Why Tiny Houses Are So Popular

Explore the merits of small-scale building and why the tiny house movement is growing.

Tiny house

One of the many benefits of building a tiny house is the ability to manage, design, and complete the build yourself.

Photo © Derek Diedricksen

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From basic to brain-bending, Microshelters (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen offers a stunning photographic survey of 59 of the most creative and awe-inspiring designs for little cabins, tiny houses, “shoffices” (shed-offices), kids forts and more. The curated collection includes work by some of the leading bloggers, architects, and designers in the “tiny” field. What they all have in common is a flair for creative design and the ability to innovatively maximize the use of space within a minimal footprint.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Microshelters.

What’s With the Tiny Obsession?

I’ve been asked this question many times, and there’s no easy answer. I just dig tiny, cozy structures. As to why, there are numerous reasons, some you might not anticipate.

Creating a microstructure involves creative thinking, outdoor activity, and problem-solving — things many people crave but often find absent from their busy (and sometimes repetitious and regimented) modern lives. And not only is it a relatively affordable pursuit, it also requires far less time and patience than building something of “ginormous” proportions. That’s the beauty of very tiny projects: they’re easy on both the wallet and the mind. Their small size also makes them easy on the neighbors.

Depending on where you live you can also build many structures without a permit. Heck, if you do need a permit and later get busted for building without on (not that I’m encouraging that . . .), how hard is it to relocate a diminutive backyard hut or office? Toss that sucker on the back of a truck, or haul it off-site with a flatbed, and you’re good to go.

Building small requires relatively few resources, and you’ll find many structures here that have been designed around, and built with, free, salvaged, and recycled materials. By taking this path you’re keeping materials out of the waste stream and preventing them from clogging up landfills. You’re also saving yourself a good deal of money while working unique and character-rich design elements into your home, office, or hideout. Sure, permit-wise, recycled goods may not be allowed in the construction of full-out homes, but with tinier builds and backyard hideouts that don’t require town-hall paperwork, often there can be a lot more leeway. In some more rural areas you could even build a home out of recycled fast-food wrappers and bubble gum and no one would give you any guff.. well, except the ants, perhaps.

Keep in mind that modestly sized dwellings are not only relatively cheap and quick to construct, they’re also easy and inexpensive to heat, cool, maintain, furnish, and clean.  If you’re a beginner builder you’ll also like to know that small projects are more forgiving of mistakes... even big ones. I mean, how bad can it really get? If things were to go horribly and irreparably wrong, which is not likely, you could start over completely with little financial pain. But overall, planning is key. Take your time.

Finally, in a lot of cases, small spaces just work well, even if you’re only looking to build a tiny backyard office that saves you from that soul-taxing commute to work or the overhead of a rented office space. Small spaces are private and intimate, and they give you a feeling of control over your domain. This is strengthened by the fact that you, as the designer and/or builder, have had to carefully consider the smallest details of placement, storage needs, and overall flow of space.

In my many travels for my work, I’ve been lucky enough to stay in numerous tiny houses, backyard cottages, houseboats, and even tree houses, many of which handle these details in interesting and beautiful ways. I’ve enjoyed spending the night in these unusual shelters and homes and seeing how the design-minds of others work. Some ideas I’ve loved; others I’d personally pass on.

Microshelters is a collection of ideas in creative simplicity. It’s eclectic, and the works within come from a good many contributors from across the US and elsewhere. The designs represent a large and varied range in style, taste, and function. After all, who wants to see a dull-as- toast collection of all-the-same, never-daring microstructures that were seemingly plopped off an assembly line? Not I.

Welcome to a world of imaginative, out-there fun — all within the realm of “shelter,” from the most basic to the utterly brain-bending. You’ll find pretty much everything: little cabins, tiny houses, “shoffices” (shed-offices), kids’ forts and playhouses, homes on wheels, tree houses, guest huts, backyard retreats, garden follies, and simple shacks. My aim is to deliver as many new concepts and design approaches as possible and to offer you fresh ideas, fuel for future projects, and techniques and approaches you might not have considered.

Now get out there and create!

A smaller structure...

• costs less to build.

• can be built more quickly.

• can often be built out-of-pocket, without loans.

• is easier to heat and cool.

• is easier to clean, furnish, and maintain.

• can often be tackled by a novice builder.

• is easier to move.

• is less site-invasive.

• poses less to lose.

• is easier to hide, if privacy or security is what you’re gunning for.

• prevents you from being able to buy junk and things you don’t need (there’s no room for them).

• is less likely to be over-visited by the in-laws (no space for ’em!).

• requires fewer materials and resources.

• produces less construction waste.

• affords you the luxury of handpicking your materials and lumber. • is easier and cheaper to decorate.

• can be built without the cost and hassle of permits in many areas.

• allows you to manage, build, tweak, design, and complete the project yourself, in many cases (how many people hold those bragging rights?).

• allows you to make mistakes that are less costly and infuriating.

• is fun, in a back-to-your-childhood, small, intimate, quiet-space way.

• is cozy.

• is your own.

• is something you can start planning now.


Excerpted from Microshelters © Derek Diedricksen. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.