Is the Tiny House Movement Sustainable or a “Big Lie”?

Written by on January 13, 2016 in Economy, Loans and Frugal Living with 21 Comments

Joel webber tiny house

By Kimberley Mok | Tree Hugger

Tiny houses are a popular topic on TreeHugger, and no wonder: they touch on many elements of a sustainable lifestyle, such as simplifying one's life, eschewing the enormous McMansion and corresponding mortgage in favour of more financial freedom. But as we've noted before, the teeny size of tiny homes aren't for everyone, and there are still some big barriers to consider even before thinking about living in one.

Related Article: For Under $500 Man Builds Dream Micro-Cabin from Salvaged Materials

Erin Anderssen over at The Globe and Mail goes further, questioning whether they are truly sustainable in the long term, noting that some high-profile tiny housers are now up-sizing. In an article titled ‘Teeny house, big lie: Why so many proponents of the tiny-house movement have decided to upsize‘, Anderssen writes:

The ardour for tiny homes suggests it’s the next best trend in four walls. Certainly, the motivation is hard to fault. As a society, we’ve been urban sprawling to our detriment, wasting energy, space and interest on sky-high mortgages. And we could definitely kick the knick-knack habit. But how small can we shrink without wreaking havoc of a different kind? Are tiny homes really sustainable? Maybe not so much. At least, not for everyone.

Why are tiny homes so small, anyway?

Anderssen outlines the reasons why and shares stories of how the extremely small size of tiny homes are now driving some to abandon them for larger homes. For starters, she points out that tiny home are “too small,” especially for families, and that their shoebox size can “take their toll… on our physical and mental health.”

This is a valid point, one that has also been raised along with the recent trend toward urban micro-apartments. But what Anderssen glosses over is why tiny homes are so small. For decades, they've been a bit of a reactionary response to an increasingly unaffordable existing housing market, based on the false ideal of “bigger is better.”

Related Article: Amazing Design of Tiny (Less than 200’) Apartment Creates Lux Living

Certainly, they could be bigger, but tiny homes are now typically sized under 200 square feet and put on wheels to go under the radar of municipal bylaws and the need to pay the larger property taxes that go with larger, immovable homes. Many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements because they prefer the higher tax assessments, but that doesn't necessarily mean that these minimum square footages are an absolute, indisputable ideal for everyone either.

A tiny stab at complex problems

There's also the elephant in the tiny room that people need to talk more about: how to concretely tackle the broader crisis of unaffordable housing, beyond building one's own mortgage-free tiny home. With wages stagnating against rising costs of living, real estate prices, rents, and rampant speculation in urban centers, many younger Millennials can only dream of owning a home like their parents. Some may argue tiny homes represent a kind of “poverty appropriation,” but the economic inequality between the wealthy and the middle-class is growing, and the recent popularity of tiny homes are but a symptom of this very real problem.

Related Article: “Bestie Row”: Lifelong Friends Build A Row Of Cheap, Hip Tiny Houses


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21 Reader Comments

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  1.' Dave Jones says:

    If this catches on it will be made illegal

  2.' Cindy Loosley Manthey says:

    They are just trailers … I don’t get it …

  3.' Sheree Collette says:

    In a country where people can no longer afford to raise families, it’s a great idea.

  4.' Everett Morash says:

    It’s a great idea.
    Small well insulated trailer sized dwellings that can be moved with a common truck are fantastic ideas.
    Because they are small they are easily heated in winter and cooled in summer making those costs small. A small woodstove is enough and minimal infrastructure required.
    You can take it anywhere meaning home could be the rocky mph gains this week and the east coast the next.
    Great for following work as a tradesman. You never really leave home.
    Because it’s small you spend more times outdoors.
    And very cheap to build. I’m a journeyman carpenter and they can be built from start to finish for less than 20k.
    Great idea

  5.' Tom Pie says:

    Very well. People should use energy to build better houses to last hundreds of years and share tiny is difficult

  6.' Nicole S Feldman Ramirez says:

    Denise Cruci

  7.' Saraphina Regina Cook says:

    Deanna Clark

  8.' Roderick Bear says:

    I can live in an 18 foot RV. But with a wife and disabled dependent not so much.

  9.' Hermit Bender says:

    If it was just me, hell yes…but with children, husband and pets…no no no. Plus, what is sustainable about building new homes? Just buy one already made, and update to be more energy efficient…

    •' Conscious Life News says:

      Interesting thoughts!

    •' Delis Alms says:

      Some homes cost too much to make energy efficient but if a person is on a budget they need to do their homework to make sure the house they get can be upgraded without killing the bank account.

  10.' Sandy Blakeman says:

    Our home is small but some of these are extreme! Maybe for some but not for me.

  11.' Margaret Booth says:

    I live in a tiny home but not through choice economics only give me ironmans house any day

  12.' Judy Coho says:

    While not tiny compared to those on the show we spend our winters in less then 800 sf and are more then comfortable. The key is to carefully identify what you need to be comfortable and have only those things in hand. It’s a clutter free life.

    •' Lydia Mitchell says:

      My husband and live in 750 square ft…it can be done….gran kids stay night on pull out couch! You get use to it!

  13.' Michael Brightwood says:

    I’d choose a Pacific

  14.' Michael Brightwood says:

    Pacific Domes

  15.' Cheryl Lynn Gibbs Bowen says:

    Love tiny homes 🙂 and minimalist living.

  16.' Sherry Hieronymus Raeder says:

    I like my tiny house! Property taxes are $300 a year!

  17.' Nathan Dunning says:

    Awsome idea! Im doing this in my sons back yard when Im an old man lol

  18.' Caron Miller says:

    I could live in one for a personal retreat for a few weeks at a time.

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