Asheville is nationally known for its eclectic locals, world-class art scene, renowned scenery and outdoor activities, and burgeoning dining and beverage industry. It’s no wonder that the city, and indeed the greater Western North Carolina region, attracts people from all walks of life and all interests. But while other cities with such credentials attract homebuyers looking for celebrity homes and stately mansions, in our region, there’s a different scene that draws curious transplants to our area: tiny homes.
Finding a Home for Tiny Homes
Because of tiny homes’ weird standing in many local zoning and regulation codes, as well as the unique kind of communities built around them, people interested in building or buying a tiny home first seek out areas in which they are both legal and popular. Many tiny house aficionados first think of Austin, TX; Brainerd, MN; Ojai, CA; or Rockledge, FL when seeking out tiny home-friendly locations. Then there are places like Portland, OR that have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for tiny house owners.
But compared to most of the US, Asheville is “pretty far ahead of a lot of other places,” according to Laura LaVoie, tiny home builder and author of the Life in 120 Square Feet blog.
Laura and her partner Matt built their Madison County tiny house by hand after researching several types of alternative housing options. They decided on a small house because the Tiny House Movement matched their values and lifestyle perfectly. After so many years in a large home in Atlanta, the pair was looking for quiet living in a space that much better suited their needs.
Asheville SHAC’s Big Mission for Tiny Homes
Asheville’s regulations did not allow for tiny homes when they were searching for land in WNC, so now Laura and Matt are now actively involved in helping the city lower its restrictions. “Building our tiny home was so instrumental to getting us to where we are now—physically and philosophically—that we want to offer other people the same opportunity,” said Laura.
The pair are active members of the Asheville Small Home Advocacy Commission (SHAC), a group of dedicated volunteers working together and with the city of Asheville to make micro-homes a solution for affordable living. From their own experience building their home and their work with Asheville SHAC, Laura says she’s learned a lot about the building and zoning restrictions that make tiny homes so controversial around the nation.
The Controversy Behind Tiny Homes
“The controversy comes mostly from tiny homes on wheels,” Laura said. “Around the nation, tiny homes tend to be regulated like self-built RVs. This means building codes are not applicable to them, since they’re treated like vehicles, and zoning for RVs is what causes the most issues.” Locally in Asheville, for example, the city has strict regulations about using RVs for habitable dwelling. “You can park your tiny home on wheels in your backyard, but you can’t live in it,” said Laura.
Asheville SHAC has been working with the city to focus on tiny homes with foundations, instead. Asheville City and the State of North Carolina have no minimums for the size of homes, as long as other code requirements are met. Still, sometimes meeting those other requirements can be tricky. All homes in Asheville must be hooked up to city services, a process which may not be cost effective for many because home size is not taken into account.
There are also lot size minimums in Asheville. All new lot sales must be a minimum of 5,000 square feet to be considered a conforming lot (some older small lots in dense neighborhoods are grandfathered in). This may also be a turnoff for potential tiny home buyers and builders who are looking for a minimal imprint. But Laura points out that recent changes to Asheville’s accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations offer a different kind of solution for property owners: pocket neighborhoods.
The Possibilities of Pocket Neighborhoods
Pocket neighborhoods are clusters of tiny homes on a single lot or adjoining lots. Compared to trailer parks, pocket neighborhoods offer quality construction on a smaller scale (often just a handful of tiny homes mixed into an existing neighborhood). They can be individually owned and governed collectively, similarly to condo units. Or they can offer additional rental income opportunities for a single property owner. Two communities in Flat Rock, Highland Lake Cove and the Village of Wildflowers, serve as examples.
While not advocating for pocket neighborhoods specifically, the city sees ADUs as offering “practical housing options for the elderly, empty nesters, young students, and small families.” The value of tiny homes is also expected to appreciate over time, in line with the rest of the real estate market. In this way, they allow the city to increase density and the housing supply without requiring significant infrastructure extensions.
As much attention as they receive locally and nationally, interest in tiny homes still remains a niche market. Across Western North Carolina, most regulations in place make buying or building a tiny home a complex process. From zoning and building regulations to finance and insurance, tiny homes require dedication…and a little bit of risk. But for many, it’s a risk worth taking.
“I am here today doing the thing I love most in the place I love most and it was all because I was willing to take a risk. This is what the tiny life has been all about for me. The house was just one very tiny component in my journey. But it was an important one,” said Laura.
Learn More about Tiny Homes in WNC
There are several local WNC builders focused exclusively on tiny homes. For more information about designing, building, or financing a tiny home in WNC, contact:
- Brevard Tiny Homes
- Emerald City Tiny Homes (Asheville)
- Nanostead (Asheville)
- Wishbone Tiny Homes (West Asheville)
To get involved in the local Asheville tiny home community and advocate for tiny homes as an affordable living solution, connect with Asheville SHAC and the Tiny House Asheville Meetup group. You can read more about Laura’s tiny house journey on Life in 120 Square Feet and in the upcoming anthology, Turning Tiny: The Small Living Paradigm.