As a 27 year old Gen Y first home buyer, I was looking at spending the next 30 to 40 years of my life servicing debt simply to have a roof over my head. I decided to look for an affordable housing alternative, which is when I was introduced to the concept of tiny houses on wheels, and I haven’t looked back since.

It was only a few years ago that I naively believed I would purchase a traditional home, following the path set by previous generations. I was squirreling away every spare dollar I could into KiwiSaver, believing this was my best chance of ever owning a home. However, unlike my parents and grandparent’s generation, New Zealand is now neck deep in a housing affordability crisis, so the traditional route is simply no longer achievable to many.

With New Zealand housing labeled by The Economist as the most unaffordable in the world, our previous National government did their utmost to avoid the dreaded ‘C’ word, knowing that admitting a ‘crisis’ would mean having to act. Regardless of National’s willful ignorance, Christchurch house prices are now 6 times average annual household income, and 2-3 times is what is considered affordable. Christchurch has a large housing supply and a cooling house market, the main issue is affordability. And don’t even get me started on Auckland.

Enter tiny houses on wheels as a solution.

With the help of my brother (a skilled builder by trade) and close friends and family members, in the summer of 2015 I built a 17m2 micro home which also includes a 6m2 mezzanine sleeping loft for $85k. The normal total cost range for tiny houses can be anywhere from $30k for recycled materials and no labour costs all the way up to $120k for a top of the line, professionally built home. This proves they can built to almost any budget.

My tiny house produces and stores its own electricity off grid through solar panels and deep cycle batteries, as well as utilises a waterless composting toilet which saves thousands of litres of water every year. It has a tiny fireplace which provides excess warmth in winter, has its own greywater treatment system and uses minimal amounts of natural gas for hot water and cooking. Did I mention how quickly I can clean the entire house?

Some people would find transitioning to such a small space a challenge, which I can understand given the average New Zealand house now being over 200m2. My experience over the past 18 months is that living tiny has been incredibly freeing, making up what I have lost in floor space with quality build materials, in free time and in overall happiness.

Financially I’m far better off than most of my Gen Y peers who either are still saving for a deposit or have barely touched the principal on their traditional home mortgages. I had already saved half for my house thinking I’d at some stage require a standard deposit, and I was fortunate enough to receive a family loan for the remainder meaning I could avoid the high personal loan rates that banks currently offer.

Henry Ford once famously said “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” I for the life of me can’t understand why most people accept working the best years of their life to pay a bank half a million dollars in interest for a loan they simply typed into a computer.

By design, a tiny house encourages a minimalist lifestyle, which has economic and environmental benefits by not providing space to accumulate “stuff”. Everything in a small space needs to serve a purpose. This doesn’t mean the house is empty, just that the things I choose to have in the house are of higher quality or have personal intrinsic value.

My weekly cost of living is cheap since I have no power bills and only minimal weekly expenses such as rent for the section I’m currently on, gas for hot water and cooking, and the standard monthly bills for internet and insurance. Consequently the bulk of my wage goes towards paying down my family loan with a goal to be debt free as soon as possible.

Once I am debt free and owning my own (albeit tiny) home, this will free up my income to pursue passions, hobbies, or start a business without the stress of weekly personal debt repayments. As someone who wishes to dedicate their time to writing and vlogging about New Zealand issues, I’ve always seen a tiny house as my escape from the traditional 9-5 work week.

One query I often receive at public tiny house talks is what about when little bundles of joy arrive (what those who now have children used to call them). Some people are comfortable having a family in their tiny home, while I remain skeptical that there would be enough indoor space for play during winter as children grow, as well as year round privacy for ‘adult-time’. I guess my partner and I will open that door when we arrive at it.

While tiny houses aren’t for everyone, there is growing demand for affordable housing options as well as lifestyles which allow more spare time. I can attest that my tiny house has already enabled both. 

As a committee member on the newly formed Canterbury Tiny House Society, my current project is helping finalise a proposal to establish a Tiny House Community as part of the regeneration of Christchurch’s red zone, which will be covered in depth in a future article.

In summary, New Zealand is facing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis which has resulted in many looking for their own solutions. Not only do tiny houses enable a minimalist lifestyle, they also provide a multitude of economic, environmental and social benefits which are hard to argue with. They aren’t the single bullet solution to New Zealand’s current housing crisis, but certainly form part of the solution by providing willing downsizers a much more affordable living option.

Tiny house community proposed for Christchurch red zone – Stuff

An eco tiny house community is being proposed for Christchurch red zone – Newstalk ZB

6 Responses

  1. Simon Greig

    Today is the 10 year anniversary for living in a 14 foot caravan, and I still love it as a life style choice.

  2. Walter

    We’re going to build one, too. 30 square meters ground floor, with additional 2 lofts, to make our family of 5 fit. Going to be a challenge to keep it under 3.5 tons, but we’re inventive (helium balloons as last resort). Yes, in Auckland, where otherwise we’d be paying someone else’s mortgage (currently 650 a week, and rising) for the rest of our lives, never saving enough for even a down payment on a property of our own.

  3. Ingrid

    I would like to know how you bypass the sanitary issue with council? Or do you, like friends of mine, have to shift regularly?

  4. Emmeline

    Did you have a blueprint to go off? Or was it a get stuck into it and decide along the way build?

    Am currently looking at options.

  5. Maida Glasgow

    I want one with what I have as equity in my home I could freehold a tiny house but then the problem where to park it land is also at a premium price. However I think they look great and are so practical that I would be very pleased to live in one.


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