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Study of Tiny House Villages - Benefits and Challenges

  • Published: 2016-10-06 : Kansas State University (k-state.edu).
  • Synopsis: The goal is to reduce the housing cost burden on residents while still providing a benefit to the community
Tiny Housing

The tiny house movement (small house movement) is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. There is currently no set definition of what constitutes a tiny house; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet (46 m2) is generally accepted to be a tiny home. The financial crisis of 2007-08, started the growth of the small house movement. For many who lost their homes due to foreclosure or unemployment, tiny houses became an attractive option. With their low cost and relative ease of construction, tiny houses are being adopted as shelter for the homeless in Eugene, OR, Olympia, WA, Ithaca, NY and other cities. Communities of tiny houses can offer residents a transition towards self-sufficiency. Small and tiny houses have received increasing media coverage including a serial television show, Tiny House Nation, in 2014 and Tiny House Hunters.

Main Document

Quote: "...there are many known health benefits for natural lighting and fresh air in living spaces, a common theme in many tiny house designs."

Big health benefits may be hidden in tiny houses, according to two Kansas State University researchers.

Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, and Julia Day, assistant professor of interior design, are traveling the United States to study the new trend in housing: tiny houses. Irwin and Day said there are big health advantages to living in tiny houses, particularly when located in tiny house communities called villages. But challenges establishing such villages may prevent many from this affordable housing.

"Some individuals live in tiny houses on their own in the country, but there are others who live in tiny house villages," Irwin said. "We think that does a few things for one's health, including creating a better sense of community, satisfying people's basic needs for relationships, offering affordable housing options and encouraging physical activity through community gardens and walking to urban establishments."

Kansas State University's Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, and Julia Day, assistant professor of interior design, are collaborating to build a tiny house, which led to research on the health benefits and challenges of starting tiny house villages across the US - Image Credit: Kansas State University
About This Image: Kansas State University's Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, and Julia Day, assistant professor of interior design, are collaborating to build a tiny house, which led to research on the health benefits and challenges of starting tiny house villages across the US - Image Credit: Kansas State University
Irwin is researching if living in a tiny house village will encourage residents to be more physically active, while Day is researching sustainable building design and healthy building materials for tiny houses.

"Design elements and strategies such as solar panels or low-water-use fixtures are part of the bigger sustainability and environmental health picture, but when designing and building a tiny house - or any house - it is beneficial to thoughtfully select building materials without harmful chemicals to increase indoor air quality and health," Day said. "In addition, there are many known health benefits for natural lighting and fresh air in living spaces, a common theme in many tiny house designs."

The researchers will visit tiny house villages in many states across the U.S. with financial assistance from the Dean Barbara S. Stowe Faculty Development Award from the College of Human Ecology. They will interview residents and village founders about several aspects of living in tiny houses, including how they overcame zoning, building and fire codes, and city planning difficulties.

"The biggest challenge with tiny houses is trying to find a place to put them," Irwin said. "Zoning laws dictate where you can and cannot put a house. Right now, the big question is what is a tiny house, because how you define a tiny house dictates where you can put it."

In addition to their research, Day and Irwin have been working to establish a tiny house village or area for tiny houses as accessory dwelling units around Kansas State University's Manhattan campus. The goal is to reduce the housing cost burden on residents while still providing a benefit to the community. Defining a tiny house differently than a recreational vehicle or mobile home may provide the opportunity to establish affordable housing options in middle- or upper-middle-class neighborhoods or in the middle of cities within walking distances to basic needs.

"Tiny houses have a different connotation to them; they are typically seen as a middle - or upper-middle-class housing structure," Irwin said. "We know that's not the case - they can be economical - but we can harness that image that they have to address a real problem: affordable housing."

Day teaches a class on residential and commercial building code and helped design Irwin's personal tiny house, which will be featured in January 2017 on HGTV's "Tiny House, Big Living." While designing the house, the two started discussions with the city of Manhattan about zoning, fire codes, local building codes and many other requirements for a potential tiny house village in the city limits.

"I think there are several folks in the city and the community who are very excited about this idea but we have to work through all of the logistics to figure what is best for Manhattan," Day said.

"We were fortunate to receive the Stowe Faculty Development Award from the College of Human Ecology, which will allow us to travel around the country to visit different tiny house villages," Irwin said. "We want to immerse ourselves in those places and learn about how things work there."

Day and Irwin started their travel across the county in late September.

Related Information:

  1. Cottage Home Communities for Disabled Adults - ECC Management plans to build more cottage homes with the goal of providing a new housing option for adults with disabilities - Engstrom Public Relations
  2. Federal Court Rules Properties Must Be Accessible to People with Disabilities Before Occupancy - Ruling ensures persons with disability have access to same level of housing as people without disabilities - Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC
  3. Disability Housing and Home Loans for Disabled Americans - List of home loan providers in the US states who lend money for home purchases and housing down payment loans to people with disabilities and low income earners - Disabled World


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