Brandy Jones sits in a hammock outside of her tiny home. Don Emmert/AFP
In a country that nearly always believes bigger is better — think supersize fries, giant cars and 10-gallon hats — more and more Americans are downsizing their living quarters.
Welcome to the world of tiny homes, most of them less than 400 square feet (less than 40 square meters), which savvy buyers are snapping up for their minimalist appeal and much smaller carbon footprints.
The tiny homes revolution, which includes those on foundations and those on wheels, began a few decades ago, but the financial crisis of 2008 and the coming-of-age of millennials gave it a new impetus.
"We have a housing crisis and we have crumbling buildings around us. It's just hard to find good quality living at an affordable price.
Cost is one of the driving factors — a tiny home of just over 200 square feet with a customized interior can go for about $50,000 — a massive savings over a McMansion in the suburbs.
"We have a housing crisis and we have crumbling buildings around us. It's just hard to find good quality living at an affordable price," says Brandy Jones, who took the plunge with her husband and two sons.
In most cases, the savings is not enough of a motivating factor: the average newly-built family home in the United States measures about 2,600 square feet, according to the Census Bureau.
Marcus Stoltzfus talks about the tiny homes built at Liberation Tiny Homes. Don Emmert/AFP
Now, in some parts of the country, "people are realizing that living with less is very advantageous to your lifestyle."
NO WASTED SPACE
Scott Berrier, who moved into a 370-square-foot home about four months ago with his wife Melissa, says he's happy not to have as many possessions as before.
"We really like the whole minimalist approach — kind of paring down and not having clutter everywhere and everything," Berrier explained, adding that his home is simply more functional.
"The biggest difference I notice is that we use every single space. There is not any wasted space," he said.
Roland Figueredo, who plans to leave his New York apartment in July for a tiny house in Oregon, says he's ready for a change.
"We truly are trying to simplify our life and getting rid of our crap," he said.
Berrier says wanting to live a more minimalist life extends to the environmental impact of home ownership.
"You're not leaving as much of a carbon footprint. You're not using as much electricity, as much water" as in a traditional home or apartment, he notes.
Despite the advantages, the tiny homes movement is far from widespread. Rough estimates put the number of tiny homes in the United States at a little more than 10,000.
Banks are instead offering medium-term loans of up to seven years — at significantly higher interest rates than regular loans.
Historically in American culture, bungalows, caravans and mobile homes have a bad reputation— they are seen as badly made and decidedly lower-class.
Night and day
Homes made by Liberation Tiny Homes like the Berriers' place are "built like a normal house" with the same materials, explained Stoltzfus.
So far, the company has completed more than 65 projects since launching in 2015.
For Jones, who lived in a motor home for several months before moving into her new place, "a travel trailer compared to a tiny house is night and day."
To vault over the many legal hurdles, many tiny home buyers are setting up their places without permits from local urban planning officials.
Tiny Estates in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania took over a former campground and obtained the necessary permits to accommodate tiny homes on wheels.
"It's not some clandestine little sketchy thing. These are beautiful tiny houses, well designed. If anything, they add property value to things."
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