Oregon Couple Builds Tiny Homes to Ease Housing Debt, Carbon Footprint

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
April 24, 2014; 3:41 AM ET
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A seemingly never-ending debt cycle has many Americans searching to take matters into their own hands and an innovative Oregon couple may have found a solution that also benefits the environment.

After buying their "dream-home," Andrew and Gabriella Morrison found themselves enslaved to their large mortgage, so they decided to undergo a major downsize.

"It was gorgeous, everything that we could possibly want but then we realized how much it was costing us to live in," Andrew Morrison said. "Tiny made that much more sense to us and so we built our own tiny house."

Upon building their new home, with backgrounds in construction and education, the Morrisons began TinyHouseBuild.com, a company dedicated to teaching people how to build energy-efficient homes. Dubbed tiny homes, these houses range between 100 to 900 square feet.

"We teach people how to build tiny homes and try to inspire people, as many people as we can, to simplify their lives and create the freedom and the joy they want for themselves when they are not trapped in a giant mortgage," he said.

Building a single-family home costs approximately $246,000 on average in the United States, according to the National Association of Home Builders. However, the construction of a tiny home costs on average $22,000 to $35,000, almost one-tenth of the cost of the average U.S. household, which has enticed some to assemble their own home.

Despite their actual square footage, many tiny homes still encompass all the living amenities that many desire. (Photo/Gabriella Morrison)

"A lot of people are building tiny houses and a big resounding theme across the board is that people want to be out of debt and build debt-free," Gabriella Morrison said.

All across the U.S. and the globe, tiny houses are popping up, as many seek solutions to not only the housing and debt crises but also to environmental concerns.

Aside from a lower percentage of raw materials required to build a tiny house, the cost of heating and cooling the space is significantly less than the average home due to the sheer difference in square footage.

Built either on trailers or atop foundations, builders of tiny houses face numerous challenges as residential building codes do not recognize homes that small as habitual living spaces and as a result will not issue building permits.

"It's very difficult or nearly impossible to get a building permit at this point," Andrew Morrison said.

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While residential building codes may vary slightly county to county, all areas have specific, mandatory space requirements necessary to obtain a building permit. In Stevens County, Wash., residential building code R304.1 requires homeowners to have at least one habitable room with no less than 120 square feet of gross floor area. Another code in that region, code R304.3, requires all habitable rooms to be greater than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension.

Many home owners build their tiny homes on wheels so that the space cannot fall under the jurisdiction of either a recreational vehicle or a residential home.

Because many of these homes can be physically moved, homeowners have the benefit of using the sun or the shade to their benefit.

"Playing with solar access allows us a little more efficiency if we need it," Andrew Morrison said.

The Morrison family built their tiny home after realizing just how much their house was costing them. (Photo/Gabriella Morrison)

As severe weather always threatens any home in its path, tiny homes are engineered to be able to withstand high winds and can also be temporarily anchored to the ground in the event of a storm.

Like the Morrison family, countless other people are looking for ways to make homes more sustainable and cost-efficient, including students at Stanford University.

In 2013, Stanford students built a solar-powered modular home, based upon the team's Start.Home concept, that was entered in the Department of Energy's sponsored green building competition.

Placing fifth, the Stanford team finished in the top five of six categories including, affordability, indoor environmental conditions and energy consumption. The students tied for first in the affordability category, according to a Stanford University press release.

Aside from Stanford, other universities are also jumping on the movement and building their own sustainable homes to benefit their communities.

Grand Valley State University engineering students built an environmentally friendly home for a low-income family in their area after partnering with a local non-profit housing agency.

"This movement is growing," Gabriella Morrison said. "Can we create housing for ourselves that doesn't keep us in the debt cycle, that supports us to live a happy and peaceful life? Tiny houses are an amazing solution for that."


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at Kristen.Rodman@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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