Main pic and below with thanks to www.tinyheirloom.com

Small, but Perfectly Formed

24th February 2017

You can still live a glamorous lifestyle in a tiny house as evidenced by the chandelier, marble worktops and slipper bath installed in this home.

Claire Moulds explores the growing interest in ‘tiny homes’…

As the housing crisis continues unabated, and experts predict that we need to build 250,000 new homes a year to keep up with demand, a number of people are thinking outside the box – or in it, depending which way you look at things – and turning their attention to ‘tiny houses’. Given that size isn’t everything, of course, there isn’t a specific set of dimensions that the various aficionados of the concept can agree on… it’s all about the overall ethos.

The tiny house movement first began back in the 90s and has gradually gathered momentum, with small homes now being found all over the world, especially in America, Canada and Australia. Meanwhile the UK is slowly coming around to the idea that small can indeed be beautiful.

It’s no surprise that the British public haven’t been quite so keen to adopt the concept, given the heavy emphasis in this country on ‘moving up the property ladder’ to an ever larger home. With bigger still being seen as better and somewhere to amass and display the trappings of ever greater wealth and success, asking people to ‘think small’ is a somewhat alien concept to our culture. And yet, small homes offer a wealth of opportunities if you examine their potential more closely.

Requiring less material to erect and packed with ‘green’ technology, small homes are not only cheaper to build but also to run as they are extremely energy-efficient. As a result, this combined cost ‘saving’ can either be used to live life to the full by funding travel and new experiences or used to save up for a ‘conventional’ property.

When you live in such a small space you’re also forced to decide what really matters to you. By taking a more thoughtful approach, you can declutter your life and really focus on your priorities. And, if you can’t bear to throw out or give away so many of your possessions, you can always put things in storage while you adjust to your new environment. Living without them for a period might mean you discover you don’t actually need them after all. While a smaller home might mean fewer possessions, though, it doesn’t have to mean less ‘you’.

Jason Francis, co-founder of Tiny Heirloom (www.tinyheirloom.com), widely recognised as the world’s premier tiny home builder, explains: “Downsizing to create a more simple and free life is what it’s all about, but at what point do you stop compromising your life standards? We decided to bridge the gap so that downsizing doesn’t have to mean downgrading, by creating tiny houses that are each as uniquely beautiful as their owner.”

For the style conscious, a tiny house provides the ultimate blank canvas on which to put your stamp – and offers design opportunities that you might not be able to explore in a larger property due to budget constraints. Adds Jason: “Because a kitchen in a tiny house is less than half the size of a standard kitchen, splurging on high-end materials is a non-issue. Marble countertops, custom cabinetry and handmade tile backsplashes are all affordable when you only need a few feet of each.”

And for those with nowhere to call home full stop, tiny house villages are springing up around the world – places where homeless people can live while they transition to more permanent accommodation. Offering dignity, privacy, warmth and safety, this approach to getting people off the streets and back into society means that instead of having to worry about where they are going to sleep that night, individuals can focus on the future and how they can move their lives forward.

That’s not to say that tiny homes are the solution to all our housing problems. Living in such a small space is not for everyone, especially if several people need to live in the same property. Finding the initial capital outlay, or securing a loan, can also be a challenge and then there is the not so ‘tiny’ issue of planning consent. However, while the current housing debate continues to go around in seemingly endless circles, tiny houses do bring a fresh approach and new opportunities to the table.

Dr Mike Page

Enter The Cube...

Engineer and Psychologist Dr Mike Page, from the University of Hertfordshire, is a passionate advocate of both the need to reduce the carbon emissions from our homes and increasing public awareness of how where we live, and the technologies a property employs, can have a huge impact on our planet.

That’s why he invented the Cube, a tiny house with a tiny carbon footprint and impressively tiny household bills.

Back in 2009, Dr Page was working on a project advising companies on how they could reduce their carbon emissions. As he feels it is easier to grasp how a technology works when it is seen in practice, he came up with the idea of a demonstration project, where a range of energy saving devices would be installed in a single small house – the Cube.

“As well as enabling us to directly address any concerns people had with a particular technology, the Cube would crucially allow us to showcase solutions that can be applied to any size of building – including solar photovoltaic panels, air source heat pumps, triple glazed windows, composting toilets, low energy lighting and appliances, mechanical heat recovery ventilation and low-flow, high-performance showers and taps,” he explains.

And so QB1, the first incarnation of the Cube, was born. With internal dimensions of 3mx3mx3m, the aim was for it to be somewhere that a single person, or couple, could live in the UK and have a zero carbon net footprint over the course of a year. The concept engendered great interest at the Edinburgh International Science Festival and within 12 months had over a million hits on YouTube. The problem was that when people asked where they could buy it, Dr Page had to tell them that it was a ‘one off’.

“Continued interest in the project led us to create QB2 – 1m longer and on two floors, which featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on Channel 4 – and, most recently, QB3, which is all on one level to make the property accessible for older people or those with disabilities,” he says. “Measuring 6mx3mx2m, QB3 also benefits from a new design feature: moving walls, which mean the space can be reconfigured.”

2016 was a landmark year for the Cube: a licensing agreement is now in place with Bolton Buildings to produce and distribute the concept so that orders can now be placed. “We’re also looking at how we can adapt some of the techniques we use in its construction (a Cube can be erected and fully kitted out in just ten days)to larger properties, so people can have fast-build, eco-friendly ‘full size’ homes.”

As with many housing projects, the availability of land, and permission to build on it, can be problematic. In terms of planning, Cube buildings are classed as ‘static caravans’ and, if one is to be used as a ‘self-contained dwelling house’, then planning permission is required.

“That’s why we’re working closely with local Councils, as these often own small pockets of land that could be put to good use. For example, when they don’t have enough emergency housing, many Councils place people in need in a B&B at considerable cost. By installing Cubes on unused land, housing departments could not only make their budget go further but offer people an actual home.”
Crucially, there is enormous demand for affordable homes. At £40k for a fully fitted, self-contained home with low energy bills that will last a lifetime – and which can be sold on, or loaded on to a lorry in less than an hour to be relocated – the Cube is one way to overcome the issue of being priced out of the market. Dr Page would love to see land freed up by Councils for small communities of Cubes where people, such as hospital staff who are facing a 90 minute commute due to the cost of housing in the local area, can live nearer to their place of work.

“We’re not saying that everyone should live in a Cube, but it does present a solution to some of the housing issues we face.” He gives the example of older couples who are finding their kids are coming back to the nest in their 20’s because they can’t afford to live on their own. Equally, an elderly parent might want to sell up and move in with their son or daughter. Erecting a Cube in the family garden can give everyone their own space, he suggests, while enabling young adults to save towards a deposit on a home of their own or for Grandad to maintain his independence while knowing that help is there if needed.

Where a Cube is erected without a key component of a self-contained dwelling, for example a kitchen, no planning permission is required as the addition is classed as an annexe to the house, a ‘permitted development’. An easy solution in this case would therefore be to have the Cube’s occupant eat their meals with the family in the main house.

Dr Page jokes that the Cube is as easy to build as an Ikea bookcase and takes arguably less time at just four hours. Whether the concept takes off remains to be seen, but its importance in the ongoing housing crisis shouldn’t be understated.

To find out more about the Cube visit www.cubeproject.org.uk

Find Your Local