The Big History of the Tiny House
OOne could say that cavemen were the first tiny house dwellers. However, a lot has happened since then, and what started off with our distant ancestors has today turned into an actual movement, where people are consciously rejecting bigger living spaces as they choose smaller, pared-down, more efficient habitats.
This, my friend, is known as the Tiny House Movement.
Henry David Thoreau published “Walden”, a book that described his experiences over the last two years, of living in a self-built, 150-square-foot cabin, near Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Even to this day, “Walden” is a tome for tiny-house enthusiasts, praising the benefits of modest living in smaller quarters.
Authors Lloyd Kahn and Bob Easton wrote “Shelter” which was a “compendium of organic architecture, past and present.” The book showcased indigenous construction methods and tiny-house designs, world-wide, even in the remotest parts of the globe.
Lester Walker published the book, “Tiny Houses: Or How to Get Away From It All”, packed with photographs and drawings of projects like a 192-square-foot prefab house and a 56- square-foot shack built on a raft.
Portland, Oregon amended its housing regulations to allow homeowners to build Accessible Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties, as long as the ADU met guidelines, without needing a special permit. Besides removing restrictions and regulations for ADUs, Portland also offered a financial incentive for homeowners to build them. Portland, therefore, became of the most ADU-friendly cities in the country.
One could say that the modern tiny house movement really took off in 1999, when Jay Shafer, built “Tumbleweed”. “Tumbleweed”, just 96-square feet, was Jay’s first tiny house on wheels and served as the solution to issues and frustrations he experienced while living for two winters in a poorly insulated Airstream. The world saw that Jay had created something that was mobile, better constructed, and felt homey, and they loved it! In 1999, Jay founded the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Sonoma, California, the first US company to sell mobile, tiny homes.
Over the next few years, tiny house enthusiasts wrote blogs and books extolling the benefits of their lifestyle, started design and construction businesses, and appeared on TV – all of which got the word out about tiny living advantages and possibilities.
In 2008, the US subprime mortgage crisis took hold, with foreclosure filings soaring to more than 81 percent, up 225 percent over 2006. The interest in downsizing and living in more modest homes – including tiny homes, took hold. During that time and a few years previously, advocacy work promoting more changes in housing policy and zoning laws, allowed tiny homes to be built in more and more places.
Over the next few years, tiny home communities and opportunities started to pop up all over the country. Jay Shafer left his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and founded Four Lights Tiny House Company, which focused on hands-on workshops, books, and the development of tiny home communities. Four Lights carried on talks with Sonoma County’s zoning department about building a tiny house community there.
In Portland, Oregon, The Caravan Tiny House Hotel opened and was the first of its kind in the US.
“Tiny House Nation” on the FYI Channel, and “Tiny House Hunters” on the HGTV Channel debuted. Also, in 2014, Spur – a small town in Texas – named itself the country’s first tiny-house friendly town, offering hundreds of empty lots and a flexible zoning code to attract tiny house dwellers.
The American Tiny House Association – a Florida non-profit – was founded in order to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable living option for varieties of people. The Association now has chapter leaders in many US states. Also in 2015, Rockledge, Florida established The Rockledge Tiny House Community group on Facebook.
2016 saw a couple of major events, as Fresno, California passed new zoning laws, which allowed for mobile tiny homes to be considered permanent backyard cottages.
The International Code Council (ICC) announced that there would be a tiny house-specific appendix to the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). This addition allowed people to receive a Certificate of Occupancy for their tiny houses, provided they were built to meet the provisions of the adopted code. This appendix was a major step in removing hindrances in the quest to make tiny houses and their construction legal.
As one can see, although labeled ‘tiny’, these houses are rich in history, whose interest has especially taken off in the last 20 years. More and more design and build options are available, zoning and construction laws have become more flexible, and in its own right, the tiny house has come into its own as a viable and cost-saving means of living for many people!