What exactly is a ‘tiny house’? | Amy Henion | TEDxNortheasternU


Translator: Valeria Ugarte Sometimes, biggest ideas
come in the smallest packages, really, really small packages. Think, for instance, of a house so small that it fits within the footprint
of a parking space. Totally crazy, right? Maybe. But the truth is more and more Americans are choosing to live
in tiny houses built on trailers. With our economy still reeling
and our natural resources running out, maybe it isn’t so strange, after all,
to have a house that’s mobile and costs nearly nothing to maintain. I’ve been involved in the tiny-house
community for over a year now, and I dream of building
my own house someday. Today, I’m going to talk a little bit
about what tiny houses are, why they’re becoming so popular, and how they can offer
three priceless ways that they can change
your life for the better. But before I delve into that,
I want to talk a little bit about how I became so enchanted
by these little houses. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when I was a child,
I was a little bit weird. I had this really funny fascination
with housing and the places people lived. First, I wanted to live in a wigwam, then I wanted to live in a boat, then in a treehouse. Going to open houses with my mom was one of my favorite ways
to spend a Sunday afternoon. I would hoard my dad’s copies
of Fine Homebuilding and pore over them for hours. And I would even draw floor plans
of fantasy houses I wanted to build, which always included a big library
with a secret passageway behind one of the bookcases. It was my biggest dream to build a house. Fast forward to last year, I’m about to start
my final year of college, and I’m worried about
finding a job after I graduate. I’m worried that my Liberal Arts degree
won’t be enough to help me pay my student loans
and keep a roof over my head, until one day, I found
this YouTube video of a guy giving a tour of his 89-square-foot
home on a trailer. And that’s when it hit me. This could be the answer
to both my worries and my dreams. So, what exactly is a tiny house? Generally, when people
use this term nowadays, they’re referring to small mobile houses
built on travel trailers. They’re basically like full-size houses but shrunk down
to a much, much smaller size. This is because in order to tow
a tiny house down the highway without needing a special permit, it has to fit within certain
maximum size requirements. So, a tiny house
can be no wider than 8.5 feet and no taller than 13.5 feet. The length is a little more flexible. So, to give you guys some perspective,
think of your average school bus. That’s going to measure at 40 feet long. A tiny house, on the other hand, will usually measure
between 10 and 24 feet long. This one up here is 12 feet long. But within this super tiny space, tiny-house dwellers
enjoy all the comforts of home: a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area,
living space, storage, everything you could need. How is this possible? How can something the size
of some people’s walk-in closets house a person or more than one person and accommodate all of their daily needs. Well, first of all, tiny houses are designed
to utilize every square inch of space as efficiently as possible. Also, tiny houses borrow their utilities
from the RV and boating industries. These industries make everything
from heaters to wood stoves to kitchen ranges, portable water tanks, solar electric arrays,
and even composting toilets that work really, really well
in a tiny-house setting. This is an example
of a tiny-house bathroom. You have a really compact shower-tub combo
and a water-saving flush toilet. So, some of you might be wondering,
“Well, Amy, why don’t you just buy an RV?” Well, that’s a really good question. I mean, after all, RVs are cheaper
than your average tiny house, which according to a survey conducted by Ryan Mitchell
of the blog the Tiny Life will cost about 23,000 dollars to build. Also you can buy an RV at any time. But there are many differences
between RVs and tiny homes. RVs are meant for temporary,
seasonal living. They’re designed to be really light,
really aerodynamic, so you can tow them
down the highway all the time. They’re also meant to be lived in
during the warm summer months. This means that they’re not super strong
and they’re not super insulated. A tiny house, on the other hand,
is meant for full-time living and has to be built to last for decades. So, tiny houses are framed like
normal houses with wood or even steel, and they’re bolted
really securely to the trailer so that they can handle
hurricane-force winds while you tow it down the highway. They’re also fully insulated to deal with
the cold winter temperatures as well. But tiny houses
are not aerodynamic at all. They’re big heavy boxes, essentially, and they’re meant to be moved
to a certain location, placed there for a long time, and you can move it if need be. Also, another difference is customization. RVs are built for everyone, which means that they’re really built
for nobody in particular, but tiny houses you can customize
to fit your own certain specific needs. So, say you have
a lot of computer equipment, or you need space
to store your snowboarding gear, or you want to have a space for friends
to come visit you in your tiny house. You can do all of that. You can also adapt it
to your personal style. This house, for instance, was built
by Christopher Smith and Merette Mueller, who live in their tiny house in Colorado, and they designed theirs to have
a really nice cozy ski-lodge feeling. This tiny house was built
by Macy Miller, who lives in Idaho, and she went with a much more sleek
contemporary look for her tiny house. This house, by the way,
was built for only 11,000 dollars. These are my tiny-house plans so far. They change all the time,
so nothing’s final, but I really want to put a miniature
walk-in closet in my tiny house. Also in terms of aesthetics alone, I think most people would prefer to live
in something a little prettier than your average RV. So now, some of you might be thinking, “Well, Amy, how the hell
are these things legal?” Good question. To put something that small
on a permanent foundation on your own land is going to be flat-out illegal
in most states. But once you lift it up
and put it on wheels, then the lines get a little bit fuzzy. That’s when they’re considered
to be more like RVs or travel trailers. So, what a lot of people do is they’ll park them
on a friend or family’s property. Or you can pay rent to someone
to stay on their land or exchange services like yard work
or attending to an elderly neighbor. Or some campgrounds will even let you camp
seasonally or even year-round. But legalities say that you can’t live
in a tiny house full-time, which makes things kind of difficult,
sometimes, for people who live in them. But the tiny house movement is growing. Cities like Portland, Oregon,
and Charlotte, North Carolina, are becoming tiny-house hotspots, which draws tourism
and new residents to those areas. There’s also a growing tiny-house industry
of builders, architects, consultants, which would be a welcomed economy boost
to any American community. Also, some of these companies
are even designing tiny-house communities, where people can come and park
their tiny houses with other tiny houses, and thereby avoid Codes. So, maybe cities could even use
this concept to fill vacant real estate or use as a homelessness solution. So, as the tiny-house movement grows, it brings new possibilities
that it can carry into the future. Now, you might be thinking that this
tiny-house idea is really, really novel, but it’s actually not new at all. People have been living
in small, efficient dwellings since the dawn of time. Think, for instance, of
the Native American teepee, Mongolian yurt, the Romani Vardø, which we
commonly call a gypsy wagon, or even the hippie bus. But the idea of efficient living
sort of got lost in America with the rise of suburbia. Houses got bigger and bigger and bigger until we ended up with enormous treeless
developments of McMansions like this. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010, the average American home size was 2,392 square feet. That’s a lot of space. But a gentleman named Jay Shafer,
whose video I saw last year, helped change the dialogue in America. He founded the Tumbleweed
Tiny House company in 2002, and his beautiful house designs
took the American imagination by storm, especially in the wake
of the mortgage crisis that happened only a few years afterward. His tiny house has appeared
on CNN, ABC, NBC, Oprah, and more. So, dozens of people across America
live in these tiny houses now, more of them are building, and tens of thousands of people
are fans of this idea. But what about people
like us in this room: college students and new grads
and young professionals? What can tiny houses offer to us? Well, something we’re all worried about is finding that fancy
grown-up job after graduation. With a tiny house, you can go where the work takes you
and move your location very easily. So imagine, for instance, that you’re a year or two out of college
and your company lays you off, but your old college roommate
who now lives in Seattle wants you to help him out
with his start-up. So, what do you do? You hitch up your house to a truck and go. Without spouses and kids to worry about, young professionals
are at an advantage with a tiny house because they have an increased
freedom to switch careers. And if you have a job
that’s location-independent, meaning you work from home,
your location options increase even more. In addition to career stability, tiny homes offer a degree
of financial flexibility as well. First, when you live in something that’s about five percent the size
of an average American home, it does not cost very much money
to heat and cool it. Dee Williams, who lives
in Portland, Oregon, used to spend 300 dollars a month
on her utility bills before she lived in a tiny house. Now she only spends
eight dollars every month. Living in a tiny house is simply better
for your wallet and for the environment since you’re not spewing
tons of greenhouse gases into the air to heat space that you’re
really not using. Tiny houses are also, probably,
the most cost-effective way to have full ownership over your housing. So, if a tiny house costs
23,000 dollars to build yourself or 50-60,000 dollars
to pay a company to build it for you, that’s definitely not cheap, but that’s nothing compared
to buying a full-size house and tying yourself to a 30-year mortgage. And if you think about it, 23,000 dollars is about how much you’re going to pay
in rent in a major city like Boston for only a year or two. And if someday you get married,
start a family, and want to buy a normal-sized house, the financial transition
will be much easier, and you can still keep
your tiny house after that. So, some of you might be thinking, “But, Amy, I get the career stuff,
I get the financial stuff, but I just can’t live
in something that small. I have too much stuff!” It’s true. If you live in a space this small, you’re going to have
to get rid of a lot of your junk. And this is an idea
that actually scares a lot of people. We like our stuff,
and we like to buy more of it, but the truth is, the things we own
have power over us. They have the power
to keep us rooted in one place, and they have the power to drown out
our need for human interaction. But once you detach yourself
from the things you own, you find that you’re free
from the restrictions they place on you. Also, when you minimize
the things you own, you’re also forced to interact
with the world around you; you’re forced to go out
into the community. So, instead of lifting weights at home,
you can go to the gym with your friends, or instead of collecting
thousands of books, you can support the local library. And instead of staying inside
hold up in your house all the time, you can go out and find new hobbies
and meet new people. So a tiny house forces you
out into the world, and the world in turn
becomes full of possibility. So, for now, my tiny house
is still a dream in my head. I have a lot to do
before I can build anything. I have to start a savings account
and start saving up money, I need to read as many books as I can
about tiny-house building and design, I need to sell and donate
the things I don’t need to people who need them more than I do. And I need to connect with tiny-housers
both locally and across America to build my own support network. Tiny houses are what I like
to call a gateway dream. It’s the dream that makes
other dreams possible. What will I do once I live
in a tiny house I build myself? Will I travel? Will I start a business? Will I perform and make art for a living? With a roof over my head
that no one can take away from me, all doors are open wide, and I would call that
an idea worth spreading. Thank you very much. (Applause)

74 thoughts on “What exactly is a ‘tiny house’? | Amy Henion | TEDxNortheasternU

  • Amy this is amazing. Thank you so much. I've always said I want to live in a trailer for awhile but this is 100 times better! Wonderful presentation. Thank you

  • "gateway dream" is a brilliant way of putting it. i just discovered the whole tiny house idea literally yesterday, and i am already sold. it makes so much sense, for all the reasons you outlined.

  • I'm scared that as tiny housing becomes acceptable, regular-size housing will become scandalously overpriced and unavailable to most of us…

  • Just start with finding a trailer and collectting building materials and start building! You don't need to reed the world of book about it before you can start. When you are finished and living in it you get new ideas and then you do it again in a different way. Sell your old one to a student and move on. Succes.

  • never heard of shipping containers? steel and modular? they have been doing it for a while even apartments for homeless.

  • A very passionate presentation, but a few caveats:

    1) There is nothing that a tiny house can do that an apartment does even better, especially if you are younger or older without children and a lot of "stuff".
    2) There are many well built, smaller urban and suburban homes that meet the criteria for tiny houses without having to use yet more resources. Many of these homes are less than 1000 sq ft; many are about 700 sq ft. Remember families of 4 lived these homes and now they need tender loving care to shelter young people.
    3) The impetus on finding a landowner who will allow you to use utilities. Other wise you need to buya patch of land, which is truly expensive.
    4) Finally, it's not a new idea, but it is an idea worth working towards ūüôā

  • Such a well done presentation @Amy Annette Henion :: I watched several times (^_^)

  • In the UK many of the new houses have some of the smallest rooms in Europe. Many of our old housing stock have small rooms. many places to rent aren't much bigger than a tiny house. Tiny houses are a great idea for a country with lots of space not the crowded continent of Europe, let alone India or the Far East. In spite of that I'd like to build and live in a tiny house.

  • Thank you. I've been OBSESSED with the tiny house idea. I plan to buy a small plot of land while I build my tiny home. Money wise, I should have the land paid for about the time I have put the final touch on the home. It's a scary and liberating feeling to choose this way of life. But for some of us, it seems to be the solution to our problems. Often, confronting our problems IS scary and liberating. Great talk. Thank you again for having it!¬†

  • The only problem is I don't want to see a bunch of these tiny houses on the road all day long .. enough of the bullshit

  • Ask yourselves why college and health care both outpaced the rate of inflation over the last twenty years by a factor of 4 and you will see your tiny house nonsense isn't the answer to anything, you can run but you can't hide, the underlying mess will still be there, …..and the source of that mess is liberalism, it's survival and not yours is it's only objective, ¬† good luck… suckers.

  • Cute yes but very sad. And so hope and change has given way to a diminished American dream with a 100 sq foot home. If this is who you are and you like living in a chicken coop then I say go for it. But please don't say we have run out of land in America. We have more than 2 acres of forest for every man woman and child and illegal alien in this country. I have 4 acres in CT on the coast and this is high density¬† there is no reason you can't do better than a landscaping trailer with a shed on it. And I have no problems with landscaping trailers I own 5 of them it goes with being a landscaper. But I sure wouldn't want to call one home.

  • Until you repeal all the laws and regulations, we don't have a free market to provide the housing people want. Because of the mandated high luxury standards, we end up with people having no homes and living on the street. "Liberal" Portland OR, actually was fining and trying to confiscate the property of an owner that allowed homeless people to live on it. No chance they will allow people to live free, without debt and paying very little tax.

  • Can somebody please clarify how do you live in a tiny house with 3-4 children?? Most people living in tiny house do not or plan not to have children. Correct me if I am wrong.¬†

  • so what happens when you say go to town to work out in the gym,.. and come back to find that somebody "anybody with a trailer hitch and truck " has stolen your entire house and all you own?

  • Did there really need to be a Ted Talk about how less space is cheaper, gives you less room for storage, and makes you NOT want to be there so you're motivated to go out and see the world?¬† Isn't this how China works?¬†This is¬†a simple application of microeconomics… Thank you for applying your textbook to a real life scenario!¬†

  • Great talk! Very good points about human interaction.

    I lived in a 29' travel trailer on my 5 1/2 acres for 4 years while building my 2,600 square foot house.  Within days of visiting a friend who'd purchased land to build, I sold my 900 square foot home and bought 5 1/2 acres of raw land. Without any building credentials or drafting experience I designed our 2,600 square foot home and my (ex) husband and I built the house together. It took 4 years to complete. It was the best experience (short of being a mom) of my life so far. I sold the trailer when we moved into our home and sold the home a few years ago.

    I loved my trailer but look forward to building a tiny home in a few years when we officially retire. I've been encouraging my (now) 18 year-old son to build a tiny house. He has the skill and support. Living this way makes so much sense for a young person especially if they are an outdoor person.

    Jay Shaffer now lives in a small home with his little family and uses his tiny house as a studio. Tiny living is a great way for young people to live life and expand their options. Tiny living is also a great way for seniors to live. Very low maintenance, low utility bills, and you can move to a community of other tiny house owners.

    Don't over think the process of building. You can research the process to death and never actually get to the construction.

  • Holy shit! Here we were living in a tiny (well, actually pretty small 500sf) house and spent years dreaming of a big house we couldn't really afford. Until we decided we're very lucky instead, without being snotty or sounding superior either, for the past 32 years. We own our little house free and clear (inherited) and it's a snap to heat and cool. Lots of light inside with skylights and super efficient windows and heat-saving shades. We've been living responsibly and "green" since 1982, before it was fashionable, with super efficient appliances, LEDs, extra-heavy insulation and taking advantage of passive solar with Trombe walls. We're planning a new installation of solar panels for more hot water within the next year or two. Wow, who knew our little cottage could be part of a trend?!?

    Everybody we know lives in huge behemoths that are a nightmare to heat and cool, and their taxes and utilities are out of this world.
    (These are couples without kids, with no prospect of them for various reasons.)

  • nice talk… contrary to common practice you should always keep your first home…save up, pay cash and the passive income from your first house is great and a fallback place so you don't have to move to tent city. ¬† Oh yeah…rock is cheap. ¬† Lawson di Ransom Canyon

  • Why is Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts never considered this concept? To start with, Oak Bluffs Gingerbread Houses started this tiny house century ago. Maybe we need to consider our island environment and minimize our carbon foot print.

  • THis is the ultimate in naivete. ¬†Housing is all about the money made by the builders and taxes collected by cities. ¬† Every city in America ¬†prohibits putting what is effectively a ¬†mobile home ¬†anyplace other than a trailer park. ¬† The homes have to be licensed by the state to even be towed on a road. ¬† The reason we have McMansion is not because people demand 1000 sqft per occupant, it's because at a$100 per square foot, builders make the most profit.

  • I have built three houses for my family since 1993. All of the houses are huge compared to current "tiny house standards". They are all well built, modest and less than 2100 sq ft.
    When going from our first house to the next, we saved our pennies by living in a camper at the local campground. Just before winter we moved into the campground owners 500 sq ft house. In the spring we moved into our very unfinished (a sheathed shell) house. Four years later we did it again, except this time we moved into a 190 sq ft cabin that I built next to the new house. Three of us stayed in that cabin for a year. (currently Vermont Tree Cabin)
    Having experienced both minimal and "typical" housing, I heavily favor living in a proper (typical) house! Sure, the tiny house may be fun at first but that soon fades when you are constantly bumping into each other.
    Tiny houses may be a good temporary housing solution, but long term?

  • One year later I wonder if Amy Henion followed her own advice and bought a tiny house or was she just blowing smoke… #hypocrisy

  • I work on the HVAC designs for homes up to 28,000 sq ft. I feel like I live in a pretty small house at 2,400 sq ft. I can't imagine me and my family trying to live in 89 sq ft

  • Amy, I am touch by your dream, but $2k + 160 hs. of work is all you need- to have it. I prefer the camper on a 2.2 lt. truck aerodynamic 18 feet long, with a 250 cc dual purpose motorcycle garage, zodiac inflatable boat 5hp, AC, wind-solar-gas generator, water and air purification, (10 days – 1000 miles ¬†before refill). I am building it using a 25' airstream as scrap because is to large.

  • So really the actual design, materials use part is the easier part as this is something that is done everyday regardless of the scale of the particular home that is being built.¬† The issue could be more about¬†HOW do you¬†get a community of tiny homes?¬†¬† One of the hardest things in the world is to find¬† good neighbors that you can trust.¬† I say the dream would be to find a community where if you are not a dog owner then you could not join! hahaha

  • However if you have more than one child this doesn't seem like it would work. I'm pretty sure there are laws that state a child over certain age must have their own bedroom

  • Super Insulated and Super Lite Tiny Homes are now a reality. Using EPS Composite Construction techniques, you get all the benefits and even some Hudge Savings. Email me for information ergodesk at gmail.com

  • It is my dream to have a piece of land in Grand County Colorado, drill a well, and have a tiny mountain home. Though I'm almost certain that the long arm of government will soon sweep in, prosecute and arrest tiny house people, and then seize their land. It's only a Matter of time sadly.

  • Yeah, I actually have all the cash to build one right now. That's great. However, our government only really allows this as an "accessory dwelling unit" – basically in addition to your 1,500 sq ft house. If you buy land and stick this on it, you can be guarenteed that some asshole neighbor will report it because their almight property value might decrease and you will get fined daily until you're forced to move it and pay rent somewhere.
    The whole idea of this movement is to NOT pay rent. I'm frustrated. Whatever happened to "give me liberty or give me death" or "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" … We are not as free of a country as you think.

  • i think building a few extra tiny homes when your kids get old enough for there own privacy sounds like a good idea to me. and they will also already own a home and the world is that much more free from debt. but i am all for living together where you can hear, see and be with each other all the time, that being said having a place to balance and experience being alone is probably good to have if not necessary especially if a family member isn't comfortable with it.

  • Great talk, Amy! I hope you've started or finished your thow by now. I've been living in mine for over a year, and am so very happy to be in it. I'm using mine as my final home, designed to be adjusted to any physical condition I may develop as I age. There's room for a wheelchair, and my bed is, of course, on the same level as everything else. The bed and the plumbing are the only permanent installations, and even they could be modified, if necessary. You can't do that in an rv. And mine was made with non-toxic wood and other supplies. I have a loft for storage, which will become less necessary as I age. I'll read those books, use those clothes, and sew that fabric, and pass it all on as I go. What a lovely way to spend the rest of my days!

  • I still live in student sized housing at 40. My life never got off the ground. I could have contributed so much to society if i would have had this option. I would have had money to spend in the economy. Now i'm just scrounging to pay rent, food and utillities and spend nothing else at all. Kind of like most of us now. If we want the economy to pick up, we need more housing choices and freedom as the old model crumbles before our eyes and very few people can actually participate, dragging down the economy even further. Just look at all the vacant realestate. We can't buy it anyway. Look, we need this! I'm not spending and i never will at this rate. This size studio appartement suits me fine. Try putting it on wheels here in Europe and see how much you get to live in it. Not going to happen. I don't aspire to having a mortgage and a McMansion. Didn't we need more spending? Haha. ūüėÄ Beep the economy and society, sincerely. It never accomodated us in the first place and i'll be 60 before it might. Ta hell with it then.

    “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,
    the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.‚ÄĚ – Bill Mollison

  • No city anywhere is going to allow tiny houses. This is because the municipal housing codes are set up NOT to ensure the safety and well being of residents but the financial security of the city government. I built a house in a subdivision (well – I hired a contractor to build it) and the permit for the plumbing alone was $30,000. This was a 1053 square foot home in a community of 3500 square foot homes. I borrowed $198,000 to buy the house and the total for the permits to build it were over a quarter of that amount. If you propose building tiny house communities without the complicated network of supply lines and drains, gas and electrical utilities, sidewalks, etc., then the government is going to step in, declare your house illegal, evict you from the property, and possibly fine you for daring to try to live simply. Plus if you can't afford the fine, then it's jail time, just for trying to reduce your cost of living and your impact on the environment. This happened to a woman in Florida, Robin Speronis, who lived successfully for years without electricity from the local utility, or any gas, water, and sewer lines. the city of Cape Coral charged and convicted her of illegally living off the grid, citing the "International Property Maintenance Code," which mandates that homes be connected to an electricity grid and a running water source. So tiny home communities, as enticing as they sound, are legally unsustainable and probably illegal and not really something to aspire to.

  • Alternatibe also-Sea Ship-climate chg Ld Christopher Monkton sci found big miscalculation
    misinterpretation CC Solutions Purifies Air/Soil & Water in 100's of countries.*Moringa
    Bye Heath food stores. *Moringa Drug /Pill substirute Drought resistant trees 25-40 ft
    Some of them never get water & they grow even in Asian countries where no other trees
    grow.These can supply all our basic needs while they heal & detoxify us & Planet -can
    support the world basic medical/food needs /Morpmga & Plankton can be used as biofuel .

  • I have a dear friend who is blessed enough to not want a lot of things, just the essentials in life. Unlike me I have a lot of things like clothes and things needed for a small Rosary making business…..and I have a husband but he chooses not to have a lot of things. I told my friend a out these tiny houses and he's super interested in them. I've been trying to find information on them but I'm not exactly sure where to look. What I found in my Google search were places that say "tiny houses" but their website talks about garden sheds. I would really like to find out where to get these so I can pass the information on to the friend.

  • Im really confused as to why they are speaking on this at TED Talks conventions… Is this the future for us all, whether we want it or not??

  • A travel trailer and a tiny home is almost the same thing. A name change only. Do not get faked out. They claim the tiny house is made stronger and better insulated than a trailer. A Custom built trailers are available and can made stronger and insulated.

  • Great speech. Definitely persuasive. Hoping to see such design and ideas in other countries too!

  • This is also a HUGE movement for people of my generation, the early Baby Boomers who can't afford to retire as things stand. We're in the midst of selling our big house and going tiny ourselves so that we can retire early and live the life we want to live while we're still young enough to do so. Huge movement. It's a revolution.

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