Will 2015 be the beginning of the era of the Tiny House Nightmare?

photo by Charles Riedel, AP, FEMA trailers in Greensburg, Kansas

photo by Charles Riedel, AP, FEMA trailers in Greensburg, Kansas, from http://nbcnews.to/1OxQVXg

I’ve been a tiny house fan for many years, and it’s exciting to see all the enthusiasm in the tiny house movement recently! At the same time, I’m afraid my nightmare will come true – that the more popular tiny houses become, the more big business will step in and take it over, and we’ll be left with no choices but standardized, cheaply made, costly, little boxes.

That’s why I worked so hard to gather together safe building guidelines for do-it-yourselfers (DIYers). I got a lot of flack about it. I only consulted with professional builders in order to develop the guidelines, not out of snobbiness, but because I wanted the best possible advice. Lacking building experience myself, I didn’t feel comfortable asking DIYers to make suggestions regarding best practices, as I couldn’t evaluate them. The Tiny House Alliance had started the guidelines at the suggestion of Jay Shafer, with significant contributions from Abel Zimmerman Zyl, Lina Menard, and Dee Williams. However, we stalled, and I needed additional pros to provide their expertise to flesh out a detailed set of guidelines that could help prevent tiny houses from falling apart on the highway or bursting into flames in a park. I’m very grateful to all those builders who were willing to speak up. I had hoped to provide a “self-certification” program that would allow small builders and DIYers to document their builds, showing that they were done with safety and longevity in mind. However, due to the uproar about my hubris in suggesting a small group of people could create standards, I backpedaled and changed “certification” to “guidelines”. It lacks authority, but partially allayed the fears of those who said certification was too bold a term and would wave a red flag in front of existing government agencies.

We are now at a point where there is enough momentum that existing RV & manufactured housing companies see the market potential in tiny houses. Indeed, one manufactured housing company is throwing a free event for tiny houses. I genuinely hope all who go have a terrific time and learn a lot. But please think carefully about what a tiny house means to you. Do you just want a small home? Then why don’t you already live in an RV or mobile home? What was it that drew you to tiny houses in the first place?

For me, a tiny house represented an opportunity to have a beautiful, long-lasting, well crafted dwelling that minimized my impact on the environment and allowed me to focus more on relationships than earning money. I don’t watch the tiny house TV shows, and I don’t encourage others to participate in them, as I’ve witnessed how contrived these "reality" shows can be. Making the decision to live tiny should be well considered and carefully undertaken – not a game. I’m not living in my house now, because my relationships continue to be most important to me, and there isn’t anywhere near my folks where I can legally live in a tiny house. But a delightful young woman lived in my home in an RV park in Orlando last year, and another delightful young woman is living there currently, and this makes me happy.

I’m stepping back next month from the American Tiny House Association. While I will continue to support it, participate, and work for it, I won’t be one of the leaders. By not seeking re-election, I make room for others to take charge and lead us forward. I want to say a big thanks to William Rockhill, Robert Reed, Andrew Heben, and Elizabeth Roberts for being co-founders and I look forward to a bright, tiny future.

I encourage you to help the new leaders shape the tiny house movement in the direction that YOU want it to go. Don’t let it be overrun by big business. Don’t let our choices be reduced to the equivalent of fast food. Stand up, speak your mind, be willing to work for the life you deserve!

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Elaine Walker

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