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How Tiny House Building has Evolved Since the Movement Began

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Written by Isabelle Nagel-Brice of A Tiny Good Thing

Tiny houses have been around since humans started building shelter, however the Tiny House Movement began around 20 years ago in the United States. 

It’s inception can be attributed to Jay Shafer among others, and the first tiny house he built was a way for him to no longer be homeless. He built a small beautiful home on a trailer at the end of the 90’s that was filled with intention and designed for his simplistic lifestyle. He continued to inspire and co-founded the tiny house company Tumbleweed Tiny Houses in 2002 and Four Lights Tiny House Company in 2012. He’s part of the root system of the Tiny House Movement, and personally has lived in some of the smallest known tiny houses.

Jay Shafer’s most recent tiny house. Photo by Living Big in a Tiny House.


Tiny house building has evolved quite a bit since those first tiny homes by Jay Shafer and Dee Williams, which are great examples of where the movement began.

Initially, The Tiny House Movement was focused primarily on reducing one’s environmental impact by living in a smaller space, as well as reducing financial burdens of standard mortgages. Putting the home on a trailer created the ability to get around building codes and to move locations when desired. Although living in a tiny house was illegal (and still mostly is), this gave way for many DIY builders to have the ability to learn as they built their own homes. Often these homes were built with reclaimed materials and therefore were creative and inexpensive. The quality of those houses were often a topic of discussion among professional builders and people interested in legalizing tiny houses and creating building standards.


Dee Williams and her new tiny house.

In 2008 when the depression hit, the idea of living small became more of a necessity and DIY and professional builders started building tiny homes more than ever before. Tv shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters became popular along with the documentary Tiny that came out in 2013. This is when the movement really began to grow despite the legal issues associated with it.

Increased interest in living small and professional builders jumping on board, changed the ways tiny houses were built. In the beginning most tiny houses were 7.5’ wide and 16’-18’ long, allowing for under 120 square feet on the inside. Many didn’t have plumbing or full bathrooms, were built on old reclaimed trailers, and the rest of the space was purely the bare essentials aligning with Jay Shafer’s minimalist and communal living vision. 

Once tiny house builds were available on tv and for viewing online, the movement quickly grew and began to shift to allow more interior space, plumbing became a necessity, and tiny houses expanded to lengths of 37’ and 10’ wide.


Home and photo by Alabama Tiny Homes

Not only did the size change, but so did the design elements. Tiny house specific trailers are now the go-to and reclaimed building materials are used less often. Additionally, tiny houses are being built with conventional building materials that decrease material costs and don’t fully support the environmental aspect of the movement. Prices for complete homes have increased immensely and the laws to allow tiny homes in communities and backyards are beginning to shift. 

Fortunately, tiny house certification is now available to prove that the build was built to safe standards. Financing is a main topic of interest within the community as are legalizing tiny homes across the country. There are several tiny house communities across the United States and some cities are now allow tiny houses as accessory dwelling units in backyards of larger homes.

Families are living in tiny houses and thriving because they spend more time outside with their children, don’t have to work as much to pay for living expenses, and are not tied to one place. 

The Tiny House Movement is shifting and growing quickly as people of all ages seek to simplify their lives by living in alternative ways.

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