What is the tiny house movement?

Tiny toy house

Globally the tiny house movement is massive, with 201 000 online searches per month in the United States alone. In South Africa, it is less than 1% of that but the appeal is just as big. More people are choosing to forgo abundance for a simpler life. The tiny house movement is a rebellion against the ridiculous cost of living in modern times. It grew out of a need to substantially reduce costs and put yourself in a position of financial independence. It is the opposite of everything marketing wants us to be.

What are tiny houses?

Tiny houses are usually less than 37 m² and are built on a trailer, so it can be moved. It seems comically small I know. However, they have all the basics like a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping space, dining area and most of the time a living room as well. Tiny houses are popular because you can build it yourself and most people do. You can still buy them from companies like tumbleweed houses if you prefer a ready-made solution.

Space is obviously a massive concern if the house is kept to trailer size. The trailers used for building these tiny houses are usually 2.4 m wide and 5 to 6 m long. This leaves a home size of about 12 to 15 m² if you plan to be mobile. For this reason, dual purpose furniture is critical. Dining areas double as working spaces, couches as beds and shelves as stairs. Vertical space utilisation also maximises the living area, so most beds are above the bathroom or kitchen.

Tiny house on grass

Why do people join the tiny house movement?

The biggest reason people join the movement is that it saves on living costs. Not only are the houses cheaper, but the maintenance is also a fraction of the cost. The houses are usually off the grid, using solar panels to power the appliances. With Eskom heading the way it is, we might all need to be off the grid in the future. Tiny houses don’t stop at solar panels. People embracing the lifestyle incorporate water harvesting technologies and even add biogas plants to produce methane, which is used for cooking and heating.

Tiny houses also bring a sense of adventure. You are completely mobile and can function off the grid. As a result, there is no reason to stay in one location for too long. This gives you the freedom to travel to your heart’s desire. The houses are not classified as a permanent structure and you should be able to circumvent building regulations throughout most of the world.

The lifestyle especially appeals to retirees. It saves cost and since you do not work anymore, you can live wherever you want. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that 38% of tiny houses are owned by people over 50.

The drawbacks

If you put two or more people in a small room for an extended time, there are bound to be friction. It takes specific personalities to make this work. If you are considering this, it should be with someone that you are comfortable with. Alternatively, you can set out on this journey alone.

Then you also need to consider where your home will be parked or built. The first option is buying some land. This will limit your mobility, but if you plan to remain there long-term, it makes sense. It will need to be a full title stand since sectional title properties will almost certainly have a minimum building size. This is discouraging for the tiny house movement.

The other option is to rent land. Preferably not only a piece of land as you might want to plant something. You will also want to spend time outside if you feel cramped and want to be in nature. Yes, there are a few drawbacks but the significantly reduced cost alone makes it worth the trouble.

Tiny houses in South Africa

In South Africa, the tiny house movement is only starting out. Interest has been slowly increasing and a few people have started building their own houses. A good example of a tiny house can be found at this write-up by David Ebert. The total cost for his project was R264 000, although I think he could have done it for about R30 000 less if he found a cheaper or second-hand trailer.

The biggest concern in South Africa at this stage, however, is safety. The house will need to be sturdy. For this reason, a lot of people are opting for container houses. These are 2.4 m by 6 or 12 m, giving an area of 14.4 m² or 28.8 m².

Container house on water

This has a few advantages, like the fact that it is sturdy and can be properly locked. It is cheap to buy and can be loaded onto a flatbed truck and moved without having to pack anything. In South Africa, you can use a company like Container Structures for this. They do not have online prices, but I read that a 2 bedroom container home will run you about R200 000.

If on the other hand, you prefer luxury, want a pre-fab option and like the idea of living off the grid, you can look at HouseZERO. They offer two-bedroom, 52 m² houses that are priced at R520 000. These are off the grid, incorporate water harvesting and hydroponic systems. They even plan on using smart home technology in the near future.

Will we be going the tiny house route? Not soon, since we want kids and enjoy where we are living now. I do get the appeal of tiny houses though and admire people who have the drive to make it happen. Ultimately, I think it is a good choice if you do not want kids, live alone or are retired. It can really be done cheaply and with a few adjustments, it can be a rewarding choice.

Be safe out there,


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    1. Post
      Hendrik Brand

      Thank you for the question Alden, the short answer is yes. For non-standard homes like these, you will additionally need an agrément certificate that confirms fitness-for-purpose. This is obtained through the Board of Agrément South Africa. It will require accurate descriptions of materials, isolation, reinforcement, water and electrical connections, etc.

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