First of two articles on tiny-house living.
ATLANTA—Tiny-house living may only be in vogue, but an extremely efficient, affordable, eco-friendly residence can also be fun to rent.
While heading to the North Carolina mountains for our annual spring visit, this writer and the co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” stopped overnight in Atlanta, and rented an Airbnb tiny house for $170, including tax and cleaning fee, for one night.
Suitable for up to four guests, the two-bed, one-bath “cube” was parked in the backyard of an existing older single-family home in the Grant Park neighborhood just minutes from downtown.
The “Eco Tiny House” has all the comforts of home tucked inside of about 300 square feet of space. A living room, kitchen-dinette with flip-down breakfast table, Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, a shower bath with washer/dryer, two sleeping lofts, a nicely landscaped and fenced patio and free parking is included.
While small-house living is a trend that has taken off over the past decade, the history of the tiny house can be traced back thousands of years to our cave-dwelling ancestors. Other ancient options were Indian T-pees, Bedouin tents, Eskimo igloos, medieval thatch-roof homes, yurts and pioneer log cabins.
In 1854, after residing for more than two years in a 150-square-foot cabin overlooking a pond outside Concord, Mass., poet Henry David Thoreau wrote “Walden,” and offered a blueprint for residing modestly within tight quarters.
“The popularity of tiny homes really took off in America in 2008 during the foreclosure crisis when people were losing their homes and needed an affordable alternative to traditional housing,” noted author and Chicago Realtor Sara E. Benson, president of Benson Stanly Realty.
During the subprime-mortgage crisis, foreclosure filings spiked more than 80%, and interest in downsizing and living in more modest homes, including tiny homes, came into vogue, Benson said.
Typically, tiny houses are affordable, economically accessible, sustainable and ecologically friendly, advocates say. Downsizing of space, reducing the carbon footprint, use of recycled rainwater and solar power can lead to living a simpler, less burdensome lifestyle off the grid.
Today, a tiny house generally is defined as a residential structure consisting of less than 500 square feet of space. Most tiny houses measure less than 400 square feet, but some extreme versions contain only 80 square feet. The average cost for a do-it-yourself built tiny house is about $23,000, but retail cost typically is $75,000 or more.
The National Association of Home Builders notes that the size of typical new homes in the U.S. has been growing larger over the past few decades, and so has the price. Today, the average 3-bedroom, 1-bath new home costs $272,000—more than 3.5 times the retail cost of a tiny house.
In 2013, the average new home boasted 2,662 square feet of living area, up from 1,780 square feet in 1978. Today, only 1% of all U.S. home buyers purchase houses containing 1,000 square feet or less.
To benefit Home Front readers who are contemplating a future tiny-house stay, or a complete lifestyle change off the grid, here are a few small home design and living suggestions:
• Tie that trailer down. We could feel the tiny house rocking in 20-mile-per-hour winds blowing in Atlanta. This tiny house sits on wheels and is movable. Other homes are built on concrete-slab foundations.
• Kitchen-design suggestions. Forget the fancy stainless-steel range hood. Install an over-the-range microwave to free up counter space. Make space for a four-burner range top, instead of a two-burner. An over-sized, five-blade ceiling fan/light seemed like over-the-top design. However, it was hung from a nicely wood-paneled, 1½-story ceiling.
• Sleeping arrangements. Good split-loft design, with sleeping areas on opposite ends of the tiny house under a low wood-paneled ceiling of less than about three feet. One loft was accessed from a narrow eight-step wooden stairway. The other loft has a ladder, designed for kids and young adults.
Both lofts have sturdy one-inch-thick black pipe handrails for security. Access to both lofts could be challenging for aging, ex-jocks with creaky knees and people over the age of 70 years.
• Bathroom design. Nested under one of the lofts, the bath features excellent compact design, with a full-sized shower and a washer-dryer tucked under stairs. A white and black mosaic-tiled ceramic floor is a nice contrast to the mountain-cabin-like interior.
• Windows. Excellent light flows from 10 transom windows plus more than a half dozen main-level windows and a front door. All windows and the door feature thermopane glass and are finished with natural wood trim. However, the tiny house has only one exit and no loft escape hatch except for two windows at the top of the unit.
• Living room. The space features a U-shaped bench-style seating layout with storage biThe design might have been more livable with one deep full-sized couch suitable for napping.
• Abundant wood. Nice prefinished six-inch-wide plank floors on main level of the house. The tiny-house ceiling is paneled with handsome tongue-and-groove six-inch-wide knotty pine planks, not cheap paneling.
• Storage and closet space. Lots of storage nooks and crannies, but there’s only one “tiny” closet with hanging space tucked under the stairs in the bathroom. There also is space in the closet for four folding chairs and an ironing board.
• Efficient heating. A hotel-style combo heating and air-conditioning unit is mounted above a full-size window in the dinette area. In winter, the unit warmed the lofts, but it was chilly on the main level in the morning, even with thermostat set on 74 degrees.
• Exterior design. The tiny home features an attractive cedar- sided exterior. However, the front porch needs handrails or at least a grab-bar for senior renters. A nice landscaped yard with wood fencing and a flagstone patio with table, chairs and a fire pit is a sweet bonus.
NEXT WEEK: How compact, tiny-house living could benefit Chicagoans searching for affordable homes.
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.