November 27, 2020·12 min read
Not every tiny house is ideal. Frank Olito/ Insider
- Residents let Insider into their tiny homes to show what tiny house living is really like. Some of it isn’t so glamorous.
- Lofts, which are an important feature in tiny houses, can be cramped, hot, and hard to access.
- Appliances like stoves and bathroom sinks are considerably smaller than what many homeowners are used to.
- Visit Insider.com for more stories.
As the tiny house movement sweeps across the US, many are unsure if the downsized life is for them.
While some people no doubt relish the idea of getting rid of most of their belongings and living simply, others can’t imagine squeezing their lives into a space smaller than 300 square feet. So, what is it really like to live in one of these tiny homes?
Residents of tiny homes all over the US showed Insider what tiny house living is really like — and it’s not always glamorous.
While most people dream of traveling with their tiny house, the reality is that moving your home from one place to another can be quite difficult.
Moving a tiny house. Courtesy of Alexis Stephens
When people move into tiny houses, they don’t realize how difficult it is to travel. For starters, you need to have access to a U-Haul or a bigger truck to attach your home to, which can get costly. You also have to tie down most of your belongings in the home so that they don’t fall and break while moving. Tiny house owners are also hyper-aware that their home will most likely be damaged when driving down highways because of the intense wind speeds.
Moving your tiny house can also be expensive.
Moving a tiny house. Courtesy of Tiny House Expedition
Alexis Stephens and her partner travel with their tiny house all over the country, but she says it can get expensive. They typically tow their house with a 20-foot U-Haul box truck, which gets 5 miles per gallon. In other words, they have to fill up the tank every 150 miles.
“On a day full of travel, it can add up quick,” she said. “It probably adds up to $1 per mile.”
As all tiny houses are narrow by design, living spaces can be cramped.
A narrow living room. Frank Olito/ Insider
Most tiny houses are just 8 1/2 half feet wide because that is the maximum width a vehicle can be to legally drive on roads. This home is in Orlando Lakefront, a tiny house community in Florida.
Since everything is smaller in a tiny house, the closet can be a crawl space.
A closet. Frank Olito/ Insider
In this tiny house in California, the walk-in closet is more of a crawl-in. This space is on the second floor of the tiny house at the back of an office room. To get your clothes and do your laundry, you have to crawl on your hands and knees.
But the smallest spaces in most tiny houses are the lofts, and some can feel quite enclosed.
A loft. Frank Olito/ Insider
A tiny house loft is not for claustrophobic people. Homeowners in Florida told Insider they have to crawl in and out of bed because it’s impossible to stand up in the spaces.
Tiny house owners often complain about how difficult it is to make a bed in a loft.
Tiny house lofted bedroom. Courtesy of Jenna Spesard
“One of my least favorite things to do in my tiny house is make the bed, especially after washing the sheets,” Jenna Spesard, who has owned her tiny house since 2013, said in a YouTube video. “I’m in a loft, so it’s a very confined space. I kind of feel like I’m doing acrobatics [or] barrel rolls over myself to try to get the sheets on the bed the correct way.”
Some homeowners use lofts for storage instead of sleeping, but it can be quite the eyesore.
A loft. Frank Olito
Lofts can double as great storage spaces, but often they are difficult to access. Some homes require taking out a ladder.
It can be quite difficult to get into a tiny house loft, especially for people who are not able-bodied. Makeshift staircases and ladders can be seen in these homes.
A ladder to a loft. Frank Olito/ Insider
Those who cannot climb a ladder or staircase have to design their tiny house with a bedroom on the ground floor, which might not be the best use of the small space.
If the small space doesn’t get to you, the heat that gets trapped in lofts may.
A loft with a fan. Frank Olito/ Insider
Heat rises, so lofts are often the hottest spot in any tiny house, and that’s why you’ll find fans, windows, and other cooling systems in them.
In a tiny house, temperature control can be tricky and if not done right, you can get mold – fast.
AC unit in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
Tiny house owners can struggle to regulate the temperature in their tiny houses, with many saying it gets too hot too fast. As a result, water builds up on the windows, walls, and furniture. Without the proper ventilation and cooling systems — like air conditioning units — a tiny house can quickly create harmful mold.
If you don’t like going to the bathroom in the same spot you get clean, tiny house living may not be for you.
Tiny house bathroom. Frank Olito/ Insider
In this tiny house, the toilet is attached to the door. When no one is in the bathroom and the door is closed, the toilet slides into the shower. When someone is using the bathroom and opens the door, the toilet slides out. With tiny house living, everything happens in the same space.
It’s easy for such a tiny space to get untidy fast, according to some owners.
A bedroom in a tiny house loft. Frank Olito/ Insider
Amanda Burger lives in her 270-square-foot home with her two small children, and she said it can get difficult to keep up with the mess.
“I joke that it’s one big Rubik’s cube,” Burger told Insider. “It’s all about constantly changing things.”
Other tiny house owners opt for storage containers but struggle to find a place to put them.
Storage containers. Frank Olito/ Insider
Elizabeth Silva, a tiny house owner in Florida, said she struggled to find space for her belongings when she first moved in.
“You don’t really know [what will fit] until you actually move in,” Silva said.
She decided to use storage containers, which she placed on top of her Murphy bed. Silva said she plans to get a curtain to hide the containers.
While tiny houses are known for their innovative storage options, those spaces can still be extremely small.
A closet in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
Burger’s small closet space is actually part of a larger storage compartment that is housed in a staircase.
The bathroom sinks can be considerably smaller than those found in regular-sized homes.
Bathroom sink. Frank Olito/ Insider
Although some tiny houses have full sinks and even vanities, others can only fit small appliances and fixtures.
Appliances in the kitchen are also smaller.
A stovetop in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
Cooking for a family may be difficult on these two burners. Many tiny houses do not have a typical four-burner stove.
Likewise, the refrigerators in some tiny houses can be quite small.
A fridge in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
Since every bit of floor space is important, one tiny house owner decided to have her fridge pull out of a drawer in her kitchen. Though there’s less space in her fridge, it does save space in her house.
Hosting dinner parties may be difficult with the small-sized tables that fit into tiny houses.
A kitchen table in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
While some tiny houses have full-size tables, most have smaller tabletops that pull out from the wall or, in this case, from the countertop.
Planning a tiny house can be difficult, and sometimes you end up with design quirks, like having a bed right next to your kitchen refrigerator.
Inside a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
Tiny houses are all about compromise. In this tiny house in the Orlando Lakefront community, a bunk bed was placed next to the kitchen, which eliminated the space for a living room. However, the bunk bed did create more sleeping areas for guests.
… or like this toilet that’s right next to a door that opens out on to the yard.
A bathroom in a tiny house. Frank Olito/ Insider
This bathroom may be cute, but the bizarre design quirk could cause an awkward moment for some guests.
In case of disaster, like a hurricane, these straps are all that keep your house from being completely destroyed.
The metal strap. Frank Olito/ Insider
Tiny houses are considerably more vulnerable to natural disasters than normal-sized homes with foundations. These homes can only withstand 45 mph winds, so hurricanes are especially dangerous.
Residents of Orlando Lakefront said they had to tie down their homes with metal straps when Hurricane Dorian threatened the community in August 2019, but many were still worried about the safety of their homes. Dorian did not end up striking the area.
Washer and dryers are not common in tiny houses, so most residents have to visit laundromats, like this one at the Orlando Lakefront community.
Laundry room. Frank Olito/ Insider
Though some tiny houses do have washers and dryers, most don’t. In the community, many have to use this laundromat, which isn’t ideal when you own your home.
Since building codes are not up to date with tiny houses in every state, some contractors are making serious mistakes.
Broken floorboards. Frank Olito/ Insider
Misty Gilley, a resident of the Orlando community, said she paid a contractor $40,000 to build the frame of her tiny house. When it was finished, Gilley slowly realized that much of her house was built wrong. She said her floorboards were shifting, her electrical was wired incorrectly, and her plumbing was not working.
A regular-sized house in the US must meet certain building codes, which include regulation plumbing, electrical, and mechanical features so that they are considered safe for residents. These codes weren’t in place for Gilley’s tiny house, so her contractor was not legally in the wrong.
The outside of Gilley’s house was also built with indoor wood. It will need to be replaced.
Gilley’s house. Frank Olito/ Insider
While Gilley’s house on the outside looks like a perfect tiny home, it’s actually a prime example of how things can go wrong without proper oversight. Indoor materials were used for her outdoor siding, which will be easily damaged in the Florida weather.
In all, Gilley has paid an extra $40,000 to make fixes.
“Because it’s not code-enforced, you have to watch out,” Gilley told Insider. “You can’t trust that anyone knows what they’re doing because it’s still so new.”
Likewise, Lindsay and Eric Wood said they paid $40,000 for an unfinished tiny house after their builder went out of business.
The unfinished tiny house. Courtesy of Lindsay Wood
In 2017, the Woods started working with Alpine Tiny Homes in Utah. The couple said the company was supposed to build a $90,000 tiny house for them. Halfway through the build, however, Lindsay said the company went out of business, leaving them with an unfinished tiny house.
Brian Hawkins, who ran the sales and marketing for Alpine Tiny Homes, said he understands how the situation could be upsetting.
“The situation surrounding Lindsay Wood’s home is definitely a difficult one, and I completely understand why she was upset about it. We all were,” he told Insider in 2020. “My heart goes out to the Woods, and I wish them the best on their tiny house journey.”
When the Woods picked up the tiny house, they said there were some building mistakes. For example, Lindsay said the company used the wrong tires and axles, and the roof was poorly insulated. They said they spent an extra $40,000 fixing the builder’s missteps.
Their story points to the larger issues within the unregulated tiny house movement.
While tiny houses are about simple living, the truth is that finding a place to park is not easy. Some choose to go with a stealthier tiny house.
Nathan and Beka Watson. Frank Olito/ Insider
Instead of facing the reality of the zoning issues, Nathan and Beka Watson chose to convert a van to live in so that they can move around more stealthily.
“If it looks like an RV or if it looks like a tiny house, everyone wants you off their property,” Nathan told Insider. “Instead, we went stealth as possible — no markings, no windows.”
The Watsons wanted to downsize and live tiny, but they were nervous about finding a place to park their tiny house. In most states, it is illegal to park a tiny house anywhere you want because of zoning laws. Some owners choose to park in RV parks, but even those parks can be restrictive.
- Read more:
- I visited one of the first tiny house communities in the US. Here are the 8 most surprising things I learned.
- 6 owners of tiny homes reveal how much they spend each month on housing
- I visited one of the first tiny house communities in the US. Here are the 8 most surprising things I learned.
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