Property prices in Australia surged 22% in 2021, its biggest jump since the 1980s, making home ownership an impossible dream for many. This increase coincided with crippling Covid-19-induced lockdowns across much of Australia, resulting in many small businesses permanently closing their doors and an increased pressure on housing and social services not seen in decades.
Social issues aside, our planet’s resources are under continued increasing pressure by a global human population that continues to grow, despite the pandemic.
Complex issues like housing affordability, climate change, excess consumerism and homelessness are not easy to solve. But what if they were easier to solve than we think?
What if one of the solutions is staring us right in the face?
Enter Tiny Houses.
Tiny Houses are a low impact solution to both the housing crisis and high environmental impact of housing. According to the Australian Tiny House Association, Tiny Houses are moveable dwellings up to 50m2 that are suitable for residential use and can be largely grouped into three categories: on wheels, on skids or shipping containers.
In this episode, Janine Strachan, Founder of Tiny House Solutions, President of the Australian Tiny House Association (ATHA) and host of ‘Tips from the Tiny House Guru’ podcast shares what’s driving the growth in the Tiny House Movement, advantages and disadvantages of living in a tiny house, costs and legalities associated with building a tiny house and her best advice for those looking to build and live in a Tiny House.
I’m sure you’ll find this episode both interesting and eye opening!
Australian Tiny House Association
Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs
 Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-01-04/australia-house-prices-corelogic-data-december-2021/100737080
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Thanks so much for coming on Eco Chat Janine!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED YOU INTO THE WORLD OF TINY HOUSES.
I’ve been involved in housing for well over 20 years, I was the general manager at the Housing Industry Association for nearly 10 of those years. In that role we kept seeing the housing affordability crisis hitting in all part of Australia, and we are still seeing that many years on.
With covid, people have realized that because they can work from home, they can move out of capital cities and into regional areas where they can spend their money on expensive homes which is further resulting in the increase of houses prices.
The focus on tiny houses has been driven by a housing affordability crisis which is being experienced across the board. We need to be looking at how to can offer alternative housing solutions because not everybody can afford to get into the housing marketing.
WHAT IS A TINY HOUSE?
There is not a definition in Australia about what a tiny house actually is. When we talk about a tiny house, we refer to a moveable object that can be transported by road. They are typically under 2.5 metres wide, less than 4.3 metres high and don’t exceed 12 metres in length. They are also under 4.5 tonne. From a sizing perspective, they can be 20 – 30 metres internally.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN A TINY HOUSE?
If you are living in a tiny house then there is a smaller footprint. If we have a smaller area to occupy we are also purchasing less and only purchasing what we need. For example, instead of having 4 TV’s or multiple fridges, we only have one.
Tiny houses also use less resources and materials than a tradition home. So construction costs are less. It takes a lot less energy to heat and cool a tiny home, so from a environmental perspective there is a smaller footprint.
Another advantage is that they can be moved. You might rent a parcel of land from a friend or you may want to put a tiny home in the backyard of a relative that you might need a carer close by to support them.
Some of the disadvantages of them is that they are not regulated at the moment. They are currently deemed as a caravan and that comes with restrictions about where you can live in a tiny house.
However caravans are designed as recreational vehicles, tiny houses are designed as dwellings to live in permanently. So they are completely different. But we have this barrier at the moment where they’re not recognized. This means a lot of people are concerned or hesitant about making the plunge to live/invest in a tiny home because they don’t know where they’re going to be able to live permanently for a long time
CAN YOU LIVE OFF GRID IN A TINY HOUSE
Yes, absolutely. We encourage people to think about reducing their energy demand such as installing LED lights and making sure the tiny house is well insulated and have well performing windows to limit the need for air-conditioning.
We encourage people to position their tiny house in the shade, and put their solar panels out in the sun.
The other thing is water consumption. Australia is a drought inhabited continent has we actually have one of the highest water usage per capital in the world. Tiny houses don’t use anywhere near as much water as a traditional house.
When you are going off grid, you will be generating grey wastewater from your bathroom/kitchen sink and shower. So it is your responsibility of as an occupy of a tiny house to dispose of and manage your waste water responsibly and to ensure that it doesn’t dampen the soil. How you do this is a discussion to be undertaken with your local council.
The composting side of the composting toilet is pretty easy. It’s been around for thousands and thousands of years.
It would be true to say that occupants of tiny houses are much more conscious and aware of their footprint because they can also see the waste that they’re producing and, and they firsthand experience in managing their waste as opposed to those of us in traditional homes where we just flush the toilet or wash everything down the sink and its not ever seen again.
WHY ARE MORE PEOPLE LOOKING TO BUILD AND LIVE IN A TINY HOUSE? WHAT’S DRIVING THIS GROWTH ? IS IT A CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHIC?
There’s a list of demographics that benefit from the tiny house movement and it’s driven from more than just the housing affordability crisis. It includes people wanting to embrace the minimalist lifestyle, baby boomers, families wanting more space for their young adults/teenagers, people on the NDIS looking for more affordable accommodation designed for their unique needs, older couples whose property has become too big for them to maintain. The list goes on. And its both a mix of male and female, young and old. There is no single reason why people look into living in a tiny home.
Examples include transient workers in mining towns where there is a huge temporary work force with very limited rental accommodation. Or for example where I live on the Central Coast, where it is almost guaranteed that every store on the main street is looking for staff during peak tourist season, but can’t fill the positions as there is no accommodation available, or within a price range, that the seasonal workers can afford.
Another big sector is those experiencing, or very close to experiencing, homelessness. There were statistics, pre-Covid, that approximately 5000 women over 45 years old will become homeless in the next couple of years for a number of reasons such as not having enough super, or having spent their time looking after children and not in the workforce.
Those reaching retirement age also look into tiny homes. It is very difficult to get a mortgage if you are at the end of your working years.
ARE TINY HOUSES ONE OF THE SOLUTION TO SOCIAL ISSUES LIKE HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING AFFORDABILITY ? ARE THERE EXAMPLES OF GOVERNMENTS LOOKING TO FACILITATE THE GROWTH OF TINY HOUSES IN THEIR COMMUNITIES?
There are only a couple of councils in Queensland and Victoria that actually embrace people or allow people to live in a caravan. But the thing is, as I said, at the very outset, a tiny house is not a caravan. There is no definition in any of the building regulations around Australia of what a tiny house is. So that’s a real starting point for us. We need to get tiny houses under the regulations and defined.
Currently Council planning schemes may not allow people to live in a secondary dwelling or an ancillary dwelling unless they’re a relative of, or a member of the household of the primary dwelling. And we know with tiny houses, that is not going to be the case.
The work that I’m involved with extensively is about lobbying local councils to actually undertake a trial on tiny house, living in the municipality. I can confidently say that nearly every single council across Australia, 537 odd councils would have a housing affordability crisis. Those Councils could really benefit by releasing or relaxing some of the restrictions and allowing people to live in tiny houses permanently.
For instance, every local council would have a local law they need to adhere to regarding caravans. Those laws might say you can only live in a caravan for 30,60,90 days but after that you need to move on. But that’s not what we want. We want people to be able to live in them full time. So we want those laws to be altered to reflect permanent living conditions. And with that we want the occupant of the tiny house to become responsible. Such as being responsible for managing their waste water properly and efficiently, and perhaps paying a small contribution to Council (rates) for the waste/bin collection service.
There are a couple of projects around Australia that have embraced the concept of small dwellings. In Victoria, there is a development of about 50 small dwellings, similar size to a tiny house, being built on un-utilized land owned by Vic Roads.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO BUILD A TINY HOUSE?
To have a tiny home built by a builder, you could anticipate a cost of somewhere between $70,000 and $150,000. And that price reflects the finished product.
Lots of people say that’s expensive, but like any building cost, if you want a custom designed home you will be paying more for the finishes and fitting.
There are also people that decide to build their own tiny home which can raise issues in regards to it being built against the National Construction Code and being safe and structurally sound.
WHERE CAN YOU LEGALLY BUILD A TINY HOUSE? ARE THERE ANY RESTRICTIONS?
You can build a tiny house in a whole range of areas from industrial estates, commercial estates, even in your backyard. As long as there is cover during the building stage to protect from rainfall and electricity to run your tool
There is a convenience to building on site, as you won’t need to pay transport costs. There is also a benefit to keeping the overall weight below 4.5 tonne so it can be towed easily.
The real issue, or the real question, is where can you legally live in a tiny house. For example, I could build a tiny house on my property zoned residential, but the Shire (Council) will not allow me to live in it.
What we don’t want to see is people, living in tiny houses due to the housing affordability crisis, being pushed out of the suburbs into rural locations. We want them to be amongst the community so they can walk to get their shopping or go to the doctors, or so they can easy access to public transport if they cannot afford their own car.
One of the comments I hear often, is the typical NIMBY syndrome. “Not In My Backyard” and that is the complete opposite of the attitude we want to see. If you look up tiny houses communities in the US, they have some really fantastic set ups. They are not all the typical “trailer park” that we see on TV. They are communities with their own private lots, car parks and gardens. You can have communal BBQ areas, shared laundry facilities, community gardens etc.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR BEST 3 PIECES OF ADVICE FOR THOSE LOOKING TO INVEST IN A TINY HOUSE
The first thing I would say is try tiny house living. There’s a lot of tiny houses on short-term stays across Australia, find out what’s happening in your locality and go and stay in one and actually see if you really like it. You know, it sounds all really great, but by the time you get into it, you might think, oh gosh I’m so thankful I did this because this is just not what I can live in full time.
Another thing you can start doing is creating a list of all the things you want to have in your tiny house. What are the absolute must haves for you, and then what would be nice to have’s because you might not be able to necessarily afford everything all at once.
Thirdly, listen to my podcast Tips from a Tiny House Guru. I give out a whole of advice from regulatory advice, to design and off the grid stuff as well. And if you want to keep researching or need somewhere for more advice or to talk to others about combating certain barriers, join the Australian Tiny House Association. We’ve got members all around Australia and we provide a lot of resources and information for people who are wanting or aspiring to live tiny.
WHERE CAN WE LEARN MORE ABOUT TINY HOUSES AND FOLLOW YOU ONLINE?
My business is Tiny House Solutions. I design livable tiny homes which are built in Victoria, Australia. You can check out our website or follow us on Facebook. You can also find the podcast at Tips from a Tiny House Guru
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode on Tiny Houses with Janine from Tiny House Solutions. I encourage you to reach out to Janine if you think that a Tiny House will suit you or some one you know. I also urge you to please also support changes to planning and housing laws in your community to make safe and secure housing affordable to all.
Stay tuned for next episode, Part 2 of our Sustainable Housing feature. Janine Strachan will return to Eco Chat to share her best tips for green design for conventional residential houses. If you dream of a passive home without a heating or air conditioning bill, this next episode is for you!
In the meantime, keep making green mainstream.
Over to you!
If you’re ready to learn more about how you can reduce your emissions, household waste, live toxin-free and embrace a more sustainable lifestyle with the support of Laura, join the Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs community today!
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