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Freedom from The Housing Trap with Zack Giffin: How You Can Use Tiny Homes

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I think you’ll enjoy this TEDx Talk with Zack Giffin of Tiny House Nation because he shares how tiny homes can be a tool for people to use to gain financial freedom (and more).

The talk is called, “Freedom from The Housing Trap.”

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Zack Giffin Shows You How Tiny House Living can be a Tool for Financial Freedom

Some of my favorite quotes from his speech

“…however, the power of a home can also be to facilitate growth in someone’s life. And that is where I become extremely inspired.”

“In this country we’ve gone through a series of decades where the cost of our housing has outpaced our incomes to such a degree that we have this growing homeless population.”

“…and we have families spending more and more of their income every year on their housing.”

“The Tiny House Movement is not a fad based upon an infatuation with everything small. The Tiny House Movement is a response to these growing environmental and economic factors that are only going to become more and more extreme in years to come.”


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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!
{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Jolene Cardwell
    May 9, 2017, 8:10 pm

    Love this and thank you. I want a tiny home so bad and am trying to figure out how to do it. This is perfect front as I have struggled in the past finically with a home if filed bankruptcy on. I was a single mom and got taken by someone who flipped the home.

    • James D.
      May 9, 2017, 8:53 pm

      That’s something to be careful with Tiny Homes as well, whether intentional or otherwise any form of business transaction has risks, unfortunately…

      So best to be patient and do your due diligence to make sure you get a good deal and the home truly fits your needs…

      • Alex
        May 10, 2017, 12:03 pm

        Totally, James! Good point… There’s danger to beware of in the tiny house world too. For example, what happens if you buy a $50K tiny house and can’t find a place to live in it peacefully? As you said, “patience” and “due diligence”!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 10, 2017, 9:03 am

      I’m so sorry Jolene! That is absolutely terrible.

    • Alex
      May 10, 2017, 11:44 am

      Glad you enjoyed the talk too, Jolene! I love how Zack talks about tiny homes as a response to the growing need for affordable homes here in the U.S. and throughout the rest of the world too. But we’re still facing the same problem…. Which is that tiny houses are nearly impossible to live in legally! How will we overcome this hurdle/obstacle?

      • Kim
        May 10, 2017, 3:26 pm

        Alex: Did you know Cook County, Minnesota’s, Zoning laws are completely open to anyone that wants to buy land and put a tiny house on wheels on it to live in? Not only is this area gorgeous, but the town of Grand Marais, Minnesota (which is located in Cook County, Minnesota) is so beautiful that it was even named as “Coolest Small town in America” in 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/06/travel/feat-budget-travel-america-coolest-small-towns-2015/

        Here’s a pretty video of Grand Marais also:

        I’d love to get the word out on this to tiny house people trying to find land to put their tiny house.

      • James D,
        May 10, 2017, 11:17 pm

        By making them legal…

        It may take years but advocates have been making some progress already…

        Like just last week Salem Oregon House Bill 2737 passed it 43-16 and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

        The bill would require the state Department of Consumer and Business Services to adopt specialty building codes for prefabricated and site-built homes that are less than 400 square feet.

        Counties in Texas and Florida have adjusted their zoning laws to allow many forms of Tiny Houses and companies like Cornerstone Tiny House in Florida is already building legal on foundation tiny houses…

        People developing micro communities, tiny house villages, etc. are creating social pressure to make it more widely legal as well as creating safe zones for those seeking to live tiny…

        Advocates are also developing relations with people in charge and through those relations are forming alliances that are helping to turn the tide…

        There are areas now that allow residential farming that previous didn’t, as examples of how this form of advocacy can help…

        And we should all have our opinions heard by our representatives and start to make it an issue that we vote on to make it matter to those in charge… as well as those of us willing to get elected into office to work the system from within…

        • Terrie
          November 9, 2019, 7:42 pm

          If you know of anyone looking to do such a thing in NC. I would be happy to chat. My back 40 perks and it would be a dream to have a tiny community there.

  • James
    May 10, 2017, 1:45 pm

    I don’t understand how spending $50k + on a tiny house is going to help financally. I bought a normal 2000 sqft house on a quarter acre for $75K. I Built my 560 Sqft log cabin for about $20k. People spending 50 to 100K then still needing to find a place to put it are getting taken by people cashing in onthe fad.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:57 am

      I think it really depends on your location. I’d love to purchase a home for $75k, but since my family and life is in Massachusetts, that’s just about impossible. So tiny homes, or small homes, allow financial freedom for those who live in expensive areas of the country. But of course if you live somewhere where you CAN purchase a home for far less, you totally should! 🙂

      • James
        May 11, 2017, 10:31 am

        Sure but some of the prices often seem way out of line for what is a glorified shed. We aren’t talking about the property values here, just the building. Like I said my 560 sqft log cabin cost me about 20K. It was destroyed in a fire and the permit guy won’t issue me another cabin permit, only a House Permit. That would restrict what I can build so the property just sits waiting. That brings us back to the legal problems of going tiny. I may build on wheels to avoid permits but that limits the size smaller and narrower than I like. So I wait. I hear there will be a new permit guy soon, fingers crossed. LOL

        • James D.
          May 11, 2017, 5:06 pm

          You’re basically making the argument that just because you can get a nice low cost car that suites your needs that there’s no reason anyone would ever want to get a luxury car…

          Sure, if you want to ignore the reasons why not everything is priced the same then it would of course seem strange but you should know it’s never that simple…

          Housing prices aren’t even very consistent and usually don’t reflect the actual value of the house because they’re tied into the value of the property/land and the value of the neighborhood it is in…

          A house near a industrial factory, airport, highway, declining neighborhood, etc. will naturally be lower value than a house near beachfront, etc. There’s a 440 sq ft cottage in Seattle going for $450,000, for example and that’s because of its location…

          There’s also the difference between new and old, a old house will not run you anywhere near as much as new house, especially if it hasn’t been well maintained or kept up to date… The idea that houses don’t depreciate is pretty much a myth…

          Aside from historic sites, most older buildings will sell for less but you have to account for how much it will cost to renovate and update the house to its final price which can be multiple times the original selling price.

          Even a relatively new house that sells below average market value is lower value for reasons!

          So a lot of this is just perception on what people’s limited experience on cost of housing but perception aside, many Tiny Houses are being build beyond building code. Meaning they’re build stronger and to higher standard than most residential houses… So hardly a glorified shed…

          Even those who convert sheds into Tiny Houses are re-enforcing them and literally converting them into a house in every respect…

          What has to then be understood is that you pretty much get what you pay for… Those $50,000 to $100,000 Tiny Houses are not basic structures but houses build to very high quality with very high end features and appliances…

          We’re talking radiant floor heating, granite or quartz counter tops, steel or even more expensive copper or zinc roofs, Jacuzzi’s, Steam Showers, Steam Convection Ovens, off grid options like Solar can run anywhere from $500 to over $15,000… Custom double or triple pane windows allow for the best insulation values but they run up to thousands each… A single bi-fold window will run you around $6,000, for example and it doesn’t matter what size house you install them into!

          It’s also a matter of livability… Designing for a smaller space means every square inch has to be usable instead of every square foot as you would with a big house… This requires more careful planning and work…

          The industry is still catching up to these needs so often a builder will have to build their own custom furniture and cabinets… So you can’t always equate the price of mass produced products because custom will usually cost more to do…

          Getting a tiny dishwasher, for example, will typically cost a few hundred more than a normal size dishwasher…

          However, as a homeowner you should know there are many hidden costs to owning a home… A Tiny Home owner faces far fewer of these…

          So the benefits is you can get a very high quality build house that may be a fraction of the size but also a fraction of the price of what it would cost to build a big house to equivalent build quality…

          People can more easily afford $50-$100K vs $300-$700K for a the average big house… a 30 year mortgage will net much larger interest than a 10 year mortgage, which is all you would need for even the highest priced tiny house…

          Cost of living will be less in a tiny house, cost to heat and cool the house will be less, cost of furnishings will be less, cost of maintenance and cleaning will be less, cost to upgrade and renovate over time will be less…

          Imagine, just having to repaint your house every few years… doing that for a 300 sq ft tiny house is a lot easier and less costly than doing that for a 3000 sq ft house… and the cost difference really adds up over the years until you can literally have bought a big house or two for what you’re saving on the tiny house… But all that money would be in your savings instead of going to pay off all your debts…

          So it’s not so much the house but what the lifestyle allows where the benefits really lay… and if you don’t want the best of everything you can still get a small and much lower cost Tiny House and it will still be of value in the long run…

        • James
          May 11, 2017, 5:57 pm

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like I was anti tiny house. I am a big fan. Like I said I built my own place at 560 sqft, which isn’t tiny but it’s hardly big. I just watch the shows and think some of the tiny house builders that suddenly popped up seem overpriced. Some are exceptionally well built but a lot are fancy sheds. Lois would like to go earth structure for the log cabin replacement and I think that would be very cost effective but with the current mood of the permit department I doubt it will happen. I hate to go thow but if that’s what it takes to get around Johnny Law then that’s what we have to do.

        • Eric
          June 5, 2019, 8:24 pm

          @James D: because they’re tied into the value of the property/land and the value of the neighborhood it is in…

          or more like, in many cases the greater fool syndrome. People will pay, often through the nose, to live in an area which is said/thought to be more desirable. Often these same areas have, in the States it would seem, petty minded local authority officers trying to justify their existence on the taxpayers teat. But what is desirable today could be a no goer in years to come. Take Detroit today as a very classic example. Once upon a time a boom city. Now huge ghettos where it is a no go area.

          Then there are the very infamous HOA’s for whole subdivisions. Yikes… thankfully where I live we don’t have that particular problem.

        • Sherry Niblock
          October 8, 2019, 5:51 pm

          James – My FIL owns a 800 square foot home in San Jose which he bought in the early ’80s. People are stacking up to pay him $1.5million+ for the thing. I’m sure many in the area would love to pay $50,000 – $75,000 for a tiny home…or even twice that for two Tinys to equal 800 sq ft! Space is the challenge, which is why an 800 sq. ft. home can sell for $1.5mil+. Well…space and Silicon Valley!

      • Alex
        May 12, 2017, 1:39 pm

        Location and timing! There were a lot of good real estate deals 2009-2012 since then prices have risen a lot!

        • Roger Steen
          November 9, 2019, 6:40 pm

          Hi Alex,
          I’m a long time subscriber, wanting to get a tiny home, but not sure where I’d put it. Is this discussion a business opportunity for you? Is there a way that you could develop an additional business revolving around listings of available locations where tiny homes are permitted?
          I’m not looking for financial gain here Alex… Just wanted to contribute a possible suggestion.
          Best, Roger Steen

    • e.a.f.
      March 1, 2020, 1:17 am

      $75K for all that. We haven’t seen those prices in Greater Vancouver since the mid 1970s.
      As areas become more preferred the price of land goes up, with that however, people want houses which match that, hence the problem. Million dollar lots, people who can afford that want 2 million dollar builds, well most. However, for those who couldn’t afford that, a million dollar lot divided by 4 if $250K and that in my part of the world is affordable. Put a small house on each portion of the lot and you’re smoking. However, zoning laws prohibit such things in Greater Vancouver, because developers can’t make money that way and developers finance politicians campaigns and so,………eventually you have a housing crisis.
      What Vancouver does permit is lane way houses. If the property has a lane a smaller home can be built at the back end of the property. of course the owner of the property owns the small house, so it becomes a rental. it has on the other hand increases rental accommodation and for some extended families its worked well, when an aging parent wants to downsize, it enables the adult child and family to move into the main house. Money exchanges hands, but still, its a lot less expensive. One could also incorporate a house and property and the shares allocated by the size of the house you live in. So if your small/tiny home is 30% of the sq. footage, that is what you own.

      What ever you decide to built, it is always best to own the land or have a lease which will cover the life expectancy of the dwelling.

      Most zoning laws are not there necessarily for our protection as consumers but rather for builders, developers, land owners, etc. It also depends upon who lives in an area. If they’re renters they can force change via civic elections. When affordable rentals run out, people will vote to be able to rent a place to live. In B.C. they implemented an empty house tax. Yes, an empty house tax for those people who didn’t live full time in the area or had the house for future reference. With the empty house tax people started renting out those homes. there were aapprox. 24 thousand empty homes prior to that. The same can be done with tiny homes to effect change. When people realize they can afford a home, if the zoning is changed, they don’t need to be at the mercy of a land lord. they can own a home.

  • Janie Farner
    May 10, 2017, 2:36 pm

    I confess to being surprised at how articulate Zack Giffin was in this talk. (Sorry, Zack!) However, there were SO many sub-topics that he touched on that are critical to this issue, that I can envision about 10 other TED talks branching off of this one presentation. I would like to hear more about Fresno zoning laws from the perspective of trying to effect these laws in my area. I would like to be the person who had permission/zoning to put one [or two] on my property (vs. being the person living in one!) as I think they are fantastic. I have a father and a mother-in-law who would LOVE to live “with us” but still maintain their independence. I have looked into a lot of plans/designs for these types of residences for the elderly that are fantastic, but zoning says NO. Anyway — rambling — sorry. I really enjoyed his talk and wish there were more like it that could effect the thinking of the PTB’s (Power-That-Be).

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:51 am

      Hi Janie — Have you asked about zoning for ADUs (accessory dwelling units) in your area? Sometimes the rules are more lenient in those cases, although I’m certain there are areas that say “No” no matter what. Just a thought!

      • Janie Farner
        May 11, 2017, 3:19 pm

        Natalie. ThNk you for the comment. While I was not aware of the term, ADU, I told the city everything I was looking to do and asked them to work with me to find a solution – no matter what you call it – and they jus plain said NO to two dwellings on the same property. In fact, my city won’t even let people park their own RV’s in their driveway, much less a tiny house. ☹️

        • James D.
          May 11, 2017, 5:18 pm

          I don’t know which state or county you’re in and so can’t offer specific advice but…

          There are two types of Accessory Dwellings… Either attached, which is basically an extension of the main building even if it can function on its own or Detached, in which case it is a separate structure…

          If they said no to a detached structure, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t opt for a attached structure… Worth checking out anyway IMO…

          There are also other options that may or may not apply… If the zoning laws allow another type of structure to be built in your backyard then you can opt for the long term option of eventually doing a co-op overlay that allows your property to be split up and then the structure can be upgraded into a Tiny House…

          There is also what is called Public Unit Development (PUD) that may be a option to consider as well…

  • Kathy
    May 10, 2017, 2:58 pm

    Zack…this is a much needed explanation of a much larger situation than just the “coolness” of building/living in a tiny home. It is not a trend, I completely agree. It is a brilliant solution to a very real need. I built a not-quite-tiny 400 sq ft home two years ago, completely out of necessity to have a home for myself. Fortunately for me, family members allowed me to do this in the back of their fairly large lot. Also in my favor..it began as a storage building that was built to my specifications; was brought in on a trailer and set down. So, it’s a “storage building”, and therefore I was able to bypass some roadblocks.
    Again, thanks so much for this very smart presentation. You have provided information that, yes, may have taken the romance out of the idea of building a tiny house, but you have also offered much needed valuable information of it being a very real solution.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:49 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this!

  • Emily c.
    May 10, 2017, 4:54 pm

    Great TED talk! I too admit being a bit surprised at how Zack is so well spoken. Mostly because he’s the quiet one on Tiny House Nation. I think he should speak more on the show since he is the expert on Tiny Houses. I currently live in a 1000 sq ft home and am considering purchasing a park size model home. About 400 sq. ft. mostly because I’m retiring and wish to down size even further. I have a lot of “stuff” to get rid of and I believe I will be happier with minimal things and less cost upkeep. Thanks for having Zack on your site.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:43 am

      Park Model homes can be a great option for retirees!

    May 10, 2017, 11:12 pm

    Enjoyed the talk and would like to hear more from Zack. Perhaps tiny home builders should have a convention where they brainstorm the issues of finding land for tiny homes. I was thinking maybe a family farm wouldn’t mind leasing a small plot of land for a tiny home. It could give them income for those seasons of a poor harvest. If the homes were built to blend into a neighborhood, they may be more acceptable. Just trying to find answers.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:28 am

      Absolutely! There’s also a great site, tryittiny.com, that tries to connect tiny house owners with folks looking to rent their land!

  • kimmi
    May 11, 2017, 6:41 am

    WOW Have always been a HUGE FAN of Zack’s and now even more so…
    Ya gotta watch the ‘quiet ones’! 😉
    I am a baby boomer having been in the real estate business, both selling and flipping…had my own (monogrammed of course!) tool belt; also an interior designer and ‘staged’ listings before anyone ever coined the term.
    I am also getting ready to embark on my own tiny house adventure and am very inspired by the younger generation like Zack – Bless them!!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 11, 2017, 9:25 am

      I am so happy you enjoyed this, Kimmi!

  • Maria
    May 12, 2017, 4:11 am

    I love reading about all the tiny house stuff…but my problem is I live in Tijuana, Mexico and cannot find any information anywhete about any kind of tiny house events/workshops that would be available here to attend. There are so many low income families here who could be helped by just going to a workshop here. Anybody know of any plans in the near future to have one here?

    • Natalie C. McKee
      May 12, 2017, 9:25 am

      Hi Maria — I wish I knew of one in Mexico, but I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything yet.

    • e.a.f.
      March 1, 2020, 12:58 am

      Create your own workshop. As we have Zack speaking on video, it might be worth looking into gather a bunch of them, perhaps even finding a speaker who would like to attend and go for it! Workshops aren’t hard to do. It involves the dissemination of information and gathering information from the group. People usually have the answers, if they work as a group and brain storm. What works in Mexico might not work in the U.S.A. and visa versa. Also building materials change from country to country so using local materials would be better.

  • susan secord
    May 14, 2017, 5:07 pm

    Hi zack, I watch your show every week, it is the best way to get knowledge on this way of living! I have liven in a older 5th wheel for many years. It needs to be done over, epsecially the bathroom. I wish I knew more about redoing this 5th wheel, cuz I am more then willing to do this myself. I do not have alot of money , what could you reccomend for help. I wish you guys would come my way and help me on this! I have been fishing craigs list for items for the bathroom and there are numerous things to be had for free or cheap. My problem is my fear of doing this myself without any knowledge. What would you advise me to do. You guys are welcome to stop in in garner north carolina to give me a hand! Thanks for the input-susan secord

  • Alexandra
    October 7, 2019, 9:28 pm

    Wonderfull talk ….. I am living in my Tiny House in the backyard of my friend, what Zack talked about is exactly what made it possible for me to live in my own house. Two family units have different needs and can easily meet in the middle/ help each other out by inhabiting the same property !

  • Mack
    February 27, 2020, 12:35 pm

    I live in a town where the planning commission will not allow houses to be under 963 square feet. I think that is very backward thinking. Therefore I have to seek out a rental lot in the country to set up a tiny house. That is not an easy thing to do.

    • Alex
      February 27, 2020, 5:10 pm

      I wonder if they allow guest homes? So if you had a 963 sq. ft. main house, would they allow a smaller guest house? In this case you could build both, rent one, live in the other, and it could maybe turn out nicely.

    • e.a.f.
      February 29, 2020, 10:57 pm

      time to find other politicians. You could be a start!

  • e.a.f.
    February 29, 2020, 10:55 pm

    Living in a tiny home is great for the environment because they use less material/resources, and some people like to build them from re claimed materials.
    Financially they’re better, cost less. Now that may vary from place to place especially in the U.S.A. but I live in Canada where housing is expensive and especially if you live in British Columbia and then if you live in Greater Vancouver or Victoria you’re into the clouds with cost. You can pay as much for a parking space in a condo building as you can for some tiny homes. Yes, some tiny homes can run over a $100K but that won’t even get you a studio in B.C.

    It is really about time civic governments started to re think zoning so people could buy small lots, for their tiny homes in more urban and suburban areas. Back in the 1980s one of the biggest contributors in the country was the redevelopment of “trailer” parks. People had always rented their pads, along comes a developer, buys the whole place, evicts and puts up a high rise. If people could purchase their land, it would be great or even have pre paid long term leases. WE went through the same thing in B.C. People had lived in their manufactured homes for decades were facing eviction with no where to go.

    As we age, many of us are thinking of downsizing. My plan involves a tiny/small house. Big garage, but tiny house. its an alternative to renting in an assisted living place. not keen on living somewhere that is full of old people like myself. There are pick up laundry services, groceries can be delivered, or prepared meals delivered and there are cleaning companies. All for much less than assisted leaving places, which in B.C. start at around $3K a month.

    Governments might want to recognize tiny homes are here to stay and the owners VOTE.

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