All about Tiny Homes

In recent years, tiny homes have become the preferred lifestyle choice for many individuals, couples and families across the world - particularly throughout New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the United States. Minimalism is on the rise - with Netflix shows such as "Tidying up with Marie Kondo" encouraging residents to live simply and intentionally. On Youtube, too, people have built careers off of exploring different approaches to minimalistic living. What is it about tiny homes and minimal living that has so many people choosing small spaces over grand designs?

What are tiny homes?

Tiny homes are small spaces designed with highly functional and minimalistic living in mind. Anyone can live in them - from teenagers in need of their own space through to families of five (although you might find it overly snug as your kids get older). People make the switch to tiny house living for a variety of reasons; whether it be a simplified lifestyle, sustainable living or affordability. Tiny homes come in a range of styles, whether it be on wheels, built out of a shipping container, an earth home or even a treehouse.

Benefits of tiny homes
One of the major attractions to tiny house living is the belief that “less is more”. Many well-off families and individuals have chosen to sell their large and impressive homes in exchange for the micro-lifestyle because they want to remove themselves from all of the “stuff” in their lives. Because tiny homes are so small, living in them requires frequent decluttering, ensuring you only hold onto treasured and needed items. The small space also means there is less to clean and maintain, meaning there is more time to enjoy life and live in the present.
Stan Scott, the star builder of Mitre 10’s Tiny House building series, says this is what prompts the lifestyle change for many people.
“One of the main things, when people move into a tiny house, is they feel so much more freedom purely because they’ve gotten rid of all of the “stuff” in their life, which they never really needed anyway, and they no longer have to carry it around with them.”
A smaller living situation also means fewer bills, says Stan.
“There are very little bills to pay, so you can save money. I would say millennials are getting into it because they can’t afford to buy houses and they’re really keen on doing DIY. It gives them a way to save a bit of income to save for a deposit for a house.”
A survey conducted by The Tiny Life, a website which focuses on tiny homes and living simply, found that in the US alone, 68% of people living in a tiny house are mortgage free and 55% of Americans living in a tiny house have more financial savings than the average American.  
Ultimately, to enjoy tiny house living, you need to be interested in the lifestyle. There is a growing tiny house community, and many people want to be a part of it.
“There tends to be a little bit of a tiny house movement, so you can meet like-minded people”, confirms Stan.  

How big are tiny homes?
Typically, tiny homes tend to be around 2.4 x 5 metres in size. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Generally, the idea with tiny homes is to live in a space that provides what you need without the excess. It’s about creating a space that supports a minimalistic and sustainable lifestyle. Of course, the space required to house one person will be different from the requirements of housing a large family, and tiny home’s can be designed to fit around these lifestyle requirements, while still taking up as little space as possible. The benefit here is that tiny homes can be built in a very short amount of time, sometimes in under a month if you have all of the support and materials that you need.  

Can I buy a tiny home?
Tiny homes can be purchased as prefabricated homes, and are sometimes sold on to new owners. While this is an affordable option, it limits you to a small space that has been designed to suit someone else's lifestyle, and it might not necessarily suit yours. For many people, the beauty of tiny house living is that you can affordably design your home to fit your needs. It may be that you’re an enthusiastic cook and therefore want to make the kitchen the main feature in your tiny home. You might be an artist, and therefore creating a multi-purpose tiny home that can convert into a studio would be the best option for you. Designing from scratch allows you to create a home that, while tiny, will perfectly meet your needs.

What can tiny houses be used for?
Tiny homes don’t just need to be designed in the form of a permanent living situation. They can make great sleepouts or unique Airbnb accommodation. They can also provide a great office or studio space. What you use your tiny house for is really only limited by your imagination.  

Renovating tiny homes

How do you build/renovate a tiny home?
Unless you are a builder yourself, it’s a good idea to bring in the experts; someone who has a good understanding of your local planning, resource and building requirements. To turn your ideas into a reality, you’ll ideally need a team that consists of an architect, construction manager/builder, electrician, plumber and, if you’re working with a shipping container, a panel beater.  
When putting together your design ideas, Mitre 10’s Stan Scott encourages everyone to seek advice and inspiration:
“Do your research and know what you like. Talk to people who have experience with tiny house builds and living - get as much information as possible about how they found their experience. Doing this will help you to know what types of products and materials you want to use. It’s always a good idea to get a designer to help you. Get quotes so that you have an idea of what the price will be, going in.”

What are some tiny house storage solutions?
Storage is an essential factor to any tiny home design - and there are some innovative ideas out there. Many tiny homeowners choose to create hidden-storage slots in their stairs, under sofas or under beds. Built-in floor-to-ceiling storage is another essential - keep storage around the walls of your tiny house interior to maximise your home’s centre space. Most tiny home designs include a loft bedroom/s. This helps to make the most of your floor-to-ceiling space. Fold down furniture is another solution; whether it be a desk, clothes hanger, shoe rack or kitchen table. Hometech offers some fantastic hidden stairs and ladders that are designed with space-saving and insulation in mind.  
Using a simple colour scheme throughout your home will help to keep things looking airy, while multiple colours can make spaces feel cluttered. With that in mind, do your research on minimalism and decluttering. Sell, donate or (if possible) recycle items that you no longer need - tiny homes and hoarding don’t go well together.  

What materials should I invest in?
If you’re building a tiny home out of an interest in both the environment and your wallet, recycled materials are the way to go - where practical. This might be in the type of wood you use throughout your home or through some DIY furniture. This being said, areas to not skimp out on include; good quality flooring, underlay and insulation.
“I’d definitely go with solar panels”, tells Stan. “A really good quality composting toilet is a must. I would use some recycled materials and install double glazed windows….it all depends on whether the tiny house will be on wheels or if it will just be situated on the ground. If it’s going to be on wheels then I would look at the weight factor because with double glazing you’ll have twice as much weight. If you are really scrimping on weight, to comply with local regulations, then you might have to go with single glazing.”
Other considerations, especially if you will be designing an off-grid tiny home, include building your home onto a heavy-weight trailer, durable framing that will support your tiny home on the road and whether or not to include a rain harvesting system.

How much do tiny homes cost in NZ?

Labour and materials are the biggest costs in any build, and tiny homes are no exception. That being said, a smaller home means fewer materials and less time is needed to complete the build than a large, conventional home - which saves on costs.

Tiny homes for the frugal- $50,000+
If you have a small budget to stick to, repurposed materials will be your best friend throughout your tiny house renovation/build. While they usually will need to be reconditioned, which takes time, it’s a money-saving (and sustainable) alternative to purchasing new materials. Mitre 10’s tiny house expert Stan Scott notes that opting for “affordable, builder’s grade plywood” is another way to save on materials.
“If it’s being built on a trailer and will be going on the road you want materials that are good quality but also light”, advises Stan. “Your trailer will be one of your biggest expenses - a good quality 7.5m trailer costs around $10k - $12k. If you’re going to build a tiny house on a trailer it’s really important that you spend good money. You don’t want to start out with a rickety old trailer that’s falling apart with rust. You can also spend $6k - $10k on windows, depending on how flash you go.”
While a lot of people lean toward giving DIY a go, to save money, Stan recommends getting help from a professional if you’re not experienced. He says some of the best ways to save money come down to doing your research, knowing what size and height you want and getting quotes from tradespeople before you agree to go ahead with any work.

Standard tiny homes - $150,000+
A standard tiny home usually includes 1-2 bedrooms, or 1 loft bedroom and an office room, as well as all of the usual features you would usually find in a full-sized home. Through innovative design, you can have everything you would usually have in a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area design - only on a smaller scale.
tiny affordable house
With the build complete, finding multipurpose furnishings that provide both comfort and storage will probably be in addition to your standard build costs. Allow more room in your budget if you are planning on installing solar panels or a rainwater harvesting system. Either way, it’s good to have some contingency money set aside.  

Luxury tiny home designs - $250,000+
For those of you who are approaching your tiny house build as your forever home or plan to rent it out for a supplementary income, you might want to up your budget to create something truly enjoyable and future-proof. Here, you can opt for a high-tech design with quality materials and bespoke home features - while still spending much less than you would on an ordinary home build.
Luxury tiny house render
Throughout your home, you can enjoy the highest quality solid timber floors, tiles, carpeting or even engineered stone flooring. If you have space, building a covered indoor area that flows out from the interior can make all the difference in tiny home social settings.
Sustainable design isn’t always cheap but, with a bit more room in your budget, you have the option of solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, greywater systems and more.
For the ultimate home enjoyment, consider installing a shower over a corner spa bath, a skylight over your loft bedroom or perhaps a fireplace.
On any budget, it really comes down to creating a design that upholds the type of lifestyle that you want to create for yourself - one that you can see yourself maintaining long-term.

For more inspiration, check out How much does a basic eco-renovation cost?

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