Interest in tiny houses has grown in recent years, and Columbia is no exception.
Steve Eidson, the Missouri coordinator of the American Tiny House Association, is planning a tiny house event next weekend to build enthusiasm for the small structures in Mid-Missouri. Eidson believes the CoMo Tiny Home Fest will be the first of its kind in the state.
Eidson, who also manages a business that sells the diminutive dwellings, helped organize the festival, which will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Sunday at Clary-Shy Park, 1701 W. Ash St.
Though plans were not completely finalized, Eidson said he hopes to have 20 local businesses — including construction, heating and cooling, solar, paint, flooring and grill companies — at the event. He said it’s difficult for most people to grasp the tiny house concept without visiting one.
“It’s important for people to see these homes in person,” he said.
The location is purposeful, Eidson said, because Columbia is in the midst of a zoning code rewrite.
Senior City Planner Steve MacIntyre said the current draft of the reworked zoning regulations — the Columbia City Council is slated to consider the regulations this fall — removes roadblocks and fixes existing rules to accommodate tiny homes. The current draft would eliminate the minimum dwelling size of 650 square feet that’s part of the existing R-1 zoning.
“That’s the biggest change to accommodate these types of units,” he said. Units would still have to meet building code requirements to ensure they’re habitable.
“It would eliminate an arbitrary minimum size requirement and instead base the minimum size of a dwelling unit on whatever is required to provide complete independent living facilities,” MacIntyre said.
He said Columbia would be able to preserve neighborhood character and accommodate family life cycles with the addition of granny flats or carriage houses.
The smaller structures also would provide a more affordable housing option and might help decrease urban sprawl, he said.
For more information about tiny homes — and what it’s like to live inside one — the Tribune spoke with Elaine Walker, one of the founders of the not-for-profit American Tiny House Association. Walker lives in a 120-square-foot home in Palmetto, Fla., near the Terra Ceia Bay. It has been her home in four states: New Hampshire, California, Washington, D.C., and Florida.
Tribune: How did the tiny house movement get started?
Elaine Walker: Sarah Susanka has been credited with starting the recent countermovement toward smaller houses when she published “The Not So Big House” in 1997. With the Great Recession of 2007, the small house movement gained more attention, as it offers housing that is more affordable and sustainable.
Tribune: What is your background?
Walker: I am a tiny house dweller. My tiny house was built in 2009 by professional builders of larger homes.
Tribune: How would you define a tiny house?
Walker: A structure of 400 square feet or less suited for permanent living that includes basic functional areas that support normal daily routines, such as cooking, sleeping and toiletry. The 400-square-foot-or-less size is debated. Some people say a small house is between 400 and 1,000 square feet, and a tiny house is between 80 and 400 square feet.
Tribune: What are key features necessary for a successful tiny house?
Walker: It must be designed for the occupants — including pets — so that they each have a place to eat, sleep and perform their routine activities, including hobbies.
Tribune: What would you say is the primary reason people choose to live in a tiny house?
Walker: Greater independence.
Tribune: Why did you start the American Tiny House Association?
Walker: We saw a need for promoting safe construction practices and for working with zoning officials for greater acceptance of tiny houses. We felt that a national not-for-profit organization could be most effective.
Tribune: The Midwest has thunderstorms and tornadoes. What guidelines or suggestions does the association offer to address that reality?
Walker: We recommend that tiny houses be built for earthquake Zone 4 and be able to withstand winds of 130 mph, as specified in the American Society of Civil Engineers minimum design loads for buildings.
For tiny houses on wheels that are residing in areas prone to high winds, we recommend tie-downs. However, nothing will prevent the destruction of a tiny house when the winds are of tornado strength.
Tribune: Describe the coolest tiny house you have ever seen.
Walker: I think my own tiny house is the coolest. I think most tiny house people feel that way. Our houses are kind of like our kids or pets, and we are biased toward our own.
Tribune: What are current tiny house trends?
Walker: Tiny houses are getting bigger and more expensive.