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Big Dreams,Tiny Houses


Think small. Really small. Actually, instead of small, think tiny—like 200- or 300-square feet for your entire home.

For an acquisitive nation such as the United States, minimalist living seems incongruous, but the trend toward miniature homes—many of which provide mobility and even the possibility of living off the grid—is sweeping the country. It is an astonishing reversal of the McMansions that sprouted across the landscape in the 1990s and the Aughts, with all their promise of conspicuous consumption.

So, what has driven this phenomenon? In a 2016 article in Inverse, Lindsay Graham, a researcher at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley, speculated that tiny homes are visual representations of the values of those who live in them.

“What’s cool about tiny homes is that the entire space is sort of a broadcast of some sort of value that you hold in relation to homes, sustainability and how you’re living your life,” she was quoted as saying.

She speculated that the motivations behind living in a tiny home probably revolve around a desire to live more modestly while conserving resources.

Other psychologists suggest that choosing to live in a tiny home may signal “a high need for uniqueness and … enjoying an intellectual challenge—finding a way to live in a tiny home means you have solved lots of different puzzles.”

While the list of characteristics describing the ideal tiny-house candidate includes not having children, wanting to live cheaply and not minding sacrificing space for simplicity, the tiny house movement is appealing to an unexpectedly broad demographic ranging from young people just out of college to Baby Boomers looking to downsize.

A major component of this broad appeal could relate to price. The average size of a single-family home sold in the United States in 2015 was 2,520 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that home, on average, cost between $302,100 and $363,300 in June 2018.

Tiny homes, by contrast, have no more than 600-square-feet, but many are built on trailer beds and are even smaller. A professionally built tiny home will probably cost between $50,000 and $100,000, but truly high-end, custom-designed homes are models of miniscule elegance and can cost even more.

North Adams MA now has its own tiny home builder in B&B Micro Manufacturing. Its models vary in price from a low of $39,000 to about $89,000—or can be customized to any level of luxury.

B&B tiny homes are built on trailers and are certified as recreational vehicles by the RVIA. To make them road-worthy the homes cannot exceed 8.5 feet in width, 13.5-feet in height and range in length from 16 to more than 30 feet. The firm will also build small houses permanently affixed to a site and is certified to build Industrialized/Modular Homes by the State of Massachusetts.

According to the business’ owners, Chris St. Cyr, Mitch Bresett and Jason Koperniak, designing a tiny house requires “a much deeper level of planning and expertise to ensure that your space is as functional as it is beautiful.” The firm has blueprints for 14 models that can be used at a base cost of $800. Revisions to those plans are billed at $50 for each hour of the designer’s time. Original designs start at $2,500 and include two free revisions. Further revisions are billed at $50 per hour.

The models all have their individual profiles. The Silver Lake model, for instance, has a distinctive V-shaped roofline. Inside, it features a spacious floor plan with 208-square-feet of living space including a main-floor bedroom with a queen-size bed, a large living room with a built-in U-shaped couch and hidden storage, a flat-screen TV and more storage space under the television.

The kitchenette is equipped with a full-size refrigerator, three-burner propane stove and oven, upper cabinets and a sink. Across from the kitchen is a barn door that leads into the bathroom with subway tile shower with a rain showerhead, and a macerating toilet.

A second model, the Arcadia, has rustic appeal with handcrafted details and large windows on all sides, a 20-foot house and 4-foot porch. Inside is 208-square-feet of living space including the loft.

The Arcadia exterior has wood-burned pine shiplap siding and a porch with a river branch railing. The front door opens into the living room with a sofa that slides out to convert into a full-size guest bed. Built-in storage includes a bookcase, drawers, cabinets and shelving. The TV is mounted so it can swivel and be seen from the loft, living room or kitchen.

The Arcadia’s kitchen features poured-in-place sealed concrete countertops, a three-burner propane stove and oven, a range hood and an under-counter refrigerator and freezer drawers. A breakfast nook is in front of a large picture window and a second entrance provides access directly to the kitchen. Under the queen bedroom loft is a full bathroom.

When the customer has identified his or her preferences, a final design has been approved, the contract has been signed and all the “t’s” have been crossed and “i’s”, dotted, a tiny house should be ready for delivery within three months. B&B’s more than 40 workers build six houses at a time.

A major concern for the tiny house homeowner is where to put the building. Because it is considered an RV, tiny houses can be parked anywhere RVs are accepted. But if the homeowner wants to put one on a permanent lot, local zoning codes must be referenced. In some municipalities, mobile homes are not allowed or there are minimum standards for square footage.

Other considerations are sewer, clean water and electricity. B&B’s Arcadia, for instance, can be hooked up to utilities, or can go completely off grid with the addition of solar panels. Adding the panels can cost between $3,500 to $10,000, depending on power needs. This unit has fresh and black water tanks hidden beneath the futon for off-grid use or for cold days if the outside water source freezes.

It all sounds like great fun but those considering a tiny house should also consider their life styles. Experts caution that those who value entertaining or retaining personal possessions might not be good candidates. Tiny houses provide no interior space for children, with all their clutter, expansive hobbies or even a cat box. There is no storage space for cars, lawnmowers, lawn equipment and the like. And some real estate agents warn that tiny homes are not easy to sell because they appeal to a niche demographic.