The Tiny House Movement in Australia: Better Homes in Shipping Containers?
Could a shipping container ‘tiny house’ be a solution for someone seeking a place of their own in Australia? Over this longer article we will look at the tiny house movement in the country, and examine the ins and outs of moving into a small shipping container home.
House prices – ouch!
Australia’s cities are some of the most expensive in the world – in Brisbane the average home price in October 2016 was $504,000 while in Sydney it was $920,000 – far too expensive for someone on an average income. The average income in Queensland is just under $76,000.
Generally people spend around a third of their income on rent or mortgage, so for someone on $76k they would just about afford to pay off their home in 20 years in Brisbane. In Sydney? With the average income in NSW at $81,000, this would be closer to 34 years, and few mortgage lenders are prepared to give people a 34 year mortgage. This makes most people unable to get on the housing ladder in the city unless they win Lotto.
Stepping up into a smaller home
While living in a tiny home is certainly cheaper than your average home, most people building tiny houses don’t go into them for the cost alone. They are pulled to the lifestyle rather than pushed. Speaking to the Australian Daily Telegraph, Darren Hughes, founder of the Tiny Houses Australia Facebook community said, “There is a shift happening and many people are starting to question what life is really about. When they see a high-quality, well-designed tiny house and step inside, they soon realise that they could actually live in such a space.”
Hughes’ Facebook page has more than 47,000 followers from around the world, with people of a whole range of backgrounds getting into the idea.
Even if they could just about afford to pay a mortgage on a home in a desirable neighbourhood, some people see debt to banks as unethical. Bankers haven’t exactly been good custodians of the world economy and the idea of giving someone who already has too much money even more cash is abhorrent to certain people.
A shipping container tiny house can cost as little as $30-$40,000 fully fitted, which is less than many mortgage providers would require as a deposit on your home before they lend you the money for your $500,000 average home.
The environment is another issue. Australia’s homes are some of the biggest in the world and to deal with the extreme weather it is estimated that the average Australian home consumes 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, heating the world up even more and contributing to the worsening weather that hits Australia annually. Even if you aren’t a vegan tree hugger type you may simply be put off by the cost of the energy that you pay utility and oil companies.
Tiny houses require far less energy to keep going than a sprawling two storey home, and many people go a step further by generating their own energy on site. Those who are very clever draw water from local water courses and can live completely off-grid, meaning that their carbon footprint is tiny and they certainly aren’t paying for someone else to have a carbon footprint 20 times the size of their own.
A much larger group of people who you’re paying to live in luxury are those that sell you the unnecessary rubbish that piles up in your home every year. Do you need 50 tee shirts and a wardrobe entirely devoted to shoes?
What about the garage you can’t walk into due to the rubbish piled up inside you used once and never saw again? The concept of the tiny house is that you don’t have the space to buy rubbish and consume far less simply because you don’t have the space for that rubbish to accrue.
You then have the ‘empty nesters’, people who have had their kids fly the nest and want to spend their money on enjoying life. Some parents are known to sell their homes to put a down payment on their children’s homes to help them afford somewhere to bring up their own kids, while other people would rather live it up and see the world with their hard earned money.
If you sold your $1 million home (that you had 100% of the equity in over 20 years) and moved into a high end, $150,000 shipping container tiny house you’d have a lot of cash to misbehave with. Not everyone living in a small space is skint – trip to Vegas anyone?!
Things to consider before taking the leap into a tiny container house
As indicated above, most people aren’t simply moving into a shack because they haven’t two beans to rub together. The tiny house movement is one of comfort and innovation, with some quite spectacular, yet small, homes. You need to have a plan before you go into it. This section will cover the essential things you need to consider before buying a repurposed shipping container from Gateway Container Sales and getting going.
How much do you want to spend?
You can spend as little as $30,000 on a shipping container home but you could spend $300,000 if you wanted the best shipping container tiny house that was ever built. Consider the factors below and your budget.
What do you want from your home?
Do you want to be off grid and low energy? Do you want the latest gadgets and high energy consumption on the grid? How should it appear?
Is the home to be a fixed installation?
If it has wheels it could be subject to lighter touch local building regulations. If it is still a relatively intact shipping container (without too many external fittings or combined with one or two others as a unit) then you should put it onto a container truck and shift it elsewhere should the authorities get interested in what you are doing. Speaking to the Herald Sun in 2015, Darren Hughes pointed out, “At the end of the day… if local councils did find out that they were there and did start to ask questions or cause problems, tiny house dwellers could simply hook up their tiny houses to a truck and move them somewhere else”.
For those who want to stay in one place and want to play the game and not live a life looking over their shoulder for bureaucrats, you need to plan your home to meet local building regulations. Get help from a local planning consultant and a structural engineer or an architect before you take the leap – we considered these issues in a previous blog on the Gateway Gazette.
Where do you want it?
Are you going off into the bush to live completely off-grid or do you want to build it in your parents’ garden as a granny flat? This will inform a whole range of things from appearance, to the way you fit it out.
Consider how you will power it
Solar energy? Wind power? Plugged into the mains? You also need to design in utilities so they will appear or not appear as you would want them.
How many containers do you need?
You might want one in a small space, or stack two together for an upstairs bedroom, or another as a workshop.
Windows – a nightmare but also add space
Windows and any other holes in the wall will involve cutting the walls of the container and therefore need reinforcement around them as the walls are part of the container’s structural strength. Windows however add light and give an illusion of spaciousness.
Consider dual purpose fixtures and fittings
Sofas can be storage spaces. Beds can fold up to the wall, allowing the same space to be a living, working or socialising space. You could fold your dining room and have a living room. Fold your bedroom into an office. You’d be amazed as to how such a small space can do so many things!
Do you need walls inside?
If you’re on your own you may not even need a space hungry stud wall for your dunny or shower space.
Once you have done these things, then get hold of an architect or engineer, and design the home. Come to us at Gateway Container Sales for your containers at a reasonable price and start the process. You can see, however, that while the building of the home may take just weeks, the planning could take months to make the place exactly what you desire. There’s an old saying that applies to nearly every project in life: proper preparation prevents piss ups. Prepare your dream well and it could turn into everything you imagined. Go in half cocked and it could be a complete mess.
Gateway Containers Can Help You With Your Tiny Home
Here at Gateway Container Sales we have the experience and networks of designers and engineers who can help you put it altogether, but as with everything in life it helps to have a certain idea before you call. Read around the Gateway Gazette for some ideas and give us a call!