The not-so-big house

Tiny house phenomenon invades Dayton

By Tim Smith

Photo: Tiny interior stairs; photo: Paul Kohlman, courtesy of Coles Whalen of EcoCabinsEcoCabins

Someone once said that good things come in small packages, but I doubt they meant houses. Yet, the tiny house movement, where people choose to downsize from the standard home, has taken root in the Miami Valley. The concept can be traced all the way back to Henry David Thoreau and the log cabins of the American settlers. The modern movement gained momentum after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when “Katrina Cottages” were offered as an alternative to FEMA trailers. The financial crisis of 2008 made these small dwellings more attractive because they offered housing that was affordable and ecologically friendly.

The typical structure is fewer than 1,000 square feet and is broken into two categories: a small house, which is between 400 and 1000 square feet, and a tiny house, measuring fewer than 400 square feet. Some are as small as 80 square feet. They can be obtained pre-built or you may choose to build your own. Some are even outfitted with wheels, so you can hitch your homestead to the family wagon. Most tiny homes forgo traditional utilities by using solar and wind power.

Coles Whalen is the marketing director for EcoCabins, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When asked to what he attributes the increased interest in tiny houses, he says, “We believe the tiny house market is growing so quickly because more and more people are moving to a simple, smart and sustainable way of life. Each person who decides to live tiny does so for different reasons—closer communities, more time outdoors, less stress, no debt and a smaller environmental footprint. Tiny houses are cropping up nationwide. It is truly an American phenomenon.”

EcoCabins broke into the local market at the Dayton Housing and Building Association Parade of Homes earlier this year.

“EcoCabins recognized the potential in Dayton to become the first city to give tiny housers a cool, urban place to plant roots,” Whalen says. “We still hope to see this potential realized.”

A tiny house uses fewer building resources than a traditional home and requires less electricity and water over its lifetime. The smaller upfront investment allows most tiny house occupants to live debt-free within a few years. The concept appears to have attracted a wide demographic range.

“We were expecting our tiny houses to appeal to mostly recreational and retirement customers, but we’ve had interest from first-time home buyers, couples and families as well,” Whalen says.

Local tiny houser Trevor Gay shed his traditional bungalow-style home and built his tiny house as a family project.

“You’re using far less materials, and we used as many Earth-friendly products as possible, such as soy-based spray foam insulation and a natural non-toxic exterior stain,” Gay says.

He adds that at a budget of $32,000, he had a brand new house that would be paid for in fewer than two years.

“Financial freedom and freedom from unwanted and unused things are the drivers for living in a tiny house,” he says.

Rosalie Sapriandi started a tiny house community in De Graff, Ohio, and so far there are six homes living, as she puts it, “completely off-grid”—relying on wind and solar power. “Right now, the biggest challenge with that is the strong learning curve of learning how to start an off-grid system,” she says.

Like many people embracing the lifestyle, Sapriandi had grown up in a traditional house. “Living in a tiny house suggests simplicity and living authentically,” Sapriandi says. “When you have a guest over, your whole house is on display. There are no hidden rooms or spots you don’t allow guests in a 100-300-square-foot house. When you live like this, you are forced into a beautiful way of living openly.”

She has also found the concept to be budget-friendly and built the home herself, which was a challenge. “I had never swung a hammer in my life,” she says. “The beauty of the DIY side of tiny houses is that the knowledge you can obtain is very empowering.” Whalen notes the tiny house market is “pretty evenly split between people who want to build a house themselves and those who would like to buy a completed house.”

Most homeowners have found few downsides to owning a tiny house.

“The only real disadvantage we’ve discovered is that tiny houses aren’t quite accepted by all cities and municipalities,” Gay says. “Until the tiny house movement grows and matures, zoning departments are still left scratching their heads as to where tiny houses belong.”

The one disadvantage Sapriandi mentions: “Not being able to rearrange a room as much! But I suppose being able to rearrange my whole house makes up for that.”

Thinking of getting back to nature with your own tiny house? Gay has this bit of advice: “Choose the right layout and be completely honest with yourself about how you’ll really use the space. Make sure your tiny house is a true home, and you’ll feel great living in it for as long as you choose.”

Sapriandi adds, “Whether building or buying a tiny house, that’s just the first step to the lifestyle. It’s a journey—enjoy it.”

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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