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Late last year, the tiny house community celebrated a watershed moment—an official appendix in the 2018 version of the International Residential Code, the model building code used by most jurisdictions in the U.S.
"There are many things that are monumental in the adoption of tiny house construction codes by the IRC," cheered Thom Stanton, the CEO of small space developer, Timber Trails. "Among them, that architects, designers, builders, community developers and (maybe most importantly) zoning officials have a means of recognizing tiny houses as an official form of permissible dwelling."
Although it will take a few years for local governments to formally adopt the new code, the appendix gave the tiny house movement something it had long sought: Legitimacy.
What's a Tiny Home?
Tiny homes are generally between 100 to 400 square feet and can be built on wheels or a permanent foundation. Some might deride these micro-homes as glorified trailers, but there's a lot to admire about the lifestyle.
The architectural and cultural phenomenon emerged after the 2007-2008 housing market collapse, as recession-scarred folks abandoned the McMansion fantasy and chose to significantly downsize. Proponents of tiny houses tout their cheaper costs, freedom from unnecessary material possessions and a smaller environmental footprint (see infographic).
Frankly, some of these dwellings—like this 240-square-foot, completely off-grid tiny house nestled in a Hawaiian rainforest paradise—make me want to leave it all behind too.
Enthusiasts also suggest that tiny homes could address homelessness and add affordable housing options in cities experiencing extensive gentrification and rising costs of living.
Portland, Oregon, for instance, needs tiny houses "to keep its own identity in place," Michelle Boyle, who lives in a tiny house in nearby Sherwood and hosts the Tiny House Podcast, told Portland Tribune.
"In order to encourage diversity in your population, you have to encourage diversity in your housing stock," she added.
"There are people who Portland would love to have living in our city, but they can't afford it any more," local small-scale developer Eli Spevak told the Tribune.
Tiny homes are certainly cheaper than building or buying a "regular"-sized house because of their small size. Prices for tiny homes vary widely, but GOOD Money crunched the numbers and determined that a DIY tiny house costs between $20,000 to $30,000. Contracting a professional builder or buying a prefabricated unit ranges from $50,000 to $449,000 (like this luxurious 315-square-foot "mini mansion" in Maryland).
Why Go Tiny?
Despite the proliferation of HGTV reality shows and documentaries on the topic, tiny house living is far from the norm. New American homes are actually bigger than ever. The typical single-family home in the U.S. is roughly 2,500 square feet, about 50 percent larger than in the late 1970s.
Some might find tiny living too small and even abandon ship. The Atlantic examined the psychological toll of living in New York City's first micro-apartments, which range from 260 to 360 square feet, and warned about possible claustrophobia and crowding-related stress for some residents.
"Sure, these micro-apartments may be fantastic for young professionals in their 20s," Dak Kopec, the director of design for human health at Boston Architectural College, said in the article. "But they definitely can be unhealthy for older people, say in their 30s and 40s, who face different stress factors that can make tight living conditions a problem."
Then there's the whole legal issue. Although these rules are slowly evolving (i.e., the new tiny house appendix), the country's decades-old zoning regulations and patchwork of building codes just won't allow you to wheel or construct a tiny house onto whatever empty lot you like and call it home.
There are two types of tinys with specific rules for each. First, there's the tiny house on a foundation, which is legally considered an Accessory Dwelling Unit. ADUs—small or tiny homes built on the same property of an existing home—are subject to local laws such as minimum square footage requirements and will probably require a permit to build.
The second type is the portable tiny house, or a tiny house on wheels, which is typically classified as a recreational vehicle (RV), meaning it could require licensing and registration at a state transportation department. Legally parking a tiny house on wheels is also a frequent issue that also varies by jurisdiction.
Because of all these rules, tiny housers sometimes live under the radar and just cross their fingers that a nosy neighbor won't alert the authorities.
If that isn't enough of a headache, online you'll find a whole host of other complaints (it's just a fad; they're difficult to resell) as well as thoughtful arguments (the unavailability of open space and the high cost of land in urban centers) against tiny homeownership.
The New Minimalism
Tiny homes aren't for everyone, but it's clear that their popularity is far from waning. An expanding list of micro-communities are popping up around the country and in January 2016, Fresno, California became the first city in the nation to develop tiny house-specific codes. Fellow Californian city Ojai followed Fresno's footsteps not long after.
Back in Portland, the famously progressive city has become an epicenter of the tiny house movement (of course) and is even a national leader in ADU development. In 2016, the city granted about as many building permits for ADUs as for regular single-family homes.
And late last month, with very little fanfare, Idaho became the first state in the nation to adopt the tiny house appendix.
"This is a huge step forward for everyone who wants to live legally in their tiny home," declared Andrew Morrison of Tiny House Build a day after the vote. "There is still a lot of work to be done in Idaho, but this is absolutely the best outcome from yesterday's vote."
Morrison, a veteran tiny house builder, co-authored the tiny house appendix and spearheaded efforts to get it approved. He is now working on an appendix specifically for movable tiny houses.
As the Portland Tribune noted, "many obstacles remain before tiny houses on wheels get the same treatment as ADUs here and elsewhere, but many say it's inevitable, given spiking house and rent prices and the growing popularity of tiny houses."
At least for now, it looks like this movement is not-so-tiny after all.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›