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Organizers at the first Florida Tiny House Festival in St. Augustine were expecting around 10,000 visitors to the St. John’s County Fairgrounds last weekend and in the end they got six times that amount as approximately 60,000 people made the festival a rip-roaring success. Over 90 tiny houses on wheels rolled into the festival to give the public a real time view of the popular new trend that is exploding with popularity thanks to TV shows like Tiny House Big Living, Tiny Luxury, Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House Builders and Tiny House Arrest.
Tiny homes represent an option for people who intentionally want to downsize and want to live more outside of their homes than within them. Tiny Houses also provide a solution where there is significant need to house the homeless. Destiny’s Bridge founder Steve Brigham said “I started out 16 years ago to help the homeless in New Jersey and I got involved in a larger camp that had 120 homeless people. We had significant fights with the township in that area and I got to thinking about how we can solve this problem for the long term. That’s when I thought “Why not a tiny home?” I came to realize that there are zoning laws and building codes in the State and they really discriminate against the poor because of the square footage requirements. If we can relax zoning laws we can provide housing for low income people and tiny houses are a perfect solution.”
The most common tiny home dwelling is the kind built on wheels so that their owners can move around as they wish. These homes often go to RV parks, pending park-owner approval, and sometimes into backyards and other properties, if zoning laws let them, so they have access to water, electricity and sewerage. The homes can be built to a maximum of eight feet wide by thirteen feet high and can be as long as the owner desires with some stretching out to around 40 feet long just like a regular sized bus.
If you don’t want your home to be on wheels, you can build a brick-and-mortar house on a permanent foundation but that’s when your local building code takes over as there are minimum sizes that must be adhered to. This can sometimes be tricky to navigate as standards differ from state to state and city to city. In the city of Orlando, for example, it’s 350 square feet per person. Although 700 square feet is not excessive for a couple, it is much larger than the 400 or 500 square feet commonly used as a guideline by the tiny house movement.
Zoning codes usually allow for a small accessory structure on a lot, so long as an actual house is already on the property. For this, think backyard guest cottages, garage apartments and mother-in-law suites. The Fair Housing Act, a 1960s federal regulation, still maintains minimum property standards such as one room must be 120 square feet and with one wall being 9 feet long, but only to guard against really small house sizes that sometimes have been used to house people in inhumane ways.
Elaine Walker and Cy Englert of the American Tiny House Association said “The biggest challenges we have had are two big issues, one is zoning and the other is building code. Tiny houses are generally considered RV’s but they really aren’t recreational vehicles so we’d like to see zoning changed. Rockledge has accepted a Tiny House plan so we’re starting to move forward in one area of that city.”
The festival featured professional for-sale full build outs, DIY models, restored vintage RVs and even school buses colorfully painted Partridge Family-style. The concept of “living little” started to rise during the de-cluttering and minimalist craze when Marie Kondo and her mega-best seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” started to get people to think about the way they were living. It then gained enormous traction when the recession hit as a way to combat high mortgages, endless weekends spent on home repair or lawn-mowing, and the bitter reality that your house value can, despite all your work, drop like a rock when the economy tanks.
For some, a Tiny Home can be the pathway to a complete new lifestyle.
“I’m a three time cancer survivor with a six figure income and I was heading for retirement but all my assets went to pay for my medical bills. I had a six figure income, no longer able to work and extremely sick so after I got well I sat there thinking “what am I going to do with my life?” said Vera Struck, Silver Bullet Tiny House owner, “so I thought about sustainability and making it my moral imperative. I am going to retire early and the silver bullet is just part of my five legged sustainability stool, it’s not just people, planet, profit, it’s also social, environmental, economic, cultural and spiritual responsibility. So I designed my whole life differently starting from scratch.”
Another major appeal of tiny homes is that energy costs are much lower, and solar energy is attainable on a smaller budget. All-LED lighting is now pretty standard, and many tiny houses sport photo-voltaic panels. Water remains the most difficult problem to solve as very few tiny houses have cisterns, and nearly all of them use various forms of composting toilets. Water supply has to come from somewhere, while the shower and sink have to drain somewhere too.
One thing that tiny houses on wheels and tiny houses on foundations have in common is the extremely creative use of space, with every nook and cranny filled and lofts and ladders to maximize every square inch. You can usually find everything you need within reach if you stand in one or two places!
There’s a big attraction to going small and it seems a lot of people are now considering a move to the tiny house way of life. Saving money and being able to travel has a strong appeal to those caught in a 9 to 5 job and with a big mortgage payment. Further, homes can come in all shapes and sizes so you don’t have to compromise on luxury. Cornerstone Tiny Homes, based in Longwood, Florida, offers models from 20 to 32 feet long decked out with details like gorgeous glass-tiled showers, granite counter-tops, ceiling-suspended barn doors and special recessed niches for flat-screen TVs.
Tiny homes require the same things that bigger homes do: windows, doors, plumbing, wiring and air conditioning and building costs aren’t just about the materials used. Labor is always a large cost factor and one appeal to those thinking of going this way is the opportunity to build their own home themselves. This allows owners to design the perfect space for their own lifestyle and habits. Tiny house costs can run from as little as $15,000 and really the sky is the limit for those who wish to enjoy more luxury in their home.
The Florida Tiny House Festival was a great event to attend. Extremely educational and it offered the opportunity to really think about what is important in life. It’s not all about acquiring new things and getting caught up in the rat-race. Tiny homes can indeed be a solution to a better way of living for many people and for many different reasons.
More photographs at : www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com
American Tiny House Association – http://americantinyhouseassociation.org
Destiny’s Bridge – www.destinysbridge.org
Vera Struck – www.silverbullettinyhouse.com