Monday, June 27, 2016

Your Tiny House is My Travel Trailer

When I was in college, about one hundred fifty years ago, One of my buddies bought a burned out trailer house and rebuilt it with a pot belly woodstove and the cedar wood paneling.  He sided the outside with rough cut cedar and it looked like a long skinny little house, but it was a cheap and efficient way for him, his wife, and little girl to have a home of their own.  It was just a trailer house but I thought it was a pretty cool looking trailer house, better than the standard aluminum siding and plastic paneling kind.  I have seen other people do this kind of custom trailer house project and some of the manufactured homes they make these days have a similar look with wooden siding and pitched roofs with trim and windows that avoid that RV industrial look. 
Thirty-some years later I’m watching TV and watch a show about “tiny Houses” that people are building on trailers.  These are not quaint cottages these a little travel trailer sized places.  The idea is that with efficient design a person can build a compact portable house with wheels.  These houses are cleverly designed so that tables fold down from walls and stairs double as bookshelves.   Many are designed with sleeping lofts.   Gee, I though looks kinda familiar.
Why do people act like this is a new invention?  Boat, cabin and trailer house builders have been designing small efficient spaces for centuries, and typical Americans, “tiny house” designers think they are inventing, tables that convert to beds and bathrooms that fit in a closet.   Even a rustic shepherd’s wagon is a study in compact living.
            “Who wants a bedroom you can’t standup in?”
            “Lots of people!”
            “Yeah, until they don’t.  Why not just buy a Airstream. These guys made a business of compact living.”
            “That’s a trailer house!”
            Yeah, so are those tiny houses.  There are just custom and expensive.”
            “No, they are unique."
            “OK, Unique trailer houses.  A house built on a trailer is still a trailer house.”
            “No, these are smaller than your seventy–foot double wide.”
            “You’re right.  More like a travel trailer with cedar shingles. In fact, I saw an old travel trailer on Craigslist for just begging for an upgrade like this.”

The reader has probably figured by now that I think this whole “tiny house” fad is pretty silly, especially in Alaska.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe it a noble thing to downsize and live with less.  We did that on our second house.  It is half the size of the old one.   And most people today build too much house if you ask me.  But a structure too small for two people get undressed in at the same time is good only for camping and even that not for long.  If you ask me to spend fifty or sixty thousand dollars on a custom cottage on wheels is frivolous and unnecessary.  Many of sourdoughs who got here before the oil boom and others who came after have experienced all the “tiny houses” we can stand.  My first winter in Alaska, we had eight of us in 400 square feet plus a sleeping loft.   Such conditions make cozy a four letter word.  Drive the streets of any old parts of the old towns of Alaska and see old houses smaller than the average master suite.  Notice they have all been added on to with wings, and wannigans so people have room to breath.  Such small, intimate spaces are incubators for cabin fever.  Then people only lived in little places because it was what they could afford to build and heat not because it was hip. 
Being hip is another big problem with the new “tiny house” craze.  It’s forcing places like Anchorage to look at their building ordinances and codes.  It seems people what to move these hipster shacks into regular neighborhoods, where small homes without foundations are not allowed. 
            “What! You want to bring trailer houses into my cul-de-sac?”
            “They aren’t trailer houses, they are different.”
            “. . . . . . (long empty pause). . . .”
            According to the ADN article, (Go read this piece from the Sunday paper and see if it doesn’t smack of elitism;  Want to Park a Tiny House in Anchorage? ) people with tiny houses might want better views, or to locate in the backyard of a bigger house.  In other words they want to change to city codes around Alaska, so they can put their ‘tiny houses” wherever they want because these casitas are cooler than trailer houses.  That’s the bottom line and the really silly part of this argument.  
           “No, you can’t park your cute little Sheep wagon wannabe on a lot in my neighborhood because you will lower my property value and in five years you will add a wannigan then an extension.  I’m seeing “tiny house, big shed.”
If you want to live in a travel trailer, mobile home, manufactured home, RV, fifth wheel, tow-behind, or even a “tiny house” that’s fine with me, but don’t think a bay window and gambrel roof make it anything more than a trailer house. 

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