For reasons ranging from financial prudence to ecological sensitivity, the so-called tiny-house movement has taken hold in cities such as Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Now the trend, which advocates living in homes of just 100 to 400 square feet, is coming to Scottsdale.
Taylor Vos, 28, is building a 400-square-foot home that is believed to be Scottsdale’s first tiny house. The average home in the United States is 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Vos, who is an urban planner, spent six months traveling the country with his wife, Annie, in a conversion van. After the experience, he realized living in a small space was possible and is building his tiny house for environmental and financial reasons. His wife will be attending graduate school and they are looking to cut costs in order to afford tuition. Ideally, they would like to commit to living in the tiny house for three years.
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“Beyond that, we’d like to be in a small house, but the reason why we wouldn’t commit to a (tiny) house for 10 years is that we don’t know what our jobs are going to be,” he said.
Vos said he’s still securing land for the tiny house. He’s created two different blueprints, one for a foundation-based house and another for a flatbed trailer-based house.
He plans to use reclaimed materials for the fully transportable house, which should take about eight months to build.
Vos consulted with Scottsdale’s Green Building Program Manager, Anthony Floyd, to make sure the house would meet the city’s zoning and building requirements.
Floyd said Scottsdale’s building code requires homes to have at least one room and be more than 120 square feet. Any other habitable rooms must be more than 70 square feet.
Floyd said as long as the house is built on a residential zone parcel and has a kitchen and plumbing hookups, it’s perfectly legal.
“There’s really no limitation or restriction on the type of house you can build,” Floyd said. “I suspect there are not many houses that are less than 800 to 1,000 square feet in Scottsdale.”
Floyd said the city records square footage of homes going back 15 years. The average house in Scottsdale is 3,500 square feet and custom-built homes are around 6,000 square feet.
Vos said the response to his plans to build a tiny house has been positive.
“Most people are in awe, they sort of light up and want to know more,” he said. “It’s just a testament to how popular (the tiny-house movement) has been lately.”
Individuals choose to participate in the tiny-house movement for various reasons. Common motivators include environmental and economic reasons, or wanting to be a part of a community.
Floyd said tiny-house enthusiasts are often environmentally sensitive and value walkability and spending more time outside the house. Younger enthusiasts are especially willing to forgo space because they are out and about in their neighborhoods looking for amenities and opportunities.
Another reason people join the movement is to alleviate the burden of a mortgage or other monthly bills, allowing homeowners the financial freedom to pursue other interests.
Tiny houses typically cost around $20,000 to $30,000 to build, less than the down payment on a normal home.
“From a resource point of view, smaller houses are better,” Floyd said. “It’s about efficiency, design and optimizing the space.”
Elaine Walker, board member of the American Tiny House Association, started the non-profit organization in February to promote tiny houses as viable dwelling options and reduce obstacles to tiny-house living by working with local government agencies on zoning regulations.
“The reason why we started it is that we were all seeing an increase in interest,” she said.
Walker runs a tiny-house community website and has received numerous emails and phone calls from people across the U.S. seeking information on building tiny houses.
She built a tiny house of her own after the economic downturn in 2008 that took about a year to complete. She said she was looking to downsize after her kids went to college.
“We want to be able to reduce our impact, and I think that’s a good goal that tiny houses meet,” she said. “I think (the) country needs to rethink how shelter is provided and the best use of money and housing in a broad way.”
Vos said living in a small space reduces the environmental footprint by reducing electricity and water consumption.
“People are looking to be more flexible with living arrangements and making the most out of what they have,” Vos said. “Coming down here I feel like there’s lots of people working towards building tiny houses. That really shocked me.”
Jared Stoltzfus, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, built a tiny house referred to as the “Maushaus” with a team of five graduate students over the past year for a thesis project to showcase sustainability practices and minimalist living to public schools.
The Maushaus project was funded by a grant, a Kickstarter campaign and through the Stoltzfus family.
The 120-square-foot solar-powered house is built on a travel trailer, sleeps up to four people and is comprised of recycled and donated building materials, along with structural insulated panels to reduce energy costs, a loft and living room area, full shower and a small kitchen. Stoltzfus said because he has a family, he is unable to live in the house, and is instead selling it at a price of more than $20,000.
Stoltzfus said the tiny-house movement is more geared toward recent college grads, snowbirds or empty nesters. Although tiny house living is a newer concept, he’s noticed an increase in tiny house activity.
“Small spaces make a lot of sense,” he said. “If the economic downturn did anything, it was helping people get a little creative about what they need and how to live more with less.”
Tiny houses come with their own set of challenges, such as zoning and government regulations. Most cities have a square foot requirement for tiny homes and to get around municipal zoning regulations, some homeowners choose to build their tiny homes on a travel trailer with wheels.
However, homeowners still have to decide whether to go off the grid or hook up to a power source. Tiny house owners can park in RV parks, but that can be pricey, Walker said.
“People sometimes misjudge the amount of time and money it takes to have a little house and finding a place to park it,” she said. “If you are in an urban area or suburban area, it can be more expensive than you think.”
Walker said she hopes to see the minimum square foot requirement for tiny houses change, so people could build them on foundations in neighborhoods.
“I’d like to see zoning more relaxed and tiny houses to be considered a permanent home,” she said.
Vos said building the foundation of his tiny house will be a challenge, because it’s not usually a do-it-yourself project.
“It’s sort of a daunting process if you don’t have an architect,” he said.
He said one quarter to one third of the cost involves getting electric, water and sewer hooked up.
“That may actually be the hardest part of the house is hooking up the utilities,” he said.
Although tiny apartments tend to be more sustainable than the tiny houses on wheels, it’s empowering for people to build a house themselves, which fuels the do-it-yourself culture of the tiny-house movement, Stoltzfus said
But even then, tiny houses take a lot of work to set up and move. Stoltzfus advises people who are interested in building tiny houses to do a lot of research first and identify what their goals are in terms of living in the house before beginning the project.
“If more people are willing to give it a try, then I think there will be more tiny houses popping up around (Scottsdale),” he said. “I think it’s going to grow, there’s part of it that feels a little trendy right now, but there’s still a lot more potential for movement that hasn’t even realized yet.”
Amy Edelen, The Republic | azcentral.com