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Published on May 23rd, 2017

Tiny houses

Could you share a space of just 15 square metres day in and day out, with your loved one? Most of us would blanch at the suggestion. The average Australian home is 243 square metres according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, making them the largest in the world. Australians like their space.

But as house prices soar, a new generation of younger Australians are looking to the Tiny House Movement as a panacea for their woes. While there’s no official definition for what constitutes a tiny house, it’s generally a dwelling of less than 400 square feet, or 37 square metres. Examples on the market start at a cramped 7.4 square metres, the size of a tow-along caravan.

So what’s the attraction? Tiny houses offer a solution to housing affordability, at the same time tapping into the broader trend of minimalism and simplicity that appeals to many. They’re often constructed on wheels, meaning they can be parked on existing land in accordance with caravanning rules and moved as necessary. They’re cheaper to heat than larger dwellings. And many of them come equipped with off grid designs, such as solar panels, gas bottles and grey water systems, for people who want to reduce their environmental footprint and their running costs to the bone.

The price tag for a tiny home varies, with homes available from $20,000 up to around $120,000. Compare that to the median house price in Australia, which was $631,000 in the last quarter of 2016. If you’re on the east coast, a tiny house looks even more tempting, with prices in Sydney averaging a million or more.

It sounds ideal, but does the reality live up to its promise?

The first and most obvious drawback is the space. To live in a tiny home requires a serious commitment to downsize your possessions and embrace the outdoors if you want to stretch your legs. They’re also not ideal for people with accessibility issues: many tiny houses utilise loft space for the bedroom in order to free up living room, which might prove inconvenient to anyone who struggles with climbing ladders. And it’s no surprise that the movement has mainly been embraced by singletons and younger couples; tiny houses and larger families rarely mix!

Finally, tiny house hopefuls might encounter some resistance from local councils when it comes to building approval. Building codes that apply to traditional houses might not be feasible in a tiny house, which will need to be clarified ahead of time. Likewise, zoning approval will depend on whether it’s the only dwelling on a block of land or a secondary dwelling, and should be checked. While a mobile home can be hitched to a truck and moved if you do run up against council problems, most of us prefer the security of knowing where we’re going to wake up.

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