Tiny Houses: The Next Generation of Living?

I barely have any belongings.  Currently everything in my dorm room – minus a couple boxes of memorabilia at home – is all I have. I’m astonished when I look at my packed suitcases at the end of the school year. I think, “Wow, that’s my life in there.”  I moved to Delhi at the age of 11 and spent summers back where I grew up on Long Island. Every summer, my parents would give me a budget for all clothes, accessories, gadgets, I wanted to buy. I never shopped in India – mainly because of the lack of good retail options. Essentially I would buy a new wardrobe and wear the clothes out every year. I fell into a pattern of buying and discarding – not in the least bit sustainable, I know now.  I attribute my lack of things to my move – it was a huge lifestyle change. When I moved back to the States for college, I was simply amazed at the number of things all my friends had – boxes and boxes of shoes, bags, belts, coats. Just stuff and more STUFF.

Tiny home living is about whittling down to essentials – getting rid of the meaningless. In Washington, D.C., a group called Boneyard Studios is building a community of 150 to 200 square feet houses to showcase as an option for affordable and green living.

A completed tiny house on the Boneyard lot in Washington, D.C.

Lee Pera, a group member, lived in 26 houses and apartments in six different countries. “With all this moving I’ve become very adept at adapting to any type of situation I find myself in,” she wrote in her online bio.

Matt Battin, an architect and builder working on the project, describes himself as a “nomad.”

“I’ve enough spent time camping – backpacking – so there’s a real notion of thinking about how little you need and being able to carry just the essentials,” he said in an interview I conducted. “And also, having one thing do as many things as possible.”

One of the three houses currently under construction on the lot.

A major advantage of tiny houses is affordability – houses sell between $20,000 to $50,000. Those prices are considerably less than that of a two-bedroom apartment in a hip D.C neighborhood. Over 5 million homes were foreclosed in 2011 and the average price of a used home is $245,000, according to the Boneyard Studios website.

The main room in a completed tiny house.

The Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. spearheaded the movement in 2000.

The idea of tiny homes gained traction and now Boneyard Studios is the first tiny house community in any American city. The group is hoping to tap into the niche market here in Washington – and it may just be successful, as the trend is toward smaller homes. From 1950 to the start of the millennium, the size of the average American home increased 230 percent, while the number of people living in it fell 23 percent. Though, in the past decade, according to this paper by the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a new single-family home declined.


Picture courtesy of National Association of Home Builders

The utility bills for the houses on Boneyard lot will be minimal. In this interview with Urban Turf, one of the builders Brian Levy said, “Typically, the plans on the Tumbleweed site are for structures that require a hook-up for electricity, water and sewer. On this lot, we have electric, but don’t have a sewer connection or a water connection.” These houses will have water tanks on board and the group will also harvest rainwater. In terms of sewage, incinerating toilets, which are waterless systems, will be used to turn human waste into ash.

Washington is a unique place in that it’s filled with transients such as federal workers and college students. Hardly anyone is actually from the District. The tiny, mobile homes, Lee said in my interview with her, can be attractive to this population. Another unique feature is that there is also a lot of dead space to build on, like alley lots. Now compare this with densely-populated cities like New York.

In New York, where apartment prices are also sky-high, residents have to think creatively and make sacrifices to get things to, well, fit, into their tiny apartments. The video below is captivating:

You should follow me on Twitter @shivan_sarna 



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