Tiny Houses Replace Tents for Homeless
In Olympia, Washington, one-time tent dwellers take up residence in 144-square-foot houses they can call home
Architect Sarah Susanka made a big splash with her 1998 book The Not So Big House, arguing that Americans didn’t need sprawling drywall palaces with two-story foyers and rooms that people rarely used. She wanted designers and homeowners to go on an architectural diet.
Susanka might not have been thinking of micro-houses barely big enough for a bed and chair. But very small houses are gaining ground, and in one Washington State community they’ve become an innovative way of getting homeless people out of leaky tents and under a dry roof.
In an article published this week, New York Times writer Michael Tortorello describes a settlement called Quixote Village just outside Olympia, WA. Each of the 30 houses is 8 ft. by 18 ft., or 144 square feet.
The houses were designed by Garner Miller, an architect and LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. accredited professional with MSGS Architects. Last Christmas Eve, Tortorello wrote, these new rentals were turned over to what members of a “homeless community called Camp Quixote, a floating tent city that moved more than 20 times after its founding in 2007.”
The project, on land the county leases for $1 a year, includes a community building with a kitchen, dining area and showers. Total costs were $3.05 million, according to the Quixote Village website, which came from federal, state, county and local sources. Miller cut his fee in half, and other professionals working on the project also donated services.
Designs differ from typical tiny house
Miller said by email that the idea of higher-end tiny houses gathered steam partly through the work of Marianne Cusato, whose Katrina Cottages were designed to house victims of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, there are a number of companies that sell very small houses online, including Four Lights, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., and Molecule Tiny Homes.
But the Quixote houses, Miller said, are different in concept.
"The typical tiny house contains everything needed by the resident, including the kitchen, and usually starts at 500 sq. ft. and up," Miller wrote. "It is still an individual and isolated way of living. The Quixote Village concept creates 144-square-foot cottages that contain only a sitting/sleeping room, a bathroom and a closet. Everything else — the kitchen, laundry, showers, living room — is in the shared community building.
"Quixote Village is closer to communal living," Miller added, "where 30 residents share meals and spend time together, which they believe is a healthier way to live. "
The Quixote houses are stick-framed with 2x4 walls on 16-inch centers sheathed with OSB. On the inside, 2x2s run horizontally 24 inches on-center and walls are covered with 1/2-inch plywood. The framing creates a 5-inch wall cavity, which is filled with batt insulationInsulation, usually of fiberglass or mineral wool and often faced with paper, typically installed between studs in walls and between joists in ceiling cavities. Correct installation is crucial to performance. , Miller said, adding that the design reduces the amount of thermal bridgingHeat flow that occurs across more conductive components in an otherwise well-insulated material, resulting in disproportionately significant heat loss. For example, steel studs in an insulated wall dramatically reduce the overall energy performance of the wall, because of thermal bridging through the steel. through the wall.
"By adding the 2x2s, the only place thermal transfer can occur is where the horizontal and vertical studs cross each other, rather than the entire length of a vertical stud in standard construction," he said.
The roof is framed with rafters. The area above the collar ties becomes a small attic, which is filled with 12 inches of batt insulation. Miller said exterior walls include a continuous vapor barrier under the interior plywood, with air leaks around windows minimized with flashing tape and caulk.
The siding was installed over a rain screen. For horizontal lap siding, builders used painted 1 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch furring strips. For vertical siding, builders applied horizontal strips of Cor-A-Vent, Miller said.
Most of the money went into site improvements
A cursory look at the numbers makes the little houses look awfully expensive. According to the Quixote Village web site, the $3.05 million total included permit fees, road improvements and infrastructure. Each cottage cost $87,789, the website says, which translates to $610 a square foot.
Miller says the community building plus some site improvements cost $420,000, while the houses and the bulk of the extensive site improvements amounted to $2.63 million.
On their own, each house would cost $19,000, Miller said. That's about $131 per square foot.
- Photo courtesy of Panza
- Garner Miller
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