What are Tiny Houses? The Pros and Cons of Choosing a House on Wheels

Tiny houses are a type of prefab home characterised by their small size and the possibility of being moved from place to place. These constructions can be used as primary residences, vacation homes, or as rental property investments. They may be constantly on the move or installed long-term in the same spot instead. Regardless of the lifestyle accommodated in the house, tiny homes are always built with the same type of construction.

What is the difference between a tiny house and a small house?

While tiny houses are always small, not all small houses are tiny homes. It is common to interchange the different terms used to describe small dwellings, though understanding the characteristics of each one of these concepts is essential, as they are built for different purposes.

  • Tiny House: A type of prefab home designed to be easily transportable and is, therefore, always built on wheels. The small size characteristic of these houses is defined by the need to comply with road regulations as they are towable dwellings.
  • Cabin: A cabin is a small type of permanent prefab house. This small prefabricated house, which only has one bedroom, is always installed on a foundation.
  • ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units): Also known as a garden annexe or a granny flat, this concept describes the usage of the house rather than the type of construction. A tiny house, a cabin or even a small house built with traditional construction methods could make a good ADU as long as they are designed as independent dwellings sharing the property with a primary house.

What are the benefits of tiny houses?

Tiny homes are notably distinct from traditional buildings since it’s uncommon for a house to be constructed on wheels. However, the characteristics of this type of house have highly contributed to the popularity of the tiny house movement as they grant them some very attractive benefits.

Tiny homes are built with mobility in mind

The most noticeable advantage of this type of house is the possibility of easily transporting it to different locations. Despite their beautiful house-looking designs, tiny homes are mobile homes and can be moved and parked wherever you wish.

Since tiny houses are designed as moveable houses, most of them are built as self-sufficient units able to operate off-grid. These features allow you to travel with your house to any destination, including a remote natural environment.

What are Tiny Houses? The Pros and Cons of Choosing a House on Wheels
The Elegance Range tiny house being towed.

They are a cost-effective housing solution

As prefabricated constructions, tiny homes are much more affordable than building a traditional house. Being prefabricated means that the construction work takes place off-site in an industrialised environment. As a result, the construction time and manual workmanship are highly reduced and so is the overall building cost.

Furthermore, tiny homes are remarkably cheaper than other prefab houses, mainly because being smaller lowers the total costs, but also because they are built on wheels and therefore need no foundations. Not being tied to a specific property directly cuts down costs, such as buying land or landscaping.

Tiny living can help improve mental well-being

The size of most tiny homes is below 20 sqm, which is 5 times smaller than the average house size in Europe and the UK [1]. To most, tiny living means downsizing to a much simpler life which has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

By living a minimal lifestyle, you learn to prioritise and declutter, which has proven to be highly related to our mental well-being [2]. Also, despite their reduced size, tiny houses are built with functionality and comfort in mind. They offer very creative layouts and storage solutions, to help keep the house tidy and free of clutter.

Tiny houses are a sustainable type of construction

Tiny homes are environmentally friendly as they are built entirely off-site, with labour and storage taking place in the same location. This centralisation of the process makes tiny homes more sustainable than traditional construction as it enormously cuts down on transportation needs and material waste.

Tiny houses also contribute to the environment as being small buildings. They have a lower ecological footprint and consume less energy, making them more energy efficient. While most of these features are no more than a positive consequence of the construction process, some manufacturers choose to consciously design their tiny homes even more sustainable by opting for natural materials or adding elements such as solar panels.

tiny house with solar panels
The Escape A17 tiny house with solar panels

Challenges and limitations of tiny houses

Tiny houses have distinctive features that set them apart and contribute to their growing popularity. However, these differences also have potential drawbacks. Since tiny homes aren’t a perfect choice for all, it is essential to understand their limitations.

  • Might be difficult to find a long-term spot: Despite the tiny house design being optimised to ensure the house can be easily moved and placed pretty much anywhere, not all locations allow it. Where you can place a tiny house is determined by the building codes and zoning regulations of your specific location. These can be quite limiting.
  • They aren’t built on foundations: Being built on wheels offers a significant amount of freedom to these houses, yet it also has its downsides. Foundations grant stability to the construction by creating a solid base holding the house in place. Not being attached to foundations automatically downgrades the quality of the construction.
  • The indoor living space is limited: The reduced space offered by a tiny home inspires those looking for minimalist lifestyles, yet it also has its cons. Every centimetre of the house is optimised to make everyday life as comfortable as possible but there is no space for out-of-the-ordinary activities. Therefore, activities such as entertaining guests might not be the most comfortable.

How do tiny homes work?

Being a house on wheels means it doesn’t follow the same set of regulations defined for permanent constructions, yet it is also not treated just like a vehicle. Here are some of the most important things you should know if you are planning to buy a tiny house:

  • Tiny house regulations depend entirely on the location. Since there isn’t a specific set of regulations designed for tiny homes, if you are planning to buy a tiny house in Europe and the UK, the first thing you should do is consult with your local planning officers.
  • Installing a tiny house long-term in a property usually requires a permit. Placing a tiny house in your garden isn’t like parking a car. It often requires a permit that varies from one location to another. In some countries, such as The Netherlands or Germany, tiny houses are treated as residential buildings and therefore need to comply with the building regulations [3].
  • Traffic regulations are strict with tiny houses. Being built on wheels isn’t enough. To move a tiny house through European roads, the house has to comply with very strict size and weight regulations. The general guideline is 4m high, 2.55m wide and 3.5T but it might vary from country to country.
  • You need a specific type of vehicle to tow a tiny house. Tiny houses are meant to be towed by their owners, but not all vehicles are capable of doing so. This is because the vehicle needs to be strong enough to pull 3,5T. Also, keep in mind that if the overall weight is over 3,5T, you might need a specialised driving licence.

References:
[1]Wilson, L. How big is a house? Average house size by country – 2023 Shrink that footprint https://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house/
[2]Hammers-Crowell J. (2022, June 14) How clutter impacts health Highland hospital https://highlandhosp.com/how-clutter-impacts-health/
[3]Tiny House Cultures in Comparison – Germany, USA, Netherlands LiveEO https://live-eo.com/tiny-house-cultures/

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