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A Cautionary Tale on Tiny Houses

This Cautionary Tale on Tiny Houses is a Guest Post by Allan Cerf

Like what I hope is a large majority of tiny house enthusiasts, I really want to live in a smaller space. The notion that I don’t have to immediately buy a ‘McMansion’ or even a ‘normal’ say, 2100 square foot home (following the sad, bitter end of a relationship), and that I can be happier in a 600 foot or even smaller space, was what fired my- and probably your- interest in such small dwellings.

Discovering the Realities of Tiny Houses

The reality of what I have found has been not shocking (I’m too old to be shocked) but extremely disappointing.  Full disappointment kicked in following my visit to Portland’s ‘thriving’ and unified Tiny House community the last week in December 2012. What I discovered is that such a community doesn’t exist. Oh, there are tiny houses to be sure but the unity… not so much.  This is underscored by just who actually lives in these homes as well as the owner’s vision for these Lilliputian dwellings. Therein lies the rub: The owners and the dwellers’ are usually not the same. But I get ahead of myself.

Portland Oregon and a Cautionary Tale on Tiny Houses

Photo Credit Dan Klimke

My Ex did, to her credit, a lot of the leg work in locating tiny houses throughout the world from 2010-2011. I did most of the reality checks. She and I in the dying embers of our days together investigated virtually every type of tiny house; container, trailer, mobile, ship, houseboat – in places as far flung as the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., to England (where I had long owned a ‘real,’ small home) to Australia, China and Beyond. The fruits of this research which I’ll enumerate were surprising enough (though it should not have been if you stop to think) but it was when I tried to fix meetings to actually see Tiny Homes that the blinders I was hopefully wearing, went up. But I get ahead of myself…

In Praise of IKEA and their Small Space Designs

You read right.  For those who wonder about the well, tiny space they might inhabit and “can we do it?” the answer in Europe in general and IKEA in particular is a thunderous “yes, we can!”

Europeans have for centuries mastered the art of living small, and continue to do so. While no one of course, has to buy IKEA furnishings, the tiny newbie could do worse and possibly no better, than to visit his/her local IKEA who both label the size of tiny spaces (“my home, 320 square feet,” says one sign) and praise them.

As someone whose both owned and lived abroad, it’s no joke: Danish hotels, Italian Pensiones, to my own 150 year old job in East Anglia, Great Britain – the size thing is NOT going to be a stumbling block for most. As IKEA demonstrates with consummate ingenuity – again, I offer no opinion on their furnishings – this small house living thing can be done and done brilliantly. 

Reality (Really) Bites! The Author Enumerates his Research ‘Fruit’

This section of my article is just blunt bullet points, not necessarily by significance.

  • With regard to container homes, the worried, gruff – if extremely helpful world’s authority says: “Don’t do it.”  If you do, prepare to pay a huge fee* to weatherize the inside of the containers. Finally and (the reason he says don’t do it) one must get to know, lobby and otherwise court the city or town council where one hopes to plant a container home. Who of us has the time, funds, and in some cases guts, to fight this tough – but winnable battle?  (*Huge fee is an understatement. GIGANTIC.)
  • Regarding insurance for tiny homes built to be moved yes, I know certain insurance companies say they will and may indeed, insure these hummers but all the insurance companies I’ve spoken to point out that their adjustors might on instruction, fight tooth and nail to not pay in the event of an accident. In other words, NONE that I spoke to have had to investigate a claim relating to a tiny house/trailer accident. Worst case, the insurers told me: No payout and criminal liability if your home injures – God forbid – other motorists.
  • No municipality that I know of including Portland – and folks, no names but I talked to the local civic authorities in Portland well in advance of my trip EVER envisions allowing a tiny house to ‘front.’ That is, be placed on the street, next to a ‘normal’ house.  Property values and that.  If YOU inherited a McMansion or normal house, would you want a tiny house fronting next to yours?
  • In Portland, I’m informed by elected officials who set the codes, that Tiny Homes are quasi legal and ‘tolerated’ “for now.”
  • THE DETAILS! The bloody practical details! Even in Portland, the most ‘welcoming’ of all cities (palpably untrue) of tiny houses, there were simple details badly overlooked by those hoping to set up tiny: the water down there, the secondary water one might plumb, somehow, into a tiny home for bathing, has been deemed dangerous. In other words; in pioneering the tiny house movement there are all sorts of logistical impediments – most of them probably damned good ones the pioneers will have to overcome.
  • Conspiracy?  Nah. Following on the point above, what I have found is not an ‘aversion’ to tiny homes by folks with ‘regular’ dwellings, nor the local city council, nor really, anyone. As the secondary water issues perfectly illustrates, municipal code is a very complicated thing, perfected over 2000 + years. Factually the ancient Romans had a lot of the same regs. No, in all my nationwide phone work as well as my three in person visits across 2 huge states, the concern by the City Fathers and Mothers is that the tiny house folks have a safe way to try and make this work. And if they ever do make it work, that they do so in a way that respects the normal and McMansion home owners who generally, aren’t the enemy, folks.
  • This point is vital because it confuses so many of us tiny house folks. What about the glowing reviews of tiny houses in places like Portland by the City Council, Environmental Code Employees, etc? Dude! Do your fact checking. Portland, Oregon authorities are enthusiastic about TINY HOUSES fully plumbed, on the property of existing normal homes. And their “ringing endorsements” are quoted out of context – by the ears of tiny folks, me included, who hear what they want to hear: “Smaller spaces make sense,” is what the Portland Folks told NPR radio, nothing more. They were speaking in fact – about a retirement home the owner of a McMansion built down on his OWN property. Somehow this was blogged out of context and went viral as “Portland welcomes Tiny Homes.”

The ‘Rub’ on Tiny Houses

Now comes the bitter disappointment part.   Here is what I have found talking to various owners of tiny homes, names withheld:

The owner in Berkeley with the McMansion of Tiny’s – 600 + luxurious feet, is blunt in saying her tiny home is “the latest” way to derive rental income, period. (Her ‘tiny’ cost a not- tiny $100K by the way.)

  • The honest builder of tiny homes near Santa Cruz, California, a basically nice young man said, “All the Santa Cruz tiny home owners, ALL of them could be asked to be gone, tomorrow.” More critically he added, “I asked the council what would it cost to go legit,” and get hooked up officially to water. The answer he received? Fifty grand just for the planning to get hooked up. Folks, sounds silly but what possible reason would someone building tiny homes exclusively for use in/around Santa Cruz have for exaggerating?
  • Topping all, last week in Portland, the owner of a tiny I paid a call on made a Freudian slip and said as she proudly showed me her empty tiny home, (the renter was abroad doing truly noble work for the poor) “I could NEVER live in one of these.” And at 150 feet, very few families could.

And that’s the rub, friends. Few to none of the owners I’ve spoken to nationwide live permanently in tiny homes. Many are afraid that folks wanting to view them will “turn me in.” Almost all view small houses as the means to rental income.  Period. And talk about catty! And talk about how do I know if they even have tiny homes! The woman in Washington State who says “Only her houses are livable” well, when I said I’d be in Portland and would cross over the line to Washington state, Poof! Our agreed appointment evaporated, “uh, I may be on a month-long Christmas vacation,” she said. Oh, she did email me 4-5 ways to live “off the radar” all of which are seriously illegal, and some flat-out dangerous.  Even the nice young builder-dude near Santa Cruz said “Uh, I don’t currently have any in stock that’s good for you to see.”  Huh?

There are alternatives.. Regular, small homes on a foundation, on the grid. But you have to be willing to relocate to areas which might work for a single person like me. But families? Houseboats. Uh, mooring fees, dude. Big ones. And, families, on a boat?

I know the above because I did the homework, the pioneering and drove specifically to the showcase community for the tiny house movement, Portland, Oregon. And found, what? No such organized movement, no legal status, very nice (indeed the ONLY nice people I spoke with) City Officials who are bluntly skeptical about the Portland Tiny House Movement and have been quoted by all of us hearing what we want to hear – wildly out of context.

Someday, the United States must, in my view, slow population growth and up urban planning, big time. (Oh! How I long to spill the beans on my home town, Berkeley’s Urban Planning Committee and their grossly misleading statements about tiny houses. However, I cannot.) In that future there indeed may be a place or even a requirement for tiny homes. That day ain’t here yet.

This Cautionary Tale on Tiny Houses is a Guest Post by Allan Cerf

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 148 comments… add one }
  • john
    January 7, 2013, 11:04 am

    Great story, and one we all need to know. Tiny houses are an ideal many aspire to, but the reality is often not what we dream or envision.
    It can be done, but tiny home dwellers will always be a ‘fringe’ element in society, think back on gypsies…they were the first to become both travelers and a community. They were often forced to leave towns and villages as the life they wanted did not meet the standards of their neighbors, tiny home owners are very similar this way. It’s true that we may devalue the property of neighbors, this is always going to be a point of contention between us. Land owners will always win in a battle between ‘fringe’ folks and established city dwellers/ home owners as they have the city officials and laws on their side.
    With money i’m sure it’s going to be possible to create communities for tiny homes out in the country…unfortunately money is going to be a problem, there are those with the money to fund projects that will make it legal and accepted if very separate from city folks and regular homes. Then there are the rest of us without such funds to build a modern community in a legal way, we are the majority…we will need to pay to become a part of a legal community or we will be rogues who live outside the laws and codes…and that’s no way to live.
    Tiny home communities are probably going to be seen as mobile home parks in the eyes of the public, it’s really the only way to classify them within the existing legal system.
    The public does not really like mobile home parks, they are seen as blights on their city…and some really are, filled with transients and the poor, mismanaged, run down…but some are well kept and managed well. The problem is they all begin as well run and clean parks, but then some go downhill…city councils don’t want the rundown parks and can’t tell which will be which so as a rule they frown on them. It will always boil down to money and history…
    Tiny home folks are not bad people, we are revolutionaries…we aim to leave a system we see as excessive, overindulgent, over priced, and that threatens the system cities and towns have in place…as they see it…right now it is drawing the interest of idealists and environmentalists, but it will also draw the poor and the lazy once the hard work of making tiny homes accepted is complete…i think officials see this potential as a huge liability if they allow tiny homes…no community wants to attract the poor or the lazy…so i see why they have issues with tiny homes. Of course no city official is going to admit that this is their true motive, politics and truth are no friends.
    Having a tiny home on the property of an existing home is kind of like having a sponsor, someone already under the laws and regulations of the town or city they live in, and can be forced to correct any perceived violations of code or sensibility. This is probably the only avenue that will open to tiny home dwellers in the near future if they want to live in cities or towns…in the country private land owners have always had more freedom, again, money…if you have it life is easier regardless of the home you choose to live in.

    • January 7, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Wake up call… more people are joining the ranks of the ‘poor’ every day because of the economy! Being poor is not a character flaw & lumping it in the same sentence with being lazy is very telling on your part!
      I’m what others would classify as ‘poor’, raising a daughter on what is seen as an income far below the ‘poverty level’. I’m not lazy by any stretch of the imagination & am building my tiny house to live in after my youngest leaves for college, if she decides she wants to go. We live in a modest 2 bedroom apartment, have all the necessities & some luxuries. We’re quiet, pay our bills, respect our neighbors, keep our place cleaner than a lot of the homeowners around us who have money do & don’t live above our means.
      What I consider luxuries are considered necessities to most people because they buy into the consumer culture & think they MUST have certain things. Take cars for example, a car is not a necessity. I don’t have a car & live in an area with no public transportation, so I bike everywhere… to work, grocery store, bank, wherever I need to go because I’ve set up my life to be able to travel that way. I don’t have to pay for gas, insurance, upkeep or repairs & if need be I could buy a brand new bicycle for a fraction of the cost of most car repairs/upkeep.
      Another example is pay TV, we have a digital tuner that we use for regular TV & Netflix streaming with a ROKU set top box for an added entertainment option for $8 + tax per month. Internet is a necessity for us because my daughter uses it for school work & I use it for my business, but we both have refurbished computers, which work great!
      No fancy smart phones, we have Tracfones for cell service & a MajicJack at home.
      I know I’ll love living in my tiny house because I already live with a lot less than most, and am buying my own property to put it on so I won’t have a lot of the issues stated above.
      Living tiny to me is just another way to live a very rich life without having to have a lot of money!
      It’s just sad the way some see being ‘poor’ as a character flaw…

      • john
        January 7, 2013, 4:56 pm

        I do not see the poor or the lazy as being less than any other person…it was an example of how people see others living in mobile homes and even how they see tiny homes…
        My intention was not intended as a judgement of poor people, but reality dictates we think like our adversary to determine how we will be seen in their eyes…in this way we plan how to best represent, and if necessary, how we defend our position.
        My entire post simply addresses some of the issues, and obstacles we face in wanting to live an alternative lifestyle. Tiny homes are not going to be seen in a good light by people who don’t understand our motives…they will see ‘trailer park’ where we see something entirely different…

        • January 7, 2013, 5:48 pm

          Sorry if I got a little miffed, I just really don’t like how people view the poor. I know what you mean by how others might view our efforts to be more self sufficient. I also know what you’re saying about most trailer parks but where I live in South Florida there are a lot of really beautiful ones here. Some of them are better kept than the neighborhoods with ‘real’ houses!
          It’s very sad to me that we’re all born on the earth, without any say in it, and aren’t granted the right to occupy a space of our own without having to pay someone for it.
          I apologize if I said anything that offended you John.

        • January 12, 2013, 3:15 pm

          I often wonder if $50 per square foot would not be the best qualifier for the poor. Designers/builders of tiny homes should strive to figure how to do a base home at this price point. After some time with Tiny Texas houses I am convinced the answer is probably salvage. No way to buy kitchens/baths for the prices at box stores and hit that price. Rather than all our building history dozed into landfills, we could share pieces we do not need. Try getting THAT past a zoning code.

        • Ashley
          September 11, 2014, 4:11 pm

          We have several branches of Habitat for Humanity Resale stores around St. Louis, I am looking into building something using resale items. And I’m talking about cabinet sets, appliances, lighting, and new or used raw materials. So much stuff is donated, you just have to be near a place that offers that service.

      • john
        January 12, 2013, 4:06 pm

        I think building can be done for a lot less than people think…the key is recognizing your financial status and the decision to not put on pretensions to being wealthier than you are.
        Materials need not be expensive or trendy…we dont need pricey fixtures. A full kitchen can be had at salvage prices, as can bathrooms.
        Vanity is what keeps many from being homeowners, humble and simple homes are perfect for humble and simple people. Even land can be had cheaply if you can convince yourself you don’t need to live in city centers or pricey suburbs…
        People are generally responsible for their own failures as a result of over reaching their means…if your not honest with yourself about your own financial status and ability you will fail at achieving the goal of home ownership wether you build it yourself or buy a home prebuilt…
        I get aggravated when i see friends and family who live well beyond their means and suffer the stress and pressures of financial burdens…self deception to the point of affecting the quality and length of your own life…sacrificed on the alters of ego and vanity…
        Some of the happiest people i know live simple, humble lives…they have simple humble belongings including homes…working overtime to make a better impression, or keeping up with the jones’s is a waste of life and the jones’s couldn’t care less about who you are or what you have.
        Being humble and being poor are not the same, one is a choice and one is a consequence…when you choose you are the driver, when you deal with consequences you are a passenger.

      • Anna
        August 1, 2014, 10:57 pm

        Jennifer, you do know that within most city limits, you must have a permanent structure on a lot in order to inhabit the lot permanently. If you buy a tiny house on wheels, then you can only stay around 3-4 months depending on what state and county you live in.

        • signalfire
          April 24, 2016, 5:26 pm

          And a mere year and a half later, a raving maniac buffoon fascist and a soon-to-be indicted breaker of 60,000 federal intelligence security laws money-grubbing screamer-into-microphones are the likely nominees for the most dangerous job on the planet with free housing paid for by all of us peons! Good Going, ‘Merica! You finally got your priorities straight! But whatever you do, make sure you don’t build what you want to live in on your own property or anything. It’s against the law.

      • Edward
        April 27, 2015, 3:59 am

        Good Stuff Jennifer. I also felt the commenter above you was kind of less than kind in his wording. Good for you and your goals!

        My wife and I are in a similar situation. We already live tiny kind of in a 500 sq ft mother in law house we are renting. We love it! But even still we feel we could go smaller and live more efficiently. We view being independent as tiny home folks the idea. We don’t want children. We want to put up solar but can’t because our house isn’t ours. We want to compost but cant because the land isn’t ours. Plus we would love to garden but the home we are in is in a spill zone from years back of local industry. There are many more things I could mention. We make okay money and are comfortable, but really we want to live life on our own terms without having a monthly check mailed to someone who gets to have our money when we could spend it far more wisely. 😉
        We are planning and prepping to build on our own. We are also looking into buying a piece of land some place but believe it or not that isn’t totally possible either. Minimum Housing Rules almost everywhere are 300 sq ft for ADUs (Alternative Dwelling Units), and usually they are only allowed on sites a home already exists.
        Tiny Home folks, whether idealists, environmentalists, or just people looking to live big by living small…all face an uphill battle in a culture where most people Super Size as much as they can in every facet of their lives. Some of us just want the freedom to think and act freely. =)
        I am told Houston TX doesn’t have many building codes to trip over, and that there is a lot of creativity there in building. But, whether on the East Coast or West Coast….I’m a Yankee, and don’t find other aspects of living too far south lining up with how I want to live. So… we gotta change the spots we all find ourselves in.
        Best of luck to you as you and your daughter find your ideal and freely chosen spot. =)

    • September 9, 2013, 1:39 am

      Ouch. I am most definitely an “undesirable”, as I am poor due to my even more glaring fault of having a mental illness.

      Even so, I read the major, popular Tiny Home blogs to glean information.

      I have solved the hardest problem by purchasing my own property in a hands-off county in Washington State. I will be off-grid as frankly there isn’t any other option there. I am already living Tiny, and am using a lot of the systems that will be necessary once on the property.

      I am poor. I have a mental illness. I will hopefully be able to overlook the nearly constant references to my condition in these blogs and comments, and continue to learn and share my experiences.


      • john
        September 9, 2013, 11:00 am

        Parker, i truly hope you succeed in making a home how and where you choose, doing so without much money is not easy and is Very admirable for even healthy people no matter their illness. Good for you!
        Society is uncomfortable with any deviation from standard in regards to health, wealth, and lifestyle. Especially when it’s something they don’t understand. Mental illnesses from the very minor to the severe are absolutely feared by the public, some understand because until they were diagnosed they remained uneducated, intentionally or not. Fear of the unknown is a big one for human beings.
        Our current society is actually inducing mental illness in many and they can’t see it. Depression and anxiety are rampant as people fall behind farther and farther in what society sees as being successful with these modern standards and expectations.

        • Adam
          August 5, 2015, 8:49 pm

          Very wise words

          It does not matter how hard you try in this society of ours, there is always pressure to maintain the social standard.

          It feels like i can never rest!

      • allan cerf
        September 9, 2013, 1:33 pm

        God Bless and Good Luck Oliver! You’re doing it.

        • Andrew
          November 20, 2013, 1:50 pm

          Allan, I don’t know if you’re still reading comments from this old post, but I’d like to share. I am building a fully permitted stand alone 150 sq. ft. house in Albuquerque. It is near completion. I have completed the final electrical inspection and the water and sewer is being connected this week. I had read a lot about all the problems and work-arounds (most not completely legal) the tiny house “community” faced. So, I was surprised to find no such impediments when I took my plans to the city. The first person that helped me seemed skeptical, but he got out the code book and then talked to his supervisor and they agreed, it meets code. Here, that means you have to have 120 square feet of living space, plus a bathroom. The living space has to include a kitchen and a bedroom, but they can be the same room. Then you have to meet all the clearances for bathroom fixtures (15 inches from center of toilet, XX inches in front of toilet). So, that can all me done in 150 square feet. I suspect that I will have the smallest permitted house in Albuquerque, but if news gets out, maybe not for long. Your point about it being expensive is indeed accurate. It costs the same amount to connect my tiny house to city services as it would to connect a McMansion. The cost might seem trivial if you’re building a McMansion, but it’s a huge portion of the tiny house cost. The water service connection cost just over $5,000 here and that’s just to come out a place the meter, not to connect it to the house. There might not be many cities like Albuquerque that exist, but they’re out there if you keep looking. Thanks for your post.

        • allan cerf
          November 20, 2013, 4:32 pm

          Andrew: That’s fabulous, fabulous news and congratulations. I had been told New Mexico is a prime place. I am still looking but it looks alas; as if a regular but tiny home in Vancouver, WA. Looking more and more that way

    • Nolan
      July 18, 2014, 4:24 am

      You have raised a few good points, but your negative attitude comes through the whole time and it makes it a very hard to read article. I recently went through a divorce too and it made me a bit negative but I think that maybe since you were looking into a tiny house with your wife, maybe every time you looked at a tiny house, you got pissed because it made you think of her?

      I started building a tiny house in reaction to my divorce. As soon as we got married, my wife seemed to want to move from our small rental into much larger houses that we could barely afford, and she wanted me to be home more, as in working less. I just didn’t see how the two things could happen at the same time. There were more issues of course, but the general theme was that she would want two things that were mutually exclusive, so there was no way I could make her happy. I feel your pain, but this is how I reacted.

      After the divorce, I decided to build a tiny house (That she would have thought was really cute, but would never consider living in) in which I could happily and efficiently live. This will enable me to go back to school and get a better job, without going into as much debt. I’ll also, and more importantly, be able to focus on making myself a better person, which will make me a better and more secure friend, boyfriend, lover, husband, and father.

      I have several friends and family members that have large pieces of property that I could park this house on, however, I’m hoping to find someplace else that I can rent or care-take, hopefully will on the water, if it’s within my means.

      I hear what you’re saying about all the codes and regulations. Most of what you say is true. I think that a lot of the people that build and live in these things prefer to stay under the radar, especially the ones who live in the “grey area” of the law. They probably don’t want to
      talk with people like you or go to the conventions. They just want to build and live inexpensively.

      Personally, I don’t plan on doing the tiny house thing forever. It’s mostly for single people but sometimes a couple or a small family can do it for a while. I hope to buy land and build a “real” house of modest size (under 1000ft2) but I figure that if I can find a woman that’ll be
      alright with me living in a tiny house, she can’t be too materialistic and that’s a good sign! Plus we’ll have something to live in while we build our dream house together! After the septic system is installed we can even have a flush toilet!

      So in summary, thanks for pointing out some of the downsides. Most of us are aware, but some may not be, so it’s good to be reminded. The reason that most of these “tiny houses” are built on wheels is so they can be moved with just a big pickup truck if we get in hot water, that’s the whole point. Of course there are those of us who who would rather build a tiny house before buying property, as in my case, and then I have someplace to stay while building a larger home. In the meantime, we ca just hitch up and go if someone is after us! 🙂

    • jules
      June 1, 2016, 5:24 pm

      You’ve hit the nail on the head here John – I had thought the caravan park thing could be the answer , but you’ve seen right through that one. Sponsored hermits looks like the only way forward!

  • et
    January 7, 2013, 12:57 pm

    All too true.
    How many tiny house builders and/or bloggers live in tiny houses? Only Dee Williams as far as know.

    Look at the most prominent builders/bloggers:
    Tiny House Blog/Kent Griswold built a tiny trailer house not living in it.
    Tumbleweed Houses – are any of their folks living in tiny houses?
    Relax shacks/”Deek” Diedricksen – not living in tiny house.

    There are many misconceptions and unsubstantiated claims of not needing a building permit made by builders and designers with a vested interest in sales.

    I live in a tiny house (not showing it, not blogging about it), but under the radar, on a property with other houses. I would never go public.

    • January 7, 2013, 9:11 pm

      “How many tiny house builders/blogger live in tiny houses…” Quite a few.

      Tammy and Logan of RowdyKittens
      Laura Lavoie + partner (sorry for the likely misspelling of your name, Laura!) of 120squarefeet
      The Clothesline Tiny home people (blanking on their names)
      Evan and Gabby of evanandgabbystinyhouse
      Ella of littleyellowdoor
      Jeff and Margo of OurLifetothefullest
      Jeff and Arlene of mobilecottage.blogspot.com
      Chris and Malissa of Tiny Tack House
      Zoey of livetiny365 did full-time for several years until she met someone with a tiny condo.
      Jenine of Forgeahead lived in one full time for a few years.

      And those are just the ones I can think of off of the top of my head. Plus my husband and I when our tiny house on wheels is finished in a few months’ time. Maybe we don’t count though, since we’re not in it yet.

      On a separate note, I have to say (not in particular to you, ET) that I’ve found through my years reading about the tiny house community that a ton of negativity and a victim mentality persist. It’s why I stopped reading Kent Griswold’s blog. The comments were FILLED with naysayers and while I don’t mind a little practicality and reality, it’s just exhausting. Either build a tiny house and live in it, or don’t. It was the same at Jay’s tiny house workshop last year. A ton of people saying it couldn’t work for XYZ reason, and Jay calmly sitting up there saying “Okay, well, I’ve lived in four different ones for a decade.”

      Sorry for the rant everyone!

      • Alexandra
        January 7, 2013, 9:20 pm

        No, rant very much appreciated actually. I strongly agree.

        • ImReady
          January 16, 2013, 2:14 am

          Yeh, I’ve always know everything he’s stated in this article. I agree with him 100%

      • January 7, 2013, 10:47 pm

        Name spelled correctly and I just want to support your rant. I agree about the persistent negativity. It is fine if someone doesn’t want to live in a tiny house but constantly cataloging reasons starts to sound like excuses.

      • et
        January 8, 2013, 3:41 am

        I am wary of those who want to sell the idea but don’t live in tiny houses.

        Sorry if I was not clear – by bloggers/builders I meant people who want to make money by selling tiny houses and/or workshops to others or blog for money.

        • January 8, 2013, 9:25 am

          ET-totally get it! Thanks for the response. I do agree with you on that for sure. And sorry to tack on my rant at the end; hope it was clear that wasn’t directed at you! I’ve just seen too many “Here’s why living in a tiny house won’t work” articles recently, and it’s ridiculous to me when I know of so many people doing it.

          To your point, I also know of no one with a tiny house building business living in a tiny house on wheels. Jay Shafer did for a very long time before marrying and starting a family; his business had been around for much longer than his family to his credit. I’m not sure if that bothers me or not (about the builders). I’ll have to chew it over a bit.

        • January 8, 2013, 2:29 pm

          I guess my question for you would be why does it matter whether or not the builders/designers live in tiny houses? As long as the people who buy them are happy with the product and live in their tiny homes. Our house was a Tumbleweed design and we were very happy with the level of customer service we received. And, of course, we are happy with the final product.

          My parents had their suburban house built in 1976. It is a four bedroom colonial design. The architect who designed it and the builder who built it don’t live in 1976 four bedroom colonials. A business is a business and can be somewhat separate from their final product.

        • Ken
          December 21, 2013, 2:08 pm

          I don’t think anyone is questioning whether there are people who like living in tiny houses. Most of us would love to. I’t being able to! Where is a place that will allow them? I have yet to find a place where you can live in one legally! Unless of course you are talking about living in one behind Mom’s million dollar home somewhere in California!

        • Zach
          August 13, 2014, 4:10 pm

          Conversely, there’s a famous architect, Renzo Piano, who has built towering sky scrapers and majestic homes, who now lives in a tiny home. https://tinyhousetalk.com/high-tech-self-sufficient-tiny-houses/

        • January 8, 2013, 9:09 pm

          I think the issue is exactly that. The tiny house builders aren’t aski f anyone to risk anything. The tiny house buyers should go into knowing the risks.

          For the record, I have a blog and a tiny house brand with a book coming out in the spring and I live in a 120 square foot house with my partner.

        • January 12, 2013, 9:10 pm

          In support of the builders:

          I am a tiny house builder, and I have lived in my 20′ tiny house, and other tiny structures (24′ sailboat, 10 x 14 converted garage). Almost all the builders I know have lived in small spaces at times in their life… and none of them are ‘getting rich’ in the slightest… except maybe Jay Schafer (although he just left his company to have more creative freedom.) But he is not a builder anymore, he is a designer, writer, whatever.

          Really, being a tiny house builder is a starkly hand-to-mouth existence. Conventional construction workers, even framers and roofers, often make FAR more than I do… any day of the week. I build tiny houses because the work inspires me to no end, I love the people I work for and with, and I can resonate with the ‘movement.’ So cool!

      • Alex
        January 8, 2013, 2:14 pm

        Very well said Jessica, thank you.

        • et
          January 8, 2013, 4:56 pm

          I think it matters that people who monetize on small house movement have direct experience with living in tiny houses because it’s such a difficult thing to do.

          Asking buyers to risk building inspectors, angry neighbors, insurance problems etc for a product they make money selling does not make for credible businesses with respected owners. It’s a relatively secure stance from the comfort of their own normal, legal homes.

        • Alex
          January 8, 2013, 5:17 pm

          Et that will matter to some but not to others as like Laura said that they end up happy and satisfied with the product (plans, information, book, workshop, free website/blog, etc).

          I don’t think builder/blogger people are asking anyone to do anything that they don’t already want to do so as long as they create value for those interested it doesn’t matter. If these people are living in mansions and driving a Bentley, that’s another story..

          After all, tiny isn’t a set square footage. It’s relative to inhabitants in a home. Just because builders/bloggers/designers have families doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to design tiny houses for those who don’t.

      • Molly
        February 19, 2013, 8:10 pm

        Jessica, I stopped reading the comments on Kent’s blog too because of the negativity. He is now moderating his blog, and it has been much, MUCH better. Didn’t know if you would be interested but thought I would pass it on.

      • Rhion
        August 1, 2013, 7:21 pm

        You’re also leaving out Mike Janzen and his wife (of Tiny House Design).

        Also, about 2/3’s of my childhood, my mother, step father, and I, along with two dogs, a cat, and my grandmother or aunt living with us 6 months at a time, lived in a cabin, on the grid, that was 250sqft (three adults ya’ll and one very rambunctious little girl, the Aussie shepherds were more sedate). Yes, we had a large deck, and were on an acerage, and I spent most of my time outside, running around. And yes, the deck was where the bath tub was. Same for the toilet, washer and dryer. We had running water, a septic tank, and a well in addition to the on city water and electric. No solar, we were under a whole mess’ve trees.

        Not only is it possible, it *can* be comfortable. Not much for privacy, but parents too the loft upstairs, and my aunt or Granny and I shared the fold out futon that my step dad built.

        The *only* reason the rest of my childhood wasn’t there, was because my parents divorced due to my father taking a job up in NYC and leaving his good job in Florida while mom was in school. (Other reasons too, that had nothing to do with living small, but I won’t get into that.)

        You should check your facts before claiming only one blogger lives tiny fulltime, et.

        Thank you Jessica – I didn’t recognize some of those names, and am looking them up.

      • Rhion
        August 1, 2013, 7:21 pm

        You’re also leaving out Mike Janzen and his wife (of Tiny House Design).

        Also, about 2/3’s of my childhood, my mother, step father, and I, along with two dogs, a cat, and my grandmother or aunt living with us 6 months at a time, lived in a cabin, on the grid, that was 250sqft (three adults ya’ll and one very rambunctious little girl, the Aussie shepherds were more sedate). Yes, we had a large deck, and were on an acerage, and I spent most of my time outside, running around. And yes, the deck was where the bath tub was. Same for the toilet, washer and dryer. We had running water, a septic tank, and a well in addition to the on city water and electric. No solar, we were under a whole mess’ve trees.

        Not only is it possible, it *can* be comfortable. Not much for privacy, but parents too the loft upstairs, and my aunt or Granny and I shared the fold out futon that my step dad built.

        The *only* reason the rest of my childhood wasn’t there, was because my parents divorced due to my father taking a job up in NYC and leaving his good job in Florida while mom was in school. (Other reasons too, that had nothing to do with living small, but I won’t get into that.)

        You should check your facts before claiming only one blogger lives tiny fulltime, et.

        Thank you Jessica – I didn’t recognize some of those names, and am looking them up.

        • ET
          August 2, 2013, 1:45 am

          Last time Mike Janzen mentioned his home he didn’t live in a tiny house, but that may have changed.

          I have lived in tiny houses for several years – would love to see more happy tiny house owners!

      • Ken
        December 21, 2013, 2:03 pm

        You mention a lot of people, just by first name. You don’t say where they live! My guess is if they do live in “tiny houses” they are living under the radar somewhere! I WANT to live in a tiny house, but I have YET to find a place that allows them, including the trailer park I lived in for over five years. When you tell me the addresses of these tiny homes I will begin to believe you!

  • Keven
    January 7, 2013, 4:26 pm

    Allan, not one positive word? Identify problems with no answers except stop breeding and don’t step out of line? Not willing to fight ‘city hall’ for fear you will make them mad? Did you have some good points? Yes. But is a backhanded complement still a complement? The current system is being crushed under it’s own weight. Go ahead and play the game…if they will let you.
    In your first paragraph you identified yourself as bitter. Go be happy.

    • allan cerf
      January 7, 2013, 8:34 pm

      I’m the author. I said bitter ‘divorce.’ I remain pro-tiny and am immensely grateful this fine site let me blog. However, I DID the homework, months of it, including a dangerous mid-winter drive to Portland and what I have found is a great deal of hype.

      My final paragraph says it all, a day may come when tiny homes become a requirement.

      • Keven
        January 8, 2013, 2:29 pm

        If you had to go out tomorrow and live in a tiny house how would you go about making it happen? I am serious. You have done the research on how not to make it happen. What can we do to make it work right now?

        • allan cerf
          January 8, 2013, 2:37 pm

          We CAN’T make it work right now. “Right now,” is not feasible.

          I am moving to a tiny house within 2 months however it is on a foundation. So, if your question is – will you live off the grid and be ‘tolerated’ and quasi-legal in 140 square feet the answer is ‘no.’

          If you are saying 2. “Have you squandered and saved and thus able to buy on the grid a tiny house,” the answer is yes.

          If your question is 3. Can you wave your hands and suddenly make affordable housing appear – something that hasn’t been available for 40 years for many – how can I?

        • Keven
          January 8, 2013, 7:59 pm

          I thought my question was pretty clear,”if you had to go out tomorrow and live in a tiny house how would you go about making it happen?”. My house is on a foundation also but I know of park that would accept a legal mobile unit tomorrow,(I checked). My house was permitted in 1975 and has provided affordable living for 5 different couples and some singles.

        • DJ Spell
          January 9, 2013, 9:26 am

          Keven makes some good points Allan, but to be realistic, as you are so fond of pointing out, living in a tiny house in a big city is very difficult. On the other hand, one thing you failed to address is moving to the country. In many counties in many states, there are regions outside of city limits with little to no building restrictions. So if you’re serious about building and living in a tiny house, this is your most practical solution. The good news, most of these lots are inexpensive, relative to city lots. The bad news is that if you work in a city, you’re going to have to commute. Change will always come with trade-offs, but if we in the the tiny house community as a whole wish to open everyone else’s eyes to the practicality of living in a small footprint, we’ve got to roll with the punches. Those who can afford to take up the issues with municipal administrations, hat’s off to you. Those who can’t, consider the country life. It’s quiet, it’s cheap, and it’s going to be off-grid or minimally connected to the grid. A great Taoist philosopher once said we should live like the river flows, close to the ground. I believe it, do you?

  • Lee
    January 7, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Very interesting Allan.
    I’ve got to admit, I have always wondered about the realities of getting these tiny houses, especially the trailer-mounted ones, registered, located or even just hooked up, in the States. It’s hard enough here in England with planning permission, and if it’s on wheels you are immediately branded a traveller or ‘gypsy’, but the building regs in America seem to be WAY stricter! Don’t get me wrong. I love ’em to bits and if won the Lotto tomorrow I’d have one in a heartbeat and sort the paperwork later. And clearly, if they can be built with all the proper facilities then yes, they could be an answer to the current housing problems. But maybe not just yet…

  • January 7, 2013, 5:03 pm

    I’ve discovered much the same thing about tiny houses, especially those on wheels. However, I have had the privilege of living in communities where 500-700 sf houses are not uncommon. Mine rental is 600. There’s one across the street that is approximately 700. One up the street that is around 600. One in the alley up one block that is closer to 500. There is one nearer to work that is closer to 400… though the layout there stinks.

    Here, it would not be difficult to build-completely legally and approved, a 320-500 sf house. No, not 100. Not off grid in the city. Not under the radar and not on wheels.

    I went to a tiny house workshop within weeks of discovering some fire safety hazards with a house I was considering purchasing. Firemen couldn’t get up the stairs to the sleeping area or through a few of the interior doors… or even the back door. The balloon framing with no fire blocks would vent any fire straight to the roof. Windows didn’t allow egress. Hearing about a 2′ wide front door or a one and a half foot wide hall way right after discovering these things sent chills up my spine… and gave me a rather restless night or two.

    Dee turns her heater off at night. She can see her breath in the morning. But the heater isn’t safe enough for her to feel comfortable when she is asleep. At least one small house person has lost their house before it was built. No insurance.

    I love the small house concept, but I want my small house to be safe and comfortable. In my area that means it must:
    be firmly attached to the ground, preferably bolted to concrete (think Wizard of Oz)
    have real closet space
    have an incinerating or low flush toilet
    have running water
    have a continuous heat source through the winter
    be well insulated
    include two exit doors, plus an egress window in the bedroom
    have at least 30″ doorways (preferably 36″)
    have stairs-not a ladder-to any upper or lower livable space
    be properly-professionally-wired, whether for solar, wind or on grid electric.

    Is this possible? Sure. Can it be annoying? In some places. But when it is, around here it’s either because someone knows something I haven’t figured out yet, or because I need to explain or plan a bit better. I’m ok with that.

    • August 2, 2013, 11:51 am

      All of these livability and safety elements are possible… on a trailer frame OR foundation. Look at Molecule Homes designs, or my own, Zyl Vardos, to see some examples of well designed and SAFE houses. There are many others out there as well.

      I build to International Building Code, National Fire Protection Assn codes, and appropriate ANSI standards. In addition, I thorougly test all my systems, heaters and woodstoves, and electrical systems before sending out a house. I am part of a collaboration called the Tiny House Alliance, and am helping draft a set of tiny house building guidelines. These are meant as a readable (by the lay-person) distillation of the most important building practices regarding human safety. Tiny houses can easily be beautiful to live in… AND safe and functional for years, decades, and onward.

  • john
    January 7, 2013, 5:20 pm

    Not acknowledging the issues we face doesn’t make them go away…if like me you have actually done the groundwork before beginning construction you are going to come across several issues in having a tiny home on a trailer become your primary residence…
    Building codes are not the only issues…permits for septic systems are a huge issue, utilities are a huge issue, it’s why so many tiny homes are built for ‘off grid’ situations…safe disposal of waste is huge, dumping sewage into a compost pile isn’t a legal, or sanitary, means of disposal…you would be creating a massive problem with bacteria breeding and animals spreading disease…not to mention that you’re going to poison your own well water, provided that’s how you plan to get fresh water…what about your neighbors well?
    Public utilities are very safe when compared to primitive methods…but to get them you need permits for building, septic systems are a very strictly controlled permit item for very good reason…nobody wants to be responsible for poisoning an entire neighborhood with sewage.

    Fact is we need many of the codes we seek to avoid, and in our avoidance of those codes we need to be aware of what we risk and who else we may put at risk by avoiding them.
    Not all codes are good, and just, but many are. For the sake of everyone around you…educate yourself to not just limit your liabilities, but to protect your own health and life.

    My tiny home is in the planning stages, i have blueprints being revised now…again!…but i own not only the trailer to build on, but also a shipping container i plan to convert as well. I tell you this so you know i’m one of you, not just a dreamer…i’m waiting for a septic permit…i refuse to build without one. I already own a piece of land zoned for travel trailers in the country, it has a well and a natural spring…

    • Earnest Lee
      January 8, 2013, 8:24 pm

      Does a septic permits means that the city has to come in to your property and do some diggings to lay pipes?

      How much would that cost you?

    • Grin'n'bare'it
      January 24, 2014, 12:34 pm

      Just want to say something about the whole septic system thing.
      You make a good point about the sanitary issue of composting your own fecal matter. Let’s face it. The issue is sanitation. BUT, remember how a septic system works. A septic system works the same way a sewer plant works, but on a much smaller scale( although the plant does inject chemicals at the end for good measure). The biggest issue with septic vs sewer is whether or not the ground perks and concentration of housing.
      So that in mind, a composting or humanure system is a smaller and slightly differing system of a septic, but working with the same principals. It is the responsibility for the system of the person performing it to keep it sanitary. Location, perk ability of ground, and proper handling of compost pile.
      As a kid, my Dad, brother and I used to go stay with some friends in Stevens Pass area in Wa.they had an outhouse. Mind you this was out in the sticks and they had to move it every now and then due to filling up after a few years (mostly because it had 10 people using it). It works almost the same as the septic system, but with more crude appurtenances.. And composting is more crude than that.

      Human concentration and error are the biggest issue with sanitation measures. If handled properly composting is no more unsanitary than outhouses, than septic systems, than sewer plants.

      Keep it away from water sources and handle it properly. Which is something that some people don’t want to think about or deal with.
      Not against hooking up to septic or sewer, just saying that they all work on the same principals just with differing degrees of participation and responsibility in the process.

  • Dan
    January 7, 2013, 6:11 pm

    As a 21 year old woman who has been extremely interested in building and living within a tinyhouse for the last two years, this article is incredibly disheartening. There goes another dream I’ll need to rethink and in all likelihood shelve.

    • Keven
      January 7, 2013, 6:48 pm

      Don’t let your dreams be crushed. John has figured out his path in affordable living along with many others. Thomas Edison figured out 1000 ways not to make a light bulb before he gave us the future.

      • January 8, 2013, 12:17 am

        I agree, Dan. There are things that we NEED to know in order to make our small/tiny houses work well-and safely-for us in our regions. There are road blocks that will come up to any dream. But knowing there are road blocks only keeps us from crashing; it doesn’t mean we have to stop dreaming or that we’ll never realize those dreams. It only means we can make better plans and actually realize our dreams rather than getting half way there and then realizing we have serious problems.

        • Alex
          January 8, 2013, 5:20 pm

          Mary, while I agree we should know these things, they should not be our focus if our goal is living in a tiny house.

          And I love what you said about road blocks. Does anything WORTH HAVING not come with any road blocks?

      • Alex
        January 8, 2013, 5:19 pm

        Thanks Keven you freakin rock man

        • January 9, 2013, 11:31 pm

          Alex, I’m sure I’m misreading your response. We should definitely focus on making our houses work well and safely for us in our regions. One of the main selling points of tiny homes is that they work well for us. That point should include both safety and comfort. If those are not focuses of the movement, it will continue to be a fringe movement at best.

  • Laurie
    January 7, 2013, 7:18 pm

    There are many of us out there and many more to come. This IS the wave of the future and as pioneers – we must persist against our obstacles in order to effect change.. Municipalities will need to update as the demands grow, as will insurance companies. This is also a new opportunity for them too, if they choose to see it. We can do it! Just keep moving forward! I love these blogs.<3

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 5:21 pm

      Thanks Laurie, very inspiring! Rock on!

  • Cindy
    January 7, 2013, 7:23 pm

    The article may not have been something that I wanted to hear, but I am grateful that there are informed people who are willing to share the good with the bad. Life isn’t simple and apparently living off the grid isn’t either.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 2:46 pm

      Thanks Cindy. A big part of me did not want to post Allen’s article on here for that reason, but I thought some of you would appreciate his perspective and experience.

  • January 7, 2013, 7:24 pm

    We live in a tiny house full time (2 people, 160 sq. ft). We travel with our house, thus have not been subject to any city’s laws….HOWEVER, we lived in one city for 2 months and no one from the city came to us to say anything, and now we are living in a another city where we plan on staying for 4-5 months. I think one “trick” to all this is to be self-contained. We have a 45 gal. water tank, so we don;t need to be hooked up to city water, we just need a way to refill our tank periodically. We are well-insulated and have a woodstove when we need heat. We don;t run it overnight, and have never woken up colder than the high 40s even in the snow. You just build a fire and are warm within minutes because the space is so small. We need to learn different ways to live. It’s OK to have the house cooler at night — that’s what covers are for! So there are other people than Lee living in tiny houses full time… it can be done, happily and healthily, and not necessarily in a groovy place like Portland.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 2:45 pm

      Thanks for sharing that it sure can be done Jane.

  • David
    January 7, 2013, 7:35 pm

    Everyone who has replied has made some good points. I know it sounds disheartening to read Allan’s article, but it’s better to know what obstacles you may face beforehand so that you can know how to address them or have contingency plans.

    Will my partner and I ever live in 120 s.f.? Probably not, yet I’m still a tiny house fan and am dedicated to helping the movement any way I can (except with funding, which I have a lack of). But even then, we’re taking what I’ve learned from the movement and applying it as we downsize from 2800 s.f. to hopefully around 1000. If our city codes would allow 600 s.f., we’d jump on it, but we have to be in our metropolitan area for now, so we’ll downsize and make adjustments so that we are living more purposefully with less stuff and more experiences. That transformation, for me, makes the tiny house movement a worthwhile endeavor that shouldn’t be abandoned.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 5:22 pm

      Thanks for sharing David. Usually it’s all a transition. Sounds like you are on the right path. Whether or not you make it to 120 square feet, I think you’ll start experiencing the benefits of ‘less’ very soon.

  • Jerry
    January 7, 2013, 7:59 pm

    Always good to hear both sides of the story.

    I think the issue in finding homes to visit is that those who are successful at living under the radar don’t want the risks associated with exposing their homes. They may also be private people who don’t necessarily want to be inviting strangers into their homes, let alone possibly attracting the attention of code enforcers.

    Remember, tiny houses are not limited to those on a trailer. You can build a small house on a foundation or pylons to code, and still reap it’s rewards.

  • January 7, 2013, 9:30 pm

    Sounds like you’ve found a lot of reasons this won’t work for you.

  • January 8, 2013, 12:25 pm

    Going on year two in my Mobile Cottage, in the greater Portland area. Part of the Portland Facebook group of fellow tiny housers that either LIVE in or want to live in their tiny houses. I believe there are two type of people out there, those who want to make something happen and go about overcoming all obstacles that get in your way and those who allow those obstacles to side track your vision and stop you from achieving your goals.

    I don’t doubt most of what is written in this article is true, so what. If you want to make this happen you can find a way, if you are looking for reasons to not make it happen I am sure you will find them as well. Something tells me this is not the first project you have researched and found the reasons to NOT do it.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 5:26 pm

      Nice tiny house Bryce! You speak the truth, too.

  • Alex
    January 8, 2013, 2:19 pm

    I agree that Allan had false hopes when he arrived in Portland. Personally, I wouldn’t have had the same expectations he had. I know there are tiny house people in Portland but I also know there aren’t tiny house communities there. The fact is that if you’re going to live in a tiny house you’re going to be a part of a minority. But if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it. As everyone who has, has.

    • Chris
      January 8, 2013, 4:06 pm

      Exactly! There is always a way forward unless a task become impossible, and I mean impossible through the laws of physics. In a place where the term ‘Mortage stress’ is in common use and where the ‘Australian(American to?) dream of owning a home’ is all but dead Tiny houses offers a viable solution.

      I will follow the law until it becomes unreasonable and un-Australian, then I will fight the law.

      To borrow a phrase from you Americans, I will give up my Tiny House when they pry it from my cold dead hands!

      Tiny house represent a a type truth in living if you ask me, and like Schopenhauer said ;

      All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is (Verbally? :)violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.


  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Alex, I didn’t have false hopes so much as I was bluntly put, misled: A ‘leader’ of the Portland community (I got off the road in Danville, California I was so excited to get her call!) spoke of “we tiny house folks” and the ‘community.’

    The reality as described above was very different. She told me “I have the perfect tenant, she’s never here.” Talk about cynicism.

    Bryce, you say “mobile cottage” – that means you’re towing a trailer. So what? Those have been around for hundreds of years and aren’t the solution. You are no more a pioneer than the McMansion folks.

    What we need is affordable housing and if anyone on this blog can tell me how to go about getting it – other than working hard and saving money, please do.

    I will put forward an idea, however! Why not a group of tiny enthusiasts who have at least 30K to spend pitching in and buying a piece of land where the management association will agree that the fees (water, electrical, waste) will be at cost and not for profit? I am perfectly willing to speak to the authorities in any community we’re interested in moving to.

    All of you with 30K or more interested in such a thing let me know and we’ll start talking.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 5:09 pm

      I get you Allan I just don’t remember watching videos or reading articles that talk about communities of tiny houses in Portland. I always knew that people doing it were living in backyards of normal houses. And that Portland has the highest % of people most likely to choose/accept smaller homes because of the lifestyle there.

    • January 8, 2013, 5:13 pm

      Allan, first off thanks for the article. It is obviously spurring a lot of conversation and that is healthy. I am sorry your Portland experience was not a positive one, at least as far as your expectations.

      I know I have discussed with multiple local folks about tiny house communities and feel while we may be a bit premature, it will happen in Portland and it will happen under the blessing of this city in that I am highly confident. We will keep Alex’s site update as it happens.

      • Alex
        January 8, 2013, 5:27 pm

        Thanks Bryce! Would appreciate that very much.

    • Ken
      December 21, 2013, 2:23 pm

      I would be MORE than interested! Finally someone is making some sense here.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 2:58 pm

    Laura LaVoie, agreed. No reason at all. My concerns were with Tiny Home Owners saying they live in the homes when they don’t, when they infer that they do and they don’t and when they warn me PRIVATELY such warnings as they won’t tell the general public.

    I drive a car after all and don’t know if the manufacturer drives one.

    • January 8, 2013, 3:43 pm

      I can’t speak for all tiny house owners, but I live in my tiny house. And I love it.

  • Jerry
    January 8, 2013, 3:00 pm

    I sincerely hope the negativity of this particular article does not stop anyone from attempting to design, build, and live in their own tiny house. Yes there are issues with this lifestyle, there are issues with any lifestyle. You can continue the safe easy way of living in a McMansion, or you can take the risk and possibly be surprised by the results. The various blogs by those who have made the transition are the ones that inspire me. Notice that almost anytime they have to leave their tiny houses, they miss them.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 3:05 pm

    Jessica: The author here. I AM buying a tiny house, first off. I thought I had made that abundantly clear; it’s interesting the chap in England seemed to get that while others are assailing me for negativity which is good, a little assailing never hurt!

    I wrote this piece as AGAIN, READ AGAIN, I am BUYING a tiny house … I wrote this piece as an ardent supporter but felt I had an ethical obligation to warn folks that there was some cynicism and misrepresentation going on here. Also, tiny people need to understand municipal codes are by and large not created by fascists trying to crush dreams of “little people.”

    Finally I’ll ad, if you don’t have 30K to spend I don’t think you have to be honest about your prospects of ever getting ANY affordable housing.

    • January 8, 2013, 7:20 pm

      You didn’t say once in the entire article that you are buying a tiny house. I read it twice, and not once did I even get that idea, much less read it.

      It would help the conversational flow here if you would use the reply button in the comments section.

      Thanks for doing all that research!

    • January 8, 2013, 7:22 pm


      “Finally I’ll ad, if you don’t have 30K to spend I don’t think you have to be honest about your prospects of ever getting ANY affordable housing.”

      What does this mean??

      • allan cerf
        January 8, 2013, 7:30 pm

        Casey, so now you know. I am buying a tiny house. Are you? Have you?

        Sorry I didn’t hit reply button.

        With regard to “What does this mean?” I mean that it’s extremely unreasonable to pursue the purchase of a tiny house without a ‘threshold’ price and (folks chime in) I set that threshold at 30-34K. There will never be a time when housing is free unless it’s in Cuba and even there Castro got the best seats at the free baseball games, LOL. Seriously, 30K is a reasonable entry level point and I fear, if/when Tiny Houses really gain momentum, this too will rise, and rise and RISE …

        • January 8, 2013, 8:47 pm

          Casey is not buying a tiny house. He has been working his butt off building our own tiny home on wheels (I’m his wife), that way we don’t need to spend 30k on one and then complain about builders “jacking up” prices (like a blog post earlier this week, not one by you).

          While I always appreciate a dose of reality, your post did come across as “I discovered that tiny houses aren’t free. I discovered that there aren’t neighborhoods filled with ebullient, freedom-fighting tiny housers in tiny houses boasting a 100% seal of approval on construction from municipalities.” I mean…really? You just discovered that? And then on top of that: “Few to none of the owners I’ve spoken to nationwide live permanently in tiny homes.” You can see my post above enumerating more than a handful, just online, just off the top of my head.

          I also have no problem with people making a product and selling it for whatever price. No one is forcing anyone to buy anything. Casey and I will have spent 15k on materials and hundreds of backbreaking hours building it when this thing is done. 30k seems like a bargain to me. I do know of many other people living in houses for under 10k, just not on trailers. There are many options in this country. There’s always a way. I can think of a thousand reasons to not do almost anything. Meanwhile, there are people out there doing it.

        • Alex
          January 8, 2013, 11:36 pm

          Thanks Jessica, you two are a great example of people finding a way no matter what. Even though it’s not anywhere near normal (at least not on tiny house blogs) to be doing what you guys are doing.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 3:10 pm

    John – totally agree. While it’s not legal in Portland to plumb a tiny house because of secondary water issues, you’re right putting a tiny on someone else’s property is a damn good idea – just get the full facts.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 6:19 pm

    Hi Alex! I’ll send you (buried under work right now) such things on the web as led me to believe Portland was some kind of hotbed for Tiny Houses soon as I have a moment.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 6:24 pm

    Lee in England Allan here; listen mate if I can build a house in Britain let me know on this blog and I’ll figure out some way to securely give you my private phone and email … I JUST sold a house in Great Yarmouth and would really love to have a Tiny Home in Britain more than anything … and here I THOUGHT the codes in Britain were much stricter. For example my house in Yarmouth was listed; no way on a street with 1880’s homes where you can’t even build an ATTIC, that they would want a tiny home. If you know of areas in Britain allowing Tinies contact me at once!

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 6:41 pm

    The Author here: Folks here’s something we can all agree on – we need to figure out how are so many of us going to live, in the future.

    For example: I am renting a house in Livermore, California and plan on buying a tiny house in Washington State. The owner of the house I rent – wow! has a ‘green’ camper with generators, panels, etc; everything designed to give a smaller ‘eco’ footprint. I told him about this blog – and he said, we’ll tell the blog the city will only let me park for 3 days in front of my own house.

    Fair? Probably. But what about folks who CAN’T afford “the house,” and only the eco camper?

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 8:36 pm

    Keven, there was no clicakable ‘reply’ button on your most recent remark.


    1. I am going out and making it happen in 60 days. Not tomorrow. Sorry that doesn’t meet your time table.

    2. You don’t have a tiny home.

    3. Affordable to whom? You? Do your bit for the tiny house movement, lower your rent.

    • January 8, 2013, 9:15 pm

      “3. Affordable to whom? You? Do your bit for the tiny house movement, lower your rent.”

      Why are you asking that question in response to a sentence that already contains the answer?:

      “My house was permitted in 1975 and has provided affordable living for 5 different couples and some singles.”

      Also, what’s with this ‘if you don’t have a tiny house, your answer isn’t qualified’ nonsense? It seems as if you’re not taking criticism to your arguments very well.

    • Keven
      January 8, 2013, 9:38 pm

      If you were at my house you should have dropped by and said hello. Once again it was a question, man don’t be so touchy. Your right, I don’t have a tiny home, I have two. I have a 12’x12′ with a 2/3rd loft at my friends ranch that is used for a guest house. I have built a half a dozen small camping units, all of modular design. None of which I have charged a dime for. My “big” little home is 20’x24′ with a loft and can house comfortably two adults and two kids. My rent that I charge includes phone, internet,utilities,water, washer/dryer, fenced yard, raised garden beds, grapes, berry vines and fruit trees. I do the yard work. You can have a pet,(I draw the line at picking up the….) and do what you please. My rents have been what people can afford. $450 for 6 years, $500 for two years, $0 for three years, $0 for 4 years and due to my current economic conditions, $700. I hope you enjoy your place in Washington.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 9:07 pm

    I’m glad that the backbreaking effort is gratifying, Jessica.

    . I never thought the houses were free. My fear is the unemployed, young and poor, may very much feel they are (next to). When I lived in Berkeley, MANY of those (what 50% of the U.S. population felt just that).
    . It is undeniable to any reasonable person, I feel, that the marketing language (I own an ad agency so I know it when I see it) exists to create an impression that there are such communities.

    I agree with you however on 30K being not unreasonable and have said so. My own tiny will cost much more.

    I welcome all comments, even yours, you’re utterly missing the point of my blog: There is a need for affordable housing for the many. Tiny houses are not that, in America. Yet. They ARE in Japan and Europe – but they come at not tiny price tags.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 9:10 pm

    Oops. Jessica; typo. Shoud have read: “may very much feel they are” (next to free). When I lived in Berkeley MANY of those in such demographics (and perhaps 50% of the U.S. population are the young, unemployed or poor) felt just that.

    Sorry for typo.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 9:20 pm

    Jessica: I’d like to ad this: If I buy a car, I don’t have dealerships saying, “if You want to speed, here’s 5 ways to do it off the grid without getting nailed.”

    The single most illuminating comment I got from the whole Tiny House experience was from the young builder near Santa Cruz who was as honest as the say is long: “I build these for profit. I don’t and won’t live in one. I can’t get rich in this business but could in others and chose this. MOST importantly however: “I was curious what it would cost to go legit and hook up water in and around Santa Cruz. 50K just for planning.”

    We’re in the infancy I think of the movement. Back to cars – I can’t imagine a dealer of cars telling me, “to use this bio diesel vehicle legally, costs an extra 30K.”

    Shoot – I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s what the lady in Portland told me: “It’s legal to own these within city limits. It’s just not legal to live in them.”

    You and I Jessica, may be sophisticated and hard-headed enough to work around such obstacles. I was warning the many who aren’t. I praise Alex for the guts to let me do so and have no apologia …

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 9:24 pm

    Casey – not at all. You’re simply dissembling. You don’t have a tiny house. So why comment at all. You have a house on the grid. What does that have to do with tiny houses.

    Having a home that either (wasn’t clear from your remarks) you own or some other landlord owns also has nothing do with tiny homes. No matter how affordable you reckon it. (I was joking that the tenants probably wish it was more affordable still.)

    Tiny home folks don’t want Landlords or conventional homes. There is only so much leading I can do until you see the water.

    • January 8, 2013, 9:28 pm

      I invite you to click on my name above this comment.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 11:38 pm

      Oh geez.

  • allan cerf
    January 8, 2013, 9:29 pm

    Folks thanks for the replies and I think I’ve made enough (replies) of my own. This article was hello! not for the folks, even Alex, who DID figure a way to make it work. Or me, who has.

    Simply: If one is willing to work, has the money one can get a reasonably ‘roomy’ home that offends no one, brings delight, and is tolerated by “everyone else.”

    Or, one can buy a very … small space and live in a quasi-legal way.

    Thanks for reading the blog, whether you loved it or otherwise! I won’t reply further as I’ve adequately stated my view.

    • Alex
      January 8, 2013, 11:30 pm

      Thanks Allan.

  • Katie
    January 9, 2013, 9:14 am

    The article was well written. But, the researcher in me would have liked to have links or sources for some of the content contained therein. This would be helpful on all articles posted. If do so in this manner, we can weed out one persons take on an issue against policy or an actual quote. Just an observation.

  • January 9, 2013, 12:32 pm

    I read your article. I agree, on many points… however, I have successfully lived in my own tiny house, up until I had too many kids to fit in it. I still have my house, and I rent it to my farm-mates. The second tiny house i built (for hire) has been the owners continuous residence for 2+ years.

    Now: They are still in a ‘grey area’ as far as municipal rules go in most places. Calling them illegal is a little overzealous. They are, like many other structures (large and small), a little fuzzy in their definition. Yet. But the rules are catching up.

    Example: I often work in a historic theatre in Olympia. It mostly does not comply with current code (electricity, structure, fire, etc). It is well built, and dearly loved – the municipality would never ask for it to be torn down, nor would they suggest closing it because it doesn’t fit every legal definition of a ‘public theatre space’. It IS safe, if used appropriately, so… it fits in a grey area.

    Likewise, many tiny house living spaces are well built and dearly loved (by owners and neighbors alike). And this is why they have worked.

  • January 12, 2013, 4:48 pm

    A point on an aspect of Allen Cerf’s article. I am confident that a number of 200 Sq.Ft. per person is a good transition base number. In a small space at least 9′ ceiling is a must to fight claustrophobia. You will need Kitchen/bath space and costs and THERE is the best place to look for costs savings. After some survival time in that space and the de-cluttering it will require the transition to smaller space will be a less challenge than the move from the McMansion to 200 sq.ft.per person. The issue will remain ZONING.

  • Allan Cerf
    February 19, 2013, 10:06 pm

    I’m the author. I truly think 300′ is going to be hugely more acceptable to most people than 150, PERHAPS one could get by with 200 but with an extremely unscientific reckoning showing people what 150′ is like many say, “I could live in half this space.

    However, I agree, the core issue is zoning.

    • Nick
      September 13, 2013, 8:04 pm

      I appreciate the article and the authors perspective. Sometimes we who have “seen the light” and want to focus on our vision – today being independance – self sustaining – downsizing – getting off the grid – we find something that looks suitable and fits within our ideals. Tiny homes!!!

      But if you move forward without first examining the perspectives of others – you might find your efforts have been wasted. You didn’t learn from anyone else’s mistakes – you were too stubborn to consider them.

      Tiny homes may seem like the answer for many of us.
      But I would encourage everyone to be open to criticism – so you can adopt a more realized and honest concept of what youre getting into.
      Or what your actions and thoughts are a product of.

      For myself – I am starting to see another picture here. Maybe the author could lend his perspective here too.

      I’m wondering what happened? Why are so many of us interested in boycotting the real estate market? Are we all tired of working? Did we find out that going to college was just one way the system could get us steeped in 40k of interest compiling debt? With a bleak outlook for employment?
      Have we started to realize that what we’ve been prescribed in life isn’t proving meaningful?

      My father has a beautiful Victorian home he purchased in the early 90’s for something like 260,000. He was living in his jeep for half a year prior to this, saving up the downpayment. It is now worth 600,000 or so. This is a loose estimate – but something in the ballpark.
      I asked him what he pays in real estate taxes ….

      “Hi Son,
      I pay $4,300 a year in property taxes (not bad for a big house on 2 acres), and $1,500 a year for home insurance.”

      Not bad? That’s terrible! I pay about $6,500 a year renting a three bedroom house in New Orleans. No tax, no maintenance, no insurance.
      In my mind – I’m thinking – my dad is paying for taxes and insurance what I pay for rent. This isn’t even discussing his mortgage payment and interest due for the capital of the loan. (Note: he lives in WA state).

      It doesn’t make sense. And not that it matters either. I can’t qualify for a loan to purchase property above 140,000 anyway. I’m not interested. Obviously the rest of you aren’t either.

      I’ve worked my ass off while wearing monkey suits and also did the salary manager thing. If all I have to show for those years is my collection of cowboy western shirts and a masters degree in art – well shit. What a shame.

      I’m lucky to have saved up some cash. I’m frugal.
      Now it’s time to move on buying property and learning which areas are going to be conducive to my building plans. Zoning, code enforcement, nuclear Japanese fallout hitting the west coast next year… these sorts of things.

      Should we approach housing as the issue? The laws governing what can or can’t be built and how?
      Or are we going to look at what is so plain to see.
      You have settled for the tiniest slice of independance possible.
      You want communities of utopian garden filled tiny home villages – and yet you are so nasty to each other during a simple online discourse.

      THESE WILL BE YOUR NEIGHBORS FOLKS! Count me out. Such a west coast vibe (I would know) of “oh your not tiny home hardcore” – its embarrassing that you’re arguing over this. There are bigger issues.

      I think it’s time to see that the solution to our future isn’t settling for a glorified campervan – or holding hands with other tiny homers – telling each other – it’s ok – were going to make this work!

      If you can make policy change regarding zoning law – or building a house in the first place – then perhaps you’re also capable of effecting your local political climate. The quality of life for others. Something other than sitting around arguing over hurt feelings on a comments section.

      Get to it! I just wonder if tiny homes aren’t the easy way out. WHAT OTHER OPTIONS ARE THERE? Is this just a leftist argument for housing the poor? And a poor one a that?

      I love you.

      • EWill
        February 25, 2015, 2:28 am

        “You want communities of utopian garden filled tiny home villages – and yet you are so nasty to each other during a simple online discourse. … ‘oh your not tiny home hardcore’ – its embarrassing that you’re arguing over this.”

        Thank you. I’m glad someone said it.

        The sad truth is, this is half the reason I dream of a tiny home. I don’t want to live in any community, not even a tiny home one, because even people living in tiny houses can’t leave the Jones’ behind; they just re-invent them. We hold each other to bs standards rather than holding ourselves to the standard of ‘live and let live.’ In a few months I’m going to be deep in the woods and loving the peace and quiet of it all! I know that’s not what your point was Nick, but I’m sorry. I want out!

  • Sheila
    February 13, 2014, 6:12 pm

    I have a friend who sought to save money by purchasing a tiny home last year. The biggest problem she faces is finding a place to park it. She leased a person’s yard for 6 months and now needs to find a new yard. This is the only problem she talks about, but there are other issues I see plainly – 1) no plumbing. She gets water from a garden hose, uses a bucket as a toilet and claims to compost her waste but really just dumps it over some plants. If it weren’t for a school with unlocked doors nearby she would have nowhere to shower. 2) her stuff doesn’t actually fit inside the house. She has stuff all over the yard. She’s taken over the patio furniture, found cabinets for dishes, has a sink/counter setup, has who knows what all under her house, and has random boxes and buckets and things. She talks about building an “extension.” It’s not ideal. There are definitely some major draw backs to tiny home ownership the tiny home sales people don’t mention. You can’t necessarily rely on friends with yards for a place to stay. You have to think about where you’ll get water and electricity. You have to make arrangements for hygiene. You have to be willing to part with your things and refrain from getting more things. And for God’s sake please arrange access to a toilet. I’ve no idea what my friend is going to do or where she’ll end up. Don’t be like my friend.

    • Rhion
      February 17, 2014, 2:04 am

      It sounds like your friend dove straight into the tiny home thing without being properly educated on it, safety, sanitation, and downsizing, which means she planned very, very poorly. Does she have overall fairly bad impulse control? Because that’s what it sounds like, and I feel bad for her and whomever she convinces to allow her to park. Her current manner is not sustainable, (and the dumping of waste? That’s how you get dysentery, Hep A, etc!) and going to get her in major trouble – which will be a case that municipalities etc, could point to and further hamper the exploration of the tiny house movement. Folks like that are scary, whether they’re in a large house or a tiny one.

  • Michelle
    February 18, 2014, 10:09 pm

    If you are in a tiny home on wheels, which is classified as a travel trailer (rv,) then the most sensible solution for places to legally hook up & stay would be RV Parks. Campgrounds that allow rvs are good, too. It’s not free, but can be low-cost (long-term rates are lower than nightly rates, and there are free camping opportunities on some BLM lands if you don’t require hook-ups, (but that’s a western U.S. nowhere-near-city kind of thing.) I guess it boils down to what you want out of tiny living.

    • Rhion
      April 18, 2014, 9:52 am

      A lot of RV parks in the States I’ve looked into, have rules that state things like ‘must be an RV of good repair/above certain value/less than x amount of years, etc. Those that don’t have similar rules, are frequently…not exactly safe. High crime rates, etc. Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Idaho, Florida, California (places where I have family, etc) – RV parks that have any sort of decent safety ratings/cleanliness etc, would turn their noses up at tiny homes. It’s baffling and kinda, well, shitty that they do that, and I believe it should be on a case by case – but it’s their business. It would take a group of tiny house people, with ones in good repair/attractive, banding together, to see if they could effect a change at those campgrounds. It’s doable, but there’s just not enough people in concentrated spots, to do it. Or at least that’s how it seems sometimes.

    • SystemGuy
      April 22, 2014, 9:35 pm

      FACT: It’s not classified as a RV.. They are not DOT authorized vehicles. Look at the process for registering home built trailers, it’s about the same for a manufacturer of RVs.

      The REAL problem is all these people are too lazy to do research and just ask the first person they can find..

  • Anymouse
    April 17, 2014, 1:42 pm

    The Tiny House Movement also seems to suffer from having too much Elitism, Environmentalists and Hipsters. Living in a tiny house because you think you’re going to “save the planet” is the wrong reason. “Cheap” tiny houses are another issue. Putting a tool shed from Home Depot on a utility trailer and calling it a tiny house is not only pathetic but makes you look like poor white trash. NO ONE, I repeat NO ONE wants your $5K Tupperware or plywood shack anywhere near their property. Have some pride in your home and make it a real “tiny house” meaning it LOOKS like a real full size normal house but smaller.

    I don’t think Tiny Houses are for everyone, and I think a lot of people just want to “be in on it”. If you think you do, then go try to live in your bathroom for a month. It’s like people who think they need an iphone to be cool or people who think they’re better than others driving a prisis or a smart car. Then they try to push their ideas and beliefs onto others and only get resistance or backlash.

    Some people just want to live in a small simple house. Right now I live in a tiny studio apartment. It’s small and cozy and I love it, but I can’t do anything to it. I can’t paint the walls, I can’t decorate it or make custom cabinets or even put in my own fridge or replace the electric stove with a gas one.

    • Rhion
      April 18, 2014, 9:46 am

      While I understand, and agree to a great degree, with your sentiment that tiny houses that look like raggedy shacks are detrimental to the movement, I do wonder if you’ve ever heard about the pot and the kettle? Because it seems your approach will be about as effective as those you’re describing, maybe you should try something to actually add to the dialogue and improve the overall air of it. If every person who truly wishes to live small, would act as ambassadors of better living, it could actually work. Whether or not that smaller/sustainable living is in a very tiny space, or in downsized for a family with the simpler/less cluttered life of a traditionally sized home (e.g. under 1000sqft for 2-3 people compared to the 1500+ of today per 2-4 people).

      Thoughtfulness costs nothing but a moment of thought and gets people much farther than derision.

  • Gorillachops
    May 22, 2014, 7:32 pm

    PLEASE READ AND HELP. How about this as a solution, which i need everyones help with: instead of being fixated to only 150 sf tiny homes, what is the smallest sf (e.g. 500, 600, or whatever) “small” home one can build legally and affordably? What would be the safest cost effective cities? Can it ne done for less than $100k or not? Thank you everyone.

    • maXx
      June 2, 2014, 12:28 pm

      The minimum overall size is dictated not by building codes but instead by local zoning and land use regulations. So that varies from place to place. Although some state building codes require rooms to be a certain size, that really has nothing to do with what the local zoning board requires.

      As for the cost, the bulk of the cost is going to be your basic infrastructure and that is pretty static regardless of the size of the structure. In my area, you’re looking around $40k before your first nail is hammered not including any land. So once you factor in the cost of the land, there isn’t much left over to build anything. Of course, $100k will buy you an existing, very livable structure in a number of big cities that have some depressed areas. It might actually buy you an entire city block of very livable structures.

  • ilovetiny
    May 27, 2014, 2:58 am

    This is a movement? Using the word “Tiny” to make RVs and trailers sound cute?

    Tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny!

    Somehow I missed this during my 20 years in NYC. We called it “cozy,” but I have to admit that “Tiny” (with a capital “T”), sounds so sickeningly sweet that I want to move back just so I can be a part of this miniature super cute Tiny House movement

  • ilovetiny
    May 27, 2014, 3:12 am

    Sorry I hit a button midstream. Feel free to disregard my comment, as what I make to say was simply: “Tiny House has a posse.”

    Tiny Tim

  • May 29, 2014, 11:37 am

    There are so many different arguments going on here. The income gap between rich and poor is not something I feel prepared to address. Tiny homes are not my interest even though I live in a small space now. My focus is on sustainability. Tiny homes fit into a larger discussion of what can we do to make our lives more feasibly sustainable. It seems like the greater discussion is how do we move from our hand to mouth existence towards our dream of living in a way that is sustainable?

    Tiny homes are the stuff of our dreams because they allow us to think that one day we can afford to live in a way that is commensurate with our values, live in a way that gives us more free time, more control, allows us to escape the rat race and live in Eden. We need to hold steadfast to our dreams and we need a visual image to lock onto and for some folks it looks like a tiny house. Hold onto whatever image works for you- it needs to feel reachable in order for you to reach it. You need to see yourself getting there in the near future through dogged determination and hard work and discipline. I am doing it and you can too, I am building a more sustainable way of life for myself and my family on an acre of land. It isn’t a finished work of art yet, but I have a canvas to draw on and being able to express my vision as I see fit is a wonderful thing. Figure out a way to make it work for yourself and begin today.

    • Alex
      May 30, 2014, 1:52 pm

      Thank you Brad, VERY inspirational! Blessings. Alex

  • Yvette Walker
    August 7, 2014, 6:43 pm

    What about Oklahoma? Do you know much about statutes in this state?

    • Rhion
      August 8, 2014, 10:06 am

      Check your state’s Building Code Commission, just be aware that in many cases, the rule of thumb is 150sqft per person when dealing with townships and cities. Anywhere where you’re looking at a ‘rural’ style suburb, then they frequently have rules that demand an abode of no less than 1,000sqft on a half acre lot.


  • Rowlando
    September 28, 2014, 1:03 am

    You make a lot of good points. I’ve lived in Portland as a builder and contractor for over 40 years and have seen huge shifts in the urban housing make up of the city.
    My point is: most tiny house designs are a home made trailer on a standard trailer chassis.
    If your a home owner in any neighborhood, urban or suburban, and your next door neighbor moved an Airstream trailer onto his driveway or into his backyard and started renting it out you’d say WTF?

    Weather it’s his mother in law, his out of work brother in law, his adult child moving back home….
    Or an AirB&B tourist with a credit card card and some time to kill.
    You own a SFH on a standard neighborhood lot (in portland thats 50’x100′ average) and your neighbor just opened a trailer park in a residential neighborhood.
    Just because its “home made and hand built” on top of a standard trailer chassis, its not a tiny home, its a god damn trailer!
    If its parked permanently in one spot, where does the water and power come in and where does the sewage go out?
    We won’t even start to talk about the extra load on street parking which is in very short supply in Portland.
    Tiny house design has found a loop hole in local building codes for the time being but property owners will put the pressure on local code enforcement to plug this gap in planning so that home owners don’t get tiny squatters in their neighborhoods.
    I’m all for small housing units. But all housing has to be on the grid, pay taxes and be amenable to their neighbors.
    You can’t increase neighborhood density and get a free ride because your house is on top of a trailer chassis.

  • February 18, 2015, 1:52 pm

    Allan and peeps, I’m reading this 2 years after it was written. Much has been said. Has anything changed with regard to zoning and municipal acceptance? Is it just as hard today to find a legal site for a Tiny House (on wheels) as it was 2 years ago? What can we do about it (aside from complaining online)?
    Would you recommend a manufactured home instead? Keeping it in an RV park? Are the already-zoned trailer parks the only widespread legal option?

    • allan cerf
      April 2, 2015, 5:20 pm

      The author here: Lee Busch More than a little ironic, which was of course the entire point of my article. Placing a Guest House on the grounds of a larger house is certainly not part- in any way – of a change in the status quo of housing. But I agree with your points – as they were the ones I made these several years ago.

    • allan cerf
      April 2, 2015, 5:21 pm

      Apologies Lee Busch about the context of my most recent reply. I forgot I had responded to you earlier

  • Allan Cerf
    February 18, 2015, 3:08 pm

    Lee Busch – not to my knowledge, but I’m definitely not ‘the’ authority. I’m still in the Bay Area and Berkeley that bastion of “forward thinking” … well, I was driving past some guy’s house and noticed his vintage 50’s trailer out front. I knocked on his door to inquire about prices and he told me he had been warned by the City to move it – though it was in front of his own house. He USED to have a tiny house in his backyard rented to a grad student and the city said that section of Berkeley wasn’t zoned for it and he could no longer rent it. Other sections of Berkeley do allow it. My larger point is it’s very, very tricky.

    My advice if you’re willing to move is to buy a zoned house that you can afford (if any) as some of the great deals of 2012 are no longer affordable as the economy in theory 🙂 recovers.

    Good luck!

    • April 2, 2015, 3:34 am

      Allan, the idea of buying a house in a properly-zoned area so that you can put a tiny house in the back yard to live in is amusing, perhaps a bit ironic, but also makes sense. You have to be willing and able to rent out the house, but then it could also offset your costs. Too bad it doesn’t address one benefit of tiny houses — that of needing less capital to acquire one with.

  • Mike Clapp
    March 31, 2015, 8:12 pm

    I would think the challenge of tiny houses in the bay area would be the cost of permits. In my part of the East bay the permits and hookups alone are well in excess of 100K. There does seem to be more acceptance of MIL units and both at a state and local level because it can often be classified as low income housing and meet the local quotas. I’m personally looking into and stumbled on to the tiny house movement because I can see a time where a MIL, one of the graduated kids or eventually even my wife and I will want our own space but close to supporting family.

  • March 31, 2015, 10:31 pm

    Just in case anyone is still reading this, I am one of those people who do live full time in a tiny house on a trailer. I am parked on a friend’s property and in a very rural area. While my setup is not really legal, living in a remote spot has meant that no one has complained. I am totally off grid and pretty much out of sight. Working with living in a town is much harder in many places still I am afraid. But there are people like me who do really live full time in our houses.

  • Drew in PDX
    April 6, 2015, 10:34 pm

    This has been a fascinating thread to read. Personally I have been looking for a boat to liveaboard in the Portland area for the last two years. What I found is that very, very few marinas will allow liveaboards and those that do charge a healthy premium. Still the situation for boats still looks 10x better than that for trailer based tiny homes.

    The answer for me is probably going to be an old/small home in an older neighborhood. In this area there are many available at around 1,200 sf. Not much at all under that size for freestanding houses.

    • Allan Cerf
      April 7, 2015, 5:22 pm

      Andrew: About how much is 1200 SF in an older neighborhood in Portland.

  • Amy
    April 16, 2015, 12:47 pm

    Hi all, I am a bit obsessed over tiny homes and appreciate cautionary tales such as this. However, I am an architect who is used to working with the constraints of building codes and am I’m a bit confused by the perception that building departments are particularly against tiny homes. They limit “regular” architecture stringently to prevent things such as commercial stores being built in single family neighborhoods…etc. Its just how it is. Though tiny home lovers may not like their dwellings being called an RV, tiny homes on trailers can benefit significantly from using RV status. RV park zoning exists and is widely accepted. Use the code in your favor and make it work! Perhaps it is worth buying a campground with existing infrastructure and existing code approvals and rebrand it as a tiny home community? Who’s in?

    • jimships
      August 10, 2015, 7:57 am

      Building an RV is one route and certainly if you own the property, you can build a small house to code. Counties tend to be more relaxed than cities on code and inspections. I built a 1800 square foot house in the country and had one inspector and that was for the aerobic system.

      The real issue here is self-determination. People must have a right to live in any situation which does not infringe on the rights of others. Because others don’t agree to the look or size or your choice for a house is not their decision. You could say the same thing for their dwelling. I would argue who owns this house anyway, paid for it and therefore it is the owner who is in a position to decide how they want to live. It is only second to last issue on self-determination – the last being how you will die. The third issue is when you actually live which is in Gods hands, but I think it is the moment of conception.

      The remaining issue here is the collapse of family and personal income and what that new income will or can afford. People are waking up to the fact that in 1900 we used on average 100 square feet per person. In today’s thinking that is now 500 square feet. People are realizing that paying to heat and cool large spaces no one occupies is simply dumb, so is the mortgage to cover the build. People are waking up to a changing “quality of life” criteria where materialism (while needed for survival and comfort) is not the end game it is preached to be.

      These drivers and more are real and certain. The government will either embrace them (OR) pay for people to live in low income government housing. No, it’s time that codes and planners get on board and fast. This is not a fad it is a trend and the trend cannot be stopped. As usual, most municipalities will be far behind the real power curve and in catch-up mode. It is not their right to control what someone lives in. If it was they would put every person living on the street in a dwelling that meets their stated criteria of an acceptable home.

      They don’t so (self aggrandizing) officials have lost the right to object.

  • tinyhousebuilder
    April 26, 2015, 1:02 am

    I would like to see all of you live in the same 120 square foot tiny house for a year. Maybe then you would be nicer to each other.

  • Edward
    April 27, 2015, 4:11 am

    ….Reading this all a couple years from original post. Anything change yet? haha.

    My wife and I are definitely planning on living in our Tiny build we are planning. “Where” seems to be the thing everyone still gets tripped up on . Well, that and financing if looking to go through a bank. We’ve been saving. Hopefully gonna find an ideal spot of land to…land on. smh =)

    Living in Washington state though, which we have heard is somehow among the “easier” states in the US to dwell tiny in, there isn’t a lot by way of encouraging chatter about how to solve the where buying land would be best. Even then, we plan to fall far short of the minimum 300 sq ft rules for ADUs. Keeping our eyes open.
    We are actually going to be hearing the “Tiny House Nation” tv program duo speaking tomorrow in person. Maybe they have some ideas on how to solve these things, but I’m not really expecting much since there show is basically a highlight reel of any given build and never really addresses any of the location or finance details. They mostly only deal with “How Crrraaaazzyy” it is to live tiny at all and the associated luke-warm drama of down sizing.
    Mostly I am still hopeful. Honestly this is kind of the last “car we are chasing”. I’m not sure what we will do if this all works out and we get what we are after. haha. We don’t want much else but to live in love happily ever after. We’ll see what happens. ……with the build I mean. We will have the happily ever after part regardless. =)

    Thanks for the article. Feel free to hit up my email with an update if you’d like. Good luck in your pursuits as well. =)

  • May 27, 2015, 12:50 am


  • Connie
    May 27, 2015, 10:11 pm

    Thank you, this was very eye opening.

  • Mike
    July 6, 2015, 7:31 pm

    I am a big advocate for the Small house movement But the Tiny house movement is just custom built and often poorly designed RVs. For one many designs I have seen do not make use of what Boat and RV designers have been doing for years in that the space must covert for function throughout the day. No one needs their bed during the day (unless you work night shift) so why take up space for a permanent bed? Also after your done cooking you no longer need cooking prep area so why not convert it to a desk or seating space? Most of the designs also try to shoe horn in standard home furniture into a tiny space. IN RVs and boats furniture is built in with storage everywhere you can steal space like under your seating. Tiny home designers need to look toward sail boat designs. And then there is the economics of scale. In building MOST of the costs is labor NOT materials so 100 sq. feet vs 200 sq. feet is NOT half the cost. so if you think you half the house costs half a much your wrong. Now if YOU are the labor yes a tiny home can be built cheap. If someone else is the labor and your include a bunch of builtins and custom storage and cabinetry (which a tiny house should have to make the most of the space) the difference in cost to buy a 500sq. ft house vs a 1200 sq. foot house could be very small. An then there is the WHERE do you put your tiny house. Do you want to have a flushing toilet? how about running water well you need to hook up to a city water or a well and you need to hook up to sewers or septic system. (there are other solutions like composting toilets and storage tanks that must be pumped) But than your not being innovative your just living in a RV. And if you price RVs you can buy a normal size house on your own lot for the same price as a brand new RV. So yes we should reevaluate the 2000 sq. foot plus houses we are building today and all the Stuff we fill them up with BUT to try and say a under 100sq. foot house designed worse then a well designed boat interior is a improvement on housing is just delusional.

  • Christine
    July 8, 2015, 2:32 am

    I want to say first of all thank you to everyone who has been contributing into this conversation. I have read all the way back to 2013 and there are really a lot of interesting points brought up. Arguments or not, this is a discussion over legality and people’s homes. I wouldn’t want to hear an untruthful story, even if it was motivating, on these subjects.
    I suppose what I would love some insight on is as a college student trying to continue in life debt free, I don’t even have a credit card still, my options seem pretty slim. I can stay home for free until eventually pushing the time limit to the max, or pay roughly in my area $350-600/mo. for an apartment- with a roommate (and then never seen any return on that money), or try to milk the at-home stay and put the money that would of gone into rent, into a tiny home build, then eventually later on try to scrap it, rent it, sell it, keep it, and decide from there, depending on needs and what I was able to build. A tiny home really does sound tempting. Someone commented on the actual cost break down per square foot being much more in a tiny home. So do you wait to spend more on a house, to spend less per sq foot, or take what you can get and then eventually try to work up to what is ideal?? I am so in love with the tiny home style but I can’t help but to feel like I’m eating a forbidden fruit sometimes, like what I see on the outside of this movement isn’t always what you get signed up for, especially financially and realistically. I see people claiming to live in a 5k builds and see the 100k builds marked as uniquely high priced, yet many practical seeming estimates top 100k for a full package deal. I hope this all doesn’t offend but I can never really seem to get clear answers. I see a lot of arguments over opinions, not facts. As well as diversions to the costs and true laws. Looking forward to hearing back.

  • Kirsten Brors
    April 22, 2017, 8:38 pm

    Well, don’t know if anyone is still reading this thread, but I read all of it!

    I am going to try to go tiny when I retire and am trying to decide on wheels, no wheels and size. As metres makes more sense to me I sometimes struggle to work out how small 150 square feet is visually.

    I have looked at countless tiny houses and fallen in love with many of them in the last year or so.

    As I will be placing this house in Norway I am of course looking into laws, what could work etc. Norway is I believe ahead of many countries in that you now are allowed to build up to 50 square metres in your back yard. You cannot live there permanently though so I will have to check out how many months I need to travel and still live there the rest of the time.

    There is one discussion I find rather bizarre, the toilet situation. It can be tricky if you want to be totally off grid, but there are excellent bio toilets that incinerate the waste so all you need is electricity. There are also some that are composting but in a closed system. So why the bucket and sawdust?
    This is the one luxury I would invest in. I would also have a large water tank and grey water tank with a long hose so you can periodically empty it in a legal and safe manner.
    Another thing that gets me about many of these tiny homes is a “full kitchen”. I agree about the boat comment. One needs to think small and functional. If you love baking, get a small alcohol cooktop oven used in
    boats, much safer.
    I can only think of two reasons for putting it on wheels. Firstly, I need someone to build it (am seriously considering La Tiny House in France) so it needs to be moved. Secondly, as I will be using a friend’s back garden, I might want to move it (or have to).
    Also, there are much stricter rules in Europe for how heavy it can be, so one needs to be inventive.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 24, 2017, 4:22 am

      I do think I’d go with an enclosed toilet system 🙂 They are expensive, but I’d save the hassle! And yes, you can certainly get a smaller kitchen. I hope your tiny house dreams come true soon! Send us pictures when you have one!

  • Allan L Cerf
    November 9, 2017, 12:36 am

    Hi Everyone! It’s the author. It’s winter 2017. Here we are 4.75 years later!

    I ended up with a small house on the grid, in Washington state. Irony of ironies is that I have such a huge lot that there are squatters living on part of it who simply dug a hole in the ground and call it ‘home.’ I haven’t yet chased them away but truly – they’re living the tiny life!

    Further irony is that I may not – no exceptions – even build a tiny house on my own property because it’s not 85′ wide at all points. However, I can build one inside my garage! But to do that, first I have to widen my driveway. And this in an area that is pretty liberal in terms of codes. Bear this in mind. I own a lot that is almost 1/2 a mile long and averages 65′ feet wide in a community that is somewhat more opened-minded about Tiny than most. And I still am expressly forbidden to place a tiny on it. (The home 2 doors down can as it is 85′ wide at all points.)

    I should also mention that in 2014, I worked for a manufacturing company and visited many huge sewage plants – one in Texas was several miles in size and also, Oakland, California’s East Bay ‘Mud,’ as its known. Mud is states of the art in some ways. I think the perk/sewage issue is the key one facing Tiny Homes. You say composting is the same as a modern, sewage plant? Kind of like a seagull and a 747 both fly; there the similarity ends.

    I would love to hear from everyone who wrote in! How many realized their tiny house dream? I finally did and it’s going to be in my garage- but remember – my county and state allow it – yours may not. And it is still very expensive.

    May you all realize your dreams. Love to hear from you all…

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