Home Touch by Mary G. Pepitone

Big on Tiny Homes

Little houses pack a big design punch. The trend toward small stick-frame homes can yield great rewards, says John Kernohan, founder and chairperson of the United Tiny House Association, based near Eatonton, Georgia. Started in 2015, the Association touts 34,000 international members affiliated with the tiny house movement.

"Our Association helps recognize tiny houses as viable structures and as an option for affordable homes," he says. "We define a 'tiny house' as any home that is 400 square-feet and under, whether it's on wheels or not."

One of the original obstacles in the tiny house movement was finding a place to build one, since many zoning regulations specified a higher minimum square footage for new home construction on a foundation. To circumnavigate this regulation, some tiny houses are built on trailers with wheels, and, like a recreational vehicle, can be moved easily.

When considering whether to make a big move into a tiny house, it's important to check local codes within a municipality and/or homeowner's association for allowances. Before planning to permanently park a tiny home built on a trailer on an approved property, it's important that the trailer rests on a relatively level and dry spot, and that -- for most homes -- there is access to electrical, water and septic hookups.

In 2014, the first "tiny house-friendly town" was declared in Spur, Texas, with subdivisions dedicated to tiny homes built on a foundation. Kernohan and his wife, Fin, have been living in their off-grid 304 square-foot tiny house, known as Beloved Cabin, since 2011. They homestead in the woods of Putnam County, Georgia, and have embraced solar energy, rainwater collection, raising chickens and growing their own food.

"Since the housing market crash in 2008, we see more people trading stuff for experiences and living a minimalistic lifestyle," Kernohan says. "These tiny houses are in direct contrast to the McMansion."

In a tiny home, a smaller space should still be big in style and substance, says Dan Louche, owner of Tiny Home Builders in Atlanta since 2009. "There is no space that's wasted in a tiny home," he says. "Choosing to live in a tiny home doesn't need to be a permanent lifestyle choice, either."

Based on Louche's experience, a majority of those investing in tiny home living are doing so based on financial considerations. While others are choosing to live in tiny homes for a simpler and greener lifestyle, the financial advantages to owning a tiny home are huge.

"Our most popular home -- measuring 24 feet long by 8 feet wide -- costs $65,000 for us to build on a trailer," Louche says. "This home can accommodate a couch, washer and dryer and a king mattress in the loft."

Tiny Home Builders also sells detailed home plans for littler living quarters, should a homeowner want to build on an approved location with a foundation. Louche says if homeowners want to build a tiny home themselves, they may be able to save up to 30 percent off the company's constructed homes.

Before making the move to littler living quarters, consider the bigger implications of a simpler lifestyle:

Declutter Before Downsizing

One of the tenets of tiny home living is to clear away things you don't use, because there simply isn't space to store unnecessary items. So before making a move from a large family house to a tiny home, it's important to clear away the clutter.

"Giving items away to others who will treasure them, or just getting rid of things you no longer need, is a great way to cut down on housekeeping, too," Louche says. "With less stuff to maintain, people find they have more time to pursue other things they find interesting."

Clean Design

If homeowners are investing in tiny houses, they want to utilize every square inch of space in it.

"When I break down the most important places in a house, one needs to have a bathroom, a place to cook, a place to sit comfortably and a place to sleep," Louche says. "A tiny house layout can be any number of configurations with a kitchen, bathroom, laundry, common sitting area, and, most often, a loft that houses a mattress."

Louche also says it's important to establish if your tiny home is going to be on- or off-grid for power; decide whether to use sewer hookups or house a composting toilet; and determine a water supply source before construction begins. "While the allocation of space in a tiny home is important," he says, "it's the inner-workings of a house that truly make it a functional home."

Bringing the Outside Indoors

Creating a tiny home environment that encourages outdoor living also increases a house's livable space, Kernohan says. "Our tiny home has a large overhang, so we can sit a spell on the porch," he says. "While we're comfortable inside, gatherings can just spill outside into the yard with our chickens."

Design Driven

-- United Tiny House Association: To attend a Tiny Living Festival in the United States, go to: UnitedTinyHouse.com.

-- Tiny Home Builders: To attend a tiny house-building workshop or to view layout designs, go to: TinyHomeBuilders.com.