Tiny House Cultures in Comparison – Germany, USA, Netherlands

Anyone who wants to build a Tiny House must comply with building regulations – regardless of whether they set up their mini house in the USA, Germany or the Netherlands. But there are some differences between the countries, our satellite images also show.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article (written in German by Anja Holtschneider. Access the original article here.

More and more people want to live smaller and more sustainably. Tiny houses are particularly popular. These small houses usually have a living space of between 15 and 50 square meters and are available either with a solid foundation or on a trailer. More and more people around the world are fulfilling their dream of owning their own home with a Tiny House.

But there are some differences between countries, this becomes visible on exclusive satellite images from LiveEO. A look at the USA, Germany and the Netherlands.

The USA is the motherland of the Tiny House movement. It was there that the trend of living in small, mostly mobile homes first emerged. Since the financial crisis of 2008, in which many US Americans lost their homes, the popularity of Tiny Houses has been growing strongly. For many, the affordable homes are a way to realize the dream of home ownership, while others prefer the mobility over a fixed property. Some have also been saved from homelessness by the mini houses.

The charity Mobile Leaves & Fishes, for example, uses low-cost houses in Austin, Texas, to offer homeless people a home again. Covering an area of just under 21 hectares, the “Community First! Village” is now home to 200 people. Over the years, more and more of the tiny houses have been added, as satellite images show. The mobile homes and tiny houses cost between $25,000 and $40,000 and are financed by donations. Residents pay only a monthly rent, but are allowed to choose the interior design of their mini house. However, most of the more than one hundred Tiny Houses do not have kitchens or bathrooms. Instead, there are communal facilities in the village.

But even in the USA, such large settlements are still rare. Contrary to what is often thought, building regulations and development plans exist even in the promised land of freedom. However, these vary greatly by state and county. Texas, for example, has very Tiny House-friendly regulations. Many counties allow Tiny Houses on lots, even though some of them must then have a permanent foundation and are therefore no longer mobile.

If a Tiny House has wheels, it is considered a “recreational vehicle” (RV). In that case, owners may only place Tiny Houses in campgrounds that allow permanent living quarters. U.S. building code does not recognize Tiny Houses as a form of housing, which sometimes makes it difficult to meet minimum living spaces and other requirements. However, as Tiny Houses become more popular, some mini house enthusiasts are now trying to change that and create clarity through firm, legal regulations. More and more counties and states are also becoming more open to Tiny Houses and approving exceptions because of their growing popularity.

Even though future Tiny House owners in the U.S. have to overcome some bureaucratic hurdles, they have it a lot easier than in Germany. Because in this country, a major obstacle awaits builders: German building law, one of the most complicated in the world. State building regulations and development plans specify how a house is to be built. Whether fa├žade material, roof shape or minimum size, just about everything is specified. If you want to live permanently in your Tiny House, you have to comply with all these building regulations. Because as soon as the Tiny House is permanently located in one place, it must be approved like any residential building. To this end, the Tiny House must be connected to the sewage system and to the power grid. Building land is scarce and expensive, which makes it even more difficult for Tiny House owners to realize their dream of a mini house.

Those who want to own a mobile Tiny House have to deal with even more red tape. That’s because if the Tiny House has wheels, it must comply not only with building laws but also with road traffic regulations – at least whenever it is moved on the road. The mini houses on a trailer can be a maximum of 2.55 meters wide and four meters high. The length depends on another factor: weight. Anyone who wants to tow the Tiny House with their car must not exceed a maximum weight of 3.5 tons. In contrast to the USA, where houses can be up to twelve meters long, in Germany the limit is usually 7.80 meters.

But bureaucracy is not preventing Tiny Houses from gaining more and more followers in Germany. The first Tiny House settlement in Mehlmeisel in the Fichtelgebirge region has been in existence since 2017, and almost 30 people now live there. But areas for the mini-houses are also being created in other regions and even major cities such as Dortmund. While most smaller towns and municipalities are organizing space for a few Tiny Houses, larger settlements are often being built on campsites. This is because permanent living is often permitted there and no building permit is required. In Mehlmeisel, too, the founders bought a former campsite. In the meantime, the site has been officially entered in the development plan as a residential area for micro houses – a first in Germany.

In the Netherlands, setting up a Tiny House is not necessarily less complicated than in Germany. There, too, Tiny Houses are considered residential buildings and must comply with building regulations. Mobile Tiny Houses are additionally subject to the same limitations as in Germany, both in terms of weight and dimensions.

The minimum size of the living space, the width of the entrance, the steepness of the stairs – all these details are specified in the “Bouwbesluit” (Building Decree) of 2012. But Dutch building law offers Tiny House builders two back doors. In the Netherlands, five principles apply to building: Safety, health, usability, energy efficiency and environmental protection. Anyone planning their Tiny House is allowed to deviate from the usual specifications – as long as they comply with these five standards. For example, it is possible to install a steeper and thus space-saving staircase if it is just as safe as a standard staircase. However, builders must apply for this so-called “equivalency determination” for each change, and it is recommended that the application be written by an architect, which in turn incurs additional costs.

Another loophole opens up for those who build or commission their own houses. This is because the authorities interpret some regulations less strictly for private buildings. Once all the changes have been approved and the Tiny House meets all the other requirements, it receives environmental approval, similar to the German building permit.

Anyone then looking for a plot of land for their Tiny House will come across many pilot projects that Dutch cities have initiated in recent years. One of the first settlements was the village “Minitopia De Rompert” in `s-Hertogenbosch. The Tiny House Village was initiated by architect Rolf van Boxmeer and designer Tessa Peters. They want to show how sustainable and innovative forms of housing can be created in practice. The settlements do not have to be permanent. The first Tiny House village, for example, was designed to last only two years, as the satellite images also show. In the meantime, van Boxmeer and Peters are planning several new settlements – all of them temporary.

If a city is not currently running a Tiny House project, Dutch Tiny House fans still have an alternative: the vacation park. Permanent housing is allowed in many Dutch resorts, and more and more operators have discovered Tiny Houses as a new source of income. Therefore, many now offer the mini houses for sale or rent. For some, interested parties can even buy the land directly.