Tiny-home trend comes to metro Detroit

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 27, 2017

 The model is 304 square feet and attached to a trailer.

The model is 304 square feet and attached to a trailer.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

METRO DETROIT — The tiny-home movement has already taken over home improvement channels and is slowly starting to spread across the country, as more people are drawn to the idea of downsizing.

Locally, Scott Baker is hoping the trend will grow some feet in the metro Detroit area. 

Baker recently started the company Cool Tiny Homes, based in Rochester, to offer tiny homes to people looking to bring a small cottage up north or to a hunting site.

“I like the idea of minimization to kind of get back to your roots,” he said. 

“You just don’t need all that stuff. You don’t need all that space. You don’t need 3,000 square feet,” he said. 

But could most people live in such a tiny space? Probably not, according to Baker. Yet, he said there is still a market for tiny homes — those who believe in collecting life experiences, rather than material things.

 “A lot of people wonder, can we really live in 300 square feet? And the answer is, sure, you probably could, but it’s not for everybody. It’s for a certain crowd,” he said. 

Millennials burdened with student debt and baby boomers with minimal retirement savings who are looking to downsize are two groups that are helping to fuel the movement, according to Baker.

A tiny-home lifestyle does come with a number of benefits, Baker said, including financial and emotional freedom, a greener lifestyle and, in the case of a Cool Tiny Home, the ability to bring your home with you to just about any location imaginable.

All of Baker’s tiny homes come on wheels, although he is willing to build a permanent tiny home directly on someone’s property, if they want. His business offers a number of different models, which range in size from 136 to 500 square feet and cost between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on the features.

The first Cool Tiny Home, the Mavis model, was recently on display at the Art and Apples Festival in Rochester, and he said it was a big hit with the crowds. 

“I couldn’t even get the door opened fast enough in the morning, and it was a constant stream until close every day. A lot of that interest was they’ve seen them on TV, but they wanted to see what it really looked like on the inside,” Baker explained.

The Mavis also was recently on display at Dillman & Upton, a home center and lumberyard in Rochester.

“I told Scott he could bring it down here any Saturday morning because it is such a draw,” said Brad Upton, of Dillman & Upton. “We put it by the street, and people were pulling in to check it out. People are intrigued. For most people, I think it is the first time they have seen one. They are really well-engineered, well-insulated, well-built and they used top-quality materials.”

At $68,500, the Mavis model is a 300-square-foot tiny home on wheels that includes two lofts for a king and a queen bed; a kitchen with a butcher block countertop, sink, gas cooktop and refrigerator; a living area with benches and storage; and a bathroom with a sink, shower, composting toilet, and a washer and dryer combo.

The Mavis also includes design features like shiplap interior siding and ceiling, an upcycled barn door and flooring, shaker-style cabinets, rustic interior lighting, tempered windows, and all-steel metal shingles, as well as a 30-amp electrical panel, a hot water heater, a complete graywater holding system, a freshwater holding tank and pump, and an omnidirectional heating and cooling system.

“It’s a good price range because you are getting a complete home and it’s turnkey — you are ready to rock ’n’ roll,” Baker said.

But, like anything new, there are some roadblocks that come along with tiny-home ownership — such as financing, zoning laws and building codes.

Those who can’t afford to buy a tiny home outright don’t realize that tiny homes are not considered homes when it comes to bank loans, making it hard for potential owners to find financing. 

And then there is the issue of finding a place to put it. The obstacles relate to which type of tiny home you have — a tiny house on wheels, legally considered a recreational vehicle, or a tiny house on a foundation, legally considered an accessory dwelling unit. 

A tiny house on wheels needs to be registered as an RV with your state. But the real struggle is finding a place to park it. Most states prohibit RVs as full-time residences in places other than RV parks. Owners can also run into restrictions on overnight parking on one’s own land for more than 30 days.

Even if you already own — or plan to buy — land, it may still be illegal to put a structure like a tiny home on it. Many cities and counties mandate that new single-family homes must be at least 1,000 square feet in size, rendering tiny homes too small for a property.

In Rochester, City Manager Blaine Wing said the current minimum single dwelling, per city code, is 900 square feet with a 400-square-foot basement, or a minimum of 1,200 square feet for a single dwelling without a basement. And, he said, all single-family dwellings have to be attached to the ground, and not on trailers.

“At this time, it is not possible to build a tiny house in Rochester without going to (the) Zoning Board of Appeals,” Wing said. 

In the future, Baker hopes to create a tiny-home subdivision, of sorts, where a number of tiny homes could coexist within a community. But first, he hopes to educate local officials on the tiny-home movement and encourage officials to help legitimize the industry by adopting zoning and building regulations to allow tiny homes in their communities. 

“I would like to be able to be part of the tiny-home population and start getting boards together so municipalities start to understand what these are about, and why we want to build these, because right now there’s no way in heck that anybody would allow this in Rochester,” he said.