Tiny House Q&A – Everything You Need to Know

 

How often do you have house parties?

I am a devout hedonist and even I only manage four per year.

Is it worth everything that it costs for a brick house in order to have enough indoor space for my four house parties per year? I’m not so sure.

This article is based on an interview I did with Louise McSharry for RTE 2FM. You can listen to it here.

 

This is not just about owning a small house. It’s a full movement towards living smaller. What made you research this area?

It’s definitely not just about small spaces. What I am finding as I progress with this research is that it’s really more about a sense of freedom.

I grew up working class where money was a constant source stress & fear. Aside from winning lottery or selling organ, dramatically reducing overheads seemed to be the best way to escape.

Housing is the biggest lifetime cost so this looked like the best way to approach reducing my monthly outgoings.

York, where I live and work, is affordable in the context of the UK but the cost of a house is still between 10 & 20 times higher than average wage. Dublin has areas house prices are 14 times average wage. London houses price is 41 times higher than average wage.

I thought that there has to be an alternative to this, and there is. There are many. Tiny houses are one alternative.

 

Photo by David Gonzales from Pexels

How big, or small, are we talking about when we call a dwelling a tiny house?

Lots of people ask this and the answer is still debated. A generally agreed up on definition is no bigger than 50m2.

The definition is something that needs clarity from a legislation perspective because in order for planning permission, building regulations, and financial infrastructure to exist for tiny houses there needs to be some agreed upon definition of what they actually are.

Could you give planning permission or lend money for the purchase of a berphlint? Probably not because you don’t know what a berphlint is. Neither do I. I made it up.

I am at the very beginning stages of working with some colleagues in New Zealand who have set up the first national tiny house association over there. You can look and support the excellent work they are doing here.

We also want to get a national tiny house association set up in the UK which can represent the needs of this community and work towards a better general understanding of what they are in the public mind. Please get in touch with us here if you would be interested in helping out with this.

To return to the original question, my research includes a 10m2 tiny house and a 50m2 tiny house, and really everything in between. I would say a good average is around 30m2

 

 

The variety of tiny houses is huge – not all are stationery?

That’s right. A tiny house on wheels is a workaround used to classify a build as a road towable vehicle which allows owners to circumnavigate legal restrictions about space and residential status.

Other types of tiny house include cabins like my own, shipping containers, vans, horse boxes, straw bale structures, floating models, hobbit houses, tree houses. The list is long. That’s part of the reason tiny houses are so fun; the level of bespoke customisation is very high.

 

And we talk about tiny house space we are also talking about tiny house cost too?

I will give you some examples from my own research. One participant built 10m2 home for £900, One designed and built 30m2 home for £60,000, and we have spent £10,000 on ours. As you can see from that list, even the most expensive tiny houses are affordable compared to brick houses in the UK.

One of my participants works for 6 months and travels for 6 months. Another lives tiny so that he can work part time to make sure he can spend half of his time with his young daughter.

The cost saving is both immediate and ongoing because tiny space is much cheaper to heat and cool. To compound this effect, many are off grid. They use composting toilets, solar panels, wind turbines, biomass heaters, there is a lot of creativity where energy use is concerned. One guy reports that his annual utility bills come to less than £100.

 

 

Having less space means learning to live more simply with less stuff. Has that been what your participants in your research have found?

Concisely, yes.

There is an interesting division between those who deliberately choose tiny because they want to consciously extricate themselves from a life that revolves around market relations and compulsory consumption, and those who are scrambling to survive under conditions of economic hardship and end up living a simplified life because the reduced space demands it.

My research so far is suggesting that that a majority of people conclude:

1) it’s amazing what you can live without

2) they are much more satisfied focusing on the really important things in life – human connection and a sense of liberation and autonomy.

 

 

While this sounds all very cute and idyllic you’ve found in your research this movement has grown out of necessity rather than just a whim on a housing aesthetic?

Exactly. Imagine for yourself in a capital city like Dublin it’s not impossible that that 70% of your earnings are spent each month just on rent, not including bills, food. Imagine what you have left over?

Then imagine, you could swap that equation around so that 30% of your wages were spent on housing, and how that might change your life and the choices that you could make.

You might consider the trade off if all you had to do was live in a 30m2 space.

Employment instability and the all-time-high of zero hours contracts makes peoples financial security more precarious. Tiny houses with tiny costs can ameliorate this threat.

More and more people are being calculated about their choices; they pause and critically interrogate the status quo. Such a process leaves many people realising that they don’t want to replicate the lifestyle of their parents.

 

 

To buy or build a normal sized house you can apply for a mortgage but not for a tiny house?

That’s right. Conventional homes are attached to land and this is the real asset against which the mortgage loan is secured. Because a tiny house is not attached to land it is treated a depreciable asset like a car for example.

One option is a personal or credit card loan, but this excludes people who don’t have a good enough credit rating and is also a much more expensive and risky type of debt to take on than a mortgage.

My research indicates that most people either save little by little over a period of years, and/or arrange a personal loan from friends and family.This means that the system continues to benefit those who already have money and social connections with people with land, big back gardens, that sort of thing.

Myself and my business partner set up a company called OpHouse in January to try and address some of these issues. Part of our work will involve setting up a national tiny house association and will also look at brokering relationships between people who want to build a tiny house and companies who have the money to build them.

 

 

A significant proportion of our earnings go towards housing costs, rent and mortgages, and with tiny houses this is significantly reduced. How has that impacted the lives of your participants in your study?

Freedom is the one word that comes up again and again.

Freedom to work in a job you love that pays low, freedom to work part time, freedom to physically move. Freedom to prioritise community, family, hobbies, volunteering, setting up your own business, further education.

What is really interesting is how many people talk about a psychological sense of freedom just from knowing that you are not tied down to a huge mortgage debt for the next 20 years, or that they don;t have to live at the mercy of private landlords.

 

 

Having friends around for a house party would be tricky? And what happens when you have kids? Is this a trend for single or retired people?

Yes, it depends a lot on your tastes for personal space, but It’s all part of a cost-benefit analysis.

How often do you have house parties?

I am a devout hedonist and even I only manage four per year.

Is it worth everything that it costs for a brick house in order to have enough indoor space for my four house parties per year? I’m not so sure.

Tiny housers are definitionally an inventive bunch. My participants whack up a gazebo, hire out a community space, get to the pub, or have their party at a friend’s place.

Plenty of my participants have children, cats, dogs. It’s not for everyone, but again you personally calculate your own cost benefit analysis as a family and decide together if it is a solution that aligns with your values, and if so maybe only for five years or maybe only whilst you have one child not two, or two children not three.

You reevalaute as you go along.

 

 

If people could afford normal sized houses in the morning do you think they would give up their tiny homes?

It’s a great question and an important one to ask. Inevitably, some would and some wouldn’t.

Some people realise it’s not for them; tiny spaces need to be kept really tidy in order not to look cluttered and feel stressful to be in, they get sick of dealing with the composting toilet, they physical mobility of a tiny house on wheels starts to make them feel unsettled.

However, most of the people I speak to in my work fall in love with tiny houses even when they entered into the lifestyle thinking it would just be a temporary solution.

The Freedom to prioritise relationships and learning and travel and time outdoors over earning money would be pretty high up on most people’s lists.

Once you’ve experienced it, you’re unlikely to want to give it up.