Social Trends 1: Tiny Houses

Many years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with building my own house. I read many detailed books on house design and even some complex architectural design books. I’m glad I never became an architect. Calculating beam loads and tensions is hard.

So, the other day PerryA ran across a news article on tiny houses, the latest trend in personal housing. She passed it on to me and I was hooked. I had to follow this trail. These things are so damned cute. But they are designed to be efficient and functional and real people actually live in them. Take a look here.

This trend, and it appears to be one, is significant, especially if you couple it with the growing interconnectedness of the Internet, and the availability of small CAD/CAM hardware and software, and the developing infrastructure of delivery systems like UPS and FedEx.

I once worked in a community college, and the head of the CAD/CAM department gave me a tour of the facility. He showed me students working on design in one classroom, and other students taking the design files and putting them into Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) machines, where the designs were rendered into real objects by high speed cutters in housings, not much larger than a household refrigerator, from billets of aluminum, brass, steel, plastic, and even wood.

He told me that many of his graduates had started their own businesses (usually in idyllic rural settings), building small parts that were sent to assembly plants where they were combined with other small parts – made by other people like them – into large consumer-level machines, like printers, cars, even house parts.

Although a bit dated, The Cluetrain Manifesto gets it mostly right. The interconnectedness of the Net changes everything, from manufacturing, to delivery to lifestyles.

Another variable driving this is the aging of the boomers. They no longer have childern in the home and so don’t need large houses. They are easy to maintain and keep clean, and they are easy to get around in for those with age-related disabilities.

An advantage of small structures is that they are modular, so one structure could be the living room, another the kitchen, yet another the bathroom, and yet another (or more) could be small workshops or studios or offices.

I am sure there are many other implications connected to this one trend, and they may be obvious to you (but not to me). Sometimes asking obvious questions is a revolutionary act.

  • Will this lead to more “ruralification?”
  • What will happen to the transportation infrastructure?
  • What will happen to the communications infrastructure?
  • Will tiny houses lead to isolation and alienation, or will they lead to more conviviality and sociality?
  • How is this related to the larger social change characterized by decentralization?

I am interested in your take on this. Is this a fluke, or is it a real trend? What are the socioeconomic implications of a “distributed society?”

So, what are you thinking today? Do you know of other social trends?


One Response to “Social Trends 1: Tiny Houses”

  1. sofistic Says:

    There are so many spinoffs from this one trend that it is difficult to follow all the branches, but one thing that many of the manufacturers mention on their web sites is portability. Many of these small houses can be towed to a site by a large pickup.

    One site in the UK boasts that all the assembly panels are prewired and pre-plumbed and they have been approved by the national building standards so they don’t have to go through the lengthy and frustrating process of inspection after inspection as the construction of a stick-built house requires at each stage.

    It is my understanding that the Japanese have this factory-built concept down to a science, and can have a functioning house up and running in a few days. (I’ll have to look into this and see what their “state of the art” is)

    I have never understood why houses aren’t built in factories just like cars. Quality control would be much better than on-site stick-built houses, and the flexibility of modular construction could afford as much variety as any buyer could ever want.

    I know that current “manufactured home” companies do follow this philosophy, but they still live in a world that sees the house as a “moveable stick-built,” rather than a lego-like set of primary elements. As a result, you see these huge trucks towing half a house to a site, rather than smaller trucks carrying smaller modules to the site. Also, it will take some time for the conventional wisdom to get over the “trailer trash” mentality toward manufactured homes.

    Does anybody think that a car would be better if it were built under a shade tree rather than in a factory?
    – sofistic

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