Back in 1973, the average American home was 1,660 square feet — the average household size, 3.01 people. Today, there are 2.54 people living in a house. (Have you ever shared a Netflix account with .54 of a person? Not so bad.) Yet the average home being built today is 2,687 square feet — roughly 1,000 feet bigger than when Nixon was president.
If you’re building or buying one of these homes, that generally means a higher mortgage, higher energy bills, higher insurance — and less money for snowboard trips, a new canoe or Buddha bowls. Understanding that most of us can’t live the vanlife indefinitely, you can see why a smaller home might seem the better choice.
With more progressive communities making tiny-house living a reality, micro dwellings are on the rise. And while it’s a romantic image to picture yourself crafting your little dream house of reclaimed driftwood warmed by the body heat of a pet unicorn, some of us can’t pound a nail straight and are better off having a contractor take care of the building phase.
Options abound these days. There are specific tiny-house blueprints, and builders that actually make the whole house and deliver it for the spatial minimalist. Companies that construct tiny homes on wheels can deliver them right to your site. And then there’s the option to have the model delivered in pieces. Think of it as the greatest model you’ll ever assemble (or at least your builder will).
But does this run contrary to the DIY ethic that has been such a true north for the tiny-house community?
“For me, the heart and soul of the movement will always be DIY’ers bootstrapping a housing option that meets their needs and lifestyle desires. These homes, though imperfect, are character rich and unique to each owner. Although I do see a place for builder models and prefab tiny houses providing more options for those unable to build their own,” says Alexis Stephens, co-director of The Tiny House Expedition, who lives in a tiny traveling home with partner Christian Parsons.
Zip Kit Homes, out of Mount Pleasant, Utah (about two hours from Salt Lake City), is in the business of building complete prefab homes that get delivered to a site. While not all of their 12 models qualify as tiny homes, there are a number of 400-square-foot options. Both the exterior and the interior are completely finished right down to the cabinets, countertops, appliances and hardware. Average small homes run around $50,000 to $70,000.
Alchemy Architects is a traditional architecture-design service but has become well known for its weeHouse Homes, designed by a young team of creative, sustainability-inspired architects. Their two signature models are the barnHouse ($150,000), which combines farm aesthetic with modern design, and the contemporary lightHouse ($125,000), with an edgier design and technical features.
“In my opinion, Kasita is the best prefab manufacturer on the market,” says Stephens. “They’re snazzy, relatively affordable standalone or stackable micro units that provide smart, flexible options for underutilized land.”
Kasita is based in Austin, Texas. Creating prefab, ultramodern dwellings, the company claims “outsized functionality in an undersized footprint.” They are all equipped with smart home tech, from the lights to built-in speakers, the overhead fan to the thermostat. And while they work as that ideal tiny-house getaway in some remote valley, they’re stackable and ideal for urban living, not to mention instant gratification. Kasita homes run about $140,000.
Many prefab-home builders encourage buyers with the draw that prefab homes are built faster, of higher quality and are more energy efficient. While it’s true about the speed, any custom home can be built to high quality and energy efficiency with the right budget. Overall tighter seams make the homes better at containing heat or air conditioning, and building them in a factory with recycled materials really does cut out waste.
If that dream house of reclaimed pallets doesn’t pan out, prefab might just be your best second option.