Are Tiny Houses Too Small? Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House.

Well… I feel a little sheepish about not writing for so long!  But.  It is my blog.  ;)

Actually though, I feel more sheepish because we moved out of the tiny house in December… and I am just now posting about it!  Yes.  That’s right.  We no longer live in our tiny house.  What happened?  Well, ultimately, the Tiny House was just not meeting our needs.

We still have it, and will be using it as a guest house on our new property.  But it was just too small!  Both Shane and I agreed that we could live in a tiny house ALONE no problem.  Haha?  We lived in it full time from May 2012 through November 2013 – 18 months – a year and a half.  I’d say we gave it a good run.

We’re now renting a full size home with 24′-0″ high ceilings!  We could literally stand our tiny house on end in the living room of this new house.  Heating this big house does indeed suck and cost a lot, but it’s worth it.  And… we’ve purchased a piece of land and are in the process of designing our own home that we’re going to build ourselves debt-free.  We’re trying to keep it under 1,000 SF, which is surprisingly difficult!

I am very grateful for the opportunity we had to design, build and live full-time in our own tiny home.  It was an excellent design experiment on what is truly necessary in a home and how much space feels right.

Here are my observations on the Pros and Cons of Tiny Living:

CONS of TINY HOUSE LIVING:

  1. No home office space.  We both work for ourselves (a builder and a designer) and need space for filing, accounting, bidding, designing, planning, and creating.
  2. No personal space.  When a couple gets married they are still two individual humans with individual needs.  The book, A Pattern Language, writes that a house for a couple needs separate spaces for each individual (pattern 77).  A Tiny House just doesn’t provide this on it’s own.  Perhaps with a shop and a studio we could have made it work.  Perhaps our own train?  With 3-4 cars…
  3. Not enough storage space – for everyday items or for bulk storage.  Getting things out and putting them away was a complex puzzle.  We were always losing stuff, believe it or not.  Too tucked away maybe?
  4. Hitting elbows on walls… Hitting elbows on each other… tripping over the dog… Claustrophobic.
  5. No room for yoga… or just stretching out on the floor…  playing with the dog.  I’ve spent a lot of time laying out on the living room rug in our new rental house… feels so spacious!
  6. Really hot in the summer.  Mobile Tiny Houses cannot have large roof overhangs, allowing for too much solar gain in the summer.
  7. Small Kitchen = we started eating a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen dinners that only required one pan to cook.  Ugh.  Not healthy.
  8. No privacy.
  9. Toilets…  I’ve written about tiny house toilet woes and options a lot… and decided that flushing toilets are the nectar of the gods.  We’re going to be adding a flush RV toilet connected to a septic system.
  10. No bathtub.

PROS of TINY HOUSE LIVING:

  1. You’re always close to a window when you’re inside = intimate connection to the outdoors.
  2. Very cozy in the winter – easy to warm up and keep warm.
  3. Affordable to build – you can own your own home!  Freedom from a mortgage!
  4. Mobile.  Great if you’re not sure where you want to live.
  5. Very cheap to live in.  We paid $300 – $400 a  month rent for land + maybe $40 a month for propane and electricity.  Easy to save up money for…  a bigger house.
  6. Very efficient to clean.  And very efficient to communicate with others in the house – no intercom system required!
  7. Easy to renovate – you own it and it’s inexpensive to make changes.
  8. Small environmental footprint.
  9. Great conversation starter!  You live in a what?  How big??  Oh wow.
  10. Fosters community.  Claustrophobia will drive you out into public where you can sprawl out on the floors of cafes and coffee shops.  Also, you’ll develop a … memorable relationship with your neighbors when you fire up that incinerating toilet.

I decided that a tiny house could work for one (or two extroverted people) who work full time outside of the home in their own private offices, eat hot pockets for dinner, and whose only hobbies involve reading books on a Kindle or watching YouTube videos on their laptop computer…

Thanks for following along on our incredible journey – the people we’ve met through this blog have made it quite enjoyable.

- Carrie

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Categories: Living In the Tiny House | Tags: | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Are Tiny Houses Too Small? Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House.

  1. Whoa! That last sentence was a doozie! I live in a tiny house just 6×6, have a lot of hobbies besides reading books on a kindle and watching Utube videos on a laptop. Plus, at present all my creative juices are flowing inside this tiny house. I actually work from my home, and just tonight, I had Lentil and rice soup with Salsa, but this morning I had my usual bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. I have cooked whole meals for my son and his family next door and taken them over to enjoy not only the meal, but the fellowship. My granddaughter spends time every day after school hanging out in here with me talking, playing games, and yes, reading real books. No, the tiny house life is not a traditional life, and is not for those who still need the traditional things in life (and space). It is for those who want to live outside their physical space more and touch the world and make a difference. I hope you both will be happy together in your new life, but if not, it is only a tiny trek back. Love you both!

    • Marsha, thanks for your kind words and I’m glad your tiny house is working so well for you! Keep up the good living! Take care.

  2. There is only one thing to really say about this change…
    Bravo to you both for living intentionally!
    That’s what it’s all about after all. You abandoned the Lemming mentality of doing the same as all other “consumers” living the commercial buisiness model lifestyle and struck out on your own to discover what your real needs are. So you found that your lives, what you do, how you do it, and other aspects of your lives, need a bit more than the 8ft x 24ft space to fulfill your needs. But in the process showed that it *can* be done with style given slightly different personal needs and circumstances. As Jay Shafer has alluded to: a tiny house doesn’t need to be limited to 100 sq ft. It can be 1000 or 2000 or even 3000 sq ft depending on the needs of the family members. The important part is that it is what you need, and not exceeding that since excess is where the waste is. Having more and being unsatisfied is also waste. So find that balance that suits what you need and enjoy living there.

  3. Thanks for your honesty and best wishes to you in your new endeavors!

  4. Love the guts it took to post this. Always nice to hear REAL experience of living in a tiny house, not just the joys of the first week! We’re only to about the 4 month mark, but are dealing with many of the same issues you two faced. Thanks for posting!

    • thanks for your comment and good luck in your tiny house adventures! maybe you can add tiny offices / studios on your land? that could have helped us… but then how to move all these tiny structures??

  5. Good post, I’ve been wondering what you three (dogs count!) have been up to! Congrats on the new changes and best of luck with the new build, I would LOVE to read posts about that design/construction too, yoou two are very talented and I love the intentional designs!

  6. Great post. I sit on my city’s planning commission and we recently shrunk our minimum size requirement for a dwelling to 320sf. Still huge by tiny house standards, but we’re investigating how low we can realistically go.

    What would you say is the minimum size for a realistic tiny home that would work in the long term? Would a slightly larger bathroom + some decent storage cut it? My thoughts are that we can shrink things down to about 220′.

    (While I’ve never lived in a tiny house, I have built a 180sf holiday shack which a family of 4 + dog can comfortably live in on weekends, so I’m not totally without experience.)

    • Hi John, thanks for your comment.
      Your question about the minimum size for a realistic tiny home is interesting… On the one hand, a home of one’s own, of any size, is important. On the other hand, if a home is too small the occupants cannot live in dignity. The recent interest in “micro-housing” in cities is actually not new… there have always been micro apartments – called bachelor’s – and they have not always been affordable. The trick is to make micro-housing dignified and affordable – not merely to shrink the home.

      I think 320 could be fine for one or two very compact occupants. 220 could work if the ceilings were high enough to allow for a sleeping loft – at least 12′-0″ high would allow for 7′-0″ underneath with a 4′-0″ high loft. The inclusion of stackable vertical spaces makes a smaller footprint live-able.

      • mtcowan

        320sf is a lot of space if organized right. I am a former residential contractor, and I can tell you that in a 320sf house, a family of four can be comfortably housed in a dignified manner. You just have to get away from the stereotype kitchen, bath, and sleeping areas. For instance, the toilet can be housed in its own space, as can the shower w/washer/dryer. Then a double sink area can be accessible to more than one person. That way, at least 3 or more people can be doing toiletries in privacy at a time. I lived in a one bath house like this with my family of 6 for 8 years, and it works like a charm. Each child needs a separate sleeping area with a place for desk, chair, closets and drawers, and especially for keepsakes, but a lofted bed (not necessarily a loft) can house half those things underneath with closet and shelves on one end of the space, and still leave plenty of room for sitting in the floor. We’re talking about 7×6/7 feet here, but you would have to have a clerestory window at bed level, another one at desk level, and another window on one end of the room. This brings in light and outside sites which make any space seem really larger than it is.

    • Amber

      A failure I notice with a lot of the push to go mini is it is treated as a way to solve a housing lack by providing inappropriate spaces. When a lot of the people needing that housing are disabled or elderly, lofts don’t work so well. Even healthy people sometimes are sick (the gymnastics required to get into some lofts don’t work so well when you have the flu and a high fever.)

      So I would ask: can this home work in sickness and in health?

      • Come on now. There’s always ways one can criticize if your argument is that it’s not perfect for everyone in every situation. Duh.

      • Hunter

        not to mention Diarrhea from upset stomach’s> NOW think climbing down a ladder??? i don’t think so. Just saying.

      • culturedsf

        I have the same concerns as I get older with the loft. First thing I’m designing in my tiny home is a storage/couch/bed so I can sleep downstairs any time I want or need to. My tiny home is around 160 square feet with the loft.

    • Jon, how great to see a city official with such an open mind! In this economy, with so many people needing to downsize significantly to survive, it is with great pleasure that I hear a city willing to accommodate those needs within reason. Thanks so much!

  7. Brad

    Wonderful post. I’ve never been quite persuaded that tiny houses work for everyone who tries them – now, I see that it is true! As with many things in life, there is a middle ground. Between a 5,000 sq. ft McMansion and a 200 sq. ft. tiny house are many lovely homes from the 1950s and 60s that run from 900 to 1,600 square feet. I’m 58, have lived in such homes all my life and raised my family in them, and always found them just right.

    Actually, I think you are defining a path for others. First, build a tiny home when you are young and live it in, mortgage free – you’ll start adult life with both savings and valuable experience in framing, electric, plumbing and so on. If your fortunes don’t improve (sometimes life does conspire) you are safe and warm for years. If they improve slightly, sell it and buy a larger place. If they improve even more (or if you have the discipline to stay in the tiny house longer and save more), keep it and put it in the backyard of your larger place as an office/guesthouse/rental. A fun and independent path, far superior to a lifetime of mortgage slavery. Again, congratulations!

  8. Bettina

    Hopefully I speak for others when I ask you continue to blog about building a home within the 1000 sqft. to continue to minimize the footprint. As well as any design challenges to maintain energy efficiency etc.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. Thank you for your honesty in what worked for you, and what needed improvement. I wish you the very best in the new phase of your adventure. Are you planning on building in the same region you were at? I also would very much like to hear about your journey in building your new home.

  10. Good for you for being honest about the reality of life in a tiny house, the good and the bad. I think you’ll really like your new house. We live in a house about the same size after owning much larger houses for many years. (I’ll never get back the time I put into cleaning four sinks and three toilets each week!) Now it takes me less than two hours to clean the whole house.

    Also, we paid off the mortgage on our previous house in 14 years. Best thing we ever did! We began by prepaying extra each month on the first house, then rolling the profit from its sale into the next house. Being debt-free feels even better than it sounds. Needless to say, we paid cash for our current little house :) Hang in there!

  11. VinnieTee

    I guess it depends on the individual(s) how small is liveable, and also, obviously the number of occupants.
    I see a lot of companies building and selling ‘Tiny Houses’ that are basically a trailer home, 160-200 sq feet, but built to look like a house.
    For a lot of people these work fine to live in, but it seems to be the things you ‘need’ nearby, but don’t necessarily need every day, that can cause some storage problems.
    Whether it’s something you need for your home based job, or a sewing machine to alter some clothes, or tools to repair the car, that you may need occasionally, you still need to store them somewhere.
    We’ve lived for the last 5 years in a couple of smallish houses, first a 24 sq mtr, (265 sq ft) 1 room, 1 bathroom building, and lately, a 33 sq mtr, (365 sq ft) 2 room, 1 bathroom house.
    Where we’re living now is perfectly adequate, and it also has the advantage of having 2 rooms so we can both have individual space if required, which was something Carrie mentioned was usually not possible in a tiny house.
    The one problem we do have, is the aforementioned necessary things used only occasionally, that we don’t have a lot of space for. A storage facility available nearby would suit, or rather than paying a weekly rental for this, a stand alone shed to house all of this stuff, if you own the land you are on.

    Good luck Carrie and Shane with the new venture, 1000sq ft is still a small house by most people’s standards. It ultimately needs to be as much space as you ‘require’, and you alone can decide that.
    It’s good to see more and more people attempting to live smaller when so many out there seem to be building ever bigger and bigger houses to out do the neighbours.

  12. Wen Mac

    i’ve decided against the typical tiny home (8×24) and will be going a bit bigger. mainly because of certain things i know i will def need for sanity’s sake…..full tub/shower, room to move around, room for kitties to play and some (not a lot ’cause i hate to cook, anyway) actual kitchen space. i’m also a freak for ‘hallways’ and separate rooms, which also explains the separate kitchen.

    i’m also am planning on a separate room, not included in the main living space for my workshop (connected just for heating purposes, but closed off from kitties and main living area). my main living space is bigger than the typical tiny home, but still way smaller than even a small ‘normal’ home, coming in at about 380 sq ft…..nice-sized bedroom/living space, small kitchen, full-sized bathroom, and TWO hallways! my design will also have a connected, but separate, kitty playroom so they will have a place to go wild, too. :)

    i know i’ll be spending the rest of my days in my little home, so am making sure it’s got everything i’ll need…..which is another reason to spread out instead of up, for when later, ladders or stairs will be impossible. i’m doing the design myself so it’s not like anyone else’s and it’s exactly what i want, period. while i loved the typical 24×8 designs when i first discovered the tiny home movement, they just seem too cookie-cutter now that i’ve seen so many.

    good tip about the solar panels in summer, tho….will def keep that in mind when time comes to start building. thx for sharing!

  13. vstanley

    I am glad someone addresses the reality of these “TOO SMall” houses.
    160 sq ft is one extreme 24ft ceilings is the other.
    Take your $400 a month tiny house lot rent and buy some land.Build something you can add onto or that has expansion room upstairs.That is the best course especially for builders.
    The CApe COd like house is the most common and there is a reason why.Its the most functional space.Good luck.It doesnt have to be mobile.

  14. John Chiasson

    I’ve got to say that I have come to pretty much the same conclusion, but without spending all of my money on building a Tiny House. I have a background in both drafting and carpentry, but there was no way I could design a Tiny House that worked for me. I currently live in an apartment that is only about 450 square feet (costs $460 a month) and it is just a wee bit small. But I could easily live in a self-contained house that was only 500 to 600 square feet. So I have shifted my focus from Tiny Houses to Small Houses. You’re not the only ones to have found this out, but thank you for having the guts to actually write about it.

  15. I’ve lived in 240sf for 10 years with 3-5 cats at a time, full size bed w/ headboard, 3 computers, shower, regular toilet, 2 sinks, 4-burner stove, book shelves, 3 closets, no loft, 2 cat litter boxes, filing cabinet, TV, kitchen cabinets, large frig, rocking chair and range oven. How? By using the space that usually goes unnoticed, by also living outside – using the outdoors to exercise, work, “feel the roominess”, by getting on the roof and enjoying the extremely wide open space that one experiences when one climbs up on the roof, by recognizing that in reality, I actually live in my physical body – a very much smaller area than the 240sf dwelling – and live inside this physical body comfortably and efficiently, and my physical body does fine with the physical space here. For me, what I’ve learned – it’s a “mind” thing more. I’ve learned that one doesn’t need to expand the space to expand the mind. It helps to be content with one’s presence in the world to be content in one’s dwelling. For me, I believe the issue isn’t what size the home is, it’s what size the heart and mind is. To me, the largest hearts and minds can inhabit the smallest containers.
    And on the other side of the coin – I have a small shed for tools and some storage, and my clothes washer has been outside for years covered by a tarp when it rains. I will say that I wish I had a larger sock and underwear drawer.
    PS. I like your blog. Thanks.

  16. Hannah Strom

    I check in on your blog every couple of months. I love following your adventures vicariously. Yes, I’m biased as you used to be my favorite rock-climbing buddy and general talk-about-everything-serious-and-hilarious friend. But I really am impressed at the journey you and Shane have taken. And the honesty with which you share it. Amazing!!

    Today I ended up on your blog because I was talking to an architect friend (who focuses on sustainable building) about you and your career journey and your tiny house. I sent her the link, and then had to check in on the updates. She was so impressed, as am I.

    Congrats on 18 months. Congrats on the bigger house and the huge ceilings. Congrats on the beginning of your new home. Perhaps I’ll have to take a drive out to the SLV and be a visitor in your “guest house.” (Well aren’t WE fancy with our own carriage house out back!)

    Suddenly our 1,400 ft^2 house sounds HUGE.

    You inspire me!

    • oh Hannah, you’re the best! i miss you (and quote you quite a bit actually…)
      carriage house! haha, literally… the house is the carriage…
      come visit anytime! well, except right now you’d be camping.
      take care!

  17. Hannah

    As someone who is considering building a tiny house, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your honesty.
    Food for thought this!

  18. Judy

    This is my first time to your site and I appreciate all the information you have shared and cannot wait to hear about your new adventure with your custom build home. I am looking into a tiny home for my children and myself and there is so much to learn.

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