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Tiny House vs. Small House

Sometimes when I say I live in an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), the response is, “Oh, you live in a tiny house.” My 700 sq. ft. house in Portland is a small house, but it is far from being a tiny house. The average size of a tiny house in the U.S. is 225 sq. ft.

I must confess, I have a bit of an obsession with tiny houses. I’m fascinated by their clever design features used to maximize every square inch for storage and livability. And let’s face it, they’re just so darn cute! I can see why they have become so popular. But are they the answer to affordable and sustainable housing?

With increased inflation and a global energy crisis, there is a growing movement among some Americans to downsize to smaller homes, simplify our lives and leave a smaller footprint. Yet new construction in the US continues to emphasis bigger is better. Newly built single-family homes went from an average square foot of 983 in 1950 to today’s average of almost 2,500. [1]

You can still find older houses for sale that are less than 1,000 sq. ft., but their numbers are dwindling as smaller homes are expanded on or torn down and replaced with much larger homes. It seems Europe never bought into the bigger is better idea as the average square footage of houses and apartments is 818 in the UK and 1,206 in France. Compare that to the 2,164 sq. ft. average home in the US. [2]

Tiny houses are one solution, but personally, I couldn’t live in a house that small, and I have my doubts about their practicality in the long-term. Tiny houses are typically on wheels with no permanent connections to water and waste disposal. They are essentially a well-crafted RV. As such, local zoning laws in most cities and towns have restrictions on where you can park your tiny house. In many cities, living in an RV full-time is illegal, even if it’s parked in a friend or relative’s backyard or driveway. If you’re thinking of buying a tiny house, check the local zoning regulations first.

Unlike RVs, tiny houses are typically constructed of wood and weigh far more than the average travel trailer. If you plan to move your tiny home from one location to the next, you’ll need a V8 truck or you’ll have to pay a few thousand to move it from one location to another. If you want a vehicle to live in while you travel around the country, a motorhome or light-weight newer or vintage trailer might be a more economical option.

One of the big advantages of a tiny house is the affordability compared to a standard house or condo. Your initial outlay of money is a lot less, but there is still a price to pay. You’re saving on rent, however you still have to buy or rent land. A tiny house costs much less, but you’ll pay a much higher price per square foot. Unless you buy land, you’re not having to pay a mortgage, but you’re also not building equity and wealth. And tiny houses can depreciate in value as more and more of them are built. [3]

The demand for smaller and more affordable homes is there. In France, I see new 900 sq. ft. houses popping up in every village and town. Perhaps if Americans demanded smaller single-family homes, builders would respond. Until then, we’ll need to look at other solutions.

The kitchen of my accessory dwelling unit — not a tiny house.
The kitchen of my accessory dwelling unit.

One of the best options if you already have a house and land and you want to downsize, is to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), move into the ADU and rent your main house. That’s what I did and you can read more about building an ADU here. Another ADU solution is to carve out a second living unit in your current house, such as basement apartment or converted garage. Or search for one of the few remaining small, single-family homes on the market.

Let me know if you’ve ever lived in a tiny house or downsized to a smaller home, or you plan to do so. Comment below.



Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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