4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Buy Prefab Tiny Houses on Amazon

Screenshot of an Amazon listing for "Timber House dual 40 foot containers"

Amazon / Screen capture

Caveat emptor.

When I saw the headline on a reputable website, Amazon Is Now Selling The Two-Story Tiny Home Of Your Dreams, my first reaction was, 'This is a bad idea.' The author of the post writes:

Ladies and gentleman, please meet the "Timber House," a wooden structure that comes complete with a living room, bathroom, kitchen, and two bedrooms—all available for $75,000 and a click of a button. Despite its name, this prefab creation is a far cry from a log cabin. In fact, it's actually just one shipping container stacked upon another. Here's how it works: Once the two 40-foot shipping containers are delivered to the build site, you take it from there.

Now I was originally just going to write about why you shouldn't buy this kind of thing on Amazon, how houses should be designed for appropriateness to the climate and the site. For instance, the author says, "Each floor of the tiny house is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows so you can essentially rely on natural light, which is a major win for Planet Earth." Except the opposite is true; in most parts of North America you will have too much heat loss or heat gain.

MEKA Thor Model Fake

MEKA Modular

But the real kicker here is that TreeHugger readers have seen this house before. It is the MEKA Thor model, with that rendering shown here in 2010. It was designed in Canada; I liked the wry humor in the rendering, full of Canadian icons like checked lumber jackets, Hudson Bay blankets, and Bruce Mau doorstops. It is still for sale, but for US$170,000.

So what's going on here? Is it real? I asked MEKA and got a quick response: "Sorry to say but that is all fake. They just stole an image off our site. Not sure why anyone would do that."

You can't buy it off the shelf, either, because it is made to order to fit the jurisdiction. According to MEKA, "We build your modules to your local building codes. That means that if you live in Nevada or the North West Territories your MEKA Module will have all the necessary components to pass local inspection."

Nor is it made of shipping containers; it is, in fact, a light steel frame modular building. The brilliance of MEKA was that they made the modules the SIZE of shipping containers, so that they could take advantage of the shipping container transport infrastructure. Transport costs are one of the major limitations of traditional modular construction, but MEKA's innovation was that they could be made anywhere, shipped anywhere. Back in 2010 I worried that this was the future of construction, that someone had finally figured out how to offshore housing to China.

Third-Party Seller

And how is it on Amazon? It is a third party sale, someone who is using the Amazon platform. Lots of people do this and there is a lot of fraud. According to Scott Duke Kominers of Bloomberg,

Amazon.com Inc. is, of course, a huge web-based retailer; it also hosts millions of sellers of varying repute. The resulting marketplace can be a bit of a Wild West, with little or no accountability for the merchants hawking their wares. If something goes wrong, Amazon generally disclaims liability, shielding itself behind a 1996 law that is usually interpreted as meaning that online platforms are just “publishers” of content owned by others.

Kominers explains Amazon's hands-off attitude:

Amazon reviews third-party merchants’ details when they sign up to sell through the company’s platform. And Amazon does maintain ratings and host reviews. But beyond that, Amazon provides relatively little oversight. That’s not just because Amazon doesn’t have to; filtering as little as possible bolsters Amazon’s claim that it’s just hosting content — in other words, that it is simply a publisher.

Four Reasons to Not Buy a House on Amazon

Amazon review
Amazon / Screen capture

In this case, the product is fraudulent, the reviews are fraudulent (UPDATE: I thought the review here was real but a commenter thinks it is satire and I now think she is right) and the FAKE signs are so obvious as to smack you in the face, but nevertheless, here are the key issues:

  1. No matter how tiny, a house must be designed to be climate appropriate. No "lining the walls with windows" in Upper Michigan.
  2. A house must be designed to codes and zoning bylaws. The real MEKA buildings are "certified to American Standard Modular Prefabrication as well as Canadian Standard Association (CSA). Furthermore we meet the international building code, IRC for the US and the National Building Code in Canada."
  3. For something this expensive, you should meet the vendor. In this case, Saracen Outdoors doesn't even seem to exist.
  4. Amazon is a sewer. You have no warranty. They have no liability. Why would anyone even think of doing this?

See the real thing at MEKA Modular.