Rosie Romero special for the Arizona Daily Star
With housing costs going crazy everywhere, people are looking closely at alternatives to a conventional home. Let’s see how tiny houses can become your home, house, castle or cabin.
Question: What is a small house?
Answer: Building codes in Arizona set guidelines and rules regarding tiny homes. Any home under 400 square feet is considered a small home and is subject to certain rules. Arizona does not allow occupying space as a residence of less than 200 square feet.
There are two types of tiny houses which are under codes. One is permanently attached to a foundation and the other is built on a trailer for mobility. The rules for each are a little different in different jurisdictions in our state, so check with your local building department before building. You are going to need a permit.
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Q: Are tiny homes a new trend?
A: Every time something out of the ordinary captures mainstream media attention, it earns the label of “new trend.”
Tiny houses have fit this label for a few years, even though the reality is that they have been around for centuries. In fairness to the trend, the tiny house has added a real dazzle to the home design industry. Pretty stylish for quite some time, the glamor factor is the new trend – living big in a small space.
Q: What kind of options do I have for a tiny house?
A: There are two types of tiny houses. One is attached to a permanent foundation and the other is on a trailer.
The house can be built stick on the foundation or prefabricated and attached. Both can work well. Custom construction (built by stick) will give you more influence on how the design comes together. Many people have used old storage containers as the basic structure for their tiny house.
In Arizona, a tiny house built on a trailer is generally considered the same as an RV. The mobility of this option often means you won’t have to buy land, but like an RV you can rent a space or piece of land for as long as you want.
The fundamental design components are pretty much the same for both options.
Q: What should I consider when designing my Tiny House?
A: Designing for your “stuff” is very important.
If you’re considering moving out of a 900 square foot apartment or a 2,000 square foot house, the word “purge” will play an important role in your transition. Most small house dwellers have little attachment to things.
Before you even start designing your tiny home, you need to take inventory of your stuff. Most of them won’t make the trip. Go through everything – clothes, papers, toiletries, kitchen utensils – everything. Place each item in one of four categories: trash, recycle, donate, and keep. After getting rid of the trash, recycling and donating, start the process over with the “keep” items. You may need to do this several times until you reach the number of items that can fit comfortably in your tiny home.
Pro tip: Once in your tiny house, apply the “one thing in, one thing out” rule. This means that every time you bring something new into your home, one thing has to go.
If this is your first try in a small house, do your homework or hire a professional. There are several tiny home designers and contractors across the state. The limited space requires a lot of planning because every inch counts. Be sure to hire a contractor licensed by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
Most components perform multiple functions. Kitchen counters can be used as a table with trundles and sofas transformed into beds, for example.
Because the space is small, adding large windows, large sliding glass doors, or skylights can open it up. Connecting with nature with outdoor living spaces increases the concept of “living large”.
Also, think vertically. A larger space opens the possibility of a mezzanine. Going vertical also requires stairs, and they open up other clever design opportunities. Use the area under the stairs for storage or a small bathroom. Don’t think of a separate shower. All bathroom space is shower space.
Q: How much would I need to adjust my lifestyle to live in a tiny house?
A: You will have to change some things, that’s for sure.
When you live in a small home, clutter works against efficient use of space and hurts the feeling of having room to maneuver. So if you’re the “pile-up” type, this lifestyle can be challenging, as shown in the first step of the tiny house design process.
Storage space is a coveted luxury. There are very few closets, if any. If there are any, the clothes hang parallel to the opening, not perpendicular like in a standard closet, and are only six inches deep.
The Museum of the City of New York presented a micro-exhibition of apartments a few years ago showcasing innovative ideas for living in small spaces. Space is definitely at a premium in the Big Apple. The concepts demonstrated can be incorporated into a tiny house in the Grand Canyon State. Watch the demo on YouTube at tinyurl.com/microliving. Also, search online for clever “unfold-out apartment” ideas that work in a tiny house.
Living in a tiny house requires a mindset that many of us don’t have. We love our things. Whether you’re in your 20s and just starting out, single, in a relationship, or have empty nests that are drastically downsizing, a tiny house could be the way to go. But you really have to want it.
An expert in the Arizona home construction and renovation industry since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning show Rosie on the House, which airs locally from 10-11 a.m. on KNST (790- AM) in Tucson and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KGVY (1080-AM) and (100.7-FM) in Green Valley.