Feature, V2I4

From Sheds to Tiny Homes

12x26-tiny-house-rental-airbnb-appleblossom-cottage-interior-hirez-home-office1_sbmYou’ve undoubtedly heard about the growing popularity of tiny houses. They’re cute, far less expensive to buy and maintain than the average American home, and can even be built on wheels, meaning they can be mobile, too.

Tiny houses are attracting so much recognition that members of the industry hold vendor and educational conferences throughout the United States. For example, the Tiny House Jamboree set for early August in Colorado Springs, Colorado will play host to 25 speakers on various topics relating to tiny houses as well as numerous workshops on their construction, upkeep and allure of living in a smaller space.

So, with the huge explosion in tiny house popularity, one might think shed builders would be hammering endlessly to keep up with the demand. That is actually true, for some.

Bill Rockhill, owner, estimator, and builder with the family-owned and operated Bear Creek Carpentry, in Woodhill, New York, says he bought a sawmill in 1995 and started building sheds. As it happens, he noticed an uptick in interest in mini cabins and camping cabins in the early 1990s. Then, approximately five years later when NAFTA became law, he switched to using kiln-dried lumber in his structures and has ever since. By 1999, his company began erecting buildings on wheels so they could be mobile.

Business was humming along for Rockhill until the housing market crash in 2007–08, he says.

“When the big financial crash hit, it became a necessity to change the focus of our business,” he says. First, countless people were losing their brick-and-mortar homes but still needed a place
to rest their heads. Secondly, because owning and maintaining a tiny home costs far less than the average house, a small, yet growing, segment of the public was clamoring for them.

“Today, the tiny house phenomenon has gone mainstream. We were building them before they made the cover of Parade magazine,” says Rockhill.

Shed vs. Tiny House Building
Domenic Mangano’s Vermont-based Jamaica Cottage Shop has transformed itself from a shed building company into one that constructs tiny houses almost exclusively. When he opened his company’s doors in 1995, Jamaica Cottage Shop was constructing sheds and selling them on a Rent-to-Own basis. However, about seven years ago, Mangano says he noticed a shift in what customers were wanting, although the trend toward the “tiny house” had not yet been identified.

He says he and his staff were “showing customers cold storage sheds but after our discussions with them, we realized many actually wanted small places to live.”

Not only did potential clients lack the proper verbiage for the product they were seeking, Mangano theorizes another phenomena was in play. “There was an initial embarrassment,” about admitting interest in a tiny place to live, says Mangano.

Jamaica Cottage Shop is so busy that Mangano has added five new staffers in the past seven years, bringing the total of his full-time roster to 25 year-round employees. Selling tiny houses has
“definitely expanded our reach and increased sales. It puts us in a different category than being merely a shed manufacturer,” says Mangano.

However, business is not booming for all shed builders trying to become tiny house manufacturers, despite the seemingly unstoppable popularity of the small abodes. In fact, Ken Miller, founder and CEO of Missouri-based Classic Buildings, LLC, says his company has sold just a few tiny homes.

Granted, Classic Buildings only entered the tiny home market in the spring of 2016, but so far, Miller says he perceives the hype around tiny houses as nothing more than idle chatter. He says that while “many people are talking and asking about” tiny houses, his company has built countless sheds in which people live and are content with.

“While tiny houses are the rage, buyers are more ‘wishers’ than actual buyers,” laments Miller. The differentiations between building a shed versus a tiny house are pretty clear, says Rockwill. “A shed is like a shell,” he says. A shed is far simpler to erect than a small abode, even when Rockwill’s people aren’t constructing a fully customized tiny home.

“Sheds don’t have to be constructed with the vapor barrier of the typical house,” says Rockwill.

In addition, most sheds are not insulated, or at least are not insulated nearly as much as is a tiny house, he says. Still, says Rockwill, the two structures are relatively similar. The shell has the biggest volume of framing and sheathing. But, since the market demand is there, his staffers are called upon to complete and detail the small homes. The work is “tedious and time-consuming,” but it represents the lion’s share of Rockwill’s bottom line.

Most Requested Amenities

By far, “mostly complete” tiny houses are the best-selling item at Bear Creek Carpentry. While the small homes his company builds are custom-made, several amenities are the most popular.

According to Rockwill, those include:

  • A complete bathroom featuring a shower, toilet and sink. Bathtubs are rarely requested because they range from 20 to 24 inches, and that simply accounts for too much precious space.
  • A full kitchen including a 20- to 24-inch stove with vent hood, a sink, a refrigerator, and cabinetry.
  • Sleeping lofts, because they’re a great way to utilize otherwise unused space. They are less popular with older tiny home inhabitants, but extremely beloved by millennials.

Other ways Rockwill’s crew completes a tiny home is by installing drains in the floor. The small houses that will be subject to the Adirondack’s brutally cold and snowy winters are also injected with additional insulation. Storage staircases are also garnering attention. He says his company started offering this unique storage solution about six years ago, and since then, many manufacturers have followed suit.

Sleeping lofts are a way to utilize unused space.
Sleeping lofts are a way to utilize unused space.

“Imitation is the best compliment,” he says.

Mangano’s crew “brings it down to the basics.” He says his staff offers a three-season package to customers interested in a year-round building.

The first step taken when his crew erects a tiny house is to install a house wrap to seal the building “nice and tight. It transforms the building from cold storage to a livable space,” says Mangano.

The second step involves installing a steel corrugated roof to the structure. Next, the tiny house receives insulated windows and doors whereas on a shed, those same items generally needn’t be insulated.

But before the actual construction of a tiny house begins, Mangano says there is an incredibly important matter to consider: Will the small abode be erected on a trailer, meaning it is mobile, or stationary, meaning more permanently affixed to the ground? A tiny house more permanently attached to the ground can offer more complex toilet and shower offerings, for example.

Miller offers other sage words of advice: “Make sure the people who are talking about it [buying a tiny house] can afford it. Also, make sure the customers live somewhere where zoning laws” permit the presence of a tiny house within city limits.

Attention Beyond the Public
Both Mangano’s and Rockwill’s involvement in the tiny house industry has led them to spend some time on television. Mangano has appeared on Tiny House Nation, National Geographic and DIY Network. Rockwill has been seen on Tiny House Hunters, The Travel Channel and even filed a pilot for The Animal Planet channel.

Another entity paying attention to the tiny house trend is single women aged 35 to 65, says Mangano. Calling this group his “biggest demographic,” Mangano also describes them as “frightening because they are desperate.” The two other groups most intrigued to tiny houses are single people just starting out and empty nesters who’ve lost interest in mowing the front lawn.

“They want to live intentionally,” he says.


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