The Tiny House Movement: How Small Can You Go?

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An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is the simple and age-old of having another, smaller, dwelling located on the property of your current dwelling. ADUs can take the form of a basement apartment, a garage apartment, or a separate structure on its own slab. The City of Portland is currently a US mecca of the ADU or “tiny house” movement, with most tiny house structures measuring less than 400 square feet. One of the reasons the tiny house phenom has hit Portland so hard is the City’s liberal policy towards creating an ADU on your property.

The City of Portland defines an ADU as “a second dwelling unit created on a lot with a house, attached house or manufactured home. The second unit is created auxiliary to, and is smaller than, the main dwelling. ADUs can be created in a variety of ways, including conversion of a portion of an existing house, addition to an existing house, conversion of an existing garage or the construction of an entirely new building.” Overpopulation, sky high rents, and a community mindedness toward creating a smaller carbon footprint have all contributed to the craze; and Vancouver WA is starting to catch up with the Portland market.

In Clark County WA, the tiny house/ADU movement aims to “(1) provide homeowners with flexibility in establishing separate living quarters within or adjacent to their homes for the purpose of caring for elderly parents, providing housing for their children, companionship, security, services or other purposes; (2) increase the supply of affordable housing units within the community; and (3) ensure that the development of accessory dwelling units does not cause unanticipated impacts on the character or stability of single-family neighborhoods.”

Tiny houses can take the form of modern, whimsical, rustic or classic, and are generally packed with amenities that most full-sized homes lack. The cost of building a tiny home with high end finishes can be almost double the cost of standard single family home construction.

A small ADU would make an excellent guest house, an Air BnB quarters, a student rental, or a second/vacation home. But do you think you could live full-time in a 500 square foot space? “Try it before you buy it” is the name of the game when it comes to tiny homes, and the Portland metro area has several tiny homes available for rentals ranging from Air BnB to boutique hotel caravans.

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If you’re looking for a temporary stay in a rustic and beautifully appointed tiny home, check out The Garden Cottages of Upper Albina, “a unique collection of small living spaces located in the Mississippi Historic District of Portland, Oregon. Each dwelling has been designed and hand built from the ground up by the owners. The structures all completed over the last six years have been crafted to harmonize elegantly with the historic simple working-class structures and ornate victorians of the area.

Each cottage has a small outdoor patio to enjoy a brief (or not so brief) moment of vitamin D rich sunshine or to reflect upon the subtle hues of grey of a passing cloud. A small front porch allows a visitor to linger and consider interacting in the public domain from a place of privacy. Simple furnishings, simple kitchens, simple living; yet not without attention to details. The cottages are available for a minimum of one month stays at this time.”

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Another fun tiny house test drive option is Caravan, in the Alberta Arts District of Portland, “a unique, one-of-a-kind hotel where travelers from around the world can experience what it’s like to stay in a custom-made tiny house on wheels. Our charming tiny houses are all built by local builders and range in size from 84-170 sq.ft. Each tiny house features creative, funky, artistic design elements coupled with multi-functional, space-efficient furnishings. All of our tiny houses have flush toilets, hot showers, electric heat, a sitting area, a kitchen and lots of locally made art and sustainable, Fair Trade products.

The Tiny House Blog is a great source of info about the tiny house movement, building options, and great examples of all styles of small dwellings, from trailers to pint-sized Victorians.

What do you think? Are you ready to ditch your world possessions and downsize? What’s your idea of “tiny”? My personal preference would be a sweet vintage trailer brought back to life, upgraded with modern conveniences, and parked walking distance from the ocean. Hey, a girl can dream!

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