In this episode we cover Tiny homes, what they are and why they’are becoming so popular. What is the difference between ADU’s Additional Dwelling Units, guesthouse, and granny flats.
Interviewer: Hello everybody. It’s Episode 33 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me in studio is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing, buddy?
Steve Landmark: I am doing great.
Steve Landmark: It’s always a good day in Landmark Home and Land Company Land, helping people come up with some cool ideas on how to get their home.
Interviewer: So Steve, today I want to bring up a subject that seems to be on the minds of a whole lot of people on social media, in magazines, at coffee houses, and that’s a subject of tiny houses. People seem to be downsizing their lives all over the place, their cars, their stuff really, and now this phenomenon known as the tiny house. So if you will, tell our listeners what the heck is a tiny house?
Steve Landmark: Well, tiny home is kind of an interesting concept that evolved. I think after the economic crash in ‘08 and ‘09 where people are building big houses and then suddenly financially, the world had a huge amount of problems. So suddenly go the other way. Instead of build a big McMansion, let’s go build a tiny home. So the concept being that hey, do we really need 8,000 square feet, 14 garages, 12 bedrooms, things like that? And what’s the reality of what you need? So the kind of the pendulum swung the other way to like, “Hey, let’s live in 200-square-foot homes.
Steve Landmark: So my belief and from what I saw is that the concept came that there are a lot of people that weren’t able to afford a home for financial reasons, loss of job, variety of different situations that came up. So the concept came up of, “Hey, I’ll go move into the parents’ or my friend’s yard. I’ll just put a little house on a trailer because I could get around zoning and building codes.” As long as the trailer has a license, you can live in it just like if you had a motor home in your driveway.
So what happens is people came up and started developing these tiny homes. It kind of sounded cool. It’s in Vogue. It’s like, “Hey, there are financial issues. Let’s go the other way. Let’s build a little house. I’ll live in 200 or 300 square feet.” So what ends up happening with that is it sounds kind of cool but imagine all your clothes in the close and everything and you’re just cooking this killer garlic dinner and it gets through your whole 200-square-foot home and for the next week your clothes smell like garlic? So there is the neat idea behind it and then there’s OK, as it settles and people get into it, the reality of this, of you can’t really put a husband and wife, two kids, and a dog in 200 square feet. So sometimes these homes get a little bit bigger. So I think now they kind of consider tiny homes less than 800 or 1000 square feet.
So in that evolution of this where they started having a lot of people putting these secondary houses like on trailers on their backyard, people are like, “Hey, wait a second. Neighbors are looking over the fence saying, “Is there a septic in that tiny home? Where is the water? Why suddenly are there 12 people at this house?”
So the Zoning and Building Departments and communities kind of started pushing the word they have to regulate it. So sometimes what it has evolved to is where you have some communities will allow smaller homes. So if you check with building departments, a lot of them will have a minimum of 900 or 1000 square feet.
Steve Landmark: So in a lot of these places, they would not allowed them but there are communities I think that are being developed in certain parts of the country that are helping with this. And I think some of the community development programs are actually coming through to help people that are getting back on their feet or vets or different types of people to go through and give them a leg up and a nice, comfortable, efficient home so that it’s easier for them to get going and back into their life. So the tiny home has been in my opinion a result of the economic crash in the late 2000. Of course, tiny homes have been around forever. Way back you would see smaller homes but they weren’t 200, 300 square feet.
Steve Landmark: So it’s an interesting evolution. So now as the pendulum swinging back, it’s a little bit of the reality check of, “Hey, can my bed really be my desk, really be my drawing board, really be my cooking surface?” It’s kind of hard of to work in all of those areas and really have it put together and as codes catch up with all of these things. I think the tiny home is evolving to a smaller home, 500. 600, 700 square feet instead of a 200 or 300-sqaure-foot home.
Steve Landmark: What people have to realize with the tiny homes is they are very cool. It’s a nice concept. But to plum a 1-bath tiny home that’s 200 square feet probably costs the same as doing it in a 1000-sqaure-foot home.
Steve Landmark: So the cost for a smaller home gets very expensive. They might say, “Hey, it’s only $50,000.” But if you say, “OK, it’s 200 square feet,” that’s a lot of money per square foot. So there is a little bit of a balancing going on but we are able to help people with a tiny homes and tiny home design or smaller home to make it a workable project.
Interviewer: Do you find you are doing a lot more of those type of builds?
Steve Landmark: We are getting involved with those more projects. They are not the 200 and 300-square-foot. They are the 600, 700-square-foot situation for starter homes, community redevelopment with some community governments. There are some private investors that are working on different projects to allow housing like this because there’s – United States is an incredible country and there are big cities, little cities, there are cities that are hanging on some of their experience of rebirth and then others go through times where there’s a temporary large demand. Pipelines are being built or whatever is going on, so they need kind of a simple house for it. So it really varies by the economic base of what’s happening in an area. But the reality is, you could do a tiny home in an area where there’s a factory where someone lives there during the week and goes home on weekends or people just want a little lake house. They don’t want the big house but they want little ones. Or if people have lands, say someone’s family has 10 acres somewhere and they want to live by their parents or bring their parents back to them, they could stick a home on the land. So there are a lot of reasons for it. It’s not just economic. It’s family support. It’s temporary housing, whatever it may be. And a lot of people are using it for the short-term rentals as well.
Interviewer: So that would be – that would fall under like if you were to add an additional structure to your home. Like what’s the difference between an ADU, a guesthouse, or what people are calling a granny flat?
Steve Landmark: In a sense, they are kind of the same word, ADU, guesthouse, and granny flat. It’s kind of – ADU is additional dwelling unit and so you could call that a granny flat if your grandma was going to live there, a guesthouse if it’s just for a guest that’s coming through. So it’s kind of different words for the same thing but that would be an additional unit. So in certain parts of the country, it’s normal to have a guesthouse. It’s normal to have a space or a lot of people are doing it for a short-term rentals and a lot of communities are getting into it because they are just so expensive that before, they would not allow an additional dwelling unit on a lot but then they realized that hey, they have to take care of affordable housing. So a lot of areas are now saying, “Hey, we will give you the ability to put a home up to a certain size on your lot,” so that they can offer affordable housing because what’s happening in some of these communities, people have to make $200,000 – $300,000 to live there while meanwhile the support of the community really allows the communities to survive or a lot of lower-paying jobs. So those people can’t commute 2 and 3 hours so it’s good to have a blend of people in the community.
Interviewer: Right. Now, what about zoning restrictions? I mean how do I go about adding another living unit on to my land as opposed to say, small shop or something?
Steve Landmark: Well, something like that, you’ve got to talk to the building department. You’ve got to go through and find out if there are restrictions to build a second unit, if there are size restrictions, location restrictions, does the land have to be a certain size, does it have to have its own water and sewer connections? So the place to start is the Zoning and Building Department to go see what is available so that everything can – you can make sure you are putting something together because sometimes there are restrictions on lot size, lot location, what is currently on the land, geotechnical situation, septic systems, things like that. So Zoning Department is the first place to start.
Interviewer: And that would be where I would go to decide or to figure out what the size restrictions might be of the building or the structure I want to put up on my land.
Steve Landmark: Right. And in general, in some areas, they will go through and some areas will say, “Hey, it’s a certain size. It’s 1200 square feet maximum or 900,” whatever it is. But others will get into percentages of the existing home. And what a lot of these places will also do is restrict that you must have a main home first. You can’t do the ADU first.
Steve Landmark: So if you are going to build two homes, the main home and then the ADU later, they generally would not let you do the ADU and then the house.
Steve Landmark: So there are little things. But we at Landmark, we can help people kind of navigate the waters and understand what’s going on.
Interviewer: Well, let’s say you are building a granny flat or a guesthouse, what about bathrooms and kitchens? Can these things have kitchens?
Steve Landmark: Well, that’s the interesting part. Some areas restrict it because the zoning will be for one family and that’s why you have to talk to your Zoning Department. So sometimes they will go through and they will allow zoning where only one family can live. So they don’t want this ADU or granny unit to have a separate kitchen. A kitchen is generally defined by does it have a stove or doesn’t it? So what people find is a lot of these granny flats have very big wet bars. You can still – you can put a little refrigerator in there and they are called offices or …
Interviewer: A good microwave.
Steve Landmark: … or studios and things like that. So you have really got to check it out because sometimes these homes are literally with a lot of people telecommuting with the internet and everything going on, the secondary buildings are literally second offices or studios or whatever it might be. So in some cases, they are just – some people want to work in a separate area than their actual home. Sometimes it’s IRS reasons, other times it’s just the way they work. So that’s the key in understanding the zoning is what is the “intent?” So if the intent is to go out there and have a secondary office above a garage or something like that, you can generally work through that. And there are limitations or different considerations on it that’s attached or unattached to the home.
Interviewer: Right. And back in the day, you would see those old black and white TV shows where people would get kicked out of their rooms because they were using a hot plate.
Steve Landmark: Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean there’s certain reasonableness to it I guess is what they are after.
Interviewer: I wonder how many homes were burned to the ground because of hot plates being left on. So what about design limitations to a smaller home? What have you run into regarding that?
Steve Landmark: Well, the nature of smaller homes is there’s less space. So an interesting comment and it’s very justified, someone says, “Well, can’t you just take my 500-square-foot home and push a magic button and shrink it to 300 square feet?” And the theory of that is right, but the thing is whether you have a mini home or regular home. There are certain sizes of space that you need around toilets and hallways and windows for ventilation and also for egress. So you’ve got to consider all those details. And that’s the biggest point is you still have to follow the codes. Just because you only have 200 square feet and there’s no space for some safety consideration doesn’t mean they are going to let you build it. They still want to make sure that it’s safe. And I think people still have to realize that that the cost element is there. It’s kind of like a gallon of milk, a gallon of say $3, a half gallon is $2.50. So in building the smaller home, you’re going to end up with a non-proportionate cost. But the dollars will be less but the cost like per square foot will go up.
But on design elements, it’s just – you’ve got limited space. If someone thinks they’re going to put a master suite, a bathroom, walk-in shower, kitchen and dining room at 300 square feet, they would really have to work on the design to make sure that each square foot has multiple, multiple uses.
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Steve Landmark: So you can get a little creative. And then what I always tell people on the projects is, “Are you doing this just because it’s a cool thing or are you doing this thinking about the reality of the space you’re going to have?” If you want to stretch out while you’re watching TV, if you want to have a friend over for your – just the actual space. But the actual design, you can make it look like a gothic home you can make it look like a simple house, you can make it look modern, contemporary, whatever it would be. The actual design capabilities are fully there.
Interviewer: Now, what about attaching an additional living space to an existing home like by a breezeway let’s say? Is that considered a separate home or …?
Steve Landmark: It really depends by the building department and it kind of depends on the selective enforcement and how they choose to interpret it. Some will say, “Hey, if you take a separate build – a main home, say you have a 2000-square-foot main home and a 400-sqaure-foot ADU, they are going to say that’s two different buildings. But some building departments, if you attached by a breezeway, consider it to be the main home.
Interviewer: Got it.
Steve Landmark: So sometimes building departments will allow that. Sometimes they would not. But it’s something that you really want to check out because sometimes what people may not realize is if the original home was 3 bedrooms and designed for the septic, if it has one, or it’s designed for 3 bedrooms and suddenly you go add this ADU which has another bedroom and you add another one or two people to it, you’ve got to realize that there are other little catches there to make sure that you don’t create a problem down the road.
Steve Landmark: And that’s where we can help people. So some places, they will consider it an addition if you connect it by a breezeway. So sometimes we run in a situation where someone says a breezeway is just like a covered walkway. Other times it becomes a 3-season room where there are walls on both sides so it is. You have the main home, a little artist studio, and then you got an additional wing. So there are a lot of different ways to work through this. And it’s basically a zoning issue.
Interviewer: I would imagine that these structures, additional structures on the property could provide – can crunch the numbers, provide affordable housing to a community overall.
Steve Landmark: Well, that’s the key element. And I think why the tiny home, the ADU, granny units are becoming more important is it’s just expensive. It’s expensive to live places and get a lot of these details. So it’s not just the expenses. It’s also the availability of land. Certain parts of California, they have opened the door for ADUs where a couple of years ago, they were kind of pushing it away. But in order to conform with national guidelines on having a certain amount of affordable housing, suddenly they opened it up. But the idea being, Steve, if you’re out there and say you have 5 acres in Iowa or something and you wanted to build a home, you’re someone that is rebuilding their life or wants to downsize and simplify, do you really need 5000 square feet?
Steve Landmark: Why not go with 700, 800, 900 and have something simple and travel or work in your yard or whatever it would be? So yes, the affordable housing because it’s smaller is there but it’s also allowing people to have these ADUs in more dense populations where the land is very expensive or someone at a more moderate pay level wouldn’t be able to live.
Interviewer: I’ve got friends, actual people I know who are actually kind of well-off and had pretty big houses and then the kids move away and then all of a sudden they find themselves in these huge houses. And a lot of people that I know are just downsizing overall and I think that’s kind of a cool thing.
Steve Landmark: Right. And that’s where it is. So sometimes the idea of tiny home originally started at 200 square feet, 300, basically something I would fit on a trailer that you could pull behind a car or an SUV. It has kind of evolved in this 400, 500, 600, 700, 800 square feet because a couple of people could live in that. If you have a properly designed home, you can still have 2 bedrooms or a nice living room.
Steve Landmark: In that place. And you could do it and not have it. So it’s not just the freeing up of the money, it’s the freeing up of your time. Your friend that you are talking about, if that person had a big house, there’s heating, there’s cleaning, there’s the yard maintenance or stuff like that, maybe they don’t want to spend their time doing that anymore. They want to spend their time travelling but they still want to have a home base. And that’s why people are doing it. So I brought up where it kind of started with the economic crunch but it’s actually something where it has kind of hit a reset button for people saying, “Why do I need this?”
Interviewer: Sure. Yeah. And this all comes back to what we always talk about and that’s how helpful Landmark Home and Land Company is when it comes to designing. Because talking to you, I might have a whole idea about what I might be able to squeeze into a smaller structure and you might come to me and tell me, “You know what? I think you can do better. I think you can get – if you design it right, you maybe even get maybe an extra bedroom or something like that.”
Steve Landmark: Well, a properly designed home that’s smaller square footage is actually more livable than bigger home that isn’t designed right.
Steve Landmark: So there’s kind of one of these things. Bigger isn’t always better. So that’s where we can work with it. So it’s an enjoyment of life situation as well. So it’s something – oh let me bring something else up.
Steve Landmark: A lot of people are doing these homes off the grid. They are putting solar panels, different types of situations so that they could sustain and they are getting some extremely unique building sites. I mean just absolutely beautiful building sites. So some of the idea behind that is, hey, if y are in a challenging or very pretty or unique area, you don’t want to just go out and put some big block out there in the middle of a beautiful view. You want to have something little that kind of blends in.
Steve Landmark: So you could let nature take into it. So the idea of building off the grid is also very important as it’s less electric, it’s less the heat, less the cool, and it’s a very environmental-friendly type of situation.
Interviewer: Yeah. The technology today, it’s like more and more people are – it used to be if you are off the grid, you are considered an antisocial hillbilly or something. And now, it’s like getting to be pretty common.
Steve Landmark: Hey, I got to tell you. I’ve got a lot of people, they’re not maybe a hundred percent off the grid. They are leaving the big populations and going to a lower cost, higher quality life communities because now they can telecommute or there are all the video conferencing and everything going on. So we have a few people that work for huge corporations that are leaving the huge metropolitan areas and going to places with a slower pace. It’s a health and attitude and relaxation, a clear mind being able to think. It’s pretty interesting what’s going on.
Interviewer: Well, we are going to wrap it up for this episode. See, you’ve been great as always, answering our questions and explaining things in great details. So that’s going to do it for the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. But before we go, Steve, tell our listeners how they can learn more about Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Landmark: The best thing to do is check our website out at LHLC.com. It’s like the initials of Landmark Home Land Company. It’s actually Landmark Home and Land Company but LHLC.com. That’s the best place. You could check out our Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. You could also give a call at 800-830-9788. I’ll say that again. I said it a little fast. It’s 800-830-9788. And Mike will answer the phone. By the way, we do answer the phone. If for some reason you get voicemail, we will call back right away. We are very proactive in taking care of people. And you can also email Mike at Mike@LHLC.com or email me, Steve at Landmark@LHLC.com. And like I say, we are on top of it. We are going to communicate with you, help you through your process, get a good vision as to how we can help you achieve your housing goal and move forward.
Interviewer: Excellent. There you go. So for Steve Tuma and myself, thanks for listening to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Well, thank you.