Is a Tiny House right for you?
Hi, I’m Janine – and I’d love to tell you how my love affair with tiny houses began. I champion tiny houses in the Australian market. With a wealth of experience in design, building, planning, and material selection, and I have applied this knowledge into my business – Tiny House Solutions.
I have been interviewed on the ABC, spoken at events, and published a paper on tiny houses. I’m on the Executive Committee of the Australian Tiny House Association and I have also co-hosted the first ever Tiny Talk. I also teach Sustainable Design at RMIT.
Due in no small part to the housing affordability crisis, and my belief that people are looking for alternative solutions to call home, I worked towards helping solve this problem. I was inspired to provide people with an easy and practical answer, so I created a highly insulated and lightweight tiny house kit with a specially designed trailer for my structurally insulated panels (these are often used in the housing market for their speed and ease to construct). I aim to make things easy for people, and have a passion for sharing what I have learnt for those wishing to begin their journey.
If you would like to listen to this episode, feel free to do so on my podcast here. Otherwise, please read on!
My First Tiny House Build
When I designed and built my prototype in the backyard, there was nothing like it on the Australian market, as most tiny house DIYs and builders use timber or steel frame construction that require a lot of skills and are far heavier kit. I worked with Fred from Fred’s Tiny house trailers on a trailer design and sought advice from a structural engineer on my connection system for the panels to the trailer.
I proceeded to design the tiny house around the dimensions of the panels. I based my designs on the location of the windows and door, and on what would provide the best cross flow ventilation. I then crafted the design for my kitchen and bathroom, loft, and the electrical layout for the wall and ceiling. I had never used any tools other than a hammer and screwdriver before, and here I was, about to build a tiny house, thinking that I’d finish it in 2 months, whilst working full time. Of course, it ended up taking much longer.
At this point, it hadn’t dawned on me that I had committed to such a large building project. I’ve always possessed an “it’ll be right” attitude, so I set out organising several working bees with friends and family to help me with construction. I had a huge amount of support from my partner, who also had a lot of power tools. I learnt to use them and started feeling confident and empowered.
I set a date for the launch of the tiny house for 5 months time and I partnered up with a charity. The money raised from the launch was going to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. I was committed. Apart from the electrical, plumbing and gas fittings, I constructed everything, including the furniture and the kitchen.
There were times when I felt that I had taken on too much, working every weekend and most evenings, and I just wanted to give up and slow down, but I had made a commitment and had to see it through. After five months, I achieved my dream of designing and building a tiny house prototype and celebrated by hosting a party with my friends and family.
What an experience! It was a huge learning curve, coupled with tons of skill development and personal growth. When I finished, I took stock of what I had created and I felt accomplished and proud.
Is a tiny house right for you?
When it comes to my tiny house community, there isn’t one particular demographic interested in taking on these kinds of projects. People consider tiny houses for a variety of reasons.
Heather Shearer of Griffith University, found in her research that “tiny houses appeal strongly to a wide demographic, particularly to single person or couple households where economic and social factors are the major drivers“. Economic factors included affordability, the desire to own (detached) property without a high mortgage, and to reduce expenses and debt. Social factors included a strong desire for freedom and the ability to live a communal and environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
One of the larger demographics seeking alternative housing options are older women who are moving into retirement. Often, they want to live in a community, but also want their own space. They enjoy being surrounded by people they can interact with and share the bigger things – mowers, gardens, vegetable gardens, tools and off grid services.
There are many more in our society who are considering alternative housing options, and they include:
- those looking for an alternative lifestyle that are environmentally conscious;
- those who cannot afford to get into the traditional home owner market but are keen to get out of the rent trap;
- elderly people who want to stay close to their family or community;
- those with a disability who might require limited care;
- those who need temporary housing for disaster relief or are staving off homelessness, or those escaping domestic violence;
- those keen to downsize but are not seeking retirement living;
- those who live a transient lifestyle;
- property owners seeking a supplementary income;
- homeowners keen to share their patch of land;
- older Australians escaping the rental market who want a place to call their own; or teenagers looking for some independence but not in a position to rent.
- those who own land somewhere remotely and would like to have a little home base or escape from the big city life.
That’s the research, but anecdotally I can also tell you it’s very real!
I have participated in a number of sustainable living expos over the years, and have had many women approach me who are reaching their retirement years without sufficient funds to purchase a property to call their own. Or at least not within an area close to public transport or a well connected community. They have asked me “what can you do for me, with $150,000 or $100,000?”.
Until a few years ago, I was not able to offer them any options other than exploring community housing initiatives. But fortunately, this has changed with the development of the tiny house sector. Of course, budget does not include land, but land with limited services can be rented quite cheaply. And when I launched my tiny house, I had people from all different backgrounds come and check it out – single mothers, older men, young couples, teenagers, older couples, and property owners looking for a second income, so it is all very real.
So how could a tiny house help you achieve your dreams?
Now that I’ve set the scene, let’s focus on exactly what you are looking to achieve in your life and how considering tiny house living may help you achieve it.
Perhaps finance is a major factor, whether you can’t save enough to buy land and build a house or you can’t afford an existing one due to the casualisation of the work-force or underemployment. Or perhaps you’ve decided to take a different path, not wanting to be straddled with a large mortgage. You might also be wanting to live in a range of interesting and beautiful places with a sense of security but you don’t want to start all over again each time you move.
Maybe you want to live in a shared community, or live a more minimalist lifestyle and reduce your environmental footprint. No matter what the reason, a good way to start your journey is by being clear about what your goals are and working out whether or not you have a timeline to achieve your build. It can help to write down your goals for different stages of your life. Reflect on these over time and crystalise what you are looking to create in your life, and what type of assistance you might require along the way. Identifying any potential barriers is important in order to put in place a strategy to overcome them. Breaking your goals down to be smaller is a great way to track your progress and give momentum to your achievements.
I strongly suggest that you get out there and research as much as you can about tiny houses living. You can do this by:
- Speaking with people who are living in a tiny house
- Watching tiny house journeys on youtube
- Joining facebook chat groups
- Joining the Australian Tiny House Association by getting onto the Association website
- Attend workshops, events and festivals to get valuable information and seek professional advice to assist you on the journey.
- Or of course, you can get in touch with me directly. I am always happy to help.
Another reason why people are drawn to tiny house living is that they are exhausted with the amount of clutter they have in their lives. Some think that going tiny can be the solution for this, but that will require a mindset change over a period of time. Others will have sentimental possessions that they will not want to part with and they will need to consider how these are dealt with. Perhaps they can be integrated as furnishings or artwork. No matter what, most people will need to start the downsizing journey well before moving in. If dwelling in a tiny house is intended to be temporary or short term, perhaps renting a storage facility will be your solution, but if dwelling in a tiny house is permanently your dream, then downsizing your possessions well before you move in will make the transition a considerable amount easier.
With all that being said, I’m putting my teacher hat on by giving you a bit of homework. Consider developing a mind map to workshop your goals and aspirations. Research is key. Next time, we’ll discuss site selection.
As the Tiny House Guru, I look forward to offering you more tips to help you achieve freedom with tiny house living. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your tiny needs.