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Architect's Dream House: Less Than 200 Square Feet (npr.org)
213 points by RougeFemme on Dec 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments

I think technology is the enabling factor behind the tiny house movement.

Books, CDs, movies, photos, files, paperwork, videogames: all compressed down to the size of a hard drive. So many random gadgets have been replaced by a smart phone, like camera equipment, phones, flashlights, calendars, etc. Now people are ditching TVs as well and just using iPads and laptops to watch video.

There are other more subtle things as well. For example, I haven't needed to iron a shirt in years because nice shirts come out of the dryer looking perfect. So no need for an iron or ironing board.

Then there's service-economy-ification. Most of my neighbors don't mow their own lawn, none of them fix their own cars, and several don't even clean their own house. I wonder how many brew their own coffee? That's a huge amount of equipment that is no longer needed. When I lived in New York, literally 100% of my local friends used wash-and-fold and owned nothing to take care of clothing. A close friend of mine confessed recently that he hasn't prepared a real meal in years; his kitchen cabinets are nearly empty.

The sharing economy is pushing this further. There's a tool-share co-op in my city for those things you need once-in-a-while, like a ladder. Car2Go and ZipCar mean people don't need 2 and 3 car garages at all anymore.

I can't wait to get rid of more stuff!

I just finished watching BBS: The Documentary and noticed the same thing. It seemed like everyone they interviewed had an entire room full of old computer equipment. They had boxes of software, walls of hardware manuals, stacks of monitors, cabinets of capacitors and resistors, rows of soldering irons, and at least one fully-equipped workbench.

Up until the past decade or so if you wanted to be a serious computer enthusiast you needed an empty garage; now you just need space on your desk for a Macbook Pro.

i like minimalism but to a point. i have a full workbench for example as i like to fix stuff on m own. not just computers, mind you. i also like creating physical stuff - i think most ppl on HN revolve around creating non-physical stuff most of the time.

i also cook my own food more often than not. both are more economical _and_ i enjoy it. ive a 800sqft 1 bedroom in sf so its not that small either. workbench isnt in a garage so its pretty compact yet is a real, full featured bench. 2500sqft with unused rooms certainly is way too big tho.

I know what you mean about physical stuff. Many years ago, when I'd finish a cool software project, I couldn't really show it to anyone -- it was just a bunch of gibberish to them. But once I started some wood working... I can still to this day show people my home made computer desk, book cases, etc. But none of my early software hacks still survives.

Someone with 'space on a desk for an apple product' is not really a 'computer enthusiast' just like someone with a mobile phone is not a 'radio amateur'. Yes, the phone contains an advanced radio system, enabling the user to communicate with whomever they want at the flick of a finger. In contrast to a radio amateur the user usually does not know how the thing works other than which buttons to press. The apple user usually knows which buttons to press but show them the nitty-gritty details of how that button press is translated into action on the hardware and their eyes glaze over. A serious computer enthusiast is better off with that wall of hardware, better off with Linux or *BSD than with a closed system, if it is OSX they want to run they're better of with a hackintosh.

Most of the programmers I know use MacBook Pros. Some have hackintosh desktops as a backup, but concede that the hackintosh setups are a pain in the ass compared to an actual Mac. So I'm not sure where you're getting that last part.

Are these people not computer enthusiasts?

Personally, no. I would computer enthusiast requires either building your own computer or having old computers around. This is needlessly pedanic, but it's perfectly fine to be a programming enthusiast.

For instance, my grandpa had a ton of computers from the vic 20 to the IBM PC

BBS: The Documentary is so, so wonderful.

If you liked this, you'd probably also like Get Lamp--also by Jason--which is about interactive text adventures in general and Infocom in particular. I'm probably biased because I know a lot of the people in the film but I thought it was great. (And more of a true film than BBS.)

In the 1980s (roughly the period covered by that documentary), you didn't necessarily need to build printed circuit boards and the like. Though a number of people interviewed in the film go back to the very earliest days of BBSs when there was more of that sort of thing.) But, you're basically right. Even if you didn't do a lot of soldering, you generally were building PCs, needed all sorts of cables and miscellaneous hardware, lots of books and other paper.

When yuppies do it, it's a tiny house. When everyone else does, it's a trailer.

Lol. That's a good one I'm going to steal.

Things like "not needing to iron a shirt" are nice (basically, labor-saving devices and technology), but doing none of your own cooking, laundry, coffee, mowing, car repair, etc is sad to me.

Life gets more empty when you live an outsourced life. I agree that "stuff" can get toxic, but rather than shooting for owning just a laptop and a single change of clothes, I instead aim to interact directly with my possessions. Do my own maintenance & repair wherever possible. It connects you with what you own, and encourages you to own reasonable things. Why would I want a house with six bedrooms and five bathrooms- I'm the one who will have to repair them!

Of course there are limits; a six-hour service job on my truck will be outsourced, especially as in my hands it would stretch to a twelve-hour job and I want to enjoy my weekend. But repairing my sink or changing the oil take a half hour.

"For example, I haven't needed to iron a shirt in years because nice shirts come out of the dryer looking perfect. So no need for an iron or ironing board."

I'm more in the "minimalism but within a big property" than in the "minimalism within tiny houses" movement but I'm curious about these "nice shirts" that do not need ironing: would you have any brand / links? (genuinely curious for I wouldn't mind getting rid of my iron)

Besides that I find watching a movie on a 15" MacBook or, worse, an iPad to be a terribly bad experience and, honestly, a 42 flat TV (which isn't big by any mean) isn't something that takes up a lot of real estate.

Not related to your comment but I'd say that "minimalism" looks better (for properties, for paintings, for UIs, ...) when there's lots of "free space" around. These tiny houses look kinda weird: I prefer Steve Jobs and his couch + stereo in his big empty living room : )

Oxford-style dress shirts do not require ironing. They can be bought at most men's stores (e.g., Uniqlo, Bonobos, J. Crew).

Also of note: The person interviewed in the story is female, not male.

I think there is a lot of potential for job creation for young and unskilled workers in the domestic service economy. You could have a device guide a service company employee around your house to do things like take your laundry out to be picked up and returned by a laundry company, and pack it back again, do an inventory of what's in your fridge and food cupboard, and do some tidying or cleaning according to instructions the way you want it. You can have it organised that one person can go around several apartments in one day, and make it simple and secure so people can take this up as temporary jobs easily.

> I think technology is the enabling factor behind the tiny house movement.

Not totally, as others have mentioned our grandparents generation lived tiny as well.

Technology allowed us to consume big but yes it'll allow us to go back tiny again by consuming efficiently.

Yeah, but these days you can have an actual career and telecommute from a place where the land is still less than $1000 an acre.

I agree wholeheartedly. I spent the last 6 months living a nomadic life, staying in airbnbs, and all my worldy possessions squeezed into a single suitcase and carry on bag. This included an external monitor for my macbook air, walking boots, and well what else does one need really.

Last week I returned to the UK and rented a 2 bed flat, which turned out to be a mistake, I would have been happy in a studio. My decision to rent a 2 bed is based on my previous experience of having books, hifi separates, desktops. So now I'm buying books just to fill out the space and make it look less like I've been robbed. I prefer kindle. I'm definitely downsizing next move.

> I think technology is the enabling factor behind the tiny house movement.

I'm not sure why these stories keep coming up as original. I received my architecture degree in the early 90s and we had an entire studio course that included designing micro structures for dense urban populations. Yet, at least once a year I see a story about this novel new concept.

It's just a little house. If you put them all together in a village format it becomes a mobile home park. But for some reason no one wants to live there. Call it a mini house or micro house and suddenly it's cool. shrug

Nowhere in the interview does the architect say that this is an original idea. She explicitly mentions that it is a growing trend, in fact. And also the words "micro" and "mini" don't appear at all in the article.

This is cool because she did a stunningly beautiful job on an 11,000$ budget. Her aesthetic sensibilities are, from the looks of this project, almost perfectly aligned with mine... but I have none of the talent to create something so beautiful in any medium unfortunately. Wow!

The point I'm trying to make is that this has been a growing trend for more than 30 or 40 years. And every year, sometimes several times a year, we see an article that talks about how great this style of living and building is. But it never goes any further than that.

And the fact that the article doesn't specifically call it a micro, mini or tiny home, does not negate the fact that there is an entire industry that caters to this market.

It's cool that she built it herself, but that's about it.

How/why should the article go any further? I don't know, it seems like you're being needlessly negative.

These "machines for living" tend to be very popular with single/childless architecture students - real people with real families much less so.

When I lived in New York, literally 100% of my local friends used wash-and-fold and owned nothing to take care of clothing.

Not to mention: don't have cars...

I agree. I decided to give away my prized collection of books and move to e-books in my quest for minimalism. The only challenge that remains now is my musical instruments. :)

There's always the phone Ocarina: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/~ge/ocarina/

But here's the thing: I can if I wish pay £0 for clothes one year and wear what I already own. What happens if I stop paying the rent on my hired clothes? Or anything else. This is also one of the arguments against cloud computing...

And I can't imagine living on takeout to be healthy or economic in the long term... Be wary of extrapolating from being 23 to even 33 let alone 63.

I am so looking forward to trimming my possessions down to a carryon suitcase and a backpack. Will replace my computer with macbook air, ipad with ipad mini and keep my kindle, get rid of my SLR with small sony pocket camera and be on my way.

I think house in the article is maybe 150sq feet too small, I like to have friends over from time to time. But for one person it is almost perfect.

That is a sub par experience you can't compare a tiny i pad to watching a film on a say 55/60 inch screen with a decent sound set up.

And a really efficient computer set up demands twin or triple monitors.

The retina iPads are higher resolution, color-calibrated and likely higher quality panels then the big screen you're talking about. And you can easily use high-quality headphones to get quality sound out of them as well. Maybe not surround-sound... yet.

My wife and I live in a ~720 sq. foot loft we built inside of an airplane hangar. The story is here: http://www.makingthishome.com/hangar-loft-remodel/

We really love living in smaller spaces.

So ... I saw Katie's "Tire House" post. I've seen and read some of Mike Reynolds' work, but hadn't seen anyone specifically critical of the Earthship design. Is there a specific post which gets into the downsides of the mode of construction or do I have to read her whole blog to find out?


In a nutshell, we encountered two problems (which may or may not be prevalent with all Earthships)

1. Extreme temperature fluctuations. You're essentially living inside a solar collector. In the fall, the sun would blaze in through the windows, and I know you're supposed to have overhangs, shades and air vents and underground air circulation systems, all of which we used. The bottom line is you can't cheat physics. Even with the shades closed, the house is receiving over 300k BTU/hr of solar heat. This is just too much for any reasonably sized cooling system to handle. My infrared thermometer measured surface temperatures in excess of 140 deg. F on surfaces near the windows. In the winter, the same windows would leak heat like a sieve. Here in Montana when it's overcast, 10 deg. F, and the wind is blowing 30 mph the front of the house would barely reach 55 deg F. This was with the 30k BTU propane furnace going 100% duty cycle. I would work at my computer with long pants, a sweater, a blanket over my legs, and an electric heater blowing under the blanket :) The rear of the house is built into the hillside, so it would be warmer in the back, but you could never get the place past about about 65-68 in the winter no matter how much you tried. The sheer size of the front windows and lack of insulation again made the house design at odds with thermodynamics in my opinion.

For the sake of comparison, our place in the hangar has ~R30 walls to the hangar, and again about ~R25 walls to the outside. We have in-floor radiant heat provided by our geothermal heat pump. Earlier this month when it was -20 deg. F outside we were toasty warm at 74 (we have a newborn child in the house now). And we were using significantly less energy to heat than at the Earthship.

2. Mice. The house construction methods are inherently porous, and mice have infiltrated the entire structure. They live in the cavities the walls form (and the roof supports), along the utility raceways in the ceiling, under cabinets, everywhere. I surmise that the mice have tunneled through the back of the hillside, between the tires, and up into the hollow cavities which support the ceiling. They then use this space to move around the inside of the house structure to other areas. No amount of trapping poisoning, etc. has slowed the onslaught of mice into the house. If the only way to prevent mice from infiltrating your supposedly green house is to use concrete in its construction and set outdoor poison traps which potentially kill hundreds of mice and may harm animals which then consume the poisoned mice, is this really such a green alternative?

I've visited an Earthship being constructed in Big Sky Montana by Mike Reynolds this year. The design changes I've seen may partially address point 1, but as far as point 2 I'm not at all convinced that this new house will be any better. I admire his vision, and that he's been able to take his ideas so far. From an engineering standpoint, even taking into account the ecological footprint of the structure, I'm not convinced that his approach is the best when you look at the whole picture.

Thanks for that, I'd wondered.

For the thermal properties of the southern window exposure, I've wondered about that and in particular how that was affected by both summer and winter conditions. The fact that the EarthShips were first built in Taos, NM, which does get cold, but not quite to Montana conditions, suggested to me that the glazing might be a problem in colder climates. I've been to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, CO, which has more extreme conditions, and it too shares both the semi-subterranean nature and large southern glass exposure of the Earthships (Lovins grows bananas in the atrium, in a bit of cheek).


⚫ What is the glazing? I'd hope for at least double-paned on the windows.

⚫ Some sort of exterior shading -- and awning, tree plantings, or removable sunshades (bamboo, canvas, or similar) might help the fall exposure.

⚫ Creating an internal vestibule, closing off the front garden from the main living space with a second set of doors/windows, or increasing the airflow through skylights or other openings might help moderate internal temperatures in both warmer and colder months.

⚫ Internal window coverings could minimize heat losses in the winter.

65-68F is actually about a perfect indoor temperature for me (if not excessively warm), so I wouldn't be complaining about that, though I realize not everyone feels that way.

I understand you were renting, not owning, so not all of these modifications would have been viable, but ... so it seems.

The mouse problem seems trickier. A cat (or snakes) might help. For pest control, it's seemed to me that solutions aimed at reproduction (bait with birth control in it, for example) tend to be more effective, though if you've got a large external breeding population there's likely no way you could keep up. Knowing what kinds of openings rodents can get through, sealing off the structure seems all but impossible. Gives you an additional appreciation for why the Egyptians worshiped cats as gods, however.


These pushes for housing like Earthships are curious, especially in light of your comments (which mirror my expectations). Not curious by themselves, but curious in what they represent. Humans developed modern housing specifically to combat weather, slow ingress by pests, etc. I wonder if this Earthship (etc) movement represents a shift in where we are living. Ages ago, Europeans & Mediterraneans lived in a lot of unfavorable weather. Do more people live in temperate regions today, for a movement like this to happen? Why would that be the case? Perhaps shipping & the global economy have created a class of peoples that can live wherever they choose, where such a class of people did not exist before?

Humans developed modern housing specifically to combat weather, slow ingress by pests, etc.

That's part of the push.

There's also a lot of influence from real estate developers, financiers, and the like, to produce a, hate the word but it fits, "product" which will entice purchasers.

Much of the construction materials and standards are of the bare minimum to pass inspection. If you're in the trades you'll hear terms for wall blocks (the horizontal pieces placed between studs) depending on whether they're attached with one or two nails per end (the latter is marginally more expensive, but more robust), the thickness of studs, type of sheeting used, etc. Notably, contractor friends when building their own home significantly upgraded construction standards from code with an aim toward longevity and robustness.

The principles behind Earthships (and other sustainable designs) are to, generally, minimize both environmental impacts (through locally sourced and recycled materials) and ownership costs (through passive heating and cooling, water collection and reuse, etc.). Earthship Biotecture discusses the motives and evolution of their designs:


The key principles:

⚫ A structure built from largely recycled materials

⚫ Heating and cooling

⚫ Electrical system

⚫ Water harvest system

⚫ Contained on site sewage treatment system

⚫ Food production

The designs (or variations on it) are used in a wide range of climates, from alpine to desert to tropical to temperate.

As for the pest-resistance -- rodents and insects aren't unheard of in modern and/or traditional construction either, though it would be interesting to get a direct comparison of the Earthship vs. more conventional designs in similar areas.

You are starting to sound like you have a bridge to sell. I was just speculating about earthships, extreme climates, and the evolution of housing.

No bridges. However there's this phenomenal set of clothes which only the most discerning can appreciate ... ;-)

You asked a question. I answered it based on both 1) my direct experience with construction and constructions standards and 2) material which is directly viewable on Earthship Biotechture's website.

As I stated above: I've known of the general concept for years (decades -- first heard about "junk houses" in the 1970s), but really only started revisiting it in the past year or so. And I'm genuinely interested in what the negatives of the design are.

I'm also generally somewhat skeptical of alternative concepts. Widely used designs are, if not always ideal, at least generally well understood particularly in their shortcomings and/or failure modes. And a lot of alternative concepts tend to be oversold, especially by their creators and proponents (and Reynolds is nothing if not a crusader).

If you're interested in the evolution of housing, it's helpful to realize that there's a vast diversity of designs applied to many different locales. Much of the variance is due to local needs, materials, costs, and capabilities. E.g., building with loose or lightly mortared stone and mud brick is cheap, but not particularly proof against earthquakes.

If you'll travel across the US, you'll find very, very similar designs being built independent of climate or location. I could speculate on specifically why, but a huge level of concentration in the homebuilding industry likely has a great deal to do with this. I'm also well-acquainted with fairly recent construction which has fared poorly even in only a few years, hence my comments on construction quality.

I live in a passive solar house with probably 10 foot overhangs on the south facing windows. I have no heat problems in the summer. Do you think sufficient overhangs would have solved the earthship problem? I also live in Montana.

Best username ever - and perfect for someone that lives in a hanger!

Wow, beautiful space!!

This is fine in a warm country, or in a place where you're going to be in or out of your house all the time. Living in a cold and/or isolated place, being cooped up in such a small area would be unhealthy, you need to move around much more as a matter of course. Particularly if you're working at home, you'd have to be very proactive to avoid serious impacts on your health, because your lifestyle would be almost inherently sedentary. Exercise is not just doing a certain amount of cardio each week, you have to have movement interspersed throughout the day.

I reckon you could have various different 'pods', though, rather than a standard house. A small space like this, then an isolated office room five minutes walk away, perhaps a cafe/communal eating area somewhere else ,and so on.

But in many places that have a "small dwelling" culture, what happens is exactly as you might expect: people do not just sit in their single chair 24 hours a day, rather they start spending more time in public, and relatively less time at home. As small dwellings are often correlated with population density, this works pretty naturally, with smaller dwellings being in exactly those areas with a greater number of amenities catering to people living in them.

Indeed, in such case, you're probably a lot better off than "home dwellers" as far as exercise is concerned, as walking around to go to the cafe to read, etc, uses a lot more energy than just walking around your house...

In a way, what happens is that your dwelling expands to include your neighborhood as well (with the actual dwelling remaining as more just a place to sleep).

[Certainly this sort of thing is a little easier in a warm climate, but it clearly works fine in many other climates too. A little snow doesn't stop people.]

Having been raised in a cold and isolated country (Finland) I think you incorrectly assume that means a lot of time spent indoors. This can be true, but does not have to.

I do think you are on to something with the idea of pods, most farmhouses where I come from are arranged in a number of small separate buildings.

Sure you went outside plenty, but did you go outside at night? Personally, where I live, when the temperature drops below freezing at night, I stop going outside when it is dark, and as the nights get longer that means at least 14 hours a day indoors.

I go out every night and mostly only at night when it's -20C. I do stay in when it goes below that usually, you just need to get used to it and dress properly.

This is just something you need to change yourself and get used to, it won't get any easier if you just ignore the cold.

The problem isn't being cold; I have good clothing and don't mind 40F in the slightest. The issue is I haven't really discovered reasons to even be outside- good activities I can safely enjoy among the ice & snow and in the extra-dark of winter

Buy a pair of Icebreaker merino wool leggings, some smart wool socks, and a good fleece layer. If you're cold at 32 degrees F, then you are having a clothing fail.

I like that distributed space idea but if you're not in a warm climate that would be a serious annoyance. Who wants to go out in freezing weather to get to the kitchen? you could get your exercise interspersed throughout the day without leaving the tiny house.

Dunno. I spent 2 months living in a 6ft x 8ft tent while trying to climb Everest. I got plenty of fresh air and exercise - sometimes a little too much. I actually found it quite pleasant although I was reduced to reading paper books - internet access was tricky.

Whoever's down voting Brakenshire is down voting the truth. There are actual studies that show the point[1].

1) and since I am 7 hours away from my office, I cannot point them out right now

You can compress these things and a lot of people have, but to live like this is another story.

I myself build homes, apartments, I also design kitchens, did flips, and I can tell you that I have not met one person that could live in a tiny box like that. Yes, it is a dream of everyone, to be very simple and live like this, but this is not going to happen.

She moved from 2,500sqft to 200sqft, why? You don't wake up one day and do that unless you cannot afford living in a house, and I don't care what she says. Maybe it's her cottage or trailer, I really don't know, but don't believe anything they say on the news.

A lot of people would go insane in a 200sqft space. It's like a cell. If anyone wants to try, please come live in my shed. It's very minimalistic, raw, super nice like this place.


Agreed. Stunts like this are done by design students; what evidence that anyone lives in it, for any significant amount of time?

I've had a strange notion recently, that these things are actually not helpful in the larger scheme of things. Some creative person goes an lives in a shoebox; no room to design or socialize or have a hobby or even bring work home. Now we've taken a productive person out of society and turned them into a hermit. How does that help? It seems selfish at some level.

Octu in a capsule hotel sounds like hell on earth

This woman seems to do ok: http://rowdykittens.com/

Apparently there are "a lot of" ~200 square feet apartments in Helsinki (20m^2). The normal size of a single-room apartment is about 30m^2, though.

I happily live with my wife in a 160 sq ft RV and have met tons of happy couples over the past year doing exactly the same.

Yes, but you are traveling and working as a web developer. Try starting a family in a 160sq RV, and work from there at the same time. You will go insane and get a divorce after 8 months. (I totally made the number up).

I am not saying that people cannot do it, when I was little we lived in an apartment with very tiny two bedrooms and a kitchen (4 people). I was sleeping on bunk beds ... Unless you are poor, are traveling in your RV, are an eco freak, or you're living in a densely populated area (China, Korea etc), there's just no reason for you to live in a tiny place.

This tiny house, however, would be great as a cabin where you can relax over the weekend, get away from city life.

I agree what JoeAltmaier is saying.

> I have not met one person that could live in a tiny box like that

What's wrong with the people you've met? If they're single there's no reason they couldn't live in a place like that. They don't need most of the junk they own and could get along just fine in a small home.

I'm in a wheelchair. Brand new houses built with stairs make me sad. I've often thought I'd love to work with an architect to design accessible houses: it's not just for me, anyone with limited mobility or energy would benefit.

This is basically a mobile home, which has no foundation. As such, there is nothing in the design which is not easily re-built to your spec. The design is inherently modular. When you are dealing with a 200sq ft living space, its best to have it tailored to your own needs, and not a random or lowest common-denominator-based spec. The common areas, however take on more importance in a community or non-remote setting ans thus are the relevant areas to consider from an architecture perspective.

Hey thanks, that's good to know.

"Tailored to your needs"

"Not a random or lowest-common-denominator-based spec"

So you want it to cost what a 1,200 sqft building would cost, but you want to spend it on architects and custom builders instead of cheap efficient standardized parts & designs.

A wheelchair ramp, sure I guess... but the general principle of housing for most of us can't be "Find a way to occupy the unemployed architecture majors of the world".

No, the house in the article was built for $11,000 dollars. That's the cost of provisioning about 5 square feet of London real estate. You're mis-reading be-tween the lines, by a couple orders of magnitude.

Yes I agree. A family member is in a wheelchair/power chair and where I live, it's nearly impossible to find single level homes unless you build new. There home was recently modified with a $16,000 elevator and honestly it's barely accessible. A power chair just makes it into the elevator and there's absolutely no room to turn inside the lift.

I wish there was more interest in accessible vehicles as well. Outside of the Kenguru which can't go up hills and is limited to 25MPH (since it's NEV) there aren't many other options which allows a power chair user to drive (without transferring).

For powered (and unpowered chairs) you're looking at a modified van - I'm sorry I can't remember the company that builds them right now.

Please make sure the chair can be anchored correctly and is certified for use in a vehicle.

You don't have any contact details in your profile but feel free to contact me about this - I think you're just missing the right search keywords (for the vehicles)

My sister, who lives in midtown Manhattan, lives in an apartment smaller than this place. If you're downsizing from a bigger place, you basically get rid of everything. I have 30+ wine glasses in my condo in Chicago. My sister has two.

The other thing that happens in a tiny space: you end up buying quality. You will wait to find "just the right desk lamp" and then pay a premium for it.

With space you end up buying so much stuff you may end up not really using, or buy low quality stuff just to fill the space.

I've got 30 lineal feet of bookshelves in my house that are filled with books I bought over the last 30 years. If I lived in my sister's house, I'd have to get rid of 80% of them.

I could do that, but I don't have to, so I don't.

Books are the one thing that a subgroup of hackers has a hard time parting with. I'm fairly minimalistic with all of my possessions, but books... man, I would have a really hard time getting rid of my library :(

I'm a lot more pragmatic. If Amazon told me they would give me an ebook version of each book I sent to them, I would immediately get rid of 90% of my books (everything except my coffee table books and a couple dozen books that hold sentimental value.)

don't the minimum room size guidelines for apartments in the city prohibit such small living quarters?

Nope, no minimum room size for single-room occupancy. Minimum square footage in NYC for 2 people is around 140 square feet I believe. I lived in a 6'x10' space on east 82nd street for years, and paid a fourth what my neighbors paid in rent. Of course that was still more than I pay now for my 2BR in Seattle...

If you haven't seen the documentary "tiny house movement" watch it...

Personally, I think these efforts lack an understanding of basic annoyances:

Assume you want to sleep when others don't? Oh - the answer is this is for happy single people.

Assume you overcook your steak and the whole place smokes up and your bedding now stinks.

Assume you have more than (1) friend over.

Have kids?

I LOVE small/minimal spaces - but they are really not for the majority of people. They are too small cramped and inefficient for average living.

Christ, my closet is bigger than that unit.

Somehow most people living in dense cities make do with a small amount of space. For example it's not uncommon to find 300sq ft apartments in Manhattan. Some people even manage to raise kids in such space. Look at places like Hong Kong and similar where small units are the norm and yet people seem to be able to live with the issues you mention.

It is quite true that you can live happily in small places. However, it doesn't mean it is preferable to do so.

Having lived with my wife in a 490 sq foot jr. one bedroom for one year - and now in a 2 bedroom, ~800 sq foot place, I can say I really don't get the whole minimal housing thing. Our new place is objectively better; aside from price and the most marginal savings in cleaning time, there was no advantage to living in the smaller place.


* It was impossible in old place to fit bikes, TV, and 2 computer stations in living area. So 1 computer station went into bedroom. Causes conflicts if one person is sleeping and other is awake -- moving computer + associated papers/books is an annoyance.

* Dedicated sleeping room. No need to disturb other sleeping person while getting clothes, etc.

* Place to retreat: In a small place, if you just want to be alone, you really can't be. We have lower stress levels with 2 bedrooms.

* Space to move around: We feel healthier having more space to move around.

* Can now actually invite more than just 3 people over at a time.

That said there are limits; we'd gain little from more space. But there's a lot to be said for having at least one bedroom per person.

Some people live without a home at all. That doesn't mean it's a healthy way to raise kids.

Are you comparing living without a home to living in a small apartment in a major city?

Given people seemed to raise kids and survive in 983 sq ft during the 1950s (average house size) I don't see why people think we need massive houses to raise children in today.

Are you comparing living without a home to living in a small apartment in a major city?

No he's saying that an environment being "survivable" isn't an argument for what should be an acceptable environment for everyone.

Yes, but I was using the definition of "small" from your previous post: 300 sq ft, not 900+ sq. ft.

>Look at places like Hong Kong...

I have spent extensive time in HK, and I apologize that I have only had the misfortune of interacting with people who make incomes on-par or above that of a typical Silicon Valley worker, thus they have AMAZING places to live....

Unfortunately I am at the poor end of the spectrum at south of 200K USD per annum

What about the RV folks, same criticisms?

We live in 8x25'. The bedroom is separate enough for one to sleep while the other is awake. My wife and I's schedule is offset by about an hour or two. Give each other a bit of alone time.

She also cooks 3 meals a day in our tiny kitchen. Nothing stinks afterwards.

If you're interested in learning more about this, I highly suggest subscribing to Kirsten Dirksen on Youtube.


She publishes new videos every couple weeks or so and is intimately tied into the tiny house movement.

She also covers things involving alternate ways of living, diy, etc. Lovely person.

Yeah she has a bunch of interesting videos on this.

Living small(er) in order to minimize carbon footprint makes sense. Green Metropolis by David Owen is a fantastic book that makes the case for Manhattan being a great blueprint for the ideal city of the future -- people living more densely = less energy use individually & less "space" to accumulate stuff and waste. Trash disposal in the city is such a complex problem that residents are literally forced to be economical about their consumption habits. Traditional concepts of homesteading on the plains, whether with large ranch houses or an "eco" house made of straw and mud are not necessarily ecologically friendly when there's imperative need to drive to get to the nearest urban area for work, school, shopping, etc -- these, he argues, are the antithesis of efficiency.

Small eco-homes are not just a trend; they are the new era in real estate development. But they need to be built such that they can collectively share infrastructures the same way city residents do. The project I'm working on, applied to YC with (and was rejected from) last batch is built on this idea of more ecological homesteading in order to create better urban planning. Masdar City http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/ is an interesting prototype for the future of cities. We've schooled our youngins enough for them to know that ecological awareness needs to be a lifestyle. They're surprisingly aware that the world they are inheriting has exponential population growth, limited resources, and that the "industrial revolution" model of economic viability just isn't going to work forever they way it has been working.

Cute little cabin and amazing what you can put into 20 m2. And it must be nice to know that you've built it yourself.

But I don't believe for a second that this is the architect's dream house. Come on. It's like saying that a static blog is a programmer's dream project.

She may have had a dream one night about living in a small house but I am sure that as soon as she can afford to, she will move into something bigger. Let's not kid ourselves :-)

Yeah it is just a tricked out mobile home.

Actually, no, it's not just a tricked out mobile home. Apart from size, it's constructed like most regular homes, but even higher quality. Most tiny houses are built using stick framing, same as regular houses, with 6" exterior walls and lots of insulation (higher insulation level than most regular homes), have level of interior trim that is similar to but usually better than regular homes. Also most tiny houses are built so at least part of structure has very high ceilings, 11 to 12 feet, which greatly adds to feeling of spaciousness. Tiny homes cost much more per square foot than regular size homes, but of course are much cheaper overall. Even though they're usually built on wheeled trailers and can be moved, they're not built for constant moving.

In short, tiny homes are built to "feel" like a regular home, even though much smaller. Mobile homes, in contrast, are not, generally feel cheap and light, much different experience.

Take a look at this: http://www.cubeproject.org.uk/ Genius use of space.

Saw it on a great UK TV show called George Clark's Amazing Spaces, where there are lots of brilliant creative ideas.

Edit: Link to a brochure with a nice expanded drawing: http://www.boltonbuildings.co.uk/PDF/Cube.pdf

The difference is 'Family'. Inevitably you will need to have a partner and say, four children, for the human race to survive. At that point you have to go the traditional route.

My wife and I lived in a 430 square foot apartment with a baby. It was tolerable, but could have been very reasonable if the space wasn't so poorly utilized (the apartment was mostly bathroom and kitchen). We now live in 1,300 square feet with a baby and my mother, and we could easily shave 200-300 square feet off that if we didn't have unnecessarily large bathrooms and bedrooms.

Houses these days are unnecessarily large. My parents live in 6,500 square feet, and they're empty nesters! I guess that space makes a lot more sense be because they live in a suburban hellhole where there are no public spaces and every excursion outside is a half-hour car trip, one way.

There are many, many, many people producing children at well above replacement levels, and we are already well above the carrying capacity of our environment. I have no personal guilt at choosing not to have children.

Actually most advanced societies are not producing enough children to keep the population stable.

But they're importing enough immigrants to more than make up the difference.

Which is a very good thing.

Is it? Advanced society's dying off isn't something people usual celebrate.

Nobody said dying off, but it's a well-understood fact that humanity is growing at an unsustainable rate.

Good. There are too many people as it is. Running the birthrate at below replacement levels for a few generations is the only humane way to address that.

We're not well above carrying capacity for the environment, seeing as how mortality rates are going down and not up.

We're probably above sustainable carrying capacity. One of the great race conditions humanity faces is whether the bulk of the world will develop to a high enough standard of living for birth rates and hence population to drop before we run out of the natural resources we need to feed our current population.

>Inevitably you will need to have a partner and say, four children, for the human race to survive.

No, you personally won't. Plenty of people go their entire life without raising children and yet the human race continues to grow.

And there's nothing stopping you from raising a family in a small space. My family spent 6 months in a ~700 sq ft apartment in Chicago when I was growing up.

Even assuming that people started having four children "for the human race to survive" (a wacky thought in itself) what would prevent a family from having a compound of two or three tiny homes? At some point you would need so many tiny homes you wouldn't have much cost savings. But seems totally doable to have pair of homes or trio of homes, with, e.g., kids sleeping in one and parents in another, connected by common deck/porch.

people have a lot of kids in tiny houses all over the world.

Most people who choose to live this way in highly-efficient areas are +3 standard deviations away from the mean when it comes to wealth, which is also highly correlated with lack of progeny. So I wouldn't be worried about that.

Should be retitled "Architect randomly decides to build a single-wide trailer home"

That's a great looking tiny house. If you're interested in seeing more and learning about other people's experiences building and living in tiny houses, I recommend checking out http://tinyhouseblog.com

My aunt and I think eight or nine sibling grew up in this house https://maps.google.com/?ll=46.24838,-63.12407&spn=0.001167,...

"eight or nine"!! You don't know how many siblings you have bro?

Siblings of the aunt.

To be fair I should have wrote that sentence a bit clearer, phone + cold fingers (-15C) + damn autocorrect + impulsiveness + poor spelling (her siblings) don't work in my favour.

I find a 37ft sail boat fits my needs completely. Some added benefits: relocatable, scenery and built in furniture.

The house is lovely, but...tiny homes in the US are mostly detached and surrounded by wide open spaces or have long views out of the windows. They also have plenty of natural light. These factors don't make the homes feel tiny.

The real challenge for most cities is to build high-density housing where you might not have pleasant long views out of your window or lots of natural light. Higher-density housing doesn't mean high-rise, but it probably won't include building (many) detached homes. Apartments and terraced (row) houses are more suited to high-density developments.

Could you still live in a 200 square feet home if it was a single-aspect apartment in an apartment block? (Single aspect = windows along just one side of the apartment compared to a double-aspect apartment with windows at the front and back of the apartment). Or could you live in an equivalent tiny terraced house?

Just for comparison, London now has minimum space standards for new homes (but England and Wales do not). A one bedroom apartment for two people must be a minimum of 50 square metres (538 square feet). In Germany, the equivalent apartment is 60 square metres.


To me these spaces are modest in size rather that palatial but space is relative and we all have different ideas of what tiny, small or large mean to us depending on where we live. New build homes in the UK tend to be the smallest in Europe and the quality of many new build homes is poor. Here's a comparison of the average size of new homes in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Denmark:


Here's a US architect that I think is more realistic towards downsizing: http://rosschapin.com/Plans/plans.html

I am going against the wind. It's not only stupid but also ugly.

Having your bedroom near or inside a kitchen is a total chaos.

>I think technology is the enabling factor behind the tiny house movement.

Technology has helped most persons own a 'palace' which was only possible for super-rich in the past, due to lack of 'economical' technology and advancements.

The subreddit /r/tinyhouses has lots of this sort of thing, and is a pretty good collation of various blogs and articles on the subject, with some pretty decent conversation.

Just one small correction. The cost of a house like this is $11,000 + the money she never made because of her own time (18 months!) invested in construction. So the total, strictly speaking, is way way higher than $11k.

I love that she designed and built the house herself, and I love that she did a great job on the interior design. I also like that there's a little bit of yard (perhaps a lot -- hard to tell from the photo).

I like the 200 sq. foot size a little less. My own dream homes (there are two):

1. A small home (> 200 sq. feet) or perhaps unit in a larger condominium complex or communal living space in a denser urban conglomeration. The town/city is not so large that you cannot easily walk or ride a bike through the length of it. Lots of trees and green space. Light rail transportation to nearby urban areas. Not as dense as SF or anywhere near as dense as Manhattan. But not so suburban that you need a car. Building height is kept at or below five stories, and averages two stories. The buildings do not block sunlight. There are places at the edge of the town/city for long-term car storage, but driving is not permitted within it.

2. A nice cabin or ranchouse (~1000-2000 sq. feet?) in the countryside with access to light rail within biking distance.

Nicely efficient use of space. Reminds me of a motor home (as opposed to a 'mobile home' which tries its best to avoid reminding you it is only 10' wide). I enjoyed the comment that read "I only need 200 sq ft to live in but I need 4000 sq ft for storage." :-)

Storage actually makes a huge difference. I wouldn't be especially into 200 sq. ft. in any case :-) but the difference between a house that has X sq. ft. of finished room with minimal storage--no basement, attic, maybe no garage--and a house that has one or more of those things is huge. To be sure, those spaces attract stuff that should just be unloaded, but it's a big difference.

What is the difference between this and a single wide trailer home?

This home is far smaller than the average single-wide. I looked around online for floor plans and it appears that the smallest plans available are 600sqft or larger.



I'm also a delivery driver with a large (>200 unit) trailer park nearby and none of the homes come close to being this small. Additionally you will note that the trailer that the tiny house is situated on has a fifth wheel for being pulled by a truck, while a single-wide typically will be on a platform with a conventional style hitch.

Good points. Thanks!

This makes people 'trendy', trailer makes people 'white trash'?

Personally I see no difference between this house and trailer.

This is closer in size to a travel trailer.

Is there anyone on HN who doesn't aspire to the minimalist, tiny (usually urban) home, outsourced lifestyle (by that I mean, laundry service, car rental, eat out vs cooking, etc)? I'm genuinely curious.

Hi. The only part of that grouping I'm interested in is "urban". When you get enough people close together, you can do things that are otherwise unprofitable.

I live in a fairly large house on a road with real bus service that connects me to Cambridge, the Boston MBTA, and a commuter rail in and out. That means that we can get along with one car instead of two. We do our own laundry, cook most meals from scratch, and keep multiple cats. We have a standing arrangement with a housekeeper to help clean our house a few times a month.

My chief desire is to be comfortable, not to live a life of ascetic minimalism, aesthetic cleanliness, or meditative contemplation. There are books in every room in the house. There is always a computing device with internet access within a few steps. We have space for Lego, toys, hobbies and tools.

I understand how someone who lives alone might want to be in a tiny space -- because they don't really live there, they live outside the house anyway. But that's not what I want, and it's not what I have.

I'm sure lots don't. I see the attraction of an urban lifestyle but I also like the space and quiet of where I live in the country--and the ability to hop in the car and go somewhere with canoe, skis, etc. (And I enjoy cooking. I travel a lot and find that having to eat out gets old after a while.)

Yes. I like being self-sufficient, having a garden, doing cooking, woodworking, and a lot of stuff on my own.

200 sq ft would be hard for me personally, but mid-January I'm closing on a 375 sq ft building that I'm converting to a living space for myself, my wife and our dog. It will be short term for us while we restore the main building though... probably 18-24 months. After that it we'll use it as a guest house and I'll probably put it on Airbnb or similar as well. I've always wanted to live in a smaller space though so I'm excited. I'm used to about 1,000 sq ft, but we keep most of that empty really.

Super efficient apartments/small living spaces are very attractive to me. I've never tried actually calling one home though -- not very common where I live.

How creative do you expect you'll have to get in a space that size?

I scaled down to a ~550 sq ft unit a couple of years ago, but had an interesting realization a few months after moving in that the walk-through closet that leads to my bathroom (maybe 175 sq feet together) could theoretically work as its own micro-apartment. I closed the door, and started mentally fitting a bed, mini-fridge, microwave and hot plate, and desk into the space. It all fit, give or take a half a foot here or there, and assuming a bit of custom storage.

Admittedly, though, I must have limits for small living spaces. My favorite part of this exercise was opening the door back out into the rest of the apartment, upon which my studio suddenly felt palatial.

Probably not very as it really isn't all that small. It will basically be two rooms; the bathroom with shower, sink and toilet and then the living area with a bed that can be closed off to the rest of the room with a curtain or moveable wall. The rest of the room will be a small kitchen and living area. No laundry is planned so that makes it a bit easier and I don't have to store everything I own in the space. I will implement some storage solutions, but I'm not going to get crazy about it. Just simple things.

Will probably end up something like the wee house layout wise, though not as modern in design: http://www.weehouse.com/wee/

The building is pretty cool as it was originally an ice cream parlor in the 1950's. It was going to be demolished, but a group saved it and moved it to the current location and now I'm taking it over.

I actually got the building for free since I bought the commercial building in front of it (well, negotiated it into the deal so I call it free). The commercial building was built in the 1860's and also saved by the same group. It is pretty unbelievable - has an arched doorway in the back where the horse/wagon pulled in with supplies for the general store and tavern that were in the ground floor. I'm going to finish out an apartment upstairs and have two commercial spaces downstairs - one for my business and one to lease out.

I strongly recommend reading Witold Rybczynski's "The Most Beautiful House in the World" for an interesting study in how one's ideas evolve over time...

If one was confined to 200 sq ft, I would agree that it would be difficult to live in. I think the idea with most of these tiny houses, is that owners live more outdoors, and they move the tiny houses to the environment they want to live in.

My wife and I live in just under 200sq ft. No way we could do it if we weren't mobile. We would drive each other nuts. Warm enough weather that we can keep the door open is preferable.

Just spent the last month in the middle of San Diego and now it is out to the desert.

I like the idea of efficient space and less to keep clean. But I want a well-stocked lab at home: toolboxes, musical instruments, books, hardware projects, cooking equipment. Piles of junk are hard to clean around. I've been thinking that a 'compactus' unit like this might serve all needs: http://www.officecentre.com.au/prod1129.htm You could probably get it installed to house servers in the end-units.

I've debating about doing this in the UK with a 32ft shipping container, and possibly straw bail externally for insulation, and a water collector on the roof for grey usage.

Seen some great projects in London & Brighton, but non in Manchester for homes yet. Though there's been a great use for offices in the Sharp project.

Anyone else in the UK looking at this sort of thing?

One question: Why the wheels if you're only going to move it every so often - say a couple of years?

If you guys like this, then make sure to look at an interview with Marcin Jakubowski the founder of Open Source Ecology.

He said that you can build your own house for $2000 dollar.

I can't find that report now, but here is a link to their discussion form.


they even open source the design to build your own brick presser.

here is more detail. It is called a

OSE Microhouse


Macy Miller's Tiny House is the trend but there are way nicer implementations for just double the price: http://www.ecospacestudios.com/

I think I saw this first on yahoo.com, but once on npr.org, top of hacker news!

Is this to get people used to rising real estate costs?

I'd totally live in a 200sqft apt in SF if someone were to offer one this well thought-out.

Check out the tiny house blog

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