How Big Are Tiny Houses?

interior of tiny a-frame home - how big are tiny houses

Downsizing to a tiny home can really move the needle on a person’s impact on the environment. There’s even research to show it. For her doctoral project in environmental design and planning, Maria Saxton studied the relationship between downsizing and environmental impacts. As she tells The Conversation, the 80 downsizers she studied reduced their ecological footprint “by about 45% on average.”

You might like the sound of a drastic reduction in your carbon, waste and water footprints, but be nervous about giving up the expansive square footage so many of us have become accustomed to having.

So just how big are tiny houses? This post will introduce you to the surprisingly complex world of tiny house sizing. Then we’ll consider what, and who, you can fit in them.

What Are Tiny Houses?

This isn’t a straightforward matter. Different regions have different rules about what a tiny house is; rules that will determine whether and where you can have one.

Tiny houses are typically defined as self-contained homes, designed for year-round use, that are “small.”

Tiny homes on trailers usually don’t legally count as houses and need to be registered as RVs in most jurisdictions.

This designation can be a big problem for tiny homeowners because zoning restrictions could limit parking options to places zoned for RVs, i.e., campgrounds and RV parks.

Tiny homes that are built on a foundation also might not count as houses, but as accessory dwelling units (ADUs). That distinction can pop up when there are local building regulations that state that residences need to have a certain footprint (1000 ft2, for example).

In those cases, a building lot might need to have an existing home on it before someone can put up a tiny home, which is obviously a huge limitation for those interested in making a tiny home their primary residence.

How Big Are Tiny Houses?

tiny home kitchen - how big are tiny houses

What constitutes “tiny” is more than a matter of perspective—it’s also determined by law. Size limits set out under building codes and municipal, provincial and state laws determine how small a house can be before it’s classified as a tiny home. In some places, a tiny home might be 400 ft2 and under. In others, a 1000 ft2 home still counts as a tiny house.

The Tiny House Society offers a state-by-state rundown of laws that determine whether and where someone can have a tiny house. They also include information about how big a tiny house can be, although they warn us that building codes change all the time, so it’s best to check in with your own state, provincial or municipal government for up to date information.

In addition to defining how big tiny houses are, municipalities and regions could also have their own limits on how small the dwelling can be. In Ontario, Canada, for instance, the Building Code requires a home to be 188 ft2. In Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, the minimum is 600 ft2, while St. Petersburg, Florida requires 375 ft2, according to the Tiny House Society. Decatur, Georgia doesn’t require a minimum square footage at all.

Tiny houses on wheels have their own set of rules and limitations that determine how big they can be. Transportation regulations will specify the maximum length, width and weight of the home, in addition to the height (you will need to be able to transport it under infrastructure like bridges, after all).

The Tiny Life has a chart that gives the square footage for various trailer lengths. To ballpark, if you build a tiny home on a trailer, the maximum square footage you could reasonably have is about 400 ft2.

How Many People Can Fit in a Tiny Home?

We mostly imagine single people and couples inhabiting tiny homes, but that needn’t be the case. Many tiny homes feature 2, and even 3, sleeping areas, which offers room for kids. These can be loft areas or walled-off bedrooms, depending on the design.

While it’s rarer, you can find tiny home plans with 2 bathrooms. This feature can make family life in a small space feel a bit less crowded or offer friends and relatives a bit more privacy on an extended visit.

Over at Dwell, Marissa Hermanson spotlights tiny homes that comfortably fit whole families. Some sleep up to 8 people. Whether you could live harmoniously with those other 7 people for more than a night or two depends, of course, on factors outside the scope of this post.

What Features Can You Fit in a Tiny Home?

What you can fit in a tiny home depends on how big your tiny house is (obviously) and how effective your layout is. Your features are also subject to practical considerations like your utility hookups. There’s no sense having a soaker tub if you can’t fill it.

Lastly, if you’re designing or building your own tiny home, the features you have will depend on what you prioritize. If cooking is your passion, you can still have full-sized appliances and a full pantry.

If sleep is your passion, know that a king-sized mattress can fit in a tiny loft bedroom.

Some tiny homes feature full-sized bathtubs or walk-in showers. Others feature walk-in closets.

It’s possible to have a full-sized washer and dryer, but to be honest, it seems like most people choose not to devote that much floor space to laundry. Instead, apartment-sized stacked machines or combination washer-dryers are more the norm.

In smaller tiny homes, deciding to include one larger feature will mean trading off something else. For example, a large corner woodstove means less floor space for the couch. Or a smaller kitchen, if you want to keep the living room spacious.

Even in very tiny homes, however, there’s room for negotiation. If you want a woodstove and a larger living room and kitchen, you can find a wall mounted stove. It’s all about deciding what you need and being innovative about including it.

Which is a good way to think about tiny homes in general. Downsizing is less a matter of going without than it is a matter of focusing on what you need and embracing that.

Feature image: Andrea Davis; Image 1: Clay Banks

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