According to restoring simple, when survey takers were asked if they would live in a “tiny home,” 34 percent of people ages 18 to 34 voted “Yes, definitely” or “I’d seriously consider it.” In a country where the average house size has grown 1,000 square feet in the past 40 years, this is a serious shift in thinking. So why has this shift occurred? What is it that makes these micro-footprint dwelling places so popular?
The term “tiny home” covers a broad range of structures, some would say too broad. Tiny homes range from Airstream trailers to treehouses, but of all the experiments in tiny living, few have generated the excitement, and innovation, of a studio home.
What is a studio home?
A studio home is similar to a studio apartment: a single room acting as a combined eating, sleeping, and living space, with a bathroom and shower in a small separate room. Importantly, while studio apartments are located within apartment buildings, studio homes are their own standalone structures.
Additionally, while many tiny houses are completely mobile, often fitting on the back of a pull-behind trailer, studio homes are permanent structures. While a micro home on a trailer can be parked anywhere, a studio home requires land to be built on, which frequently includes permanent electrical and HVAC service.
That said, studio homes are also frequent sites of construction innovation. They may be developed in recycled shipping containers, even in grain silos. Some eco-conscious studio home builders include throwback add-ons like a sod roof. Builders often opt for construction on raised piers and wooden joists, rather than foundations, a design which encourages passive heating and cooling. Additionally, they may be designed with complex exterior aluminium cladding. Aluminium cladding is lightweight, corrosion resistant, recyclable, and produced from low-carbon energy. Additionally, it may be prepared or customized with colored or wood finishes. All these factors make aluminum cladding popular in studio home construction.
Because of these innovations in home design, Studio homes often have a much lower price-point than traditional homes. Designing a house with a modest footprint allows architects and designers to cut away wasted space, which means fewer building costs. The 20k Initiative at Auburn University’s Rural Studio challenged “students to design a home that could be built by a contractor for $20,000.”
Low prices mean that studio homes can be built for underserved communities. The stereotypical tiny home owner is a Brooklyn hipster with a beard, knitted cap, and trust fund, but Auburn’s Rural Studio specifically focuses on designing and building homes for the residents of rural western Alabama. Furthermore, studio home designs have become a locus of innovation in construction and materials, as demonstrated by Auburn University’s project.
So, given all of this momentum, why are studio homes not everywhere? The fact is that they still face headwinds. All of the design, construction, and cost savings in the world can not change the systemic problems that prevent communities from embracing studio homes. A mortgage on a studio home is a risky investment for a bank, and a zoning regulations rarely take studio homes into consideration. Cities often have minimum square footage requirements for new construction, and even minimum room size requirements – it can be tough to build a 200 square foot tiny home when your bathroom needs to be at least 150 square feet. That said, cities like Fresno, California are welcoming studio homes with open arms. Is it the future? We aren’t the types to make broad predictions, but for more and more people, studio homes work.
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