Tiny Homes

Tiny Homes: How the Mini-House Went Big

A not-so-new housing trend has become wildly popular all over the world: tiny homes. 

Tiny homes are typically 400-500 square feet, with some as small as 80 square feet. They became popular because of the housing crisis, spurred on by the Great Recession, and are known for their sustainability and financial benefits. These properties often cost less than more traditional homes, shrinking the downpayment and mortgage needed for homebuyers to transition out of renting. Nonetheless, what was initially an economic trend became a “movement” associated with minimalism.

Tiny Homes in the Past

The history of the tiny home goes as far back as the beginning of humans building structures. The Sioux, Inuits, and Samoans were considered the earliest builders of tiny homes. Homes needed to be portable and weather-resistant, and it was easier to do both with a smaller surface area. 

In America, the tiny home movement starts with Walden.


In 1854, Thoreau published his account of living in a 150 square foot shack. He noticed many people around him living in excess, something that was also making them unhappy. Thoreau decided to show the public that it was easy to live by their means, not only for conservation but also for positive mental health. Modern tiny house dwellers share the same values, with the idea of simplifying rather than adding on.

Portland ADUs

In 1997, Portland made it legal for homeowners to build accessible dwelling units (ADUs) on their property. ADUs are small homes, usually less than 1,000 square feet, and are either attached to the main unit or built separately on the same lot. These homes are often found in heavily populated areas. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition estimates there is a shortage of 7.2 million rental units that low-income people could reasonably afford. AUDs are looked at as one way to increase affordable housing.

Cities including Portland, Austin, and Santa Cruz are at the forefront of this movement.

Susan Susanka’s “The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Live”

In 1998, Susanka published her book on tiny living, which was influential for architects and called for a tiny house movement. In an interview with AARP, she said she noticed that Americans had spaces in their houses they seldom used. This helped develop her ideas about building homes designed for what people need and how they live. This way, every square foot of the house is in use every day. The “Not So Big” living concept is about learning how to make a small space fit the homeowner’s needs, creating a functional and inspiring home.

The Small House Society

In 2002, Gary Johnson and Jay Schafer founded The Small House Society. The society supports research, development and the use of smaller living spaces. According to their site, small housing has many benefits, including lower utility bills, fewer building materials needed in construction, less land use, more efficient materials used, and more cost-effective living.

In 2006, NPR interviewed Johnson, and Oprah featured Schafer’s book in 2007.

The Housing Crisis

In 2008 and 2009, the housing crisis sparked a renewed interest in tiny houses. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the average home size in the U.S. was 2,700 square feet in 2009, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970. As square feet go up, so does the price. When people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore, the housing bubble burst and many were looking to downsize to afford housing. Instead of the “bigger is better” mentality, Americans were looking for modest spaces to save money.

Tiny House Nation

The Tiny House Nation, aired in 2014, follows two renovation experts traveling across America to show off small spaces and the owners behind the designs. They also construct mini-dream homes for families.


In 2017, Idaho became the first state to adopt the International Residential Code’s (IRC) tiny house appendix. This appendix relaxes many of the building requirements that apply to tiny houses, making them easier to construct.


The Tiny Homes Real Estate Market Now

According to the NAHB, there is a potential market for tiny homes, but it’s not for everyone. Millennials are at the top of the list, of whom 63% reported that they would live in one. This could be because they are actively trying to live the minimalist lifestyle, having grown up in the recession and seeing its effects first-hand.

Moreover, Colorado is at the forefront of the tiny house movement. Since it is central to many outdoor activities, outdoor enthusiasts are moving to Colorado and settling down in tiny homes. Without the large mortgage that comes with a bigger house, enthusiasts can put more money into their hobbies.

Tiny Homes in the Future

Though tiny homes look like a shiny solution now, their future might not be so bright. Based on insights from Tiny House Talk, tiny homes usually depreciate in value because of normal wear and tear. Part of the goal of many homeowners is to enjoy appreciation on their investment, rather than to absorb a loss when they decide to move. 

Oftentimes, legalities halt tiny home production as well. Phys.org states that since many states have a minimum requirement on habitable dwelling size, tiny homes often must rest on wheels. The swaying sensation can leave an inhabitant feeling groundless, or unsettled. 

Another downside, according to Phys.org, is the use of external storage units. Obviously, tiny homes cannot hold many large items, so they must be stored outside the home. This contradicts the “sustainable mentality” that comes along with tiny households, inferring that “going tiny” to reduce environmental impact is not as easy as it sounds. 

On the plus side, tiny homes may increase in popularity. As a whole, they are inexpensive, making the mortgage more affordable. This could help more people afford homeownership and make it easier to qualify for a loan. Because they are smaller, tiny homes are usually more energy-efficient, and they take up less space, an advantage as more and more people are moving to cities. 

Many buyers — not just first-time homeowners — are looking for tiny houses and the lifestyle they represent. On the other hand, selling any home requires the right marketing, the right timing, and the right attitude, but interest in tiny homes has proven popular enough for miniature dwellings to become part of the real estate landscape.

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