TIME housing

Tiny Houses With Big Ambitions

Is the tiny-houses movement a viable solution for American homeowners?

Anyone who’s been to the suburbs in the past half-century knows that American homes have been getting larger and more elaborate year after year. The average size of new homes has swelled by 50 percent since 1970, despite that the average family size decreased during the same period. And it’s not just here; similar trends have held sway in other prosperous, mostly Western countries.

As with most things, a countertrend, focused on homes that are smaller and simpler than the norm, emerged in recent decades. Sometimes referred to as the “tiny house movement,” the concept describes efforts by architects, activists and frugal home owners to craft beautiful, highly functional houses of 1,000 square feet or less (some as small as 80 square feet). It’s both a practical response to soaring housing costs and shrinking incomes, and an idealistic expression of good design and sensible resource use.

The most ardent advocates and early adopters of the concept were often looking to downsize and simplify their lives, create an affordable second home or find innovative ways to live outside the mainstream. Some small homes are on wheels and therefore resemble RVs, but they are built to last as long as traditional homes. Others represent clever architectural solutions to odd building lots or special design challenges. Aging baby-boomers see them as an efficient way to adapt to their changing needs. Most tiny houses are tailored for middle-class and wealthy families who made a conscious decision to “build better, not bigger.”

But natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and economic catastrophes like the Great Recession inspired many people to wonder if the movement might offer solutions to pressing housing crises, whether temporary or long-term. Cheaper to build and maintain, built mostly of ecologically friendly materials, requiring no building permits and taking up far less real estate than traditional houses, the appeal of “living small” is obvious to many people. Some imagine entire villages built of tiny homes as solutions to homelessness.

The movement itself remains small, however promising. Only about one percent of home buyers today go for houses of 1,000 square feet or less. That may be changing as more people become familiar with the ideas that animate the movement and as middle-class finances remain precarious.

Watch the video above and make up your own mind: Would you opt to live small if you could?

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