All buildings great and small: the spectacular rise of tiny homes

Posted on: 3 April, 2024

What are tiny homes, and why is this radical approach to homeowning starting to pick up momentum and popularity in the UK?

The UK is currently experiencing a housing crisis, as the supply of available properties cannot keep up with demand.

This, coupled with low-interest rates since the financial crash, has led to inflated house prices that make it increasingly hard for lower-income households to get on the property ladder. As of 2024, the average house price sits at £290,000, with most first-time buyers expected to find a deposit of around £50,000.

The growing population and increased demand for houses aren’t just impacting prices. Despite Green Belt legislation being in place, housing pressures have led to urban sprawl in many key cities around the UK.

This is having a huge environmental impact, and between 2006 and 2012 alone, 54,000 acres of green space was converted to ‘artificial surfaces’, most of which was urban housing.

Rapid urbanisation and soaring house prices are reaching a breaking point. This has led to homeowners and those hoping to get on the property ladder getting creative in their approach, particularly the younger generation.

A product of this creativity is the Tiny House Movement, something which initially started in the United States and has since begun to catch on in the UK.

So what exactly is a tiny home?

Tiny homes, as the name suggests, are small houses or micro homes that don’t take up a lot of physical space. Architecturally, they’re designed to be simplistic and for everything to be carefully organised and stored within.

However, if you ask anyone who is part of the Tiny House Movement, they’ll tell you it’s about more than just downsizing your home – it’s a way of being. Tiny houses have become a social trend that move away from consumerism and towards a more simplified, happy life.

How big is a tiny house?

In America where the movement began, a property is classed as a ‘tiny’ home if it’s between 100 and 400 square feet, though the size varies depending on the style of the home.

There are already around 10,000 registered dinky dwellings in the USA. However, in the UK, where this movement is still very new, there are only officially around 200 micro homes. Realistically, there are probably more, but with tricky planning laws in the UK, these dwellings are often ‘unofficial’ or have yet to be recognised as an official tiny home.

How much do tiny homes cost?

The cost of a tiny home depends on several key factors, from the style of the home to the materials used, personal budgets and who is doing the construction. Based on average figures it’s clear to see that these homes are far cheaper than your standard one- or two-bedroom property.

For those refurbishing a small dwelling, it’s possible to create a micro home with as little as £6,500, though this is definitely on the lower end of the scale. For the most part, residents are looking at

Learn more: A guide to prefabrication (and how it’s transforming construction)

How much can you save living in a tiny home?

When it comes to living in a tiny home, it’s not just about getting the money together to design, build and or move into your new house. It’s also about saving money in the long term without expensive rent or mortgages to pay each month.

It’s estimated that a tiny home can save the occupier an average of £780-£1,057 per month (based on data from 2020). These figures can be even more impressive for houses equipped with off-grid gas and solar power.

9 examples of tiny homes

We’ve briefly mentioned a couple of examples of tiny homes, but as this movement gathers momentum, thrifty individuals are finding new and creative ways to downsize their lives.

Here are nine examples of tiny homes:

1. Shipping containers

Shipping containers have become a popular choice for those creating tiny homes, largely because of their solid structure and adaptability. The rustic metal aesthetic is perfect for a modern minimalist style, plus, they’re easy to insulate and the rectangular shape makes them simple to kit out.

Containers can be stacked on top of each other to create a bigger space, making them ideal for families looking to downsize.

2. Eco-cabins

Many have chosen to create small, affordable eco-cabins, typically out of wood and other more sustainable materials. These are fully insulated so they can be used all year round, and they can also be placed off-grid, in gardens or on small plots of land. As they are very quaint, they have become a popular design for holiday homes and Airbnbs.

3. Van conversions

The van life movement has become popular on platforms like Instagram, where many share dreamy views from their home on wheels. Whether it’s a large van or a converted bus, these spaces can have everything from a kitchen to a bathroom and can offer the freedom of life on the road.

4. Houseboat

Although a narrowboat is a slightly larger dwelling than some of the others on the list, it still offers the opportunity to create a tiny house. And because these homes are on the water, they are not considered real estate, so are much more affordable, as occupants only pay a boat license and mooring fees.

5. Home on wheels

Whilst these are more common in the US, tiny homes on wheels are starting to gain attention in the UK. These are different from campervans as they are separate, but road-legal structures that can be pulled along behind a car or van.

6. Caravan

Whether it’s a small static or a traditional caravan, this is another popular type of tiny home. These can be moved around as they were intended or placed legally on a plot of land to live from one location.

7. Treehouses

Another type of tiny home popular in the US is the treehouse. Built on a platform either on or amongst the branches of a tree, these structures can not only be liveable but also very cute and picturesque. As these are built structures, there may be some planning considerations, so it’s important to understand the legislation around treehouses.

8. Seaside shacks

There are lots of small shacks and cabins by the seaside, once used for storage, boats or those who spent their days out on the ocean. Many of these are left derelict or abandoned and have presented the perfect opportunity to refurbish and transform these into tiny homes.

9. Barn conversions

Barn conversions can offer a unique home that transforms a historical, often run-down build into a comfortable, modern home. Again, these can be bigger than a typical ‘tiny house’ depending on the measurements of the original structure. But as they offer simplified living and creative layouts, they’re still classified as part of the movement.

7 pros (and 4 cons) of tiny homes

It’s easy to see why the tiny house movement is picking up momentum. This very appealing, albeit unconventional way of living is great as it offers a variety of benefits, including:

  • The opportunity to live more sustainably
  • A reduction in the amount of energy needed to power the property, which is a significant contributing factor to climate change
  • Minimalism and the ability to downsize and have a simplified lifestyle
  • The financial freedom of not renting or paying a mortgage
  • Mobility for those houses that are on wheels or water, offering more freedom
  • The opportunity to be creative with space, design and storage
  • Quicker cleaning and less waste overall, which again, is better for the planet

But as with everything in life, there can be downsides to living in such a small space, such as:

  • Less storage space
  • Less living space, which can be harder for families or those who become frustrated being in a small space for hours at a time
  • The legalities of these tiny homes can be a bit of a grey area
  • The loss of some luxuries as these houses might be too small for items like a bath, large TV, or washing machine

Final thoughts

Although there can be some drawbacks to living in a tiny home, it’s easy to see why more people are choosing to live this way. Financial freedom is a big deal with today’s rising cost of living and the ability to find more sustainable solutions is vital in the face of a climate crisis.

Not only that, but as the population continues to grow, more people are looking for ways to have a home without having to work two jobs or pay eye-watering fees each month.

That, and as urban sprawl depletes natural resources and green spaces, smaller houses offer more opportunities to live sustainably and spend more time in nature.

Urban planning is an exciting field that has a pivotal role in the design and function of our cities and communities. If you want to have a part in helping the built environment realise a sustainable future, UCEM’s MSc Urban Planning will give you the knowledge, skills and technical understanding you need.

Find out more: MSc Urban Planning – University College of Estate Management