Ben Kraft (MArch) Scales Back to Achieve [Tiny] Homeownership

Could you live in 220 square feet? This summer, Ben Kraft (Architecture) and his wife will move into his ambitious Masters of Architecture final project — a fully-furnished tiny house. He hopes to set an example for other young people struggling to save for a down payment. “I’m trying to solve a problem, not just build a home for myself.”

Kraft is concerned about financial burden caused by housing, defined as spending more than 30 percent of household income on housing costs, especially among his millennial peers. While many people in their 20s and 30s are getting married, having children, and putting down roots, homeownership remains elusive. “It’s so unaffordable that it’s becoming an unrealistic goal,” he explained. “But what if we designed around how we actually live instead of what the residential complex tells us we need?”

With only $12,000, Kraft used design and construction skills to build a 220 square foot house that meets his family’s housing needs. For example, his wife is a chef who enjoys cooking at home. But “our current apartment, and a lot of the rentals we’ve lived in, put a wall between the kitchen and whatever else is happening.” They added a nook so Kraft can keep her company while she prepares meals; and despite their house’s tiny footprint, its kitchen is actually larger than the one in their current apartment.

gestureKraft is from Alaska and plans to move back to the Pacific Northwest. His facade incorporates a rain screen system, which helps it dry quickly in a rainy climate. A layer of continuous insulation keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. “I designed it for the worst possible conditions,” Kraft explained. The weather-proof design elements also boost the house’s energy efficiency. He installed a shore power system similar to those on boats and RVs, and the whole house runs on a 30 amp panel. (Most new homes draw closer to 200 amps.) The system can be adapted to a number of power sources, and Kraft hopes to install solar panels one day.

While he’s developed a design solution to the rising cost of homeownership, he still faces a policy barrier. Most municipalities consider a tiny house with wheels to be an RV, and one without wheels to be accessory dwelling unit, meaning it’s illegal to park and live in a tiny house full-time.  For example, Minneapolis sets the minimum dwelling unit size at 500 square feet.

However, Kraft mentioned that several municipalities, including Seattle, WA and Austin, TX, are rewriting zoning laws and piloting tiny house communities to encourage environmentally-friendly dwelling units. “With this project, I’m looking at the big picture — not just cool tiny houses on wheels, but how minimizing your square footage can really help you own a home,” he said.

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