January 11, 2017
5 mins read

They may be tiny, but these houses are ready to make a big difference in Clay County. Jenni Edwards, adventurer in charge at Norsk Tiny Homes, is petitioning Clay County to change its zoning laws so the houses can be built or dropped off in the area. That’s right, these houses arrive on wheels. Do not mistake them for mobile homes or RVs, though. They are simply smaller houses equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms, solar panels, living rooms, lofts and functional plumbing.

Edwards started building tiny homes after climbing up the corporate ladder for 20 years and realizing she might have had everything she wanted but it was taking her away from her family too often. She then bought a “little Shasta Airflyte camper” and spent 10 months in it “enjoying a simpler life.” Her camper had a toilet in the bathtub and she was forced to brush her teeth in the tiny kitchen sink, but it taught her which amenities were needed and how to design a tiny, fully functional house.

She believes people should also choose to live small because she says, “Tiny Homes can give everyone the freedom to live a better life. Living tiny is the best way to LIVE LARGE.” It gives the resident the opportunity to communicate and interact with neighbors and spend more time outdoors.

Living small does not mean giving up amenities you want. Some of the options to choose include HVAC systems, an electric or gas range/oven, a refrigerator/freezer, flushable or composting toilet, a full-size shower, luxury vinyl plank floors, exterior storage sheds and hot water heaters — essentially, just about anything you want is possible in a tiny home.

Some see Norsk’s Tiny Homes as chic cottage-style in-law suites, whereas others see the structures as ways of living within their means or teaching their children the benefis of a smaller home, so they get out and interact with those around them.

All of the houses are both Neighborhood of Affordable Houses (NOAH) and RV (RIA) certified and range anywhere from 121 to 242 square feet. Norsk says she pays close attention to Florida hurricane laws — each house is built to sustain up to 130 mph winds.

Clay County does not currently have any zoning rules that would accommodate the tiny homes, so Norsk is trying to work with the county commission to get tiny homes approved.

The county has suggested the easiest thing to do would be to make it a zoning law of its own instead of modifying existing rules and regulations. This would require a letter of intent from Norsk Homes, a vote before the commission, public information forums and a final approval by the county commissioners. The process is expected to begin in February.

County Commissioner Mike Cella told Folio Weekly that he thinks the houses will be welcomed in the community. “We have not had a lot of inquiries into that type of housing yet. … Tiny houses are an increasingly popular housing option around the country [and] I have no doubt Clay County residents would also be interested if they were available,” Cella said.

Another attractive aspect of the homes is that they are relatively affordable. They can run from $35,000 to more than $100,000 — it depends on the customer, because each home is custom-made to suit their needs and wants.

Cella said, “They certainly would provide an option for those of our residents in the market for economical housing.”

Tiny houses have become popular thanks in part to HGTV’s show Tiny House Hunters and DIY Network’s show Tiny House, Big Living. Since these shows debuted, more and more people have been interested in owning a tiny home or trying to find out how anyone can live in a house that small. Recently, a Tiny House Festival held in St. Johns County attracted nearly 10,000 attendees.

Asked by FW about the overwhelming success of tiny houses, John Feld, SVP Original Programming & Production, HGTV, DIY Network and Great American County said, “Ever since premiering on HGTV in 2015, Tiny House programming has enjoyed double-digit ratings growth for both HGTV and DIY Network year after year.”

Tiny houses have taken off so much in popularity, a new series has been added to keep up with the demand. Feld said, “We now have numerous series and specials in production, including Tiny House Hunters, Tiny House Big Living, Tiny Luxury, Tiny Paradise and Mighty Tiny Houses.”

He said they were initially surprised that tiny houses were an immediate hit, but soon discovered “1) The growing demand across the nation for downsizing; 2) an increasing growing number of ‘tiny curious’ — those who fantasize about downsizing (but probably never will) and can’t imagine how in the world a couple can live in 200 square feet of space!; 3) those urban, big-city dwellers who find great takeaways in all our Tiny shows that they can use in their apartments and condos.”

When FW asked if he thought Florida was a good place for tiny houses and if they would take off in Clay County, Feld said, “We find the warm weather states (including Florida) are leading the charge in excitement over the Tiny movement — probably because of the portability of many of these homes (they are often built on trailers and sometimes remain on wheels for easy transport) that make even northern tiny house owners contemplate a tiny house vacation each winter in the sunny confines of Florida.”

Palm Beach County resident Allan Brown knows firsthand what it’s like to live in a smaller space; he’s lived in a tiny home for the last year-and-a-half. His house started off as a shed that he modified into a home on a plot of land. He told FW, “I enjoyed living in it by myself, but with two people, it’s a little small.” To be exact, his living space is 264 square feet and it’s equipped with a bathroom, shower, kitchen, living room and open space bedroom.

Brown said he had a hard time getting Palm Beach County to allow him to build the tiny home due to zoning regulations, so he set about creating an “out of sight, out of mind situation.”

He said the neighbors were actually very happy he built the tiny home on the lot because he cleaned up the area when he bought it and made it more attractive.

Edwards’ vision for the future is to allow people like Brown to live in communities among others who also have tiny homes. She said her company “already has people interested in being part of the Tiny House Community in Clay County.” They are also ready to build. Edwards says, “[After] Clay County passes Zoning and Building Code exceptions, our next step will be to find a developer/investor interested in working with us to make this dream a reality for so many.”

A representative from the Florida Green Building Coalition said, “The ICC has just approved a new Appendix for Tiny Houses to bring needed safety standards to tiny house construction. I believe this Appendix will be incorporated into the 2018 version of the ICC.”

The only real hurdles facing tiny house construction in Clay County is how receptive the community is and if the commissioners will amend the building code.

Commissioner Cella said, “[I] would like to see us move ahead cautiously in making tiny houses available, because it may provide a boost to the housing industry in the county. Before taking that step, we still have to determine where we would allow them to be built and the impact they would have on housing values, if any, throughout the rest of the county. In the long run, the market will decide whether it is a long term and viable option for housing here in Clay County.”

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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