Accessibility links

Tiny California Home Offers Solution for Economic Hard Times

One man's solution to tough economic times, the high cost of living, and all that housework… is to live in, build, and sell really tiny houses.

Eighty kilometers north of San Francisco in northern California is a rural community called Sebastopol, Jay Shafer, founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, lives and works there in his tiny home.

"Well there are a lot of reasons I've decided to live in a tiny house," he explained. "Probably first and foremost is because it frees up my time otherwise. So all of the time I would spend earning money to pay off a mortgage or rent can be spent doing things I love to do. I don't have much housework either."

The average American family home has about 230 square meters. His is 30 years old. It is tiny, cozy, energy efficient and, according to Shafer, all he needs.

"I just don't like the idea of spewing tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. I know that the average American house puts out eighteen tons of greenhouse gases per year, and you know, that's not even including all of the consumption that is involved with the, you know, materials, and also just heating fuel," Shafer said.

Margie O'Driscoll with the American Institute of Architects says Americans have a tendency to acquire stuff, a trend she thinks may be changing.

"You can hire professionals to come in and organize your garage and your closet, and really that speaks to having a lot of stuff. And if you have to organize it, and you don't even know what it is, you sort of start to wonder: 'well do I really need to have as much as I have'. And I think that the time of American excess has really begun to shift and people are starting to identify what is really important to them," O'Driscoll said.

Bill Kastrinos gave up traditional home building last year to start a company called Tortoiseshell Homes.

"I've had several people, young people that just want to downsize. I'm getting rid of stuff. I'm having garage sales. I have three sets of China. What do I need three sets of China for?" Kastrinos noted. "So there is just a thought process that is going on where people are saying 'well okay, if global warming is really a big problem, how much help am I by changing light bulbs to fluorescence.' It is going to take a major rethinking of everything we do."

Tortoiseshell homes are less elaborate than Shafer's and cheaper.

But both constructions are well insulated, both can be mounted on trailers, and both sleep two comfortably, in an upstairs loft.

"The bathroom becomes the shower. I have another door over here to protect the window from water, and that works out pretty well," Shafer explained. "The little composting toilet is down here, and I can pull a plastic curtain in front of that so it doesn't get wet."

Tiny houses are not for everyone, but Shafer is more than happy to call his tiny house, home.