To buy, or not to buy, a tiny house on wheels? That is the question...
I’ve recently been looking at Tiny Homes for sale, mostly THOW's, but first, the background.
As a single woman approaching the “big 3-0”, and especially with current events forcing changes in everyday life, I realize how lucky I’ve been to spend the majority of my 20’s freely wandering the world and experiencing different cultures. I’ve been able to get a better understanding of the planet, people, myself - and to truly know just how important it is to aim for a more sustainable lifestyle and cut down on traveling! Not that we really have a choice right now in 2020 – but hey, it's slightly easier knowing there's a reason that's beyond our control!
Yes World, surprisingly Reb may just be ready to settle down at last!
With this in mind, the idea of buying and living in a Tiny Home caught my eye when I was deliberating how to possibly become (gasp!) a responsible homeowner.
The Tiny House Movement has become a bit of a craze over the past few years in the US where I’ve been living, especially since reality TV channels started airing shows such as Tiny House, Big Living, Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Nation to mention just a few. As much as this may come across as an appealing and sustainable lifestyle choice on the surface, I couldn’t help but wonder if choosing a Tiny home on wheels was really my best first rung up the homeowner ladder, so I decided to investigate further. Here are the questions I looked for answers to, in no particular order, with with what I discovered.
So what are Tiny Houses exactly?
A Tiny House is generally considered to be 400 square foot or under, which is a stark contrast when compared to the average U.S. and Canadian-sized houses at 2,386 and 1,792 square feet respectively.
Tiny Homes on wheels can be rented or owned, and in some places like Seattle, Tiny Houses are being promoted as a way of putting a permanent roof over the heads of the homeless – which may in part be why some of my friends consider them as having a bit of an image problem. Some people even opt to design and build their own Tiny Homes – leading to some very whacky creations! This is when the first tiny red flag started waving in my mind.
Where can you live in a Tiny House?
Theoretically, just about anywhere, as Tiny Homes can either be sited somewhere permanently, or built on wheels, the latter seems to suggest moving them like a trailer. (More on that later.)
Many consist of a bedroom area which is usually situated up a set of clever stairs that double as storage, and in what you would call the “attic” space of the house, (like getting dressed in a hiking tent – horizontally, yeah), a tiny shower room, and an open living room/kitchen area.
They provide a minimalist lifestyle approach, but be warned - minimal really means minimal - they likely won't have a real washing machine, or any spare room to store your holiday decorations, and you can forget ever being able to bulk buy food (or apocalypse toilet paper) again, so best cancel that Costco or Sam's Club membership if going Tiny!
Why consider buying a Tiny House?
Most people choose the Tiny Home lifestyle due to financial and/or environmental concerns, or maybe a bit of both. From the short to mid-term affordability aspect, it potentially looks like a really good choice.
There are currently a high percentage of people in the US and Canada that live paycheck to paycheck, with most of their wages going towards a mortgage or rent, and household bills. Many of these people are also young(ish) like me – and in my experience the closer younger people get to areas with the best employment or education prospects, the more it costs to live. A lot more. Take Vancouver, my home for the last 3 years as an example - There is no way I could afford to live in the downtown core!
Tiny Houses – are they a great way to save money?
Living in a Tiny home could drastically lower monthly household bills, and you might even be mortgage-free if building it as a DIY project. This could give you the opportunity to put a healthy amount of your wage into your savings account, and after the first couple of years of living in your Tiny home, it would potentially have paid for itself.
At least that’s the dream all these TV programs would have us believe.
The financial reality of Tiny House living – Location, Location, Location!
Unfortunately, the reality often falls short of this heady goal when you consider where one’s perfect Tiny House can be located! Back to the costly side of living near big cities – where either the land is prohibitively expensive, or the rent to park a Tiny Home with wheels on it is, or it’s not even allowed except for in some pretty seedy looking RV parks – usually near noisy railway tracks or ports. Personally, thanks but no thanks to that idea, I value my sleep too much!
If you are hoping to build a permanent Tiny House – again, sorry to burst any bubbles, but in most of the US and Canada, building code won’t allow a Tiny House to be built in a truly more affordable way because homes should meet a minimum standard of construction. Add that all-important land back into the equation and it’s a total non-starter unless it’s off-grid in some tiny town in the back of beyond.
All the same – if you do find that Nirvana where you can park or build a Tiny House that you can afford and that’s legal, it goes without saying that a smaller home is going to be easier to maintain. And it won’t cost as much in the way of upkeep or heating – well at least if it’s well-built and well-insulated that is.
See why so many people are fascinated by the concept of Tiny Homes on wheels but so relatively few actually ever live in one?
How Much do Tiny Homes Cost?
SO many people ask the question “How much do Tiny Homes cost?” – and nobody can accurately answer that question without asking a host of other questions in return. Generally speaking and having investigated possibly buying a Tiny House for far too long, I would answer like this – a Tiny House costs pretty much whatever a buyer is prepared or able to pay!
I’ve literally wasted hours on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and various specialist Tiny Homes for sale websites, and I’ve seen many homes that looked fabulous on the pictures – only to discover when viewing that the photos were taken 4 years, 2 kids and a big dog and 20 000 kilometers ago. Buyer beware indeed!
I’ve viewed free Tiny Homes in BC Canada, and even seen $80 000 dollar palaces on wheels down in Washington State, and the only thing I’ve concluded is that NOBODY can put an accurate dollar value on a Tiny Home – another thing to add to my potential “Buying a Tiny House” anxiety levels and a check in the “No” column.
Is Towing a Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) easy?
If you do choose to live in a Tiny House with wheels, (called a THOW to those in the know) it gives you the freedom to travel around the country with your home - whether it be for a career move, adventure, or even a bit of both. While this is not the most eco-friendly thing to do, the option is at least theoretically there and that's cool!
But here I am again bubble bursting – sorry! – The uncool truth is that most Tiny House owners I’ve spoken to generally HATE towing their Tiny Houses around. It’s pretty tricky to secure everything, the homes are heavy, you need a huge gas-guzzling truck, and not least of all, they get pulled over a lot by the cops! The problem here is that THOW’s frequently break the weight and size rules for what’s legal to tow around the US and Canada. To make matters, worse, those rules often change from one State to another! All in all, another harsh reality that sounds like a reason for a hard pass on a Tiny House to me!
Can Tiny House living reduce my carbon footprint?
Static Tiny Homes (including THOW’s that don’t actually move) do have the potential to help you dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Less space means that you don't need as much ‘stuff’ (which I am sure that we can all agree on we have far too much of), and you also consume less energy and building materials for the home in which you live.
I read one study that shows that if you downsized to a Tiny Home you would reduce your energy consumption by 45%. If you choose to design and build your own Tiny Home, you can make sure all the building materials you use are sustainably sourced too, for example using FSC certified sustainably-grown wood and non-toxic materials.
What kind of person could live in a Tiny House?
Tiny Homes, in my opinion, would ideally suit a single person looking to live a simpler life or a minimalistic couple with no immediate plans to extend their family, all assuming you can find a suitable building lot to put a Tiny Home on that is.
And this is where a Tiny House on a proper foundation could work, because if you chose to extend your family in any way, shape or form, and if you build a Tiny Home to the principles of flexible house design on a permanent site, you could always look at extending it into a bigger home to accommodate your growing needs in the future.
I think I speak for us all by saying that having more financial freedom and helping the environment is a win/win.
Why a Tiny Home might not be a good choice?
As affordable as they may seem at the start, to put it into perspective, professionally manufactured Tiny Houses can cost around $400 per square foot, whereas the cost per square foot when building a regular house is generally around $200 - 250.
Just like building a regular house, if a Tiny House is built on a foundation, it will still need to meet minimum code requirements. Most cities don't allow Tiny Homes on wheels to be parked in residential yards, or even used as a permanent residence without the appropriate permits or zoning. Some Tiny House owners choose to purchase land, but however you go about it, permits will probably be required and this can be both time consuming and costly.
Also worth mentioning noting, is that obtaining building permits from cities can be a bit like navigating your way through a minefield - I'm the first to admit that I’m useless when it comes to that side of things. You should also bear in mind that each city will have different permitting requirements, so it is always good to do your research into this side of things before making any decision to live Tiny.
But here’s the thing – with all that said about the difficulties of bringing a Tiny House to fruition, the biggest and major worry that I have with Tiny Homes is that while it seems like it is a cheap, money saving option in the short term, in the long run it’s unlikely that it will turn out that way.
Tiny Houses on Wheels may end up costing more, not less
To explain, Tiny Homes on wheels are assets like cars - they are most likely to deteriorate and depreciate over time - whereas regular real estate tends to appreciate. As anybody who has ever owned an RV or a boat in a damper climate knows, water leaks, high humidity from cramming too many people in a small space, and the damage and mold that can cause can be simply horrid, as well as adversely affecting health because of mold allergies. That's why Ecohome recommends that any Tiny Houses are systematically built with ductless mini ERV units as well as to the minimum code for water barriers and insulation for the areas it may be sited and lived in.
You should therefore realize that it could be difficult if you ever wanted to sell your Tiny Home on wheels as there are likely not as many potential buyers as for regular real estate. This could pose a bit of a problem if you were needing to move for a specific reason, were on a limited timeframe, and didn’t want to lose too much money.
It’s definitely worthwhile weighing the options carefully and realistically as to whether a Tiny House is likely to be a good investment if you’re putting together a workable financial life-plan for the future.
Is living in a Tiny House difficult?
In short, leading a minimalistic lifestyle is harder than it seems. You must accept that you wouldn't be able to buy that cute home decoration, expand your kitchenware, or buy those new outfits you've seen – and some might counter that that’s a good thing. Storage is very limited when it comes to Tiny Homes, and if you have to pay for storage elsewhere to keep all the items you just couldn't part with, it defeats the whole purpose of living in a Tiny House in the first place.
I’ll admit that this would be such a huge challenge for me, I’m a sucker for holding onto family and personal memorabilia and I don’t even want to count how many pairs of shoes and purses I own! With limited space it would also be unlikely that you would be able to entertain guests properly or to your usual standard. Again, this would be a difficult choice for me to make.
As much as I like to think that I’m a bit of a lone wolf, and while I know that I cope well living alone in the middle of nature, I’m admittedly more a people-person and I wouldn't like that It would be too difficult to have multiple friends and family members over to show off my beautiful new home to at the same time.
You should also be aware that you would probably have to deal with either a composting toilet or a holding tank which requires maintenance, can be costly, and well – who has the time or inclination to deal with that? (Not me for sure!) On a side note to this, you would also have limited privacy for such things, but hey, that doesn't bother everyone right?!
How do kids and pets cope with Tiny House life?
If children and/or pets are on your agenda, or if you are already blessed to have them, I would recommend living in a Tiny home for a holiday first before committing - just to be sure that it’s a lifestyle you feel you and they can cope with. If accommodating several suitcases and their contents plus a big wet and hairy hound is a struggle for a long weekend, imagine being there full time!
It also goes without saying that children are messy, and your Tiny Home will become messier a lot faster than if you were living in a standard sized home – plus that mess is going to be in the only room in the house that's impossible to close a door on and run away from. It is also worth testing out whether your animal would adapt well to living in such small quarters, especially if you own a big pet, as we all know animals need space for their daily zoomies!
Is a Tiny Home on wheels a good choice then or not?
While Tiny Homes are usually made to be around 8.5 feet wide to adhere to road regulations, I’ve concluded that it’s probably not a good idea to take them on the road very often – if at all. The one main problem of this is that it’s just not environmentally friendly - you would likely have to have the heavy-duty version of a truck to be able to tow all but the smallest Tiny House, and those kinds of vehicles are terrible for fuel consumption – or worse still, they are belching out carcinogenic and asthma-provoking diesel fumes.
So, despite having good intentions for a more sustainable or affordable lifestyle, traveling around with your Tiny Home hooked up to the back of your $70k super-duty truck does not bode well for the environment, due to the unacceptable carbon emissions, nor the bank balance after paying for the gas.
From owners experiences, moving a THOW also puts a lot of wear on Tiny Home structures and relationships! For example, one couple I spoke to managed to jam theirs under a gas station canopy first time out! Most honest amateurs who have towed a multi-ton trailer would confess to being pretty nervous about it, and it sure wouldn't be my idea of fun!
Seriously, if traveling is in your future plans, you might want to consider leaving the Tiny Home where it is and buy an R.V. or a trailer instead, as that is what they are designed for. With Tiny Homes becoming increasingly popular for two/three night stays, you could always investigate turning your Tiny Home into a vacation rental while you’re traveling. A little extra income from home never hurt anyone!
Platforms such as Instagram or Airbnb would be a fantastic way to grow the rental side of things if you choose to go down that path – and would probably save a few grey hairs too.
In short, and after careful consideration to answer the above question, I’ve concluded that no, Tiny Homes on wheels are not what I would call good in my book. If you do decide to go down the Tiny home route, keeping it sited permanently in one place would be the more sustainable (and less stressful) option, though I’m unconvinced that it’s even the best option as a permanent residence.
As great of an idea as Tiny Homes could be, and as much as it fits a certain aesthetic while exuding a carefree and charming lifestyle choice, in reality, is living this way likely to be sustainable in the long run? Is it a worthwhile investment? Would I ever sleep nights?
In my opinion, these questions can only be answered by each individual. Ultimately it boils down to what type of person you are as to how well you would cope with it, and what I can only describe as the many downsides of Tiny House living.
TL;DR – A Tiny Home isn't for me (and here's why)
For me personally, as much as I would enjoy the potential financial freedom a Tiny House can offer, and think that they’re cute as a concept, this kind of lifestyle as a single pragmatic woman isn’t for me. It could be said I over-think things. Maybe.
But in all honesty, one of my main reasons for opting out of Tiny House living is that I’d feel way too guilty for my ginger cat Alan, who’s far too used to wide open areas and being a bit of a lunatic - especially when it comes down to his daily “mad half hour”.
“Crazy cat lady” I hear you say; a label which I am more than happy to wear. I know I speak for many women of my generation when I say that as Alan is my fur-baby and his welfare is a priority, my hands are tied.
Don't judge me. This is Alan, just look at that face! (Squeeeeeeee :)
Also, as I'm a sucker when it comes to animals, and in an ideal world I would have my house filled with all the rescue animals I can cram in, so while I'm still hoping to one day make this dream a reality, a larger-sized home is the one for me – even if only slightly bigger.
Considering a Tiny House has definitely been worthwhile, as I now know that a smaller-than-average sized regular home, or a beautiful Architect designed Zero Energy Ready Prefab Home for sale would still enable me to live a relatively minimalistic and sustainable lifestyle - but would also provide me with a decent investment and the room to entertain and grow my family in the future. I feel like this is where I’m most likely heading then - wish me luck, and don't hesitate to comment below if you think differently, if you've tried it and failed, or if you're loving Tiny living!
Now you know more about buying a Tiny Home on wheels and why I decided not to live in a Tiny House
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