tiny river house, fantasy and reality

If you dream about tiny houses, then our Drina River icon should mesmerize you. Built by local boys in the 1960s, the shelter has been lovingly maintained for 40 years. Today it’s part of Tara National Park, in Serbia.

Let’s share this Serbian river house in glamorous and less-glamorous poses. Meet the loyal owner, watch the river flood and also check Tara Mountain tourist info. Even with reality-checking, our icon remains wonderful to see.

Fantasy Images

The Drina River flows down a gorgeous canyon, as seen in this Tara National Park viewpoint, Serbia. (Irene Becker)

The Drina River flows down a gorgeous canyon, as seen in this Tara National Park viewpoint, Serbia. (Irene Becker)

Down on the Drina River, we can see the tiny house ahead. It’s a calm day on the river. (Vlada Marinkovic)

Down on the Drina River, we can see the tiny house ahead. It’s a calm day on the river. (Vlada Marinkovic)

Now we’ll introduce the iconic image of “tiny house on a rock,” which is downright drool-worthy. (Irene Becker)

Now we’ll introduce the iconic image of “tiny house on a rock,” which is downright drool-worthy. (Irene Becker)

In celebration, here's an impressionist painting of the tiny house perched on its island site. (Kucica na Steni, facebook)

In celebration, here’s an impressionist painting of the tiny house perched on its island site. (Kucica na Steni, facebook)

Reality Images

How about a destructive flood? The Drina River runs high and right past the tiny house. (Kucica na Steni, youtube)

How about a destructive flood? The Drina River runs high and right past the tiny house. (Kucica na Steni, youtube)

One of the original builders, and its  current owner, maintains the tiny house. He’s taking us on a video tour. (CCTV)

One of the original builders, and its current owner, maintains the tiny house. He’s taking us on a video tour. (CCTV)

Okay, the Serbian river house isn’t exactly a secret. It’s a lovely place to visit, filled with tourists. (Tara Mountain)

Okay, the Serbian river house isn’t exactly a secret. It’s a lovely place to visit, filled with tourists. (Tara Mountain)

smaller houses, antidotes to debt

Smaller houses should be a logical economic and green choice, saving buyers on their purchase prices and beyond. Yet even the nicest places are viewed as starter or vacation homes. It’s time to change.

Renting or buying:  More American homes are owned and occupied than rented. However the percentage of owner-occupied homes peaked in 2004 and has continued on a quick descent. Of course, renters are filling them.

Last year, 65.2% of U.S. homes were occupied by owners. That's a pretty rapid decline of 4.2% from the 69.4% peak in mid-2004. Interestingly, the owned and occupied rate seems on course to return to mid-1990s levels. (Pew Research)

Last year, 65.2% of U.S. homes were occupied by owners. That’s a pretty rapid decline of 4.2% from the 69.4% peak in mid-2004. Interestingly, the owned and occupied rate seems on course to return to mid-1990s levels. (Pew Research)

Everyone with cold feet:  American renters up to age 64 have shied away from jumping into the home ownership pool. From 2001 to 2011, the annual shift plummeted by nearly 43 percent.

Look at households switching from renting to owning homes over the prior year. In 2011, some 4% bought homes as compared to 7%  in 2001. While under 44 year olds drove the trend, each age group slowed ownership. (Pew Research)

Look at households switching from renting to owning homes over the prior year. In 2011, 4% bought homes as compared to 7% in 2001. While under 44 year olds drove the trend, each age group slowed ownership. (Pew Research)

College loan pressure:  Some 37 percent of young households shouldered school loans, in the latest Pew statistics.  That’s a large group of would-be home buyers, mostly sitting on the sidelines!

Households are saddled with student loans. For heads of households under 40 years old, 37% were paying or deferring their school debts in 2010, a big leap from the 22% in 2001. (Pew Research)

Households are saddled with student loans. For heads of households under 40 years old, 37% were paying or deferring their school debts in 2010, a big leap from the 22% in 2001. (Pew Research)

Income high, net worth low:  How will the under-40 year olds decide to live? For those paying school loans, assets are scarce to fund a large down payment and home. It’s not all doom and gloom, with smaller home options out there.

College-educated Americans do earn 79% more than their high-school grad counterparts. Still college grads have limited net worth due to their loans, which drive up all forms of debt. (Pew Research)

College-educated Americans do earn 79% more than their high-school grad counterparts. Still college grads have limited net worth due to their loans, which drive up all forms of debt. (Pew Research)

tiny house with or without garage

Tiny and small houses typically lack attached garages. You park a car or truck outside, under some shelter or in a separate garage. Would you appreciate a fully attached, enclosed garage?

With garage:  There are some tiny house plans available with garages. Perfect Little House, for example, offers Salal Studio. From the outside, it looks like a full cottage and neatly encloses its studio and garage.

The Salal Studio features a 240 sq. ft.  upstairs studio with bath. Downstairs is a 338 sq. ft. garage and inside staircase. (Perfect Little House)

The Salal Studio features a 240 sq. ft. upstairs studio with bath. Downstairs is a 338 sq. ft. garage and inside staircase. (Perfect Little House)

Without garage:  Of course, tiny cottages are designed to maximize living space. Perfect Little House’s Woodland model offers curb appeal with its wrap-around porch. There’s space to sleep four people, cook, dine, bathe and hang out.

The Woodland has open-space living, two bedrooms and 1.5 baths. This popular home measures 950 sq. ft. (Perfect Little Home)

The Woodland has open-space living, two bedrooms and 1.5 baths. This popular home measures 950 sq. ft. (Perfect Little Home)

Garage theories:  Tiny house design and ethos likely drive down the demand for garages, and here are some reasons we’ve heard.

  • Seen as less green or sustainable design
  • Considered out-of-fashion these days
  • Takes up too much prime living space
  • Not worth spending money on garage

It’s possible that garages could become more desirable, depending on how tiny or small houses get used. If built as as secondary or rental unit, then a garage might be a nice extra lure for its occupants. In a single primary unit, the garage might be welcomed for extreme weather, safety reasons or storage.

We’re interested in learning more, from you.

shed ready: six ways to buy them

Congratulations! You have decided to buy a backyard shed, as a new personal office and hang-out area. It should be easy on the eyes, and wired for lights. You are considering adding heat and air-conditioning.

Yet there’s a major hurdle: you recoil at the idea of assembling children’s toys and furniture, let alone a full shed. Someone else is going to have to build this structure for you, while you somehow pay and support their efforts.

Let’s start by looking at pre-fabs, one of six ways to buy a shed. Here are three Modern-Shed examples, pretty much the same structures with different siding and placements. Pretty sweet, no?

Is this the shed of your dreams? This Moraga, CA owner had been thinking about a shed for years. (Modern-Shed)

Is this the shed of your dreams? A Moraga, CA homeowner had been thinking about a shed for years. (Modern-Shed)

In the San Juan Islands, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one couple uses a cedar-clad shed. (Modern-Shed)

In the San Juan Islands, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one couple uses a cedar-clad shed. (Modern-Shed)

In Seattle, a felt artisan was fed up with working in her family kitchen and this craft shed fits perfectly. (Modern-Shed)

In Seattle, a felt artisan was fed up with working in her family kitchen and this craft shed fits perfectly. (Modern-Shed)

Six ways to buy sheds

With only a little tongue-in-cheek, we identified six approaches to buying and building your shed. Your decision naturally depends on trade-offs of time and money. The list is ordered from priciest, sky’s the limit to perhaps a couple grand. Which approach would you take?

  1. The Ultimate:  Get an architect who will deal with everything, along with their hired construction crew. It’s your dream, fulfilled.

  2. The Practical:  Go to a garden place where you see nice sheds and gazebos built. Talk with the builders, place an order and await delivery and set-up.

  3. The Possible:  Pre-fab and kit sheds look awfully nice, and get shipped to your door. You pay extra for their assembly team or hire someone local.

  4. The Good Enough: You head to a place selling sheds and gazebos (see #2) and pick something that’s already built. It is good enough for now.

  5. The Active:  You find a great set of plans online and buy them! Now turn to friends and family to get materials. Hire someone local to build it.

  6. The Almost DIY:  You have plans in hand, hunt for salvaged materials, widen your circle of friends and family, and arrange weekend-only work parties.

tiny houses making a point

“What if you could build a different kind of castle?” asked ABC World News Tonight anchor Diane Sawyer.

Last night Sawyer presented tiny houses as an economic alternative to high mortgages. She focused on the realities of living full-time in a tiny house on wheels, with insights from two owners. Click to watch on ABC News.

Diane Sawyer, ABC News anchor, discusses the downsizing trend and features tiny houses and their inhabitants.

Diane Sawyer, ABC News anchor, discusses the downsizing trend and features tiny houses and their inhabitants.

Which tiny houses are shown?

Andrew Morrison shows his family home: The Morrisons created a modern, 221 sq. ft. haven filled with built-ins. They have a well equipped kitchen, two sleeping lofts, bathroom and places to eat, work and hang-out. (See a 28-minute video tour and buy house plans.)

Jay Austin shares the Matchbox home:  Jay Austin lives in Matchbox, a 146 sq. ft. home with neighbors at Boneyard Studios, DC. There’s a calm feeling inside, with plenty of kitchen space plus a full-screen TV in the loft. (See build story and a short video tour.)

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses also featured:  Throughout the ABC News coverage, many images of Tumbleweed houses get shown. Look out for the Elm, Linden, Cypress and Mica houses on wheels as well as the foundation-based Z-Glass. (All houses to buy or build.)

Something to think about, from ABC News

ABC’s Devin Dwyer explained that tiny houses are “marvels of architecture with tiny price tags, enticing buyers stressed out by full-sized mortgages.”

The idea of living with less and being mindful isn’t arcane.  When asked, Jay Austin paused and admitted he doesn’t miss much. “There are lessons for all of us,” declared Dwyer. “You may discover more of who you are, with less.”

norwegian sleeping annex or more

In Norway, a modern unit was designed and built as a sleeping annex with sweet coastal views. The open interior contains wings for a family to sleep comfortably, along with a small central living space.

We wanted to share this Tuvalu Arkitekter design as inspiration. The shape could get upsized into a complete home with dining, bath and sleeping areas. Imagine your own wood-clad modern place, with or without a view.

This Norwegian sleeping annex contains twists, which define living areas. Also its wood cladding is treated with Kebony, a bio-liquid delivering hardwood durability. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

This Norwegian sleeping annex contains twists, which define living areas. Also its wood cladding is treated with Kebony, a bio-liquid delivering hardwood durability. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

Here's one angled wing for sleeping, plus a little seating area. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

Here’s one angled wing for sleeping, plus a little seating area. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

Gaze at the distant Norwegian coast, from the right wing sleeping area. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

Gaze at the distant Norwegian coast, from the right wing sleeping area. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

A large, glassed front door leads to the left bunk beds in their separate wing. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

A large, glassed front door leads to the left bunk beds in their separate wing. (Tuvalu Arkitekter)

accessory dwelling units pay off

How can I afford to pay my mortgage? How can I live in a smaller footprint? Consider building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on your property, and renting out that unit or your main home.

Secondary units may be built easily in Santa Cruz (CA), Austin (TX) or Portland (OR), and other cities are starting to hear requests. Portland permits units between 200 and 800 sq. ft. or 75% of the main home’s size, whichever is smaller.

The New York Times published a story about ADUs this week, highlighting owners who built or renovated structures. Let’s see them!

Stephanie & Sam Dyer built this 452 sq. ft. Portland home for $110,000. It is used to house their visiting families and also gets rented out. (Accessory Dwellings)

Stephanie & Sam Dyer built this 452 sq. ft. Portland home for $110,000. It is used to house their visiting families and also gets rented out. (Accessory Dwellings)

In the Dyer unit, there's built-in seating for dining which transforms into a lounging area to watch TV. (Accessory Dwellings)

In the Dyer unit, there’s built-in seating for dining which transforms into a lounging area to watch TV. (Accessory Dwellings)

In this small house, the Dyers built stairs to a top floor sleeping area and a small bathroom. (Accessory Dwellings)

In this small house, the Dyers built stairs leading to a top floor sleeping area and a small bathroom. (Accessory Dwellings)

Bryan Scott and Jen Wantland renovated their 480 sq. ft. Portland garage for $60,000. They rent out a main home, live in the garage and rent it when away. (Accessory Dwellings)

Bryan Scott and Jen Wantland renovated their 480 sq. ft. Portland garage for $60,000. They rent out a main home, live in the garage and rent it when away. (Accessory Dwellings)

Scott and Wantland created an open loft, with a kitchen and dining area that seats eight. (Accessory Dwellings)

Scott and Wantland created an open loft, with a kitchen and dining area that seats eight. (Accessory Dwellings)

Scott even made the bath area urbane, featuring an elegant spa-like shower room constructed with concrete. (Airbnb)

Scott even made the bath area urbane, featuring an elegant spa-like shower room constructed with concrete. (Airbnb)

what’s an outdoor room?

You may know an outdoor room as a deck, courtyard, breezeway or porch that’s accessed directly from your home. When actively used, this place has a dramatic, space-creating impact on how you live and entertain in a small house.

Figuring you have some decent weather, here are four inspiring outdoor rooms for show and tell. One may suit your desires for hanging out, dining and/or gathering with others.

The back deck covers the width of a Harbinger cottage, ready for people to eat or take in fresh air. (Tumbleweed Houses)

The back deck covers the width of a Harbinger cottage, ready for people to eat or take in fresh air. (Tumbleweed Houses)

Adjacent to a small home, this courtyard offers plenty of inviting seating along with a fire pit for chilly nights. (Dwell)

Adjacent to a small home, this courtyard offers plenty of inviting seating along with a fire pit for chilly nights. (Dwell)

In a tiny house on wheels, one side porch transforms into a jewel box room that adds living space. (Minimotives)

In a tiny house on wheels, one side porch transforms into a jewel box room that adds living space. (Minimotives)

Connecting two separate parts of this home, a covered breezeway offers refuge with a view. (Klopf Architecture)

Connecting two separate parts of this home, a covered breezeway offers refuge with a view. (Klopf Architecture)

multi-use paper in a tiny house

Recently we read about a couple who downsized from their 2,100 craftsman home to a legal sized sheet of paper. Who says living in a couple square feet isn’t possible now?

See how many things you can do in a tiny space, including eating, working and sleeping, by going vertical. (The New Yorker)

See how many things you can do in a tiny space, including eating, working and sleeping, by going vertical. (The New Yorker)

When The New Yorker recently satirized downsizing opportunities, it focused on the extreme goals of living well and living tiny. The couple they described have a perfect place:

“There’s a galley kitchen; a tiled, gravity-fed shower; two small closets; built-in bookshelves; and a sleeping loft. By moving a small wall, a tiny library does quintuple duty as a conservatory, a dark room, a wine cellar, and a lap pool.”

Kudos to The New Yorker, a thought leader that deemed tiny houses worthy of commentary. After all, smaller places have been getting plenty of press these days. And small spaces are nothing new for NYC apartment dwellers, right?

It’s too bad no one has built a lap pool yet. Though we do know someone who is installing a whirlpool as part of a medical tiny house, for real!

let’s define legal tiny houses

If you want to go small or tiny, then learning about house size, placement and restrictions will help keep your living plans legal.

Starting with the tiniest houses, Portland Alternative Dwelling (PAD) leader Dee Williams explains living constraints and freedoms in this video overview with KATU-TV2 news.

KATU TV Video - PADWhat’s legal, what’s not

Homes built as second structures:  Accessory dwelling unit (ADU) laws allow homeowners to build second structures with utilities, through they vary by neighborhood. Separately, building codes still reject homes under 200 sq. ft. homes as unsafe dwellings. Above that size, please check with your municipality for plan approvals or exemptions.

Houses on wheels:  For sub-200 sq. ft. houses with full kitchens and bathrooms, you should have far more luck living legally on a trailer foundation. The main drawback is that RV regulations stipulate part-time occupation or recreational uses wherever you park. Don’t give up yet.

Homes build as sole structures:  If you  want a “larger” house, then you should be able to build a single, sole structure on a property. Again local zoning and building codes apply, and we suggest checking out 400+ sq. ft. plans with your local City Hall staff. Get this figured out before any next step.

This tiny house on wheels is legally located in a backyard, with two larger foundation homes as neighbors. Tiny dwellers live there part-time, plus other countries. (PAD Tiny Houses)

This tiny house on wheels is legally located in a backyard, with two larger foundation homes as neighbors. Tiny dwellers live there part-time, plus other countries. (PAD Tiny Houses)

Today:  legal living in under 200 square feet

To live legally in a tiny house with all the creature comforts and utilities, today’s answer is a tiny house on wheels. Many people live temporarily in their houses due to seasonal or other part-time living needs. Others live permanently in an RV Park, full time.

Should you want to live more privately, it’s possible in a tiny house that meets RV standards. In ex-urban and rural areas, there are locations where people currently live legally in travel trailers with or without another home built on the property.

Back in cities and suburbs, tiny house dwellers have started receiving legal exemptions (licenses) to live permanently in a back yard when caring for a sick, disabled or elderly person in the main house. We hope to see these exemptions get adopted more widely.

There’s also a grey zone, where some tiny dwellers rely on the kindness of neighbors who love their homes too. They live full-time on properties with other homes and simply use their tiny houses.

Inside this back yard home, you have a comfortable sleeping loft, kitchen and storage shelves. There's also a nice great room and hang-out area, by the front door. (PAD Tiny Houses)

Inside this back yard home, you have a comfortable sleeping loft, kitchen and storage shelves. There’s also a nice great room and hang-out area, by the front door. (PAD Tiny Houses)

Tomorrow:  small and tiny house changes ahead

At Tiny House Joy, we expect to see changes based on the growing demand for tiny house living. Some progressive places like Portland, Oregon are leading the way, seeking flexibility for accessory dwelling units through the city.

Second, we hope that under 200 sq. ft. homes are accommodated nationally, whether on wheels or foundations.  It is a sea-change because the original building codes were installed to protect people from living in tiny sub-standard conditions.

Finally, seeing quicker municipal approvals for “larger” houses up to 800 sq. ft. would be an important step towards mainstreaming tiny and small structures. Years ago, this size home was considered normal and yet new homes can’t be built next to their historic smaller neighbors today.

Be patient! The laws will catch up and enable more flexible tiny house living arrangements.  By going tiny now or soon, you are effectively helping to pay it forward.