5 Potential Barriers to the Tiny House Movement

By Lloyd Alter, TreeHugger

TreeHugger has been covering tiny houses for years; I even own one, the remains of a previous career trying to promote the idea of the tiny house. Notwithstanding the success of people like Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed Tiny House line, it is still an incredibly tiny niche. What’s holding it back? Over at The Tiny Life, Ryan Mitchell lists the Top 5 Biggest Barriers To The Tiny House Movement; the first three L’s are well-known to me, I am not certain about the last two, and I think he is missing a big one.

1. Land

“One of the largest hurdles for people wanting to live in a Tiny House is access to land. Land is expensive, in growing short supply and people want a balance of having land and being close to city or town centers where they can access services, entertainment and employment.”

One of the main reasons people are interested in tiny houses is that they are relatively cheap. Once you try to buy land, it’s not anymore, and the actual tiny house becomes the least expensive part of the equation.

2. Loans

“At this point, banks donít feel that Tiny Houses are a viable option because they donít have a good resale value.”

There are loans available for recreational vehicles and trailers, but the interest rate is high and you have to provide personal security. If you can plop it on the ground that you own, then you might be able to get a traditional mortgage, but don’t bet on it.

3. Laws

This one is the real killer; many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements because they like the higher tax assessments. Even where I am now deep in the middle of nowhere, they have them. They insist on full water and sewer systems that can cost more than the house. They don’t allow trailers so you can’t just leave it on the chassis. They don’t want tiny houses, period.

4. Social Pressures

“In our society today, bigger is better, more is better, we are conditioned to want more and more stuff. These cultural norms are a very strong current in maintaining the status quo. Tiny Houses fly in the face of such things, questioning much of what people hold dear.”

This is fundamentally where I think Ryan, and much of the movement, goes wrong. Lots of people all over the world live in tiny houses; they are called apartments. Families all over Europe and Asia are raised in a couple of hundred square feet, and single people have no problem with it. In cities like Vancouver, tiny houses are popping up in back lanes everywhere. But much of the Tiny House movement seems to be about replacing a conventional suburban or exurban model with… a tiny house.

5. Fear

“When faced with the prospect of bucking the system, initiating a radical lifestyle change, and spending a good chunk of money to do it, it can be scary.”

Here again, it is only such a radical lifestyle change if you are in bug-out country, off-grid, out in the woods. Ben Brown of Placeshakers lived in a 308 square foot Katrina Cottage by Marianne Cusato, and concluded that “It takes a town.”

“The trick to living large in small spaces is to have great public places to go to Ė preferably by foot or on a bike Ė once youíre outside your private retreat. …. No problem feeding the private, nesting impulse with cottage living; but the smaller the nest, the bigger the balancing need for community.”

Ryan’s Tiny House Movement doesn’t seem to have much of a community. In fact, in his land section, he writes:

“To have a Tiny House, you donít need much land for the actual house, but you do need enough to be able to obscure the house from prying eyes in order to fly under the radar of code enforcement and curmudgeons.”

That is a world apart from Ben Brown’s idea of a tiny house. In fact, the only way the tiny house movement is going to succeed is if people get together and build intentional communities of tiny houses, which will solve the land, loans and laws problem and eliminate the fear and social pressures ones. But that doesn’t seem to be what members of the movement actually want.

(More in The Tiny Life.)


The Art of Tiny House Living
Benefits of Living in a Tiny Home: Time, Money, Peace of Mind
7 Tiny House Websites


Ilona Randall
Ilona Randall4 years ago

I wish I could have a tiny house (our current house is about 600 sq ft) but land is such a HUGE issue in the UK. In the area near my husband's work it's near impossible to find and it's pricey!

One big motivation would be to get rid of debt (or have a small one) to be free to do things we dream about but it doesn't seem to be possible. It's like this whole system is made for us to remain chained to it. The only way I see it doable would be to move away, but the husband wouldn't want that.

So at the moment I'm making plans to de-clutter the house but that won't get rid of our mortgage. I'd love to travel more, see my family in Canada more often and have projects that are more creative than a desk job or shop assistant without being fearful about money.

Lorrie Crawford
Lorrie Crawford4 years ago

I am thankful that some people are working through these issues and showing that people can live in less space. We have a relatively small home (just over 900 sp. ft.) and have plenty of room for everything, including one room that is an office/craft room/guest room. It is more than enough. Thank you for sharing!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

thanks for sharing

Sue T.
Susan T5 years ago

no my home is small enough.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

to each their own

FYI Sorry friends,my profile is down until I get help from care2 support

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg5 years ago

Yes, the taxes would be quite small!

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

The greatest opposition to small homes comes from our bureaucrats, and it is all about taxes.
Imagine the tax on a 400 sq ft home X 10000 = Opps

Lyn Simcock
Lyn Simcock5 years ago

When we emigrated to Australia, we lived in a 'cabin' on a caravan park - one bedroom, small shower/basin/loo ensuite, small kitchen/meals/living room. After 3 months we were both bouncing off the walls and decidedly 'cool' with each other. As our UK boxes hadn't yet arrived we didn't have many possessions, so it wasn't cluttered. For some people it just doesn't work!

Kristine Huff
Kristine H5 years ago

There is a demand for tiny houses. I have two that I rent and are perfect for the tenants who want a house rather than an apartment. One of the homes is 660 sqft and the other is 468 sqft. I love them both and will probably move into one of them at some point!! They are on a nice size lot, close to the bay of the ocean and in a quiet neighborhood. Perfect:)

Lin Moy
Lin M5 years ago

Where do you seat company? Where will a Christmas tree go? A baby bed? I live alone and this would really bother me as small as it is. It'd make a nice play house though.