Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tiny Houses: Differing views

Here I sit, possibly watching the 1,000th episode of some tiny house show. I find myself totally fascinated by the process people go through as they select which tiny house they wish to live in. I come from a different time, and my outlook is part of the reason why I find the process so fascinating. Bigger is better, but a lot of people are making the decision to live small and selling their larger houses. Secretly, I think they are reacting to adverse macroeconomic conditions. Still, though, I think my fascination stems from many factors.

One of the factors is how I grew up in my parents’ generation version of the tiny house. We lived in a 1100 sq ft main level not including the breezeway, garage or basement. Half the basement was finished, the other half raw concrete. It was a very small house compared to any house I bought in my life. My first house was 1500 sq ft., then a 1700 sq ft house and now a 2600 sq ft manufactured home. I know I can live with less and in a smaller space, but I don’t want to. I wonder sometimes if age and life stage could be a factor.

Age could possibly define how large a house is needed; at one point, we had 7 people living in our 1700 sq ft house. Our kids ranged in age from an infant to a 20-year-old. Lifestage could be a deciding factor because once the kids grow up, a family won’t need much space. Turning senior is another stage, which can require a new house.

Someday I will hunt for a smaller house when I get too old to maintain the one I have. When that day comes, I have a few ideas of where I would buy a tiny house. Perhaps my eventual senior move is what is fueling my fascination with the tiny homes. Just down the road is a place called Mount Hood Village. The vacation homes there are large tiny houses. I think that kind of house, next to nature would be a good place to live. However, nature is all around my driveway too.

I have a temptation to put a tiny house in the driveway, and live there. I love my family, but sometimes I have a deep-seated need for silence. At other times, I like to have an uncluttered floor and neatness. Neither of these goals happens with a family. My driveway is close to nature, too, so it would fulfill two goals: closer to nature, and a hermitage.

A hermitage and close to nature seem to be good ideals, and honestly, I can enjoy them where I live now. However, I can see greater advantages to living tiny. One of the biggest advantages is economic.

The economic value of a tiny house lies in the price. A tiny house seems to be a minimum of $30,000 ranging up to a maximum of $250,000. They are always under 1,000 sq ft, and usually under 400 sq ft. Some of them don’t go anywhere, but most are mobile. Owning a house is becoming more difficult, and the prices, depending on the area of the nation, could go from $180,000 on up. Yes, a person could buy a wrecked house in Detroit for as little as $150, but most people want to live in a nice functional house. In any analysis, cheaper is always easier to afford. Families have more bills than ever when compared to families in the seventies.

Most families’ bills include student loans, credit card debt, and utilities which are higher than ever. Typical utilities include cell phones, and cable tv, both of which were not a factor in the seventies. Living in a tiny house would relieve much of the pressure by making the house/rent payment much lower. A lower rent or mortgage payment would make a family freer and able to use money more to their advantage.

The concept of freedom and the romance of tiny living are central to people choosing tiny houses. Many want to travel, and a house on wheels helps accomplish this. Travelling costs money and the lower house payment helps with increasing disposable income. How much travel is the question many people have to answer as part of the process of tiny house selection. More travel means families have to choose a lighter tiny house, which always means less square footage. House selection at any size is always the interplay of needs, wants and geography. Many of the tiny houses are too heavy for a typical pickup truck to haul and most tiny house owners, like houseboat owners, have to hire a truck to tug the house into the new position or location. While freedom and romance inspire many to purchase tiny houses, most should also consider the negative aspects of tiny house living.

Negative aspects of tiny house living have many faces. Some factors include the usage of composting toilets, parking for the tiny house, clever furniture, and low ceilings. Composting toilets seem to stick in my mind when considering the negative aspects of tiny house living.

Composting toilets help turn fecal matter into fertilizer. However, the liquid has to be separate from the solids, and families have to empty liquid reservoirs. Sounds easy, a person could put the material in a toilet or a sink. Unfortunately, in a tiny house neither a toilet nor a sink can be used for this. If a family forgets to empty their container, then their floor gets wet, causing a greater mess. Many families move in together for closeness, but when is close too much?

Close can be difficult when separateness is desired. I talked to a woman who lived in a rental tiny house with her significant other. She told me that the tiny house worked astonishingly well, until they argued. Her pattern was to argue and then go to a separate room to recover. Unfortunately, in the tiny house, when she went to the loft to have separate time, her significant other was still in the same room. Close can be a problem for the tiny house too.

Some RV parks don’t let tiny houses park close to other RVs. Reasons for this are many including building standards, insurance, and local codes. Parking a tiny house is rarely as easy as seen in the TV shows. I find if I look closely at the background when the follow up segment is shown, I can often see real clues to how the people really live. Instead of the tiny house parked in the pristine meadow, I see them parked in an RV park under a busy bridge. Several were in small trailer parks, and a few in backyards. One of the shows always shows people adding a closet rod somewhere in the house, which leads to storage problems.

Storage problems abound when people have to leave most of their belongings behind. One of the follow up shows showed a tiny home with a small container, like a POD, next to it. I felt particular sorry for the hockey goalie. The show people tried hard to get him appropriate storage, but I have doubts that it worked. Hockey gear is usually soaked in sweat after a game, and outside storage using clever furniture won’t keep the mildew away. No matter how clever the furniture, no one seemed to have enough area to store their possessions.

The clever furniture always appeals to the gadget freak within me. Stairs that have storage underneath, and sofas that come out of the wall. Tables fold down from everywhere. Beds fold out from the wall in a Murphy bed arrangement, or they cleverly roll under a raised platform. Most beds are in lofts, and the head room can be tight. While the furniture is clever, the constant changing, while not much time used once, must mount up if you have to convert more than once a day. Every time the day part shifts, or someone needs to do something, the furniture has to be reconfigured. One of my favorite memories of this was the man getting ready for work while his wife watched TV on the bed he had to stand on to tie his tie. The sofas that come out of nowhere always depend on 2” foam. I had a sofa with 6” foam once, and that sofa was very uncomfortable for long periods of sitting. Sometimes the tiny houses remind me of wooden RVs.

Tiny houses built of wood seem smaller than most RVs I’ve toured. Most RVs are built from metal, have foldouts, and have the exact same amenities as tiny houses, but with greater comfort. Comfort motivates me in this phase of my life, so does convenience. RVs have tanks for the toilet and parks have places to empty said tanks. This seems more convenient and easier to deal with than a composting toilet. Every RV has running water, but not every tiny house has running water. The thought of living in an RV with the same charms as a tiny home really makes me think. RVs can be parked in any RV park. I visited a friend of mine who lived in an RV while building his house on one of the moraines overlooking Wallowa Lake. His company was the bears and the elk. RVs can be parked in remote areas where nature can be my best friend. Best of all, RVs either drive themselves, or most can be pulled with typical cars and pickups. RVs give me thoughts about tiny houses, but even though I am lukewarm on them, the future is bright for tiny houses.

The future is bright for tiny houses because of economic realities, and the need of people who have been trained by our culture to have a house that looks like our concept of a home. A RV doesn’t look like a home, and looks more like a trailer or bus. A tiny house looks like the home our culture associates with families and success. I can see tiny houses being a viable housing unit for many tired of high rents and mortgages where the benefits outweigh the detriments for their families.