Tiny Homes Are Changing How We Live

A look at how tiny homes are transforming how we live through saving on resources, costs, and increasing mobility.

Tiny Homes Are Changing How We Live

In 2001, the tiny home trend emerged in the United States as an affordable and sustainable living alternative to traditional housing. Defined as less than 400 square feet, tiny homes are primarily full-time dwellings that can be permanent or mobile, on wheels or a skid [8]. The appeal? They require fewer resources, save on costs, and offer increased flexibility and mobility to tenants.

In this blog, we explore how the tiny home became popularized in the United States, how they’re changing the way we live, and the potential challenges living in a tiny home poses using research from the Cypris Innovation Dashboard.

The tiny home trend—how did it get here?

The current tiny housing trend as we see it in North America began when Jay Shafer founded the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, the first company aimed specifically at producing designs for tiny houses in 2001. A tiny house enthusiast, Jay Shafer decided to start the company after helping others with design plans and implementation of tiny houses [7]. A year later, he founded the Small House Society alongside Greg Johnson, Shay Solomon, and Nigel Valdez [7]. Now, Tumbleweed is one of several companies building tiny homes made to order and deliver in the United States.

Over the years, the popularization of tiny homes has steadily increased. According to the Cypris Innovation Dashboard, innovation activity in the tiny home market has been, as a whole, growing over the last 5 years, with a 29.17% average growth rate. Today, the demand for alternative housing options like tiny homes is expected to increase, as housing prices climb.

How tiny homes are changing how we live.

The idea of intentionally downsizing ones living quarters begs the question: how much does a person need to live comfortably? Those who have chosen the tiny home lifestyle are working to change how they view what is “necessary” to live life. Of the many drivers that push people toward the tiny home life are a desire for cost-efficiency, a reduced impact on the environment, and a more mobile way of living which we explore more in-depth below.

Reduced Cost:

Tiny homes offer a unique solution to the lack of housing affordability. As the cost of conventional housing in the United States increases, the demand for tiny homes is expected to increase as well. Tiny homes in general are much cheaper to build and maintain. While many people can barely afford a down payment on a larger home, many tiny homes cost between $20,000 and $50,000 [10]. The general cost of living is also lower. One study found that a tiny homeowner is able to live on only $15,000 a year including luxuries such as a car, eating out, and comprehensive insurance [6]. As a result, people are left with more money to spend on things aside from housing costs.

Sustainable Living:

As the global population and urbanization continue to increase, so do consumption and our impact on the environment. Tiny homes are often viewed as a solution to unsustainable development, a building option that reduces the impact on the environment. While efforts have been taken in recent decades to improve energy efficiency in housing, the residential sector still contributes a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [2]. Buildings account for over 1/3 of global energy use and nearly 40% of GHG emissions [2]. Studies indicate that there is a direct correlation between house size and operational energy use [1,4]. In the United States, the average size of a single-family home has doubled since 1950, leading to a profound environmental impact [11]. With their smaller size, tiny homes offer an ideal solution to reducing energy use and environmental impact. One particular tiny home study found that on a per capita basis, tiny homes lead to at least a 70% reduction in life cycle GHG emissions compared to a traditional house [2].

Freedom and Mobility:

Since the onset of COVID-19, remote work has become increasingly popular. Statistics on remote workers reveal that more than 4.7 million people work remotely at least half the time in the United States, while 16% of companies globally are fully-remote [12]. Remote workers are typically less stressed, and maintain a better work-life balance. Fewer people commuting to offices also means fewer cars on the road, which contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As more and more people gain the ability to work from anywhere, they can also decide the live anywhere. Tiny homes facilitate easy movement— instead of packing up things and finding someone to care for your home, you can just hitch your home to a trailer and go [7].

The challenges of tiny homes.

Many tiny homeowners face legality issues, primarily due to zoning restricting mobile homes. Municipalities also often have minimum size limits for habitability [7] typically between, 850 and 1,800 square feet (roughly 79 to 167 square meters) which can pose a challenge.

“Zoning regulations, restrictive covenants (i.e. provisions in the deed for the property that restrict the way the property may be used by the owners) and design standards for specific subdivisions, and even mortgage banking requirements can significantly limit options for creating small, space-efficient, single-family houses” [11].

As a result, many choose to build tiny homes on trailers, subjecting them to different restrictions than stationary homes [11]. However, this practice can be challenging since in some areas they are considered part-time residences.

Despite their issues, tiny homes provide a unique way of living that can save on costs, reduce environmental impact, and improve mobility. As housing costs and the focus on sustainable living continue to increase, innovation and adoption in the tiny home space will continue to grow.

For more insights on the tiny home space or another research area, please visit ipcypris.com to get started using the Innovation Dashboard and gain access to 500M+ global data points.


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  2. Crawford, R H, and A Stephan. "Tiny House, Tiny Footprint? The Potential For Tiny Houses To Reduce Residential Greenhouse Gas Emissions". IOP Conference Series: Earth And Environmental Science, vol 588, no. 2, 2020, p. 022073. IOP Publishing

  3. Foreman, P.; Lee, A.W. (2005). A tiny home to call your own: Living well in just write houses. Buena Vista, VA: Good Earth Publications.

  4. Guerra Santin O, Itard L and Visscher H (2009) The effect of occupancy and building characteristics on energy use for space and water heating in Dutch residential stock Energy and Buildings 41(11) 1223-1232

  5. Krista Evans (2020) Tackling Homelessness with Tiny Houses: An Inventory of Tiny House Villages in the United States, The Professional Geographer, 72:3, 360-370, DOI: [10.1080/00330124.2020.1744170]

  6. Mitchell, R. (2013, April 3). How Little Can You Live On?

  7. Mutter, Amelia (2013) Growing Tiny Houses Motivations and Opportunities for Expansion Through Niche Markets. iiiee.

  8. Shearer H and Burton P 2019 Towards a typology of tiny houses Housing, Theory and Society 36(3) 298-318

  9. Wagner, Ron '93 (2018) "Tiny Houses, Big Dreams,"Furman Magazine: Vol. 61: Iss. 1 , Article 20.

  10. Wax, E. (2012, November 28). Home, squeezed home: Living in a 200-square-foot space, The Washington Post.

  11. Wilson, A., & Boehland, J. (2005). Small is beautiful - US house size, resource use, and the environment. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 9(1-2), 277-287.

  12. [https://www.apollotechnical.com/statistics-on-remote-workers/#:~:text=Statistics on remote workers reveal,to an Owl labs study]

  13. Cypris Innovation Dashboard; Query: Tiny + Houses; https://ipcypris.com/