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why tiny home

Why Are Tiny Homes Popular?

By Maria Saxton Ph.D.
Nov 7, 2019

We have learned that people choosing to build and live in tiny homes do it for many reasons, including the desire to reduce their environmental impact, live with fewer debts, and have more time and freedom to focus on families, hobbies, and travels. Tiny homes also appeal to preppers and those aspiring to own their own home. 

My doctoral research focused on how the environmental impacts of tiny home downsizers change. Part of my data collection process included gathering background information on my study participants. One key question I asked the 80 participants was, “Why did you decide to downsize?”. This piece of my study became one of the most interesting.

Tiny Home Data

Eighty tiny home downsizers from across the country were asked to share their top reasons for downsizing to a tiny home. This survey question was worded so that participants could provide as many reasons as they deemed appropriate and were asked to list reasons in order of importance. There was no limit on length, and some participants provided one answer while others shared multiple reasons. Reasons to downsize ranged from a single phrase to a list to a paragraph. The following are the top reasons in order of popularity: 

  • Financial reasons (55 of 80 individuals identified this) 
  • Was seeking simplification, minimalism, or reduction of material possessions (32 of 80) 
  • Environmental reasons (29 of 80) 
  • Wanted mobility and ability to travel more (28 of 80) 
  • Was seeking change in lifestyle (15 of 80) 
  • Wanted to minimize housing upkeep (13 of 80) 
  • Was experiencing or planning a change in career (9 of 80) 
  • Was seeking independence/ freedom (9 of 80) 
  • Found the idea of a tiny home appealing (9 of 80)
  • Wanted to build own home (9 of 80) 
  • Wanted to own a home (7 of 80) 
  • Wanted to be closer to their family (5 of 80)
  • Other (17 of 80)

Reasons marked as “other” were only mentioned one time by a single individual, such as a recent divorce or health reasons. The top four reasons by the number of respondents indicating them were financial, an urge for a simpler life, environmental goals, and the ability to be mobile/travel more. These top four reasons are identical to a student thesis from 2013, which identified the top four reasons to downsize as derived from 11 interviews. 

tiny home builder
Photo Credit: Heartland Tiny Homes

Tiny Home for Financial Reasons 

The majority of individuals in my study identified finances as a significant factor in their decision to downsize. Home prices have increased significantly in the past few decades. As of September 2019, the average home price was $231,000. In response to rising housing costs, many have downsized to smaller homes-- including tiny houses. 

The price of a tiny home can vary greatly depending on the quality of the materials and amenities that the home provides. Some builders, such as Heartland Tiny Homes in Tennessee, sell their homes starting at $22,000. On the other end of the spectrum, some tiny homes like those built by Allswell are sold for over $100,000. These prices, of course, compensate builders for their time and ability to customize a home. 

To make a tiny home living even more affordable, one can choose to build it themselves. Do-it-yourself (DIY) tiny home builds are commonplace in the movement. The cost to build a home yourself can also vary greatly, though it tends to fall in the $20,000-$30,000 range. Some can be made for substantially less, however, like Jay Schafer’s $5,000 home

In addition to lower housing prices, tiny homes can lower your utility bills, as well. While there has not been a comprehensive study to determine average utility costs, those who shared this information in my research paid an average of $20 a month for their water, electric, and sewer services. Over time, these monthly savings add up and can become quite substantial. 

With increased costs of things like college tuition, many people have also opted for tiny house living to save aggressively for the future. In short, the financial benefits of downsizing are great and multi-faceted. 

simple tiny home
Photo Credit: Rowdy Kittens

The Draw of a Simplified Lifestyle with a Tiny Home

The concept of minimalist living has existed for centuries; however, the modern tiny house movement has only gained momentum since the early 2000s. This increasingly popular movement is primarily based on the 20th-century mindset that “less is more.” 

Until recent years, the trend was always “bigger is better,” and more material possessions often meant more wealth. But in the past few years, this mindset has changed for many. Many have realized the value of owning less. A tiny home forces its occupants to confront their material consumption and, in many cases, can significantly reduce it. After all, as the saying goes: The less you own, the less that owns you.  

The individuals who participated in my study talked at great lengths about the benefits of a simplified lifestyle and living more authentically than before. Most notably, they shared that this approach to living had significant benefits on their mindset and allowed them to focus on more important things in their lives, like family and travel. 

Tiny Homes and the Planet

The third top reason for downsizing was a concern for the environment and the urge to live off-grid. With an increasing population, there is an increased demand for the Earth’s resources. Humanity is not living within the earth's means; the evidence is growing that humans are quickly using the available resources on Earth, and our demand for the natural ecosystem is consistently increasing. 

Tiny homes are widely touted as promoting a smaller environmental impact for downsizers by generally reducing their consumption through smaller building square footage, fewer material possessions, and alternative energy sources such as solar. My research also found that, on average, individual ecological footprints are reduced by 45% after living in a tiny home for a year or more. 

In my study, tiny homes were also found to have some unintended benefits that influenced other parts of one’s lifestyle, aside from housing. For instance, study participants drove less, recycled more, and consumed more environmentally-friendly diets on average. 

By living in a small space, your environmental impact can be lower by reducing building materials and required energy use. And, as my research found, tiny home living can create a domino effect of other positive environmental outcomes in one’s life. 

mobile tiny home
Photo Credit: Gute.ca

Tiny Home Mobile Lifestyle 

Many relish the idea of having a mobile lifestyle and the ability to travel more. Tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) have become a popular option for those who want the flexibility to move.

As my research found, the majority of tiny homes are built on mobile trailers. For those who work remotely or travel often, this is a flexible housing solution. For those who are retired, this allows the flexibility to travel without being tied down by a larger home. I also found that most people who build their houses on trailers only move their homes when necessary, such as when they change jobs and relocate. That said, many regularly travel, like the Tiny House Expedition.

A mobile lifestyle also appeals to those who want the flexibility of responding to potential climate change impacts. One of the individuals I interviewed shared that she was very wary of natural disasters in her home state and wanted the ability to move at a moment’s notice. In her words, “I do not want to be stuck in one place, but I still want to have a place to call home.”

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: 2020-10-26T16:59:37+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.