Tiny homes Ireland 2019: small houses, big benefits?

A blue tiny house

Tiny homes have been a trending topic since their inception in the early 90s, and have been touted as cheaper, more sustainable alternatives to traditional housing. The popularity of the Netflix show “Tiny House Nation” has also raised interest in diminutive abodes.

Conceived in the US as an antidote to go-bigger-or-go-home housing and spiralling prices, the tiny house movement has now caught on worldwide. Are they more environmentally friendly, could you actually live in a small space, and is tiny the new big? Read on to find out.


What is a tiny home?

By definition, a tiny home is a living unit that measures under 400 square feet (roughly 37m2). In Ireland, the average floor space of a home is 81 square meters, so we’re talking about downsizing the average joe’s living space by over 50%, and that’s for a small house on the larger end of the tiny home scale.

Reasons for downsizing to a tiny home vary, but common ones are:

  • They are much more affordable than traditional housing in the expensive Irish property market.
  • A desire to be more environmentally friendly.
  • They are considered cheaper to run and give financial freedom.
  • The desire to switch to more simple living standards.

Tiny homes make great starter homes, student accommodation, hospitality accommodation, temporary homes, and portable homes. If tiny homes tickle your fancy, you might also be interested in log cabins.


Are tiny homes better for the environment?

A small house on a cart

Media coverage and the tiny house movement have pushed the idea that downsizing to tiny homes is good for the planet, but do these claims hold water? 

The basis for tiny homes reducing environmental impact is that they consume fewer resources. However, for this to be true, people’s consumption patterns would also need to change upon moving into a small home.

A fascinating study conducted by Maria Saxton in the US analysed 80 participants who had downsized and been living in tiny homes for over a year. Results were significant and indicated that tiny home inhabitants had reduced their ecological footprint by a whopping 45% on average. Certainly, nothing to be sneezed at.

The study found that in addition to housing, changes in participants food habits, transportation habits, and consumption of goods and services, also contributed to reducing their ecological footprint. 

On reflection, this makes perfect sense. With limited kitchen storage space, tiny home-owners would need to plan their menus meticulously, reducing food waste and unnecessary grocery purchases. 

Many first time homeowners are pushed out to the outskirts of residential areas where houses are cheaper, increasing their commute time. Tiny houses are much cheaper and require much smaller plots of land, meaning tiny home-owners can get closer to where they need to be, typically dictated by where they work.

As small homes are such a recent concept, most of them are also built close to zero energy standards. Largely constructed from sustainable materials, with much lower heating needs, no planned obsolescence, and economical LED lighting, it seems that tiny homes are not only good for the environment, they’re also good for your pocket.

What is planned obsolescence? Planned obsolescence is the practice of producing goods that become obsolete and require replacing, by using non-durable materials, frequently changing the design, and not supplying spare parts or only supplying them for a limited amount of time.


Types of tiny homes

Although not an exhaustive list as technically any home could be a tiny home, most tiny homes generally fall into one of the categories below:

  1. Bus conversions
  2. Cabins
  3. Cob houses
  4. DIY tiny homes
  5. Granny flats
  6. Hobbit homes
  7. Houseboats
  8. Kit houses
  9. Mobile homes, RVs or trailers
  10. Pre-built tiny homes
  11. Shipping containers
  12. Tiny houses on wheels
  13. Treehouses
  14. Vardo tiny houses
  15. Yurts

While you may be familiar with most of the types on the list, there are a few exotic ones that could leave you scratching your head.

A cob house is a micro house constructed with natural and old-fashioned building materials such as clay, soil, sand and straw. The building materials are combined together to produce a characteristic compressed and sculpted continuous wall, unlike other types of buildings which are constructed from bricks or blocks.

The rather charmingly titled hobbit homes, made popular by the iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy, are tiny homes that are built to meld into their surroundings and look like part of the landscape. They can be built into a hill, have grass roofs, and normally feature round windows, extensive woodwork and natural wood sculptures.

Kit houses are tiny homes that come in prefabricated sections that can quickly be put together. A good example of a kit home would be Amazon’s unexpected tiny home offerings. A product that has gone viral, Amazon’s prefab expandable tiny home comes with a solar and wind power system, and can be yours for a mere $25,000. Currently only on sale in the US, here’s hoping it extends its offering across the pond soon.

Vardo tiny houses, also known as gypsy tiny houses, are beautiful wagon-style homes on wheels which normally feature curved roofs and are highly decorative.

Yurts are traditionally round portable tents, used for centuries by nomadic groups in the steppes of Central Asia. They have become popular in recent years due to their use in “glamping” resorts.

What is glamping?Glamping is a portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping”. It refers to a type of luxury camping with larger accommodation, more facilities and more creature comforts than traditional camping.


Powering and heating tiny homes

Tiny homes mean (hopefully) tinier electricity and heating bills, but how do you actually go about hooking them up with an energy supply? Luckily, there are several ways to make sure your tiny home is a cosy nest for you and yours.

If your tiny house will be in a fixed location, you can hook it up to the electricity and gas grids. A small well-vented stove is also a great option for the colder months of the year. For venturing off-grid, generators and solar panels are your best options for powering your home on wheels.


Tiny homes water and sanitation

A blue shower

We realise that water and sanitation are not the first few items that spring to mind when you’re dreaming of your new micro home. You may just assume it comes along with a micro bathroom, deluxed inbuilt shower, modern toilet and stylish sink included.

However, to avoid any unpleasant situations further down the line, and any possible health or hygiene problems, there are issues best dealt with and planned from the start.

Before you start dreaming of living in your new tiny home, consider the following water and sanitation points:

Fresh Water

Tiny homes with a fixed location can source their water from a town water line, a well, or a portable water source. Those that have no fixed abode should have water tanks that can be refilled via hoses.

Wastewater

What many people are not aware of is that wastewater is separated into two categories, greywater and blackwater. Greywater is all wastewater that does not come from the toilet, while blackwater is water flushed from the cistern. 

The distinction between the two is important because greywater can possibly be reused while blackwater cannot. For example, greywater can be used to water plants when eco-friendly soap is used. 

For fixed tiny homes, connection to a septic or sewer system is the optimal solution. For those tiny homes on the go, we suggest building in grey and blackwater tanks.

Sewage

As above, if your tiny house is stationary, we’d suggest hooking it up to the local sewerage system or a septic tank. For those more into mobile living, low-flush toilets and compost toilets are a more practical solution. If you’re really stuck, have a low budget, or you’ll just be using your mobile tiny home for the occasional holiday excursion, then a camping toilet could be used.

Low-flush toilets, while approximating a large-house experience, still leave you with the issue of how to dispose of blackwater waste. If your tiny home is stationed in a campsite, you can use the onsite services. Failing that, you’ll essentially need to find a loo and flush it down.

Compost toilets will solve that problem for you. Compost toilets have two chambers, one for solid waste and one for liquid waste. As the solid waste is separated from the liquid waste, it remains dry and thus less smelly. Liquid waste generally has to be emptied every few days, but solid waste can be emptied every few weeks.

Liquid waste can be diluted and used to water vegetation, while solid waste can be bagged and binned or emptied into a composter.


Planning permission and legalities for tiny homes

The selectra logo tick

Before even beginning to look into obtaining planning permission for a tiny home, a rule of thumb is that you should check what you have planned with your potential neighbours. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a bit of a nasty pickle later if they raise objections.

Due to the smaller amounts of money involved in purchasing or building a tiny home, typically between €25,000-40,000, you probably won’t be able to get a mortgage for your tiny home. However, a loan should be a feasible alternative.

You will need to go through the same process as for traditional housing to build a fixed tiny home. The complexity of the process is also dependent on what services you’ll require for your micro home - electricity, gas, water, sanitation etc.

For mobile micro homes, permission will need to be sought for a non-permanent structure. The exact rules and amount of hoops you’ll have to jump through differ depending on which planning authority you’re dealing with. We strongly suggest you check building codes and permissions with your local planning authority before advancing any of your tiny house plans, because although cheap compared to other houses on the market, nobody wants to be left €25,000 out of pocket.


Tiny houses for sale in Ireland

Fancy taking a walk on the tiny side? Although tiny homes aren’t as popular in Ireland yet as they are in other countries, their star is definitely on the rise. Below we’ve included some helpful suggestions to start you on your way in search of your perfect compact home. We also recommend checking out the Tiny Homes Ireland group where useful updates and information is regularly posted.

  • Tinyhomes.ie can promise you the tiny house of your dreams within 5 weeks from consultation. Its properties sit directly on concrete pads so no need for foundations.
  • Big Man Tiny Homes was founded by JP Simpson, a tiny home-owner, in 2018 in response to growing demand in Ireland. Customers can choose from ready-made designs or have their house custom-designed.
  • Daft - Need we remind you that the Irish practically invented tiny house living? We traditionally lived in tiny cottages and bungalows, many of which can be had for the same price as a tiny home and upgraded applying tiny house principles.
  • Timber Living specialises in cabins. If wooden beauty is your thing, then timber living is where it’s at.
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