Too Little, Too Late

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I think the tiny house movement is ridiculous. I think it’s a fun idea people have about living sort of “unconnected” to space, when in actuality, the majority of us need a certain level of connection (figuratively and literally) to our surroundings. I say literally, because a house on wheels is quite literally unconnected to its environment. I think the architecture world has somewhat failed the residential sector in order for this atrocity of an idea to develop.

Putting a house on wheels in theory sounds great. You can travel, live where you want, work where you want, take a break from the world into nature, etc. You get rid of all the crap and clutter you don’t need, mainly because there is no room for it. You have a smaller environmental footprint, if that is what your main prerogative is, and you will spend less money on rent and mortgages. And for a bonus, you could fill up your Instagram profile with images of you and your family living in picturesque landscapes. Worth at least 20 “likes.”
I will never forget watching a reality TV show one night on this tiny house movement, featuring a young couple looking to have one made. On the top of their list was the following: space for them and their three pets (two cats and a dog), future space for their planned child, and enough space to have people over, because they “enjoy entertaining.” I can’t comprehend having that wish list for my current 1,000 s.f. 1950’s ranch, let alone a 200 s.f. house on wheels, but I digress…

The first and most obvious things you lose is space. I don’t think people realize the luxury of the kitchen they may have in their “cramped” studio or one bedroom apartment. In a tiny home, your entire kitchen will fall in about a four foot by four foot area. Also, say goodbye to your privacy whilst in the bathroom. Nothing like sitting on the john with your significant other two feet away! And how about trash? How many of you really know how much trash you produce on any given week. When your house is on wheels, where does all that go? Lastly, how about we combine the toilet and trash ideas. Most tiny houses don’t have plumbing… hopefully you can understand where I’m going with this without me spelling it out. Third, contrary to popular belief in the tiny house movement, a lot of property is owned. Like in, almost all of it. Of the United States 2.3 billion acres, 61% is privately owned, 37% is government (state and federal) owned, and 2% are Indian reservations. Hopefully you have a long lost cousin with plenty of land to park on. Finally, the hidden costs. Yes, a house will need work. Yes, things will break and need to be replaced. Same rings true for every single specialized piece of equipment in your new abode on wheels. Things on wheels (cars) break much easier than a thing set in the ground - like a foundation. Wear and tear over time will far exceed the normal wear and tear to a house.

So, why did this sad movement gain such traction? Why did people seemingly out of the blue, think that building a house on wheels was a better option? Outside of wanting to “live free,” I believe part of the reason came with the residential buildings that have been “designed” and built over the past twenty to thirty years. Quality has not just taken a back seat to quantity; it was left at the rest stop. New residential work is rarely the investment opportunity it was in the 70’ and 80’s. On top of that, the cost isn’t really in the ballpark of quality. If you want real quality, it’s certainly going to cost you. What happened to the days where a family could live comfortably in a nicely built, modest 1,200 square foot house?

House plans today can be obtained with a few clicks on Google. The intimacy between new home and homeowner has been lost. Some architects make an entire living primarily designing custom homes, but that shouldn’t mean John Doe should be intimidated or expected to fork over a fortune to have an architect design a house. Houses are (see: can be) the most rudimentary project an architect designs, which should directly correlate to cost, knowledge, and availability. Let’s make Americas houses great again!

Watch for the November NH Forum for a different point of view...