(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-4pm Eastern

tiny house movement

The Rise of the Tiny Home Movement

By Maria Saxton Ph.D.
Oct 21, 2019

The tiny house movement is on the rise with more and more individuals, couples, and families choosing to reduce the square footage of their homes. The United States accounts for a global market share of close to 88%, leading the tiny home market on a worldwide scale. Estimates show that the tiny home global market will grow approximately 7%, or by 5.18 billion between 2018 and 2022.

So, what is a tiny home?

There is no explicit definition of a tiny home since this is often a relative term depending on who uses it. The literature and Appendix Q in the 2018 International Residential Code refer to a tiny house as a livable dwelling under 400 square feet, which is the working definition for many.

Not only are tiny homes smaller than conventional homes, but they’re often built on mobile foundations. Unlike recreational vehicles, however, these homes are generally meant to be permanent residences for their occupants and are built to mimic the modern American house. Though many individuals make tiny homes their permanent residences, others own them as home offices, in-law suites, or as homes for returning children. These homes are typically built with high quality, local materials, and offer a more sustainable approach to traditional housing.

Ebene Tiny House by Minimaliste Houses
Ebene Tiny House by Minimaliste Houses

In addition, these homes are often off-grid and implement sustainable technologies such as solar or rainwater harvesting 

These tiny homes are often architecturally unique, customized homes where the homeowners often have an entrepreneurial, do-it-yourself attitude. They have been popularized on television and are typically fully-functional and independent from other homes. Tiny houses creatively utilize interior space and often implement the use of innovative technologies. Tiny homes usually have a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom area, living space, and porch. They tend to have higher quality materials than typical movable dwellings and can be built to operate off-grid, unlike most trailers, mobile homes, and recreational vehicles. They are constructed either by an individual themselves as a DIY project or purchased from a building company. 

The cost of a tiny home can vary greatly depending on who builds it and what amenities it provides. Some tiny homes can be made or bought for $20,000 or less, while some can cost as much as $100,000. 

Currently, there are over 60 tiny home building companies in the United States. Some of these companies can fully customize and build a home, and others provide do-it-yourself kits and plans. These builders are scattered across the country but are currently densely located in Colorado, Texas, Florida, and California. Most tiny home builders will ship their completed tiny homes anywhere in the United States, especially those built on mobile trailers.

Escher Tiny House by New Frontier Tiny Homes
Escher Tiny House by New Frontier Tiny Homes

Historical Context 

The popular tiny house movement is akin to the 20th-century mindset that “less is more.” It is important to note, however, that the concept of living “tiny” is not new. The core principles behind this movement have been evident for centuries and have roots in the 19th-century movements of romanticism and transcendentalism of Ralph Emerson and Henry Thoreau. In recent years, there has been an architectural movement exploring standalone homes that mimic a modern home on a smaller scale. This movement has been gaining momentum as tiny home festivals, conferences, workshops, television shows, and more have become commonplace. This movement is not only becoming popular in the United States; other countries such as Australia have witnessed a recent surge of interest in tiny homes. 

Rising Demand for Tiny Houses

To illustrate the increased interest over time, Figure 1.1 shows the Google Trends increase for the search term “tiny houses” every month between January 2004 and January 2019. 

tiny houses google trends
Figure 1.1. Google Trends interest over time for search term “tiny houses.” 

Interest spikes in 2014, which was when the first tiny home show, ‘Tiny House Nation,’ debuted. Interest surged after 2014 and then leveled off, but at a higher level. The Y-axis shows search interests compared to the highest point on the chart. A value of 100 (near May 2014) is the peak popularity for the time range. Likewise, a value of 50 shows that the search term was half as popular. A higher value means a higher proportion of all searches, not a higher absolute search count. The two ‘notes’ indicate when there were improvements to Google’s data collection procedures. Google Trends can share which states and cities searched the term “tiny houses.” States in the Northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) search the term “tiny houses” more than any other region in the United States. In contrast, three out of five of the top cities are in the state of Texas (Austin, San Antonio, and Plano, Texas). 

To address the rising demand for the tiny home movement, associations have formed to push it forward as an industry. The Tiny Home Industry Association (THIA) and the American Tiny House Association (ATHA) are two of those organizations. Both associations work in conjunction to legitimize the tiny home movement as an industry with credible policies and standards. 

Challenges Moving Forward for Tiny Homes

A notable challenge of the modern tiny home movement is complying with code and zoning restrictions. In many municipalities, there is a mandated minimum size for residential dwellings, even if they are considered second units. Many cities do not allow second occupied units of any size on a single parcel. Typical code restrictions include enforcing minimum square footage requirements for habitable spaces, water, and sewer connection requirements, clearance and setback requirements, and requirements for permanent heating. These restrictions often make building a tiny home financially infeasible and can result in building tiny illegal houses. The tiny illegal dwellings that do not follow code restrictions and “fly under the radar,” present additional problems for individuals if ever discovered. 

 As demand for tiny homes has increased, the policy has advanced. The 2018 version of the International Building Code includes an appendix for tiny houses on foundations. To date, multiple states, cities, and towns have adopted the 2018 IRC code to contain Appendix Q. The Tiny Home Industry Association is tracking these adoptions. However, many states still operate on older residential building codes (for example, the state of Virginia currently works on the 2015 IRC). Many advocates are pushing for Appendix Q adoption in their location jurisdiction, but it will likely be a while until Appendix Q is commonplace. In addition, Appendix Q does not address tiny homes on wheels (THOWs), so this will probably be the next battle in the tiny home industry. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-23T16:50:17+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.