What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable

by CUBICOON

The tiny house movement has seen growing momentum in the past decade; and, interest is still surging. Why? Many who have hopped onto this downsizing trend believe that this minimalist lifestyle aligns with changing values and priorities towards experiences and connections, rather than things. Not to mention that the pandemic and WFH boom led to greater demand. 

Another story is – tiny homes seem to be the way to more sustainable and affordable living – good for the planet, good for the wallet. Over the decades, house sizes have grown tremendously. In the 50s, newly constructed homes in the US were around 950 square feet. In 1973, it grew to over 1,600 square feet and in 2017, the average size increased to 2,631 square feet – a whopping 63% growth. 

This growth is seen in several countries around the world and it has harmed the environment in many ways. Increasing energy consumption to power larger houses means more greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. As we build bigger, we also eat up green spaces resulting in loss in urban green spaces which lead to fragmented ecosystems and lower biodiversity.

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Toa Heftiba

While the concept of minimalist living has existed for centuries, this wasn’t a trend until the modern lifestyle of the last few decades came along. Similarly, the danger of climate change has been a constant topic for decades but only recently have there been clear boosts in sustainable practices. 

Combining these two, plus the rising problem of affordable housing, tiny house living is no longer applicable only for minimalists and millennials. Many are seeing beyond the limited space to its other promising advantages. 

So then, what makes tiny homes affordable, and more importantly, sustainable? Here are some that we’ve gathered.

1. More leeway on construction materials

With tiny houses being so small – only defined at around 400 square feet – you get to exercise more creativity in the building process. Architecture and design are crucial because what tiny homes lack in real estate, design ingenuity could potentially address. We’ve seen several oddly shaped tiny houses that work for its occupants because this unique feature caters to individual preferences and lifestyles. There is no one way to design or build a tiny house (which makes them all the more exciting!) but their size is the stepping stone to sustainability.  

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable

Photo source: Olive Nest Tiny Homes

First, you don’t need materials in large quantities. Just from this, you learn to adjust and use materials and space more efficiently. Plus, no need to cut down more trees or process more concrete. Its size makes it easier for you to construct your tiny home entirely using reclaimed or salvaged materials. 

Next, in construction materials, for it to be considered eco-friendly or sustainable, you need to consider its lifespan, and whether it can be reused. Because of its size, it’s easier to do this with tiny homes. Many are made from reclaimed timber, shipping pallets, shiplap or pine flooring, corrugated tin, reused windows, barn doors and a whole lot more. With this approach, you reduce waste, use less energy to process materials and therefore, contribute much less to landfills. 

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Clay Banks

2. Less time and money needed to build a tiny home

In a similar vein, there’s also a higher probability that you’ll take less time to build a tiny home compared to a traditional 2,000-square feet home. Consequently, there’s less investment involved in tiny homes too. 

According to data from HomeAdvisor, building a typical single family home in the US will cost an average of $285,000 (and still going up). On the other hand, tiny homes cost around $50,000 to $85,000 to build, depending on whether you want it to have foundation or be on wheels. Both of these averages exclude the cost of land and will depend on the economic situation, raw materials and other issues. Also, of course, these amounts will change according to your design demands no matter what type of house you’re building. 

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

Photo source: Pexels | Pixabay (Top) and Magic K (Bottom)

500 hours is a good rule of thumb when estimating how long it takes to build a tiny house from scratch for first timers, or those who have no experience in building any type of residence before. Factor in design discussions, procurement of materials and shipping time, doubling this number will be just about right. Considering many tiny house builders or DIYers only do this on the weekends, it’s already a lot less compared to traditional houses which typically take a year, full-time. 

3. Lower (or removing) the usual mortgage costs

Investment on a tiny house includes a one time upfront cost and that’s about it. If you stick to your plan and only have minor changes, the rest can be considered just small miscellaneous costs. As such, on total, it’ll be lower compared to the mortgage you’ll be stuck with in a traditional single family home. 

Additionally, there’s a perk for traditional homeowners who happen to have a backyard big enough for a tiny home. Rent that space out and cater to the rising number of tiny home DIYers and give yourself some easy passive income. Cost of land is typically the biggest expense of living in a tiny house – with rental averaging around $500-$600 a month.

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable

Photo source: The Nest Tiny House

If you don’t want others on your property, perhaps you can make use of that open backyard space and get onto the tiny home trend too. Make one for yourself a few steps away from your living room and turn it into a multi-purpose space – a home for aging parents, a separate office space or maybe a playroom to hang out with friends.

4. Easier to invest in renewable energy

The most straightforward way to generate renewable energy is through solar panels. While expensive, having a tiny home might be your chance to invest in this eco-friendly practice seeing as you will only need 3-4 panels to power your entire home. These panels can give your home electricity, hot water and heating all year round. As you absorb more of the sun’s energy during the day, you can store them into batteries to use during cloudy, rainy and dark wintry days and nights. 

Apart from solar panels, there are several other ways for renewable energy at home. Hydro power works if you live near a river or lake. While installation and setting up the generator may be challenging, the source is much more stable and continuous compared to solar panels. Other ways are through wind turbines or wind energy, on-demand propane, biomass systems or simply, through more windows or skylights. 

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable

Photo source: Best Tiny Cabins

5. Lower carbon footprint

Due to its size, it follows that tiny homes require lesser energy than traditional homes. There are different areas where this applies:

  • Following our first point above, it takes way less time and materials to build tiny homes. If traditional homes need more than half a dozen logging trucks just to get enough lumber on site, tiny homes only need half of a logging truck for all its lumber use. 
  • Tiny homes need less light bulbs – actually just 6 (plus a couple) – to light up the entire space, much less if you design it with large windows and skylights. 
  • Energy required to heat and cool a tiny house is less than 10% of the power needed to do the same for traditional homes. Cooling and heating an average single family home takes around 4,000-8,000 pounds of CO2 a year while a tiny house only needs 280-560 pounds; thereby enormously lowering your greenhouse gas emissions.

While energy consumption depends on the design of houses, tiny homes will still be so much more sustainable and eco-friendly compared to traditional homes. 

Photo source: Curbed

6. Savings on utilities expense

As you get creative in building your tiny home and save on time and cost of materials, you also save a lot more on utility bills. With the points above, you might feel that the initial investment in a green, sustainable tiny home is slightly steep. However, these initial, building steps result in money saved in the long run from living in a sustainable home.

The math behind how tiny houses save on utilities expense really isn’t the challenging advanced calculus we had in school. Tiny homeowners say they spend less than $1,000 on expenses every month (and this figure is beyond just utilities; it includes others, like renting land, groceries, internet, etc.).

  • Utilities cost around $50 a month for the typical tiny home size which is far less compared to the average $200 a month of single family homes.
  • Remember that point above about renewable energy? In the long run, you’ll have benefited from your initial investments because it would seem like electricity, with heating and cooling, are free.
  • If your tiny home has wider, larger windows, then that further decreases your electricity bills with abundant natural light.
  • Take advantage of natural gas or propane for cooking and heating to further lower your power bills
What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Andrea Davis

7. Fewer items and no more overpriced furniture

One of the main reasons tiny homeowners hopped onto this trend is because of its minimalist living advantages. You get to focus on important things like enhancing experiences and strengthening connections with nature and self. With this move to minimalism comes fewer belongings – simply because you have no space. Just enjoying the relaxed and organized life this style brings. 

Furniture to fill a traditional home comes with a sizable price tag. Plus, many of us have the tendency to buy more furniture and decor than we need (no use denying it). But a tiny house eliminates all that. 

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable | CUBICOON

Photo source: Unsplash | Clay Banks

Not only furniture and small decor but you also learn to live on less clothing, shoes, bags and other apparel and accessories. There’s also less kitchen crockery and utensils needed – just filling your pantry up on what you need as you live alone, or with your partner, in the tiny house. With some leeway for a few guests or so. Maybe even freeing up some wall or counter space by not having a TV and instead, watching shows and playing games on smaller, less intrusive devices like a laptop or tablet.

What Makes Tiny Homes Sustainable and Affordable

Photo source: Treehugger 

8. Easier maintenance and upkeep

Along the same lines of the previous point, having less stuff and a smaller space mean minimal upkeep. Consequently, you’ll feel the tendency for impulse buys slowly dwindle too since there won’t be space for those new things unless you intentionally make room for them. Therefore, as a side benefit, you get to maintain that padding on your wallets and pockets too. 

Naturally, tiny homes will still need maintenance over time, but like you guessed, maintenance won’t be as much or as costly as traditional homes. If you were part of your tiny home’s design and building process, then so much better for you. Since you know what went where and how your home functions in every nook and cranny, it’ll be easier to pinpoint maintenance areas. And, better yet, try your hand at DIY-ing and fixing some parts yourself!

Photo source: The Urban List

Tiny homes can make you a friend to Mother Nature; while also helping you learn about sustainable living, the benefits of living simply and allowing you to save more. Based on all the points above, if this is something you’re thinking of, tiny living could be less taxing financially and more rewarding emotionally and mentally. 

There are even new studies suggesting how tiny living, or just trying it out for a year or so, could ultimately help you stick to your sustainable environmentally-friendly lifestyles in the long run. How’s that for some deeper food for thought?

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