Global Growth: The Tiny House Movement

The ins and outs of the growth of the tiny house movement worldwide.

Defined as an architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes, the tiny house movement is growing across the world. A tiny home is a residential structure under 400 square feet. The average size of a new, single-family home in the United States now exceeds 2,500 square feet. Tiny houses may be on wheels, set on a fixed foundation or contained within apartment blocks.

 The tiny house movement is most active in North America but has spread to many developed countries around the world, including Japan, Spain, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Various documentaries and television shows exploring the concept of tiny house living have captured the attention of many. Relief from the financial burdens of paying off and maintaining a home, the desire for more free time, environmental concerns and shared community expenses are all factors that motivate people to swap traditional homes for tiny houses. Although living in tiny houses makes sense on many levels, it certainly doesn’t suit everyone.


One of the biggest obstacles tiny houses face is zoning regulations that typically specify a minimum square footage for new construction on a foundation. For tiny houses on wheels, parking on your own land may also be prohibited by local regulations. Most U.S. states have laws and regulations pertaining to tiny houses—some more favorable than others. The same situation exists in most countries around the world where longstanding regulations, building codes and red tape hamper the growth of tiny houses.

In Australia, some success has been achieved in Victoria where the world’s first master-planned ecological, off-grid tiny house subdivision has been established. In Germany, the community of Vauban created 5,000 households in an old military base in Freiburg. The planned density in that area is 50 dwelling units per acre. In Cape Town, South Africa, the need for people to live close to the city due to the lack of public transport and unreliable electricity supply, has led to the growth of micro apartments between 250-400 square feet. Designed to include integrated living solutions, the apartment blocks include communal recreation and work spaces, food courts, laundromats, rental stores and are close enough to the city center to walk or bike to work.

It’s clear that, around the world, even in the face of housing shortages and rising home prices, local authorities need to update their rules and regulations relating to more sustainable and eco-friendly, compact housing. 

Peter Gilmour is REAL Trends chief foreign correspondent and Chairman Emeritus and co-founder of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.