Autarky, by Mom’s extremely hard head….as well as the usual lack of Capital and Labor. It’s still an important part of the Plan.
      my own house is pretty big(~25000 sq ft-cost under $30K), and the old trailer is a Library plus Seed Room, and my shop is another 10k sq ft, built entirely from cast off material. But my goals require a place to keep the Means of Production,lol…as well as storage for all the cast off materials i accumulate.
      add in (extant and still in process)sheep shed, chicken house, quail house, wood shed,and the nest for the Falcon(ranch golf cart), and we’re pretty built up on this little portion of the place(maybe 4 acres, out of 20, i’ve never measured it)
      I’d never get away with any of this in town, or in more regulated/zoned places, and realise how lucky i am whenever i read things about the housing crisis.
      the disconnect between the Ideal of Free Property and the zoning, etc is pretty striking, but i’ve only seen it articulated at the individual level(aside from SocMed)…and it’s interesting and instructive that the zoning/regs all seem geared towards the interests of the developers, Real Estate people and such…not towards the would be Yeoman, like me.(the mean woman with her ruler is all about maintaining property values, which strongly implies an ephemeral idea of ownership.)

      Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          wood.
          with passive solar(attached greenhouse, big eastern windows), and supplemental propane(natgas is not available) for when it gets and stays below 25 or so.
          lots of standing dead mesquite(whether due to some poison, up to 30 years ago, or as some natural feature of mesquite)…and the big post oaks tend to shed large branches during thunderstorms…and mesquite coppicing(takes 5-15 years to grow back into firewood size)…and paying attention to what the highway department is doing(trimming the ROW, leaving piles of oak and mesquite to burn later…i’m no longer the only one who picks through these piles; which might be an economic indicator)
          mesquites are known waterhogs…and there’s always a rancher within 20-30 miles clearing a field..piling it up to burn anyway. so we….and the local firewood guys….are plugged into a sort of network to descend on these fields and extract the wood.

          Reply
  3. ambrit

    We have lived in an old Airstream trailer for several years. The experience teaches the values of something of a Zen sensibility. The fetish for ‘possessions’ is challenged by the space restrictions.
    One major aspect of van and other “mobile” housing is the obvious ‘planned obsolescence’ of the “dwelling.” Roughly, vans etc. fall apart much more rapidly than do fixed houses. Now, that may be a positive aspect, philosophically, but psychologically, the inherent impermanence of such ‘shelter’ must have some effect. If ‘place’ is not the central anchor of a person’s character, then ‘tribal’ association should fill that function. The question is a complex one. Humans have “evolved” from hunter gatherers to urban dwellers over the ages. Part of the “urban” sensibility seems to be a sense of ‘place.’ Thus, even if one were to embark upon a ‘neo hunter gatherer’ style of existence, the ‘modern’ urban sensibility imposes the burden of establishing one’s social bona fides through the linking of the ‘mobile’ human with a fixed abode.
    Secondarily is the burden, and it can be a real burden, of social condemnation of neo hunter gatherers. During our life ‘on the road,’ we encountered several instances of shaming and prejudice by parts of the ‘fixed’ population we encountered. “No account white trash” was a phrase I heard several times; used to describe myself and the family. Alas that I didn’t take advantage of such events to embark upon a life of crime. (The temptation was there, if simply to gain some revenge upon the shamers.)
    We have also lived in apartments, but that is another story.

    Reply
  4. PlutoniumKun

    Its a seriously big topic with many different aspects to it – economic, environmental, cultural, sociological – there is a part of me that craves the simplicity of a Marie Kondo’d tiny house with minimalist possessions, but I think in reality its an option only for a minority – although of course in much of the world (Hong Kong or much of Japan for example), people happily live in much smaller homes than is normal in the US or Australia. In many Asian cities typical living spaces are much smaller than we’ve been familiar with, but a lot of this is cultural as a ‘home’ is really just a place to sleep for many in cities like Bangkok or Hanoi, not a place to host friends or cook. All those other things are done outside.

    I owned a VW camper van conversion for a few years and there was a joy in being able to simply move around and have everything I need in a super small space. But it was only liveable for a few weeks at time and of course didn’t have shower or toilet. I’ve also spent long periods on the road on a bike which is even more minimalist, just a small tent. That said, I’m used to a small home as I live in a relatively small inner urban apartment, most of which is crammed with bikes to the horror of most of my visitors.

    Outside of the US and Australia the type of small home discussed is far less less common primarily because of far tougher regulatory requirements – many of that type of home would simply not be permitted outside of designate caravan parks, and in most of Europe permanent habitation is not allowed in them. Certainly some retired people migrate around Europe in camper vans and caravans quite happily, but they are rarely comfortable in winter, even along the Mediterranean coast. I’d also question their sustainability – even very small mobile homes tend to be very hard to insulate and require expensive and polluting forms of heating like propane or diesel charged batteries. I know a few people who have converted caravans, etc., to temporary homes, and insulation and heat is always the thing they find hardest to deal with. The reality is that the only cheap and easy structure to heat is a small apartment, no matter how well you design and build a house, the larger it is the higher your energy costs.

    Ultimately, if you want to be sustainable, unless you are willing to build to a very high standard and grow your own vegetables and food and resist long commutes, the only realistic option for must of us is urban apartments with all amenities within walking distance. But these are not compatible with modern desires for automobiles for everyone and big gardens and multiple guest rooms. People have to make choices.

    Reply
    1. rusti

      I know a few people who have converted caravans, etc., to temporary homes, and insulation and heat is always the thing they find hardest to deal with.

      Agreed, and this cuts in both directions too. Some of my friends from climbing have converted vans and spend about a month each summer in them. When the sun hits the windows in the morning it’s not always a comfortable night of sleep trying to regulate the temperature, or even keeping the light out when you’re trying to sleep here at Scandinavian latitudes.

      Reply
      1. Susan the other

        There’s always vagabondage to consider. It’s a form of fantasybondage. You are made a slave to your half-baked dream. I keep indulging myself by checking out mini-motorhomes on the internet. They run anywhere from 70K to 250K. I kid you not. That’s dealership new. Effectively, it’s a warrantee. But it’s so wasteful to escape. Imo, it’s much cheaper to stay put and calmly deal with your living expenses. In an apt. you can gain heat from your surrounding neighbors and they from you; you can just shut off rooms or tape light switches. And you’ve always got comrades in a community. It’s like Mad Max wasn’t a story about a nuclear holocaust, just a story about frantic escapees. If I only had one plug I’d plug in my computer. And if I were certain that scarcity was imminent, I’d invest in sheep and spindles. Driving around in a wide-eyed panic, not so much. But then… I’m old.

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          We’re so far off the beaten path, I sometimes dream of escaping to SoCal, were NK nuclear tipped missiles to hit Fresno and turn it into ash tray (Fresno is Spanish for ‘ash tree’) as intended.

          But i’ll most likely stay put.

          We’ve always either car camped-setting up a tent or got a motel room every other day when on a road trip in the summer. You figure the cost of a bulbous RV @ say $100k new, which is not a very big one in the scheme of things, maybe it has 2-3x the size of a $100 a night motel/hotel room, and you’d have to spend 1,001 nights in your RV, to equal the value.

          Lately i’ve been seeing RV’s not only hauling a car, but also a boat towed behind the car, so yes you can take it all with you.

          Reply
          1. Amfortas the hippie

            if i were to ever hit the road again(highly unlikely!), i’d obtain another late 70’s model VW van. so long as you can tinker well enough, they’ll run forever…although parts were a pain to obtain in the south, 30 years ago.
            lots of duck tape and baling wire were used on my roamings.
            mine had a pop-top camper, and with that up and the the doors open to catch the wind, looked like a lime green grasshopper.
            now, for the all too rare fishing trip to the beach or river, i keep an old queen sized mattress to throw in the back of the truck.
            tarp for if it rains.
            money is for beer bait and gas…not “lodging”.

            Reply
    2. Krystyn Walentka

      PlutoniumKun,

      Its a seriously big topic with many different aspects to it – economic, environmental, cultural, sociological – there is a part of me that craves the simplicity of a Marie Kondo’d tiny house with minimalist possessions, but I think in reality its an option only for a minority

      Thank you for your honesty and self knowledge!

      Reply
  5. Tomonthebeach

    I have never understood the attraction of RVs. Fullsize RVs usually run over $150K and in 5 years are worth a third of that. Their mileage means that long trips not only can run several hundred a day in fuel, but then there is the fee for parking overnight. By my calculation, you probably can travel by air, rent a car, and stay at posh hotels every year for far less than traveling by RV. Of course, maintenance is that of a bus or heavy-duty (as in very pricey) pick-up truck.

    As for permanent to semipermanent abodes, here in Florida, we have gobs of trailer parks. My late stepfather owned several “Mobile Home Parks.” They are seldom cheaper than renting an apartment because you have to buy the trailer, rent the lot, and pay utilities. Anybody who thinks rich people live in trailer parks has never been near one. Mobile homes are lower-middle-income retiree abodes. They are the preferred living option of iconoclasts, heavy beer drinkers, and Harley-owning geezers who hate people. Mobile home parks are often near swamps and in floodplains because the land is cheaper there.

    To me, the biggest drawback to tiny houses is safety. Look at the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. All the RVs and mobile homes are flattened – too often with people inside. In Mexico Beach FL last year, most tiny home dwellers and their homes were relocated to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Michael.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      By my calculation, you probably can travel by air, rent a car, and stay at posh hotels every year for far less than traveling by RV

      Here in SC a patch of dirt at the Myrtle Beach State Park can cost more per night than a room at one of the numerous motels. Surely the biggest problem with any mobile dwelling is where to put it. Out west it is common to find lonely RVs on BLM land where they can park for free (although they may be more attracted by the scenery than the prices). But most communities are not tiny house friendly and the local politicians are more likely to favor McMansions with their hefty property tax revenues. Of course the rural South was once chockablock with mobile home, but this is fading as they are now disfavored for the same reason. My understanding is that the Tiny House movement is mostly a west coast phenom.

      Reply
    1. Anon

      There are a few sailors at my local harbor who use their boat as their home. But it is a rich man’s lifestyle: the mooring costs $50 per foot of hull length per month. The moorings sell for a premium of several thousand dollars when transferred.

      Most of the boat owners at the local harbor have million dollar homes overlooking the small-craft harbor.

      Reply
  6. xkeyscored

    British “New Age Travellers” of the 70s, 80s and 90s lived in a mixture of benders, tipis, horse-drawn caravans, converted buses, ex-military vehicles, and ambulances. For some, with their roots in the peace movement and so on, it was a deliberate choice of lifestyle; for others, an alternative to, or summer break from, squatting in London.
    Unsurprisingly, they found themselves harassed by the law for things like drugs, vehicle MOT certificates, and parking and camping regulations. Laws were changed to make it illegal for private landowners to host them. Matters came to a head in 1985, with the notorious Battle of the Beanfield. From Wikipedia:
    ITN Reporter Kim Sabido was at the scene and recorded a piece-to-camera in which he claimed that he had witnessed “some of the most brutal police treatment of people” that he had seen in his entire career as a journalist. He also remarked on the number of people that had been “clubbed” by police including those “holding babies in their arms”.
    According to The Observer, during this period pregnant women and those holding babies were clubbed by police with truncheons and the police were hitting “anybody they could reach”. When some of the travellers tried to escape by driving away through the fields, The Observer states that the police threw truncheons, shields, fire-extinguishers and stones at them in an attempt to stop them.[1]
    Dozens of travellers were injured,[1] 8 police officers and 16 travellers were hospitalised.[2] 537 travellers were eventually arrested.[1] This represents one of the largest mass arrest of civilians since at least the Second World War,[5] possibly one of the biggest in English legal history.[6]

    NC’s comments section doesn’t seem to like too many links, so here’s just a couple if you’re interested.
    New Age Travellers: Google image search showing travellers and their dwellings and vehicles.
    Battle of the Beanfield: Google search page with links to videos, articles from travellers, Guardian, Independent etc.
    ‘A lost freedom’: When new age travellers found acid house – in pictures The Guardian
    Matthew Smith’s book Exist to Resist captures the moment in the 90s when ravers, new age travellers, drugs and protest collided in a joyous movement – until the government got involved
    It fleetingly gave dance music, never normally a hotbed of activism, a political conscience. Exist to Resist is packed with photos of anti-criminal justice bill demonstrations and protests organised by Reclaim the Streets – although how truly committed the traditional dance scene was to reshaping itself as some kind of resistance movement was always open to question.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I hung out with some Travellers in the 1990’s, mostly on anti-road camps. Staying in home made tipis and benders was surprisingly comfortable and it was surprising at how well many lived more or less off the land (including dumpster diving behind Tescos). Some at the Twyford Down camp went as far as to live off hunting and foraging, although I suspect the odd takeaway was added in for a balanced diet.

      Reply
      1. coboarts

        I spent about a week with some friends that I’d met at the Star Inn, somewhere near Wales. I was on a working holiday hitch-hiking around the British Isles in 1979. I stayed with “Tipi Don” a stone mason and his tipi was located on land where our friend Graham worked as the game keeper. Don told me about one severe snowed-in winter where the English Army had helicoptered in to see if he was ok and bring food. He invited them in to warm up and have a cup of tea. He had tipi management down and it was an amazing dwelling. He was part of the “tipi people” from Wales whom I had run across at festivals and such, but he was no longer traveling. I’ve camped, traveled and lived in small homes, sure. But the whole SF Bay Area tiny house movement seems a lot like public transportation to me, everyone likes to vote for it, but only those forced to… want to ride/live that way. Last I saw Graham and Don they dropped me off on some highway. This is what was playing as I stepped out of the van: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16V-wNwlTw0

        Gods bless those dudes!

        Reply
    2. Piper

      “some of the most brutal police treatment of people” that he had seen in his entire career as a journalist. He also remarked on the number of people that had been “clubbed” by police including those “holding babies in their arms”.

      What, Amendments in the American Bill of Rights, do you believe would dissuade the police from doing the same sort of thing here?

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        I thought your Bill of Rights dissuaded such clubbings by recognising cops’ inalienable right to just shoot.

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      2. Susan the other

        gee duh… gun rights. neoliberal tyranny is kill or be killed isn’t it? The missing logic is that we all need to come together… Maybe at some point the “police” will give up their guns when the “paranoid” give up theirs… So our aspirations always live in a parallel universe. Because?

        Reply
        1. JBird4049

          The problem is that pretty much the entire Bill of Rights is becoming a dead letter. Mainly, I think, to enable the neoliberal elites to continue to be the elites although that is not necessarily a conscious decision.

          Also the current American police use the cry of Guns! too often as an excuse to start shooting. Whatever one’s thoughts on the right to bear arms, I have read of too many examples of dead puppies and the dead unarmed to give any real credit to the police’s excuses “I feared for my life.” Anyone at anytime might hurt them, so therefore a disproportionate response is acceptable.

          It is also another way to dehumanize weirdos (to them) like van dwellers. The British police was able to do what it did by putting the Travelers into the mental category of Bad People. The American police is thinking or feeling that they are prison guards in a extremely dangerous prison called America. Therefore they are acting like they are prison guards. Poorly trained, heavily armed prison guards. And again, the sad part is that much appears to be unconscious. The mentality of guards in a dangerous prison seems to have grown over the past few decades.

          Reply
  7. Wukchumni

    A former KOA campground in Lemon Cove 20 miles away was sold and 4 years ago the new owners decided to make a tiny home city out of it, which lasted about a year with maybe 3 or 4 tiny homes in attendance, when they saw the light and turned it into an RV campground, which is full most nights in the summer with around 50 spots taken by land barges.

    The most common tiny home you see around here is a 5th wheel trailer on a driveway that hasn’t gone anywhere in a long time, as somebody has been living in it

    Reply
  8. JCC

    This has always been a subject that fascinates me. And it is a lifestyle that is becoming very popular here in the U.S. and not just among retirees. Here in the Southwest US places like Quartzsite,CA are full to the brim with caravans of all types for most of the winter months.

    As Yves mentions in her lead-in, 400 sq ft homes (Park Homes) are also apparently popular and good sellers. Looking up “Park Homes” in your browser will shows tens of companies all over the country building these homes, with or without wheels, with a cutoff of approx 400 sq ft and most look very livable to me as a single person.

    Also, “workcamping” has become popular. National Parks and State Parks, the BLM, and RV camp sites offer a spot with hookups, often combined with a weekly stipend in exchange for simple maintenance work around the site, usually around 20 to 30 hours a week. I talked to a woman at a BLM campsite near Bishop, CA that loves it. She told me she puts in about 3 to 4 hours a day at two camp sites, vehicle supplied, in exchange for a full hookup campsite and a “few bucks a week”.

    If you’re curious about the state of affairs in living small, there are a ton of video blogs on youtube about the lifestyle, both pro and con. One that I found interesting is done by a woman who used to be a Silicon Valley programmer. She took a break for a few months in a small trailer (Casita again) and 4 years later she is still on the road.

    Personally I plan on giving this a shot for summer months, at least during my first year of retirement, in a small (17 ft) fiberglass Casita fiberglass trailer. Using it on extended weekends for the last few years has been a pleasure, and because of the lightweight construction it has been, compared to a full-size RV, cheap to maintain on the road, mileage included.

    Reply
    1. coboarts

      Isn’t there a bit of cognitive dissonance happening here? I’m well aware of park models and work camping, etc, etc… Doesn’t that fun lifestyle face some headwinds when those who can pay the full freight to drive those massive gas guzzlers and afford full amenities at the parks dwindles – and what about climate change? An RV won’t last long. A park model will last a little longer.

      Reply
  9. Arizona Slim

    Here in Tucson, there’s a winter tradition called, oh, camping in a friend’s driveway. Or a relative’s driveway.

    You drive your van, RV, or whatever-it-is-on-wheels from some other place, usually a cold place, and then you park in that friendly Tucson driveway. And then you run an extension cord to an exterior outlet, and boom, you’re powered up.

    Our annual gem show is about to get underway, so I expect to see quite the uptick in driveway camping.

    Reply
    1. ejf

      Sounds identical to Albuquerque and surrounding ‘burbs. Take a walk down any residential street and have a look at the parked RV’s and vehicles in the backyards. And you wonder, do all these travelers do this for pleasure or the low rent they must be throwing to the property owners?

      Reply
    2. Krystyn Walentka

      The Gem Show was always a hassle for me! The crowds and lack of rentals! Thanks for the reminder! I will be headed to AZ/CA border soon myself to wait out the winter and decided where I want to go. I was planning on a visit to Tucson so I will make sure to avoid the week of Feb 13th.

      Reply
  10. LawnDart

    I am looking at building my first THOW come Spring, likely from a kit, to better get an idea of what I am getting into before I go all-out on my dream home. Here’s a resource for those who might be interested in such a project:

    https://84tinyliving.com/

    Currently I rent two tiny apartments (efficiencies) that are a couple of states apart– one for personal reasons (to be near my growing daughter) and the other for professional reasons (healthier economic opportunities). One of these apartments has ample yard space and an open-minded landlord who will probably pitch-in to help with the project.

    I was trapped for almost a decade in a “house-poor” situation in an economically distressed part of the country, and I swore I would not let that happen to me again. That experience reinforced my minimalist instincts as well as valuing mobility over nesting.

    I have many years of experience in residential remodeling, from gut-rehabs out, so I’m not too concerned with getting in over my head on this project. But even with that experience, I still expect to face a fairly substantial learning curve.

    (For inspiration, check out Jan Yoors “The Gypsies “)

    Reply
  11. The Rev Kev

    A word about RVs in Australia but particularly the Grey Nomads. These are usually retired people that decide to get around and live out of a van or RV while doing so. Many supplement their income by doing odd jobs like picking and I happen to know a couple that are doing this. It may be that after a life time of work, they want to get out and do stuff before they are too old and end up in a nursing home.

    Near where I live is a town that displays an electronic sign saying that it is ‘an RV friendly town’ and you usually see a few parked near the show grounds. I took that to be just a motto but a bit of research shows it to be a part of a scheme and the following two links talk about it-

    https://www.nacc.asn.au/layout.php?p=44

    https://members.cmca.net.au/content/rvftgov

    With these seniors, I would be more than curious about how they grew up. How many as kids went on holidays in a family caravan? How many maybe traveled overseas in a camper-van when younger. In both cases this would be reaching back to what they are familiar with. But as to why they do it? Only speaking for myself, I will quote two lines from a Joe Fagin song called “Breakin’ Away” where it says-

    Don’t want tomorrow to be like today
    That’s why I’m breaking away

    Yeah, I can understand that.

    Reply
  12. Dita

    I mark the origin of the tiny house “movement” to off the grid living – a tiny space is easier to heat and cool, with the bonus of mobility. While there’s some merit to that, the reliance on loft beds was a no-go for me – the pitch of stairs/ladders in a space that small is practically vertical — bad news for old bones!

    Reply
  13. Lunker Walleye

    Recently our city decided that the smallest home you can build is 1100 sq. ft. So we would not be allowed to build our 840 sq. ft. home under the new law. Our home isn’t “tiny” but it is one of the smallest in this part of town.

    Reply
    1. cm

      Ditto in my area. Zoning is extremely hostile to tiny homes, as well as manufactured houses. If we were truly serious about low income housing, local gov’t would allow construction of new trailer parks (not just for seniors, either).

      Reply
  14. Off The Street

    Tiny house living would be easier with a tiny cooking trailer. Parking that trailer some decent interval away would allow some indoor air quality improvement. Benefits accrue when one doesn’t bed down with those scallops, onions or other pungent reminders of a meal, or carry those reminders in one’s clothes and hair. Separate, well-ventilated cooking facilities have been around for a while, with good reason.

    Reply
      1. Off The Street

        Need some four-seasons approach to account for people in disparate climates, and storage space for food and utensils.

        Reply
      2. bob

        Any idea how much more you are paying for camp fuel than for what ever you are using in a normal home? 4 to 5 times as much per BTU, to begin with.

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          An 8 oz isobutane can costs around $5 and will last 2 of us about 4-5 days on a backpack trip, in mainly boiling water for beverages & meals.

          It’s quite spendy, but relatively cheap. I wonder how many other American couples can get by on about 1/8th of a gallon of fuel a week?

          Reply
        2. smoker

          And then there’s the expense of fresh™ bottled water (or drilling a well, if even possible) and daily chore of sewage (or digging and building a septic tank, if legal) for tiny home living. A tiny home in the parents/relatives, driveway is not an option for most who desperately need housing.

          Then again, the article, and many comments, appear geared towards those who do not desperately need affordable housing and can apparently afford to experiment with it.

          (by the way, just noticed,and love your comment below, at 4:47 pm)

          Reply
  15. Jim Young

    A couple of reasons come to mind, but the ability to travel with the seasons and spend months at a time in different areas is appealing, as is a way to relocate in a home you are more attached to, more realistically than moving the typical “mobile home.” I’d love to spend several months near widely spread relatives and friends, and really get to know different regions.For example wife’s aunt and uncle spent 10 years or so spending about 3 months at a time, eventually finding a circuit of RV parks, where their apartment managing skills resulted in filling in for park managers that wanted to take extended vacations, touring like they did.

    We actually saved the most, when we lived in an on-base military mobile home park before the Housing Allowances were adjusted for high cost of living areas. We loved our two tours in Hawaii, but could never afford a house on military pay back then (no mobile home parks in Hawaii but plenty of government quarters with no equity accumulation.

    Now gentrification threatens far more people than previously imagined. I still don’t know the best way to enable better ways to balance the negative sides of gentrification, no matter how good the positives are. Some people feel like the Beverly Hilbilly types as their properties actually do appreciate far more than others, but the following story shows another side, when you don’t own the land.

    See https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2020/jan/03/stringers-life-and-death-oceanside-mobile-homes/#

    Lot rents going from $500 a month to $2,500 are devastating to retirees on fixed income, forcing a mini diaspora away from family, friends, familiar medical facilities, and transportation options they chose for convenience and affordability.

    Relatives have moved into an idyllic seeming park for their situation, so I started looking for more background and found https://mobilehomeliving.org/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-mobile-home-parks/

    Hope this helps others see more options and risks.

    Reply
  16. Eureka Springs

    Guess I’m getting old but a 100k plus for a tiny home means you are not doing it right, to put it nicely.
    Dumb as 70 k ford truck.
    If ever I had committed to a 100k plus mortgage I surely would’t be commenting while on vacation in Costa Rica right now.

    Don’t feed the beast. Banks.

    Reply
  17. Krystyn Walentka

    I want to start this off by saying that I think most people in the tiny house/VanLife movement are doing more harm than good for people who really need low income housing. The virtue signalling aspect of it all has driven up prices of the vans and tiny homes for those of use who simply want to live.

    I just completed my purchase of a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan (145K) for $3100 that I will be living in indefinitely. I am on disability and I can’t manage the high rent prices everywhere. The van stank of cigarettes (previous owner died of a stroke, go figure) and I had to have the interior detailed to remove the smell. I tossed the 2nd and 3rd row seats and will be placing down 1/2 plywood, some foam, then a carpet on top of that. I am not going to build anything else into it until I start traveling to make sure I know what I need. I might buy a cot to sleep on. This setup works for me, but I know myself.

    So basically, it is a 7′ X 4′ X 4′ living area I can arrange how I wish. So far with 1st month insurance and tags I have $3400 invested. I figure if I do this for 5 months it is paid off. I cannot fully express the liberation. It is difficult to transmit because unless you were trying to cure your mental illness while being fcked around by landlords and the megacorp landlords it is hard to explain. It is more than aesthetics.

    So some rules for van/tiny house living I picked up the last time I lived in a van, feel free to add!

    You do not live in your van, you live out of your van. This is what gets most people in trouble because they think it is a house, but tiny. Well, it is not, and will never be. It is a shelter, not a house. I never could understand these “digital nomads” traveling but on their laptop all day. I think they are so trapped by their work that vanlife is a sort of virtue signalling

    De-conditioning is painful. Getting used to a new way of live takes time and you will suffer and be scared and uncomfortable. That is normal and it goes away. How long it takes depends on your resistance and how tightly you hold on to your expectations.

    Don’t bullsht yourself. It is hard for us to truly know ourselves and what we are capable of. Know your weaknesses and be honest with yourself about them. The transition is stressful, knowing what you can handle will help keep your stress low. Push yourself when you can, but forgive yourself when you cannot.

    Do not follow any “VanLife” feeds or forums or groups. All of them promote consumerism and are a distraction from knowing yourself.

    If you did not think of living in a tiny house before you saw a tiny house you probably do not want to live in a tiny house. This could probably be under “don’t bullsht yourself” but social media drives people to do things they would not ordinarily do. Ever since I was a child I slept in small spaces. Under a coffee table, in my closet…my poor mother was always trying to find me. So it was not hard for me to live in a van.

    If you have to throw away a vast majority of stuff to live in your tiny house you are probably going to have a rough transition. I did not have to throw one single thing away to move into my van. But I would say I have an inverse hoarding disorder. I would suggest limiting your self to one room in our house and your kitchen and bathroom and see how you do.

    And lastly: Let go.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other

      This sounds like a good choice for you Krystyn. You will be able to fish and hunt if that’s your thing. You’ll be able to plug in your computer. Find pristine water. And in the winter go south if you don’t like the bitter cold of January and February. George Carlin link by Skippy above will make you smile. I’ve been tossing around the idea of returning to a nomadic lifestyle for us human critters for a while now – because we can easily stay put for half the year at very little expense to the planet. I wish the “government” could see the logic so we don’t all have to buy RVs. North in the summer; south in the winter. Keep us posted on what the real obstacles are, please.

      Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        My parents did that. Built a low-tax ‘summah cabin’ on the last parcel of the property we had purchased in Maine 20 years before. Spent the winters in Florida. My father would head up to open things up when the heat made him grumpy, and mother would follow when she started to miss him. That also lead to a lot of decluttering–if you can do without it for half the year…

        Reply
    2. Janie

      Congratulations. The two of us retirees spent 7 years travelling the 48 states slowly, returning to be with family in SoCal in winter. We had a used pickup and a used 5th wheel. Plenty of space for us. You will enjoy your new life.

      Gypsy Journal has lots of helpful information. National parks, forests and monuments have great camping. BLM also. Corps of Engineers were some of our faves, the ones still run by Corps employees rather than leased out.

      Casinos usually offer free dry camping. Where there are two or three close together, you can migrate weekly, with a day between in a campground.

      A lot of Walmarts let you park overnight. Check first; call ahead. Camping World lets you stay overnight.

      Glad things are looking up for you.

      Reply
  18. John Wright

    Yesterday, The Economist had an op-ed on what it sees as a policy fail in some developed nation’s housing.

    https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/01/16/home-ownership-is-the-wests-biggest-economic-policy-mistake

    This argues from the neo-liberal perspective, and pushes for “building the skyscrapers and flats the modern economy demands”.

    Given that in the USA, the preference for single family homes has been pushed by politicians of all stripes, this Economist piece is a example an editorial writer earning a paycheck.

    Never does the Economist editorial mention that USA houses have grown in size over the years, which has consumed current resources (and will consume excess future energy).

    “New US homes today are 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973 and living space per person has nearly doubled”.

    https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/new-us-homes-today-are-1000-square-feet-larger-than-in-1973-and-living-space-per-person-has-nearly-doubled/

    And to judge from what I have observed from the rebuilding efforts after the 2017 wildfire removed 5000 structures in CA’s Sonoma County, building smaller has little appeal.

    One can wonder, as climate change and more costly to extract energy manifests, if the USA policy of encouraging homeownership will be viewed as a hydrocarbon fueled tragic mistake.

    However, if history repeats maybe we will see a returning trend in American housing toward smaller houses.

    I have a friend whose wife’s family reportedly did well in San Francisco real estate during the Great Depression by buying large homes, ripping them down and then building smaller houses and apartment buildings in their place.

    But this was a desperate time.

    Reply
  19. Bill Carson

    This just occurred to me and I hope I have not missed the discussion window. It brings a new economic dimension to the topic.

    Did you know that you can get a mortgage for an RV? I learned this recently. You can finance those suckers for 20 years!! I’m sure there’s some sort of weird loophole in the laws that makes this possible. It makes the payments really cheap, relative to a car loan for the same amount of principal. The only problem is that RVs depreciate very, very quickly, so owners are left upside down and can’t get rid of the things.

    Reply
  20. Jeremy Grimm

    The problem I have with apartments and with houses, large or tiny house is that they are not built to suit the kind of life I would prefer. I don’t need much space to live in per se but I want space for more tools and more places I can build projects that don’t belong inside a house. Some of the things I want to make exude noxious fumes while they dry. Some things I like to do require space to spread out books and papers. Some require potentially dangerous equipment that should either be outside or better, should be situated in a building designed to avoid fire hazard, or tolerate getting wet. I’d like a place where I could do some experiments that require high temperatures. After I make something I like to have a place where I can look at it and enjoy it.

    Reply
    1. John Wright

      This is closer to the housing of old where the craftsman’s family lived above the workshop on the first floor.

      I believe there is a need for smaller houses with adjacent workshops and expect to see more activity on this front. I have seen very large houses where there appears to be no space for an artist’s studio in the living area, so an area in the garage is carved out.

      In my view, this is yet another problem with bloated American housing, poorly functioning design

      Reply
      1. Susan the other

        Yes, communal workshops. In the “old” days, a ranch would have 3 or 4 “houses”. A mess house for cooking and eating, a bath house, a tack house, various animal outbuildings and barns, and the main ranch house, somewhat cleaner and more presentable than the others! This efficiency of tasks could easily be transferred to our modern dilemma. No?

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Wise that. Last year I was reading about how in villages in medieval Europe, the livestock would often share the same building as the family. The stench must have been awful but I am sure the animals got used to it eventually.

          Reply
      2. lordkoos

        In Asia they are called shop-houses – very typical in the old days for families to live directly above their business.

        I’m in a similar boat – I would like living in a smaller space but would want a studio space if possible.

        In the tropics people often cook in a separate structure which keeps the heat and the kitchen mess away from the living area.

        Reply
    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      I’m pretty sure I have a 80/20 split on space usage with my 850 square foot house. Reading, video, bathing, and sleeping are most of my time when not at work and probably takes up far less than 200 square feet, it’s the other 20% of the time that needs the other 650 plus.

      Recently paid off the mortgage and am doing the upgrades that needed more cash. Most weeks half the house is in the other half of the house.

      I do have a nice sized attic and shed that accommodate pack rat habits.

      Reply
  21. Hepativore

    Since I live by myself, I do see the appeal of a tiny house as that is all I would need in terms of space as well as my cat and possibly a dog in the foreseeable future. However, I would like a situation to put a tiny house on a huge yard to mess around with growing stuff on.

    Ideally, this is all that I would need, housing-wise, as I do want a garage. However, I would also add a basement foundation as I live in the upper midwest where windstorms and tornados are common and I would not see the need to move it anywhere so I would not put it on a trailer.

    https://www.theplancollection.com/house-plans/home-plan-26358

    Zoning laws for most properties around here specify at least 1,500 square ft. requirements for housing in terms the lot agreement, though.

    Reply
  22. Hana M

    One of my friends is a former nurse who retired and now volunteers with the National Park Service. She did ‘dress rehearsals’ for several summers renting different campers and trucks til she found the combo that suits her best. She also developed her resume as a Park volunteer. She spent two years planning and researching on-road issues like access to healthcare and housing options and downsizing and selling her already modest house and possessions.

    Her research paid off and she loves her life. She spends winter at Parks in Arizona and New Mexico and summers in the Northern plains and Rockies. She does basically six months in the north and six in the south. Many of the Parks she’s worked at are isolated so housing is provided, as well as parking for RVs. Here’s an article with links to the Park Service: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/national-parks-volunteers_b_1948837

    Reply
    1. Hana M

      P.S. I should add that she averages about $25,000 a year in expenses–including gas! Most of that is covered by her Social Security and any extras she need come out of her $200,000 in savings.

      Reply
  23. Tom Bradford

    Here in New Zealand I’m tempted by the converted bus idea – there are always a few about for sale and those I’ve looked at look quite cosy and ‘womb-like’ – which I suspect is one of the attractions.

    Not, however, as a permanent life-style. I’m fortunate enough to be retired, still have my health and sufficient wealth to be able to afford the ‘bus and run it while retaining my conventional home as a base. Too, New Zealand has plenty of scope for touring and is fairly tolerant of the gypsy life-style – it’s the backbone of the tourist ‘experience’.

    But a powerful incentive for me is to have a ‘back-up’ in the event of the major earhquake we’re apparently overdo for in this neck of the woods, and having seen what happened in Christchurch when the earthquake there rendered hundreds of dwellings uninhabitable a ‘back-up’ home that’s earthquake-proof and offers the opportunity to move away if necessary is appealing.

    While not so pressing for me I can imagine that many city-dwellers might appreciate the option of being able to ‘escape’ what might follow in the event of social breakdown in the ‘post-x apocalypse’ scenario.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I am very interested in converting shipping containers into a dwelling but I thought there were a lot more disadvantages to them than what your link indicates. Unless you intend to buy a brand new shipping container [?] — I thought there were problems with residual smells, and possibly residual insecticides and possibly arsenic [?] in the flooring. Other disadvantages include the flat roofs, difficulty cutting windows and consequent weakening of the structure, relative lack of strength in the ‘roof’ covering, and of course rust is a problem. But even it the pair of shipping containers you might assemble were used just for storage, I would think they provide a relatively inexpensive support structure for a roof. I saw a very beautiful design that used a pair of shipping containers to support a Japanese style curved roof with a considerable closed space below it constructed using more conventional materials but making full use of the structural support provided by the walls of the two shipping containers. If you were to add a third shipping container you could construct a classic courtyard interior design. They aren’t built as strong, but the stainless steel refrigerated shipping containers have excellent insulation and handle rust much better.

      I hope those who know more about these things would contribute come critique of container dwellings and links would be very much appreciated. Does anyone know the pros and cons of using shipping popcorn for an insulation layer? I know the stuff is flammable and I suspect it might slowly outgas some nasty stuff — but that’s true of many of the materials used in conventional housing. A shipping container structure, supporting tilt foam concrete with a layer of popcorn between the concrete and the shipping container might work for insulation? What about rust control? — buried zinc? an active opposing battery?

      Reply
      1. Amfortas the hippie

        i looked into those for burying the library…the chems are problematic.
        what i settled on(but never got around to) was a large, 8′ galvanized culvert, to be coated in asphalt with welded ends and a hatch at each end.
        when i was looking(bad tornado year, 15 or so years ago) the whole thing,not including renting the digging/lifting equipment(the biggest charge), would have cost me $2k or so for a 20 x 8 foot underground room.a good chunk of that was shipping the big pipe out here.
        i still think about this, sometimes, when the sky turns green.

        Reply
  24. bob

    “Most tiny houses on wheels are off-grid to some extent’

    This is very deceiving. Things you still need-

    Water

    Electricity

    Heat

    If you can get those things through a muni system, it’s about the same cost as a house. If you have to start to go “off grid” you’re going to be moving lots of water and fuel around, at significant time cost, as well as the cost of fuel for a car. This is not cheaper, or more “sustainable”. It just requires more stuff.

    Trying to heat an old caravan or bus will be VERY expensive, whatever way you try to do it. They are built to be lightweight, which means very little, if any, insulation.

    Throwing a solar panel on the top of a tiny house is also just marketing. There isn’t enough power being produced to do much more than charge a laptop. No way you’re making enough to run fans, pumps or any sort of electric heat. Building a system to handle all that could triple the cost of any of the above examples.

    Reply
    1. offgrid

      I bought a lot with a small garage in a large east coast city and built what I like to call a cabin on it in the back. The lot is located in an area of the city that my neighbors don’t care that I’m in a cabin and not in a house. I don’t have water or power yet. I bring a gallon of water from wok each day and I recharge my batteries for light at work also. I have to shop for food every other day because I don’t have refrigeration at this time. It helps that it’s winter, though so I keep things in a small cooler and that is sufficient. I have a propane heater for heat that works fine since my space is about 56sq feet. I spend about $10 every 10 days to 2 weeks to refill the propane for the heater. It varies due to the mild weather we’ve been having on the east coast. I built a little 4×8 alcove which I use as mudroom/cooking area. I can shower at the university about a mile away as I am an alumni and can use the gym and as a bonus it’s on the way to work so it isn’t any extra time on my commute. I built my cabin for $2300. It’s not complete but it’s livable. I plan to spend about $1000 more to finish it. I figure that even if I sell the lot and garage at some point for the same price that I bought it I’ll be ahead because I haven’t been paying rent or a mortgage. I plan to get electricity in the summer for air conditioning and I’d like to use the garage for a shop space to build things. I don’t own a car and get around by bike. It’s not for everyone but it can be done. I had to borrow a car from a friend while building to get a few things at the lumber yard but the main bulk of the building materials were delivered.

      Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      As you point out some very real constraints to housing is Water, Electricity, and Heat — to which you might add air cooling and dehumidification. What about sewer? Are you a fan of outhouses or some other more pleasant options — septic tanks or digestive septic tanks or … what? The usual three — water, electricity, and sewer are extremely important in appraising property and finding a building loan. All of this raises some interesting questions, especially questions about condominium ownership of real property — not necessarily a dwelling. In the past, the initial impetus drove us toward building a single large facility for water, electricity, and sewer and then running connections from utilities to communities as they were developed. This idea has remained standard and continues to this day — except the state of the art for providing utilities and the scale of the main facility and the length and volume of the connections has grown. The costs for this infrastructure, and its maintenance, fall upon our cities and on home owners tied to this infrastructure. It is not immediately self-evident — to me — that there are tremendous efficiencies of scale in these systems after accounting for the cost of the connections required. Along with utilities charges and property taxes these costs show up in the price of undeveloped land versus the price of undeveloped land tied to water, electricity, and sewer — and add in roads. [I was not surprised to discover how much interest local developers took in local … and — for the larger developers — state politics.]

      I suspect that today the most efficient scale for water, electricity, and sewer may not be far outside the scale a relatively small coop-development might develop.

      Reply
  25. smoker

    Nonetheless, the vast majority of people who live or have lived tiny, view their experience positively, and feel it has greatly enriched their lives, …

    The author, who notes I also stayed in a tiny house. (but not the length of time) really should have qualified that significantly. Looking at that view their experience positively linked piece there’s this, which is apparently that definition of most people (emphasis mine):

    Most of the people I interviewed were in southeast Queensland, but some were in Victoria and Tasmania. The majority were situated in rural or semi-rural areas, although a couple lived in suburban locations (Brisbane and Logan).

    Most were aged in their 20s, or were 55-plus, and were couples or singles, the majority women. A few had children.

    Hadn’t known most of the worlds (or even Australia’s) population lived in those locales. Further down, there’s this, emphasis mine:

    So how do people feel about tiny house life?

    People had lived in their tiny houses from weeks to a couple of years. The majority had only positive things to say about tiny house living. As one respondent enthused:

    From weeks, to a couple of years –okay, so where did they move to after that, why, and how do they afford it after the not insignificant tiny home investment?

    It’s indicative that those cute, promo, tiny home photos, never show anyone living in them, they’re always empty of life, and the camera lens used makes the space look far, far more spacious than it is). Also, from having visited numerous tiny home blogs to see if they ever admit to the true, countless downfalls that exist (particularly if one is single and becomes unexpectedly incapacitated), I notice that more than a few tiny homers are attempting to segue their tiny homing investment (which can have huge hidden, and unhidden, costs of time and money) into some income, so I wouldn’t expect them to down talk tiny homing, until they manage to escape it and write a book™.

    Reply
  26. smoker

    Shorter version of a more detailed post that’s in moderation:

    Nonetheless, the vast majority of people who live or have lived tiny, view their experience positively, and feel it has greatly enriched their lives, …

    The author, who notes I also stayed in a tiny house. (but not the length of time), really should have qualified that significantly.

    Reply
  27. Potato Guy

    We build one bedrooms homes. And rent them out.

    Two thirds of US households are 1-2 people. And we only live in about 600 sq. ft of our homes regardless of size.

    Tiny homes have been well marketed and promoted. They are selling a dream. Good job them.

    City councils are often faced with the discussion and we have been interviewed by local newspapers on the topic. Local zoning covers house size, campers, rv’s, mother-in-laws suites, etc.

    Technology allows for great efficiencies when building new homes. We get 90% efficiency for heating and cooling with a few simple but non traditional building techniques. Adding solar will put our houses off grid quite simply and affordably.

    These homes are very popular and rent quickly. Even in poor neighborhoods. Our design was a demonstration for practical, comfortable living while providing an example of a product which can solve the urban infill problem which has hollowed out our cities.

    It seems everybody wants to downsize, yet there are limited choices available. Apartments, condos, rv’s, tiny houses or the van down by the river are more common than new one bedroom homes.

    Opportunity is unlimited. So are taxes.

    Reply
    1. John Wright

      Can you give some detail on “We get 90% efficiency for heating and cooling with a few simple but non traditional building techniques.”?

      I have an interest as the 2017 Northern California wildfires presented me with a “rebuild the house opportunity”.

      I plan on using SCIP (Surface concrete-insulated panel) construction, which, I believe, fits into the “non-traditional” building technique category (in the USA)

      Fire resistance is very important..

      Reply
      1. Anon

        JW: Getting 90% efficiency is likely referring to the conversion efficiency from solar PV panel DC current conversion to AC current through an inverter. Getting that kind of efficiency in heating is difficult.

        Take a look at this web publication Eco- Home info: http://www.land2plan.com/?page_id=344. The house was designed in 1989 and built in 1990. There are no unique fire-protection features, but it does incorporate numerous energy conservation/accessibility features that you may find helpful in your planning. I’m sure you’re aware that the intensity of the fire storms in the 2017 NorCal firestorms would have likely burned even the Eco-Home to the ground.

        If you want more info send an email to geoman@(place here the www address that’s in the link). Do not include the leading http//.

        Reply
        1. John Wright

          Thanks for the link

          > I’m sure you’re aware that the intensity of the fire storms in the 2017 NorCal firestorms would have likely burned even the Eco-Home to the ground.

          That night (October 9, 2017) is fairly etched in my mind as I watched the neighborhood start to burn in almost a synchronous manner before making a hasty exit.

          Building a concrete walled (and roofed) house with no attic vents should help in surviving another wildfire. I watched as houses burned from the inside as apparently embers were blown into the dry wood framed attics through attic vents. Entire neighborhoods of wood framed houses with seemingly fire resistant exteriors (cement tile roofs, cement stucco exteriors) burned down.

          Reply
          1. smoker

            That devastation must have been a horrifying experience for you. I hope you’re able to rebuild something to live in that might forestand any further disaster in a place you invested so much of your life in.

            Reply
  28. Mo's Bike Shop

    Well, I’d also point out that Tiny Houses are so darn cute. Like a pocket watch or Swiss Army knife, they look so mesmerizingly integrated, with a glamour of simplicity and completeness. But multifunction tools are rarely as good as a does-one-thing-right tool. As noted above, the photos rarely have to people in them. Having to do the dishes to access the bed, or similar, would get tiring quickly. I’ve doodled a lot thinking about what could be done to make a bike-towable camper, but really a sturdy trailer to haul a tent and everything else you need would do it much better for much less.

    So beware the glamour, I’ve personally had enough 2 week RV vacations with the family as a child to be able to resist.

    And as far a mobile living, I’d mention that pop-up camper trailers offer a nice bang for the buck. Not four-season, but relatively compact storage, low tech if you don’t buy something silly, easy to hose out, and you aren’t listening to the dishes jingle every time you go into town.

    Reply

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