enLIGHTenment – The Lighting Industry Trade Publication

Think Small

Builders and designers are fine-tuning their skillsets to include what has been referred to as the “tiny house movement.”

Whether you’re a faithful viewer of the TV show Tiny House Nation, have visited any of the traveling shows touring the country from coast to coast – such as the Great American Tiny House Show, The Tiny House & Simple Living Jamboree, or any of the Tiny House Festivals held in Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee – or perhaps are just tiny house-curious, you’re probably aware by now that McMansions are no longer the preferred abode of the future for a growing number of the U.S. population.

At first glance, choosing to live in a “tiny house” may appear to be a sensible and doable temporary housing solution or maybe an affordable solution for first-time homebuyers; however, most surveys indicate that these tiny houses have become another increasingly positive, practical, and financially friendly option for available long-term housing nationwide. 

While most popularly confined to 150-400 square feet, tiny houses have the unique added advantage of almost limitless natural light thanks to four walls — unlike a studio apartment with similar dimensions that has only one conventional exterior window and either a windowless bathroom or one with opaque glass. In that sense, these tiny houses offer a greater feeling of “openness” around them than many big city studio apartments.

Witness the global popularity of converted metal shipping containers as “homes” – sometimes comprised of multiple stacked containers for increased space – and you can see how the conventional idea of “housing” has been turned on its head. With the shipping container homes, there is the added benefit of repurposing and upcycling that is particularly appealing to Millennials and eco-conscious consumers today.

All of this has led to a new segment in the housing sector, which is now attracting certain home designers and builders to target that niche. When it comes to plumbing, cabinetry, and bedding needs, the most obvious resource would be those manufacturers who serve the RV community. So far, the general wiring, electrical outlets, and junction boxes, lamps, lighting fixtures, and light bulbs for these types of homes are more of an after-thought. There is certainly plenty of opportunity for manufacturers of small-scale sconces, lighting fixtures, table lamps, and exterior lanterns to enter – and dominate –
this category.

Learning all the tricks for maximizing every square inch is serious business. Since a tiny house has four exterior sides with windows, this makes placing lamps, lighting fixtures, and electrical outlets a lot easier — especially if those parameters are established before construction starts.

Illuminating these tiny houses is more flexible than in the past, thanks to the ability to utilize natural light in combination with the electric variety. In contrast to the aforementioned 200 to 350-sq.-ft. apartments in major cities that only have one door with no window (typically facing an interior hallway), one main room window, and a bathroom (which may not have a window, or may have a small, opaque one), tiny houses typically have a front door with an upper-half window and at least 6 to 10 interior windows (if there’s a bedroom loft, add 1 to 2 more) plus there is often a back or side door (perhaps with an upper-half window) leading to a porch, deck, and surrounding land.   

Some have dubbed the first built examples of tiny homes as “adult versions of a high-end tree house” while others have described them as upscale RV construction or “one step up from my first college grad 200-sq.-ft. apartment.” Regardless, today’s architectural options for these types of dwellings have become almost limitless whether built in tie-down mobile form on a 20-foot trailer or directly attached to a permanent concrete slab.

Tiny homes can also be considered the new vacation “cabins” of over-worked city dwellers seeking affordable and relaxing, picturesque getaways.  Likewise, they appeal to empty-nesters or a senior care alternative to moving in with grown children. In addition, tiny homes of 150 to 300 square feet may appeal to a younger demographic in the suburbs as a practical, affordable alternative to renting a similar-sized micro apartment in a large city at a higher cost.

The proliferation of tiny homes has led to the rapid development of permanent mini villages nationwide as well as rental communities. The numerous tiny house exhibitions around the country continue to draw crowds with proceeds from the $5 admission benefiting various non-profits while increasing the exposure of the tiny home concept to more regional areas. What attendees appreciate most about these shows is the opportunity to talk with actual owners of tiny homes as well as the self-builders and commercial builders, insurance companies specializing in the niche, plus legal advisors for water and electricity connections for those wanting to place a tiny house on undeveloped land.

Owners of tiny homes say home decorating “is far more fun than trying to make a small, rental apartment livable.” Tiny home owners also report the amount of natural light, having multiple windows, and being able to enhance their immediate surroundings with plants, casual living furniture, and even the planting of small herb gardens as among the pluses of living in this new type of housing. 

While claustrophobia might be cited as a negative, it can largely be eliminated by placing windows so that “every way you look, you are seeing a window,” says Ryan Mitchell, owner of The Tiny Life in Charlotte, N.C. Not only did he design and build his own permanent tiny house, he runs a yearly successful public show on the niche each March in Charlotte.

David Latimer, founder & CEO of New Frontier Tiny Homes in Nashville, Tenn. – which provides upscale, custom-built, homes in the low six figures – says tiny homes are a growing segment in the future of residential housing. 





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