Tiny houses a growing trend

Karen Maserjian Shan, For the Poughkeepsie Journal 12:57 p.m. EST November 24, 2014

Shay Builders Residential

(Photo: Courtesy photo)

Who says bigger is better?

Associate broker, Lisa Campbell with Houlihan Lawrence in Fishkill has had several offers on an 800-square-foot cottage in LaGrange.

“We are seeing an influx of people that are definitely mindful of their carbon footprint,” she said, especially homes offering energy savings, like smaller place.

Annette Lindbergh, president of Tiny Houses in Putnam Valley, Putnam County, custom designs and builds high-end homes that are very small and other small structures. Each of the houses is built on a foundation and typically maxes out at about 1,000 square feet, including a large living space plus several other rooms, possibly one-to-four bedrooms.

“When you scale down, what you can do is put your energy into more high-quality materials and higher efficiency,” said Lindbergh.

These days, 60 percent of new single-family homes built by 34 percent of home builders are built with conservation in mind, following interests in lower energy use, financial savings, environmental concerns and more, according to findings by the 2014 Green Multifamily & Single Family Homes: Growth in a Recovering Market report produced by McGraw Hill Construction in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders.

Yet the report also revealed that while smaller homes were named as valuable means to conserve materials and resources, that aspect dropped in importance from 66 percent in 2011 to 41 percent in 2013, perhaps from a renewed interest in larger homes due to the recovering economy.

Interest in smaller homes, said Lindbergh, picked up during the recession, when people wanted scale back. For some the sensibility stuck, with more young couples looking into building small properties. But doing so can be surprisingly involved and costly.

“It’s like you have to build your way up to this whole process,” Lindbergh said. “You have to be able to purchase the land, outright, no matter what size of the house.”

And then there are site development, zoning and other standard prep work. Lindbergh goes over construction plans with her clients, customizing them according to need. Most of the homes are 800 to 1,000 square feet in size and for small families. Costs run about $250 a square foot plus the land purchase and development.

Lindbergh said while the tiny house movement hasn’t taken off in this area — she’s constructed 15 of the homes in 16 years — those interested in small properties are consciously choosing ways to live more minimally.

“It’s really moving away from, yes, the houses being a showcase versus a way of life,” she said.

Ideally, Lindbergh said, a community of tiny houses with a larger, shared common house would be best, as it would offer residents the privacy of their own place with available space for group activities and causal interaction, like entertaining, cooking large meals and such. In this way, she said, there’d be less consumerism and materials usage but more of a sense of community.

“As we experience these bumps in the road in the economy, people are going to see it’s hard to do it one your own,” she said.

Elda Zulick broker owner of Grist Mill Real Estate in Saugerties, Ulster County, is of a like mind.

“The tiny homes are excellent,” she said. “I think it’s going to be something. I wouldn’t surprise me if it popped up for our second-home buyers. If the lot land prices stay reasonable, I can see a whole little colony of these things.”

Yet she hasn’t seen a market for the tiny properties in this area. Not yet, anyway. For now, she said, the homes without much square footage that are available, such as cottages and bungalows, vary widely in price, per the property’s condition, many of which are older and often seasonal in use.

Frances Chiu, an associate broker with Re/Max Realty Center in Poughkeepsie, said she hasn’t seen any real interest in small homes in area. In fact, the last few homes she sold exceeded 2,000 square feet.

But that doesn’t mean her clients aren’t interested in saving energy.

“They like to see that nice thick insulation in the attic so that way they’re not losing heat,” she said.

John Shay, owner of custom home building company, Shay Builders in Hopewell Junction, said while he’s taken down small homes to make way for large ones, these days smaller places have plenty of appeal, in particular, those in the 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot range.

“People realize the economy has gotten tough,” said Shay. “It’s not what it used to be. I really see people wanting to sell and downsize and build things as maintenance-free as they can get.”

Smaller homes, he said, require less energy than big ones do, a major plus for homeowners wanting to curtail energy consumption and household expenses. Often, he said, those interested in the properties are couples whose children have grown and moved on. Some people just want a simpler more streamlined lifestyle that focuses more on experiences than property.

“Why heat a 4,000 square-foot house when you don’t need it anymore?” he said.

Another bonus to smaller living is it allows people to invest in higher quality materials since less of them is required. For example, Shay said conventional fiberglass insulation is affordable but not nearly as efficient in insulating a home as costly spray foam is. Because a small home requires less insulation, the formerly out-of-reach spray foam product becomes within grasp. That’s a real bonus for those wanting to cut back on energy usage and costs. With that, smaller homes don’t need large mechanical systems and less site preparation is required, saving money and resources. Moreover, prefabricated components, like roofs, add to the homes’ energy efficiency and affordability.

“Smaller homes are more efficient, more affordable to heat and maintain,” said Shay. “They’re not as wasteful. You can pack a lot into a small space if it’s designed properly.”

Karen Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: mkshan@optonline.net