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Florida's tiny house movement embraces some big ideas 

Let's get small

Page 3 of 5

click to enlarge The Lee family - PHOTO BY RICHARD REEP
  • Photo by Richard Reep
  • The Lee family

Most places hard-code a minimum house size; in the city of Orlando, it's 350 square feet per person. Although 700 square feet is not excessive for a couple, it is much larger than the 400 or 500 square feet commonly used as a guideline by the tiny house movement.

Zoning codes usually allow for a small accessory structure on a lot, so long as an actual house is already on the property: think backyard guest cottages, garage apartments, mother-in-law suites. The Fair Housing Act, a 1960s federal regulation, still maintains minimum property standards, but only to guard against cruelly small house sizes: One room must be 120 square feet, with one wall at least 9 feet long.

One thing tiny houses on wheels and tiny houses on foundations have in common is the creative use of three-dimensional space, with lofts and ladders to maximize every square inch. You might find everything you need within reach if you stand in one or two places, and making every space count becomes critical.

Water remains the most difficult problem to solve. Few tiny houses have cisterns, and nearly all of them use various forms of composting toilets. Lacking a sanitary sewer or septic system, one must be ready to deal with the ... er ... compost. Water supply has to come from somewhere, while the shower and sink have to drain somewhere too.

Meanwhile, a major appeal of tiny homes is that energy costs are much lower, and solar energy is attainable on a smaller budget. All-LED lighting is now pretty standard, and many tiny houses sport photovoltaic panels. Thanks to countries like Japan, with its extremely high energy costs, we now have super-efficient air conditioners that easily adapt to tiny homes. Mitsubishi's famous "Mr. Slim" electric model has been knocked off by other manufacturers, allowing tiny-house owners to quietly cool their homes with small ductless units.

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