What’s the smallest house you think you can live in?
Now, how much space do you think you can afford to live in?
In Trinidad and Tobago, building a new house can cost anywhere from TT$800 to TT$950 per square foot. That means the average 1200 sf, 3-bedroom home in T&T starts at just under $1M. For a household making anything less than $27K per month, getting approved for a mortgage of this size will be incredibly difficult.
Elsewhere in the world, the Tiny House Movement is gaining ground. Recognizing that there is a need for a more financially and ecologically viable home type/lifestyle, these people advocate living in homes that can be as small as 195sf. At about US$20K-$50K, only TT$130K-$323K, tiny house architecture is inherently a very affordable starter home option.
The thing that appeals to me most about my job is the opportunity to develop new housing prototypes to be built throughout Tobago. When I learned about a pilot housing program that needed a design that has a maximum construction budget of TT$220K, developing a tiny house just made sense.
At just under 300sf, tinyHouse uses local, conventional building methods: concrete block walls with punched window openings, and a rafter and purlin shed roof above a gypsum ceiling. The only major difference is the addition of a layer of reflective backed insulation in the ceiling cavity to reduce heat gain from the roof. In such a small space, the additional heat will make a huge difference; imagine how quickly your car heats up when sitting in the sun!
The building’s proportions are also meant to maximize thermal comfort as well as usable floor area. As with all studio floor plans, the living area is a multi-purpose room serving as the bedroom, living room and kitchen. The only interior wall is a stud wall which separates the living area from the bathroom.
Because an enclosed space with small openings can make a room feel small and cramped, the house has a high, sloped ceiling. Large openings are placed on all sides of the living area to create a roomier feel. These openings don’t only introduce natural day light and fresh air, but by placing the main entry directly across from the kitchen window they promote better cross ventilation when left open.
Since hot air rises, operable clerestory windows are located at the high point of the sloped ceiling, allowing warmer air to escape and create an additional path for air circulation and cross ventilation. Orienting these windows to the north will allow even, natural day light with minimal thermal gain.
The biggest and most obvious problem with tinyHouse is its size. Living in a studio certainly requires a lifestyle change, one that I question if many Trinbagonians may be willing to make, even if it puts home ownership within their immediate grasp. Unless you have no intention of expanding your family, this house will inevitably require renovation.
So what would you do? Would you spend $220K on 300sf of living space? Or would you find a way to afford that larger, $1M standard home?
As this program rolls out in Tobago, I curiously wait to see if people jump or balk at this opportunity for home ownership.