The Tiny Home Movement

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Colorado has quickly become a national hub for the Tiny House Movement. It could be due to the beautiful year round weather, its geographical location in the country, or that Colorado is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious. Pair that with a population of outdoor enthusiasts, and tiny houses are a perfect fit.

Steamboat, CO in Routt County has recently become interested in integrating tiny houses into its community. Like other areas of the country, Routt County is just in their hesitation to allow tiny homes, namely because they are quite a new phenomenon and for the most part have lacked regulation during the building phase. Along with the rest of the country, certain aspects of these homes must be taken into consideration, but to begin with, why go tiny? Why are so many people building and buying tiny homes with mostly no where to legally live in them?

Increasing numbers of people are fascinated by tiny homes because of how they function. Everything one needs is packed into, say, 200 square feet. The design aspects are exciting, thought provoking, and oh so practical. Minimalism in every way is sweeping the online community at large and tiny houses fit in perfectly. Tiny homes have become a subject of opportunity, and that is possibly the main reason to build tiny.

Millennials and retiring baby boomers have this in common. The choice to let go of excessive belongings, downsize, and live a more simple lifestyle is often a goal for both age demographics. Tiny houses offer the opportunity to save more and spend less. Additionally, Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOW) are mobile, so folks who don’t know where they want to put down roots feel comfortable investing in a THOW. Tiny houses offer retirees more options to live remotely, in their children’s backyard, or to have a second home.

Many people are drawn to THOW because of their minimal environmental footprint. Most tiny houses function with a grey water system, propane appliances, and even small solar arrays. They can be off-grid or hooked up to the grid easily. This diversity allows for tiny homes to be placed basically anywhere, however the zoning departments in most cities do not allow tiny houses to be lived in full time. This is due to the fact that by definition, THOW are on a trailer and therefore are mobile and considered similar to an RV.

Despite the fact that tiny houses are built like “big” houses, except for the foundation being a trailer, they can be built to function well in cold climates unlike RVs. Their wall systems are built with maximum R-value (measure of insulation) and built to look like small homes constructed with high-quality materials. The Tiny House Movement has been progressing quite rapidly in every way. Only four years ago most tiny houses were built without plumbing and grey-water systems, and now issues like mold due to high levels of condensation within tinies are surfacing. This is directly related to the fact that tiny houses are built super tight, without wall systems that allow moisture to escape and also don’t allow moisture to settle into the walls. Continuous ventilation units are just starting to be installed into tiny homes to refresh the air within the space and minimize moisture accumulation. These Energy Recovery Ventilation units are key to keep the inhabitants breathing healthy fresh air and to mitigate possible mold growth. It’s only a matter of time before these will be a necessary aspect of each build, much like plumbing is now.

The Healthy Tiny House Kit designed by Isabelle Nagel-Brice in collaboration with MainStream Corp. in Berthoud, CO is leading the way nationally in the effort to build with high-performance materials, which alleviate the fairly new building issues that tiny houses are facing. Increasingly more tiny house builders are coming around to understand the building science that’s backing green-building, and how it works perfectly with tiny homes and the passionate people who buy them. In the last year or so, companies have been built around the necessity to have common building codes and certifications specific to THOW. This enables not only builders to follow codes and building regulations across the board, but also for local governments to feel comfortable with the materials and safety regulations of each home. Insurance agencies are also more keen on insuring a certified tiny home, taking the wild card aspect out of tiny homes ensures safety for the inhabitants and community around them. Additionally, a new section in the 2018 International Residential Codes known as Appendix Q will add guidance on how to build a tiny house properly and safely. This appendix has been created and pushed through by various tiny house enthusiasts whose goal is to add clarity when building a tiny home. This first step relates only to tiny houses on foundations, not on wheels. Future proposals for THOW codes will be addressed at a later date.

Two of the most difficult aspects of wanting a tiny house is that lending to build or buy is challenging to find, as is a legal place to park and live in them. Both challenges are tied together, and if cities change their zoning laws to allow tiny houses as backyard cottages and create specific plots for tiny house communities then the lending will follow. Or, if lending becomes easier to obtain, then more people will build and buy tiny homes, therefore adding increased pressure on local zoning codes to allow tiny homes. The current issue is that tiny houses aren’t considered permanent dwellings and that properties with a “big” house don’t have zoning in place to allow an additional dwelling on the same property. Both of these barriers need to be changed to allow tiny homes as permanent residences.

Fresno, CA is a perfect example of a city who changed their zoning codes to allow tiny homes as backyard cottages. Fresno legalized THOW in a way that allows them to be exactly as they are with little to no alteration. The trend to have less of an environmental footprint and go tiny isn’t going anywhere. As the legality issues begin to shift in 2018, more people will have access to live exactly how they want and cities like Steamboat will be able to offer more diverse housing opportunities. Tiny homes are a step towards reducing our environmental impact, allowing alternative forms of housing, and supporting generations of people who wish to live a more simple lifestyle.

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