A group hopes South Bend will become a pioneer in America’s tiny house movement with a tiny subdivision on the city’s near northwest side.
The plans, still in the concept stage, would involve six to eight tiny houses, defined as measuring 250 to 400 square feet, built on permanent foundations across two vacant lots at the corner of Cushing Street and Portage Avenue, said organizer Mike Keen, a retired professor of sociology at Indiana University South Bend and founder of the school’s Center for a Sustainable Future.
“People want to downsize and simplify their lives by building smaller homes with less stuff to put in them,” said Keen. “What they say is ‘smaller house, bigger life.’”
The homes, built on site, would cost $50,000 to $60,000 and would target Millennials and baby boomer “empty nesters” looking to downsize and be closer to their children and grandchildren, Keen said.
Keen recently took early retirement from the university to launch Thrive Michiana LLC, a sustainability and innovation consulting firm.
Working with him to build the homes would be Dwayne Borkholder, president of New Energy Homes, a new division of Nappanee-based Borkholder Buildings & Supply. Aside from their tiny size, the homes would be “zero energy,” meaning they are 70 percent more energy efficient than a traditional home for the same cost per square foot, and rooftop solar panels generate the other 30 percent of power.
Borkholder has been building regular size zero-energy homes for six years, but recently started working to adapt that technology to tiny homes. The pair plan to present their ideas, along with some drawings of how the homes would look, and answer the public’s questions Tuesday at 4 p.m. at downtown’s Union Station, 506 W. South St…
Also planning to attend Tuesday is Nikki Stillson, who lives in a 188-square-foot house in southern St. Joseph County with her husband, David, and their cats, Sebastian, Layla and Melo. They don’t live in a TLC, but rather, in the backyard of David’s mother, for whom they are primary caregivers. Their house is on wheels that are on cinder blocks.
The couple talked with The Tribune in December 2014 when they were still planning to buy the home, and they started living in it in September 2015.
“I absolutely love living in my tiny house,” Stillson said. “It’s just enough space. We don’t find that we run into each other. We tweak little things here and there each year, just like you would in any house.”
The couple uses an RV electrical hookup and water hose from the main house.
“The biggest thing we love about it is the financial freedom,” said Stillson, noting they paid for the tiny house in full with cash from savings. “We’re not paying $800 a month to live in a place that all we do is sleep in. We’ve been better prepared to save for our future. We’re not living check to check. We’ve been able to travel a lot more. We’re enjoying the little things in life.”
She and David, an information technology manager, run the “Michiana Tiny House Enthusiasts” Facebook group