The Politics of Small Houses

October 28th, 2013   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

smallIt is a new freedom strategy: liberating the human need for shelter from the state and the cronies called financial institutions. Small (or tiny) house pioneer Jay Shafer considers it to be a form of civil disobedience.

The small house movement advocates for architecturally compact houses in which people can live simply and inexpensively. The small houses vary widely in size but 300 sq. ft. is common with anything above 500 sq. ft. being rare except for family dwellings that serve several people.

How much do small houses cost? Shafer sells a variety of house plans that range from $400 to $1,000 apiece. Then there is the cost of materials. Small house designer and builder Brian Tomlinson explains, “In the US the average cost of new home construction [materials and labor] runs from $70-130 per square foot depending in large part on which state you are in.” By contrast, for a small house “you can expect to spend under $10 per square foot for materials. As most of these homes are owner-built, this is your final cost.”

Purchasing an unencumbered house liberates the average person from sinking into debt or working themselves to death to pay off a mortgage. And depending upon the location and the zoning loophole employed, it is possible to live without the largest part of property taxes; for example, some local governments categorize the structures as sheds even though they are comfortable and complete homes. Indeed, some of the houses are beautiful. The 925 sq. ft. family structure designed by the Japanese architect Takaharu Tezuka in Toyko is exquisite; it is called House to Catch the Sky.

Making the state irrelevant

Small houses provide a free market escape from the housing scams of government and financial institutions. The state has made a dog’s breakfast out of the housing market through laws and policies that create malinvestment. For example, in the 1990s, a booming market in subprime mortgage loans was virtually ensured by Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s requirement that the lending institutions with which they dealt discard redlining; this is the practice of refusing home loans in neighborhoods considered high risk for default. Faced with a quota of minority and high-risk loans, lenders lowered their standards and raised their interest rates. Then they opted out of the risk by selling the mortgages to Fannie Mae and grabbing a loan origination fee. The artificial subprime market was a powerful factor in creating the housing bubble that peaked around 2006. The subsequent ‘pop’ led to massive delinquencies and foreclosures which left many Americans either homeless or renters for life.

When the housing bubble blew up in 2008, the small house movement exploded as well…but in the good sense. It reversed a trend in the American lifestyle. According to a 2009 Financial Times article entitled “Small but perfectly formed” the average size of a new single family home increased from 1,780 square feet in 1978 to 2,479 in 2007. Housing costs soared as well, and not merely due to increasing size. Tomlinson commented on the additional expenses tacked onto the sq. ft. cost of traditional homes. “When you factor in the cost of a mortgage to the price per square foot on the average home, that figure doubles or triples to as much as almost $400 per square foot.” And, then, there are “the additional costs of the additional taxes collected on the additional income necessary to afford the standard American home”; property taxes depend in part upon the square footage of a house. Of course, there are also increased repair and maintenance costs. For some people, large houses become debtors’ prisons from which there is no exit.

Small Houses as Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau of “On Civil Disobedience” fame moved into what may be America’s first famous small house when he withdrew from society to live on Walden Pond. He wanted to live simply and be free.

In a YouTube interview, Shafer identified the main motive he had for building small: civil disobedience. He stated, “When I heard it was illegal to live in a small house was the day I decided I had to live in a small house.” He views current zoning and building codes as “mandatory consumption laws” that dictate what people can do on their own property, what they must buy. This may well constitute a violation of the 5th Amendment guarantee that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation” because restricting property use is a form of “taking.” It may also violate the 14th Amendment guarantee that no “State [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Nevertheless, in the name of safety, building codes require houses to be a specific size and form even though there is no clear connection between safety and the square footage of a room. The real beneficiary of such codes is the housing industry which is able to squeeze out small competitors and dictate details of homes people can buy or build.

As a blow against mandatory consumer laws, Shafer exploits building code loopholes. For example, his home is built on a trailer base which makes the house stable or mobile at his discretion. It also means the house is categorized as an RV and does not fall under the far stricter building codes which have been developed to serve the housing industry.

The idea has caught on. The Fair Companies site, which is devoted to sustainable communities, reported on an entrepreneur who sells small houses on the side of a road in Petaluma, California. Stephen Marshall keeps his houses under 400 square feet to make them qualify as recreational trailers which do not require building permits. Marshall explains, “Everything we’re building here is outside the envelope of conventional planning, building permits. It’s an end run around that whole world that leads to unsustainable, unaffordable housing.” He acknowledges that the houses are not legally recognized as full-time homes but the recognition only prompts another act of civil disobedience: people live quietly within them on their own land.


Especially for those retiring on fixed incomes and for the young who bear the brunt of economic harip, small houses offer security of shelter, freedom from want, and the ability to shed a lifestyle that forces more upon consumers than they value or use. It is an amazing freedom strategy. As Tomlinson states, “I could spend the next thirty years working to pay off the state and the bank, or I could spend that time living the life I love.”

[Note: a small (or tiny) house expert will be dropping by the Daily Anarchist commentary section of this article to answer specific questions. Take advantage. Pick his brain and experience.]

62 Responses to “The Politics of Small Houses”

  1. I am grateful to Brian Tomlinson for agreeing to monitor the commentary thread in order to address any questions or concerns readers may have in connection with small/tiny houses. I think it is a brilliant strategy for freedom. And he’s the man with the details. Thanks Brian!

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Wendy, and I have to say it is refreshing to see this connection between housing and liberty being made so clearly. When I think of the burden people embrace when they literally buy into the mortgage system of traditional housing, I am always reminded of Harriet Tubman’s quote: “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

      If we can just start out on the path to personal liberty by securing our own shelter, I cannot imagine anyone ever turning back to the state run approach, nor even to traditional housing. When you have known freedom and the near complete lack of stress that comes with owning your home outright, why would anyone opt for a lifetime of financial and legal burdens?

  2. johnNo Gravatar says:

    My take on the tiny house idea is living aboard a boat. Mine is in the design stage right now and I plan to start construction next year. Even going the “expensive” route of renting dock space at a marina you are looking at $3-4000 per year which includes fresh water and electricity, and no hassles about zoning regulations.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      John, I love the creative approach and have myself considered house boat living. Certainly some of the converted river boats in Europe hold a great appeal to me. That said, in the US I know that some cities, Seattle in particular, are gong after the house boats as a source of income and petty bureaucratic control. They are imposing increasing regulations as well as zoning restrictions in an effort it seems to kill this unique lifestyle that has made a definite foothold there.

      All the best in your efforts and my you be free of any and all bureaucratic pettiness that may get in the way of your build and your life!

      • Davidus RomanusNo Gravatar says:

        Just remember there are risks as well as rewards in this idea. For instance. Boats docked at a marina are subject to weather issues. So are mobile homes. I live in Florida, where regular homes stand up well to hurricanes, but boats and trailer parks suffer significant damage from high winds, high tides, and storm surges.
        So, while I like the idea of downsizing, know what you’re getting into.

        • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

          Good points Davidus. We should point out that not all small or tiny homes need to be on trailers. That is just one of the ways to work around regulations that restrict our liberty in building, but there are many others. I currently working on an earth sheltered home using Mike Oehler’s PSP method, that because it is earth sheltered can withstand hurricanes and just about anything mother nature wants to throw at it.

          Going small does not mean tying yourself down to merely one build method. You can use cob, adobe, straw bale, timber frame, standard stick frame construction or about any method you can imagine. You can build on a trailer, on a temporary foundation such as deck blocks, a permanent foundation, or as I mentioned even “under” ground or earth sheltered. There are even tree house homes that certainly qualify as small or tiny that provide their own unique style and benefits.

          My own advice is to look to your needs first. If you need to be able to travel with the home, then you are almost certainly going to build on a trailer. But if you can build in one location, or as I am in more than one location, then look to the geography, the climate, even the local traditional housing for inspiration. The more we work with what mother nature throws are way, the easier and less expensive our build and our lives will be.

        • johnNo Gravatar says:

          David & Brian: Thanks for the advice. I’m well aware of what Neptune can dish out if he is feeling “playful”. That said I live in southern Canada and intend to stay on the Great Lakes which, while certainly capable of a good storm, have a large number of well protected harbours and rivers to choose from. Maybe a bit less exciting than the oceans of the southern U.S., and hurricanes and tornadoes, while not unheard of, are rare here. The floating home lifestyle has not yet taken hold in this part of the world to a significant extent so really local government has not yet targeted “live aboards” for extortion the way they have elsewhere.

    • Thanks for the post, John. As I said to you elsewhere, living on a boat had not occurred to me as a “small house” strategy but it seems like an equally brilliant way to avoid the state and financial institutions. I am currently involved in scaling down my possessions and re-evaluating what I need to live well because I am starting to feel “owned” by things, especially by those that require constant maintenance. I swallowed the line of “bigger is better” for so long that it took quite awhile to come around to the ideal of living as simply as possible, without sacrificing anything that gives me real value. I think the “bigger” idea is particularly entrenched in North Americans. Always more, always onto the next step up the ladder.

      I remember Harper Lee, author of what may be my all time favorite book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” making a telling commented in an interview. She had just won about every award possible for her (one and only) novel. Nevertheless, she was not allowed to rest and take 5 minutes to enjoy the accomplishment because everyone asked her what Lee called “the most American of all questions.” Namely…”what’s next?”

    • Doug BarbieriNo Gravatar says:

      My father has lived on a boat for decades. And it’s not a house-boat, but a “regular” boat. He pays the marina fees and is quite happy where he is. Just thought I’d let you know that this does work. You might want to avoid docking in a big city, though.

      • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks for making the distinction Doug. I was unclear in that when I said “house boat” all I meant was a boat that was being used as a living space. There are wonderful converted boats, as well as traditional boats that make for fine places to live. Glad to hear that your father has embraced this life!

  3. AlexNo Gravatar says:


    I have been following Jay’s Tumbleweed company, and now Four Lights, for about three years now, scribbling my own plans down in my spare time, but I have one major question.

    Given the connection, usefulness, and pure improved welfare brought about through internet access in the modern world, what is the best way to go about setting up a house-on-wheels which has this kind of connectivity? Electricity also seems like it would be expensive.

    Further, if I were to build a house-on-wheels and park it on some land, it seems simple enough to set up a kind of “docking station” to provide water, electricity, etc., but I just wanted to ask the expert.

    I’m sure it’s on a blog of Jay’s or Deek’s or something, but curiosity struck me here.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      Alex, there are as many options with regard to the various connections. I know of some who have set up their own solar and wind systems, which can be pricey but perhaps not as bad as you might think given that a tiny house does not require as much energy as a conventional home. That still leaves water and waste, the latter can be handled with a composting toilet if you are not in an urban area. Water is perhaps the most difficult as it requires either a well, surface water, or some other source. If you have access to some sort of surface water, the Berkey filter systems are relatively inexpensive, and they do not require any additional electricity to operate.

      Other approaches include tying into an existing home. Many people who have the tumbleweed style homes have parked them on the property of friends or relatives almost as if it were a mother-in-law cottage and connected to the utilities of the home. The cost of electricity of course varies with location, but again because it is a tiny home, the requirements are minimal. I know of one rural setting where a tiny home is connected to the water and electricity where the water is from a well, thus free, and the electricity runs about $30-50 a month.

      Internet connection runs along the same lines as to the options. You can connect to an existing wifi if you are parked on the land of a friend or of family, but if that is not available there is the option of satellite, though in order to have a decent speed this can be expensive at about $100 a month. Using a tethered cell service is an option though unless you already have a smart phone this too can be pricey though as more people are switching to this method of connectivity the costs are coming down and a wider variety of plans have been developed. Some of the plans I have looked at are as low as $30 a month and I read that AT&T and others are coming out with a reasonable pay as you go data plan.

      The closest thing to a docking station that I am aware of can be found in the RV parks, which usually will welcome the tiny home on wheels. They provide all of the above as well as blackwater disposal most often with connections all conveniently located in each space. The costs of these vary wildly across the US, so it would be good to shop around for the site that best suits your budget and other needs.

      I love the work that Jay has done, and the crazy, in a good way, creativity of Deek in his designs. That said if you are over 6 feet high, you will need to modify their plans to accommodate higher ceilings. Some of Jay’s plans cannot be easily modified this way as he is pushing the height limit on the structure.

      Good luck on your own project and let me know if I can be of any further help.

      • AlexNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks, Brian. I’m not currently in a place where I can start on the project just yet, but I’m working toward it as quickly as I can.

        And thanks for the anecdotal insight, as well, Brad. It’s good to know that it works.

    • Brad RNo Gravatar says:

      Alex, we live in rural Ontario too far from any municipality to get “wired” Internet service. And yet we have options. Until recently we had “terrestrial wireless” service, where a small transceiver module mounted on our TV tower communicated with a wireless access point several miles away. When that service was discontinued (long story) we eventually switched back to satellite Internet, which you can get nearly anywhere in North America.

      In our area we also have the option of getting Internet service through two local cellular networks (Rogers and Bell). That’s a bit more expensive (here) than satellite, but it has the advantage that you can be mobile, as long as you stay within your network’s coverage area.

      • Karen AGNo Gravatar says:

        I’ve thought about that, too, Jess. But then I stop and remind myself that I only occupy one room at a time in my home as it is. At this moment, I’m taking up a seat on the sofa, and the table in front of me that has my laptop. I get up and cross about 10 to 12 feet of empty, unused space to get to the kitchen to refill my wine. All in all my concern is that if I can’t pack a suitcase, how am I going to manage a tiny home…then I remember the wonderful people who can think of that for you when they design them and how easy they are to customize. 🙂

  4. Jess PorterNo Gravatar says:

    I love the idea of a tiny house. However, I cannot stand the idea of a cramped location. In a perfect world, I would live in a small shelter, with no neighbors. My worst nightmare is waking up some morning and stretching and touching another body, only to realize that I am six feet under and surrounded by hundreds (or thousands) of fellow rotters. I have lived in a trailer park, in an apartment building, in an urban setting, and in a suburban setting–any of which is like living in a cemetery. I still cry out, as did Daniel Boone, “Give me elbow room.”

  5. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    In other words: it’s the new normal, so stop complaining that your standard of living is declining and adapt to it. Can do, except for one thing: it’s actually more like a deliberate NWO grift designed to bankrupt people and make them desperate to “desire” a tiny facsimile of life — designed to make people overcompensate after a stage play of trauma-based mind control billed as the housing & mortgage bubble. Resist forever the siren song that “living with less” is in any way analogous to “sticking it to The Man.”

    “As most of these homes are owner-built, this [outlay for materials] is your final cost.”

    Sounds like someone requires a remedial economics lesson. Ms. McElroy, please tutor that kindergartner.

    • Karen AGNo Gravatar says:

      The last home I “owned” was just shy of 3000 square feet. Most of it was empty because we had no idea how to fill it up – and couldn’t afford to do so, either. I’ve looked a long time at these tiny houses and while the scale is dramatically smaller, I see homes that are incredibly efficient in both energy savings and lack of wasted, dead space. Most (if not all) of those I’ve seen have features that rival more traditional, cookie cutter homes. And if I decide I want more space in the future, I could just add on…

      Living mortgage-free is no sign of desperation. I’d say it’s insanity to work like a slave to pay a mortgage.

    • Vanmind: I have choice. I could continue living on more property than I use and in a house far beyond what I value. I choose to live more simply so that I can focus my time on what I value. That is freedom to me. If it removes resources (taxes) and obedience from the state…that’s a bonus.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      You know, I really do sympathize with both sides of this debate. On the one hand, I’ve been a minimalist by nature most of my life. I really like the idea of not paying property taxes. I also like the idea of my consumption being so low that I rarely have to pay the utilities.

      On the other hand I definitely agree with your sentiment. This whole living like Haitians lifestyle fits in all too nicely with plans devised by the Al Gores of this world, doesn’t it?

      I was watching RT today and they did an article on how Britons are resorting to living in old shipping containers because rent is so high. The west is definitely turning into third world countries right before our eyes. So, when westerners should be saying to themselves “this is fucking bullshit!!” they’ve brainwashed us quite nicely into welcoming our newfound poverty.

      To be honest, I really don’t know what the answer is. I see both sides to this debate as being valid. Ultimately, I think each person has to decide for themselves what is the right course of action.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        Well put. In a truly free society the question would likely be moot for using alternative power and building methods would allow most folks the ability to live very cheaply with plenty of room. In present society most folks are very limited by low income caused by the ruling elite controling government and big business and by laws like zoning which keep individuals from being able to use their property as they wish.

  6. Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

    Vanmind, It is unclear how you came to that conclusion from what was written. Nothing so much as hints at what you suggest. This is a method by which people can voluntarily take control over their present and their future by providing their own shelter, their own home, without paying through the nose to the banks and the state.

    As for the monetary costs for the house, what other monetary costs do you believe are involved in the construction other than the cost of materials? Recall that we are not talking about maintenance or materials, but simply the cost of construction as compared to those costs involved in McMansion tract homes.

  7. Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

    Downsizing or settling for less is a trade-off if you prefer more. If you like spacious shelter, but chose tiny shelter as a strategy to pay less tax and put up with less regulation, you are not disobeying. You are practicing passive resistance. Also, you are still paying the RE tax, which means you don’t own, you rent. As a life-long tax resister I have made trade-offs, using the system and timing in RE cycles. I built without permits, where the risk was worth it. I sold and no one asked to see the permits, just as I assumed based on common sense. It was not easy, psychologically, because my contractor (brother-in-law) and my wife were strongly against it. It was not about the money. Either people resist or “go alone to get along” and sanction their own slavery. If your mindset is resignation to obedience, your vision is severely impaired. I see/saw opportunity everywhere, thanks to my lack of respect for the law. I had my own moral code (NAP) and I refused to sacrifice it for safety. So far I have lasted 71 years, so don’t let anyone tell you: “You can’t beat city hall.”

    • Hi Don: Good to see you at the Daily Anarchist.

      And now on to disagreements. 🙂 I think the small house movement is active and not passive resistance. It flaunts zoning and building codes. It empowers individuals by allowing them to fill their needs without the state or the financial institutions that are state cronies. That’s revolution on an individual level. And the state recognizes it as a threat as evidenced by the steps being taken to clamp down on the movement — e.g. the regulations on boat residences that Brian mentioned. BTW, I am not dissing passive resistance as a strategy. It can be extremely effective depending upon the circumstances. I just think small houses as a strategy is more accurately described as civil disobedience.

      You write, “Downsizing or settling for less is a trade-off if you prefer more.” I would never suggest someone settle for less nor would I denigrate their choice to acquire more. For me, a simpler life is compelling because I have more of what I want most of all — time, time to spend with those people and things I care about. I do not think less of you for wanting to live a larger, more complicated lifestyle. I hope you do not think less of me for wanting to simplify. It is really all about choice.

      • Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

        Hi Wendy,

        I assumed the “Small is Beautiful” approach followed zoning/building regulations. My mistake.

        Another strategy my uncle told me about 60 years ago is to camouflage your wealth. Let your house/business appear run-down but inside it is spectacular. A rural setting is perfect for this but it can be done in the city. Also, driving a modest car but eating out a lot (for cash of course) if you value both. Variations are only limited by your imagination and values.

        Fifty years ago I started thinking about having a nice house without the debt. I learned the benefit of owner-built homes by reading, e.g., savings of 75%. I discovered adobe/rammed earth was better than wood, but discouraged by code. I discovered passive solar/super insulation would eliminate the need for heating/cooling, compost toilets eliminated sewer/septic systems. Less need for energy may make grid-independence possible. In rural areas a propane tank (ostensively for home use) allows for cheap gas (no road tax) when you power your car by propane.

        At 71, I no longer make long range plans. My wife & I live simply, but we are mobile (can re-locate anywhere on short notice). I consider this insurance but it still allows me the freedom to read, write, and think daily. And that is all I want.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      Good for you Don. I am sure you realize that the way the world has changed since you or I were young has reduced the opportunity to get away with what we both have done years ago. My brother calls it “dancing between the raindrops”. Unfortunately it is no longer a sprinkle but a deluge of government intervention in every aspect of most people’s lives. That is why I sympathize with people like Wendy who wish to leave the US or in her case Canada. I fear she will find that the different culture and tribal nature of people will conspire to cause her much grief. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a tech solution like in Poul Anderson’s classic book Shield?

  8. RandallNo Gravatar says:

    As a former homeowner before the bubble burst, I swore off any sort of homeownership back then and have been a happy renter ever since. Especially with the USSA’s economy starting to tank now, how can anyone still justify owning any property at all on this godforsaken hunk of dirt?

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      Randall, I certainly understand your sentiment. I too went a while as a renter after owning a home, but I believe that this approach is not only applicable anywhere, including outside of the US, but can even be better than renting with no more risk.

      Consider that given the low cost of building your own small home, in the course of under a year in most places you will be ahead financially even if you were to lose the property. That said, since you are not in a McMansion, and not showing obvious wealth there is also a decreased chance of being targeted by the state.

      Everyone has to find their own path, and I do not begrudge anyone who finds a way that leads them to liberty. I see this as a way that can help a great many people, particularly the young and old as Wendy mentioned in the article.

      All of that said, I am working with some folks to develop similar houses and communities in other countries as well. Liberty does not have borders, nor should our paths to it. Best of luck on your own path.

  9. Another venue is discussing the article and I found one post particularly interesting. I am reprinting it below…

    QUESTION ASKED; What is it [a small house] not encumbered with? …”

    QUESTION ANSWERED: A near-lifetime of mortgage payments for one. Also, if we’re talking about the type of tiny homes that are mobile, depending on how you arrange it, you may also either not have to pay property taxes at all or alternatively you can end up paying a lot less property taxes because if you you a piece of land, you don’t really get hammered with the big tax bill until you build a “permanent” structure” on it. Even if one built a non-movable small home it’s usually going to be a lot less in property taxes anyway just by virtue of the fact that it’s a smaller structure.

    QUOTE: “… what exactly is a “small house” and why is it cheaper per square meter?…”

    As for why it may be cheaper per square foot/metre, there’s probably a variety of reasons why it could be and I don’t really know them all, but here’s three possibilities:

    (1) First, if you don’t build it as a permanent structure (as view by the bureaucrats), you save a fair amount in foundation costs. The foundation accounts for a pretty substantial part of many residences, so that’s one way to cut money.

    (2) The second possibility is that a tiny home or small home is a project which is small enough in scale such that it can reasonably be owner-built and you save a tremendous amount by cutting out the middleman. Much of the cost of a house is not simply the material but the pay for an entire crew of people for a month.

    (3) Lastly, some of these tiny and micro homes are built in a very modular fashion which amounts to a small-scale assembly line production which allows a certain economic efficiency with a lot less waste than building custom homes on site or to spec. They often build them in a factory, all pretty much the same (albeit usually different models and some customizations available) and they have the process down pat so they know every little detail right down to how many bolts get used, etc… all very efficient-like (in contrast to traditional building practices… don’t know if anyone else here has done construction for a living… but its not uncommon for a ton of shit gets wasted.. so much stuff gets thrown out from over-ordering … the builder doesn’t care because the customer pretty much footed the bill for it anyway).

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      There are indeed several reasons why such homes are less expensive, and you have touched on some of them Wendy.

      Small homes cost less because they are smaller as well. They simply use less material. These homes also do not rely upon complicated beam and truss systems which saves an enormous amount in labor and materials. As you point out they tend to be owner built, which is possible for almost anyone because they don’t require a lot of the skills necessary to build a contemporary stick built home. Though many approaches can be taken, using what is usually the most expensive, stick built (standard dimensional lumber) construction will consist of simple 2×4, perhaps 2×6, sticks and 4×8 sheets of OSB or plywood. Most folk scan handle these by themselves or with a single friend helping them. Butt joins are very common, and complicated angles are often not present.

      Add to these areas of savings the fact that you need not pay for expensive equipment from cranes to nail guns to the high dollar diesel generators that are often used on build sites and the savings add up. You are also avoiding the costs of inspections, which though only a small part of the standard home construction, do add up to hundreds of dollars, in some cases thousands, by the time that a house is complete.

      And as you rightly point out, there is savings that comes from eliminating the necessity of profit that the developer has. That profit is your own, thus a greater savings. Essentially you have removed the labor costs, radically reduced the material costs, and removed the profit from the developer. These are your areas of greatest savings.

  10. Two observation regarding this interesting article:

    1) This is a trend toward tiny houses designed for individuals as evidenced by the EXCEPTION made for families in the article: “anything above 500 sq. ft. being rare except for family dwellings that serve several people.”

    Such a trend can be regarded as further evidence that men are withdrawing from society as the state replaces the family, as (most) feminism demonizes the traditional roles of males, and as predatory family courts continue to discriminate against men.

    Now lets speculate about which breeding strategies are most likely to thrive under these conditions.

    2) The state is still propping up housing prices. Once they extinguish their ability to do so, the small house market described here will have to compete with heavily discounted permanent structures which have many advantages. So, this might be a temporary trend.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:


      Relatively speaking the houses for families that embrace this path to liberty are also quite small at about a third the size of the average new home. So while it is true that the “tiny” house runs up to 500 sq ft, the concept does go beyond it.

      Though I’ve not conducted a good scientific study on the matter, from my years in the movement and reading of trade journals, it seems to me that women are disproportionally embracing this effort as it is giving them a degree of liberty that they have never known. This is a good thing for anyone.

      As for competition, it already exists and it is no surprise to anyone that the standard tract home approach is still very much favored. What the approach we are talking about here does is offer a path to financial and personal freedom that simply is not available to a great many people otherwise. That part won’t change even if the government were to cease all incentives for home ownership. The current popularity across political ideologies may be a temporary trend, but the strength of this approach won’t change. This will remain a great path for liberty for those who want to walk it instead of the decades of debt approach of the mortgage system.

      Times are changing regardless and this approach can give a great number of people security and personal liberty, and that is enough reason for me to adopt it.

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      I strongly agree with your thought that today’s feminism is demonizing traditional masculinity. I see government as using feminists about this for traditional masculinity is a direct threat to the ruling ellite. Most feminists do not either realize or care that a feminist society is dependant upon strong government for it does not reflect the natural roles of masculinity and femininity. Thus feminism has an unintended consequence of heavy duty government that ultimately cares nothing for feminism except to use the feminists to gain more government power.

  11. Paul GormanNo Gravatar says:

    If you want to see examples of beautiful small homes, I recommend googling ‘container homes’ made from sea containers. Durable, portable shell, termite proof, recycled, inexpensive, emf protective, etc.

  12. kunkmiesterNo Gravatar says:

    container homes aren’t going to be nearly as cheap as some might like–40ft containers go for $5000 or so around here.

    Foundation is important, a lot of places in the US(hurricane coasts and tornado alley) are prone to blowing small light structures away if not properly secured.

    Also consider if part of your opt-out/disobedience strategy is to include production space in your home. I’m fine with a separate workshop for what I need(wouldn’t want the machines in the living space anyway), but a decent office or work space will require a certain amount of extra space that may not be allowed to overlap with living space.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      kunkmiester, you are correct that containers can vary wildly in price depending on where you live. I know of some folks who have picked them up for $1000, but then when I looked into one for the location I am currently building a home it was going to be over $10,000 just for the container. They are a viable option in some places, and they are certainly strong enough. They can work wonderfully as earth sheltered housing, which takes care of the concerns over winds and most other weather.

      The advice I give to anyone looking to build their own home on a budget is to look at what is available in their area. If you are close to a sea port, containers may well be the way to go, but if you are hundreds of miles away, probably not. If you are in a forest, use the timbers. If you have a good mix of clay and sand, look into any of the earthen home approaches such as cob, adobe, or rammed earth.

      The key is to not get so set on one approach that you miss your opportunities for liberty and savings.

  13. j.r. guerra in s. tx.No Gravatar says:

    The small house has many advantages, the big one for us is that once house is payed off, the payments you have allows you much greater flexibility. Insurance payments, car repairs, medical bills take up a lot of our cash flow – paying it off quickly and completely is just one less thing.

    Another way to save money, regardless of size of house is to ‘design on the grid’. Many building materials are 4′-0″ x 8′-0″, so having wall surfaces that are multiples or halves of that (closets) not only save time in cutting the material to size, it does away with a lot of the wasted materials later thrown away. When these materials are cut, they aren’t saved just in case they are needed. The person constructing it just gets another full size sheet and cuts that one, too much time to go find that other panel that ‘might’ fit. A LOT of wasted money and material. So designing with 12′ – 16′ walls go up much faster and with less materials.

    Clerestory lighting. Windows heads near the ceiling spill light across it, producing natural light above you. Windows in standard spots are like a headlight beam, going into space with little reflectivity. And you lose privacy as well, unless diffused glazing is installed. Furniture is easier to move with higher sills too.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Hey J.R.: I am fan of high windows near the ceiling not just because of the wonderful overhead light but also because of the privacy. 2′ windows wrapped around the room near the ceiling means that no one can see anything by merely passing by. You don’t even need curtains except for controlling the flow of light.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        In my experience narrow windows just don’t get it for giving proper lighting. I do agree that higher windows are better than lower, but here size matters a lot. Some form of skylight seems to be the best bang for the buck.

  14. Glenn WinsteadNo Gravatar says:

    One should not overlook the wonderful advantages and cheapness of used camping trailers and motorhomes. These things depreciate rapidly, and can often be purchased for well under 2K, in excellent condition. They have excellent facilities and are mobile, to boot. Twenty year old motorhomes with fewer than 50,000 miles and little use are easy to find. I have lived in a variety of these structures, and can find little not to like.

  15. Smaller houses are the way of the future, I think.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      I agree. Though there will never be complete uniformity, nor should there be, I do believe that we will experience a trend towards smaller homes and more unique homes. We may finally be starting to break free from the tract home approach that has been dominant since after WWII, if only for a significant minority of us.

  16. Owen KelloggNo Gravatar says:

    This is a great article – and what looks like a great discussion. Unfortunately, I’m sitting in Mcdonald’s on their wi-fi since I don’t have internet at my new home yet.

    I’m currently settling into my small cabin in the woods I built last summer. I didn’t ask for permission of any kind. My parents gave me a piece of land that they have owned for over 30 years. I just drew up some simple plans and started building. Here’s a short video:

    I’ll definitely be back soon to join in on this discussion when I get time.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      I look forward to hearing about your experiences, Owen. Feel free to use Brian as a resource because he is a wealth of knowledge on this subject.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      Great place Owen! Good job! Looks like the kitties will have a ball there as well.

      It looks like your creek has enough drop for a micro/pico hydro system as well.

  17. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    Good article Wendy. Shelter is normally people’s largest investment. Government and bankers have teamed up to enslave most of us to a pile of sticks that often is worn out before the mortgage is paid. I built my own home of stone in 1996 for $1,000. I found land where there were no building codes or zoning. If I can build my own home, which I still live in, so cheaply almost anyone can. I am thrilled to see others advocating a similar approach. I do prefer stone to other building materiels, but my dad taght me about stone masonry as a kid. It is free usually for the picking up! And just think of all the weight training one can avoid by working out with stone insteaed! HA!!

    • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

      I prefer rammed earth as method and material. I researched this 30 years ago and took a weekend workshop. Adobe is fine also, but more labor intensive. Stone/earth could be combined easily in rammed construction.

      Wendy is correct about high, narrow, long windows. They provide security, privacy, light, and the new glass can control transparency electronically. Or you can use overhang. No window coverings are needed.

      If solar mass/super insulation is used, no heat or cooling should be needed.

      Off grid, no permits, hidden from view, provides privacy from govt.

      Sometimes camouflage is required, e.g., a large metal barn outbuilding with a house inside and another for hiding multiple cars.

      • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

        I love the earthen homes of all sorts. I lean towards earth berm because it is even easier, and has the advantage of being its own camouflage. In Mike Oehler’s $50 and Up Underground House Book, he tells of a house in Denmark I believe, which the inspectors heard was built. They came to check on it, and could not find the house so they left!

        Sadly more and more we need that camouflage. If the state, or sometimes just neighbors, see that you have something that they may want, or just see an opportunity to further control your life, they will try to take it. If on the other hand you are unknown to them, they cannot see what you have or what you are doing, then you are much more likely to be left alone to live your peaceful life fairly freely.

        • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

          How true. Few people appreciate the oppressive nature of govt. They accept it because everyone else does. When they get attacked, they cry out only to find no relief. This is one big advantage govt. has. It picks us off slowly, little by little, one by one. And the MSM is complicit.

          I went underground in 1974 and wish I had done it much earlier. I had to learn the hard way. I still got hurt financially in 1980 (arrested & busted by legal fees) but it had nothing to do with by black market activity. I learned by experience what I had assumed, innocence is no defense, every one is a potential victim.

        • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          Do you know what happened to Mike Ohler? I loved his book and used some ideas from it in my own construction. However the plastic wrapped wood approach he used won’t work for long. Water seeps in and rots wood. Thus my preference for stone and concrete. Labor intensive, but they last.
          Mother Earth News and Popular Mechanics many years ago wrote about a Montana underground home where the guy insulated the dilrt above and out 30 ft. thus creating a heat sink. After one summer the temperature inside was 77 degrees F. After one winter with no added heat ilt was down to 66!!! Dry insulated earth is a great heat sink.

          • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:


            Mike is on Facebook and is still selling his books. He put out a wonderful earth sheltered greenhouse book a few years back. He was working on the ridge house last I talked to him, which was years ago.
            Though he uses a slightly different approach now, his original house is still there with only one post ever needing to be replaced since 1974. Without the contact with the air, wood will last remarkably long, particularly if you use woods that are known to be rot resistant.

            As for skylights, well I strongly recommend against them. Skylights leak. It is inevitable. It just isn’t a good idea to put a hole in your roof. There are other ways to get light in, and the light tubes being used now provide a great way to bring light in from the wall, but have it shine from the ceiling, without any of the concerns that come with skylights.

            • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

              Thanks for the info on Ohler! I am shocked that he has only had to replace one post!!! In my first underground attempt I ran into a spring. I ended up building a cove and gutter around the floor. Still the ceiling rotted out within a few years. I will use masonry for any more undergrounds I build. Also good french drains along the walls and under the floor really help. I did not do that for my uinderground greenhouse so in heavy rains I get an underground stream through the back wall. fortunately I made a cove and gutter that takes the water to a drainage pipe, but it would be horrible for anything but a greenhouse.
              I do agree that skylights leak. I prefer dealing with leaks when we have our infrequent rains than having it so dark inside that one can’t even read a book on a sunny summer day inside! All of life is about prioritization.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        I found in my house that having a skylight really helps. If one is off the grid having as much natural light as possible really helps psychologically too.
        I have built underground and would like to do so professionally. Stone is an excellent medium for underground walls. Building curved walls adds the strength of an arch against the pressure of the hillside trying to push your place down hill. Of course the “uphill patio” idea Mike Ohler discussed in the $50 and Up Underground House Book is good also. Whatever happened to Ohler?
        Unfortunately, so long as anyone knows you are living somewhere the aiuthorities can find out if they wish to fuck you.

        • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

          If I assumed that the authorities could find me no matter how well I hid I would leave the country. It may come to that but it hasn’t so far. They are still an incompetent, massive bureaucracy. I have hidden in plain sight for 40 years.

          The tubular skylight is cheaper, less obtrusive, easier to maintain than the traditional skylight, and quite effective at lighting spaces.

          Compost toilets save a lot of water and plumbing.

          • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

            I too have hid in plain sight for many years, but mostly by being in a place the politicos don’t wish to bother driving out to. Tubular skylights, light tunnels, etc. are wonderful but pretty expensive for a poor boy. I just stuck a couple of transparent pieces of plastic roofing up between the metal roofing. It is not a great system, but it was affordable. It is so much lighter inside the addition than in the main house. I have a semi-underground greenhouse with a transluscent plastic roof that works well with a barrel stove for starting plants in the spring.

            • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

              The light tubes do run a pretty penny. A less expensive alternative is to use a clerestory. Essentially this is a higher part of the home that has windows in it to let in light. Clerestories can also be used with natural ventilation, creating a chimney affect.

              • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

                I remember reading about clerstorys in Mike Oehler’s The $50 and Up Underground House Book. Along with the uphill patio it seems a good idea for building into a hillside. But for getting substantive light into the home one needs some form of transparency in the ceiling. Especially if your place is in the woods like mine is and is shaded all summer. I am truly amazed at the dlifference two 8’by2′ transparent panels in the roof make in the relative lightness of my addition vs. the original house.

  18. Lynn DanielNo Gravatar says:

    I guess the Rothschilds and Rockefellers are getting the last laugh as usual. Seems they’ve succeeded in turning us all into shed dwelling peasants whilst making us believe we are rebelling against them while they continue to finance wars on false pretenses, stealing what remains of the worlds resources and cementing their stranglehold via illegal, unjust usury on the countrys they conquer for their coming one world government NWO. I live in a 1300 ft home with one child and feel very crowded, especially when her friends or the the neighborhood children come over. I feel like a prisoner in my own home with no place to escape the noise and hullabaloo. A family of 3 or more needs at a minimum 2000 sq feet of living space but as with everything else, the banksters have stolen and destroyed our ability to achieve for ourselves personal liberty and freedom thru their illegal “Federal” (non federal) monetary system of usuary. The same system JFK tried to overturn and got whacked for not dancing to the puppet strings that that the past several presidents, especially the current ODumba puppet, dance to robotically. Really sad that Americans have allowed themselves to be so colossally duped by these crooks.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Lynn…I’m sorry you think people like me are dupes and stupid enough to be taken in by Rockefellers. I find the shedding of “things” — including living space — that I am not using and do not value to be a freeing experience. If you don’t, then clearly the small house movement is not a good strategy or fit for you. Each to her own. But I would never call you by pejorative terms because of your differing opinion. This level of civility and respect for the diversity of choice seems to be another difference between us. Sorry to see it.

    • Brian TomlinsonNo Gravatar says:

      Lynn, you should consider some examination of your life as well as history. The average house size in 1950 was under 1000 sq ft. By the 1970s it had grown to 1500 sq ft. It peaked a few years ago at about 2600-2800 sq ft.

      During that same period the size of families decreased.

      It is also worth pointing out that the wealthy are more likely to gain wealth by increasing the consumption of others, not by limiting it. There is no pay off for the wealthy if we voluntarily choose to live our lives authentically and deliberately.

      I am sorry that you are so angry and miserable that you feel it appropriate to lash out at people who are helping others and who are doing their best to live happy and authentic lives. I hope that you decide to change the path you are on to one which makes you happier and less dependent upon status.

  19. SHIVANK MEHRANo Gravatar says:

    “State [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”???? What a bullshit statement. Why don’t they simply say: Your life, liberty and property is at the mercy of the state!

  20. Don LinsenbachNo Gravatar says:

    I am an architectural designer and have designed thousands of homes and have been interested in smaller homes for a long time. To live in a small home you must examine your lifestyle to determine your space requirements and with a little modification you can save a lot of money each year.

    Most of the so called tiny homes that you have seen are meant to be visited but not meant to be lived in full time.

    Last year I designed a series of small homes from 256sf to 768sf that are meant to be lived in full time by 1 to 4 people. They are built with conventional construction methods using off the shelf building materials. Materials costs for the 256sf model are about $5,000.00. You supply the labor. Modules can be added for expansion if necessary as funding becomes available.

    These small homes are very energy efficient and readily adaptable for off grid applications. The complete construction plans are very affordable, less then $100 in most cases.

    Keep in mind that many jurisdictions will not allow the building of homes under certain square footages. The city we used to live in required all homes to be at least 1100 sf.

    If you have a rural location this may not be an issue. If your location has a pond, then your only other concern would be a septic system and there are ideas on the web for creating one yourself. I am also working on plans for such.

    If you’d like more information contact me at any time.