Tiny Houses

23 September 2015

2015-09-21 20.57.11

September 22. If these tiny walls could talk. (And soon, they will!)

17 September 2015

2015-09-14 00.34.59

You’ve been following our journal for a while now, and you’ve seen that it takes some effort to build a tiny house.  Alas, it takes some money too.  $191,000 to be exact.

Building a tiny home on a trailer is simple and cheap.  But building a tiny house in a city, on a vacant lot, in an urban environment, is not. In a city, a tiny house can’t just float. It has to have a foundation and be tied into the public water and sewer system.  These are good things. It means the tiny house is going to become a permanent part of the neighborhood. But…these are some of the issues and costs to consider.

Why is it so expensive to build this Tiny House? 

In our journey to build a tiny house in Garfield, we ran into some serious stumbling blocks.

First, our site once had an abandoned home on it. When it was abandoned, the City simply collapsed the house into its basement.  Now we’re in the process of digging all of that out to reach solid ground and build a new basement with a foundation under it. That costs a lot.

Next, the home that once stood on our site was tied into a sewer pipe at the rear of the property, as are all of the properties on that block.  But now the City of Pittsburgh is under a federal court order to separate the storm and sewer drains.  And so we must dig a whopping 12-foot deep trench to the other side of the street to tap into the water and sewer system, rebuild the street and pour a new sidewalk.

And finally, since our site is less than 1,500 s.f. we needed to apply for zoning variances in order to build on it. This increased our architectural costs.  We needed to prepare a zoning variance application, attend the hearing, and revise plans accordingly.

These three issues added at least $50,000 to our development costs.

Curious about our other costs? Take a look:


(Note, if you are building a tiny house for yourself you won’t need to pay a developer fee or to market and sell the house and you’ll save another $15,000)

We know that the Tiny House does not have a market value of $191,000 in Garfield.  In order to recoup our construction costs, we’ll need to sell the house for a minimum of $99,500. The remainder will be covered by our friends and partners at the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and IKEA Pittsburgh.

It isn’t easy being the first of a kind. Like our generous partners though, we’re confident that this project will serve as a model to provide affordable housing in the city and act as an economic catalyst for the neighborhood. Once this vision is realized, here’s to hoping that some of those stumbling blocks crumble away for future projects.

16 September 2015


September 10.  Just a couple of days to lay the formwork for the Tiny House foundations.  Our building inspector, Bob,  says its the neatest formwork he has ever seen.

14 September 2015

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September 7.  Excavation complete.  That’s a mighty big hole for a tiny house!

1 September 2015


Now is the time for tiny!

Excavation crews began work yesterday on cityLAB’s Tiny House in Garfield.

Reporting live from the scene was Andy Sheehan from KDKA-TV | CBS Pittsburgh. Click here to watch his interview with cityLAB’s Eve Picker on what small changes are in store for Garfield.

20 August 2015


What’s that you see in the weeds?

Yesterday marked yet another milestone for Pittsburgh’s first Tiny House. With construction permits in hand, the Tiny House team held an on-site kickoff meeting, finalizing arrangements for breaking ground. Thanks to our partners and supporters like you, soon the site will be buzzing with construction as the Tiny House comes to life.

Stay glued to the Tiny House journal to keep on top of the latest news, and get ready to bring big change to Pittsburgh when Small Change launches!


31 July 2015

building permit

It’s official. The Tiny House has been approved for construction!

After review by the City’s Department of Zoning and Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, a building permit has been issued for the Garfield Tiny House. With the permit in hand we are now free to start construction.

Picking up the building permit for the Garfield Tiny House today was a joyful moment. We’re celebrating today!

With a few more tweaks to our financing package, we’ll be able to break ground.

24 July 2015

Pending Review

It has been quite a process to get to this point and it’s always nerve-wracking applying for a building permit.  As I ride the elevator to the third floor of the Civic Building, I can’t shake the feeling that after all of this work we may still not reach our goal – permission to build the Tiny House.

When the elevator doors open, I begin the journey that the City of Pittsburgh refers to as applying for a building permit.  First I turn left and head towards the zoning counter.  This time I’m lucky and am able to walk straight up to the counter without waiting in line. I submit my completed occupancy application and answer a number of questions, such as “what’s the size of the deck?”, “what materials will be used for the pergola?” and “what are the overall dimensions of the house?”.  When the questions are complete I’m given a receipt.

With receipt in hand I cross the hall towards the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections (PLI).  I visit the cashier on the way who takes the zoning receipt and creates a file for the project and gives me a second receipt.

With the second receipt in hand I enter PLI and line up at the submission counter on the left.  When it’s my turn I submit two sets of construction documents, stamped with our architect’s seal, along with a completed application form and the paperwork I had received from the zoning desk and the second receipt from the cashier.

They give the drawings a number and enter us into the queue of other hopeful projects awaiting their fate.  Then they hand me (yes, you guessed it) a THIRD receipt which I will have to bring back once the building permit is approved.

All we can do now is wait for the call.

12 June 2015

3345f3a8-bc1c-4c95-8887-9fd900baefb0Today is a big day for cityLAB’s Tiny House. Our funding is finally in place. Well, almost.

Let me explain.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has approved a key piece of funding. That funding, along with grants from the BGC, Neighborhood Allies and IKEA Pittsburgh, frees us up to begin construction once the land is purchased. It is a huge step forward in this process.

So, what’s missing? About $100,000 is missing!

Typically a bank would finance the majority of a construction loan. But since the Garfield Tiny House is the first tiny house to be built in Pittsburgh, there are no comparables, and since there are no comparables, there is no established market. This is a problem for most banks. But it poses a challenge we are prepared to meet – and add another first to our list of firsts.

Say hello to Small Change, one of a new breed of equity crowdfunding platforms. Small Change will launch in a few short weeks with a crowdfunding campaign for the Tiny House. We’ll invite friends, family and YOU* to invest, have an ownership stake in and help build the Tiny House.

Your small change will help make real change.


*You’ll need to be an accredited investor to invest in the Tiny House.  Look for unaccredited investment opportunities in the future. Sign up at smallchange.com to learn more.

27 May 2015

Tiny House Jamboree Flyer copy