Author Mark Richards

Concerned about the increasing costs of housing and wanting to live simpler, less-cluttered lives, increasing numbers of people are opting to live in tiny homes. What are they? And why are they proving so popular?  

We all know the feeling. You are standing in the queue at the Post Office – and the person behind you is standing just that little bit too close. They have invaded your personal space: you feel uncomfortable, wary, even threatened. It is the same at work, at a party, even standing at a bus stop. There is always someone who invades your personal space.

But now it seems that increasing numbers of us are more than willing to drastically reduce our personal space – at least insofar as our homes are concerned – as more people opt to live in what is known as tiny homes.

What are tiny homes?

A tiny home is usually defined as a home that has a floor area of less than 37 square metres – roughly 400 square feet or the size of a carriage on the London Underground.

A recent report from the consumer group Which? found that the number of tiny homes being built in the UK rose by 40% last year, driven by the housing shortage and affordability problems for first-time buyers. Which? found a tiny home on sale in London for £450,000 and the smallest one – in Brent – measured just 8 square metres (86 square feet), which is barely larger than a prison cell.

Could I get a mortgage on a tiny home?

In its report Which? did warn of some difficulties: David Blake, their principal mortgage advisor said,

“With the average London micro-property selling for £279,000 smaller homes can represent a realistic alternative for many people, but they can also be harder to mortgage.”

Which? cited the fact that RBS and Nationwide will not lend on properties with an area of less than 30 square metres (323 square feet) but you would suspect that they may fall into line with other lenders as the demand for such properties increases.

About 7,800 tiny homes were built in the UK last year, up from 5,605 in 2015 as changes introduced in 2013 allowed developers to convert city centre office blocks into flats. Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of the homes were in London, but tiny homes were also popular in other cities such as Liverpool, Birmingham and Leicester (where a 22 square metre/237 square feet flat was on sale for £77,000).

Is it just the UK?

By Tammy (Weekend with Dee) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsFar from it. With plenty of space and – if the soap operas can be believed – every bedroom having a palatial ensuite, the last place you would expect to see tiny homes being popular is in the United States.

But the ‘Tiny House Movement’ is big – if I can say that – in the United States. It is part of a wider, ‘tiny living’ movement, as people look to live more simply, with less cost, less impact on the environment and more time for life’s adventures. Tiny homes are a key part of this with people consciously choosing to downsize the space they live in. The typical American home is around 2,200 square feet – it was larger, but the average has fallen slightly since the financial recession. That is similar to the average size of a home in Canada, and more than twice the size of the average British home at 818 square feet.

But as described above, a ‘tiny house’ is even smaller – typically between 100 and 400 square feet, as people look to live in a simpler, smaller, more efficient space.

Why are people moving into tiny homes?

There are three key reasons. First and foremost a tiny house is simply much more affordable. It also has much less environmental impact and it takes less looking after – hence you have far more free time. It is early days in the UK, but there are some interesting statistics from America, whereby people typically spend between a third and a half of their income on the roof over their heads. The numbers make a compelling case:

  • 78% of those living in a tiny house own their own home – compared to 65% of all Americans
  • 55% of tiny house people have more savings than the average American
  • Tellingly, 68% of tiny house people have no mortgage – compared to 29% of all Americans
  • 2 out of 5 tiny house owners are over 50 – presumably having downsized as the children have left home. (No, I cannot see ‘tiny home’ and ‘teenage children’ in the same sentence either…)

How many people in the US live in tiny homes?

It is hard to get an accurate figure: sometimes they have simply been built and – given the amount of open space in the US – the owners of the land may not be aware that they are playing host to a tiny home. Another factor that makes assessing the numbers difficult – and another great advantage of tiny homes – is that you can take your home with you.

So are tiny homes the future? There is no doubt that more and more people are concerned about the cost of housing and the environmental impact houses make. Couple this with a desire to lead a simpler, less-cluttered life and it is not hard to see why there are now plenty of companies in the US making tiny homes. Clearly, the UK has much less space – but it does have plenty of office buildings that are ripe for conversion. With continuing pressure on wages, we can expect to find more and more people deciding that a tiny home is an answer to their own personal housing crisis.

Are there any disadvantages to tiny homes?

There is, of course, one very serious – and final – risk that we need to consider with micro/tiny homes. That risk is one-upmanship – or more probably, one-downmanship: could tiny homes see the return of the Four Yorkshiremen?

‘Aye, our ’ouse were only four ’udnred square foot.’

‘Four ’undred square foot? There were six of us in two ’undred square foot.’

‘We’d ’ave killed each other for two ’undred square foot. They were twelve of us – and our Grandma – plus four pigs – in ’ouse so small it didn’t exist.’

‘Only four pigs, Obadiah? Luxury…’