Why Tiny Houses Can Save The World (Or At Least Make It A Little Better)

One of the great benefits of so much attention being placed on the tiny house movement is that it is inspiring a necessary dialogue about housing. Questions revolving around need vs frivolity, how small we can go, debt, environmental stewardship, happiness, relationships, and the future of mankind are being explored in a meaningful way within the context of housing size. This all comes at a historic time in which we are depleting our natural resources at a faster rate than we can replenish them. Continuing on our current housing and consumerism trajectory is unsustainable and thus, in this article we consider why tiny houses can save the world (or at least make it a little better).

Crying Earth

The environmental costs of building and conditioning the average 2,500sf+ house are incredibly high, contributing to our inability to replenish our resources faster than we can use them.

We owe it to our planet. As a collective, we consume more natural resources than the planet can replenish and in the last 45 years, our demand for these resources has doubled. Housing and lifestyle choices are largely responsible for this trend. The environmental cost of building the US national average 2,598sf  house is substantial. You’ll need about 16,000 board feet of lumber and 14,000sf of other wood products (such a plywood, etc.). This is the equivalent of 7 full logging trucks. Add on top of that concrete for the foundation, petroleum based products for roofing, etc., metals for heating and cooling systems, plus various other materials and you get a sense of how much goes into a house. It doesn’t stop there though. The amount of energy and materials used to build a house accounts for just 1/10th of the house’s total energy cost over its lifetime. In the US, buildings account for 38.9% of total energy consumption and 72% of total U.S. electricity consumption. Further, they contribute 38.9% of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

In contrast, tiny houses use significantly less resources. When comparing the average sized 2,500+ sf house to the average 186 sf tiny house, the amount of resources that go into building it are much less as is the energy required to condition it. One significant way that we can lower the amount of resources required to build and maintain a home is by making it smaller.

Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

Communication is a cornerstone of a healthy family dynamic. When people live in large houses it becomes very easy to withdraw behind closed doors and not deal with issues as they come up.

We owe it to our relationships.  Communication is a corner stone of a functional family dynamic. Large houses create all sorts of nooks and crannies for families to disband to. According to the Census Bureau, the average household size (how many people living in a residence) in the US has declined from 3.01 in 1973 to 2.54 in 2013 but the average home size (by square footage) has increased by 61.4%. With the average new house in the US getting larger but households getting smaller, the square footage of living space per person in a new home has increased by a whopping 91.2%.

It’s easy to retreat behind a closed door in times of conflict in a larger abode and for people to avoid each other. In contrast, living in a tiny house invites a level of connection and relationship that supports the family connection. Issues that come up are dealt with swiftly, preventing an unnecessary festering of resentment. Close connections foster qualities such as open communication, understanding, patience, etc. The contrast we have seen in our family between living in a large house vs in hOMe, our tiny house, is stark. Our dynamic has never felt closer or healthier.

Tired

Financial worry is a major contributor to stress, which over time, accumulates and creates potential health problems, some of them significant.

We owe it to ourselves. Financial worry is the primary source of stress for the average person and debt is a large part of that equation. More Americans are in housing debt than ever before. Debt is emotionally draining and that anxiety can cause severe health issues (insomnia, anxiety, ulcers, migraine, and even heart attacks). Living a life within one’s means allows a sense of ease that supports mind, body, and spirit, all of which are so necessary for a joyous life.

What would you do if you didn’t have a housing payment to worry and stress about? You would likely find yourself with more time and energy to do the things that you are passionate about, to work less, to create a daily practice for self reflection and recharging. What is your personal vision for your happiest life? It’s important to connect with that vision and to create changes in your life that moves you towards that goal. Nowhere in the top listed regrets of the dying does it say anything about, “I wish I had worked harder, had a bigger house, or had more money”. Instead, the common thread found in that research is that the dying wished that they had created more joy in their lives (and were surprised to see that the choice had been theirs all along).

Businessman Shackled By Rusty Debt

For the cost to build the average sized house, we could have built 7 hOMes. When people live within their means, the opportunity to get out of debt increases dramatically.

We owe it to our bank accounts. In the US, the average cost of building a house is $246,453 (not including land costs). For that amount we could have built over 7 hOMes (which cost us $33,089.72). On top of that, the average utility cost for a conventionally sized house is $163 whereas in a tiny house it’s anywhere from $10-$40 per month. Along the lines of spending money, when living tiny, you just don’t have the physical space to amass unnecessary material goods. The potential to slash your spending costs is significant. The opportunity to get out of debt is much higher for those living in a tiny house than in an average house. According to Ryan Mitchell of TheTinyLife.com, 68% of tiny house owners have no mortgage and 65% have zero credit card debt.

Instead, imagine living in a house potentially built for less than a year’s worth of housing payments. For many people creating a tiny life, this is a reality. The benefits of living within one’s means are significant and what’s possible when one has no need to pay off debt (housing and consumer) is tremendous (early retirement, less time needing to work, more time for self care and with friends/family, etc.).

Cruising along on our current general trajectory as a society is not only unsustainable but comes at a significant financial, emotional, and environmental cost. The opportunity before us is to reassess our actual needs vs our perceived needs and to come back into living in a scale that supports mind, body, and planet. The tiny house movement is acting as a correction mechanism to the current increase in housing size that is wreaking havoc on so many levels. Whether or not the greater public adopts the tiny house living concept is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain; the movement, is at a minimum, bringing a much needed perspective into the dialogue of housing. Already shifts are happening on a large scale as more and more people begin to see that the American Dream has turned into a nightmare. The opportunity for transformation in how we live is tremendous and exciting and the numbers of people making the choice to break out of the rat race increases daily.

 

25 Responses to Why Tiny Houses Can Save The World (Or At Least Make It A Little Better)

  1. bob September 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    Sometimes I long for being in a situation where we cannot go hide apart from each other and are forced to deal with issues as they come! It’s just way too easy in a big house to run away.

    Oh, and all that other stuff about using a fraction of available resources and dumping a fraction of the waste back into the environment (on/in the ground and water and in the air). Oh, and also drastically reducing costs and effort dedicated to buying and maintenance, costs of buying excess stuff, and reducing debt and stress that makes us want to run away!

    What would be left… contentment, happiness, enjoyment of life with each other and having time to do things only dreamed of before…

    • Tim September 29, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

      Well said, Gabriella

    • Gabriella September 30, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      I agree. What I notice is that the more that I eliminate stress, the more than I can find room to enjoy the life around me. Living a simple and tiny life seems to be the most conducive in supporting that process.

  2. Jana September 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    Along with the points you mentioned, I can see psychological benefits of intentionally living tiny and structuring your living space to perfectly meet your needs. Besides maximizing the efficiency and comfort of daily life, being immersed in an environment uniquely and sufficiently suited to you produces a congruence between the self and the physical environment — a “perfect fit”. This harmony would appear to have positive results for one’s self-concept and mental well-being (e.g., feeling that how you live reflects who you want to be as a person; creating an authentic and cohesive sense of self by prioritizing your values in your daily life). There is so much research on the power of our surroundings to impact our mental states, and I think that living smaller and more efficiently — and the intentionality behind that choice — has great potential for positive psychological impact.

    • Gabriella September 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

      Beautifully said Jana!

  3. Joe September 30, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    I would like to read about any tiny house owners who use solar panels with battery backup.It would be nice to get the low down on powering ones home using solar and the pros and cons of such.

    Thanks to all.

    Joe

    • Gabriella September 30, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

      Joe, we will be creating a detailed series of articles on solar hopefully within the month. 🙂

      • Bob October 1, 2014 at 5:32 am #

        Looking forward to that! many years ago I planned out what it would take to install a grid tie solar system big enough to have net zero energy use from the central utility company on my big house (3380 sq ft heated/cooled + all electrical). Had to be a grid tie system since being connected to the local utility company is another of those insidious government mandated ordinances. If anyone wants to see the energy savings of smaller living just go through THAT exercise!!! Did somewhat the same for a hypothetical tiny house including all electrical and the difference in cost to install it was about the same as the difference in house sizes. Of course the tiny house plan has no grid tie component and doesn’t need it. 🙂

        • Gabriella October 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

          I literally can’t imagine the cost of a full system for a 3,380sf house knowing how much it cost for our 207sf one!!

  4. Rose September 30, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    I cannot tell you How Much I really Appreciate this. I Feel as if we can all do OUR part on the Lovely Earth.

  5. Catherine Wilson September 30, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Thanks for the great article. I agree whole-heartedly!!! Here in Canada, where our trends usually follow yours, at a later date, the average housing price is now about $399,000. Something’s gotta give!!! I don’t see my child or my friend’s children being able to afford that price. Housing prices have risen by a factor of 8 since I first bought a home in 1978. Salaries???? I’m guessing not more than 4 times what I made back then. Smaller homes, if not TINY homes, are definitely part of the future.

    Now if we could only reduce our driving and flying as well.

    Catherine

    • Gabriella September 30, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      I agree Catherine…something’s gotta give bc the reality is that most who step into the average $399,000 house are do so by going into significant debt. Just because nearly everyone around us is doing that doesn’t make it any more sane and the more people that find other options (like for starters, just living in a much smaller scale), the more that will wake up to the insanity that they have been existing by.

  6. Nan October 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    This tiny house info is all new to me. Just discovered them about a month ago. Where have I been? I am in the process of getting a home equity loan in order to transform a building in my backyard (the previous owner built it) into a tiny house for my stepdaughter to live in. I can’t begin to try and do the solar panels, so, what is the most energy efficient electric heater for a 260 sq ft tiny house? please advise.

    • Gabriella October 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      Just saw your question Nan…sorry for the delay! I would highly recommend a mini split AC/heat unit. Small, super energy efficient and works beautiful in tiny houses. If we weren’t off grid this is what we would use.

      • Dianne January 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

        What did you mean about being off grid? Is there actually a possibility of not being hooked into the main utility systems and if so where do you park your vehicle or tiny home as you go from place to place if that is what is your situation?

        • Gabriella January 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

          Hi Dianne! A lot of tiny house people are off grid. One can use solar for electricity and then find a water source to tap into. In many ways this is like what an RV does.

  7. steve October 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    I completely agree that our culture needs to move toward smaller homes and less consumption but I’m curious about some stuff that seems to be missing in the conversation. What happens to the human waste products we all generate regardless of the size of the home we live in? Are they composted enough to kill dangerous pathogens? What is the cost of the land on which the house is parked? Do you park in someone else’s yard? Your own remote property? Where does the water come from? What is the resale value of a tiny home? (after all it is still a major investment)

    • Gabriella October 30, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

      Hi Steve! Here are my personal thoughts on your questions: WASTE if one follows the principles from the Humanure book, pathogens will be killed COST OF LAND ours was $65k for 5 acres. All depends on where one lives. In our area our property was the least expensive rural property on the market WATER we had a well drilled RESALE I have heard that resale values are not good for tiny houses. Seems like one always loses money when selling a tiny house. Would love to hear if I have that wrong!

  8. Larry January 9, 2015 at 1:21 am #

    Love all the ideas on the site and the plans look amazing. My last issue with a tiny house is the grey water and shower fan. How do you deal with the grey water and venting the shower area?
    Thanks for the info!

    • Gabriella January 9, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      Thanks Larry! Great questions! Grey water currently just goes outside (we use totally green soaps) however this is temporary. We may be setting up a septic. There are however great grey water filtration systems that we would prefer to use. In terms of fan we installed a bathroom fan as well as range fan recently so we are now properly vented.

  9. Kevin January 20, 2015 at 8:21 am #

    Hi Gabriella

    I would add that tiny houses can also improve urban density without altering the built infrastructure, and they can improve an existing household’s bottom-line operating cost and minimize its carbon footprint. I have a house, and I can have a tiny house or RV parked in my driveway, hooking up to my utilities via garden hose and extension cord. Tiny housing flexibility also improves workforce mobility. If I lived in my tiny house, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the cost to relocate to/from wherever for whatever work I might pursue; I wouldn’t have that kind of freedom if I were stuck in my house that might not sell in a weak or marginal real estate market.

    • Gabriella January 21, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      Thank you for your insight Kevin!

  10. Mike May 15, 2015 at 5:39 am #

    What I really enjoy about my tiny home to save the world is the composting toilet. This thing is not only environmentally save, but it is great for our garden

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