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Not the norm

The tiny house movement bucks the decades-long trend of single-family homes in the U.S. getting bigger and bigger.

The small home concept isn’t new, but before the Great Recession it had been mainly driven by environmental concerns, said Vinit Mukhija, who chairs the urban planning department at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Post-recession, a major concern was that “a lot of people were building and living in homes that were unaffordable,” he said.

Smaller homes may need custom fixtures and appliances, so the cost per square foot is often higher than in a standard home, but the overall cost is typically much lower, Mukhija said.

According to data compiled by, a tiny home lifestyle blog, the average cost of an owner-built tiny house is $23,000, compared with $272,000 for a standard home.

There’s no official, standard definition of a tiny house, though some consider 500 square feet to be an upper limit. They come in many sizes and costs and can range from a basic shed with no plumbing or electricity to a luxury dwelling with high-end finishes. Some are built by the owner; others are manufactured.

The purpose of a tiny house also varies. Some enthusiasts build them on trailer chassis so they can travel with their home. Others see them as an option to get homeless people off the streets.

Architects Sofia Borges and R. Scott Mitchell, who teach at USC, helped launch a workshop about a year ago that invited students to design dorm-style, minimalist tiny homes that can be stacked and grouped into a community for the homeless with shared bathrooms and common areas.

They created the concept for Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission in northern Los Angeles County, but Borges said the homes could be adapted as student housing or second units for single-family home lots.