Tracking the Tiny House Trend

When Sharon Read built her first tiny house in 2010, she didn’t realize at the time that her company was one of a few companies on the leading edge of what would quickly become a national trend. As founder of Seattle Tiny Homes, Read and her team build individualized tiny homes (under 1,000 square feet in size) that meet their owners’ specific needs. “We were already designing spatially-efficient homes when I read an article about the tiny home movement,” says Read. “I latched onto the idea because it was basically a micro version of what we were already doing.”

The tiny home movement has since exploded, with companies like Tumbleweed Tiny House Company hosting workshops across the country and even spawned TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Builders, both of which spotlight the growth of the small-sized home movement around the nation. “We’re selling homes to customers all around the country,” says Read, whose recent projects include the design for a home that will be built on a foundation in Missoula, Mont.; partially-built homes + trailers sold to customers in Idaho, Hawaii, Texas, and California; and of course a variety of sub-1000-square-foot homes for buyers in Washington.

“We’ve just gotten busier and busier every year since 2010,” says Read, who ran into some early challenges during the movement’s “pioneering” days. “It was a brand-new market at the time,” says Read. “There was absolutely nothing to go out and replicate or learn from. We were paving completely new ground.”

Obstacles to Overcome

These days, the machine behind the tiny home movement is less concerned about consumer acceptance of its unique product and more worried about zoning regulations that prohibit trailered homes to be parked overnight in certain areas and/or that prohibit homeowners from putting the tiny homes in their backyards.

“We were the first licensed RV/travel trailer tiny house maker in the U.S., and while we also design homes that are built on foundations, we still run into a lot of issues here in Washington when it comes to zoning,” says Read. The problem, she explains, is that the tiny house isn’t really an RV/travel trailer, but the state insisted that such licensing be used for the homes. As a result, owners fall under the rules for RVs, which state that the homes aren’t meant to be lived in full time, are potential fire hazards, and/or devalue the properties around them.

“Not being able to get our own classification nationally or at a state level really hurts us,” says Read, “mainly because most people who buy tiny houses want to basically live in their homes in a backyard.”

A bill that’s currently making its way through the Washington State legislature could help ease some of Read’s zoning challenges. Already passed by the House and currently under review by the Senate, EHB 1123 eliminates restrictions on minimum gross floor space for single-family homes in cities with populations of less than 125,000 people. And while the bill wouldn’t help tiny home owners in cities like Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma, it would open doors for more small dwellings to be used as permanent residences in other areas of the state.

“Currently, many tiny homes skirt regulations by operating as either attached dwelling units (e.g. backyard cottages) or as recreational vehicle trailers,” according to Seattle-based real estate news site Curbed, “but this legislation could pave the way for the tiniest of tiny homes to sit on their own land and have their own concrete foundations.”

A quick peek online reveals a number of tiny homes built on foundations in Washington,  currently either for sale or recently sold. They include a 460-square-foot, 1-bedroom/1-bath corrugated steel cabin that its owners were selling for $379,000. Built in 1928, the Wallingford property featured a minimalist space on a 3,500-square-foot lot.
In Arlington, another listing boasted, “The property has enough space to build a 20,000-square-foot hunting lodge, but why bother when a 200-square-foot home will suffice?” On the market for $100,000, the tiny house is situated near Lake Riley and was being touted as “the perfect spot for weekend campers, a sweet vacation home, or a year-round residence.” Also on the market at press time was a 1950 “sweet garden cottage” in Uptown, where the 163-square-foot abode came with one bedroom, one bathroom, and “a bonus room that could be used as an den, guest room, bathroom, mudroom, or laundry.”

This Trend is Taking Off 

With roughly 55 percent of her company’s tiny house sales involving the 55-plus crowd, Read says the ability to legally put a small abode into a son’s or daughter’s backyard would elevate the movement even further. “Right now a lot of these people are just running under the radar; as long as the neighbors don’t complain, then nothing’s being said,” says Read, who sees the overall penchant for mobile living and the desire to lessen one’s carbon footprint as other key drivers of the tiny home trend going forward.
“A lot of people want to live close to a major city like Seattle or Portland, and they want to do it simply by living in a backyard,” says Read. “We’re at the point where every generation sees the benefits of tiny homes and for different reasons. Once the zoning opens up and the trend continues to grow, it’s going to become a whole new way of living.”

Read, who is a member of the Tiny House Alliance, sees small homes filling a real need in urban environments where “traditional” homes may be financially out of reach for retirees living on fixed incomes or younger singles and couples who are just getting situated. “Before we can get there, the government really has to solve the RV code regarding the foundation vs. mobile issue,” says Read. “We’ll get there within the next 10 years, and once that happens—and as new cities start to allow tiny houses—the trend is just going to take off.”

Seattle Tiny Homes -
Tiny Tumbleweed House Company -

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