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Trying to choose between building a tiny house or a small house? You know you don’t want the expense, upkeep, and materialism that comes with having a BIG house, but should you go tiny?
First off, I think tiny houses are awesome. If you browse Pinterest for more than two seconds, chances are good you’ll stumble across some absolutely gorgeous tiny houses. There are so many efficient design choices, plus the prospect of minimalist living is endlessly attractive sometimes.
I’m all about living with less, spending less. I want to make life more about the experiences rather than the STUFF that inundates our lives. I’ll freely admit that I have subscribed to all of the tiny house blogs and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. But when it comes right down to it we chose to build “small” but not “tiny”.
Tiny vs. Small
For reference, most tiny houses are 400 square feet or less, with the majority sitting in the 100-250 square feet range. Our house will have roughly 1000 square feet on the main floor and another 140 in the loft. According to the US Census Bureau, the median size of a new home constructed in 2015 was 2,467 square feet. 2,467!!! What do you even do with that much space?
Whether you choose small or tiny, we want you do make the most informed choice you can. We’ll tell you all about why we chose to go small while giving you some important questions to ask yourself as you plan.
Why We Built Small But Not Tiny
1. Small means flexibility as our family grows.
We currently have a young son, and God willing we’d love to have another after we finish the house. As much as I admire the families with kids who can live together in a tiny house, I know deep down that the realities of having kids makes it that much harder.
Could I have done it if it was just the two of us? Oh yes, absolutely. But having kids adds a volatile element to the mix. Perhaps your kid has sensory or sensitivity issues and can’t handle the confines of the house. Maybe your kid can’t nap with other people nearby (my kid is a poor sleeper in general).
Building small will ensure that the house can adapt more easily as the family grows without sacrificing our time and effort maintaining the larger house society seems to want us to have so badly.
Ask yourself: What will my family look like over the next 2-5 years? How about 10, 20, 30+ years? Will a tiny or small house be a good fit? What about short-term vs. long-term options?
2. Small means flexibility in case of an emergency.
As much as I want to believe that we’ll all be healthy and live to a very old age, I understand that accidents happen and circumstances can change. What if one of us becomes confined to a wheelchair or develops mobility issues?
We developed our floor plan with ease of access in mind so that we can stay in it as long as humanly possible. Doors and passages are at LEAST 36″ wide. Beds and baths are all on the main floor. There are no steps to get in or out of the house.
As much as I love tiny houses, I can’t help but wonder what happens if a person living in one suddenly finds themselves in this kind of situation.
Ask yourself: How could I adapt a house design if something were to happen to myself or a family member that reduces mobility? What options would I have if I built tiny vs. small vs. conventional?
3. Small means we can live simply and frugally and still pursue our particular passions.
Mark and I are both musicians. I’m a flutist, so fortunately my instrument is small. Mark, however, is a percussionist and has a lot of percussion instruments that he uses regularly for gigs and practicing. I’m talking a drumset, vibraphone, congas, and a menagerie of smaller accessory and cultural instruments.
Teaching and performing are things that we do regularly and are an important part of our professional income, so it was something we needed to consider when building our forever house.
Ask yourself: Are there any hobbies, side hustles, or professional activities I engage in that take up a lot of physical space? Is this something I can build a separate structure for and still live tiny, or should I build small and keep it contained in one place? Do I have access to other locations where I can go do these things instead (temporarily or permanently)?
4. Small means we reach a balance of space and energy efficiency.
Our house is off the grid, meaning we have solar power and a cistern for our water. Building small means that we’ll need to use less for our daily needs than in a bigger house. We’ll almost certainly use more than a tiny house, but we’re taking advantage of our design’s thermal mass and passive solar principles to get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of living space vs. consumption.
Ask yourself: What energy sources will I have access to and what would be the best use of the money in my area? What about my local climate could impact my choice of building tiny vs. small vs. conventional?
5. Small means leveraging the money we have NOW to build so that we can scale back later.
We had initially thought about building a tiny house below 200 square feet to live in while we built the larger house. Many families have done this successfully, the most famous of which is probably the Tiny House Family, but once we looked further into this it became less and less feasible. Why?
A. In our county, we couldn’t have an address if we did this (our parcel had no address and could only obtain one with a building permit). Not having an address of our own means we would have had to get “creative” for our drivers licenses, voter registration, etc. This also ruled out living in some kind of travel trailer or other temporary option, unfortunately.
B. Since we had a fill-and-wait septic field, we would have either had to haul our waste water to a dumping station or dump on our land illegally. As much as I love greywater systems, they’re hit or miss in our region. Sure we could have done a composting toilet with a natural greywater system, but we would have had to fly under the radar (the health department wouldn’t even approve that for our actual house, which was kind of a downer). We just weren’t comfortable with trying that.
C. We would have spent money on our small temporary option that could have been better spent on our forever house.
By jumping straight into the big house build, we are able to use the money we currently have coming in for the build and scale back later once we finish it. It shortens the process and gives us more options sooner rather than later. I’m talking heavy investing, scaling back on work or side hustles, having another kid, etc. Getting it done NOW frees us up LATER.
Ask yourself: What legal restrictions apply to me locally that could prevent me from building tiny or small? What about my personal finance situation could impact tiny vs. small?
Chances are good that if you’ve read this far, you are trying to simplify your life. Check out these two popular posts about how we managed to simplify our “stuff” by getting rid of HALF of it, and how we live on HALF of our income so we can use the other half to build our cordwood house.
Check out our homestead progress and find out more about our cordwood homestead project here. You should also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m always pinning lots of great ideas on Pinterest too! Thanks for reading!