Close your eyes and picture your dream house: Chances are, it was something like a palatial estate, a seaside villa or some rambling old mansion with enough columns, pediments, balconies and swimming pools to make Emperor Nero green with envy.
Now picture paying all the the heating bills on it. And paying the air-conditioning, water and electric bills. And paying for the general maintenance and upkeep. Oh, and let's not forget taxes. Suddenly, your dream house is becoming a nightmare, right?
Welcome to the tiny house movement.
Coming Home to a Tiny House
Variously called micro-house or a mini-home, these small-footprint estates are upending the stupefying rush to gargantuan McMansions (yes, finally) that has defined suburban America since the 1970s, when the average new house was 1,780 square feet -- by 2007, that size had exploded to more than 2,400 square feet.
A quick glance at recent trends will tell you why people are falling in love with these 300-square-foot -- and smaller -- micro-houses. First of all, people are delaying having children, or deciding to have none at all. And few parents today are having families with more than 3 kids.
Additionally, many households today are made up of just one person. (Recent reports indicate almost half the residences in Manhattan are single-person households.) Children grow up and leave, spouses die, marriages end in divorce -- the nuclear family as a domestic paradigm went away about the time "Leave It to Beaver" went off the air.
Additionally, the burgeoning green movement has created an awareness of the immediate and long-term costs associated with the size, waste and energy consumption that are inherent in large houses. Add to these the growing realization that the price of gas and oil isn't going down anytime soon, and you have a world crying out for less.
What's It Like Inside a Micro-House?
Some of the world's most innovative designers and architects are creating tiny homes and mini-houses that are sleek, attractive, comfortable, inexpensive and roomy enough for a couple -- or, in some cases, a small family (no, I don't mean Hobbits).
Most of these micro-houses, which can be as large as 600 square feet, are one-room affairs. The bed either doubles as a sofa, is elevated in a loft -- many small homes boast high ceilings -- or somehow folds up or tucks away when not in use (think Murphy Bed). The kitchen sink and cabinetry is against one wall. Add a small table or desk, and voila -- you've got everything you could need.
And the bathroom? No, it's not an outhouse. Most tiny house plans have a small but fully functional bathroom with a shower instead of a tub. As in the kitchen, bathroom fixtures and appliances are typically smaller in size, or may be eliminated entirely -- dishwashers, for example, are usually absent in mini-house kitchens, as are full-size refrigerators.
The upside of all this down-sizing is cost: Most tiny homes can be built for under $60,000, and some are as inexpensive as $30,000. That's a far cry from the $200 per square foot that many builders charge for a typical suburban house, which can cost as much as $400,000 for a simple, 3-bedroom home.
Can You Build Your Own Tiny House?
Sure, why not? The tiny house movement has attracted a lot of interest from handymen and DIY-ers, who love the idea of building their own home, either from a kit or from easy-to-order house plans.
And depending on the manufacturer, micro-homes can also be pre-fabricated off-site and shipped directly to a building lot, where they are connected to utilities by local contractors. And speaking of utilities, many municipalities don't even require homes under a certain size to conform to local building codes. Those considering a micro-house should check with any local permitting authorities or building department.
If you're keen to find out more, connect with these well-known builders and designers of micro-homes: