AUS: 1300 630 488    NZ: 0800 1477 6287

Small is beautiful

Trendy. Environmentally-friendly. The tiny house movement is one worth exploring.

Once upon a time the ‘great Australian dream’ was to own a big house on a quarter-acre block, with a white picket fence, lush green lawns and a Hills Hoist to boot.

These days, the dream has turned to fantasy and, according to the 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, Australia’s major cities are ranked among the least affordable in the world. Sydney took out second place, followed closely by Melbourne at number six. In fact, our great southern land boasts the third most expensive housing market on earth.

Enter the ‘tiny house movement’

Something’s got to give and in this case, it’s size. Traditionally, Australian houses are big. The Organisation for Economic  Co-operation and Development (OECD) says they’re actually among the largest in the world, making them not only more expensive, but environmentally unsustainable. So it begs the question, is bigger really better?

The tiny house movement was born in the US during the 1990s, mainly to overcome the cost of housing. It has since emerged as an innovative and creative response to our changing times. The tiny house supports a minimalist lifestyle and sits at one end of a continuum reflecting a shift towards smaller living in general.

“The tiny house movement is a direct response to expensive house prices, restrictive and inflexible planning provisions, a desire to live in an environmentally-sustainable manner, all while maintaining some degree of freedom,” says Dr Heather Shearer, Research Fellow from Griffith University’s Cities Research Institute.  

The pint-sized buildings can be mobile, semi-mobile or fixed – which would include granny flats or similar studio-style dwellings. Particularly suitable for retirees looking to downsize or move closer to family and embark on multigenerational living, the houses are naturally much easier to maintain and can save you a significant amount of money on electricity.

They’re easy to heat and cool, and you still have the option to have your own garden or pet, which isn’t always possible in many retirement communities or apartments.

And just because they’re small, doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful.

“Frequently designed and built by architects, tiny houses are often very attractive. They’re designed for the people who actually live in them, as opposed to the new-build cookie-cutter house designs on the market,” says Shearer.

“You’ll be free from debt and, should you choose a tiny house on wheels, have the freedom to relocate whenever you desire.”

Breaking down the budget

While tiny houses are technically more expensive per square metre than normal houses, you can trim the budget depending on your tactics. By sourcing second-hand or natural materials, taking on some of the labour yourself and laying down roots on a family member’s property, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

“They use far fewer materials to construct, require very little electricity and water and can be completely off-grid so therefore have very low heating, cooling and cooking costs,” adds Shearer. “One thing to consider for mobile tiny houses is the need for a large and powerful vehicle to tow it, which would obviously add fuel costs to the mix.”

For those looking to set up home in a tiny home park, sharing things like tools, lawn mowers and even cars adds to a more minimalist lifestyle. Often parks have established, shared vegetable gardens and there’s even the option to put your tiny house on AirBnB when you’re out of town and end up actually making money out of it.

Do your research and do it well – maybe there’s a big future in a tiny home on your horizon. ••

BREAKOUT: Finding your tiny home

The tiny house movement comes complete with tiny house building companies, architects and real estates, making tracking down your miniature bungalow pretty straightforward. Whether you want to build from the ground up and design one yourself, or invest in an existing building that’s already succeeded in fulfilling another’s tiny house dreams, your choices are endless.

But when it comes to finding home soil on which to park it, be mindful. Local council rules and regulations vary across Australia, but most still treat tiny houses in the same way as caravans. If you’re not keen to set up in a tiny house park or in a family member’s backyard, finding a large landowner willing to lease a portion of land is a good option. As long as you’re living off grid and taking care of the land, it could be a match made in heaven.