Cantori can see his current home, right, through a
window of his 238-square-foot tiny-home in
Pasadena, Maryland, March 21, 2013. He and his
wife intend to downsize into the tiny-house in the
future and taking it with them as they travel. The
tiny-house was built onto a trailer frame that can
— Greg Cantori plans to downsize when he retires.
Really, really downsize.
retirement home is 238 square feet — one-tenth the
size of the average new American house — and sits in
his Anne Arundel County, Md., yard. He and wife Renee
can hitch it to a truck and take it with them wherever
so cheap — that’s what’s so cool about this,"
said Cantori, 52, who envisions a surf-and-turf future,
alternating between the house and a sailboat. "We
bought the house for $19,000. We can live an
extraordinary life for very little money."
an example of the "tiny house" movement, which
has collected a small but growing — and passionate —
group of adherents. Some like the freedom from a big
mortgage and high energy bills. Some, the freedom from
roomfuls of stuff. And some see it as a promising option
for workers whose rent overwhelms their paychecks.
houses fall into two categories. Some, like Cantori’s,
are technically travel trailers — tagged and
road-ready. Others have foundations and aren’t going
houses usually manage a lot of function in a little bit
of space — kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room
— and they’re often cute to boot. Gables. Wood
siding. Even porches.
are beautiful works of art," said Joe Coover with
Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., a California firm that sells
tiny homes — as small as 65 square feet — and
houses got bigger for decades, ballooning from a little
less than 1,700 square feet in the early 1970s to 2,500
square feet last year, even as household sizes shrunk,
according to Census Bureau figures. But the housing
crash, foreclosure crisis and rough recession have
pressed some to think differently about how much space
they need. And a house you can move with you has a
certain appeal to anyone stuck in a place worth less
than its mortgage.
whether you can actually live in a tiny home depends on
more than your ability to pare down your possessions.
Location matters. Zoning, building codes, health codes
and even private covenants in subdivisions can
effectively render a tiny house illegal.
the eyes of the law, there’s such a thing as too
small. Some jurisdictions bar people from living in
travel trailers, too, no matter what they look like.
the No. 1 issue — zoning," said Steven Harrell,
owner of Tiny House Listings (tinyhouselistings.com),
where 20,000 to 50,000 people visit per day to check out
tiny houses for sale. "There are a lot of people
advocating, ‘Hey, what’s the big deal? Why don’t
you ease square-foot (regulations)?’ Times have
changed, the economy has changed, people are having to
make choices. And tiny houses are one of them."
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can’t live in a travel-trailer tiny home, or any other
sort of travel trailer. But modest foundation-built
houses are allowed in the city as long as their width is
16 feet at minimum. Also required: one room of at least
120 square feet, a kitchen — which can be in that room
— and a separate bathroom.
asking how little can you get, and the answer is ‘pretty
small,’" said Michael Braverman, the city’s
deputy commissioner of code enforcement.
doesn’t think Baltimore has any super-tiny homes, but
there’s a 1950s-era cottage in the city’s Roland
Park neighborhood that’s not much more than 500 square
Cohen, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said anyone
hoping to live in a tiny house would want to call the
planning department with a specific location in mind,
because rules vary by zoning.
probably could build the house," she said, but you
would need to sort through all the rules to be certain.
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Washington, D.C., advocates hope to make inroads on
rules affecting small residences as officials overhaul
zoning regulations. Three tiny-home enthusiasts are
building examples in an alley lot as a showcase — not
to live in, because they can’t. (Their homes fall in
the travel-trailer category.)
Levy, part of that group, thinks small places in a
pricey city make sense — either alone on tiny lots or
sharing a bigger parcel as an "accessory"
all these empty spaces around the city," said Levy,
who lives in a Washington rowhouse near the lot he’s
building on. "If you take an aerial photo (and look
at certain parts of D.C.) … it’s striking that about
50 percent of the land is open space in the backyard.
And right now, you can’t build anything back
alley-building group, dubbed Boneyard Studios because
the lot borders a graveyard, wants to get people
thinking about the possibilities — and seeing what
small looks like. Levy thinks that’s important because
"trailer" conjures up deep-seated, knee-jerk
contrast to the manufactured-housing park, the tiny
homes are typically about one-fifth the size, they’ve
got gabled roofs … they’re designed and built by
architects," Levy said. "And people, they
stand in line for an hour to have a look. Calling a
tiny-house community a trailer park is like calling
Dupont Circle rowhouses tenements."
houses aren’t the only example of small living.
"Micro-apartments" of a few hundred square
feet are popping up in some expensive cities, such as
San Francisco, for young professionals who’d rather
spend their free time downtown than in a sprawling
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Hoffman, vice president of innovation at Enterprise
Community Partners, the Columbia, Md.,
affordable-housing giant, said small dwellings aren’t
a solution for everyone. But they’re a useful choice
to have. More than 10 million people in America are
"housing burdened," paying over half their
income on rent, he said.
want to see a range of housing options for people,"
he said. "It’s not a
of the early drive for minimum-size regulations was to
stamp out dangerous tenements, Hoffman said. But small
doesn’t have to mean hazardous.
seems like it’s the right time to re-examine whether
we can move back in a direction where smaller can
accommodate people in a healthy and safe way," he
cost for a tiny house varies. Coover, a workshop host
with Tumbleweed Tiny House, said the company’s
ready-made homes sell for about $40,000 to $60,000. But
people who buy plans, purchase materials at a
home-improvement store and build it themselves — as in
free labor — will probably spend $18,000 to $20,000,
including appliances, he said.
customer managed to keep the costs to just $5,000 by
salvaging wood and waiting for great deals on other
supplies, Coover said.
course, that doesn’t include the cost of land to sit
the house on. Some tiny-house folks buy. Some rent. Some
find people with extra space they don’t mind sharing.
Cantori’s case, it’s sitting near his bicycle shed
in his Pasadena, Md., yard. His actual residence isn’t
huge, either: just less than 1,400 square feet for a
family of four and their two dogs.
has spent his life in modestly sized places. At 19, he
bought a dilapidated sailboat, fixed it up and lived
there for nearly five years — all 180 square feet of
it. His next move was to a studio apartment in
Baltimore. Living cheaply has allowed him to pursue the
nonprofit career he wanted, save money and go sailing on
tiny home was built by a lawyer from Kansas who intended
to live there with his family of three. Then the family
grew by one. So he sold to Cantori, who flew west with
his brother two years ago, rented a U-Haul and drove
back to Maryland with his new home hitched to the back.
Cantori, the affordability of a tiny house is part of
the draw, but also the ability to use less energy, take
up less land and generally be "lighter on the
environment." A 6,000-square-foot house not far
from his neighborhood baffles him. Who would actually
use that much space?
walk-in closet’s bigger than our tiny house," he
future retirement home is robin-egg blue, with a porch
out front. Inside, there’s a tiny stainless-steel
fireplace, a closet and a combination washer-dryer. A
table in the living room/dining area seats two, or up to
five if folded out. The kitchen has an RV stove,
microwave and small refrigerator. In the bathroom is a
full-sized shower and a composting toilet. And up top,
two lofts — each a bedroom.
thinks it looks spacious, thanks to high ceilings, white
walls and 16 windows. There’s just nothing superfluous
wasted space," he said. "It’s all about not