What would you do with only 400 square feet? In a tiny house, that typically means a single floor of living space that’s about 8.5 by 40 feet, with a ceiling high enough to accommodate a sleeping loft and/or storage space. For the claustrophobic, this may not sound that appealing. But these days, there are plenty of people who see such limitations as challenges.
At one end are young couples with a sense of flair or daring. Perhaps they’re also parents of a new baby who are sick of living at home with their parents or in a small, noisy apartment. In that younger demographic, there are also the environmentally inspired who want to dwell somewhat off the grid.
At the other end are older folks—often single, elderly parents looking to live close to adult children and grandchildren. “I’m 65, so I can’t fix things around the house when they break, plus I don’t need all those extra rooms to fill up with stuff,” says Karen Eckard, who lives in a custom-built tiny home on her daughter’s farm outside West Grove.
Architect Sara Reisinger used to have a small apartment. Now she rents a tiny house in Landenberg with her partner and son. “There’s no separation between areas, so it’s a challenge—a fun one—to furnish and to live in,” she says.
Dan Weaver is head of sales and design for Greenwood Tiny Homes, a manufacturer outside Gap. After living with his wife and their 2-year-old in a geodesic dome “that was way too big for us,” he decided to manufacture his own tiny home, with a sleeping loft and lots of windows. “Windows are very important in a tiny home,” he says.
According to iProperty Management, 688,500 tiny homes are sold monthly in the United States, many of them in California, Colorado and other western states. On average, each costs about $60,000. They’re attractive for resale, appreciating at a 19 percent annual rate, as opposed to 9 percent for a traditional house. They also have a tiny ecological footprint, which means sizable operational savings. Yearly, a tiny home uses about 7 percent of the energy of a regular house, emitting 2,000 pounds of greenhouse gases and using 914 kilowatt hours on average. For a full-size residence, the numbers are closer to 28,000 pounds and 12,773 hours. Even better, 85 percent of tiny homes operate at above-average energy efficiency.
iProperty Management reports that 78 percent of tiny-home dwellers own, compared to 65 percent for traditional houses. Almost 90 percent have less credit debt than average, and 55 percent have more in their savings accounts.
“One tiny house that we just finished has a sound system and a two-person jacuzzi.” —Greenwood tiny homes’ Dan Weaver
Dan Weaver shows of his new house as it’s being outfitted inside a large construction shed at the Greenwood Tiny Homes headquarters. At 12 by 34 feet, his is wider than most tiny homes—important measurements, as it will have to be transported by truck to his building site near Allentown. Its 13.6-foot height allows for clearance under most highway overpasses. It also leaves plenty of room for sleeping and storage lofts at either end of the home. The kitchen is near the entryway, with the sleeping area positioned just overhead.
As Weaver notes, typical tiny homes are heavily insulated, with no exterior plumbing to freeze. His heating and cooling will be done with mini-splits, and the unit has a smaller European-style refrigerator. That will mean more frequent food shopping for the Weaver family.
Depending on demand, it normally takes from six to 10 weeks for Greenwood to build a tiny home. When Weaver’s customers want to customize, he provides 3D modeling to give them a better idea of where things will fit. “One tiny house we just finished was for an Airbnb,” he says. “It has a sound system and a two-person Jacuzzi.”
The Lancaster area is a regional hub for tiny-home production and sales. Not far from Greenwood is TinyLuxHomes, located along Route 30 east of Paradise. “We sell all types of small homes, and we represent several manufacturers,” says owner Dan Allgyer. “I send potential clients descriptive designs with the specs, and then we customize from there.”
Karen Eckard is a TinyLuxHomes customer. “Since I didn’t want lofts at my age, I had cathedral ceilings installed,” says the retiree.
Eckard has propane heat, and her bedroom is outfitted with a queen-size bed and a full bath. She had a second entry installed off her bedroom to let her dogs in and out. “The kitchen and kitchen counters are decent size, and I have decorative tiles above the stove,” she says. “Oh, and the refrigerator is full size.”
Windows are Anderson tilt-in models for easier cleaning, and Eckard has tongue-and-groove pine walls. Before winter, she had insulated panels installed around the outside “to look like concrete.”
While the tiny houses sold by Greenwood and TinyLuxHomes are the standard choices for a majority of owners, there are those intrigued by the idea of constructing something unique. “I first got interested in tiny homes in a high school architecture class, where our final exam was to draft, design and build a 3D model of one,” says Chester County resident Vinnie Moro, who recently began work in the banking industry. “I was instantly drawn to it from an engineering perspective —to see how much could fit into such a small space and how efficiently it could all be done.”
He and his father, local contractor Vince Moro, have had many conversations on the topic. “I think my dad and I could build an amazing one. I even think my first house could be one, due to the affordability aspect. It would likely be somewhere in the mountains, so it could be used as a secondary skiing house. I could rent it out via Airbnb.”
For those who dream small, there are dozens of books available on tiny-home construction and design. For inspiration alone, none of them can beat Australian writer Hannah Jenkins’ Living Little: Simplicity and Style in a Small Space, which features 39 distinctive tiny houses from around the world, often in stunning settings.
And the planning doesn’t need to stop on move-in day. “I’m continuing to upgrade to my tastes and make changes the longer I live here,” says Eckard.