Tiny House Community: An Interview With Elaine Walker
We are pleased to share with you our recent interview with the founder of TinyHouseCommunity.com, Elaine Walker. If you haven’t been over to her site yet, we highly recommend that you do. The site is very well organized and offers a wealth of resources for any tiny houser: whether you are a beginner or expert in tiny living. Elaine is also the organizer of the Tiny House Fair happening October 10-12 in Texas which has quite a line up of presenters: Jay Shafer, Deek Diedricksen, Dan Louche, Lloyd Kahn, Brad “Darby” Kittel, and many more. Elaine also runs a page dedicated to connecting tiny housers looking for a place to park their home with those that have a space to rent. We hope you’ll hop over to Tiny House Community and take advantage of all the site has to offer.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Would you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Elaine Walker. I fell in love with tiny houses in 2008, as I considered how my life would change when my children left for college. In a four bedroom house on two acres, I knew I would soon no longer need all that space.
How did you personally come across tiny house living? What is it about it that drew you in to start with?
I read an article on Jay Shafer and was drawn to the beauty and creativity of his designs. I attended a workshop of his in New York City (in 2008, that workshop was the closest one to my home in New Hampshire) and was hooked.
What is “Tiny House Community”? How did the idea evolve? What is the intention of the community?
Originally, I started “Tiny House Community” as a way of connecting with others who wanted to live in intentional communities of tiny homes. It’s since evolved into an information resource for the greater community of tiny house enthusiasts.
What is your role with the Community? Did you start the website? Do you run the whole thing?
I’m the sole owner/operator of Tiny House Community. Yes, I started the web site and run the whole thing, which is probably apparent, since it’s a bit homely and slow compared to other web sites. I’ve thought about hiring a professional web design team, but for now, I’d rather save the money so that I can continue to offer information without accepting ads.
As for what keeps me going day-to-day, there are still lots of people seeking information about tiny houses and I enjoy being of service. I’m not able to solve the truly important issues, like how to end conflicts in the middle east or turn the corner on global warming or prevent starvation in Africa, but I can offer info that helps people make the change to tiny living, reduce their expenses, and spend time in ways they find most fulfilling.
The Fair sounds amazing and you have lined up a power house of presenters. How would you describe the Fair? What can people expect to get out of it?
The 2014 Tiny House Fair will be held in Texas and is an opportunity to learn about tiny houses and speak with many tiny house experts. The emphasis this year will be building with salvage, sustainability, and community. In addition, we have a legal expert to address zoning regulations and a realtor to address land purchase topics (fair schedule – http://tinyhousecommunity.com/fair-schedule.htm). Come to meet other tiny house enthusiasts, talk tiny all weekend, sing along to the Tiny House Song, and come closer to realizing your tiny house dreams!
Do you yourself live in a tiny house?
I lived in my tiny house in California, but in 2012, my folks needed a hand, so I moved to Florida to be with them, and I’m not able to live in it now. I had heard of a new tiny house community on the East coast, so I contacted the folks at Boneyard Studios to see if my house could join them. They agreed, and my tiny house travelled to Washington, DC, to become part of the tiny house showcase. The Boneyard folks were still in the process of building their homes, and my house was used by workers and guests. I’d believed it would be a permanent part of that community, and I had hoped to retire there someday, but after a year, they asked me to move my house so that they could use the space for something else. I considered having my tiny house join SoFair Farms in Iowa, to become part of their eco-village, but complications with transportation and registration motivated me to bring the house to Florida, where it’s forming a new tiny house community section within the College Park Village RV Park in Orlando. Emily Lindahl, host of the Florida Tiny House Enthusiasts Facebook page, is living in my house while she makes plans to build her own. A second tiny house has joined and a third is expected in a few months. I still plan on moving back into my tiny house when I retire.
The tiny house landscape is changing dramatically and getting a ton of press. Do you think the interest will still be there once the media loses its interest? Are tiny houses a fad or the wave of the future?
Tiny houses are something in between a fad and the wave of the future. I believe they will continue to gain in popularity for the next few years, and will gain widespread acceptance as alternative housing. I hope that tiny houses maintain a focus on issues that go beyond their size. The value in tiny living is that it encourages one to consider one’s way of life and place priority on quality of life over wealth and accumulation of possessions. Tiny houses have been described disparagingly as trailers for hipsters, but there is truth in that. Tiny houses are not just cheap, small, transportable dwellings. To me, tiny houses are about making conscious choices to live in harmony with others and the environment, to live sustainably, to nurture relationships, and to not get caught up in a rat race that leads to an unfulfilling life.
Some people predict that the future of tiny houses rests in pre-assembled options and more automation. Others feel that the heartbeat of the tiny house movement is the do it yourselfer and that they are here to stay. What are your thoughts on the topic?
There’s room for both. We are already seeing more pre-assembled tiny houses and I expect that as the market grows, more RV and mobile home manufacturers will offer what they call tiny houses. Existing “park models” and log cabin kits are very much like tiny houses.
I believe that DIYers will remain a strong force in the tiny house movement. There is a wonderful sense of empowerment that comes from building one’s own home. However, for the DIY movement to grow significantly, we need legal recognition of tiny houses as unique structures (whether on wheels or a foundation) with specific rights. We need to develop our own building standards to ensure safety. This will clear the way for bank loans and insurance and acceptance in RV parks (many of whom currently only accept tiny houses with an RVIA sticker, meaning they were built by a company that is part of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association).
What can we do as a collective (whether we just tiny house fans or full time activists) to help propel tiny houses to the next level? How can people be of service to the “cause” so to speak?
Great question! Here’s how:
- Share your knowledge and learn from others. Join a local meet-up group (http://tinyhousecommunity.com/forums.htm) or start your own if none is close, and connect with other tiny housers. Also participate in forum and Facebook discussions.
- Talk with local zoning officials and work to change regulations. Within suburbs, work toward creating an “overlay district”, a region where tiny homes or ADUs are permitted without each individual having to request an exemption from existing zoning regulations (example attached).
- Contact local RV parks. Talk with the owners about tiny houses. It’s best to email pictures and descriptions, then follow up with an in-person visit. Request that they accept tiny houses. If they agree, email me ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) so I can add them to our maps.
- Contribute to defining building standards for DIYers on the tiny house wiki (http://tinyhousewiki.com). The Tiny House Alliance began this, but we need more input. With clear standards that address ascetics and safety, we will have a much easier time gaining widespread acceptance.