Skye Kinser and her father, who was experienced with construction projects, designed and built her 26 feet by 7 feet home in Red House on a strong trailer frame. She is the first to admit that a tiny house isn’t for everyone.
“I really like the minimalist lifestyle,” said Kinser, who has lived in her tiny home for four years. “My house has just what I need and nothing more. It suits me right now.”
Colin Williams of Almost Heaven Tiny Homes LLC in Morgan County, and Michael Mills of Mills Group in Morgantown both have experience working with clients interested in the tiny-house movement. They said people look at these homes for two reasons: they are downsizing from larger family homes, or they are looking for vacation homes.
“Many people are living in homes that are much bigger than they need,” said Williams, whose construction company focuses on environmental sustainability. “When you take into account the cost of mortgages, utilities and taxes, some people see a lot of merit and appeal in simple living.”
“This is a niche market for us and one that is fun for our company,” said Mills. “We are working with clients who are building smaller living spaces for themselves and for getaway rental properties.”
A tiny home is defined as a dwelling with 400 to 1,000 square feet or less in floor area, excluding lofts. By comparison, the average size of today’s new single-family home is about 2,300 square feet. Interest in tiny homes originated in the late 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s when environmentalism and social consciousness inspired people to downsize, declutter and live more simply.
Mills said his company worked with a client in Tucker County who built a tiny house along the river. “It’s designed on stilts and engineered to withstand flooding because it’s in the flood plain,” he said. “The house started out at 750 square feet but has been enlarged somewhat.”
He said another client is including tiny houses in a vacation housing development that will have multiple housing options. “We are even designing a duplex tiny house for that project and working with handicapped accessibility needs,” he said.
Williams grew up in the Eastern Panhandle. He returned to West Virginia in 2003 and built a log home for his family. Other houses soon followed, and he built homes until 2008 when the housing market crashed. At that time, he and another local builder, Mike McKechnie, started Mountain View Solar. In 2017, he decided to get back into construction and learned about the tiny-housing trend.
“People who live in tiny houses don’t have the compulsion to fill their homes up, and have less day-to-day expenses and housework,” he said. “They are people who are more likely to go out and do something like hiking and traveling.”
He sees the biggest tiny house market for getaways, rentals like Airbnb, and for housing for veterans and the homeless. In some urban areas, families with enough property are putting tiny houses up for elderly parents or college-age students still at home.
“The space is manageable for just about anyone,” he said. “I caution people who want to build tiny homes on wheels to check the zoning and permitting guidelines in the areas that they are considering for a tiny home.” He said there are no national standards currently, so municipalities are making their own decisions. In some places, tiny homes on wheels come under the same regulations as recreational vehicles and trailers and are not considered permanent.
Tiny homes may cost less to build, but they still require the same infrastructure as a small home. Whether it is on wheels or permanent, the cost of the infrastructure for utilities can run anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, according to Williams.
Mills said another challenge for tiny home living is taking into consideration that the appliances in these homes are smaller than those found in a typical home. Plus, storage is minimal.
“That said, the tiny home concept can be adapted for the needs of the owner,” he said. “We are working with a client who is building vacation rentals and we are working with a specific design that provides 1,500 square feet of living space and also includes storage space for skis, kayaks and other outdoor equipment.”
Both Mills and Williams think this adaptability and cost-effectiveness will guarantee that tiny houses continue to have a niche in the marketplace.