Greg Parham is an architect in Durango, Colorado. His construction company, Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses, builds customized shed-sized dwellings on flatbed trailers. As one of the most passionate advocates of the Small House Movement — a movement that often entails mobility — we asked him to bring us up to speed.
BBC: What is it that attracts people to tiny houses?
GP: Most people are drawn to them for the financial benefits. Some are more interested in the simpler lifestyle that tiny houses encourage, and others are interested in innovative design. I also get a lot of calls from people who have to relocate a lot for work and just want to be able to take their house with them. Most people use them for full time primary residences, though I have one customer who bought one to use as a vacation rental in her backyard.
BBC: What is different about your approach?
GP: When I first started out, I had grand aspirations to build models that were influenced by unique locations in the Rocky Mountains. While I've built three such houses, my plans for the remaining 15 or so have been put on the backburner by all commissioned builds we've been doing. In regards to these, I enjoy working very closely with clients to create a one-off custom house that matches their vision as closely as possible. No matter the project, I try to include a component that has never been done before in a tiny house; design possibilities are infinite, and need to be explored.
BBC: Is portability important?
GP: So far, all of my builds have been on trailers, though I have provided some designs for folks who wanted to build a tiny house on a foundation. Tiny houses were originally put on wheels to get around zoning laws. Most municipalities don't allow you to construct a site-built house that is less than 600 square feet, so putting it on wheels skirts this issue. For people who have to move a lot, portability is the driving force behind buying a tiny house.
BBC: How easy is living off the grid in a tiny house?
GP: Living off grid is not hard at all, provided you have chosen good equipment and installed it properly. It does require a little work, though. For power, most people install a solar array with a battery bank. Typical lead acid batteries have to have the water topped off each month, and solar panels need to be kept clean for maximum efficiency.
For water, unless there’s access to a well, you need a water storage tank and a pump to pressurize the system. Depending on the size of the tank and water usage, that tank my need to be filled up quite often. Grey water can easily be distributed back into the environment, though that requires biodegradable soaps and no harsh chemicals. For solid human waste, the tried-and-true composting toilet, either commercially bought or homemade, does the job just fine. They need emptying occasionally, and the owner will need to maintain a supply of cover material such as sawdust or peat moss.
BBC: How road-worthy are your creations?
GP: They are better built and stronger than travel trailers, but that makes them heavier gives them more wind drag, so expect to spend more money on fuel and more time in the saddle of your pickup. I've towed several tiny houses 1200 miles over interstates, bumpy county roads, snow, mud, mountain passes, narrow city streets — you name it. The only problem I ever had was a low tire.
BBC: What’s the hardest part about going tiny?
GP: It depends on the person committing to it, but for most it is the process of downsizing — deciding what stays and what goes. You can only fit so much in a tiny house, so everything from furniture to clothing to dishes to books to knickknacks has to be culled.
BBC: What’s the best part?
GP: I think most tiny house owners would tell you, "Not having a mortgage or paying rent." Granted, you're likely to have some rent for land, but it’s maybe $100 a month instead of $1000. A lot of tiny house dwellers also like to brag that it only takes them 10 minutes to clean the entire house.
BBC: Do you see tiny homes changing the way we live?
GP: I don't think the American way will ever die. It's too prosperous a nation for people to not equate success with big houses, fancy cars, and lots of stuff. While the tiny house movement is growing, and awareness is definitely increasing, I feel we will always be a small minority. I actually think this isn't a bad thing. If everyone had a tiny house, they wouldn't be as cool.
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