Tiny Houses, Big Trend

tiny houseTiny houses are all the rage these days. Thanks to the housing boom and bust, what Americans previously associated with living well--i.e., living large--is, for many of us, no longer. The recession taught us the hard way that bigger homes don't necessarily mean better investments.

So, driven by economic need and a desire for simpler, more sustainable living, people are turning to tiny houses. Besides being more efficient (utility bills for some of these places can run in the single digits), downsizing to little living can make maintenance, household cleaning and upkeep much more affordable expenses.

Designers and architects are seizing the opportunity. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Boyes Hot Springs, CA, has built a business out of constructing mini-manors. Owner Jay Shafer builds his closet-size homes using high-quality craftsmanship and sustainable materials.

"My decision to inhabit just 89 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space," Shafer explains on his web site. "My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury."

He also has a strong aversion to vacuuming, notes Tumbleweed customer service manager Brett Haynes. "They're small enough where you don't have to worry about vacuuming and if you do, it's a quick job."

If you're handy, you can plunk down $16,000 and get a kit to build one of Tumbleweed's 55-square-foot homes yourself. Otherwise, Shafer charges $38,000 to do the job.

"We typically build only 4 to 6, a year because most people do want to build their homes themselves," says Haynes. "It's much cheaper. That is the appeal for people. They like that they are actually building their own dwelling."

Tumbleweed's customers are typically well-educated consumers with a green bent. Many are women. "These are environmentally conscious people who have a strong opinion about living simple, living off the grid, and they like the idea of owning something they've built themselves that they can also move easily," says Haynes. (Tumbleweed homes are often on wheels.)

But make no mistake, the diminutive dwelling spaces aren't your brother-in-law's trailer. They are well-built, solid houses that take roughly 500 hours of manual labor to construct, with charming exteriors, clever built-ins, and luxurious materials. They are designed to be a place someone would enjoy living in for years.

"People are always shocked when they walk in," says Haynes. "These aren't shelters. There is a lot of attention to detail, and they never feel as small as they are."

Check out our gallery of precious petite palaces.

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