What’s New in the ‘Tiny’ House Market?

Australians have long been recognised as having the largest homes in the world. The average floor area of a new detached house built in Australia is approximate 231 square metres, which is about double the size of a home built in the 1950s, and about five times larger than the average home in Hong Kong. 

Australia remained at the top of the McMansion leader poll until last year where we were overtaken by the United States – the average size of a new house in the US in 2015/16 was 250 square metres – prompting commentators to remark on our waning appetite for larger houses.

Along with declining housing affordability and a rising homeless population (at least 100,000 Australians are currently living homeless) the concept of “tiny” prefabricated houses is no longer a novelty.

And small modular housing can also respond to our apparent yearning for a more minimalist lifestyle, without shirking on amenity or connectivity.

Kasita, a company based in Austin Texas, has come up with a 34 square metre offering in this market – tiny, connected houses billed as an “iPhone for housing.”

Using sites that may be considered unconventional or undersized, Kasita housing takes these tiny units, which can be stacked on top of one another or stand alone to “transform under-utilised land into on-demand living”.

Kasita houses are entirely prefabricated and then transported to their determined site. Once installed they are classified as permanent structures built to the international building code or international residential code standards.

Despite being marketed as “shipping-crate housing” up to 34 square metres, Kasita boasts creative storage solutions and design – providing tuckaway beds, high ceilings, natural light and multi-level design.

The tiny homes were also designed to be smart, IoT-connected homes, featuring:

  • Smart Home iPhone/iPad/Android app dimmer switches
  • In-built doorbell & camera
  • Doorbird voice control
  • Amazon dot thermostat
  • Nest amplifier, and
  • Smoke/CO detectors.

Kasita’s concept was designed to be multi-functional, providing a solution for individuals, families, developers and governments. The house can be used as a backyard apartment, personal office, multi-family apartment, condos, student housing, workforce housing, senior housing, music/sound studios and even unconventional purposes like retail and recreation.

According to Kasita, their housing concept could go part way to resolving housing affordability by adding supply in areas where inventory is low.

“Studies are showing the cost of living, the majority of which is the cost of housing, is rising drastically. Many current homeowners can no longer afford their own homes. Some are turning to accessory dwelling units to change that.

“With the baby boomer population ageing, the number of older Americans [is] expected to double in the next three decades. In 2016 a Genworth study showed 70% of senior citizens were in need of long-term care not covered by medicaid. In markets such as Portland and Oakland families are turning to ‘granny pods’ to have parents and grandparents live independently while remaining part of the home.

“Comparing the annual cost of nursing care which can run up to $100,000 with the cost of ADU’s (accessory dwelling unit) ranging from $100,000 to $250,000, many are turning to the latter.”

The ‘tiny’ trend

Of course, a great deal of the world’s population still considers the idea of tiny housing ridiculous – although Kasita reckons the tiny house trend is just getting started.

“[…] Interest in micro homes is rooted in socioeconomic trends that go far beyond a passing fascination with clever design and fold-up furniture. Mortgages and rent consume an ever-greater proportion of income; quality, attainable housing is dwindling; urban populations are growing; half the US population is single; a quarter of the population lives alone; and younger generations want flexibility instead of 30-year mortgages.

“Small living can offer more financial freedom, more mobility, a lower environmental footprint, and an emphasis on experience over stuff. Frankly, those are attractive offerings—especially for recent college grads, single professionals, and retirees.

“We’re in a unique housing moment. Whether it’s in cosmopolitan centres, suburban cul-de-sacs, or rural outskirts—the way we think about “home” is primed for change and well-designed small dwellings are a critical part of the shift.”

Small homes in dense, urban areas have long been standard operating procedure in some parts of the world. The average new home size in the UK is 75 square metres.

In Hong Kong, it’s 45 square metres. It’s only recently — with a dwindling urban housing supply — that U.S. cities have begun to rethink the “bigger is better” mantra.

Accessory dwelling units — also known as ADUs, granny flats, in-law units and laneway houses — are making a big comeback after going out of fashion in the mid-20th century. For many homeowners, installing a small home in the backyard is an ideal way to gain income or house an ageing family member.

Kasita is currently working with local governments to pilot their communities as an affordable housing solution.

Tiny homes in master-planned communities are also being piloted as a potential solution for homelessness in several programs across the country, including the Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington and the Community First! Village in Austin.

“By 2029, nearly 71.4 million people in the United States will be age 65 or older. As the baby boomer population ages, we’re already seeing growing interest in housing that allows retirees to maintain a sense of independence and privacy while also lowering cost of living and providing closer access to support.

“Micro homes hit almost all these notes.”

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