Tiny houses are booming in Australia. Here’s what you should consider before building one.

Tiny Houses have become increasingly popular. Image Getty
  • Tiny houses have become more popular in Australia during the pandemic.
  • Kim Connolly, President of the Australian Tiny Homes Association, told Business Insider Australia it’s because of their affordability and ability to generate an extra income stream.
  • Connolly also provided tips on what you should consider before building a tiny home.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Tiny houses have grown in popularity across Australia.

According to the Australian Tiny Homes Association (ATHA), tiny houses are “moveable dwellings” of up to 50 square metres that can be used for residential purposes. And they can be broadly grouped into two categories – either on wheels or on skids.

ATHA President Kim Connolly told Business Insider Australia tiny homes have become increasingly popular during the pandemic.

“For the two biggest builders in Australia of tiny houses that I know of, their output has doubled since COVID,” she said.

The two major reasons for this boom, Connolly said, was due to the need for affordable housing and the search for another income stream.

However, one of the biggest issues with tiny houses in Australia is that councils have different rules and regulations about them, which is why ATHA wants to see tiny houses become legalised.

“The difficulty for councils is that they keep saying to me ‘this is a state legislation issue’,” Connolly said. “So we need the states to legislate for tiny houses.”

These different regulations are also why ATHA developed a Tiny House Construction Code so that there is a national standard when building tiny houses.

“We’ve got a building code that we’ve been working on that is being trialled now with different builders to get some feedback from the tiny house sector,” Connolly said. “We would like to make sure that we have good building standards for tiny houses so that we make sure that they continue to be of a certain standard.”

Another regulatory issue that comes with tiny houses is how long you can stay in one. In Australia, a tiny house is considered a caravan, so the same rules that apply for caravans apply to them as well.

“They [tiny houses] can’t be more than 4.3 metres high, 2.5 metres wide and the weight depends on the trailer,” Connolly said.

There are also rules about how long you can stay in one.

“You can’t actually live permanently in a caravan,” Connolly said. “In New South Wales, it’s 60 days in a year. You can rent it out for temporary accommodation, for example for Airbnb, but you’d only be allowed to do that up to 60 days.”

And not to mention other regulations like around who can stay in one.

“Certain councils will say that a person can live full time in a caravan so long as they’re a member of the household,” Connolly said. “Now, whether a member of the household is actually a member of the family is up for question because a member of the household could be someone who shares a meal with them every now and again [or] it can be someone who shares some utilities like the washing machine and the dryer.”

Having a uniform system for tiny houses could make it easier for people to build them.

“We have members all over the country who are trying to get their tiny houses legalised and there have been a couple of cases where they’ve got development applications allowed for tiny houses,” Connolly said. “If we can have that happening all over the country then we can house people.”

The benefits of a tiny home

There a number of benefits that come with tiny homes. The first advantage Connolly mentions is that they are ideal for “transitional stages” of life.

“For example, [if] you’ve got a teenager that now can’t get a job and you want to help them to move out,” she said. “A tiny house, in your own backyard means that they have autonomy yet they’re out of your house.”

A tiny house. Image: Kim Connolly

And on the other end of the employment cycle, tiny homes could work for older relatives like your parents.

“You could have your parents in the tiny house on your block and you’re not having to put them into aged care facilities, which at the moment are a risky situation,” Connolly added.

Tiny houses could be an option if you’re looking to downsize but you don’t want to move out of your neighbourhood. You could stay in the tiny house and rent out your bigger house to a family. Which leads on to the next idea – they can serve as an extra income stream at a cheaper cost to a granny flat.

Connolly explained that putting a granny flat in your backyard could cost between $140,000 and $240,000. But if you rented out your backyard to a tiny house someone already has, it could be cheaper. For example, if tiny house is completely off-grid and has council approval, then it’s no cost to you. But if it needs to be hooked up to utilities, that could still add up to less than a granny flat.

Connolly gave an example of a time when she put infrastructure in a tiny house on a three-acre block that was 100 metres away from the services such as electricity and water. She said it cost $5000 to get those services connected.

“You compare that investment to the investment of building a granny flat and it’s a lot more economical,” she said.

There’s also the sustainability element of tiny homes because they can be completely off grid. A lot of them use composting toilets and because they are smaller, they use less heat. Plus, if they have a water tank attached, residents are more likely to use less water. “You’re using less water especially if you’re on tanks that are attached to the tiny house, so you’re a lot more water conscious,” Connolly said.

On the construction side, tiny houses use fewer building materials. “The amount of building material that goes into land waste is just shocking,” Connolly added. “You could build 20 tiny houses over a year out of what builders throw out.”

And they’re mobile, so if your life conditions change or there’s a flood or fire danger, you can move them.

Helping address the homelessness issue

Connolly explained that the biggest demographic that are using tiny houses are older single women.

“Older single women are desperate for tiny houses,” she said, adding that they don’t want to end up living in their cars.

“If we can get them with their small superannuation, they could actually have something that they could own,” Connolly said.

Connolly believes if the government allows the tiny house sector to move forward, it would help address a big part of the homelessness problem.

“It would take those people off the Community Housing lists, especially older single women who are using up their superannuation to pay for expensive rents,” she said. It could help those who, once their super has run out, can end up on those community housing waiting lists for many years.

Inside a tiny house. Image: Kim Connolly

What to consider before getting a tiny house

If you’re thinking of getting a tiny house there are a few things you should think about first.

“Be a little bit careful with using builders that have never built a tiny house because although it’s small, there are real challenges in the size and the weight,” Connolly said.

“You really have to be careful about the weight if you plan on having it on the road. You need to be careful about the weight distribution because it can make that tiny house fishtail really easily on the road if the weight is improperly distributed.”

And while they are small and considered a more affordable housing option by ATHA, Connolly said tiny houses are not inexpensive as you may still need to hire a plumber and electrician when building one.

“Don’t expect like the TV shows that you’re going to come out with a really good tiny house,” Connolly advised.

“Even a shell is around 50,000 even a shell without lots of things in it. So for a proper tiny house that you could walk in and live in, I’d say you’d be looking at between $80,000 to $120,000.”

But if you’re still keen to have one, Connolly said you could reach out to ATHA for advice on best practices.

“We want to get these legalised, legitimised and safe at ATHA,” she said. “That’s what we’re working so hard towards – to get them safe so that we can continue to have fantastic tiny houses that are well built.

“They’re just like a home, with everything that a home has but on wheels.”

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