Is the tiny house trend dead?

Tiny houses are everywhere. Are we close to saturation or has the movement just begun?


Have we reached peak tiny house? These days you can hardly turn your head without bumping into some kind of micro dwelling. A slew of reality shows like Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House, Big Life, and Tiny House Nation are documenting the joys and trials of the downsized life. Last year a Portlandia skit poked fun at the micro home trend (their tiny house featured a fold-up kitty litter box and a mini-library for “alone time”). There’s even a thing called “tiny house regret” for those who convert to the micro life only to realize they can’t quite swing it.

Between the pop culture takeover and the realities of downsizing, some are wondering if the tiny house is close to joining MySpace and Crocs in the land where trends go to die.

But even if the whimsical HGTV tiny home does have an expiration date, there’s evidence that the current tiny renaissance is just the first wave in a much broader micro movement.

That’s because the surge of 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.

The problem with the tiny home trend—as many a tiny-blogger will attest—comes down to critical mass. Building a tiny home isn’t realistic for the average person. For those who have one, finding a legal place to put it is often a nightmare (the cost savings aren’t as attractive if you have to shell out for property to put it on). Coding is almost never designed to accommodate smaller dwellings and neither is city planning.

Experience from those who’ve lived in micro homes has also shown that the smaller the dwelling, the bigger the balancing need from the community. Micro dwellers often describe their surrounding environment as an extended living room and kitchen, but these sorts of communal spaces don’t organically sprout on their own. Creating a micro-friendly community requires careful planning, walkability, and dedicated public spaces.

For the full potential of micro living to be realized, cities, legislators, urban planners, developers, and community organizers will have to collaborate on a scale far beyond the individual tiny home owner. We’re talking societal shifts—not trends.

And the shift is already happening. We’re in a unique housing moment. Whether it’s in cosmopolitan centers, 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.

Here’s where we see the micro movement headed:

CITIES: In other parts of the world, small homes in dense, urban areas have long been standard operating procedure (as opposed to a novelty). Average new home size in the UK is 818 square feet. In Hong Kong, it’s 484 square feet and in Sweden, 893 square feet. It’s only recently—with a dwindling urban housing supply—that U.S. cities have begun to rethink the “bigger is better” mantra.

Take New York City, where the mayor relaxed minimum unit size and maximum density rules for Carmel Place, the city’s first modular micro apartment building—featuring a blend of both affordable and market rate studios, plus a variety of shared communal spaces. Earlier this year  the development received a staggering 60,000 applications for 14 affordable micro-units.

BACKYARDS: Urban cores may be the hardest hit for space, but they aren’t the only environments with a rising interest in living small. 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 (via rent) or house an aging family member.

NOT JUST MILLENNIALS: That last point—housing a family member—is especially noteworthy. 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 (and as a recent retired visitor to the KASITA noted, “the bedroom is that much closer to the bathroom.”)

COMMUNITIES: In unity there is strength, goes the proverb. Tiny home villages are beginning to pop up all over the place, including rural and less densely populated area like Spur, Texas, a small town that recently loosened housing regulations in a bid for renewal and population growth. The tiny village model has an obvious precedent in the form of mobile home parks and manufactured home communities, which have always been based on low-cost, downsized living and shared services. 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 right here in Austin.

Stay tuned. The tiny house isn’t dead—it’s just getting started.

  • Stephen Ragsdale

    Great article and I love the term “micro-dweller” vs. tiny-house. What should be examined more closely is the negative effects of long-term debt in the form of 30+ year home loans (and yes…they have 40 year home loans, as well) and skyrocketing student loan debts. Smaller footprint, high tech housing with a beautiful design can be achieved without the burden of debt loads that will take decades to pay off, thus reducing your ability to travel, experience lasting memorable endeavors and frankly, do the the things you enjoy. I very much appreciate the offering by Kasita, such an amazing design solution for those communities and families that would benefit from high tech and affordable housing in the urban centers, if they choose.

    • Clara Bensen

      Thanks for your thoughts Stephen. Agreed that there has to be a better way than 30+ year home loans on top of heavy student debt.

  • geehwiz44

    I’d love Minnesota to allow such housing. And how blessed I would be if I were accepted into the NYC Carmel affordable one. Too much competition. I had to move out 14 yrs ago, and at 71, cannot afford to rent a bathroom in my hometown, my birthplace, my roots.

    • Clara Bensen

      So sorry to hear you aren’t able to afford rent in your own hometown. It’s a story that we hear all the time and we are working hard to change it.

  • geehwiz44

    What is the cost for such affordable housing? In Austin, TX for example?

    • Clara Bensen

      We aren’t releasing pricing until later this year, but we’re expecting it to fall somewhere between a car and rent payment. Affordability is a huge part of our mission.

      • Amazon’s Guy

        Have you released info? I Live in Austin Texas And tiny homes are a huge passion of mine can we meet and discuss a possible opportunity ? At the very least buy one:). Would love to start a small 8-10 home community by lake travis , And rent to people . Or even Air BnB. Anyways tons of motivation behind the man typing this . Please reach out to me at mitchcapitalmedia07@gmail.com.

        Have a wonderful day !

        • Clara Bensen

          Hey Mitch…we’re glad that you’re so excited. A small home community sounds awesome. We still haven’t released pricing but we are getting close.

  • Demity Baughman

    I would love to see more ‘micro home’ communities for older folks who aren’t ready for assisted living but want to downsize and still be close to someone who could check in on them. The essential key is: we older folks still want high end products, not cheap components designed for mobile homes. (Quality tubs, sinks, toilets, faucets, appliances, countertops, etc.)

    • Clara Bensen

      Great suggestion, Demity. Living well with community and nearby support makes total sense.

  • Mark Lingerfelt

    Wonderful article. What is the cost?

    • Clara Bensen

      Thanks Mark. We aren’t releasing pricing until later this year, but we’re expecting it to fall somewhere between a car and rent payment. Affordability is a huge part of our mission.

  • Jonathan Avery

    Great article – hits all the nails on the head! I am pioneering micro-living in Scotland with my Nesthouse – the key issues however are Planning Permission and Building Regulations and the availability of land – now there’s a surprise! https://tinyhousescotland.co.uk/

    • Clara Bensen

      Thanks Jonathan! Sweet Nesthouse. We hear you on the building regulations.

  • Leslie Landberg

    Just joined the conversation. I am wanting to know what your plans are for integrating permaculture like principals into your design? Don’t have one foot in the past, off grid and permaculture are the foundations of the global future. I also wonder what the price point will look like for a single unit and what your plans are for making these homes expandable and customizable. Lastly, have you considered taking your branding out of beta, in the sense that home buyers are usually wanting to start families, not only will they want to double up these home kits, since they are narrow and impose too much restriction on buyers, but also no one wants to live in a vertical RV park. Those of us who read (and loved) Ready Player One are sniggering, so…that’s not good. A little spin in the direction of upward mobility, a small speech adjustment,would radically expand your market viability. Reach me at leslielandberg1@gmail.com if you read this! I’m on the list and looking forward to developments. great work!

    • Clara Bensen

      Thank you for your thoughts and suggestions, Leslie. Environmental design, customizability, and eventual expansion options are definitely on our radar as we roll out our KASITA beta design. The housing industry is complex and multifaceted and we’re still in the early stages of production, but we have a pretty radical vision and are excited about all the different ways our model could be adapted.

      We’ve also read–and loved–Ready Player One, by the way (Ernest Cline happens to be in Austin too). Trailer parks get a bad rap, but there is a lot about the communal structure that makes sense.

  • Anthony_McCarthy

    It might not be for everybody but there are lots of people it is for, either because they aren’t addicted to accumulating junk and wasting resources or because their life doesn’t allow them to turn their dwelling into a junk storage facility.

    What I think is ripe for humor are the people who spend a jillion dollars per square foot to make a little jewel box that they’ll get tired of because they are addicted to stuff.

    • Clara Bensen

      Agreed. Small homes are not ideal for everyone, but well-designed (non-jewel-box!), micro-dwellings are definitely a critical part of the equation when we talk about solving the housing crisis.

  • Moonchalk

    Like any other type of item, the market is always right (as long as it is a FREE market). What that means is that the free market will shake out what works and what doesn’t over time.

    I predict (based on DISSIMILAR design requirements) that the market will bifurcate into two distinct categories (NOT that crossovers won’t be in evidence) of fixed and mobile “tiny houses”. The fixed type having the advantage of better strength, lower energy usage & lower cost/square/foot. The mobile — being mobile will be the inverse.

  • Nwodo Emmanuel

    KASITA is exciting for me as its the most suitable housing technology for my ideal housing solution to prevailing challenges in FCT, Abuja, my area of operation. We presently build with blocks which is permanent but there’s niche market for temporary/ relocatable dwelling. My only concern would be affordability and if you will cooperate with oversee developer like me. Here’s our website: http://www.conuel.com.ng

  • Mark Bruns

    So what if the tiny house trend is becoming ordinary, untrendy and boring … does that really matter? In a way, I think it does in a way … the idea HAS TO escape the Austin [or Portlandia] orbit or it will die.

    Evolution has a way of applying some rather harsh conditions to sort out what is robust or even antifragile enough to survive. My critique of any tiny house idea is driven by a simple, deliberately harsh and nasty question, “Could I still live in that cute little toy after the fun wears off and everyone in the world thinks it’s just a disgusting piece of trash?”

    There are a LOT of interesting tiny house ideas out there … some are not much more than just a hodge-podge of different whimsical, off-grid counter-culture concepts that would get old fast if you were the person who had to live in and maintain the things, ie when the owner-builder dies, the little house will be landfilled … some of the better ones are even worthy of ten minutes of YouTube fame, being recorded by an extremely talented videographer, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDsElQQt_gCZ9LgnW-7v-cQ

    The question “Could I live in that toy after the fun wears off?” might be too harsh for some, but helps me to rapidly sift through the ideas and see what can survive, what doesn’t have a chance. Hopefully, the Kasita idea will last a lot longer than iPhone ideas … if something is going to be what people live in for decades or centuries, the idea had better be a LOT better than the iPhone idea … for example, is the Kasita customizable like a 1920s Sear & Roebuck home was OR is customization limited to apps?

    The really BEAUTY of the Kasita idea is STANDARDIZATION … and boring non-trendiness … and how standardization helps the Kasita “shipping container-esque” idea really turn a corner and the size ~adds~ the dimension of being transported more easily and cheaply than other mobile home ideas. Standardization is not only important on the volume mfg and cost reduction side for the initial purchase — standardization is also very important for EASY, cheap movement and re-installation. Being able to inexpensively, painlessly transplant a standard Kasita to a new location, an Kasita park or an urban vertical Kasita park is the longterm “dealmaker” part of the idea.

    It has ALWAYS been ultra-easy for anyone who wanted to poke fun at people who like in “van down by the river” or a mobile homes … or trailer parks and the trailertrash culture of Trailer Park Boys … or to sink the most sanctimonious folk song ever about “Little Boxes,” affordable housing modeled after Sears and Roebuck craftsman bungalows. But those banal ideas totally ROCK! The tendency of tiny home aficionados to focus on the whimsical or stylistic superficial aspects of the home is something that really must be resisted … making a Kasita as mobile and durable as standard shipping container will make it possible for the idea to escape the Austin orbit.

  • Tom Simpson

    I don’t get any of this tiny house movement. I’m a blue collar worker, and have been one my whole life. I have a home paid off that provides me with rental income because of an attached apartment. Also 30 year mortgages are fine because your property will most likely appreciate more than these really low rates that mortgage holders pay. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that one needs to put away money for retirement when they are young and compound interest is your best friend. Finally, one big problem is the idea that a $150,000 spent on college is a necessity and is more valuable than a home of equal value. Most of these degrees are worthless and are a poor investment. Here’s an idea…..get a trade, move to the Dakotas and make $150,000 a year actually working for a living.

    • Clara Bensen

      Hey Tom, thanks for chiming in. You make some good points about property appreciating and the ridiculous cost of a college education. There are definite advantages to living/working in a place with a lower cost of living (especially if you can find a well-paying job). Unfortunately a lot of jobs are in the big city hubs, and even if you aren’t paying off a huge college bill it can be difficult to save up enough for a down payment on a urban house while also paying rent. I think another part of the smaller home appeal is cultural: younger folks move a lot more, are less interested in ownership period, and prefer to spend money on experiences. That being said, smaller homes are definitely not for everyone and if your way is working for you, more power to you!