Brian Cira feels a twinge of irritation whenever he sees a television show about tiny houses.
“Every time I turn on the TV, there’s this fascination with tiny homes,” Cira said.
Cira is president of Fairmont Homes, a Nappanee, Indiana, builder of manufactured or modular homes. (Manufactured homes are what most people call trailers or mobile homes.)
His industry specializes in building efficient, affordable, modest homes, sort of like tiny homes except far less expensive. Cira estimates the cost of tiny homes — at least the TV ones — at $400 a square foot, about 10 times the cost of manufactured homes.
“Anybody with a brain in their head would look at a manufactured home,” he said. “We do it much more efficiently, much more smartly. We’ve been doing this for decades. … We could build these all day long.”
So why haven’t the tiny-home movement and the manufactured-home industry shaken hands?
One reason is design. Manufactured homes put utility over style. Tiny homes, on the other hand, put a premium on cuteness. [Editorial comment: They also put a premium on natural, long lasting materials and direct purchasing from the builder rather than a distributor, thus saving the 20% markup.]
Another reason is the size of the tiny-house movement. Despite all the attention it receives, the movement appears to be, well, tiny, although it certainly shows signs of growing. The Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado attracted 40,000 visitors last year, and this year’s event is expected to be larger.
Another reason the two haven’t joined forces: building codes. Manufactured homes follow federal Housing and Urban Development codes that, Cira said, prohibit the small spaces and big windows of tiny homes. Tiny homes — if they follow any code at all — can be built to recreational-vehicle guidelines, which are far more flexible.
But the biggest reason the tiny-home crowd and the manufactured-home industry haven’t connected might be a cultural gap as big as a McMansion. On the one side are young hipsters eager to live simply (and then blog about it). On the other side are working-class Americans who want a decent, affordable place to call home.
Even if the big manufactured-home companies thought they could tap into the market, would buyers respond? Would they buy a tiny home from a company that builds double-wides?
At least one company, Nationwide Homes, is trying. The builder, based in Martinsville, Virginia, launched Eco-Cottages six years ago. The lineup of seven styles of homes ranges from 250 to 513 square feet and tops out around $60,000.