Tiny Go Lightly, designed and built with Tom Coupe

Big Tiny, Tiny Footprint, Tiny House2Go, Tiny Consulting, Tiny Go Lightly. The names are too cute to be true but according to Jan Stewart, cofounder of Tiny Non-profit, an advocacy group for tiny homes in Australia, there’s a small industry of tiny home builders springing up around Australia. An educated guess, she says, would put the figure for these homes at about 150 Australia-wide, but interest is growing.

Thousands of people visit tiny home open home events like the one she and her partners are organising, as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week next month. Three tiny homes have been towed in and will be on display.

The impetuses are several, but mostly, it’s about environment and cost – for people wanting to get their foot on the housing ladder or wishing to have a small footprint and live more modestly.

A tiny home, Stewart says, is generally defined as up to 12.5 metres long and 2.5m wide. It has to be self-contained, with a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, and can be on or off the grid. They can cost between $30,000 and $80,000 to build, with the cost of land on top of that. Some people build a tiny home near an existing house, like a granny flat. Others build in the country to have a tiny home away from home. Others build in “collectives”, with a few homes clustered together to make a tiny community.

In different states and depending on local councils, would-be builders work in different legislative frameworks. In Victoria, in Mount Alexander shire, there is a proposal to put up a few tiny houses with the site classified as a “multi-dwelling”, while in NSW, Stewart says, it is easier to work within the boarding house regulations.

Tiny houses can be on wheels or not. On wheels, they are generally classified as caravans, but, for example in Victoria, it is illegal to live in a caravan for more than six weeks. In NSW, a court win against Camden Council in early April has reportedly paved the way for “mobile structures” in backyards by upholding a Sydney family’s right to put a small holiday cabin on wheels (which could be classified as a caravan) on their land without development consent.

Stewart became interested in tiny homes when she was living and working in Sydney and teaching yoga at the Wayside Chapel, and had to watch her “yoga friends” go out into the street, homeless after the class.

“That got me thinking… [at first] it was about looking at this for disadvantaged people, but then I realised the movement was much bigger and people were choosing them for their smaller footprint and environmental reasons. They tick all the boxes. Many people find they just don’t need a big home. They are “super cheap”, less space means less stuff, they’re easy to clean and fix, cheap to heat and cool and you can pick them up and move them.”

She hopes one day to build one for herself. While there are builders who specialise, many tiny houses are DIY and use recycled and sustainable materials. What distinguishes a good tiny home is clever design, Stewart says.

“For myself, I’ve always been a minimalist. I like the idea of living in small space. I like the aesthetic, the small footprint, that it’s simple and cosy.”

America is way ahead of Australia, she says. The movement is huge and has been growing since the GFC, and she feels very positive about her organisation’s mission here.

To get back to cute: “Great minds make small footprints… Tiny homes do more with less.”

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  1. It’s time that “standard homes” got a lot smaller.

    A local council in Sydney won’t allow 3 Bedroom houses to be less than 90sqm (to prevent slums).

    I live in a 90sqm 3 bedroom house, it’s overly large, far larger than my childhood home. In Glebe, Newtown, Paddington houses much smaller than 90sqm are fetching multiple millions of dollars, none of those feel like “slum” dwellers.

    I once lived in a 2 bedroom house in Glebe that was 70sqm with a 30sqm ground floor, rear yard 10m x4m excluding the external bathroom which occupied 6sqm (4m was the street frontage and the width of the block, a terrace row), the whole block was around 92sqm.

    This house was very efficient and easy to clean, no room for any excess furniture or junk.

    Houses need to be kept cheap therefore small and efficient, row houses share walls, are far less resource consuming, less space less junk. Houses need to be built in zero car neighbourhoods with a maximum walk of 1.2 kilometres to Metro Transit.

  2. I am in favour of tiny homes with very small footprints so long as part of the land they save is used to provide more public space like parks, community gardens etc.
    If we are serious about affordable housing we have to produce some homes that need not much land and don’t cost much to build.