The Beginner's Guide to a Tiny House

June 05, 2020 8 min read

tiny house

A tiny house is, at its simplest, exactly what the name implies: a residential structure usually 400 square feet or smaller. But it's far more than a little domicile. A tiny house is part of a movement that advocates living in small homes to promote financial prudence, shared community experiences, and breaking away from a consumer-driven mindset.

In this article, we will talk about the following:

  • Origins of the Tiny House movement
  • The pros and cons of living in a tiny house
  • Case studies of tiny house living
  • The best appliances for living in a tiny house.
  • Our choice for a Tiny House

Origins of the Tiny House Movement

Houses in America have grown in size for decades. The average size of a new single-family home grew from 18,00 square feet in 1978 to 2,500 square feet in 2007 to 2,600 square feet in 2013. The grow has to do with rising wages, but also shifting consumer preferences who want as much space as their mortgage loan will allow. 

The tiny house movement is a conscientious rejection of this trend. Some point to Henry David Thoreau as the godfather of this movement, but a wave of books were published in the 20th century that really kicked it off. Authors include Lloyd Kahn, author of Shelter (1973) and Lester Walker, author of Tiny Houses (1987).

A big shift happened with the Great Recession. Many Americans were no longer bout to buy a home in as much as 71% of the country as recently as last year, or 344 of 486 counties. While this number has dropped from 75% a year earlier, the results are still not promising. 

Some of the culprits for this situation include ballooning home prices vis a vis wage growth. According to a report by Attom Data Solutions, home prices. rose 9% year-over-year in the last three months of 2019.

This makes the typical home a "financial stretch for average wage earners," Todd Teta, chief product officer with Attom, said in the report. In order to cross the current national median home price of $257,000, typical American homebuyers need a gross income of $67,647. However, the average annual wage in the U.S. was $58,214.

How can average Americans afford their first home when the math suggests that it simply isn't possible for nearly three-quarters of Americans?

Enter tiny houses.

Companies began offering tiny houses in the early 21st century (such as Tumbleweed Tiny House Company). They offer products for a growing movement of eco-conscious urban dwellers who are rejecting consumerism, embracing minimalism and sufficiency, and trading in expensive dwellings for a tiny house.

Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House

There are many factors to consider when making such a move. How do you handle practical utilities issues like plumbing, electricity, sewage, and water? What are the challenges that come with living in a tiny house, especially one that is off the grid? How handy do you have to be to overcome the challenges that will inevitably come? What do you do about appliances that require electricity but you can't live without? 

The good news is that you do not have to be a complete hermit to live in a tiny house, nor do you have to adopt an Amish lifestyle and completely forsake electricity. New solar powered devices are coming to market that make living off the grid easier than ever. 

According to a profile from Sharable, tiny houses are a good way to reduce your ecological footprint, save money, spend practically zero dollars on utilities, and lead an overall less stressful life. They spoke with small house dweller Merete Mueller about this lifestyle.

“One benefit to tiny house living,” says Mueller, “is that it frees up the money, time and energy that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a house and rent or a mortgage, to be used on other things, like working on creative projects, starting a business, spending time with friends and family, or on other hobbies that bring a lot of satisfaction to one’s life.”
She points out that with tiny house, off-the-grid living, the drawbacks can be the same as the benefits.
“One obvious challenge is a minimal amount of space inside,” she says, “But one benefit related to that is being forced to spend more time outside, and being forced to simplify possessions and think about which things matter most.”
Emptying the composting toilet, hauling water and the other “challenges” that come with tiny, off-the-grid living were, for Mueller, part of the allure. “We wanted to know and understand,” she says, “exactly how much water we were consuming.”
As you can see, there are many benefits to living in a tiny house.

Case Studies of Tiny House Living

Let's get down to see what it's actually like living in a tiny house, warts and all. Here are three different accounts.

Tiny House Account #1: The Home Builders

The Fontanillas are a Hawaii-based family of three that built their own tiny house complete with a solar powered array and rainwater harvesting system. Their house is 360 square feet, built on a 26-foot-long trailer that they built themselves. 

This was made possible by the family's handiness and a long history in the construction industry.

Zeena Fontanilla recounts the journey:

My husband grew up in a family of builders so he always had the dream to build his own home. I don’t think he imagined it to be this small, but I think this was the perfect size for our first build together. This project was the best premarital counseling we could’ve asked for. Prior to starting our project I knew many joint decisions would need to be made. ‘Many’ was an understatement, try one billion decisions needed to be made. Let’s just say our communication skills are top notch.

For utilities the family uses a 3,200-gallon water catchment system, which they built themselves. Their solar array has photovoltaics mounted on a custom adjustable rack which can be moved as the sun's path changes during the seasons.

The couple spent about $45,000 total to build their home, compared the standard price tag of half a million dollars in their locality.

Tiny House Account #2: The Skeptic

For an alternate point of view, Andrew Odin argues that you should not go off-grid with your tiny home.The gist of his argument is that to live off the grid one hundred percent means you must become completely self-sufficient, somethign almost impossible in our globalized world. You must produce all the things you need for daily living; which can be achieved but it requires a very low-tech life style. 

Here's how he breaks it down: 

Imagine the life of a subsistence farmer. It first takes capital in the form of land and tools. You can subsist off a 10’x20′ plot in your backyard. It just isn’t possible. Once you have the land and tools you still have to work the land for years in order to create a revenue of any sort. In fact, you can live at a much higher standard if you work for money (either at a job or for yourself) and then use that money to buy the things you need. Even flipping burgers at the local greasy spoon will net you more money that most subsistence farmers are able to make. Granted you are allowed the feeling of satisfaction and success for providing for your needs with hard-work and sweat equity you still have to face a life void of many things you once enjoyed. Oranges in December?

Not unless you live in South Florida or Mexico. Instant pudding? Nope. Refined sugar for your favorite recipes? Not likely. Oh, and did we mention meat? Yep! Meat. If you want that as part of your diet you either have to raise and process animals or you have to learn to be a bit of a hunter/gatherer. Of course that depends on where you live. In eastern North Carolina we are able to enjoy venison, dove, quail, rabbit, and even turkey. But that isn’t the case everywhere.

So there you have it. Two different ways to approach living in an off-grid tiny home that take into account the different life experiences we bring to the table.

 

The Best Appliances For Your Tiny House

An off-grid tiny house lets you lead a fully independent lifestyle without the need of remote infrastructure, the power grid, or municipal plumbing. The best part about these innovative homes is that you don't have to live like a rustic hermit. Solar panels and other forms of alternative energy keep you autonomous.

But what about appliances for your off-grid home? What about cookers, coolers, light sources, and chargers for your electrical appliances? 

We're glad you asked! Turns out there are plenty of great solar-powered appliances that make living in your off-grid homes as convenient as possible. They include solar cookers, solar coolers, solar battery chargers, and even a solar-powered water purifier for washing dishes or taking a shower.

Below are some of our favorites. 

 

GoSun Fusion: Solar Cooker

The GoSun Fusion is is the flagship solar cooker from GoSun. It is the world's first solar oven that can also cook without Sun. A hybrid solar + electric oven runs on sunshine or 12Volt from your car, boat, RV or PowerBank.

 

Gosun Chill: Solar Fridge

Meet the solar cooler that doesn't need ice. 

GoSun engineered a cooler that can keep colder temperatures longer and is more sanitary than anything else on the market.  Nothing is cleaner or easier than GoSun Chill. 

GoSun Chill can be powered by multiple power sources, including: Powerbank, AC Adapter, 12 Volt Cord (car port charger), Solar Table, or Flexible Solar Panels. This way, you can access the most convenient power sources when you need it. To charge the Powerbank, plug in the included AC Adapter into any wall socket (100-250VAC) or use one of our two solar charging options - the Solar Table or Flexible Solar Panel.

 

GoSun Flex: Battery Charger

The Flex is a solar cell phone charger that easily folds up and produces an incredible amount of electricity to charge all your USB devices. It can charge up your phone with its built in usb port as fast at your plug in outlet.

Here are the dimensions:

  • Unfold size: 267 mm x 349 mm x 2.5 mm
  • Folded size: 267 mm x 175 mm x 5 mm
  • Net weight: 0.43 kg 

 

GoSun Flow: Portable Sink and Shower

 

The GoSun Flow is doing things with solar energy that few ever considered. It purifies water -- up to 99.99% of all pathogens -- making it a portable handwashing station, shower, and source of clean water. It's small enough to fit into a backpack, which means clean water can now go wherever a person can. 

Our Choice for the Best Tiny House

There are a growing number of tiny houses on the market. We think the GoSun Dream is the best. The Dream is a solar-powered off-grid tiny house. GoSun designed the Dream to help you live a more independent, healthy, and resilient life. No strings attached. Take any place. Park any place. Live anywhere.

The Dream comes with all of GoSun's breakthrough, portable solar appliances. Stay cool with the ice-free Chill, cook with the solar + electric hybrid Fusion, and clean with the Flow water system.

 An easy home on wheels, the Dream is designed for locations with decent solar exposure and a lack of infrastructure - power, water, or gas. These sites can be found in urban and suburban settings, or in remote countryside or farms.


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