Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane.
Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane. Tiny House Company

Could your family live in this space?

A FAMILY of six lived in a space that was smaller than a third of a netball court for nearly two years - and they loved every second of it. Building designer Ben Thornton, 40, downsized to his first tiny home about four years ago, before moving to his second in Kin Kin, near Gympie, about 18 months ago. And he did it with his wife and four children.

The first building pod in Kin Kin was 98sq m. They later added another bedroom and study area that was another 27sq m - a total of 125sq m. The home has three bedrooms, bathroom, powder room and a country-style kitchen. To put it in perspective, a third of a netball court measures about 155sq m.

 

"The tiny house for us was all about functionality. We had lived in a larger house previously, about 400-500sq m and we didn't use it all," Mr Thornton said.

He said the family had created an outdoor space of play areas and vegetable gardens that compensated for the lack of space inside the home. He also said the move to the tiny home had changed his children's interactions.

 

Jamison, Ben and baby Nixon Thornton, part of a family of six who have lived in tiny homes for about four years.
Jamison, Ben and baby Nixon Thornton, part of a family of six who have lived in tiny homes for about four years. Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times

"They're accustomed to sharing and that transpires at school and with other kids," he said. "The closeness of our family really comes across in all aspects of their life."

He said the closeness was the greatest advantage, and also at times the greatest challenge.

"Everyone is on top of each other, at times, but most of the time it works perfectly for us. The kids grow up together, they play together, and we've gone on holidays where we've rented big homes and at the end of the day the kids end up sleeping in the same room anyway."

 

Nixon and Jamison Thornton, part of a family of six who have lived in tiny homes for about four years.
Nixon and Jamison Thornton, part of a family of six who have lived in tiny homes for about four years. Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times

Mr Thornton said when the children, aged 11 months to nine years, needed "chill out time" they were encouraged to use play areas outside and also meditate.

One of the other changes Mr Thornton had noticed since moving to his tiny home was an electricity bill about 40% less than those received in his bigger home.

"Previously we had an energy bill about $700 to $800, and now we're around $300 to $400," he said.

Mr Thornton said storage was important, and the cost of building that into a tiny home should not be underestimated. He also said if people were building on acreage or anywhere they had to be self-sufficient with water, the smaller roof meant less water in the tank.

For this family, it was a practical decision, but other Australians are joining the tiny house movement for environmental and economic reasons.

Builder Grant Emans, 35, of Burrill Lake in New South Wales, is now focusing his business solely on building tiny homes.

 

A tiny home that Grant Emans has built.
A tiny home that Grant Emans has built. Contributed

 

The builder of more than 15 years said the dream of the three-quarter-acre block with a three-bedroom house was dead for many people.

 

A tiny home Grant Emans has built.
A tiny home Grant Emans has built. Contributed

"In time, people will see tiny homes only need 100sq m of land," he said.

"You couldn't buy 100sq m of land right now because the (NSW State) Government sets minimum sizes of land for developers.

 

A tiny home that Grant Emans has built.
A tiny home that Grant Emans has built. Contributed

"But soon you will see the majority of people in Australia are not going to be able to afford the three-bedroom and study house. The reality is we have to change the way we build to suit the social dynamics of what life is like now."

According to the Urban Development Institute of Australia's 2016 State of the Land Report, the average new lot size nationally is now 453sq m, down by 4.3% over 2015 and down 12.2% since 2010.

After seeing a television show about tiny homes in the United States, Mr Emans decided to enter the fledgling industry in Australia. He built his first tiny home during the 2015 Christmas break before jumping on a plane to America last April to attend a tiny home conference in North Carolina.

"I wanted to see what the Americans were doing firsthand, and wanted to meet the people already in the industry. I wanted to know, also, if it's something that could work in Australia because there are a few fundamental differences between US tiny homes and Australian tiny homes, and that is mostly to do with the weight," he said.

Weight is a factor as Mr Emans builds his homes so they can be towed and registered as a caravan. He said the weight of the structure allowed in Australia was far less than that in the US.

There are other grey areas of state and local government regulation. Queensland councils have struggled to define the structures, especially when they are on wheels.

The Queensland Building and Development Dispute Resolution Committee ruled last month in one instance that a tiny home with wheels should be treated like a caravan and thus did not require a building permit. But even if a tiny home can be registered as a caravan in Queensland, local councils differ in their rules about living in caravans on blocks of land.

 

Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane.
Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane. Tiny House Company

The couple who forced the committee's decision, Lara Nobel and her partner Andrew, had moved their tiny home on wheels in behind another property in inner-city Brisbane.

A complaint was made, which brought the council inspector around. After initially ruling against the couple, Brisbane City Council reversed its decision following the committee's finding.

Ms Nobel said it had been important to have a positive and open dialogue with the council.

 

Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane.
Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane. Tiny House Company

"The council people we had the appeals process with were positive and collaborative. If we want to live in this alternative route, we have to go to council and planning with an open mind. They're not out to get us, they're out to make harmonious and safe communities," she said.

Ms Nobel also said it was important to be up front with planners and regulators about plans.

But the mother of a newborn also said people should not give up on tiny home goals.

"Follow it through to its final point. People will say it's impossible or illegal but until you read it written down in a legal document there are work-arounds for just about everything," Ms Nobel said.

 

Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane.
Lara Nobel and partner Andrew's tiny home in inner-city Brisbane. Tiny House Company

Despite the drama of the past few months she said her family loved their home, which the couple had been living in since March last year.

"We're happy we've made the decision to go down this road. It's a lovely little home and it's been good to follow through the whole idea," she said.

Back in NSW, Mr Emans said despite regulatory hurdles he believed there was still a market for alternative housing in Australia.

"Housing is such a huge factor for people, worldwide. A house is so much more than four walls and a roof," he said.

"If you can't afford one or are under financial stress trying to live in one, that can cause a lot of social issues.

"I've always pursued environmental and social sustainability - so not using too many resources but also considering cost and the social factor. Can people afford to live the way they are right now in the typical home that government and industry try to push on you?"

Another organisation has also found a use for the structures in providing part of the solution for homelessness.

 

A tiny home that Grant Emans has built.
A tiny home that Grant Emans has built. Contributed

Tiny Homes Foundation representative Kellie Parkin said the concept was the brainchild of the foundation's chief executive officer, who had worked with people sleeping rough in northern Sydney.

"It was and still is a simple, easy concept that if there's a space the council's not using, we can put a tiny home on it for the period of time the council can commit," she said.

"And someone can establish themselves again, stabilise their housing, stabilise their health in order to start looking at ways to find employment or find more conventional housing if that is what they choose to do."

The organisation is set to start building six structures (four self-contained units and two shared spaces) in Gosford, on the New South Wales central coast, in a couple of weeks.

"(The site is) within 600m of the city centre and train, and around the corner from the hospital so incredible access to services, public transport and health," Ms Parkin said.

"Typically if you're homeless you don't have money to have a car so those connections are really important. And, typically, that's also where the highest rents are as well so it's really hard to find good accommodation."

Ms Parkin said the foundation strongly believed tiny homes had a place in solving homelessness.

"We need to make them affordable, we need to work through the planning system a bit quicker. But they have the potential, once we've resolved those couple of things, to be in every community across Australia," she said.

Mr Thornton encouraged those who wanted to simplify their lives to embrace the tiny home wholeheartedly.

"Kids don't need a lot of space. If you have a small amount of space I think it does increase that connectivity within the family," he said.



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