Detroit — Twenty-five tiny houses are under construction in a blighted Detroit neighborhood by a non profit group with a plan that could become a national model for helping people who earn about $12,000 a year become homeowners in seven years.
Energy efficiency is a top priority for the diminutive dwellings being built by Cass Community Social Services for cash-strapped college students, young adults who have aged out of the foster care system, senior citizens and homeless people.
Nine inches of fiberglass insulation and vinyl windows by Genex Window and Door Co., which is based in the Detroit suburb of Warren, are two of the building products selected to keep utility bills at a minimum for the rent-to-own residents of the 250- to 400-square foot houses.
“It's not only a small space but a green space,” said the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of the agency and pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church, as she stood inside a 300-square foot Tudor-style tiny house. “I'm told the electric and heating bills for the first house, in the middle of February, when it's cold in Michigan, should be $32 because we have 9 inches of insulation and very energy efficient windows.”
The tiny house trend started as a way of living simple. Proponents extol the advantages of a minimalist lifestyle. They own fewer things, have less clutter. They reduce their energy consumption. They pay fewer bills. They spend less time on house work. They also can travel if their tiny house is on wheels — but that's not the case with the Detroit homes, which are on foundations.
“Our people don't own cars and we want to help repopulate a neighborhood,” Fowler said.
In the last couple years, the appeal of living small has broadened from do-it-yourselfers to low-income housing advocates to the general public. Now it could be on the verge of nationwide acceptance. On Dec. 6, the International Code Council approved an appendix to the 2018 International Residential Code, which sets minimum requirements for habitable structures. The appendix can be the model U.S. code for tiny houses used as primary residences.
The appendix was drafted by Andrew Morrison, who lives in a 207-square-foot tiny home with his wife and two kids.
It addresses issues surrounding the legality of tiny homes from a building code perspective with the exception of the use of a trailer as a foundation system. The proposal covers loft access, ceiling heights above and below lofts, and emergency egress and escape routes, among other issues.
“The tiny house movement continues to grow and I think it is still developing into something long term,” Morrison said in an email. “Whether the population on a large scale will live in 400-square-foot [or less] homes or not is yet to be seen; however, I think one of two options will become reality. No. 1, large swaths of the population will make the move to living tiny. Or, No. 2, the tiny house industry will have a huge impact on overall house square footage across the U.S., bringing it back into scale. Either way, there will be a move to smaller houses as time pushes on.”