We all want a tiny house and a cabin in the woods

In every culture, you find a counter culture. As a reaction to living in a debt-reliant, eco-unfriendly, consumer society, a few people across the US decided to re-evaluate the way they lived. So started the tiny house movement.

Here, UK tiny house experts Jonathan Avery and Mark Griffiths talk about the possibilities and the challenges for downsizing.

inspirational tiny houses

"The need for a sustainable, small living option for people who cannot afford £100k plus for a house has to be a compelling argument in this era of housing shortages, not to mention the planet’s need for us all to want and need less of its resources."
Jonathan Avery
Designer of the Nesthouse

Tiny homes for a small island

There’s an upsurge in interest in tiny homes, but it’s actually nothing new – although the first mini home dwellers did so out of necessity rather than choice. 

Performing the ultimate exercise in de-cluttering, those first tiny householders simplified their lives so that everything they needed could fit into a space the size of an average bedroom.

Tiny house pioneers of the 21st century

These days, tiny houses range in size from around 100 to 500 square feet, and their builders draw inspiration from early American timber-framed buildings.

Using traditional construction methods and details, these simple, yet solid, little homes are an echo of original dwellings built by the country’s early pioneers. These settlers put up cabins, often home to more than one family, across the vast American wilderness.

And it’s this spirit of independence along with a desire to reconnect with the environment that has drawn so many to the idea of tiny house living.

American pioneers build cabin

Tiny homes in an age of climate crisis

More and more tiny houses are aiming for carbon-neutral self-sufficiency. Have a look at the amazing (but VERY expensive) Wohnwagon from Austria, for example.

 

The online movement, led by sites such as the smallhousesociety.net and the Reforesting Scotland Thousand Huts campaign, are there to inform, educate and support anybody looking to build a tiny house. There are even conventions in several states across the US so that people can come together to share their tiny house stories.

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Low-impact living

“I like the idea of a family having an opportunity to experience low-impact, off-grid living, as well as having a great time,” says Mark Griffiths. “Whether you’re under canvas, touring in a campervan or spending a weekend in a tiny house, it’s all an eye-opener about how little stuff we actually need to get by and enjoy ourselves.”

The media has certainly picked up on the growing fascination for living in small spaces. It’s hard to turn on the TV without seeing somebody converting an ice-cream van or a horsebox into a family holiday home.

“Is it that as our lives today feel more and more complicated that the idea of escaping to a small space and living simply, with no distractions and with nature around you, holds such an appeal?” asks Mark.

true tiny house

Building techniques and the dreaded planning permission

The best tiny houses follow the principles set down by those US pioneers of microhomes, using similar techniques and materials to make them tough and long-lasting. Moisture barriers inside and out, and lots of insulation, should mean they’re warm and snug whatever the weather outside.

The photos of people’s imaginative tiny houses are instantly tempting, but things are rather different in the UK than they are in the Appalachian mountains or the Great Plains of North Dakota. 

The planning advantages of a moveable home are that it  may be classified as a caravan and within permitted development parameters, although these factors depend ultimately on the land use of the site and the presence of any existing buildings.

One thing is certain: if this is to be your primary residence in the UK, you will need planning permission and to adhere to building regulations.

Houses on wheels

In the UK, it’s vital to check with local planning officers about the location and the size of your tiny house to ensure they comply with permitted development or will be granted planning consent. Houses that can be moved – on wheels, a chassis or even galvanised skis – are often easier to manoeuvre around planning requirements, but perhaps not a Cornish lane.

 Jonathan Avery of Nesthouse adds: “I believe there is considerable cause for optimism in Scotland at least. The Thousand Huts Campaign has already made huge progress with the Scottish Government. It must be pointed however, that a hut is for leisure use only, but they have succeeded in squeezing it into the Planning Directive and are now working on building standards. 

Whilst ‘leisure use only’ is is not what most of us are aiming for in terms of full-time living, I personally feel that this is a foot in the door in terms of the next stage of getting tiny houses accepted when they could address some fundamental issues.”

Nesthouse

Nesthouse 2

Jonathan Avery’s Nesthouse is one of many designs now available for people who want to live sustainably on their land or simplify by downsizing.

 

But it’s not just about posh cabins and garden studios, Jonathan believes they can be affordable starter homes. They’re ‘light’ on the land and don’t require tons of concrete for a foundation so they can be moved without leaving a trace.

“This is true building sustainability and is ideal as part of an holistic approach to living on a smallholding or small farm with varying degrees of self sufficiency or, of course, just taking a conscious decision to live more simply and closer to nature whilst working from home. Depending on your circumstance, it may mean you could live debt-free or without a mortgage.

“I do believe that there is a wider purpose here to provide affordable small housing units in certain circumstances; whether this be an affordable young person’s house on a Scottish island beset by the second home phenomenon or in a communal housing cooperative sense as a tiny house community,” he says.

Now for some inspiration! Have a look at these desirable dinky dwellings.


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10 Comments

  1. Thanks, helpful article.

    It’s worth pointing out that a planning permission is sought and granted (or not) with respect to the land – not the applicant, or the landowner.

    So as I understand it, anyone can seek PP in respect of any site and any project, at any time. The risk of buying land and then being turned down can be partially mitigated in this way.

    Can anyone point to info on the Building Regs side of things? Ie how they apply to a TH. Presumably wiring, stoves etc all need the usual certificates?

    Thanks for the info guys. 🙂

  2. David Atkinson

    almost impossible to predict whether you will find suitable land to rent or buy because you don’t know if you will get planning permission so seems a pointless exercise to buy or sign a rental contract for land that you may not be able to site a Tiny House on! Any help or advice would be gratefully received as there is nothing I can find on any websites to help!

    ED: It is a dilemma, David. The reason you can’t find much advice about this is that, I’m afraid, the news isn’t good! For many reasons – lack of space, inequality of access and so on – the UK’s planning laws are designed (sometimes faultily) to protect certain areas of land from inappropriate building and use. Often, that’s a good thing – you probably wouldn’t want to build your private tiny house knowing that anyone could build anything they liked right next door.

    So…many tiny houses (cabins, huts etc) are permissible if they’re on your land and your land isn’t in a national park, and providing they’re temporary and within size restrictions. Getting land is difficult because it tends to be either farmland (and so not buildable on, except for agricultural use) or residential, in which case it’s expensive.

    If you want to build a tiny house to live in, then your only option is to buy something designated as a residential building plot. If you’re dreaming (like so many people do) of a simple bolt-hole on a small patch of woodland you own, for use at weekends and so on, then it’s certainly not an easy find and you will have to take the risk that your project won’t be allowed.

    There are sad stories of people who have had simple, rural cabins for years and years, only to be told to leave when a landowner changes or a local council gets a complaint. I don’t know where you are in the country, but have a look at Scotland’s Thousand Huts Campaign for lots of information about just these issues. I’m sorry I couldn’t solve your problem. It’s one we all have.

  3. I would move into a Tiny House tomorrow it is my dream.However I have no land to put one on.Any advice on this?

  4. Laura Fowler

    Hey! Fantastic information, there seems to be many places to purchase a tiny house but I’m struggling to find information on planning permission or whether there are any legal tiny house neighborhoods in the UK?

  5. Hello

    How do people live the tiny house dream? We would sell our house in a heartbeat but don’t know where we would then be able to locate a tiny home to live in year round. Has anyone done it? Any advice?

    Thank you

  6. Hi
    Also looking for garden build shed / small dewlling, ideally Spring 18. Love the sound of Tiny Houses Wales, may come and pay you a visit (will call first). Is there anyone else out there offering came kind of architect/design services, can you leave website to view.
    Many Thanks

  7. Hi Svetozar, we’re up in Scotland and build cool wee rustic houses, cabins and huts.
    Give us a shout if you’re up this way and interested.

  8. We are about to start manufacturing highly insulated pods/tiny houses (i.e. Without wheels, lifted into place). Based in Wales. Can be tailored to suit requirements. Email [email protected]

  9. I’m an architect and craftsman … Moving into funky cabin building .
    I may be interested

  10. Svetozar Ivanov

    Hello!

    Can someone help/guide me finding a tiny house website or craftsman or a company which specialises in making tiny houses in the UK. I am ready to order!

Comments are closed