What’s the Deal With Tiny Houses?

Ask someone what they’d do with lottery winnings, and they’ll probably grin and say “buy a house.”

In this context, “a house” is usually big. That’s the American dream: work your way up and reap the spoils of your efforts. Or hit the lottery and do it that way. Either way, it’s a dream to be proud of.

At Bold, we agree with that sentiment. We build houses of all sizes, big ones included. But recently, we also helped build a particularly tiny house with Chatham County’s Habitat for Humanity. These houses are ideal for their housing project for the mentally ill: low-cost, small footprint and easily managed.

But even in more traditional homebuying circles, tiny houses are getting popular these days. While the notion of purposely giving up space can seem a bit strange, the trend has a lot of logic behind it.

In their purest form, tiny homes have been around forever, idealized in popular culture with places like Thoreau’s cabin. However, the recent movement arguably has its roots in the 80s and 90s, with books like Tiny Tiny Houses and The Not So Big House. Their authors asked questions about increasing home sizes as family sizes decreased. Tiny homes are now popular enough to cover Pinterest feeds and even have a version of TLC’s House Hunters.

Modern tiny homes are partially a throwback to that retro aesthetic, to the romanticized idea of the cabin in the woods. However, they also have many practical applications.

For one, tiny homes are much more affordable. As evidenced by our HFH project, this makes them particularly appealing for outreach programs and nonprofits. Their low cost means they use less materials, which makes them more sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Tiny homes are also useful where land is scarce, particularly in urban areas. In addition to land shortages, many urban areas are extensively developed, pricing lower income citizens out. This has been applied internationally, particularly in Tokyo.

Obviously, tiny houses present some challenges. Five hundred square feet is hard enough for a couple, let alone a family of four. They can also drive down property values in the surrounding area, or conflict with local zoning ordinances.

Even if you would never live in one, tiny homes are fascinating architectural studies. They’re test beds for how to make normal homes more efficient and well-designed. And they’re just so darn cute.