Tiny houses have become the subject of much conversation in recent years. And as the cost of mortgages and private rent grow higher, and it gets harder to put a foot on the property ladder, they may seem like a very appealing solution to our housing problems. But is living in a tiny house in the UK practical, affordable, and even legal?
Last update: September 2021
They’re neat, petite, and oh-so-sweet. They’re eco-friendly and a potentially perfect solution to the problem of skyrocketing housing costs. You’ve most likely seen them grace your social media feeds more than once. You may even know someone who owns one. We’re talking, of course, about tiny houses. They’re potentially the eco-conscious and uber-cute solution to housing crises all over the world. And though they be but little, they are fiercely well appointed, offering a compressed luxury home for a fraction of what you might pay on the current property market.
In this guide we’ll look at everything you need to know about tiny houses in the UK. So you can work out if it’s a viable option for you. But just so we’re all on the same page…
What is a tiny house?
The term “tiny house” doesn’t just refer to an architectural structure, but to a whole social and cultural movement. A whole subculture of people has arisen who eschew the traditional approach to housing (and the crippling costs that come with private rent or mortgage payments) by living in small self-contained, self-sufficient properties. Many homes are connected to the national grid, however it’s also possible to live without grid energy in a tiny home if you’re prepared to invest in the infrastructure.
Tiny homes (and tiny homesteading) is also at the centre of a green revolution. One that involves greener living with a significantly reduced carbon footprint, and less reliance on consumerism and the large quantities of waste that it creates.
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Who is best suited to a tiny house?
One of the great things about tiny homes is that they are suitable for a wide range of uses and purposes. You can use yours to completely transform your life, live off the grid and reduce your carbon footprint. Or you can simply rely on it as an alternative form of housing.
While many people use tiny houses as their primary residences, they can also be used to give you additional, affordable living space to supplement your brick and mortar home. A tiny house is often more cost-effective than as loft conversion or similar extension on your property. And one that affords more autonomy and independence, too.
In the age of glamping, a growing number of people are looking into tiny houses as potential affordable holiday homes for when they need to get back in touch with nature without missing out on their creature comforts. You can even tow most tiny houses like a caravan.
In an age where the average Brit has over £8,000 of non-mortgage debt, tiny houses are a potential way to massively reduce housing costs, live debt-free and reduce their environmental footprint.
But how practical / legal are they?
Are tiny houses legal in the UK?
Because tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon, there may be some confusion as to the legalities of living in a tiny house. So, let’s see if we can provide some clarification.
It is perfectly legal to live in a tiny house in the UK. The only legal complications come from where you choose to put it, as well as if you’re towing it on the road.
Towing your tiny house
Not all tiny houses in the UK are road legal. If you want to tow your tiny house, effectively converting it into a high-spec caravan, it must be no larger than larger than 2.55m wide, and 7m long.
The weight of your home may also be an issue. Believe it or not, how much weight you can tow depends on when you passed your driving test.
If you have a category B license you can tow:
- A vehicle /trailer combination of up to 8250kg if you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997.
- A trailer of no more than 3500kg (not including the weight of your car) if you passed your test after 1st January 1997.
You can apply for a C1E driving licence allowing you to tow up to 12,000kg if you want to tow a heavier tiny house.
Do I pay council tax for my tiny house?
Because many tiny homes are mobile, there’s also some confusion around whether or not you have to pay council tax when you live in one. As they are classified as a permanent dwelling, you must pay council tax when living in a tiny home. You do not need to pay council tax on your holiday home if it is not your permanent residence (e.g. a holiday home).
Does a tiny house need planning permission?
This is where things get slightly complicated.
If you’re planning on using a tiny house as an extension to your home that sits in your home’s “curtilage” (i.e. garden), can do so without planning permission. Unless the size exceeds 65 x 22 ft. (19.8m x 6.7m), at which point your tiny home is classified instead as a caravan. What’s more, it is a legal requirement that in this contexts, tiny houses should operate as ‘additional living space’, and cannot be rented out.
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking of buying or renting land for your home, you will need to acquire planning permission to make the tiny house a permanent fixture on the land, just as you would if you were building your own home.
If you’re at all unsure about whether or not you need planning permission, it’s always best to check in with your local planning office. They are the best people to advise you and ensure that your tiny house remains on the right side of compliance. Be sure to get something in writing before you go ahead with the project so that your plans aren’t curtailed by things like changes in personnel at your local planning office.
Where can I legally put my tiny house?
You can legally put your tiny home in any of the locations in the UK:
- On land that you own / rent (subject to planning permission)
- On land that you own without planning permission for up to 28 days
- Your home’s curtilage / garden
- At a caravan site (where it falls under the UK rules and regulations for caravans)
- On a glamping site (with planning permission) if you plan on using your tiny house as a holiday let
- On a park home / residential home site
How much does a tiny house cost?
The cost of a tiny house is a fraction of what you can expect to pay for a house or apartment in the UK. Prefabricated, high-spec tiny homes are available ready for you to move right in for around £30,000-£50,000. If you want to build your tiny home yourself, you can even purchase a tiny house shell for around £10,000-£15,000 and build it to your own specifications.
How do I buy a tiny house in the UK?
There are a number of tiny house retailers in the UK that can supply you with either a fully fabricated tiny house or a kit / shell from which you can build your own tiny house. However, we do not recommend building your own tiny house unless you have sufficient construction experience.
You can even get financing on your tiny house so that you don’t have to pay all the costs upfront.
Do tiny houses get water?
There are lots of ways to get water to your tiny home. Some people simply haul water from natural local sources to their tiny homes in large buckets, bottles or jugs. Others have systems that use a water tank (otherwise known as a “holding tank”) and and pump to get water to where they need it and provide the appropriate pressure. So you can experience the convenience of living in a regular home while living off the grid. While you’ll need to accommodate the tank itself, it doesn’t take up all that much space. They range in size from the size of a combi boiler to roughly the size of an Economy 7 storage tank, and can easily be concealed by a kitchen cupboard.
If your tiny house is a permanent fixture, it’s possible to get connected to the water main. See Ofwat’s website to get details on applying for a connection. Many tiny house owners prefer to use a hybrid system, filling their water tank from the mains safe in the knowledge that they can rely on their tank if they choose to go off-grid.
Do tiny houses get electricity?
As with water, tiny house owners can choose whether they want to get their electricity on or off the grid. Most tiny houses are connected to the national grid. If you want to connect to the grid, you’ll need to get in touch with your local Distribution Network Operator (DNO). You can find yours by visiting the Energy Networks Association website. The cost of connecting to the national grid depends on your DNO but you can expect to pay an average of around £1,790 for a new connection. Alternatively, you can invest in your own renewable energy infrastructure if you’d rather live completely off-grid, which brings us to…
How to live off the grid in a tiny house
Although many choose a tiny house as a solution to the problems presented by the housing market, there are also those who see it as a way to live a low-carbon, self-reliant lifestyle that’s disconnected from the energy grid. And while this requires some upfront investment, it could potentially prevent you from having to ever pay another water or energy bill.
Here are some tips to help you to live off the grid in your new tiny house:
Invest in a renewable energy infrastructure
You probably won’t want to give up the electrical conveniences that come with modern living from electric heaters to TV and digital devices. The good news is that you don’t have to. Many tiny houses have PV solar panels or domestic wind turbines (or both) that are used to generate energy for the home. This allows them to live off their own renewable energy. You can even use batteries to store your energy when you have an excess. This ensures that your supply is not interrupted in times when there is less sunlight. You can also use a solar water heater connected to your water tank to provide hot water for your tiny home. A ground source heat pump can also be used to heat your home with the solar energy that’s stored within the ground.
You may, however, also need to invest in a backup generator to prevent interruptions in your energy supply if you’re unable to generate your own renewable energy.
Use a storage tank for water
A storage tank can either be filled with water from the main or you can keep topping it up from a local water source. While this may be time consuming, it prevents you from ever needing to pay another water bill.
Decide how you want to deal with grey and black water
Speaking of water, you’ll need to figure out how your tiny house will deal with grey water (used water from showers, sinks etc.) and black water (water from the toilet). Many tiny houses have compost toilets that allow them to turn their toilet waste into plant fertiliser. Grey water can also be dumped into the ground to fertilise plants and trees.
Is a tiny home for me?
Only you can answer this question. While it is an eminently affordable and delightfully cosy way to live, you’ll need to sacrifice a few conveniences that you’ve been taking for granted all these years (like not having to worry about what happens when you flush the toilet). Tiny homes almost always require the use of a ladder or steep steps to get to the bedroom, so they’re not ideally suited to the elderly. Nonetheless, living in a tiny home can be a great way to live sustainably and affordably for the rest of your life, freeing you from the costs associated with rent or mortgage so you have more money for the things in life that really matter.
Don’t forget, if you want to connect your home to the national grid, we can help you to find the cheapest renewable energy supplier, giving your tiny home 100% green electricity with zero carbon footprint.
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Updated on 4 Oct, 2021