Tiny Houses

14 January 2015

/Users/kkuntz/Google Drive/Projects/140010 cityLAB/Tiny Houses/C


Over the last month we’ve reconsidered a number of things, and I’m going to explain why.

Our goal was to build Minim without pursuing a variance of any kind. We wanted to show you how to build a tiny house in the simplest of ways. But last week we discovered that the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will not permit us to build on our tiny, 1050 square foot site without applying for a variance. We had originally expected the site to be “grandfathered in” considering that it once had a house on it. Now the code requires a minimum lot size of 1,800 square feet and the City is going to hold us to it. Given that we have to apply for a variance anyway, we’ve decided to apply for several more, leading me to our redesign.

December brought winter, and a bunch of very expensive tiny house bids. There are a number of factors that we believe caused this. First, some of the larger contractors we approached simply can’t efficiently bid a tiny house. Our best approach will be to have two guys on site who build everything themselves, with a little help from a roofer, plumber and electrician. Second, Minim’s design separates out the kitchen and bathroom plumbing. This makes no difference on a trailer, but it makes a lot of difference on a building site. You need kitchen and bathroom plumbing backing onto each other to have the most cost effective solution. Third, we disliked the siting of Minim, lengthways along the site. In particular we thought its tiny elevation would not look good on the street. Fourth, using 170 square feet of our tiny 1,050 square foot site seems downright foolish. So we have redesigned our tiny house into a compact L-shape which hugs the back of the site. We’re planning a beautiful garden out front and the owner will park on the street. While we’ll keep some interior elements of the Minim design, we’re ready to call it The Garfield Tiny House instead.

Our zoning hearing is in March and we’ve applied for the following variances:

  • A reduced rear yard setback of 3 feet;
  • Waiver of the on-site parking requirement; and
  • Permission to build on a site that is smaller than 1,800 square feet.

Slowing down and changing direction has allowed us to develop a more attractive solution for our tiny site dilemma.

/Users/kkuntz/Google Drive/Projects/140010 cityLAB/Tiny Houses/C








  1. Jack Osgood said on

    I like the new design! What is the interior square footage? Are there really no windows on the left side or the back side? Looking forward to the meeting on 2/19.

  2. Glad you like it! Our tiny house is 330 s.f. inside. There are no windows planned for the west wall so that the owner has a wall to build-in storage. There are two high windows planned for the north wall which are not showing up on the plan. We can take a look at the meeting. Looking forward to it!

  3. Renee Kozlesky said on

    The cost of the 350 tiny house is so funny that it’s comical.

    Does Eve Picker really think that someone will pay her $100,000 for a glorified toolshed?

    The cost of building the 350 sq.ft tiny house, at $40/sq. foot is $15,000 and a little for labor, so when she builds four of these, on “land bank” land that she buys for $1,000 per plot, she’s going to profit, $300,000 per $1,000 plot of “land bank” land.


    Doesn’t anyone in Pittsburgh have a calculator?

    Bill Peduto endorses this rip off of Pittsburghers?

    Has he seen the glorified tool sheds?

    I’m all for tiny houses. I’ve lived in large cities before, in studio apartments, and I loved my tiny spaces.

    But Picker and the $100,000 price tags — have to go.

    The tiny houses in Pittsburgh should cost between $40,000 and $50,000, and that’s it!

    And there should be some public and non-profit funding to help those truly “in-need” to get these tiny house: those who are very poor, those who have lost homes to foreclosures, the disabled, etc.


  4. admin said on

    Dear Renee

    You can’t imagine how much I wish that your calculations were correct. Nothing would make me happier. But right now I’m staring at bids from contractors with site costs alone of over $25,000. PWSA insists that we tap into the street, dig it up, fill it, replace the sidewalk, and everything else that entails. We have to build a foundation on top of fill that is probably bad, because the city almost certainly demolished the house that used to be there into the basement. We have to bring plumbing and electrical lines from the street and that money is gone before we even start building the house.

    The house is not a shed, it is a house, and requires everything a large house needs – an electrical panel and wiring to code, lighting, thermally insulated windows, plumbing, a kitchen and all the appliances. These things add up very very quickly. We are doing our best to contain the costs and make this house affordable, and its been a labor of love.

    Profit? cityLAB is a non-profit and there will be no profit from the Tiny House. In addition, all of my time on this project has been volunteered.


  5. Renee Kozlesky said on

    Dear Eve:

    Maybe I should come in and volunteer. I studied Architecture at Arizona and graduated later in life from U. C. Berkeley in two fields, Comparative Literature and History, and after that, at the graduate level, studied Jewish Studies, so I have lots of free-time, since I’m almost unemployable.

    I still think your prices are too high, but I’d be willing to spend some time trying to find ways to lower them.

    By accident, I drove through Garfield for the first time, just the other day. I’d sure not be building “the tiny house” in Garfield. I don’t think they’ll “fit” in that neighborhood with those big old homes. Maybe it’s better to knock down 50% of those big, old homes and just rehab, for $200,000, each grand old late 1800s home?

    Why not place the tiny homes in more flat neighborhoods?

    You should use me. I’ll make you crazy, but I am smart and funny, and most people like almost all of my ideas.

    Renee Kozlesky

  6. admin said on


    We’ve spent a ton of time value engineering this tiny house and have our budget set now. There is nowhere else to cut corners if we are to comply with all necessary codes.

    And we are committed to Garfield. The tiny house is not just about building a house. It’s about turning eyes onto Garfield, a neighborhood that feels (and is) invisible in many ways. We want to show that vacant lots can be an asset, and that Garfield is a place waiting for people to move in. Read our 6% Place book for background!

    Thanks for your comments!


  7. Corey Day said on

    Renee and Eve, your dialogue is great! I found myself laughing a bit and I see both sides.

    Eve you should interview Renee. She’s funny and she’s spot on!

    While the Tiny House movement is multidimensional, I think affordability is a huge part of it. I know you all struggled with how to build, permission to build, and meeting code… and I can see that in the expensive price tag. I’ve been following this project for awhile and when I saw my e-mail about $109k… I about fell over. I proclaimed, “Who’s going to buy this Tiny House at that price when they can just buy a full-sized house for $80k in the area!”

    Have you considered renting it?! You may get younger tenants in there who aren’t quite ready or willing to buy a home. For instance, I have the goal of building and living in a Tiny House in order to live without more debt (buying a Tiny House at $109k defeats that purpose). I would love to rent a local Tiny House to see how it feels and how it fits! I don’t personally want to move to Garfield because it’s so far away from my stomping grounds (South Hills)…. but hey, that’s just me and where I’m at in life right now.

    I’ve been interested in getting involved somehow as well. Have you considered having open meetings where feedback is welcome?

    I appreciate the moves you all are making, but maybe work on the laws to allow Trailers in the city limits so you can loosen your restrictions on how to build. Or, maybe sell them as a shell and let people add appliances themselves. Most people who want to live in a Tiny House are doers and makers. The audience is willing to do work to lower the cost. Don’t forget about that for future projects!

    And yes Renee! Work on not gentrifying the area and make sure those with disabilities and previous financial hardships can envision themselves in these homes and work on letting them see it as an affordable option! In your e-mails, don’t say “lower carbon footprint”, get into the nitty gritty details. How much are the utilities going to be here compared to an older, larger home?

    People want to know facts and they want to be able to envision themselves here.

    Renee… kudos to you speaking your mind. You cracked me up! I personally wouldn’t call it a tool shed because I love the idea but you’re right about accessibility!

    Kudos to CityLab for making this happen! Can’t please all the people all the time…. but that price has to be lowered!

    Get potential home owners involved in the building process! DIY Tiny Houses! This movement needs to push the box open and let the creative ideas spew!

    – Corey

  8. Corey – not everyone has the same definition of affordable. One of my potential buyers told me that she has considered other, less expensive house in Garfield and she cannot afford them. They need work (with the tiny house does not) and they are much more expensive to maintain and to live in. “Affordability” is a big word and takes shape in many different ways.

    Our goal is to sell, and we have interested and active buyers so there is definitely a market for this house. You might not be ready, but other people are at some point in their lives where this house suits them perfectly.

    No house can be a perfect fit for everyone, or a perfect fit for every market. And not every project can solve every problem. I hope that everyone realizes that the tiny house cannot be everything to everyone.

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