At a time when two-story foyers, spa bathrooms, dressing-room closets and decks with outdoor kitchens are the amenities that make up a well-appointed house, a lot of first-time buyers and empty nesters wonder just what is the point.
Students are leaving college saddled with debt and they're reluctant to take on more when a mortgage can eat up to a third or half of their income. A lot of baby boomers, on the other hand, are ready to fly the coop of their suburban trappings with a less-house, more-life mentality.
With so many people keen on affordable, sustainable, simple lifestyles, a tiny house movement is afoot. And, Dow Building Solutions is backing the call to downsize of one young couple.
The Midland, Mich.-based company is one of the sponsors of the Tiny House Expedition — a documentary project of Alexis Stephens and Christian Parsons. The pair built a 130-square-foot house on wheels and they are towing it around the U.S. and Canada to tell the story of how micro-housing, which is less than 500 square feet, can solve problems for individuals and entire communities.
Some will argue that their diminutive dwelling is just a DIY trailer, but a growing number of people see the trend as part of the answer to issues about affordable, quality housing.
By the way, the average house is now 2,600 square feet, which exceeds the housing bubble years of 2,400 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the tide could be turning. From Aug. 7-9, Stephens and Parson will be in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the first-ever Tiny House Jamboree. The speaker list includes professional builders, HGTV hosts and an interior designer from Ikea.
During their next 18 months of travel, Stephens and Parson also will meet with people who are making ends meet on fixed incomes or overcoming homelessness thanks to tiny houses. And, they'll be stopping in cities that need to fill in vacant lots to revitalize neighborhoods or are tackling zoning issues, building code compliance and other government regulations related to the increasing love of little abodes.
Dow will get mileage out of any mentions of the insulation used for the film-making duo's tiny house, which can fit in two parking spaces. The company provided Styrofoam brand insulation and Froth-Pak spray foam insulation for the walls, noting in a press release that when there's not an inch to waste its products have thin profiles and are lightweight.
The company also created a graphic about the “big science behind a tiny home.” It gets into how spray foams block air infiltration and reduce moisture that causes mold and mildew as well as how air leaks need to be sealed because they account for 40 percent of the energy used to heat and cool a house.
However, Michael Peaden, a technical sales rep for Dow, says in a video on the company website that his interest in the project goes beyond pushing the products to keep Stephens and Parsons warm on their journey.
“These two people are going to be traveling the country inspiring people to think big, build small, build efficient, build sustainable and that is the human element at work,” said Peaden, adding he met the couple at an energy efficiency conference in Ashville, N.C.
Stephens and Parsons are tentatively scheduled to visit the state of Dow's headquarters in December 2017 with filming planned at an “urban homestead tiny house” in Detroit. The Motor City was hit hard by the Great Recession and now has the dubious distinction of going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history to handle some $18 billion of debt.
The suburbs felt the hurt, too. At my previous publication, I helped organize a yearly holiday drive that gave money to non-profits with no strings attached. If someone needed to buy tires for their car to get to work, the donations could go for that. Other money bought household goods for unlikely roommates, like two single mothers and their children moving in together to scrape by.
The Great Recession was a big catalyst for the tiny house movement and stagnant incomes continue to make it a practical solution for many Americans. The Tiny House Expedition began July 12 in North Carolina at a Habitat for Humanity dedication of a 480-square foot, $39,000 house for a woman living off a $925-a-month disability check.
Sure there have to be a lot of drawbacks about tiny house life. Your head is just a few inches from the ceiling of the loft bed. There's really no privacy if you live with someone, and I'd say Kohler Co.'s odor-eating, polypropylene toilet seat would be a good investment.
Still, I was struck by Parsons's video of a little boy giving his opinion about the tiny house he built with Stephens. It underscores the appeal of having a place to call your own be it ever so humble. The child said with a smile, “It's so small and it's just cool. Only one family can live in this house.”