Senior Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 30 years. She is senior editor of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and produces the Design Innovation e-newsletter.  Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can reach her at sbady@sgcmail.com

Tiny-House Lovers, Take Heart

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There's a market for tiny homes—and it's growing, with more tiny house options available 

Front facade of the Mini Lotus tiny house by Blu Homes, in Vallejo, Calif.
March 21, 2016

Rendering: The Mini Lotus, courtesy Blu Homes

Recent developments have me thinking that tiny houses truly are getting a foothold in the American housing market. Maybe you heard about the developer who plans to build 28 tiny dwellings on a three-acre lot in Walsenburg, Colo.? How about 84 Lumber introducing a new line of portable tiny homes? And Blu Homes, a modular manufacturer based out of Vallejo, Calif., debuting a new tiny house called the Mini Lotus? 

Walsenburg started out as a city of miners’ cottages, which could be considered a precursor to tiny houses. An article on the Colorado Public Radio website explains that Mayor James Eccher is hoping to attract new residents with the diminutive development. Wisely recognizing that more homeowners paying property taxes and utility bills could only be good for the community, Walsenburg is taking steps to embrace tiny-house development. Last year it became the first city in Colorado, and one of the first in the United States, to change its land-use codes to allow tiny homes on any residential lot—as long as they’re on a foundation, not a trailer. That’s a key distinction, since many jurisdictions prohibit mobile homes on trailers. Laws about minimum square footage also put the kibosh on tiny houses.

Sprout Tiny Homes, in La Junta, Colo., the developer behind this project, plans to build 28 homes on the three-acre site. The company has two other micro-communities, in Salida, Colo., and Buena Vista, Colo. Ironically, Sprout can’t build tiny homes in La Junta because of local regulations.

Meanwhile, 84 Lumber is putting its money and reputation on the line with Tiny Living by 84 Lumber. The company will sell four models under three packages: a build-your-own package; a semi-DIY package; and a move-in-ready package. It will be interesting to see if demand is highest for the build-your-own package, since 84 Lumber caters to that group. This package includes architectural blueprints, a materials list, and a trailer with a subfloor that's ready for walls. The semi-DIY package includes a shelled-in house on a custom trailer complete with windows, a door, and a shower. Buyers add their own exterior and interior finishing touches.

The first model is available for purchase now: a 154-square-foot home with a walnut-stained vaulted ceiling; a reclaimed wood accent wall; a custom-designed barn door; and a loft bedroom with a full-size bed. The kitchen has walnut butcher-block countertops and a built-in table.

Final note: It’s not officially released yet, but Blu Homes, is preparing to introduce the Mini Lotus, which erases the line between indoor and outdoor living with glass walls that fold back to catch breezes. It’s a perfect complement to Blu’s other, much larger models. I envision this tiny home as a casita, cabana, or guest house.

Price may be a deterrent to buying a tiny house. Sprout’s largest model starts at $92,000. The Tiny Living packages start at $6,884 for a custom trailer and home plans. Since Blu is known for (as its website states) premium prefab houses, I wouldn’t expect the Mini Lotus to be inexpensive.

That being said, I believe there’s a market for tiny houses as vacation homes, guest homes, or studios for artists and writers (they do get good daylight). If this approach is successful, tiny-house companies can figure out how to get their costs down. That, in turn, may lead to low- and moderate-income tiny houses and even an alternative for the homeless.

In any case, those who venture into tiny territory are doing the Earth a favor: Not only do tiny homes have a small footprint, they’re often built with sustainable materials and features that conserve energy and water. It’s a new-home purchase that builders and buyers alike can feel good about.

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