Important Notes from the 2017 Tiny House Summit

As I’ve been saying repeatedly, most of the ideas for tiny houses apply to building small DIY homes out of natural materials such as earthbags, straw bales, etc. Tiny houses and small homes in general share much in common, and therefore it’s very much worth the time and effort to learn about what’s going on in both types of housing movements. With that in mind I’ve compiled notes of some important concepts that were covered in the recent Tiny House Summit.

– potential size of the US tiny house market: there are many millions of people who are falling between the cracks in the current economic system — millions are unemployed or part time employed, single parents, baby boomers who lack sufficient savings for managed health care, veterans, students with loans they can’t repay, young people living in their parents basements, handicapped, homeless, divorcees, etc. Also, there is growing demand for grandmother suites, and backyard offices and rental units to generate extra income.

– the current housing market is clearly unsustainable for many reasons. Tiny houses offer one viable solution.

– the amount of pollution from housing is just as bad as from transportation, but for some reason it’s not talked about as often.

– tiny houses on wheels offer unique options: for example, if you lose your job you can move the house to another location near your new job.

– numerous videos talked about various aspects of tiny house trailers: need to level trailers carefully, extensive warnings about using a strong trailer that’s built for the task and load balanced, etc. Many DIY tiny houses are built on inadequate trailers and so there were many warnings about this. A good trailer is just as important as a good foundation in a typical home.

– most tiny houses are not properly attached to trailers: the stresses on a tiny house as it’s rolling down the highway at 60mph are tremendous. If you hit a bump or chuckhole it’s almost like the house is going through an earthquake. The fasteners used to secure about 50% of current tiny houses to their trailers were not designed for this purpose and exceed manufacturer specs. That means the house could fall off the trailer in a windstorm or while going around a curve. That’s why all vehicles on the road today are built to industry wide safety standards.

– need for an air exchanger to ensure proper ventilation to prevent mold, prevent lack of oxygen, help remove offgassing from treated wood, construction glues, wood finishes, etc.

– importance of proper construction details to prevent moisture damage such as rot and mold

– most tiny houses are not legal and owners may get fined someday for moving them on public roads

– most tiny houses are not built to an industry standard. At some point in the near future there very well could be a crackdown on these structures.

– builders of tiny houses not built to an industry standard may be held liable if there are problems in the future

– most DIY tiny houses are best suited to rural areas with few or no building codes

– buying an uncertified DIY tiny house off Craigslist or the Internet is a crapshoot because it might have dozens or hundreds of serious flaws. Most of these problems will not be apparent to the average buyer (I know because I used to do home inspections for years).

– In the not distant future there’s a very good chance tiny houses will be required to meet an industry standard such as IRC. The inspections and permitting process will complicate construction to the point where many people will end up buying factory built tiny houses which could cost around $70,000+. In addition, the new codes will require permanent foundations, as well as sewer, water and electrical grid tie connections that further raise the cost of construction.

– Once tiny houses are legal (by being built to an industry code standard), owners may have difficulty finding suitable land since most neighborhoods nowadays are protected by zoning codes and homeowner association covenants that have minimum house size requirements. These zoning regulations are set up to protect property values in the neighborhood. That may mean the only land available is in poor, undesirable neighborhoods near industrial zones which lack bus service, good schools, etc. Even then, cost of land in cities is still very high. According to one Summit video, the price of a lot in Portland is now up around $400,000. Add everything up and a tiny house could cost around half a million dollars. And, you’d likely be living in an undesirable neighborhood! So obviously readers are cautioned to research all the details carefully.

-Fresno and Ojai California have popular accessory dwelling unit zoning regulations that work much better than places such as Portland, in part because they allow tiny houses on wheels.

– The ICC code discussion for tiny houses on wheels begins in 2021. Right now the new tiny house building codes only apply to tiny houses on permanent foundations.

– In one video Deek Diedricksen gave his list of favorite tiny house books (my favorite video by Deek, by the way.) In addition to books specifically on tiny houses, his favorites also include books on cabins, resorts and vacation homes. This reinforces how tiny houses and small homes have much in common.

8 thoughts on “Important Notes from the 2017 Tiny House Summit”

  1. I’m in the camp of folks building a small home with natural materials in order to provide income by renting out my primary residence. Will soon “retire” and would not be able to without this projected income source, all made possible by the good work of Dr Owen Geiger! Thanks again!

    • Thanks a lot. This is an excellent idea. One of my favorite stories is a guy who made numerous rental cabins one at a time over the years and eventually retired without having to work a regular 9-5 job. Instead of getting paid one time for his labor, he kept earning money year after year.

  2. Dear Owen,
    I am your student who attended the 2011 earthbag workshop. We are now working on a steel post and beam + wood chip clay/light straw clay small home and also the development of a forest garden. At the same time, we also participate in the community development of our village which has only 100 residents. One of the main goal is to attract young people to move here. The main problem is how to help them rapidly build a tiny house on the land they rent or purchase, and the house should be low cost and can be dismantled and re-assembled. Our idea is to use light steel with bolt and nut as main structure, and we are still thinking about the wall material. Could you give us some suggestion? Using trailer as foundation is expensive here in Taiwan.

    • Hello. Glad to hear from you again. The ‘secret’ to natural building is to use whatever is low cost and locally available, and of course you’d know that better than me. Wood chip/clay is a great option. It can last for centuries. It’s very common in Germany for instance. I agree the trailer option is very costly. They’re typically $5-$10,000. You could easily build the whole house for that price. Other options include using pallets, poles, barn wood or other types of salvaged wood, or slab wood:

      Check out the Tiny Texas Houses website for tons of good info on using recycled wood and salvaged materials. His DVD explains how students could make an income from salvaging materials from old buildings while also gathering materials for their own homes.


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