Market for 'tiny' homes growing slowly

The kitchen of a house that was built by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.
The kitchen of a house that was built by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.
Posted: August 18, 2014

You can buy or build a house. Or, you can buy or build a tiny house. On Sept. 6 and 7, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. holds its first workshop here at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District Hotel, 400 Arch St.

What qualifies as a tiny house? Something in the range of 172 to 875 square feet.

Why a tiny house? Tight mortgage money and rising fuel costs to heat and cool large homes, among other reasons.

A few groups are keen on tiny homes, said Steve Weissmann, president of Sonoma, Calif.-based Tumbleweed: "Young people starting out with their first home, seniors downsizing, and people concerned about the environment." Many customers are women with college or advanced degrees, he added.

When Gabriella Morrison first discovered the tiny-house idea, "it was a way of life that I had been longing for: simple, uncluttered, environmentally sane, affordable."

She runs the website, as well as workshops with husband Andrew Morrison on using straw bales and other environmentally friendly construction materials.

On the East Coast, the tiny-house movement has grown slowly in places such as Boston, Washington, and Asheville, N.C.

"The common denominator is the desire for a simpler lifestyle," Weissmann said. Other reasons: saving money and living more economically to stretch retirement savings.

The Morrisons discovered the movement while living in the epitome of an American Dream home.

"Moving into that large, beautiful house was initially symbolic of success. We had finally 'made it.' Trouble was that after about six months, we began to realize that we had become slaves to that house," Gabriella Morrison said. "Our free time disappeared into having to work more to pay for it, to clean it, and to maintain it. We found ourselves saying no to our kids much more. Our family dynamic suffered, and because the house was so large, we all retreated to various corners of the house."

Through their straw-bale business, the couple received an inquiry from Kent Griswold, who runs

Intrigued, "we realized that this entire way of living and inhabiting space existed. Finally, we understood why we had been so unhappy living in that large house. Why our dynamic had suffered. Why we had felt more stressed than ever," she said.

Then they read The Small House Book by Jay Shafer; within six months, they got rid of their house and bought a tent trailer. Eventually, they moved to Oregon.

The start of her blog was "inspired by the process of discovery and transformation we experienced after committing to redefine our relationship to material possessions, how we relate to each other, and how we occupy space," Morrison said.

There are plenty of online resources to investigate "tiny living," and websites such as from which free designs and architectural plans can be downloaded.

Next steps? If you decide to build your own tiny house, consider how you're going to pay for it; who will help you build it; whether you build on one spot or on wheels. Weissmann called the Tumbleweeds workshop "a starter course on what it's like downsizing your life. You need a plan."

If you buy from Tumbleweed, four brothers originally from Pennsylvania Amish country do the actual construction off site. Prices start at $57,000, plus delivery to the East Coast from their workshop in Colorado Springs, Colo. The four brothers - Dave, Allen, Ben and Ivan Fisher - also employ their father, Ivan "Pop" Fisher.

If you can't attend the workshop, Tiny House Listings offers a compilation of builders (

And as with real estate search engines, there are sites to browse tiny homes that are on the market. At, a 190-square-footer on wheels goes for $30,000.

That model has an 8-by-10-foot sleeping loft, a full bath with shower, a kitchen, and cathedral ceilings; a side entry door opens onto a covered porch that folds up against the house for transport. Air conditioning, a fireplace, and a flat-screen TV are included.

Tumbleweed's two-day workshop Sept. 6-7 costs $329 if you register before Aug. 31. For more details, visit the website:

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

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