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Alternative living: Tiny Houses - TNK Green

Alternative living: Tiny Houses

What is a tiny home?

A tiny home is a recent trend that gained a lot of traction in the past ten years together with interest in a more minimalist lifestyle. With ever-growing property prices and most millennials not being able to afford their own homes, tiny homes have become a way for young couples to become homeowners, and even in some cases be debt-free.

But what is considered a tiny home?  With a footprint between 10 – 45m² (100-500 f²), these homes can either be mobile or built-in-place. The defining factor is the limited footprint. This is mainly due to the limitations set on the with, length and a maximum height of a certified towable vehicle, also referred to as a Recreational Vehicle (RV).

If you are planning on an RVIA (Recreation Vehicle Industry Association) certified tiny home the maximum footprint you’ll have to work with would be 2.5m wide, 12.5m long with an additional 1.2m overhang, and a maximum of 4.3m high (from the bottom of the tires to the top of the roof).  These exact dimensions is originally due to the limits placed on the maximum size for trucks and tankers. Because of standardized road design, the general width of a single lane on a road is 3m, the minimum height of a bridge is 5m and the turning circle required to turn a 12.5m trailer is 26m.

So with all these limiting factors to take into consideration and the limited envelope, planning your space out in detail before construction is essential.

Benefits and limitations.

With rising construction and labour costs the appeal of creating a starter home with very little debt seems to be the biggest draw for most people.

These homes can be fully off the grid. Generally speaking, a small home requires less energy to maintain than a large sprawling mansion. The benefit is that an entry-level photovoltaic array and battery storage could provide enough electricity for everyday use. When substituted with gas for cooking and heating water, and wood fire for heating in winter this further reduces the load on your system. Reliable sources of water and sanitation are more challenging and will either require a connection to a municipal connection or additional infrastructure and storage capacity.

Waste management is the final hurdle. Water is a valuable resource and collecting water from your bath, shower or sink (generally referred to as greywater) and reusing it to flush the toilet or water the garden can half the water consumption of a small household. So what about toilets?  Composting toilets have gained popularity but need regular maintenance and cleaning. Chemical toilets are also not the most desirable option but new advances and innovation by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might provide more and better options in the future.

So are there any advantages then to building or living in a tiny home?

With a smaller footprint than conventional homes, the construction budget for a reasonably kitted out tiny home could be as low as  R4000/m² while conventional construction is currently between R6000 – R15000/m². This price reduction is often due to the ability of off-site fabrication, prefabrication or by salvaging and making use of reclaimed material. To bring down the cost even further you can also decide to build it yourself. This can further substantially reduce construction costs by as much as 50%. But regardless of whether you are building yourself, or buying a fully kitted Tiny Home, from a purely financial perspective, a tiny home starts to make a lot more sense. With the lower construction cost, these homes can easily be extended and adjusted as your family needs change.

Find a place

Even a tiny home needs to stand somewhere. We all dream of some naturally beautiful spot we can build a home. In South Africa, this can be a challenge to find a safe parking space for your home. In countries like New Zealand and America where the Tiny Home movement are widely embraced landowners of small holdings or farmland are more amenable to lease a small portion of their land to a stranger. In South Africa though we have to also keep security and safety in mind when selecting a plot. For an on-the-ground local perspective have a look at Garth Ensley’s website.

This is why in South Africa there are more van conversions for those with wanderlust but a definite uptake in prefabricated, modular and isolated container homes. There is also a growing online community supporting Tiny Home-owners so find your local community, connect and find the best place for you.

Maximise space

Now that you found the perfect spot to park or build your tiny home, you need to consider the design and interior of your home. But for comfortable living we need a place to entertain and how can you maximize space in your tiny home?

By cleverly extending your space into the outdoor environment with decks, landscaping or pergolas you can double the footprint of your home and allow for more freedom and maximize use.

Is it for you?

To be honest a tiny home is not for everybody. Some families require more space and privacy than others. Maybe you prefer the hustle and bustle of inner-city living or dream of a large family home in some estate. A home is a very personal space and there are as many variations as there are people on the planet.

So do you desire to live a simpler life with a smaller footprint on the planet then maybe this is for you.

Pack up and go explore

With limited utility bills and debt repayments, a lot of people are choosing Tiny Home-life because their savings allow for more financial freedom. Because financial freedom can remove so much stress from your life the majority of Tiny Home-owners report an increased sense of wellbeing. Whatever your dreams are, this allows most Tiny Home-owners to save more money that provides additional freedom to enjoy life to the fullest. So if adventure calls, you can just pack up and go explore.

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