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Brian, Design

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  1. Good job Brian. I agree with most of your points. But if you really want to design space-efficient compact housing, you need to figure out how to design folding trailer systems.

    The folding panel trailer makes it possible to provide a two to four bedroom house in as little as 400 square feet, which can fold down into an 8ft-6in wide by 28 ft long trailer.

    I would propose that the crux of tiny house movement success lies in making the tiny house work for families and extended families.

    And this requires (IMO) breaking free from the 12/14 ft wide mobile home width restriction by developing folding panel trailer systems.

    Reply
    • Hello, Steve – Great observation. Here are the most compelling folding house designs I’ve come across during my Tiny House research. Given your insightful comment, you may very well already be familiar with them:

      Blu-Homes is based in California, and their 20 ft wide x 38 ft long factory-built houses are folded into a box 12 ft wide x 38 ft long x 11 ft tall for transport on a semi. Upon arrival at the residential site, cranes place the box on an already prepared foundation, and then unfold the house. Here’s a four minute video that succinctly shows the process (YouTube “Blu-Home Folding House-DIY”): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmpRRoNqsDI
      Of course, this structure isn’t meant to be moved again on a whim, and thus doesn’t have the same mobility as the typical Tiny House On Wheels. It costs the same as a conventional house (and you pay for the foundation separately, as it’s not included in the house price).

      Across the northern border is Habitaflex, whose houses can be transported with a simple 1 ton pickup truck (or a semi, depending on the size of the structure) and then are unfolded on its built-in platform (or placed on a foundation). This video shows how easy it is to set up and take down one of their smaller models in two or three hours, but neglects to make clear that you have to move all the furniture in and out of the house as part of the process (Do the family’s belongings go into a moving truck that follows the Habitaflex structure? I don’t know.):

      While this video suggests that you can take your summer home with you wherever you want to go, Habitaflex dwellings are also used for permanent houses and residential uses. Again, the cost is comparable to conventional houses of similar size.

      The most versatile design I’ve found comes from an August 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics that describes using piano hinges to transform a 500 square foot house into a very mobile 8ft wide by 35 ft long package when it travels, not on a semi, but pulled by a regular pick-up truck. Unlike the Habitaflex model featured in the video, when it comes time to relocate this semi-permanent house on wheels, you just move all the furniture to one side and fold up the other. Originally priced at $5K, fifty-five years later it would sell for $41,000 today in 2012. Perhaps this design best matches your musings above. Pardon the long URL from Google Books:

      http://books.google.com/books?id=HOEDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA90&dq=mobile+home%2Bfoldable&hl=en&ei=ENzhTJbfI8SBlAeomPDvAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=true

      To me, the appeal of a Tiny Home (not necessarily micro-house) is the mobility (you really CAN just pick up and leave within a few minutes), and the very affordable price, even if you don’t build it “DIY.” I, personally, don’t want to pay the “typical” home price for which I’d need to take out a mortgage. I want to build my own for much less money than forty thousand dollars. On the other hand, as a single woman with no dependents, I don’t belong to the demographic you cite in your comment: families with kids and/or their extended kin…

      Thanks for the opportunity to add to the discussion, and best wishes.

      Reply
    • Single person households are the growing trend. The Tiny House movement is a reflection of this trend.
      Read more here: http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf

      I really don’t think the success of the tiny house market will have anything to do with families. Family homes are already an existing market.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this. Personally I don’t get the need to put a house on wheels to begin with. I don’t have enough friends who would be happy with me parking in their back yard. I want a place that is a home base that I don’t carry around with me like I’m a turtle. And as I age, I’m not even slightly interested in sleeping in a loft with barely enough room to sit up in bed. I’m really much more interested in a small house movement where I don’t have to be a complete minimalist to exist. But for those who do want to live in a tiny house, more power to you. It’s just not for me.

    Reply
    • I’ve been living on boats for about the last 19 years and have been following the Tiny House movement for about 5 years so I know a little bit about living in small places. I think the reason for the multitude of trailerable small house designs is that it allows you to get around the building and zoning codes in most cities across the USA. If your house is built on a street legal trailer and if that trailer is properly licensed, then legally, you live in a trailer and not a house. (In some places, if its not properly licensed, it can be towed. Yes, they tow your house.)

      Most cities do not want tiny homes. Building codes, zoning laws and the like prohibit them in most cases; mainly just because of the small square footage numbers. Our gluttonous society has managed to write the laws that keep the tiny house movement from taking off. The laws / zoning codes need to be studied and amendments made to allow for the tiny home movement to take off. If the laws were changed, the tiny house movement could do away with the trailer idea and start designing homes that were not confined to the limited street legal laws and we could have something that would appeal to more people. The homes would be much more practical and the idea of having a small family or guests in a tiny home would easily become a reality. Look up Ross Chapin. He designs homes like I’m talking about and I think they make a lot of sense. I’m not sure, but I think the current laws would even block most of his designs. Its a shame but it can be changed and I predict that it will. This idea is catching on because it makes so much sense and people are noticing.

      Reply
    • In many situations the WHEELS part is a response to archaic building codes that permit things to be done on trailers that they won’t let you build in your own back yard.

      Reply
  3. Excellent points all around– Brian, Steve, and Kacie. What all of you guys seem to be talking about is taking the tiny house idea out of the realm of “gee that’s so cute!” and talking about how one would actually live long-term in smaller spaces. One gets the impression that most tiny houses featured on the web can only exist because (out of the frame) there is some larger house or truck or shed where all the real stuff is stored.

    Anyway, getting real about living small begins with an honest assessment of long-term needs, not just the game of “how low can I go?” in terms of square footage. Here are some needs that tiny house obsessees tend to forget about:
    a) the need for views to relieve the sense of cramping (this is the problem with the Tumbleweed Houses, in my opinion– not enough opportunities for glass)
    b) the need for storage of a realistic amount of stuff for enjoying life (e.g. bikes, pianos, etc)
    c) the impracticality of a lot of specialized gadgets and space-saving arrangements (e.g. a folding table arrangement might not work for the kind of person who does not tend to clean their table)

    But Steve has hit on the big one: FAMILY. Almost any place can be a little sanctuary if you are living in it alone (though a nicer place could make the solitude even sweeter). But people don’t live alone all their lives; many households are two or three people, and (for me) the beautiful solitude of a tiny place is thrown completely awry with the addition of even 1 person. Space-efficient housing for households of more than one is a totally different challenge– I like the idea of grouping small 1-person dwellings together. My gut feeling is that multi-person households will require about 400 well designed square feet per person to work well, though because of their privacy, 1-person dwellings could go down to something around 200.

    Anyway thanks for adding to the level of intelligence on this subject.

    Reply
    • Hi Martin,

      During the settlement of this country, many normal people lived in what we would consider tiny homes. Wagon boxes often would serve as homes. Log cabins (unlike sod houses or frame houses) would be dismantled and moved. These were the days of families where children came every two years from the marriage until the wife was no longer of bearing age, so those little log cabins housed loads of people.

      If you visit the Frontier Heritage Museum in Virginia, you can see a wide range of dwellings from Ireland, Germany, England, and Africa as well as early American dwellings inspired by the dwellings across the ocean. These home, designed for large families, would not be considered legal in some cities due to their small size.

      One fascinating point – the idea of porches came from Africa. The European homes all lacked that feature.

      Reply
  4. Excellent points all. Steve, would love to see more on folding panel systems. Martin- I appreciate your thoughts on long term minimum space requirements. To provide some further perspective, in their fine 2005 article ‘Small is Beautiful U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment’, Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland note that as house sizes have increased from 1100 ft2 to 2340 ft2 from 1950-2002, average occupancy fell from 3.67 family members to 2.6. Thus “in 1950 houses were built with about 290 square feet (27 m2) per family member, whereas in 2003 houses provided 893 square feet (83 m2) per family member — a factor of 3 increase”. In this light, an individual living in the 210 square foot mini-1 represents a 28% deviation from 1950’s norms- hardly a radical move, at least 60 years ago.

    Things get a bit more complicated when discussing wheeled tiny homes and family because of inherent space limitations of trailer-based structures. I assume the general preference here is to have a foundation built structure of appropriate size– we’re doing the trailers out of code/zoning necessity. That said, multiple contiguous tiny homes could work for families. I know a few parents who would love to have their kids sleeping in another structure next door at night to avoid the tiptoeing around past early bedtimes, not to mention a bit of welcome distance during later years?

    Reply
    • Hey Brian, it’s interesting to bring up the 1950’s standard, because I think a case could be made that (for household of >1 person anyway) the 1950’s standard is too small. The question is, when does “using space nicely to increase quality of life” become “crowding too many people into one place and reducing quality of life”? Crowding is bad, not good, and that’s one reason why in the 1950’s, people like my parents aspired to bigger houses. I’m curious about the smallest sizes and arrangements that people will actually want to stay in–so that the full benefits of living small can play out over the long term. Grouped dwellings like houses+ADUs, cottage communities, and yes, apartment blocks may make a lot of sense–especially if small solo dwellings are part of the mix. Cheers, Martin

      Reply
      • Hi Martin I responded below – Family of 5 – 800 sq ft house – room to comfortably sleep all of us plus two guests on the pull out couch. Real stairs, eat in kitchen, room to have guests, privacy for each indivvidual in bedstees, and a family friendly washroom/laundry room.

        Reply
  5. Great discussion, to which I’d like to add a practical concern regarding oversize vehicles and the moment one must move them down the highway:

    In Virginia, any oversized vehicle with a “vehicle load” or a “vehicle configuration” wider than ten feet requires a front ESCORT VEHICLE (also known as a pilot car), as well as a lot of signs, flags and lights. Brian, if your “approximately 210 feet of interior space” consists of 10 ft of width (Yestermorrow’s Elephant House is about 9 ft, 10.5 inches wide) and 21 ft of length, is the mini 1 be exempt from the escort vehicle requirement? Put another way, do the mini 1’s 10′ x 21′ INTERIOR dimensions count as the vehicle load/configuration, as opposed to the 11′ x 22′ exterior ones? Your answer may radically change my own Tiny House design: two extra feet of space would be dandy, but not if I would have to depend on someone to escort me whenever I moved it to a new location, even if that were just once or twice a year.

    Looking forward to the Tiny House Class through Knowledge Commons DC at the Boneyard on Saturday, June 30th!

    Laura

    Reply
    • Laura, good question. I hadn’t investigated this point for the state of Virginia. I imagine it is exterior (11′) dimensions that count for highway transport. The moving issues are certainly valid ones, though given that I can’t see moving this tiny house much, or far, it doesn’t concern me too much. After driving Tumbleweed’s Fencl around DC for a day, the idea of regularly towing any kind of large trailer became even less attractive, so I’m inclined to reach for the phone should the need to move one of these tiny homes arise…

      Reply
      • Thanks for responding, Brian. So if you had to move the mini 1 for any reason, are you saying that instead of towing it yourself you would either 1) hire someone to tow it for you (and escort it, if necessary), or 2) arrange for it to be shipped, like a cargo container or mobile storage unit a la “PODS” or “SmartBox” by securing it to an 18 wheeler flatbed ? Or is there another way of transporting that’s not occurring to me at the moment?

        The reason I’m asking is because once I build my Tiny House, there is the possibility of me splitting my time between Richmond, VA (for six to eight months of the year) and Philadelphia, PA (for six or four months of the year). This would mean my Tiny House would be traveling about 250 miles twice a year, and the logistics of the actual transport are a really important practical matter for me to consider. Any thoughts?

        Reply
        • Dear Laura,
          I am a fellow Virginian and considering a move to Pennsylvania in hopes of building a Tiny Home there.
          Have you found any loopholes in Virgina or Pennsylvania that would allow inhabiting the home?

          Thanks for your help,
          Miriam
          856-283-7470
          miriamxdirect@gmail.com

          Reply
  6. I’d like to know people’s thought on a barn style roof for a tiny house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one built this way which seems silly as a roof that shape would increase your loft space significantly. Thoughts?

    Reply
  7. Very thoughtful discussion about tiny space, Brian. Are the plans available yet for the mini-1 design? I’m a Baby Boomer planning to downsize from a 1400 sf house. I’d like a tiny house where I have the option to 1) sleep on the first level and 2) choose an aesthetic that may not be wood. That’s why the mini-1 sounds so appealing:)

    Reply
    • Thanks for your interest Karen. The plans are still being finalized with the architect and structural engineer, but hope to have them completed by Oct 1- I will let you know when they are ready. I’m working with a SIPS manufacturer that makes pre-cut, insulated wall and roof panels, so when plans are finalized it will be possible to simply order the panels, which can then be put together in a day or two once the trailer foundation is ready.

      Reply
      • Wow!! That’s great news about the pre-cut panels – a real benefit for someone who has no building skills. My goal is to be in my tiny house by this time next year. So definitely keep me updated on the plans and panels. Also let me know if you schedule a workshop. I’d like to learn more about what you’re doing to not only build tiny houses – but sustainable communities where they can locate. Thanks for what you’re doing:)

        Reply
  8. [...] 2011 – Brian has architects work on his plans for the not-too-tiny house.  Lee starts getting quotes from builders for her house (at first based on the Tumbleweed Fencl [...]

    Reply
  9. Also might add that in Virginia and other nearby states… that one can not live in any mobile/camper trailer year-round. Six months perhaps – if you are not caught/violated by neighbors, etc.? It appears also that after contacting my local building officials/planning department for my county, that a special permit is needed in order to have any tiny house connected to any form of utilities before one can obtain a residency/occupy permit. It also appears that the only way around these draconian regulations is simply to appy for a special use permit for a family compound/campground on ones own private property. I have a 3-acre woodlot on the family farmette and I can not even place a <400 square foot park model on it and be able to live in it year round either! My attorney suggested that the tiny home/park model/ or ADU unit simply be placed into a LLC and to obtain a PO box for it, to which all future utilities/personal property taxes on " campers " from my county, etc. go to. This is the only way in Virginia to eliminate these ridiculus regulations. The other option is simply place any models mentioned into a campground. The problem with that idea is that in the Mid-Atlantic, few campgrounds are open year round as most close during the Winter because of water cut -offs/sewer connect issues. So ask yourself – why would you pay a yearly rental to a campground and not even be able to live in it for only six months out of that year. Again, zoning lawa/regulations MUST be changed forever in order for allocation of any tiny house/camper or <400 square foot park model to be placed upon even private property. Virginia is so far removed from reality!! Help us all overcome this issue please?!

    Reply
  10. [...] are tiny houses too tiny? final design of the the not-too-tiny minim house | Boneyard Studios [...]

    Reply
  11. Enjoyed every bit of your blog.Thanks Again. Cool.

    Reply
  12. I’ve found most of the people building tiny homes are doing it for the experience and then they sit in the yard of their big energy sucking houses as studio spaces, guest houses etc. I have 3 kids – tiny just is not practical with a 7 & 10yr old boy and a 14 yr old girl. 800 is awesome though. We’d do it differently if we built from scratch but we took a 200 yr old house down to the studs and have started there with the realities of family live – eat in kitchen a must, living space that can accomodate all of us, a bathroom with a family sized laundry facility, a bit of privacy in bed spaces (bedstees) and we live in the Canadian maritimes with long wet snowy winters. We just need to feel we all fit inside for the “cabin fever months”.

    Reply
    • Oh and financially we’ve done as well or better than any tiny house build I’ve seen when you take into consideration the number of people we are housing – 38000 for the house and an acre of waterfront property – 10 000 invested to make it what we needed – electrical, roofing, woodstove and chimney, and insulation and interior walls.

      Reply
  13. Folding trailers,Blue Homes, Houses unfolded, piano hinges, mobility, archaic building codes, not enough glass, need for storage, inherent space limitations of trailer base structures……What’s all the commotion about? All of the problems listed above, as they relate to tiny houses on wheels, have been solved by the new, revolutionary, FAAST TEC tiny home trailer. All of this is made possible with a well engineered trailer designed by a structural Engineer for today’s homes and for future builds in the 21st century. This trailer features a proprietary, convertible, adjustable, building platform which will allow for any construction methodology, including wood studs, SIPs, or metal studs. Rapidly adjusting from 3 1/2 inches to 6 inches. Anyone, combining our new hybrid SIP/VIP building system with our new trailer, will be pleased with a 50% faster build and an insulation factor of ” R ” 60. Depending on where you live, just heat your new home with a few candles or cool it with a igloo cooler with ice and a simple fan…..Perhaps this is exaggerated a little bit. Now, as the tiny house evolves, builders got the bright idea to extend and even cantilever the floor of their trailer to gain more square footage in interior space. In the past, tiny homes were built between the wheels with the weight evenly distributed between the axles. No longer content with the wider width of tiny homes, builders and individuals have further complicated things, by building room extensions, storage rooms, bump outs, roof and porch extensions beyond the front and back edge of the trailer. The weakest point of a trailer is the outside four corners and, then, the outside edge. The downward force from the roof pushes downward through the walls to the suspension to the ground. To solve that problem, the new FT trailer has borrowed technology from the race car industry, resulting in two ladder bar trusses welded to the bottom of the trailer. Additionally, there are three trusses running perpendicular to the length for supporting the stress and torque caused by excessive weight on most builds. The next major feature is the availability of torsion bar independent suspension. First introduced successfully in the race horse industry where the ride is the most important thing, this technology has quickly become the suspension of choice. Torsion bar suspension results in the industry’s lowest deck height, therefore, making possible a ceiling height of up to 12′ inside. Another feature of the trailer is that, technically, there are no fenders. What is perceived as fenders, are actually 90 degree structural supports with decorative stainless steel inserts. The eliminates those difficult, radial cuts, for the siding. The new FT trailer can be ordered with a 4 inch or 6 inch aluminum and steel SIP floor, resulting in no floor joists, therefore, thermal bridging is not an issue. For the die hard wood enthusiast, a wood floor can be installed in half the time with better insulation “R” if our recommended system with integrated thermal break is utilized.

    Reply

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