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How to find tiny house communities worldwide

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In a world now obsessed with personal space, it can be hard for first-time buyers or renters, who want more ownership of their living space, to find a home that suits their lifestyle and their budget.

Enter, the tiny home.

The tiny-house movement — also known as the tiny home or small-house movement — is both an architectural movement and a social-consciousness that is built upon the principles of simple, eco-friendly choices. As a movement, tiny home communities around the world promote financial discretion, economic common sense, a shift away from bigger and better and a deepening of community-spirit, earth-consciousness and human experiences.

History of tiny homes

The tiny house movement started in the late 1970s, when American artist Allan Wexter and Shelter author Lloyd Khan, started to write and explore small space living.

While there were additional authors and advocates of this movement throughout the years, it wasn’t until 2003, when Jay Shafer started Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, a tiny house home builder, that the movement took off. Shafer’s role in the small house movement was predicated, in part, by his passion for this simple way of life. This passion led to the creation of the Small House Society in 2002, with tech-expert and social activist Gregory Paul Johnson (who is the co-founder and director for Resources for Life, an online community and free resource site for activists around the world.

When the Great Recession hit the global economy in 2007 (and lasting until 2009), the small house movement began to attract a lot of attention. It was an affordable, environmentally friendly approach to home ownership — an approach that went completely against the North American attitude of bigger is better. Between 1950 to 2011 the average house size went from 983 square feet to 2,480 square feet, according to Park Rag. This growth meant that in 60 or so years, each person in the household ended up with three times more space — going from 292-square-feet per person to 954-square-feet per person. 

By 2012, Shafer had popularized the concept of the tiny house on wheels, after building and living in a 96-square-foot custom model. It was this home that prompted Shafer to begin planning and selling tiny house plans commercially and prompted him to start his initial company, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. A little later he would go on to co-found Four Lights Tiny House Company. Finally, in 2014, the tiny home fascination hit the mainstream when two serial TV shows, Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters hit the screens of homeowners and renters everywhere.

Definition of a tiny home

According to the BC Tiny House Collective, there is no one definition of a tiny home.

However, a tiny home is generally a residential structure that is smaller than a typical American home, which is currently around 2,600 square feet, and is built using ecologically sound principles. That said, most small home movement advocates only consider home under 500-square feet to be true tiny homes.

Another important feature is that the home must be a single separate identity — either a single detached or a semi-detached residence.

Another big difference with a tiny home, when compared to a residential house, is that it can sit on wheels.

Benefits of tiny houses

The biggest motivation for a tiny house homeowners are the lower cost of purchasing and maintaining the home and the smaller ecological footprint of a tiny home.

Smaller homes are also less expensive in other ways. A smaller home means lower property taxes and lower utility bills, including heat, hydro and water.

Since there is much less space in a tiny home this style of living promotes a more clutter-free or minimalistic lifestyle.

There are also arguments against tiny homes, but most of these centre on the current system being unable not supporting the movement. For instance, it’s hard for most tiny house owners to find urban land zoned for small house construction. Rather than destroy the movement, this prompted tiny house owners to find alternatives and, in part, this has led to grid defection. Grid defection is a term used to describe homeowners who find ways to not rely on public hydro infrastructure. This can include off-grid structures or homes with their own power-generation sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

Where to find tiny house communities

Small house communities in America

For those interested, or just curious, tiny home communities can be found in just about any country in the world — although they are most prevalent in America.

Tiny home communities in Canada

In Canada, the growth of tiny home communities has been dependent on location legalities. Zoning permissions are also impacted whether the small house is on wheels or not.

For instance, in Toronto, a tiny house requires both a building permit and licensed connection to the grid.

In Edmonton, new bylaws were introduced in December 2019, that allowed for the construction of tiny homes if placed on an approved foundation (so no tiny homes on wheels); this bylaw also removed the former 5.5 metre width minimum width requirement that the city planners once required for every home construction.

In other parts of Canada, tiny homes are de facto allowed if they are not connected to public utilities, such as hydro or water. The lack of ‘connection’ means these homes are not violating building codes.  

Tiny house communities in Europe and Asia

In France, the first tiny home community opened its doors in September 2019. Ty Village, as it’s known, is located six kilometres from the University of Saint Brieuc in northwestern region of Brittany.

Tucked away in the Black Forest of Germany is the city of Freiburg where the first tiny house community of Vauban is located. Developed after decades of growing concern of environmental sustainability, the first residents of this small house community moved into their homes in 1999. The city has since grown to over 5,500 residents and created more than 600 jobs. This tiny house community is still considered a world leader in green infrastructure.

In Japan, where homes are already much smaller when compared to North American standards, there is one tiny home that made its mark. The House to Catch the Sky is a custom-built home designed by Takaharu Tezuka. The home is only 925-square-feet but comfortably accommodates a family of four.

In Australia, home designer Fred Schultz and builders Designer Eco Tiny Home built T.I.T.A.N Hills along Victoria’s scenic Great Ocean Road. The master-planned community is ecologically built and totally off-grid.

In New Zealand, custom home builders are now pivoting to offer this option to homeowners interested in a home with a smaller footprint. The most famous Kiwis to advocate for tiny house living are Bryce Langston and his partner Rosa Pascard. Actor and film-maker, this couple has a passion for small space design, permaculture, and downsized, eco-friendly living. Langston started his adventure into small houses with a short, documentary-style video on small space living for YouTube via his channel and website ‘Living Big in a Tiny House’. Since the launch, he has gone on to advise and built tiny homes in New Zealand and the USA.

In Barcelona, Spain, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores (Flores & Prats) presented the 300-square-foot House in a Suitcase.

In Sweden, a chef couple put a spin on tiny house community and launched a Kickstarter that helped being a new forest-to-table initiative. Known “Stedsans in the Woods” they work and serve out of tiny home cabins that are ‘for rent’ in a Swedish forest. They also share the blueprints for the A Frame cabins that are used in their culinary adventures.

In the United Kingdom, Tiny Eco Homes UK has developed several customisable tiny house models starting at £26,000. Dozens of the homes are being used as primary residences across the UK and mainland Europe. In Manchester, England, Abito created intelligent living spaces apartments that were no more than 353 square feet; Tiny House Scotland created the Nesthouse, a 250 square foot modular tiny home on wheels located in Linlithgow. In Northern Ireland, a community of tiny house owners has slowly grown despite zoning and bylaw obstacles in many of the cities and towns.

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.