Tiny houses, big dreams - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Tiny houses, big dreams

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MT. HOREB (WKOW) -- For many Americans who cannot buy traditional homes, tiny homes provide affordability and mobility in times of potential financial instability.

Bob Fenrich is building a one-room micro-home that measures 8 by 20 feet, just south of Mt. Horeb on his friend's property in Daleyville. The insulated, four-season structure with cedar siding and a steel roof is held together with about 70 pounds of screws. When Fenrich finishes installing a lofted bed, compost toilet, shower and even a fireplace inside, he and his wife Rose will move into their tiny home during the spring.

"My wife and I always wanted a house of our own and we really couldn't afford the traditional foundation type house," Fenrich said.

The reduction in scale simply makes sense. The last of Fenrich's six children will soon move out of the 1500-square-foot house the Fenrichs are currently renting, and then Bob and Rose will move into the 200-square-foot tiny house.

"We also believe that the best way for us to retire was to stay flexible. If our kids move somewhere else or we want to spend the winter somewhere else, we can just hook up the truck and away we go," Fenrich said.

Though ordinances vary from place to place, Fenrich says tiny houses can go and park pretty much wherever and RV can.  

Becoming more popular during the Global Recession, tiny homes have continued to spring up in parts of Europe and on the United States' West Coast. A new tiny house hotel opened in Portland, Ore. this month.

"These tiny houses, I find very intriguing," University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of business Stephen Malpezzi said.

Malpezzi says that tiny home buyers are usually young, single people who are interested in architecture and design, or feel a strong connection with the environment.

"[Environmentalists] are trying to push the envelope that way, but honestly I don't see the tiny house market being much more than a niche market, much the same as a 8,000-square-foot home," Malpezzi said.

Though tiny houses are not likely to greatly impact the overall housing market, there is still some trouble in tiny town.

"I will say the biggest issue we've had so far is the insurance issue. I sat down with my insurance guy before we built it and he said no problem, but by the time I had it all framed up, he said nobody will touch it," Fenrich said.

Malpezzi says tiny homes are still new enough that insurers and city governments don't know how to treat them.

"I think the option of getting back to smaller houses, and having that option available and legal – that the zoning and building codes permit it – I think that's a great thing. I'm very interested in seeing how this goes moving forward," Malpezzi said.

Regardless, Fenrich's big dreams for his tiny house stay strong. He and his wife have been holding garage sales and selling their personal items in order to pare down. They plan on their first out-of-state stop being either Florida or Colorado.

"And I'm interested in seeing if we can withstand a winter in North Dakota," Fenrich said.

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