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Published on Friday, August 4, 2017

Tiny Houses the Answer to Our Environmental Problems?


Tiny Houses the Answer to Our Environmental Problems?

[Image by Tammy via Wikimedia Commons]

Tiny houses have been sweeping the nation in recent years as the latest way for people to live the minimal lifestyle, on a budget and on the go. But besides being on trend, what else makes tiny homes such a good idea? And do they have the ability to help the environment?

What Is a Tiny House?

Tiny houses are typically between 100 and 400 square feet. They can be built on wheels, making them transportable, or on a permanent foundation. They range in size and style but typically incorporate lofts and ladders to make the most of vertical space.

Tiny houses first emerged after the 2007/2008 housing market collapse. This recession caused many people to reconsider their dreams of living in large sized mansions and reconsider what they could do with less.

The Benefits of Tiny Living: Diversity, Fighting Homelessness & Reduced Costs

For tiny house enthusiasts, the benefits to tiny living are endless. On a personal level, living in a smaller space causes many to reduce their possessions and downsize their life - saving them time and money.

On a larger scale, tiny houses could help to address issues of housing diversity, gentrification and homelessness.

Michelle Boyle, a tiny house dweller and host of the show, “Tiny House Podcast” firmly believes tiny is the way to go for her city, Portland, Oregon. She explains, “[Tiny houses are necessary for Portland] to keep its own identity in place. In order to encourage diversity in your population, you have to encourage diversity in your housing stock.”

Eli Spevak, a small-scale developer in the area, agrees. He says, “There are people who Portland would love to have living in our city, but they can't afford it anymore.” As median home prices in Portland soar to $404,990, tiny living may be the best alternative.

According to GOOD Money, building your own tiny house would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 - significantly cheaper than building your own regular sized house. Buying a professional made tiny house could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $449,000, depending on space, luxuries included, etc.

The Hardships of Tiny Living: Claustrophobia, Legal Issues & Land Availability

But is tiny living for everyone? The Atlantic doesn’t think so. They surveyed residents of New York’s micro-apartments (260-360 square feet) and found that some people suffered from claustrophobia and crowding-related stress.

Dal Kopec, the director or design for human health at Boston Architectural College, agrees with The Atlantic’s findings. He says, “Sure, these micro-apartments may be fantastic for young professionals in their 20s. But they definitely can be unhealthy for older people, say in their 30s and 40s, who face different stress factors that can make tight living conditions a problem.”

In addition to space issues, tiny houses are facing an uphill legal battle. Many of the country’s zoning regulations and building codes make tiny home construction and transporting a hurdle. Many permanent tiny homes, classified as Accessory Dwelling Units, must be built on the property of an existing home, follow local laws, adhere to square footage minimums and require a building permit. Portable tiny homes generally fall under the same classification as RVs and require licensing and registration. They also have to follow strict parking rules.

If they’re able to stay above the law (or sneak around behind it), tiny house dwellers still have to contend with critics who say that tiny living is just a fad, tiny houses are difficult to resell, there isn’t enough open space for new builds and land costs in urban areas are very high.

Where Does the Environment Fit In?

Despite the challenges of tiny living, when it comes to the environment, tiny houses win in a landslide over regular homes.

An average home (over 2500 square feet) requires seven trucks full of lumber to build. In comparison, the average tiny home (under 200 square feet) requires just half a truck of lumber. Buildings are responsible for 72% of the electricity used in the United States. And residential homes contribute 18% of greenhouse gases.

A regular sized house contributes 28,000 lbs of CO2 emissions per year (16,000 from electricity, 8,000 from heating and 4,000 from cooling). Remarkably, a tiny house only produces 2,000 lbs of CO2 per year (1,144 from electricity, 558 from heating and 286 from cooling).

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