Forget tiny houses – researchers think the next big thing is tiny villages

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A tiny house can be cheaper. It can be better for the environment. It may even help foster community or stimulate physical activity, say researchers at Kansas State University. So wouldn’t it be even better if there were bunches of tiny houses clustered together into large tiny villages?

That’s the question two researchers at Kansas State, Brandon Day and Julia Irwin, will be studying this year.

“We think (living in a tiny village) does a few things for one’s health, including creating a better sense of community, satisfying people’s basic needs for relationships, offering affordable housing options and encouraging physical activity through community gardens and walking to urban establishments.”

But one of the biggest challenges, they say, are laws and perception. Many community laws were created to keep out small structures, like mobile homes, which some may see as lower class.

“The biggest challenge with tiny houses is trying to find a place to put them,” Irwin said. “Zoning laws dictate where you can and cannot put a house. Right now, the big question is what is a tiny house, because how you define a tiny house dictates where you can put it.”

Now the problem is that tiny houses are perceived as constrainment for the privileged few: they believe that large tiny house villages could also help address problems of low-income housing.

“Tiny houses have a different connotation to them; they are typically seen as a middle- or upper-middle-class housing structure,” Irwin said. “We know that’s not the case – they can be economical – but we can harness that image that they have to address a real problem: affordable housing.”

One of the main benefits the researchers are looking into is how what some are calling “orphan apartments” will affect the environment once they’ve been reunited with a new, flatter family of smaller apartment-like houses.

“Design elements and strategies such as solar panels or low-water-use fixtures are part of the bigger sustainability and environmental health picture, but when designing and building a tiny house — or any house — it is beneficial to thoughtfully select building materials without harmful chemicals to increase indoor air quality and health,” Day said. “In addition, there are many known health benefits for natural lighting and fresh air in living spaces, a common theme in many tiny house designs.”

In September the two researchers will be working full time on tiny house villages, thanks to a grant from the Department of Ecology: “We want to immerse ourselves in those places and learn about how things work there,” Irwin said.

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