February 17, 2007

What's the difference between living in a trailer...

... and this?

One answer: People in a trailer don't say: "It feels acutely more sheltering to be in a tiny house rather than a big one... Looking out at the vastness of the environment heightens your sense of containment.”


Anonymous said...

One gets hit by a tornado, the other's oscillated by le tourbillon magnifique.

Bruce Hayden said...

The difference is also having a 3,000 (or often much larger) primary residence; putting the tiny house on your 160 acres near Telluride, where the cost of the land itself would probably pay for a lot of 2,000 sq. ft. houses elsewhere; and they arrive at their tiny homes in SUVs that aren't their primary vehicles either.

paul a'barge said...

What Bruce said, +1.

These yutzes could have bought a camper trailer, complete with kitchen, bath and shower.

Instead, they suckered themselves into an enviro fantasy.

No problem, it's their money, their property and their sense of moral hierarchy over the rest of us.

Wait for the other shoe ... these folks get jobs as unelected bureaucrats on county building-code boards and start deciding that the rest of us must live this way.

Think that's paranoia? Try observing Austin, TX and its outlying areas.

Bruce Hayden said...

At one level though, this isn't much different from what one guy I work with at the ski area has: a 4,000 sq. ft. house in VA (by himself), and a one bedroom condo here. He doesn't seem to need anything more here - all of his stuff is in VA, and as he has pointed out, he would have to clean (or have cleaned) more here if he had it.

On the other hand though, it is the same sort of liberal preening that has Al Gore buying carbon credits so he can fly his entourage to Cannes by private jet to show his film and then use a fleet of limos to shuttle back and forth a couple of blocks there.

Of course, those actually living in trailers mostly can't afford to buy carbon credits, so are fair game for complaints that they put too much CO2 in the air with their vehicles. (After all, if you have a fleet of vehicles (like the Kerrys, where John couldn't remember if that Suburban was theirs or not)), then the ones that you aren't driving right now don't pollute either).

Peter Hoh said...


Bruce Hayden said...


Here in Dillon, CO, a ski resort community an hour west of Denver, the town council is filled with retirees (often with multiple homes) and real estate brokers. Not surprisingly, they don't see eye to eye on development.

Also, having lived in the PRA (People's Republic of Austin), nothing surprises me there. Boulder here is very similar - the city long ago passed ZPG legislation and the county is now going environmentally bonkers. Of course, living like that is a lot easier if you have cashed in on a lot of stock options, or just inherited your money in the first place. Both Austin and Boulder have a lot of high tech money floating around, and a lot of people living there who are into maximizing their own personal quality of life through the sort of land planning that maximizes the values of their own existing properties, while keeping the riff-raff out.

Unknown said...

window size.

Plus it's a statement that they need shelter but have the land to enjoy the land. I live in a national forest area where's it's always funny how people will move up to the forest only to spend all their time in their big houses, filling them with all manner of conveniences, so they are still insulated from the outside. These are people who likely spend all their time outside, and want to use their land as more than a place to plop their big hous

I'm curious why this would offend anyone. What's the inherent virtue of having a big house?

Some people really like being outside (in CA at least where the weather year round allows it) and just need a place to sleep.

The Drill SGT said...

I got a kick out of this line:

"Minimal square footage means reduced maintenance costs, less upkeep and reduced energy consumption."

The guy in Red Bluff doesn't seem to have electric power, nor a stove vent, nor a water/sewer/septic connect that I can see.

Oh, and Red Bluff must be a 5-6 hour drive in an SUV for a SF lawyer. Besides, it's not very pretty there.

The micro-houses that make sense are those bungalows on 17 mile drive in Carmel, out by Pebble Beach. square footage for that land (not house) must run in the thousands (each ft)

Unknown said...

This guy has taste. People who live in trailers are just tacky.

babuilder said...

The folks that settled the West are no doubt spinning in their graves when they hear that you can't live in a tent at 9,600 ft.

chuck b. said...

Oh, the snickering of the Althouse commentariat. Sometimes fun.

I'm thinking a an environmental law atty in San Francisco does not in fact drive an SUV, more likely a hybrid car, but imagine what you happy.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm actually fascinated by the idea of compressing my earthly belongings into the smallest possible space. I wouldn't do it in a very isolated place like this though. I'd rather have an RV, so I could get the hell out if I want. But I don't even want an RV. Too clunky. Too ugly. I'd like a perfectly laid-out but small condo with big windows and a great view.

chuck b. said...

Plus, Ann, RVs and trailers are gas-powered and made out of non-recycled materials, and that's exactly what these people are not going for.

chuckR said...


Maybe what you need is an old fashioned gypsy wagon. Fine HomeBuilding featured one - back issue still available. With a modern suspension and beautiful joinery, one of these is an alternative to the iconic Airstream. Unfortunately, probably more expensive than a much larger and uglier RV.

SippicanCottage said...
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Jack Shaftoe said...

This solves all problems: http://www.earthroamer.com/

Freder Frederson said...

The main reason people don't do innovative and simple things with their dwellings is because it is against the law to do so.

Which is really begging the question because zoning laws, which are almost always influenced by development forces, deliberately encourage suburban sprawl and larger than necessary houses.

Beth said...

A lot of people who lost their homes in the floods after Katrina are living in tiny little trailers. The space isn't the problem; it's that they're dangerous. The propane tanks blow and at least once a month someone dies in a trailer fire. They are little tin death shacks in a big storm, and last week an 85-year-old woman died after being tossed about in hers by a tornado.

These small houses are very similar to an alternative that was rejected, as Sippican references, because of bureaucratic policies. Trailers are temporary, while require an installation, with real gas, plumping and electricity. But they're safe, and can be added onto. Oh, and they cost the same or less than the trailers.

J said...

"I'm thinking a an environmental law atty in San Francisco does not in fact drive an SUV, more likely a hybrid car, but imagine what you happy"

Or more likely something like an XC90, which burns as much gas as a Suburban but has that Volvo nameplate to establish their environmentalist bona fides.

As for Ann's original question: nothing. There's probably a large, very profitable market for upscale "manufactured homes" marketed to wealthy environmental types as a green product. Sadly for the buyers, the tornadoes won't be fooled.

SippicanCottage said...
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Ruth Anne Adams said...

The commenter formerly known as Elizabeth said: A lot of people who lost their homes in the floods after Katrina are living in tiny little trailers. The space isn't the problem; it's that they're dangerous.

A friend of mine told his Torts professor that trailers are not damaged in tornadoes. Trailers cause tornadoes.

Beth said...

Ruth Anne,

(Don't strike me down, Lord, for joking about tornados just days after the bad, bad things happened to people I know...)

Okay, having got that out of the way, in the most unscientific region of my brain, I believe your friend. I suspect that someday we'll find that a high concentration of aluminum creates an effect during storms that causes--or attracts--tornados.

SippicanCottage said...
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Beth said...

Sippican, come on down; we still need small, affordable houses. There are people in Florida living in FEMA trailers fourteen years after their big one. I hope we can avoid that here.

Don't stop with the govnuh--that money train is rolling all up and down the tracks. Those trailers cost about $70k a pop, and they're provided courtesy of a bunch of different poliically connected companies, including Shaw Group and Halliburton. The money seems to be getting to the big contractors but not to the people actually working on their houses, nor to the Army Corp of Engineers, who are working on the levees. (The governor's office rehab was pre-Katrina; it's only fair to point that out. I'm not going to argue that she's competent, though; I wouldn't argue that about any elected official, national or local. Not anymore.)

The most impressive stuff is being done by regular people, with creative ideas. If there's a Lonestar Steak joint in your town, give them some of your business. They're taking their own money and creating what they call "house in a box," a decently built, pre-fab house much like those cottages, and shipping them to New Orleans.

chuckR said...


You have it more within your power to remove Nagin and Blanco than anybody on the national level. That should be Job One. And as an engineer, I'd suggest that you don't ask to the Army Corps of Engineers to do you any more favors. That river is going to go where it wants sooner or later and as I understand it, much of what the Corps has done helped remove the lower delta buffer against storm surges. New Orleans is part of the soul of America - I want it back - but there are parts where would be prudent not to reinhabit it.

SippicanCottage said...
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Kirk Parker said...

"I'm actually fascinated by the idea of compressing my earthly belongings into the smallest possible space. "

I'd be too worried about the subsequent Big Bang to give it a try...

Beth said...

Sippican, you're right about the outcome of years of bureaucratic hurdles. The problem with the big contractors isn't in the choices they make or don't make, it's that their sucking up the bucks and not delivering enough.

You actually could do some good here; the excellent part about the aftermath of chaos is that there is room for people to do what they want, without as much interference. There are all sorts of small building and development projects going on.

Beth said...

chuck, you're more right about the COE than you think, and certainly right about how changing the river's path has contributed to our loss of floodplain.

But it's not really the river that caused the big problems we're working on now. The river levees are good, and well-designed--I never want to live more than 10 blocks from the river if I can help it. The levees between the river and the lake are the ones that failed, and the COE designed and built them. It sucks relying on them to restore and improve those designs.

I agree with you that there are areas where no one should rebuild. You might enjoy a little political irony here. Mayor Nagin is libertarian; he's opposed to excessive regulation and thinks people should be trusted to make their own decisions. He's also a political coward, so that libertarian thing is convenient. He'll never impose regulations that would shrink the city's footprint to within the most flood-defensible areas. And that brings us back to the COE, levees, the feds, better designs (the Netherlands and Japan know a lot about designing flood protection) and so forth.

There are pages and pages and pages to be written on this. I don't want to go on anymore about it, if you don't mind. It causes my head to swell and burst.

dick said...

I read these things and really want to crack up. I have a friend living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife. They have lived in the same 250 sq ft apartment for almost 25 years. He is now paying almost $1500/month. They not only live there but also run a business out of the apartment. They have a loft bed, a small closet in what at one time was a closet, a small living area and a dining area by the kitchen. There is no balcony or outside amenities at all. Two windows looking an a scrub patch of back yard.

They even have parties in that place for up to about 8 people. They would love more space but need to be close to their work which involves a lot to do with Lincoln Center. They cannot step outside to cook, etc, but manage quite well.

If you look at the size of most of the older apartments, a 2-BR is usually somewhere around 700 sq ft and people raise families in those things. 1-BR apartments are somewhere usually between 300-500 sq ft which is right in with the size talked about with these houses and people live in these place for years with no other home available.

Strikes me that the whole story is a whole lot of not much about not much but then I live in the city.

SippicanCottage said...
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Beth said...

So that's where the Cottage comes from in Sippican Cottage. Very cool.

Let's keep this conversation going, in bits and pieces, over the next few years. I think we'll see some innovative results over the long run of recovery here.

I also think that your idea, for disaster-response, sturdy, quick, small housing, is going to take root over time. The concept wasn't ready to be implemented large-scale here, after our disaster, but it keeps gaining steam. And there are other, tangential responses that make sense to me--there are companies selling fairly affordable pre-fab housing ($75-$150 sq/ft, depending on the amenities you want) to folks who are managing to put together their insurance money and other income to build anew. The neat thing is that the companies are coming up with a selection of designs that fit into our architectural history--shotguns, Creole cottages, etc.

Looks like Mac R's going to be here Monday night, Lundi Gras, my second-favorite night of parades. Do you have my favorite of his Night Tripper songs, "Walk on Gilded Splinters"? You must give it a listen sometime.

babuilder said...


I share your disdain for regulators and regulations that get in the way of projects that should fly or fail on their own merit, but I learned back in the seventies that the fastest way to bankruptcy was to build small affordable housing for baby boomers just starting out. We expected our first house to be like our parents last house.

It sounds like Sippican Cottage would be a good fit for NO. I agree with him that with land developed and utilities in place his houses could be built at his target price but with lots of help on the red tape. I would love to know more about Lonestar Steakhouse's contributions. Do you know where info is available?

ellenbrenna said...

Everyone who criticizes open space policies in places like Boulder forget that it is still expensive to live here because there is a high demand to live in places like Boulder. Places that are not sprawled out, places with distinctive neighborhoods, places you can walk around and ride your bike through.

You can limit the supply of something all you like but if it is something nobody is interested in owning the price will never go up. Limited growth policies helped preserve the character of the town and that is why people come to it.

Laws against outlying buildings in the suburbs are not meant to favor developers they are meant to limit the availability of rental property thus ensuring the economic status of neighborhood residents (mostly or solely house purchasers).

Cedarford said...

There's isn't a dime's bit of difference between the 'environmental footprint' --whatever the hell that means to Gaia freaks -- of one person and another in the United States.

Incorrect. There is enormous difference in energy usage by individuals in the USA. If you doubt that, slap a 1.00 a gallon tax on oil and a 5 cent a KW-hr tax on electricity to go to energy independence solutions. Some people will scream, others are not hurt, others can afford it, and the vast majority will find ways to cut back.

In sophisticated economies, you are relying on the interactions of so many people and things you can never discern everything that goes into any one thing, never mind everything.

The "everything is so interralated and complex no one can figure out how to save or conserve" argument was tried in the early 70s and went out the window with gas lines and huge price increases - they learned, the market learned where indicidual and collective wastage was. Same today. People do not know the exact "energy contribution" or pollution associated making a ton of paper or a head of lettuce...but we can use education, regulation, and pushing the market to conserve to make them aware.

It's a kind of moral conceit tied up with meaningless gestures. Only very wealthy people can indulge in such conceits.


Our conceits like having Open Borders and the "Instant Citizen Baby Squat" that illegals do - that will "grow" America from 300 million to 420 million by 2050 and wipe out any conservation and "renewable" usage gains. Our conceits include banning the one true CO2-free renewable that can be used reliably 24/7 and on the vast scale needed - nuclear power. Our conceits about not exploring and drilling off any of our coasts or "pristine Alaska". Better rain forests be cut down for ethanol crops and for oil that funds terrorism overseas!

As for moral conceit, it is hard to beat the arrogant who say that wealthy people who can afford it "have the right to use all the energy they want and expect US soldiers to fight and die to keep it coming". It is one thing to have to tell a soldier that he risks dying to keep the oil flowing to heat some nurse's modest house in Pennsylvania or grow the crops we need or for vital transportation - its another to say they have to die to keep excess luxury going strong. The oil going to a guy who has 6 McMansions, a fleet of 8 SUVs, a 1/3rd a mile a gallon power yacht, and a Gulfstream V with over 90,000 miles a year put on it, and a staff of 12 personal flunkies and 22 Senate staff members catering to his needs.

Almost by definition, these tiny places cost everybody, as a whole, more for what they deliver than big places. A big place is more versatile and can serve the needs of more, different people.

John Edwards lost his latest blog spinner. You should contact him. I have not heard a better defense of his "Two Americas" 28,000 square foot mansion for a family of 4 than yours.

Freder Frederson said...

It's a little early for the bong, donthca think?

Rather than just accusing me of being high, why don't you address my point. The reason you can't build a 100 square foot outbuilding is not some aesthetic concern it is most likely a blunt tool designed to uphold property values in your neighborhood by ensuring that small rental properties or housing units are not built. Zoning laws in general are written to protect property values, not create livable communities.

And I can't believe this, but I find myself agreeing almost one hundred percent with Cedarford. Although I do disagree on some of his suggested solutions (increased drilling only delays the inevitable).

Beth said...


The story would have been in our local press, or on a local blog. I'll do some searching and email you when I find it.

SippicanCottage said...
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Freder Frederson said...

You don't have a point to be addressed. No offense, but you have no idea what you are talking about.

The point you appear to be trying to be make is that people would build smaller homes if not for nefarious regulations. It is of course much more complex than that. Regulations that require minimum square footage for housing or minimum lot size are put in place for one reason, to maintain property values. Developers often demand such restrictions so they can get top dollar for their subdivisions and create enforceable covenants.

I don't know what other "regulations" you are objecting to. Building codes that require standards for wiring, plumbing, building materials, etc? One of the major problems in New Orleans was that many of the houses were inadequately secured to their foundations and literally floated away. Newer houses and those pesky "regulations" ensure that doesn't happen.

SippicanCottage said...
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chuckR said...


You know, there are other places to live instead of the People's Republic of Massachusetts. Many of those places - hell, most - are less restrictive. BTW, I did like the Laocoon imagery - government regulation does squeeze the life right out of you. It took several months for my brother to get a goddam garage cleared and built north of Boston. That was pretty quick, all things considered.

SippicanCottage said...
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Beth said...

Sippican: "I don't want to be responsible for even one person to read my remarks and think it's a hopeless situation, why bother?"

Thanks for that second thought. I didn't think in those terms, reading your posts, because I could tell you were keeping up to date on the many twists and changes we're experiencing. It's easy for me to forget that most people are seeing very small, often inaccurate, slices of news from here.

The Laocoon image is perfect.

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