Minimalist Homes May Be Antidote to Sagging Housing Market

PHOTO Tumbleweed tiny house company sells this 117 square foot home

The long economic downturn has led a small number of Americans to downsize their homes to minimalist mini-cabins, not much larger than the size of the average living room.

When Nicki Evans was house hunting a year ago, she knew she didn't need the 1,400 square feet of space she'd shared with her late husband in Oklahoma. Evans, 61, also wanted to move closer to her family in upstate New York to support her younger sister and brother-in-law, who had just had a stroke.

Living alone since her husband passed away several years ago, Evans ordered a custom-built home that's about the size of the average master bathroom in McMansionland: 235 square feet, or 12 feet by 24 feet.

"It's an energy and money saver," said Evans, who retired from teaching in a church. "It's a home I could really afford."

Evans considered buying a traditional house but said they were either too big or she could not afford to make them more environmentally friendly, using less energy and water. She said her electric furnace warms the entire cabin easily and economically for her and her husky when she's not gardening outside.

"It felt like home the first day I walked in and was there," said Evans, a self-proclaimed "ex-hippie." "It's as close as you can get to living in a tree house because of the site and because the outside of the house is stained, not painted. So it looks like a tree."

William Rockhill, who built Evans' home, has been building cabins since 1991 when he started Bear Creek Carpentry in Woodgate, N.Y. He built Evans' home half a mile away from her sister in the woods, and she couldn't be happier about being a part of the small home movement.

Evans said in the past year she started to read in the media about others, mostly younger people, moving to smaller homes.


"I think it's wonderful because these people are really conscious of the environment and the impact they'll have. Let's face it, most of the 'tiny home people' are doing green things and are involved in a lot of causes because they're not tied up in possessions and things."

Based in the Adirondack Mountains, Rockhill has built 200 homes, mostly for vacationers buying second homes. That began to change in the past few years when the economy tanked, according to Rockhill.

"Most people requesting information now are looking for a simpler, alternative life," said Rockhill, who builds about one home for every 10 requests he receives. "Off the grid is a big thing now."

Rockhill's mini-cabins range from $13,440 for an 8 by 16 feet complete cottage, to $50,400 for a 20 by 24 feet two-bedroom lodge.

Homebuyers interested in a do-it-yourself project can purchase the shells of these homes for $8,320 and $31,200, respectively.

Bear Creek Carpentry may be on the less expensive end of the small-home price spectrum. Jay Shafer, whom Rockhill called the "guru" of the small-home movement, started the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Sebastopol, Calif., with homes from $38,997 and up. Shafer's home sizes are 65 to 837 square feet and you can just buy the complete home plans for around $700.

Shafer co-founded the Small House Society, with a mission to "support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.

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