Is The Tiny House Truly A Sustainable Commodity?


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Post from Andrew Odom. As the tiny house movement gains momentum in mainstream America the question of their true sustainability often comes into question. Are tiny houses – while having small footprints and perhaps smaller amounts of living space – the new poster home for truly sustainable living? At first glance tiny houses appear to be right in line with sustainable living practices. Unfortunately, not all things are as they seem.

Tiny houses – like any other domicile – can be elegant, gaudy, and include a number of HGTV buzzwords in between. Oftentimes tiny houses cost more per square foot than traditional stick and brick homes and in order to combat the soaring budgets a number of builder-owners will include in them toxic materials, non-renewable products, and energy draining appliances. And lest I even mention that because the homes are built on a trailer they require a vehicle to tow; a gasoline fueled vehicle, most often.

I could continue to extoll the glaring signs of waste in tiny homes but I digress. In fact, it isn’t hard at all to point out flaws in a product while conveniently overlooking the more positive notes. And as a tiny home enthusiast (as well as owner-builder) I want to talk instead about the oft-unnoticed true role of the tiny house in the sustainable movement. Let us first define sustainable and the sustainable movement, in general, though.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure.

For human beings, sustainability is the potential for the long-term maintenance of well being which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions. So how then does a tiny house fit into a system that relies on the capacity to endure? Is it easy to sell to another person? Can you tote it to the recycling plant and run it through the conveyor? If the family outgrows it does it have to make way for a larger domicile? In order for a tiny house to fit into said system, I don’t think it can simply sit in the backyard of an already established suburban backyard. For one it is taxing on the utilities of the stick and brick. Neither can it sit lakeside at a community campground unless of course that campground allows permanent guests and also a way to be more sustainable in lifestyle; gardening, composting, solar energy, etc.

When running and living in middle Georgia I began to understand the true idea and far-reaching nature of sustainable living. While there I studied up on minimal carbon footprints, recycling, upcycling, energy consumption and preservation, gardening, farming, etc. I also discovered how to live without the burden of corporate America as well as the destructive, rat-race mentality, that plagues so many of us. The answer is not escaping reality or completely dropping out of society. Rather it is a very academic approach to understanding the productive possibilities of both your left brain and right brain. Tiny house living and its potential for sustainability rely on our productive attitudes in our society, our family provision, our stewardship of the land, and our ethical building practices. Speaking of ethical building practices, it is important too to understand sustainability in the arena of consumer debt and overall recession.

Tiny house enthusiasts also seem to have a desire to escape consumer debt while also denying the normalcy of the 30-year mortgage. Not relying on the government to provide for us or the electric company to keep our reading lights on, etc. we can achieve a level of self-sufficiency and sustainability that must be present in sustainability.

Where Does Tiny r(E)volution Fit In?

Living off the land, growing or raising your own food, preserving the natural world around us, demanding products that are not made at the expense of human lives, living naturally, quietly, and at a slower pace; being close to nature, and having a “less is more mentality ” that is where the r(E)volution begins and ends. Self-sufficient living is not completely distancing yourself from all traces of human contact. Relationship is so very important. We are meant to connect with others. Humans are touchy/feely by nature. Associating with people is not the same as being needlessly dependent on them.

Being self-sufficient also involves systematically structuring your life as to not needlessly depend on others to meet your needs, especially in ways that harm or subtract from your joy and peace. It’s simply providing for yourself what you need to sustain your lifestyle.

The r(E)volution is about more than just a little house on wheels. It is about a way of life, a state of mind. Are they synonymous? Perhaps. Can they be separated? Perhaps. Should they be? Probably not. What do you think though? I would love to hear from you on self-sufficient, sustainable, small living.

Bigger does not always mean better. Progress does not always mean forgetting our roots in order to forge a new future. Blogger, photojournalist, and hobby farmer Andrew Odom has spent much of the last few years rediscovering the lost art of living, growing, and being truly happy. Visit him online at and Facebook.

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  1. I struggle with the term self-sufficient, really what people need is something based on low impact, high community involvement living. You need to share the processes to be able to live a ‘normal’ life and not just revert back to subsistence farming. Someone needs to coin a new term!

  2. Sustainability must also include the consideration of the natural environment and the impact to it, including the plants and wildlife living in your community. I once had someone tell me they had a pond for wildlife, but as they were trying to see how small they could get their water bill, they let it go dry during the dry season, when the birds and critters most needed it, instead of using some of their water savings to keep it full during those dry times.

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