Why Hasn't the Tiny House Movement Become a Big Thing? A Look at 5 Big Barriers

©. Sustain

© Sustain

TreeHugger has been covering tiny houses for years; I even own one, the remains of a previous career trying to promote the idea of the tiny house. Notwithstanding the success of people like Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed Tiny House line, it is still an incredibly tiny niche. What's holding it back? Over at The Tiny Life, Ryan Mitchell lists the Top 5 Biggest Barriers To The Tiny House Movement; the first three L's are well known to me, I am not certain about the last two, and I think he is missing a big one.


One of the largest hurdles for people wanting to live in a Tiny House is access to land. Land is expensive, in growing short supply and people want a balance of having land and being close to city or town centers where they can access services, entertainment and employment.

One of the main reasons people are interested in tiny houses is that they are relatively cheap. Once you try to buy land, it's not anymore, and the actual tiny house becomes the least expensive part of the equation.


At this point, banks don’t feel that Tiny Houses are a viable option because they don’t have a good resale value.

There are loans available for recreational vehicles and trailers, but the interest rate is high and you have to provide personal security. If you can plop it on the ground that you own, then you might be able to get a traditional mortgage, but don't bet on it.

Lot area

Where I am now, in the middle of nowhere, a minimum of about 550 square feet./CC BY 2.0


This one is the real killer; many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements because they like the higher tax assessments. Even where I am now deep in the middle of nowhere, they have them. They insist on full water and sewer systems that can cost more than the house. They don't allow trailers so you can't just leave it on the chassis. They don't want tiny houses, period.

Social Pressures

In our society today, bigger is better, more is better, we are conditioned to want more and more stuff. These cultural norms are a very strong current in maintaining the status quo. Tiny Houses fly in the face of such things, questioning much of what people hold dear.

This is fundamentally where I think Ryan, and much of the movement, goes wrong. Lots of people all over the world live in tiny houses; they are called apartments. Families all over Europe and Asia are raised in a couple of hundred square feet, and single people have no problem with it. In cities like Vancouver, tiny houses are popping up in back lanes everywhere. But much of the Tiny House movement seems to be about replacing a conventional suburban ore exurban model with... a tiny house.


When faced with the prospect of bucking the system, initiating a radical lifestyle change, and spending a good chunk of money to do it, it can be scary.
©. Ben Brown

© Ben Brown

Here again, it is only such a radical lifestyle change if you are in bug-out country, off-grid, out in the woods. Ben Brown of Placeshakers lived in a 308 square foot Katrina Cottage by Marianne Cusato, and concluded that It takes a town.

The trick to living large in small spaces is to have great public places to go to – preferably by foot or on a bike – once you’re outside your private retreat. .... No problem feeding the private, nesting impulse with cottage living; but the smaller the nest, the bigger the balancing need for community.

Ryan's Tiny House Movement doesn't seem to have much of a community. In fact, in his land section, he writes:

To have a Tiny House, you don’t need much land for the actual house, but you do need enough to be able to obscure the house from prying eyes in order to fly under the radar of code enforcement and curmudgeons.

© Tolar’s Cottage Square/ Ben Brown

That is a world apart from Ben Brown's idea of a tiny house. In fact, the only way the tiny house movement is going to succeed is if people get together and build intentional communities of tiny houses, which will solve the land, loans and laws problem and eliminate the fear and social pressures ones. But that doesn't seem to be what members of the movement actually want.

More in The Tiny Life.