Tiny Living In The UK.

Has owning a home on your own disappeared as an option for the under 40s?

I’ve worked hard for most of the last 20 years of adulthood, but at 38 I find myself still not owning a home. I save, when I have work, but ultimately have yet to find myself in a situation where I have both a regular income and a deposit for a home.I feel it’s important to own a home, as the alternative is paying a large rent in retirement, rather than being free of significant expenditure.

About 4 years ago I got fed up of flats. The noisy neighbours & rubbish sound insulation, and general high-density living without a garden outlook was a tiring and depressing situation. Moving to a house with a mature garden outlook has been a great experience, though I’m far from happy all the time as sharing that house means compromise. Some of which I’m fine with. Others, I’m really not!

So, I’m still looking for a home to buy. Whilst house prices have gone down a little since their peaks around 2007/2008, the interest rates have remained low, so the pain of a crash (price readjustment) has been deferred to such a time as the government can no longer keep interest rates low, or until such a time as inflation erodes the house prices and they’re back to their long term averages. This has kept voters mostly happy & families have not been turfed out onto streets! However, the younger generation has continued to be priced out. Additionally, prices have started to rise. Perhaps due to lack of volume, but the same areas that had housing at around 120k 18 months back, now seem to be around 145k. You can offset some of this as there’s been a recently announced Help To Buy scheme; in theory this should mean you get a mortgage % rate equivalent to a 25% deposit, but the rates given by the banks don’t really seem to reflect this. It’s almost as if the banks are still pricing in the risk of a crash, and I don’t blame them, as it’s far from certain that it has been completely avoided! Especially with prices in the South East overheating. When we’re in recession still!!??

Many do still find affordability in outlying regions, but I’m not willing to compromise on not living near my friends, or not inside the M60 (The circular motorway that surrounds Manchester).

So, perhaps there’s an alternative. One that doesn’t compromise on outlook, but maintains a city lifestyle. My original thoughts were on finding a garage plot in suburbia. I’m thinking that most garages are really just places to dump junk and maybe people would be willing to sell the plot if they’re not using it. There’s 4 end-plots on most suburban housing estate blocks where the garages could be converted. Of course, they’d also have to be a suitable distance from other housing to comply with planning regulations as well; though I’m sure some people do stealth conversions. It’d be great to investigate what planning precedents there are for this. I put together a brief design sketch of what such a dwelling could look like based on the garage in the house I currently occupy.

sketch of a garage conversion, 06/2012.

I’ve also been inspired by several others in the last couple of years. The show on small spaces on Channel 4 (George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces) and the variety of tiny living blogs. I particularly liked the idea of using the ‘Woodsman’s Cottage’ concession in planning law, for those who are maintaining local woods/forests.This was highlight in one episode (Episode 2 - Bolt-hole, Shipping Containers and a Caravan) of the show. Perhaps out towards Prestbury there would a few plots of land like this? (It also has a good train service to Piccadilly)

I’ve seen several uses of shipping containers for both offices and for homes. Either in single container form, or with two welded together. It would be great to see a 32ft shipping container conversion super-insulated with straw bail walls on 3 of the outside walls, and finished with a lime render so that it looks like a cottage. Combine this with a rain water collection system & use for toilet flushing, and a solar panels on the south facing roof and you’d be going a good deal towards maximising the sustainability options. Perhaps a heat/air exchanger internally would also reduce the utility bills that are required. This would work as a replacement for a garage site or for a Woodsman’s Cottage.

Costs? Well, I believe you can buy a good condition 32ft shipping container for around £4000. Fitting out at a good standard would be around £20k. If you leased a spot of land on the outskirts, then perhaps you’d have to consider an additional £50 per month. The big costs would be connecting to the utilities for a remote plot unless you are lucky enough to find a site that’s previously had these connected for a caravan or similar! Further investigation would be needed to research the price of city garage plots as a comparison. I would estimate at between £5k and £10k.You’d probably also need some consideration for foundations as the end result is likely to be more than a couple of tonnes. Whilst the cost is still variable, around £35k seems a lot cheaper than paying even £110k for a 1 bed flat.

Imagine under utilised land such as Pomana (has it’s own tram stop) or the ex Woodford Airport, being used for a small community of tiny living abodes. The beauty being that when they decide to build on these plots you can put your shipping container on the back of a lorry and start again on another plot.And currently in 2013 there’s a lot of these plots around!

I maybe more than a little bit mad, but I genuinely believe that this maybe an option for me and others. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and any reference sites you know of in the UK.

Some further reading & research. Shipping container conversions in use as homes:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22107960 London YMCA project, at about £20k letting out at £70pw.

Arts studios and homes, London: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/9243318/Container-living-a-home-for-under-50000.html

Dutch Student Village in Amsterdam (2006) http://www.tempohousing.com/projects/keetwonen.html

French Student Village: http://freshome.com/2010/10/01/ingenious-project-100-student-dorm-rooms-made-from-shipping-containers/

Berlin Student Village: http://www.dw.de/berlin-students-to-live-in-cargo-containers/a-16875639

Brighton (2013) — 36 homes for the homeless & great insight into the process: http://www.sustainabledevelopmentblog.co.uk/2013/10/27/brighton-shipping-containers-installation-week-1/

Tiny House Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/tinyhousedesign — quite USA focused & a few too many houses on wheels for my liking! Love this post: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152194723574224&set=a.10151176090734224.502658.191921749223&type=1&stream_ref=10 (has various designs for 20ft shipping containers)

Related to the above: Top 10 container homes — http://tinyhousetalk.com/top-10-shipping-container-tiny-houses/

Pre-mold Social housing in Argentina (2012): http://www.designboom.com/architecture/4l-arq-improves-social-housing-with-transportable-modules-01-13-2014/ (bespoke small units by http://cargocollective.com/4larq)

Printable PDF to help design your own container home: http://tinyhousedesign.com/free-plans/Tiny-House-Floor-Plans-Worksheet.pdf

Japanese Metabolism — An form of architecture in Japan around living in small places that resulted in Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolism_%28architecture%29

More Japanese (kyosho jutaku) small builds: http://gizmodo.com/10-japanese-kyosho-jutaku-micro-homes-that-redefine-l-504374362

[Update Jan 30th — added Top 10 container homes. I’m now also building a model of a design! Will form the basis for a part 2 of this theme, as this post has got quite long!]
[Update: Feb 26th — finally added the garage conversion sketch!]