Living Large in Small Houses

1-jay-shafer-tiny-home_flickr_nicolas-boullosaBy Alyse Nelson

My husband and I think we’ve found a way to pay off our mortgage early, without taking on an extra job or working nights. We’ve decided to construct a rental unit — a “mother-in-law suite” — within our home. If it pans out as we hope, the rental income will let us pay off our loan 10 years early. And who knows: It could give us a chance to live closer to family as we, or they, get on in years.

Jason and I are not alone; lots of folks across the country are experimenting with adding a second (or third) dwelling to an existing single-family home. And in perhaps the most interesting development, more and more people are choosing to buck the “bigger is better” trend in North American housing. They’re taking small spaces — backyards, side lots, or freestanding garages — and using them to build tiny houses.

Ranging from 800 square feet to less than 100 square feet — a far cry from the 1,000 square feet per person that has become the North American norm — these “doll houses” take many shapes and sizes. And the people who live in them are as diverse as the homes themselves. Some hope to save money on housing; others hope to “live green” by choosing a smaller space; some are trading living space for a neighborhood they love; and others want to live closer to family or friends.

Here are some of their stories.

Jay Shafer, a founding father of the tiny home movement and a co-owner of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, told the BBC: “People are thinking more about what really is a luxury now. Is it a 30-year mortgage, or is it just living simply and having the time to do more of what you want? And I think a lot of people are starting to really change their idea of the American Dream.”

Dee Williams decided to rethink her American Dream after building a school in Guatemala and having a close friend get cancer made her reevaluate her priorities. “He was getting sicker and sicker, and I didn’t have the time or the money to really throw myself into helping him. I was spending a lot of time and money on my house. So the house was the easiest thing to try to get rid of,” Williams told Yes! magazine. So she sold her 1,500-square-foot Portland home and built an 84-square-foot tiny home for $10,000. Now she lives without a mortgage, giving her the time and money to invest in her friends and community.

Akua Schatz and Brendon Purdy’s dream was to live near relatives, but they couldn’t afford a home in Vancouver, B.C.’s Dunbar neighborhood. Instead of moving to the suburbs, they decided to build a 500-square-foot laneway home in Purdy’s parents’ backyard. In a city where the average home price is $725,086, Schatz and Purdy spent $280,000 to build their home.

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