Shacks for Rich People

I recently came across Tumbleweed, the self-styled “tiny house company.” The houses that Tumbleweed builds in California and delivers to any site in the lower 48 states are, indeed, tiny. They range from 70 to 120 square feet. By comparison, a typical new home is a shade under 2,500 square feet, up from about 2,000 square feet 10 years ago and about 800 square feet in the 1950s. The Tumbleweed houses are also pretty to boot. For people determined to live a Thoreau-like life in the woods, they may be just the thing. I could even imagine an ordinary childless couple using one as a summer house. They do appear very well designed and even beautiful.

But, on a per-square foot basis, they’re some of the most expensive housing around: The smallest model, 70 square feet and $34,997, costs just about $500 per square foot. At this per-square-foot price, a typical new house would then cost about $1.25 million to build. Given that a lot in any semi-desirable suburb will add maybe $100,000 to $300,000, an average “eco-friendly” family house would cost about $1.5 million at that price. (Builders, however, will tell you that the per-square-foot cost almost always declines as a house gets larger.) I’m not clear, furthermore, what makes these houses so costly a per-square-foot basis–they don’t even have ovens, dishwashers, or freezers.

What bothers me a bit is that some of the owners of these shacks really consider themselves more virtuous than the average person because they live in these fancy shacks. (Watch this really annoying woman drive her house into a subdivision for an example.)

Given that there are pretty nice looking three bedroom mobile homes for less than these tiny houses, I tend to think that their main market is, well, basically, rich people who want to live in shacks.