A Lot of Bullshit Going on In Tiny House Field

Last night I watched an episode of Tiny House Nation on TV. Or, rather, watched as long as I could stand it, less than five minutes. It had this nice looking young white couple with three kids being surprised by their newly built tiny house. The building was a mess. Crudely attached short pieces of “natural lumber,” slate roof (?), dumb porch (don’t subtract from precious interior space), dangerous loft.

Worse was the amazement and delight of the occupants upon seeing their new digs. It all seemed phony and shallow. Reality TV comes to the tiny house movement. “Could you go out, come back in, and say ‘awesome,’ again, honey?”

I tell people that I’m not the tiny homes guy just because I did a book on the subject. I’m the build-it-yourself-guy. Do what you can for yourself with your hands—shelter, food, clothing, firewood, etc.— with the awareness and understanding that you can’t do it all. Find the balance.

I don’t know about other Tiny House Nation episodes, but this one was a commercialization and dumbing-down version of a concept that is very real in its heart for many people. Too bad.

Here’s just one example of bad design in the TH field, and it’s quite prevalent: Are those round steps with no banister actually the way you climb up into the cramped and dangerous loft? The ladder to loft is a bad design in all these gable roofed tiny houses.  The space is claustrophobic. There should be windows all-around at eye level  to expand your sense of place. And so on. Unfortunately this configuration is the poster girl for the tiny house movement.

What do I think is better? The gypsy wagon, or vardo design, with curved roof and bed at one end with drawers underneath. Lots of eye level windows. Heck, look at our last book.

I’m not one to bemoan the absence of architects, but in this field, good architecture could make a huge difference.

And by the way, a home is more than a house.


About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

13 Responses to A Lot of Bullshit Going on In Tiny House Field

  1. Lloyd, I have been a Tiny House lover for a few years now, and enjoyed your blog (after it was suggested to me)almost as long.

    I agree with all you said above. I started out watching the above series, at first. Now when I see it on the channel guide, I skip on by.

  2. In my not so humble opinion, the whole 'Tiny House' "movement" is an idiotic fad. I lived 'tiny' – 3 people (including a teenager) in an old 8'x35' travel trailer – for five years. It was interesting for awhile, but it got old and severely cramped eventually and we moved to a cavernously larger 1100 s.f. house where we could stretch out, breath and not see each other for hours at a time. And this was not even a large house by current standards, but was typical of the more rational structures of the 1920's, '30's, 40's and 50's and totally adequate for raising a small family. Better built than most contemporary structures as well.

  3. I fear that this is just another example of the increasingly stupid home renovation TV show, which I have occasionally been forced to watch when confined to a hotel room as an alternative to viewing the tedious antics of the Kardashians. These are basically "reality" shows that have a pretty standard plot line and cast of characters.

    First, there is Moronic Hubby, who seems to have reached his middle years without ever figuring out how a screwdriver works. He is determined to help Muscular, Virile Contractor who takes a couple of minutes to show him how to use a large circular saw that may or may not still have its guard attached. Hubby then proceeds to hack into a stack of lumber in a way that almost guarantees the eventual loss of several fingers, if not a leg. The results of his labor are a few pieces of crudely cut lumber that he shows with great pride to Glamorous Wifey who, dressed as if she is going to a high-end party, seems very impressed at the achievements of Moronic Hubby.

    Another character is Wisp-Thin Young Lady who, in a tight T-shirt and no protective equipment whatsoever, attacks large old walls with a huge sledgehammer. There is something Freudian here, maybe? The result of her single blow is the entire section of wall collapses with a satisfying roar in a cloud of asbestos-filled dust In my experience, the usual result of doing this is the sledgehammer sinks into the wall, followed by a flood of water from plumbing that definitely, theoretically should not have been there and everyone thought that someone else had disconnected.

    As a finale to the show, there is the Great Reveal when Glamorous Wifey, who apparently has not noticed the months of hammering, sawing and swearing emanating from the back of her house or the trucks and other construction machinery parked in the street in front, is shown the result. She expresses an almost orgasmic delight at the result and hugs Moronic Hubby, who seems proud of his work although, in reality, he has been paid by Muscular, Virile Contractor to stay out of the way in the local bar.

    Glamorous Wifey then takes off to Vegas with Muscular, Virile Contractor in a white BMW sports car, leaving Moronic Hubby standing in the mud wondering how he is going to pay for all this and get the City to belatedly issue him a building permit that no one remembered to get. I made this last bit up!

    Aw, shucks! I'm getting old and grumpy.

  4. I agree… I've not been watching any of the tiny house TV shows. Too much glitz and surrealism. I figure someday the networks will switch gears and things will get back to normal. I just hope it doesn't tarnish the tiny house idea permanently when TV decides it's no longer 'in style'.

  5. yep, never watched one of those through to the end. BORING. I love the tiny houses when they are really creative and yes, built by the owner…however, not enough room for children to grow…but super great for a lot of other folks to grow. for older folks, those lofts are terrible and with the stairs to go up to those lofts. nope, not for older folks.

  6. These shows are beyond bad. They give a lot of uninformed people looking for alternatives to the high cost of owning a traditional home that this could be the answer. Most of these are built on a rolling chassis to give the impression that they're potentially mobile. Why not just buy a used travel trailer,that is usually the result of years of designing small usable interior spaces.at a fraction of the cost of these overweight poorly designed monstrosities.? It's defenitely a fad. Small homes are a great idea but most of the "homes" being built on theses shows is like stuffing a family of four in a Smart car and trying to convince them of how wonderfully comfortable they are as well as being trendy and on the cutting edge. I call B.S.

  7. I definitely agree with Jack. I'm still not sure of the legal status of a tiny home built on a rolling chassis. What do you have to do before you are allowed to take it on to the highway? I'm sure that there are technical and licensing requirements here. So, what happens if your building is not deemed to be "street legal"? At this point, I suspect the local building inspector would descend on you, tell you that it is not a vehicle, it is a house, and demand that you apply for a permit that would, almost certainly, not be granted.

    Much better to get a decent, used travel trailer. An Airstream would be nice, but a little expensive!

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