Tiny Houses: The Next BIG Trend

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They say a house is one of the biggest purchases of your life. You pay a lump sum in exchange for a spacious home. But some are ditching the square footage for financial and environmental reasons. Not only are they going small, they are going tiny.

We first met Laz Reinhardt at his workshop in West Sacramento. The contractor has been building custom decks, homes, bathrooms, kitchens, all sorts of things since he was in junior high. But after hundreds of projects, he started noticing that his home builds kept getting bigger.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size of a home has increased from 1,600-square-feet to 2,600-square-feet in the last 40 years.

“I’m not sure why that is,” Reinhardt said. “Maybe just because we can.”

Americans love everything “super-sized,” whether it is our food,TVs or even our homes. But a growing number are scaling back.

Chris Silva and his fiance live in what is called a “tiny home.” It is only 185-square-feet.

“Coming out of college, we really wanted to keep our cost down,” Silva said. “We didn’t want to burden ourselves with a mortgage or even rent payments.”

So this April, they did away with their $1,800 monthly apartment rent, hundreds more in utility bills and unnecessary clutter.

With the help and donations from friends and volunteers, they were able to build their dream tiny home for about $25,000.

He drove his home on wheels to his family’s land in Northern California after building it in Santa Barbara. He said their downsize is far from a downgrade.

“We have teak hardwood floors, we have Baltic birch for walls, we have stainless steel everything, I mean, we didn't have to give up a whole lot,” Silva said.

His home is equipped with water and propane hook ups, electricity, a 34-by-34 inch shower and a California King size mattress in the loft. The couple, both of whom are over 6-feet-tall, does not seem to mind the tiny space.

This idea of micro-living is gaining interest across the nation.

Television shows like "Tiny House Nation" (FYI), "Tiny House Hunters" (HGTV) and "Tiny House Big Living" (HGTV) are becoming increasingly popular.

Reinhardt is leading the change in the Sacramento region.

“Since I advertised myself as a tiny home contractor, the phone has been ringing off the hook,” Reinhardt said. He has already been featured in a popular reality television show about tiny homes.

He is now helping his daughter, Shalina Kell, build her own tiny house.

“This is something I can actually afford to do right now,” Kell said.

The 31-year-old graphic designer’s abode will be around 400-square-feet -- complete with two full bedrooms. Because she is doing most of the building herself, it will cost her about $40,000. So far, everything is going according to plan, except one thing.

She is unsure where to place her home on wheels when she is done with construction.

In fact, many say finding a semi-permanent location for a tiny house is singlehandedly the biggest obstacle homeowners are going to face.

“People are just parking them and hoping they don’t get caught,” Reinhardt said.

No codes, no rules and that is the problem.

“This is kind of the wild west phase for tiny homes,” he said.

Tiny homes are not quite mobile homes, which are RVs, mainly used for short-term camping. They are also not modular homes, which are transportable, permanent homes.

According to the city of Sacramento, both mobile and modular homes must follow specific building codes.

City zoning codes state they cannot stay in one spot on public or private land for more than 24 hours, unless they are parked in mobile home parks.

So where to tiny homes fit into this? Essentially… nowhere.

“Building departments and cities will have to adapt to what's happening,” Reinhardt said.

Just last month, Sacramento city development officials started brainstorming. They are now taking a look at amending zoning ordinances to include tiny homes. Urban designers are even considering creating a subdivision, a neighborhood specifically for tiny homes.

Despite the trend, Silva said this lifestyle is not for everyone.

“If you're a claustrophobic person, it might not be for you,” Silva said.

But they said this will be their home for a while, until maybe children enter the picture.

“Even if we stay here for two to three years, we still have the place, and if we were to go stick this out on some land somewhere, this could serve as a really good vacation cabin,” Silva said.

Back at Reinhardt’s workshop, it is all about the next tiny home project.

“This tiny home thing is striking a chord with an awful lot of people. And I don't see it doing anything but growing,” Reinhardt said.

It is a lifestyle proving that sometimes, good things do come in small packages.

General tips:
Stay at a tiny home for a weekend. Look up locations on Airbnb to see if this is really for you.

Building tips:
Set a budget – see if you want to have a contractor build it for you or build it yourself.
Do your research – size, materials, and budget.
Double check – Have all of your work be double-checked for fire, structural, electrical safety.

Location tips:
Every jurisdiction has different zoning laws. Some areas allow people to live in a tiny house if it is on your family’s property. Others do not allow any mobile living. Check where you want to live, and figure out what is legal.