• There are more than 10,000 tiny homes in the US.
  • Montana has an affordable housing shortage.
  • Interview with a Billings, MT tiny home owner.

In the 1950s the average size of a home in the US was a very modest 983 square feet. Every decade since, our homes have gotten larger, while the average household size has gotten smaller. By 1990 the average home in the US was 2,080 square feet. Currently, the average home size hovers around 2,400 square feet, slightly down from the 2020/21 COVID boom when everyone thought they needed a home office and builders rushed to meet the demand.

Home sizes vary by region, of course. An average home in urban New York will probably be smaller than the 3,500+ sq. ft. cookie-cutter homes that dot subdivisions all over Montana.

The tiny home sits in Lockwood, MT. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
The tiny home sits in Lockwood, MT. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

Tiny homes aren't a new concept.

The idea of living in a small footprint isn't a new thing, but the concept gained fresh attention after the housing bubble burst of 2008 - 2009. Many Americans began exploring the idea of downsizing. Not just their home size, but their stuff in general. Social media and television shows about mini-homes helped propel the fantasy of tiny-house living.

What is it really like living in a tiny home in Montana?

Jaci Bjorne (Disclosure: a co-worker here at TSM) has been living in her tiny home in Billings for around 18 months. The charming little house is a minuscule 360 sq. feet, measuring just 8.5 x 32 feet, and is 14 feet tall; essentially the same dimensions as a medium-sized camper or the same square footage as a hotel suite. Here's our Q&A about her experience.

The house is just 360 sq. ft. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
The house is just 360 sq. ft. It's connected to city water and electricity. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

What inspired her to live in a tiny home?

Bjorne's now-ex was captivated by the idea of a tiny home, largely due to shows like Tiny House Nation, which features super-small homes around the US. "He was a little bit obsessed with the idea", she recounts.

Where did they purchase the tiny home and how much did it cost?

Depending on your construction skill level, tiny homes can be built entirely from scratch, bought as a shell and finished by the owner, or purchased turn-key from companies that specialize in building tiny homes.  Bjorne said it was important that their tiny home be easily moved.

After extensive research, they bought their tiny home from a Texas-based company called Decathlon. It's constructed on a heavy-duty frame built in Colorado. It has permanent wheels for easy transport with a heavy-duty pickup. Bjorne said they paid $138,000 for the tiny house (with several high-end finishes like marble countertops and subway tile in the bathroom). That equates to roughly $383 per square foot. New construction costs for a traditionally built home now average between $225 and $400 per square foot, notes Big Sky Builders.

Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

How difficult was it to find a place to park it?

The tiny home mystique is appealing to many. If you're considering the idea, Jaci advises you to do your research on where you can park a tiny home. Many neighborhoods and subdivisions require homes to have minimum square footage in their covenants and restrictions. Some mobile home parks will allow tiny homes and some RV parks will too, while others do not. Bjorne currently has their tiny home parked in a small RV lot in Lockwood that is shared with five other RVs.

Jurisdictions may require various certifications as well.

"We have two certifications on it because you need some sort of certification proving that it was built up to some sort of code, which is a little bit difficult because tiny houses are such a new thing. So we have two certifications. One is the Pacific Coast certification. One is a NOAH certification, both of which classify it as an RV", said Jaci.

The galley kitchen and stairs to loft. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
The galley kitchen and stairs to the loft. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

How much are tiny home utility bills in Montana?

Tiny homes are by nature much more efficient to heat or cool, simply because they are so small. For Jaci's tiny Montana home, she pays around $20 per month to refill the propane tank (used for on-demand hot water and the camp-stove style cooktop) and around $65 per month for electricity. Sewer, water, and garbage are included in her $800 per month lot rent. 

A normal sized tub/shower in the bathroom. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
A normal-sized tub/shower in the tiled bathroom. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

Where does she keep all her stuff?

Even the simplest among us possess a lot of stuff. Bjorne and her now-ex went from a 2,200 sq. ft. home (full of things) to 360 square feet. Regarding all of their items, she says, "I got rid of so much. Couches, chairs, some clothing, a ton of stuff. I still have a storage unit with my books on my bookshelves that I will never get rid of. And everything else we just pared down and put into the tiny house."

She shared an example of where they formerly had a kitchen full of cookware. She now has one good pot and one good pan.

Main living area. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
Main living area. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

Does it ever feel too claustrophobic?

"I never experienced it feeling too small. I felt like living in the 2200 square feet with just two people... it felt entirely too big. It was frustratingly large. I felt like we had a lot of really unused space. And that was hard for me. I'm a very pragmatic person. So having the amount of space I need makes more sense."

As someone who likes to entertain, Bjorne said she misses the opportunity to have groups of friends or family over for parties or celebrations. Hosting Christmas dinner for twelve guests isn't an option in a tiny home.

A multi-spot and the loft. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM
A multi-use spot and the loft. Credit Jaci Bjorne, TSM

The tiny home is for sale... would she ever do it again?

"It depends on my situation. I think that having three dogs is the hardest thing for me. So if I had fewer dogs, I would probably do it again. But I would also customize it in a way that I wanted rather than a way that my partner wanted. So that's that's a big thing. I would do it again." Bjorne added that she'd like to explore another unique small-home movement that has become popular, a container home.

Would you want to live in a tiny home? Do you currently live in a micro dwelling? Share your thoughts or experiences with a comment on our Facebook page, reach out on the Mobile App Chat, or shoot me an email: michael.foth@townsquaremedia.com

LOOK: The 25 least expensive states to live in

Here are the top 25 states with the lowest cost of living in 2022, using data Stacker culled from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Gallery Credit: Aubrey Jane McClaine

More From Mix 97.1