A growing number of Americans are experimenting with ultra-small homes for their affordability, flexibility and environmental benefits. Proponents also say they offer a simpler, less consumption-oriented lifestyle.
So-called 'tiny homes' cost between ten and fifty-thousand dollars. That's a fraction of the price of the average American house.
"I wanted to make sure I had a couch or a love seat, rather than chairs … so I made sure there was enough space for that," said Christopher Smith who built his own tiny home outside Hartsel, a Park County community. Smith wanted an affordable, energy-efficient home where he could spend his weekends. His tiny home is just 118 square feet. There's a tiny kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and a tiny office. In all, Smith and his girlfriend, Merete Mueller, spent $25,000 to construct and furnish the home.
"The stove is actually designed primarily for a sailboat," said Smith. "There's a lot of technology borrowed from the sailboat industry in tiny houses."
The Hartsel tiny home has sparked so much interest that Smith and Mueller have made a documentary about it, and they give seminars on tiny home building and living. Smith says the growing interest in tiny homes is part of a more widespread downsizing in U.S. culture, triggered by the downturn in the economy in recent years and rising fuel costs.
Colorado-based company Solargon makes mass-produced tiny houses. One of its designs is just 300 square feet and is designed for optimal use of solar energy.
"It's inspired by and informed by various Native American and indigenous design elements, hence the skylight in the center," said Rob Galloway, Solargon's consulting designer, "It's also passive solar, which means you maximize the winter sun and you minimize the summer sun."
A finished version of Solargon's tiny house sells for around $35,000, less than a quarter of the price of the average U.S. home.