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7 things to consider before moving into a tiny house

POSTED: July 13, 2017 12:40 p.m.
Bethany Hanks/

Meg and Dan Stephens sit inside their tiny house.

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Tiny houses have been popping up in the media and across America’s landscape for the past decade, though more noticeably in the past few years. Recently, the Deseret News published an article listing seven reasons why people live tiny houses.

Tiny house living can easily seem like a hearkening back to simpler days when life was less complicated and busy. However, it's important to note that tiny house owners still have their share of obstacles.

“There’s a lot of people that think that the tiny house is going to magically fix everything," said Dan Stephens, who lives in a tiny house in Utah with his wife, Meg. "That’s not even close to true.”

While there are numerous benefits to living in a tiny house, here are some factors that individuals and families may want to consider before moving "tiny."

7. Weight

"Our trailer is rated for 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating," said Meg Stephens, "so that's how much the trailer can hold, including the weight of the trailer itself. The house weighs 8,320 pounds." This means that Meg and Dan Stephens need to keep their personal belongings under about 1,500 pounds.

"That is actually a really common problem — people building tiny houses on undersized trailers. If we had gotten a typical 2-axle, 20-foot utility trailer and not a custom one for tiny houses, those are typically rated for only 7,500 pounds," she said. "Our house would have exceeded that by quite a margin. That's super dangerous for you to tow and for you to be on any road with more weight than your trailer can hold."

Ivor Berry travels in his tiny house, which is under 5,000 pounds because that is his car's towing capacity.

6. Parking and safety

Berry’s tiny house was made for mobility, allowing him to travel often. “I also had to figure out where to sleep most nights," he wrote via email.

Parking a tiny house may break more rules and regulations than you might think, so it is always a good idea to make sure you are parking in a legal location and that you cooperate with your local coding and zoning officials.

Meg and Dan Stephens discussed concerns about safety and security when parking a tiny house.

“Somebody could technically steal our entire house," Dan Stephens said. "That has happened to somebody.”

This NPR story briefly tells of a woman whose tiny house was stolen in California. According to the article, the tiny house was recovered after being abandoned by the thief at a shopping center.

Security is a concern, and Meg Stephens discussed ways to prevent theft, like carefully considering the parking location and using a hitch lock to keep it secure.

5. Privacy

This isn't about privacy from other people, though a tiny house may attract attention and visitors, but if you are planning on living in a tiny space with another person (or more), you may want to ask yourself how much privacy you need. Meg and Dan Stephens' tiny house is about 150 square feet. When asked about privacy, he said that they have none from each other. This may work better for some couples than others.

“If your marriage is suffering," said Meg Stephens, "cramming both of you into a tiny house is not going to work.”

4. Living without

Downsizing and getting rid of excess is one of the staples of minimalism — the word literally means paring down your material possessions to the bare minimum, which can suit tiny house living very well. But what if you have certain things that you are very attached to?

“If you have a lot of stuff that you’re really connected to, trying to cram it all into a tiny house is going to be miserable,” said Dan Stephens.

3. Cooking and food preparation

While many people design their tiny houses to fit their needs, the tiny space necessitates some creativity. Berry wrote that cooking has become more complicated for him.

“I didn't install an oven, only burners, so if I want to bake, I have to use a camp oven that sits on a burner . . . it does make things a little harder, and certain dishes are out of the question.”

When asked what dishes he missed most, he wrote that he wished he could bake things like bread, cookies or casseroles.

"The only thing that I was really disappointed that we couldn't fit was an oven," said Dan Stephens about their tiny house. "We just don't have an oven, so we cook on the grill a lot. Last Christmas, I wanted to bake Christmas cookies, so I went over to a friend's house. They weren't disappointed about that at all." They left their friends with two dozen cookies.

2. Water, sewage and waste

Meg Stephens pointed out that one of the biggest issues is what to do with waste water, especially if it contains human waste because it then becomes a biohazard.

“Our gray water just goes into a French drain," said Dan Stephens. "And there’s a very happy willow tree that is getting watered by our shower and dish water every day."

When it comes to plumbing, the Stephenses have opted for a composting toilet.

"It's a bucket of very dry peat moss," said Dan Stephens. "We just rotate it every three months or two months." When asked if it smelled, they both responded that it did not.

"I guarantee you that my composting toilet smells less bad than everyone's cat litter boxes," said Meg Stephens.

Berry’s tiny house was not designed with a shower because of its extreme light weight.

“I didn’t have a shower," he wrote, "and I didn’t realize how nice it is to have one!”

For those who may be looking for a mobile lifestyle, like Berry's, it will take some planning, as it did for Berry, to find where and when you can take a shower.

1. Buy or build

Some people buy a tiny house. Some people decide to build theirs instead, but how do you know what is right for you? Berry built his tiny house. Meg and Dan Stephens also decided to build their tiny house, though he is quick to point out that she did most of the work, and he helped.

"She's a very impressive woman," Dan Stephens said when discussing his wife's background in building. Meg Stephens was a designer and workshop instructor at Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. "Building is her forte, not mine at all."

Meg Stephens gave the following advice:

"You can have it fast, you can have it cheap or you have have it done well — and you can pick two," she said. "Really, it's all about whether you can build it quick; whether you have the skill set. It took us three years, and I have a pretty decent skill set with building. It's just, we didn't want to go into debt."

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