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Op-Ed: Breaking the mold on tiny homes — New house design options and Elon Musk

Tiny homes simply cannot be turned into hideous mass future slums.

Tiny House Giant Journey travels through the Petrified Forest park in Arizona. — Photo: Guillaume Dutilh via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Tiny House Giant Journey travels through the Petrified Forest park in Arizona. — Photo: Guillaume Dutilh via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The problem with tiny homes is definitely the expression “tiny”. It’s an instant devaluation. A new take on a more modern approach to tiny home design, however, may be about to change all that. A company called Boxabl sold a tiny home to Elon Musk.

That news generated a waiting list of nearly 100,000 people, and not just because of the association with Musk.

Boxabl sells a tiny home called “Casita” (literally “little house”) which is a very interesting design idea as well as good CAD work. The Casita is comparatively cheap. The design creates a lot of internal room and delivers an extremely flexible range of design options.

Take the time to check out the Casita link, which has a lot of useful baseline information. (A word of unasked-for advice for Boxabl from a pro commercial writer – The main image of the Casita needs to be better than that. The current image is seriously and severely undervaluing the idea of the Casita.)

The Casita is a true all-around heads-up for designers. One of the issues with tiny homes is a sort of stagnant design approach. They tend to look very similar. The sector has also tacked on a lot of formulaic interior designs. Add to this some truly excellent but pricey interior décor stuck in the same basic design, and you see the problems.

Superficially, the Casita is a prefab box frame. What’s different about it is that it’s fully customisable, and has a much more modern construction dynamic.  It’s also modular, and can be two homes joined together.

For the record – No, “prefab” isn’t a curse word and hasn’t been for decades. The modern versions are excellent, precision-made, and very good as design tools. In Queensland, Australia, they use CAD to help people configure house designs, with visualization for each possible configuration. It’s a very practical approach to managing site plans, landscaping, etc.  

This is where the revelations start

The Casita can be adapted to just about any floor plan configuration. There’s quite a lot of room inside, and the space is very design-friendly. Compare this to the almost-trailer level of current market thinking, and Casita has a lot of points to make.

Modern construction is true science. Specifications, materials, and high-efficiency production are built-in. This is where the Casita is leading, and where the market will have to go to be viable.

Consider:

  • Low unit cost of the Casita: About $50K USD plus shipping. That’s workable in any possible housing market. (Suggestion for Boxabl – Get these things manufactured under license worldwide. It’d work on this cost base.)
  • Lower materials costs: All due respect to some truly beautiful tiny home designs, but those materials are also built in overheads; they can penetrate the market only so far.
  • Low maintenance and management costs: The Casita is the original “plug and play” house. You simply cannot incur the costs associated with conventional or other tiny home maintenance. Wanna replace a wall? Easy. Want a second floor? No problem. This is all on a fixed cost, too. Try doing that with anything else on the market.
  • Modular options: Down near the bottom of the Casita link page, you’ll see two Casitas put together. This isn’t the LEGO version; it’s a working layout, and a good one. (You can also do two-storey Casitas, another useful space management option on any site.)
  • House/land economics: These little houses use up much less land space. You can have a garden, a private space, etc. and not have to spend millions to get them. The Casita’s flexible multiple custom options can configure the house to any sort of land and variable terrain a bit better than the single-box designs.
  • Space management: The Casita reinforces a critical point for modern homes. Interior space must be truly functional and purpose-built. You can’t necessarily do that with inflexible designs. Conventional houses can cost a fortune to simply redesign for these purposes.

The next gen of tiny homes has arrived

I could go on for days about this. Tiny homes are the simpler option, and the most cost-effective compared to conventional houses and apartments. Housing is a gigantic problem worldwide. Quality of life and cost of housing varies from the appalling to the extravagantly absurd.

This is a no-win situation for a lot of people. Particularly the next two generations, which are well and truly up a particular creek unless they can find a way around these problems.

Also, note – Tiny homes simply cannot be turned into hideous mass future slums. They can be upgraded and easily replaced. Easy maintenance of standard connections is no problem. You could have a whole community of designer tiny homes in a good space that can look truly beautiful. You could make “apartment blocks” that are 3D, separately spaced, and look nothing like the tired old shoeboxes of the past, too.

The tiny homes as represented by the Casita aren’t space-misers. You can have as much space as you need when you need it. You can have kids and simply tack on what you need. You could extend a Casita, or just buy a couple more when you need them.

Now also consider – All this is 100% distinct from the massive and potentially lethal long-term cost commitment for any other type of housing. You could get a mortgage for a Casita-style cost base, even if you’re a gig-economy freelancer. (That’s going to be just about everyone, in about 20-30 years.)

 The Casita is important as a truly viable new option, rather than a new approach. People have been talking about this all through the 20th century. No solutions were found. The global urban mess-scape is the result.

This really is a way out of the repulsive urban jungles. As the Casita idea evolves, it’ll improve and add more options.

Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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