What’s wrong with tiny houses?

Headline image via Tiffany The Tiny Home

Tiny houses are everywhere. Minimalism is trending and people are jumping on the downsizing bandwagon as a means to save money, go mortgage-free, minimize their carbon footprint, and enjoy a simpler lifestyle.

Many see tiny houses as the answer to the housing shortage and sky-high rents. Others consider these pint-sized homes as the solution to climate change, a way for individuals to reduce their emissions and embrace eco-friendly solutions.

So why are tiny houses a bad idea? What are the disadvantages of tiny houses? 

If you suspect that the booming popularity of this alternative housing trend conceals a darker side and are wondering what’s wrong with tiny homes, here are some of the most common problems found with tiny homes—and the reasons why they might not be the calamities they first seem to be. 

7 problems with tiny house living

1. Tiny houses aren’t that cheap

For anyone asking ‘why are tiny houses a bad idea?’ the most significant answer is that often tiny houses aren’t as cost-friendly as people claim. 

According to Apartment Therapy, building a tiny house costs around $300 per square foot. Meanwhile, the cost to build a standard home in the US is between $100 and $155 per square foot. 

Why the discrepancy? 

Well, tiny houses often require more complex construction such as dual-purpose stairs, fold-away furniture, and other custom-designed pieces. Similarly, sometimes smaller appliances can actually be more expensive than larger ones as they are not in such high demand. 

Then you have to factor in the issue of hooking your tiny home up to the grid and getting access to electricity, water, and sewage. Going off-grid is always an option but this can be expensive too once you consider the cost of solar panels, compost toilets, rainwater capture tanks, and propane heaters.

Image via New Frontier Design

And then there’s the fact that tiny homes don’t tend to appreciate in value like traditional homes, making them hard to sell later on. Sure, the land that comes with your tiny house will probably go up in value but buying land in the first place can be both expensive and difficult. 

Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that the average house price in the US is $284,600 while the average price of a tiny house ranges from just $30,000 to $60,000 (although they can, of course, cost a lot more or a lot less). 

And there are companies attempting to bring the costs of tiny houses down, such as tech start-up Cover, which uses algorithmic software to deliver pre-fab homes for just $250.

Plus, the cost of living in a tiny house is still far less than the cost of bills in a traditional home. Many tiny home owners spend less than $1,000 a month on all living expenses compared to over $5,000 for the average American household

2. Tiny homes aren’t that sustainable

Tiny home advocates often boast about the eco-friendly credentials of their small homes. But tiny houses aren’t always the most sustainable option. 

In fact, apartments and condos rank among those homes with the lowest eco-impact. They share facilities such as laundry as well as infrastructure like heating, water, sewage, and power, and are usually near bus routes and services, encouraging the use of public transport. 

Meanwhile, the entire onus of heating and powering a tiny home is on the owners. They have all four walls exposed to the elements, which can push heating costs up. And the need for them to be mobile means super thick wall insulation is out of the question. 

Image via Inhabitat

As for downsizing? Many tiny home owners end up spending more money on external storage for those things that won’t fit in their home. 

Some tiny home owners also find themselves eating out more in order to avoid cooking in a cramped kitchen. They might also recycle less because there’s less space for storing recyclable materials. 

Finally, not all tiny home builders use eco-friendly materials. Plus, you need to consider the fuel involved in towing a tiny house around the country. 

However, it’s still true that tiny homes inevitably use less building materials and typically conserve more energy and water simply due to their smaller size. Many use eco-solutions such as compost toilets. And one study found that on average, tiny house residents reduced their individual carbon footprints by 45% after settling into a tiny home. 

3. Lack of space

This is obvious. In a tiny house, you’re going to be short on space. You’re unlikely to have a full-sized kitchen or bathroom. You’ll struggle to get privacy from anyone else living in the house and this can start to become frustrating with time. 

Similarly, trying to find anything can be a nightmare when it involves pulling out various different boxes and pieces of furniture. If your dining table doubles up as your bed, for example, you’ll have to tidy it away before you can crash for the night. Being organized is key—but some days, you might lack the energy to stay on top of everything. And because your space is so small, entertaining guests is often a no-no. 

Find clever ways to let the light in.
Image via Daystar Tiny Homes

However, there are solutions. You can design your tiny house with partitions to allow for privacy. You can invest in nifty and easy-to-use storage to keep everything tidy and under control. 

And when space is limited, you’ll inevitably spend more time outside, which is one of the reasons why people love tiny living. You’re forced to spend more time in nature—which is good for both the body and soul

4. Zoning laws

Another major issue that would-be tiny house owners encounter is zoning laws and building codes. Many places have regulations dictating the minimum size of houses and tiny houses are often considered too small to qualify. Even finding somewhere to park a tiny house can be a nightmare, especially in cities. 

13 Livable Tiny House Communities
Image via The Spruce

With ordinances varying from county to county and state to state, keeping up with the red tape is a real headache. You’ll need to do your research to find out exactly what’s allowed and what’s not. And trying to live under the radar without a permit can be incredibly stressful. 

However, there are places in the country where it’s easier to build a tiny house. Check out our guide to the best states for tiny houses or discover America’s best tiny house communities.  

5. It’s hard to get the temperature right

Temperature regulation inside tiny homes can be complicated. Many bedroom areas are situated in the loft, which can be cramped and hot. On the other hand, being raised off the ground on a trailer means more cold air can enter your house and the trailer also functions as a conductor, taking heat away from your home. 

With some appliances, such as water heaters, placed outside or underneath the house to save space, you risk the problem of frozen pipes during the winter months. And your compost toilet might cease to function properly if the temperature falls too low too. 

The key is building an airtight house with well-sealed doors and windows. You can install vapor barriers between the interior wall and the insulation of your tiny house. Air vents are another option and a dehumidifier can be a smart investment. As for keeping your tiny house cool, the best option is a cost-efficient air conditioning system.

Skirting your tiny home with insulating materials like straw bales is another wise move when it comes to heat retention. In fact, spending more on good insulation at the outset is preferable as you’ll end up spending a lot less on energy bills in the long run. 

6. Tiny homes can be stinky

It’s not that surprising that living in such a tiny space can become smelly. You’re living that much closer to a toilet, for one thing. 

Image via Tiny House Life

There’s also the issue of ventilation. Many tiny homes struggle with condensation which can lead to mold and rot as well as a constant damp smell. 

The solution? Consider incinerating poop, rather than composting it. Try to keep your trash build-up low even if this means using a landfill rather than relying on garbage pick-up. Deal with the issue of ventilation early on in the build phase and try to stay on top of the cleaning. 

7. Getting a loan or insurance can be tricky

Why shouldn’t you buy a tiny house? Because you might not be able to afford to. 

Unless you have a lot of savings you can dig into, you’re going to have to find a way to finance your tiny house and this will probably involve borrowing. If you don’t have any incredibly generous friends or family, you may need a mortgage. And this can be tricky when it comes to tiny houses. 

Houses typically have to be on permanent foundations to qualify for a mortgage and also be worth enough for lenders to want to give you the money. 

tiny house nation ski
Image by FYI via Green Matters

There are other options, however, such as personal loans, chattel loans, and home equity loans. And some tiny home companies also provide lending schemes. 

But then there’s still the question of insurance. Some tiny homes are just not insurable, especially if they’re on wheels. You could get RV insurance but you’ll have to show that your THOW is RV certified. 

Of course, it all depends on the insurance agent and there are insurance companies that specialize in alternative living structures. Do you research before you start building and find a company that can give you guidelines to follow to ensure your home is insurable after it’s built.

Does tiny house living really work?

So with all these issues, is building or buying a tiny house really a good idea? 

At the end of the day, it depends on your unique circumstances. If you’re able to find the money to buy or build a tiny house, you’re off to a good start. Then it’s a question of doing the necessary research to comply with zoning regulations and meet insurance or mortgage requirements. 

You’ll also want to carefully consider the design, making sure your home is built to a high enough standard to withstand extreme temperatures, paying particular attention to issues such as ventilation and privacy, and deciding how to keep your energy footprint low. 

And so it’s definitely possible for living in a tiny house to be a success. There are more and more people finding solutions to common tiny house problems and government regulations are evolving to keep up with demand.

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