Why Old People Should Consider Tiny Houses for Retirement

Old House For Elderly

Going back to the vague definition of a tiny house, one way is to define it as a tiny living space, chosen consciously, to imbue the freedom of mind, space, time, and finances. How folks interpret and apply the benefits of tiny homes to their own individual needs are wide and varied. One way is to use tiny houses for retirement purposes.

Using tiny houses for retirement doesn’t come to the minds of many due to lack of awareness and due to common features like ladders and “cramped” spaces that would otherwise deter elderly. However, tiny houses can be customized to fit the special needs of the elderly while still imbuing freedom of mind, space, time, and finances.

I’ll first cover the state of the current retirement system, then I’ll cover how tiny houses compare other retirement options financially, and the I’ll finally cover some recommended accommodations that will make living in a tiny house easier for elderly. Rather than a post, this is a long article that argues for why tiny houses are a viable solution for retirement.

I.Current Retirement is Getting More Expensive

You heard me right. Over the years, the costs of the american retirement has been soaring and little has been done to address it. Also, the elderly population is increasing thanks to advances in fields like exercising, medicine, and technology that benefits the elderly. An increasing elderly population with a larger life expectancy also stresses the retirement system. A not so stable economy is also bearing down due to the reliance of many retirement plans on mutual funds and stocks.

This GOBankingRates Survey well illustrates that there are problems with today’s retirement. Here are the survey’s main takeaways:

  • About 62% of Americans have saved under 1,000$ in their savings accounts.
  • 49% of Americans(age 18 and older) have $0.00 or no savings accounts.
  • Only 14% has over $10,000 in savings. The costs over actual retirement is over hundreds of thousands of dollars. The percentage of saving accounts with that much might be a fraction of the 14%.
  • While this isn’t directly related to retirement plans like the 401k, the poor financial health of so many Americans highlights that many will likely have similar difficulties with other forms of retirement savings.
  • These statistics show poor financial health of so many Americans. This also has implications regarding the economy’s condition.

Having given a glimpse of the state of today’s retirement, I will now go over some of the factors that are driving the slow death of “old retirement”.

A.Social Security Under Stress

While there are several programs that help the elderly, Social Security(SS) is possibly one of the biggest and well-known programs that support retired folks. Other programs that support retirees include Medicare and Medicaid. Here is an overview as to what these programs are are and their relation with retirement:

  • Social Security(SS) is a Federal Insurance program that provides benefits to retired people and those who are unemployed or disabled. In 2015, from this Social Security fact list, about 39.5 million seniors (65 or older) received $53 billions worth of benefits. Also, the monthly average benefit for each senior was about $1335. However, each senior’s monthly benefit is calculated differently.
  • Medicare is a Health Insurance Program exclusively for the elders who are 65 and older.
  • Medicaid is a social health care program for families and individuals with low income and limited resources. There are low-income seniors (and disabled) who are dual eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

First, here is a neat YouTube video show casing how the pension system, with it’s current structure, is being stressed by an increasing elderly population with a longer life expectancy.

Due to awareness of possible stress on the social security system, an amendment was added to SS, in 1983, that the age to receive maximum benefits will be raised to 67 for those born at 1960 or later. Those who retire between 62-67 old gain partial benefits until the full retirement age which is 67. While raising the retirement age is considered by some an ‘attempt’ to save the system; this solution forces seniors to work more at an age when they should already be retiring. There are even some politicians and economists raising calls to increase the full retirement age to 70-72; I wouldn’t be surprised if this does happen not far in the future.

Right now, the SS funding as well as that of other retirement programs, are at a point where more money is taken out than put in. Even though money put into the SS, Medicare, and etc. is less than the money coming out, large trust funds help these programs provide full benefits with the system’s current form for a certain period of time. Now take a look at the charts below:
Social Security and Medicare Future Funding Cuts
These benefit cuts charts are from the National Priorities Project and they show that the current system can possibly have it’s first spending cuts around late 2020s to early 2030s. Despite these projections, additional sources of stress to the pension like a not so stellar economy could make the funding run out a little sooner.
For now, already retired folks can enjoy the full benefits right now. Middle aged and younger folks, on the other hand, may have to deal with Social Security, Medicare, and etc. cuts especially as the first cuts are scheduled to come around in about 15 years which is relatively soon. With relatively high housing costs, health care costs, and a not so stable economy, these cuts will make it that much harder to meet usual retirement obligations.

B.Soaring Health Care Costs

Real health care reform is needed because healthcare are still costly for everyone and healthcare is a major part of retirement next to housing. While Obamacare offered benefits like allowing adult children to share health insurance with parents up until 26 and stopping insurance companies from dropping individuals, it has failed to tackle higher costs or is at least not doing enough. Here is a graph illustrating today’s state on America’s healthcare costs: Global Healthcare Spending Per Capita

This graph shows that America has the highest health care costs in the world. The per capita costs for Americans in 2013 shows as $8500 per year; which is noticeably ahead of 2nd place Norway with per capita costs of under $6500.

Compared to America, Switzerland saves $2000 per year for each person in per capita costs. The other countries listed pay between $3000-$4500 per capita which is at least $4000 of savings per capita. The last implication of importance is that the U.S. per capita costs are projected to keep increasing. In few years, the yearly per capita costs in the U.S. will pass the $10,000 mark.

The $8500 is an average that accounts for all Americans including those that don’t pay much healthcare. If the healthcare per capita costs for people in retirement age were analyzed independently, their costs would be higher than $8500 per year. To examine this, here is another graph and it details per capita spending on the basis of age in America:

Health Care Expenditures for U.S. Population by Age

The main categories of 5%, 10%, 25%, and 50% refer to the top income bracket. Focusing on the graph of Figure 2b, with increasing age comes with increasing yearly health care expenditures. At the 65+ age category in Figure 2b, the top 50% bracket has a mean expenditure of $18,066 per year; given that it’s currently past 2015, the Top 50% could be paying over mean $20,000. For a smaller bracket size with wealthier individuals like the Top 5% at age 64+, the mean expenditure is $67,474. Because such high yearly expenditures are out of reach many Americans, one often has to rely on building a retirement nest egg to save up for these high costs later in life. Building a nest egg is difficult due to the high financial literacy involved and hidden fees(more will be elaborated upon later).

While it is currently near the end of 2015, given that many people still struggle with high healthcare costs, the current per capita costs for Americans, in both graphs, is probably at least slightly higher if not more. Going back to the first graph, despite lower costs by other countries on healthcare by America’s first-world counterparts, their health care quality isn’t any less inferior or modern. If America can get this spending down to their level, Americans can save at least several of thousands per year which is a world of difference for financial well being of America and its seniors. Some issues with America’s health system is as follows:
  • One pill can cost hundreds or thousands. Here is a list of eight drugs more expensive in American than abroad to illustrate this. Big Pharma has little incentive to lower the prices of drugs while making profits at high prices.
  • A good chunk of healthcare costs are administrative costs. In America, about 25% of all healthcare costs are administrative costs which is higher than that of other countries.
  • Another major issue is that unnecessary procedures in medical trials and checkup adds to the total costs despite providing little to no additional health benefits. Profits, not needs, incentivize the use of additional equipment/procedures.
  • The U.S. gov’t should adopt a single-payer health care system for all Americans similar to that of other countries; the current Medicare is a kind of single-payer system for age 65+.

While pursuing tiny homes may not directly affect healthcare prices. But a cheaper and healthier(made with green materials) environment may at least cut into the health care costs indirectly. Also, because stress-related illnesses make up 75-90% of healthcare visits, reducing this helps avoids costly sessions and stress-related drugs. Indirectly, tiny houses can cut into healthcare costs. More on stress will be covered later.

Recommended Readings if You Are Interested:

C.Housing and Nursing Home Costs

Middle Class Housing Costs: Instead of choosing a retirement home, many elderly will decide to continue living in their middle class home as always. Middle class home are easily one of the most expensive assets the average american can own over a lifetime. Here is a graph(below) that shows the rising principal home price in America:

United States House Prices

The graph only shows the average principal price of houses. The temporary spike in costs from 2002-2008 was a result of the housing stock market crash which resulted in many foreclosures. Otherwise, in general, the housing prices have steadily increased.

Because it’s difficult for most to pay the full sum for a house at once, the bank pays about 80% of the house while the ‘owner’ pays 20% as a down payment. Then the owner pays mortgages to the bank over a 25-30 year plan. Each mortgage has interest; over the long run, the final price paid can be about 2.5 times the principal price or more. Hypothetically, half a million can be spent over 25-30 years as mortgages.

Retirement Housing Options:  Many elderly leave their already paid for suburban homes behind to live in these common retirement housing facilities. Some different options, and comparison to tiny houses include the following:

  • Homemaker and Health Services: Homemaker services make it possible for people to live in their own homes via taking care of household tasks that may not be done along like clean houses, cook meals, run errands, and etc. Home health aides provide health and personal care, at the senior’s home, that is more extensive than friends and family are able to give in time and resources. Seniors who choose to live in tiny homes but need some assistance can purchase these services. This retirement option can at least avoid housing costs.
  • Independent Living Communities: are places for active, healthy seniors who are able to live on their own. These places have clubhouses, gyms, yard maintenance, housekeeping and security. There’s also transportation, laundry service, group meals and social activities. For healthy seniors, they can easily forego this retirement option and save thousands via tiny house retirement.
  • Assisted Living: are facilities for seniors(i.e. apartments or condos) who value their independence but who may need some assistance with their daily activities such as meals, dressing, bathing, help with medication and transportation. Depending on the level of assistance needed, it is possible to avoid assisted living facilities and utilize homemaker and health services in conjunction with a tiny house instead.
  • Nursing Homes: are facilities(i.e. apartments or condos)for seniors who may need a higher level of supervision and care than in an assisted living facility. They offer residents personal care, room and board, supervision, medication, therapies and rehabilitation, and skilled nursing care that is available 24/7. Seniors who require this level of care is likely not able to avoid leaving their tiny houses and may have to pay to live in these expensive nursing homes. If a senior has kept his/herself healthy and active, a nursing home may not be needed until the latter half of retirement.

More on how tiny house retirement compares to these retirement cost-wise will be covered later. Some Readings on Retirement Options and Costs:

D.Complicated Retirement Plans and High Costs

As an introduction, a pension is regular payment made during a person’s retirement from an investment fund to which that person or their employer has contributed during his/her working life. The two main types are IRAs and 401k plans. Here is a short introduction to these plans for those who don’t already know:

IRA: It stands for Investment Retirement Account. Below is a good video that explains the basics of how Roth and Traditional IRAs work in case you need an overview.

401k: The 401k plan is offered(and possibly required) by most companies to their employees. This video below offers a good overview of how 401k works. To follow the bad writing in the video, please pay attention at all times to not get lost.

Having watched both videos, you should now have a basic idea of how the common IRA and 401k plans work. If you have watched, you might have noticed that there are rules, restrictions, and fees associated with the functioning of each plan. Failing to understand these can have consequences in retirement planning. Here is a list of common things(including some stuff from videos) future retirees have to watch out for when dealing with these plans:

  • The compounding interest in IRAs and 401ks is possible due to the retirement funds being used in mutual funds and/or other stocks. This exposes retirement funds to risk. In the 2008 stock market downturn, trillions of dollars were lost in retirement funds in stocks. There are those that think another recession could be coming.
  • In IRAs and 401ks, money cannot be withdrawn before a specific age without penalty. For IRAs and 401ks, the earliest  age to withdraw without the penalty is 59 1/2 and the age where withdrawals are first required is age 70 1/2. Withdrawing early get a 10% penalty plus the taxes(determined by income bracket) on top of it.
  • As implied earlier, there are federal and states taxes paid because each withdrawal is treated as income if the retirement plan is tax-deferred. However, because elderly need less money during retirement, they tend to fall in a lower tax bracket and less taxes are applied to withdrawals. However, the IRS dictates that there is a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) withdrawn from a tax-deferred IRA or 401k account at anytime. Failure to do so results in a 50% excise tax on the amounts not distributed. An RMD can be determined via various calculators.
  • Roth IRA and Roth 401ks are ‘tax-now’ meaning taxes are paid before contributing to account. These are more advantageous to those who’s tax income bracket is lower at the time of the establishment of the Roth IRA and/or Roth 401k.
  • Currently, IRAs each have a maximum contribution limit of $5,500(or $6,500 for 50 or older age). 401ks also have a contribution limit of $18,000($26,000 for 50 and older). These limits are legal for 2015 and 2016 are and subject to change. For IRAs and 401ks, there can be a minimum contribution limits; but these limits can vary according to the plan’s policy and isn’t legally fixed like the maximum contribution limit via IRS.
  • There are exceptions where one can withdraw from an IRA or 401k before age 59 1/2 and not get the 10% penalty. Some IRAs and 401ks early withdrawal exceptions include IRA rollover/deposit, health premiums, disability issues, and etc. The plan’s policy(ies) should be more specific about these exceptions and can even include exceptions like home purchase and college expenses.
  • There are variations of IRAs like Simple IRA and SEP-IRA. Variations of 401k plans include the 403b and 457 plans. These different types of plans exist because there is no one-size-fits-all. It is important to study these differences as the operation as well as financial and legal implications can affect approach to retirement.
  • There are many hidden fees/costs with IRAs/401ks that are either obscured by large body of legal text or are purposely downplayed by those who offer the retirement plan to get people to accept. Some include operating expenses including fees paid to portfolio manager, for record keeping and accounting, and for legal compliance. There are also transaction expenses incurred as a result of buying and selling securities within a fund. There are possible other hidden costs/fees that can be found if one scours though the footnotes and the fine print.
  • Etc…… as there are many other concepts, terms, and details(like annuities, CDs, Index Universal Life(IUL) insurance, and etc.) that are necessary to understand the modern retirement system.

I posted the above bullets points mainly to elaborate on the high level of complication and details involved with IRA, 401k, and most other retirement plans; in fact, there is still much more to learn about IRAs and 401ks besides what has been shown in video and writing.

To sum up, the first major ‘flaw’ for IRAs and 401ks is that it can rely too much on mutual funds and stocks to make gains via compounded interest. If stocks fall, like in 2008, the value of retirement funds goes down. Now, with unemployed youth and higher costs of living, many believe that another recession in on the way making IRAs and 401ks more risky. The other major ‘flaw’ is that these retirement plans require a great deal of financial and legal literacy to get the maximum benefits; as a result, many who invest in IRAs and 401ks end up falling short at retirement. Many folks are either too busy to learn or find this subject too tedious(I don’t blame them). Here are some facts that illustrate this point:

How tiny houses ultimately fit in with dealing with complex and expensive retirement plans comes down to costs savings. With modern retirement that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, being able to save on retirement to within tens of thousands would lower pressure on having the financial literacy necessary to make the nest egg have hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whereas mistakes in financial literacy would be costly in normal retirement, this is not so much so in tiny house retirement.

E.Long Story Made Short

With the retirement system crumbling and becoming more expensive along with programs like social security beginning to shrink, elderly are forced to go back to work. Because elderly already have work experience from having lived so long, they’re likely to get jobs. Because young folks don’t have work experience like the elderly, they’re more likely to be sidelined. With more elderly forced to work, this means less jobs for younger folks and thus higher youth unemployment. There are the real consequences of a broken retirement pension system.

One can either try to ‘fix’ the broken system through legal and political means. Rather than going though these hoops and hurdles, it may be better to find, or rather create, an alternative retirement that is cost effective and isn’t complicated or breaking(if not broken) for seniors. In the next sections and sub-sections, how tiny houses can offer a more cost-effective and accommodating retirement for seniors will be covered.

II.Great Long Term Savings with Tiny Houses

Saving Money On Houses

If you have read everything so far, high healthcare and housing costs, lowered future SS and Medicare benefits, and overly complicated retirement plans with hidden fees all make retirement expensive and difficult.

First and main reason elderly should consider tiny houses is because of the financial savings gained from having to retire into a tiny house instead of other retirement home options is that there won’t be monthly housing payments along with no interest rates and obscure fees. The significant savings will make retirement less stressful as more money will be freed up to invest more readily in other necessary areas in retirement like healthcare.

To illustrate the short and long-term savings of a tiny house compared to traditional suburban home and other common retirement housing options. Here are the conditions under which I will do calculations:

  • I will make calculations over a period from age 27 to 82. Age 27 is an age where many young folks start to get a house after getting married and age 82 will be expected death as the current life expectancy of women, which is higher than men, in America is about 81.2 at the moment. The retirement age will be 67 as that is when many seniors will get full benefits from Social Security(SS) and can use the monthly payouts to help with housing costs if necessary.
  • Regarding the 2-story middle-class/suburban home, we will assume that the person is question has just enough money to be able to pay for all the mortgages for a house(with a $190,000 principal cost, 4.5% interest loan rate, and 30-year loan period), as well as other housing costs like property taxes, HOA fees, utilities, and etc. This is basically all the housing costs over 40 years(age 27-67) of pre-retirement. Any money not used as a result of the savings from choosing a tiny house over the suburban home can be lumped together with the retirement funds.
  • We will also assume that he/she has a ‘nest egg'(or retirement savings fund) of $650,000 from saving up in a retirement plan of his/her choice. Although many aren’t able to manage to save this much in a ‘nest egg’ due to financial illiteracy, we will assume that the person was able to earn this much as this amount is possible if the persona has financial literacy(like low fees) and has saved early; and for argument’s sake. The nest egg will cover the owner’s retirement as the spouse will have his/her own nest egg. Lastly, SS will assume the monthly payout of $1335(average SS monthly payout); this means ($1335*12*15 = $240,300). Total = $890,300 over 15 years.

A.Long Terms Costs of a Middle Class Home

The conditions were that a person would first purchase a middle class home at around 27 years of age and would then retire at about 67. This means that he/she will own the house for about 40 years. Additionally, the state will be my current home-state of Virginia.

To simulate the costs of a middle class home, this online mortgage calculator will be used to calculate total costs; open the calculator by right-clicking the link and selecting “open in new tab”. The fields should be self-explanatory to those with some knowledge of home finances, but the definitions of these fields can be found at the page’s bottom.

For this example, to help illustrate the housing-related costs of a typical middle class home in America, I decided to use the following values in each field (as shown in bottom right):

Online Mortgage Financial Calculator Results

As to why I chose the following values:

  • Principal Costs: principal costs of most middle class homes come at $170,000-200,000; I went with $190,000.
  • Down Payment:I choose a down payment of 20% of home value because going with a lower payment % can trigger fees or even a higher interest rate; most home owners would attempt avoid those.
  • Loan Term: The common loan term is 25-30 years. I choose thirty years since a standard plan is often 30 years.
  • Interest Rate: The average national “advertised” interest rate is about 4.0%. Since APR is more reflective of real values, an APR of 4.5% was selected as a fixed-interest rate.
  • Property Taxes: the usual amount is between 0.2-4.0% of home value. Rural areas hit near 0.2% and cities hitting closer to 4%. I choose 2% as an in-between value for suburbs where most middle class homes are.
  • Home Insurance: Insurance increases every year, and average home insurance is about $1000. Since suburban/urban areas are expensive, I settled with $1100.
  • PMI(Private Mortgage Insurance): Because the down payment was at 20% of home value, PMI will be set to $0.00. Often, if the down payment is under 20% of home value, a PMI may be required. This is another reason to put in a down payment of 20%+ of home value.
  • HOA fees: One a monthly basis, HOA fees can vary from tens to hunderds of dollars depending on the services available. A lowly contested area can have low HOA fees whereas a seaside tourist site can have HOA fees in the few hundreds per month. For a suburban/urban area, $80 per month seems realistic which is about $960 per year.
  • Other Costs: This includes a host of other home-related costs like utilities(electricity, water, gas,heating,etc.), home maintenance, and etc. As this is difficult to calculate, I chose the $3000.00 default value provided by the online tool. To be honest, the typical value maybe higher.

Because the house is owned for 40 and not 30 years, the housing costs for 10 years after the loan has been paid is accounted for:

     Non-Retiree Housing Costs = $543,058 + 10 yrs * ($1100/yr + 0 + $960/yr + $3000/yr) = $593,658

Earlier, I stated that the person in question had just enough money(not from ‘nest egg’)to spend for middle class housing costs over the 40-year non-retirement era; This amount will be considered as $593,658 from now on.

If the house is used during retirement(age 67-82) and there are no lifestyle cost changes, the retirement era only housing costs(covered by retirement nest egg) would be:

     Retirement Only Housing Costs = 15 yrs * ($1100/yr + 0 + $960/yr + $3000/yr) = $75,900
     Nest Egg Leftovers = $890,300 – $75,900 = $814,400

If taken over the entirety of life of the middle class home, to costs would have been:

     Life Time Middle-Class Housing Costs = $593,658 + $75,900 = $669,558 

The total out-of-pocket value after taking into account mortgages(w/interest rate), property tax, home insurance, HOA fees, and other costs, the total spent over 40 years is about $593,658. If taken over 55 years(age 27-82), the costs would be $669,558 with $814,400 leftovers from retirement funds.

An important thing to note was that inflation was not taken into account. This is because the interest rate is fixed and that means the number of dollars used to pay will be fixed. Then there are variable-rate loans where the interest rate charged varies as market interest rates change. The interest rates increase as inflation increases because each dollar buys less; and interest rates decrease when inflation decreases. Some loaners offer variable interest rates loans in order to offset value loss when inflation increases.

B.Tiny House Long Term Costs

Let’s try to see how the long terms costs of a tiny home compares with the middle class home costs from earlier. Here is how I will calculate the approximate results since the limitation on the calculator’s values prevent the use of the online calculator.

Tiny House and Pine Tree

  • Principal Costs: the typical cost of a tiny house can be around $10,000-$20,000 if it’s a DIY house and the materials have been recycled/salvaged; newer materials would make it more expensive Complete tiny houses can cost around $50,000-$60,000. Assuming the tiny house is a DIY house with recycled materials, the selected value will be $15,000.
  • Down Payment,Loan Term, and Interest Rates: There is none of this since the tiny house owner won’t need any loans and will pay upfront to build the tiny house.
  • Property Taxes: the usual amount is between 0.2-4.0% of home value. Because tiny houses are still considered by many as fringe and because tiny houses tend to be built as DIY in more rural areas with fewer services, property taxes could become less. If the tiny house is built upon a trailer and not on a foundation, there maybe no property taxes as a tiny house on wheel can be considered an RV of sorts and may not apply for a property tax. We’ll assume the tiny house has a foundation and in a non-urban area and will settle for a 1% property tax which is reasonable.
  • Home Insurance: An insurance might not be needed if the tiny home owner built the house as a DIY. Over the long run, the costs of DIY repairs may be cheaper than relying on insurance. However, insurance could be used as a legal deterrent(as in lawsuits against vandals) and protection from natural disasters like fires. The Darrell Grenz Insurance Agency in Portland, Oregon offers insurance for tiny homes at a premium of $500/yr.
  • PMI(Private Mortgage Insurance), and HOA fees: There is no PMI since there won’t be mortgages. HOA fees will be regarded as $0 since a tiny house will most likely be built in an area without a HOA.
  • Other Costs: This includes a host of other home-related costs like utilities(electricity, water, gas,heating,etc.), home maintenance, and etc. A tiny house will certainly have a much lower “others” cost than the middle class home example from earlier. I will use $800 here although it can be within the few hundreds.

Over a 15 year retirement period of a tiny house from age 67-82:

     Total = DIY building/materials costs + property taxes + home insurance + other costs
     Retirement Era Tiny House = [$15,000]+[($15,000* (0.01/100))* (15*12)]+[15*$500]+[15*$800]  
     Retirement Era Tiny House = $34,770

If a senior only started tiny house living at the age of 67 and was choosing between continued living in his/her 2-story house or the tiny house in retirement, the leftovers from the nest egg wouldn’t increase much relatively:

     Retirement Era Nest Egg Leftover = $890,300-$34,770 = $855,530

This is not much of an increase from the $814,400 retirement funds leftovers when calculating the retirement-era costs of a middle-class home(after paying all mortgages). To truly have saved more with the tiny house, the senior(s) should have purchased a tiny house from the very beginning at an early age and avoided the mortgages and interest. To illustrate the savings, a pre-retirement tiny house(assuming it can support one spouse and kid for argument’s sake) will be made 40 years(at age 27) before being replaced by the retirement tiny house(at age 67) at the same location. The pre-retirement tiny house costs will be estimated as follows:

      Non-Retiree Tiny House = [$22,000]+[($22,000*(0.01/100))*(40*12)]+[40*$500]+[40*$1200]  
      Non-Retiree Tiny House = $91,056

If you are wondering about the change in values, tiny house ‘materials/construction costs’ has increased from $15,000 to $22,000 because a pre-retirement tiny house would need to be bigger to hold a spouse and 1-2 kids. The ‘other costs’ has increased from $800 to $1200 because utilities will be used more with more family members.

The total savings of choosing the tiny house over the suburban over 40 years from age 27-67 is:

     Tiny House Pre-Retirement Savings = $593,658 – $91,056 = $502,602

These savings here are much more significant. As determined earlier, one can carry all these savings over into retirement for things like healthcare, a retirement community(which have social networks and activities that are good for seniors), or paying back debt. If a person decided to live in DIY tiny houses with one for pre-retirement and one for retirement, the total retirement funds would be would be:

     Tiny Houses Only Retirement Funds = ($593,658 – $91,056) + ($890,300-$34,770) = $1,358,132

This lifetime savings of over $1.36 MILLION shows the true reason the appreciate the monetary savings of spending an entire life via DIY tiny house(s) over a 2-story middle class home. This amount is a 66.7% increase from $890,300 retirement funds.

C.Costs of Other Retirement Homes and Tiny House ComparisonOld People In Retirement Home

Today, there are people paying off their mortgages for their suburban home while simultaneously saving money into a retirement plan for possibly expensive retirements through a 401k or IRA plan. First is to cover the costs and some features associated with different types of retirement options and how they compare/relate to tiny house retirement. To make a fair comparison, it’ll be assumed that, in this case, the senior originally lived in a middle class home before considering a tiny house or any other retirement at age 67. This means no pre-retirement savings of $502,602 can be factored in the analysis.

i.)Independent Living Communities:As stated earlier, costly independent living communities can be replaced with tiny house living because active and healthy seniors from living communities can fare well in tiny houses. According to SeniorHomes.com, the monthly average in Virginia is about $2181; we’ll use $2500 to account for margin of error. Additional costs include one-time entrance fees(about $750-$1500; we’ll settle for $1000) as well as expenditures(like entertainment and restaurants) outside the monthly lease(which we’ll assume to be $500).

     Living Community Costs  = $1000 + [15 * 12 * ($2500 + $500)] = $541,000
     Community Costs(w/out Outside Expenditure)  = $1000 + [15 * 12 * ($2500)] = $451,000        
     Retirement Leftovers = $890,300 – $451,000 = $439,300

From a senior’s retirement nest egg, he/she would have $439,300 left after spending $451,000 for 15 years. Besides housing(by default), retirement communities includes sponsored activities, some laundry/cleaning service, meals(aka provided food), and/or etc. One cannot get the housing without getting everything else that comes with the living community retirement package. However, substantial health care/assistance has to be bought separately because these communities assume that the seniors are healthy.

Earlier, the AHRQ Figure 2b Graph found that for the TOP 50% bracket, seniors at 65+ pay about $18,066/year. If Medicare is utilized, the price can drop down to $14,500/year(can be more or less). If healthcare is purchased on top of the community retirement, the total retirement funds leftovers is:

     Community & Healthcare Leftovers =  $890,300- $451,000-($14,000*15)  = $221,800

In tiny house retirement, the necessary housing for retirement is already paid for with just $34,770, while the rest of the retirement funds is for non-housing essentials(mainly food and medicare).

     Retiree Tiny House Leftovers = $890,300-[$34,770+($240*12*15)+($14,000*15)]= $602,330

In tiny house retirement, the main costs are housing costs($34,770), food costs(at $240/month), and medical costs(at $14000/year); With tiny house retirement, there is much more left in the retirement funds than with pursuing community living retirement.

If the senior is healthy and is not in need of additional paid assistance and can take care of themselves, tiny houses are much easily cheaper than other housing options.

ii.)Homemakers and Health Aides: If a senior(s) needed assistance while wanting to pursue tiny house retirement, he/she can forego assisted living facilities if homemaker and health aide services are purchased to complement tiny house living and retirement. This Investopedia Guide to Homemakers overviews how homemakers are paid. A homemaker’s pay is determined by the assigned jobs and number of hours. Here is how tiny houses affect aspects of homemaker’s tasks and pay(estimated):

Old Lady and Homemaker

  • Cleaning: Compared to most middle-class homes where the cleaning can take hours, a tiny house’s small size makes it possible for a homemaker to tidy and clean the space in three hours or less; this includes cleaning the kitchen, organizing the bed, vacuuming the floor, , and etc. More specialized cleaning like bathroom cleaning can be done sparsely. A good price is $120 per week is $6240/year.
  • Child Care: Homemakers can be hired to perform child care; but fortunately, there is no need for child care expenses in retirement. $0.00/year spent overall.
  • Driver: A separate driver should only be needed if the driving distance is relatively long. If the destination is few blocks away, no car should be needed or a mobility scooter should be used. When in retirement, a tiny house should be situated near important places like the hospital, grocery store, and etc. This will minimize dependency on a driving aide. When a tiny house is situated properly, a car will probably needed 2 times per week at 13 miles per round-trip totaling 26 miles. Using the Red Cap elite driver program in the Investopedia link as a reference, the yearly costs would be:  Costs = $1,000 per year+[(estimated miles driven ((26*52)miles /40 MPH) x (60 min/hr) x ($0.33/minute)] = $1669.24/year. The price could be greater if one drove further due to something like vacation needs; we’ll settle for $1800.00/year.
  • Laundry Service: Because tiny houses are smaller, there are fewer clothes and furniture fabrics to clean. If one’s tiny house had a washer and dryer installed, this can be part of the cleaning costs for free. One pound of clothes is about 3 shirts and 3 light pants. A tiny house will probably have about at most 3-4 pounds of clothes washed and dried per week. If a laundromat is used, price would be costs = $0.99 * 2 lbs/day * 2 days/weeks * 52 weeks = $209.52. Additionally, if comforter, blanker and pillow is cleaned 3 times per year, additional costs would be bed costs = 3 *($28.00(comforter) + $15.00(blanket) +$15.00(pillow(s))) = $174.00. Max. Total laundry costs = $209.52 + $174.00 = $383.52/year.
  • Meal Preparation: Some elderly cannot make their own food and will require someone to prepare meals for them. An easy way save with homemakers is to have the homemaker make a bunch of easy to make meals(saves time and avoids costly chefs) and store them in a fridge where the senior can use minimal effort to pull the meal out of the fridge to eat or put it in a microwave to warm up. (3 days/week * 1.5 hours * $25) = $112.5/week. This means about $5850/year.
  • Shopping: As said earlier, it would be ideal if the tiny house was situated near the grocery stores so the elderly can pickup groceries his/herself;however, groceries can be laborious to carry for the elderly. On average, there are 2 round-trips($5 per trip) with 60$ per week on groceries. Total costs to homemaker is: Groceries Trip = 52 weeks/year * ($10/week) = $520.00/year and the groceries would cost $3120.00/year.
  • Lawn: This is a service to consider since this is a strenuous task for many retirees. A good price is $35 bi-weekly which is $910/year.

     Total Homemakers Costs=$6240+$1800+$383.52+$5850+$3640+$910=$18,823.52/year

Normally, a tiny house retiring senior won’t need all these homemaker services all the time during the 15 years of retirement. For the argument’s sake, the estimate of having all the homemakers’ assistance for 15 years is:

     Full Retirement Homemakers Costs = 15  years * $18,823.52/year = $282,352.80

Then there are health aides. Health aides often only specialize in health related skills and they might have few homemakers skills to assist the elderly. Common skills of health aides includes:

  • Maintain records of patient care, condition, progress, or problems to report and discuss observations with case manager or supervisor.
  • Provide patients with help moving in and out of beds, baths, wheelchairs, or automobiles and with dressing and grooming.
  • Administer prescribed oral medications, under the written direction of physician or as directed by home care nurse or aide, and ensure patients take their medicine.
  • Accompany clients to doctors’ offices or on other trips outside the home, providing transportation, assistance, and companionship.
  • Etc,…more on the responsibilities of home health aides in this link.

Relatively skilled health aides can charge about median $18/hour. Hypothetically, if one wanted to have 2 health aide(one for a day shift and one for a night shift) available 24 hours a day for 15 years, the costs would be:

     Health Aides Full Retirement = 2 * [12*365*15*$18.00] = $2.3652 million

In short, an astronomical sum for most. Realistically, a senior doesn’t need 24/7 health aide assistance except during periods where the elder is in dire need of assistance or terminally ill; in that case, a nursing home or hospital is needed.

A more realistic approach is that a health aide may only be needed about 5.5 hours daily with a morning, bath-time, and before-bed shift. In case something does happen, the senior should have something like Life Alert ready. The calculations will be redone for 5.5 hours/day for 10 years(instead of 15 years because it’s too expensive and the last 10 years of one’s life will need medical aides the most). In this case, the health aides costs are:

     Health Aides Costs = 5.5 * 365 *10 *$18.00 = $361,350

If both homemaker(15 years) and health aide(10 years) services were used as calculated, the total costs over retirement is:

     Homemaker and Heath Aides Costs = $282,352.80 + $361,350.00 = $643,702.80

The leftovers after paying homemakers,health aides, food(groceries), and tiny houses:

     Leftovers = $890,300 – $643,702.80 – ($3120.00/year*15 years) – $34,770= $165,027.20

Out of the retirement funds(consisting of nest egg and SS) of $890,300, only $165,027.20 remains after spending on homemaker, health aides, groceries, and the retiree tiny house. Medical bills haven’t been accounted for. Although part of the $14,500/year medical costs can be going into the health aides, it can still easily evaporate what’s left of the leftover retirement funds or slight go into debt; getting close to debt is never a good idea.

While living in a tiny house in retirement is cheap along with basic necessities, once the tiny house’s senior owner ends up requiring assistance, it becomes quite costly to gain such long-term assistance.

Virginia Homemaker Health Aide

iii.)Assisted Living:Assisted Living retirement is similar to retirement communities except there is a level of support for the seniors. While retirement communities offer amenities, activity programs, meals, and etc., assisted living also provides additional services like medication management as well as some assistance in daily living like dressing and bathing. In a way, an assisted living facility is similar to a tiny house with homemaker and health aide services(as described earlier). According to Genworth Cost of Care 2015 Survey, in Virginia, a private room in an assisted living facility is about $3933.00/month in median value. If one were to spend 15 years in an assisted living facility, the costs would be:

     Assisted Living Costs = 15*12*$3933.00 = $707,940.00                                         
     Retirement Funds Leftovers = $890,300 – $707,940.00 = $182,360.00

Assisted living provides food, housing, assistance, and some medical assistance while leaving aside as $182,360.00 in leftovers. The leftovers is a similar amount to the remaining leftovers when the total costs of the retirement tiny house, homemakers services, and health aides were calculated, which was $165,027.20.

A major difference is that the staff is assisted living facilities are available 24/7 unlike the homemaker and health aides who are only available at prescribed hours(to save costs). If homemakers and health aides were paid for 24/7 service for 15 years, the costs would easily surpass the above assisted living costs. A tiny house with homemakers and health aides is preferable when the senior needs specific kind(s) of support that isn’t needed around the clock. If seniors activities like dressing and bathing which require around the clock support, an assisted living facility may be preferable to tiny house retirement.

iv.)Nursing HomesIn some cases, due to deteriorating health, nursing homes may be unavoidable due to the needed comprehensive living assistance at times, including high-level medical support. According to the Genworth Cost of Care 2015 Survey, in Virginia, a private room in a nursing home has a daily median rate of $254 and a daily maximum of $765; we’ll use a daily rate of $270. For $270/day, the yearly cost is:

     Nursing Home Yearly = $270 * 365  = $98,550.

This is a huge amount for yearly housing costs is expected due to daily assistance, meals, housing, and quality medical assistance all accounted for. With the available retirement funds at $890,300:

     Leftovers(after 9 years of Nursing Home Living) = $890,300 – (9*$98,550) = $3,350

The funds would support a nursing home for only nine years before leaving almost nothing left.

Let’s change the scenario a bit. Just for this case, let’s assume that the retiring senior had a family(non-retirement) tiny house since the age of 27 and decided to retire at a nursing house at age 67; in this case, the elder would have saved over his/her 40 working years. The number of years these savings and the retirement fund can support is:

     New Retirement Total = $502,602(savings after buying family tiny house) + $890,300 
     New Retirement Total = $1,392,902
     Leftovers(after 14 years of Nursing Home Living) = $1,392,902 – (14*$98,550) = $13,202

If one has lived in a tiny house for 40 years of non-retirement and saved up, he/she would have saved enough for 14 years of nursing home retirement. Because it is one year short of the expected 15 years, the senior should probably hold off retirement until the age of 68 if he/she expects the death age to be 82.

Another thing to consider is that even though all calculations have left a paltry $13,202 left; in actuality, nursing homes don’t cover all necessary healthcare. Many assume Medicare can cover for healthcare and even more erroneously, nursing homes. This is not the case as Medicare can only cover parts of it as it specialized in short-term care over long-term care. Because these already provide a good degree of healthcare in the initial pricing, the costs will like be significantly less than $14,500/year out of pocket.

A good idea for long-term care is to look into long-term health insurance early on to help pay for eventual costs. However, please be careful of hidden fees similar to those found in retirement plans(or ‘products’) because insurance providers are out to make money and hidden fees are a way to do this; also be aware such plans can have pre-conditions involved. Long-term health insurance(or a similarly-goaled alternative) should considered even if aiming for other kinds of retirement like assisted living or a tiny home with homemakers and health aides.

Again, given that nursing is the most costly of all retirement housing options, it is recommended to utilize this option only in dire cases in order to avoid the hospital or when terminally ill; unless one has the necessary money. Also, seniors who keep themselves active won’t need nursing homes for most of their retirement.

D.Other Noteworthy Savings from Owning a Tiny House

While housing related-costs are the lion’s share of the savings with tiny houses, there are some other indirect cost savings that come as a result of owning a tiny house.

  1. Because the space is much smaller, less consumer items would be purchased. In a bigger house, one would be compelled to keep buying to fill up the empty space. A tiny house compels one to buy less and thus save greatly.
  2. Gasoline costs would go down because, like stated previously, tiny houses encourage less buying. This means that the car will need to be used less and thus fuel is saved.
  3. Heating costs would go down as smaller spaces need less heating and if there is also proper insulation.
  4. Electrical bills would shrink because there are less electrical lines and tiny houses would have fewer electrical appliances/items due to smaller space.
  5. Water bill savings will at least be modest as less water will be used for cleaning smaller spaces. If the tiny houses uses a composting toilet instead of a flush toilet, the water savings would become more significant.
  6. Maintenance costs would also go down. If the tiny house was a DIY project, the owner likely won’t need to hire anyone especially since tiny houses require less material for maintenance and are thus cheaper.
  7. Cleaning is cheaper because there is less to clean and less cleaning supplies will be needed. Cleaning is also time saving because a full-tiny house clean-up may take up to an hours whereas a 2-story and basement middle class home may take few to several long days to clean.
  8. Home insurance on the long run would cost less with a tiny house because repairs would be cheaper and less expensive and elaborate insurance plans can be used.
  9. Many traditional homeowners pay for both mortgages AND make contributions for their 401k/IRA plan. No mortgages allow more money to go into retirement funds.
  10. Buying an building a tiny house sooner will accumulate savings on both short term and long term.
  11. Tiny Houses reduce stress. Because stress and its related illnesses causes close to 90% of hospital visits, tiny houses indirectly cuts into healthcare costs by avoiding costly sessions and stress-relief drugs.
  12. Etc., …and others that don’t immediately come to mind.

With all the savings, money that isn’t being used efficiently can now be used in better places. Retired seniors living in a costly retirement community/estate can sell his/her assets to purchase building a tiny house and utilize the savings for important things like health insurance. For those who haven’t reached retirement age yet, it is a good idea to consider tiny house retirement early on to start accumulating the savings.

Even though tiny houses offer great short and long-term savings in housing costs(not necessarily other costs like medical costs) as well as personal independence, tiny houses are best for seniors who are health enough to take care of themselves without constant assistance. For minor amounts of assistance, homemakers and health aides for hire can accommodate tiny house living. If a senior(s) requires assistance to be available 24/7, then tiny home retirement may have to be given up in favor assistance living facilities and nursing homes, unless the senior(s) can afford to have homemakers and health aides available 24/7. This is a reminder as to why it’s important to maintain one’s physical and mental health throughout one’s life to avoid costs.

III.How Tiny Houses Can Accommodate Elderly

Healthy living is necessary for seniors to be active and the avoid medical conditions that could require costly care. Tiny houses are in many ways healthier for seniors than other housing options. Here are ways that tiny house can promote healthful living for seniors:

A.Tiny Houses Reduce Stress for Seniors

Paris Tuileries Garden Statue Stressed Man

Arguably, the BIGGEST benefit that comes from owning a tiny house is the reduction of stress.

It is known that high stress levels wreak havoc on the mind and body. Going back to the definition of stress, it is the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from very demanding or adverse circumstances. It is also known that stress is the number one health concern for a huge number of countries worldwide.

How stress works is that when someone is under an adverse/demeaning situation, the brain exhibits a fight-or-flight response(via sympathetic nervous system) where adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, and etc. are secreted. These chemicals affect the body in various ways suitable for a fight-or-flight response. However, this creates tiny inflammatory responses within the body. Inflammatory responses are taken care of and healed when the body is in the rest-and-digest(via parasympathetic nervous system) state. However, when bombarded with too much stress, the chemicals repeatedly released via fight-or-flight state creates more inflammations than the rest-and-digest state can deal with. It is then that lasting symptoms and illnesses begin to form. Common symptoms/illnesses include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment and/or other kinds of brain damage
  • etc.

Stress left alone for too long does kill. For elderly who are already susceptible to these common conditions due to aging, the risks are heightened in comparison for younger folks. While many stressed-out folks and psychiatrists constantly attempt to invent ways to cope with stress in today’s world; the very cause of the demanding/adverse circumstances that lead to stress needs to be dealt with via adaptation. This means either adapting yourself via improving personal assets and ability or by adapting(or altering) the immediate surrounding environment to provide less stress. Tiny houses are an example of the latter way of lowering stress.

The many sources of stress comes down to two general things which are:

  • Money: The high costs of living in today’s world already puts a great deal of stress on everyone to collect more money to make ends meet before and during retirement. We have already gone over the tremendous cost savings by choosing a tiny house over expensive conventional living/retirement dwellings as well as some of the indirect savings like less furniture, clothes, and etc. due to smaller spaces encouraging less consumerism.
  • Complications of Daily LivingThis is related previous point but in a broader scope. Financial stress easily affects daily living. For example, folks constantly worry and run through their minds the various ways and hows associated with making financial obligations meets; given that these folks are stuck between high financial hurdles and inability to abandon financial goals, they are often left will little choice but to feel stressed. A non-financial complication example would be that when it comes to large middle class homes, cleaning and organizing a big house from top-to-bottom is a major stress source. A tiny house would simplify this aspect of living very much and reduce stress.

Because tiny houses can reduce both sources of stress greatly, it mentally gives more freedom to pursue what one wants and is less enslaved to sources of stress. For a senior, that can mean a more eventful retirement.

Lastly, going back earlier to how stress causes health problems, it has been estimated that 75-90% of primary care visits are due to stress-related problems. Because tiny houses can lower stress, this means less hospital visits, less costly session, and less pricey stress-relief drugs. In this aspect, tiny houses relieving stress can indirectly cut down medical costs.

B.Tiny Houses Can Use Greener Building Materials

Especially at an age where one’s immune system isn’t what it was once, using green building materials for a healthier environment warrants a much stronger consideration. Many buildings use building materials that may not be healthy to elderly. While there is legislation for newer buildings to avoid these kinds of materials, these materials can still be around in older buildings that elderly can often frequent, including nursing homes, since many of these materials were used in the younger days of today’s seniors.

Here are a list of some not so uncommon building materials/items that should or shouldn’t be avoided in green building:

i.)Today’s Insulation MaterialsSome insulation materials are health concerns to elderly. There is asbestos which are silicates that are were in the housing industry because its place in useful applications like wiring insulation, fire-retardant coating for steel girders in buildings, thermal insulation in homes and offices, and etc. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s did legislation seriously tackle asbestos’ toxicity. Pre-1990’s buildings that elderly frequent(like old nursing homes and assisted living facilities) may still have asbestos in them and inspecting and removing them can be costly.

The most commonly used insulation today is foam-spray insulation(polyurethane). How spray foam works is that the isocyanates, such as MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate), are chemicals that react with polyols to form polyurethane, which is the end-product and insulation. The danger is if the polyurethane isn’t fully formed/reacted, leftover unreacted isocyanates can cause cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, asthma, and chemical sensitization when absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Part of this is due to the fact that these foam-sprays are done by many as DIY without professional help. Also the polyurethane is very hard to remove making it imperative to get it done right the first time.

Some green options to consider are cotton, cellulose, and mineral wool insulation. More on this can be found at the green insulation options guide link.

Literally Green Building

ii.)Certain Types of Paints: Paints that have some toxicity are those that have lead and/or VOCs(volatile organic chemicals) in them. Some paints traditionally had lead to speed drying, increase durability, retain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion. In 1978, continued use of lead paints were banned in housing; but houses before 1978 may still have them. In the later years when the paint deteriorates, the lead mixes with dust spreading the poisonous metal. The other type of paint to avoid have high VOCs levels. Common VOCs(volatile organic chemicals) found in such paints include fungicides, biocides, and other additives that serve some kind of purpose. These VOCs can get released when the paint dries. For tiny houses for the elderly, low or “zero” VOCs paints maybe suitable. The labels of paint cans can be checked for the following information:

  1. To be considered low-VOC, the paint should contain <50 g/l of VOC.
  2. To be considered “zero”-VOC, the paint should contain <5 g/l of VOC.
  3. Solid content usually ranges from 25-45%, higher solid percentages indicate less VOCs.

Despite low-VOCs being attractive, there are some drawbacks to consider that can be found on this lullaby paints blog post like VOC emissions can be greater despite lower VOC content and VOC emissions from added tints. There is also the fact these VOC-regulations were made for paints in an outdoor setting and not so much for an indoor setting.  Basically, if one wants to use low-VOC paints inside, these three things should be checked for first.

iii.)Composite/Treated Wood: there are health concerns here even if it’s hard to believe. In composite wood, formaldehyde is a common adhesive resin. The presence of this is also found in sealed wood and treated wood used in many home furniture nationwide. Formaldehyde is considered a carcinogen by EPA standards and is currently hardly restricted. To avoid composite/treated/sealed wood that is likely to have formaldehyde or other VOCs, using real wood that has not been treated is an alternative.

Additionally, plywood, which is commonly used the build the frames of houses has formaldehyde as well. Options include aiming for low-formaldehyde emitting plywood. Real wood can be used if one is willing to go through the trouble of turning real wood into beams used to create frames. If low-formaldehyde/VOC plywood or composite wood is to be used, periodic ventilation may be necessary to keep the chemicals below the threshold point.

iv.)Carpeting: floor carpeting isn’t anything toxic, but carpeting contributes heavily to dust buildup and dust mites in most middle class homes. Dust consists fabric fibers are released from carpeting, clothes, linens when they deteriorate, spores and fungi from damp places and molding food, and etc. Because fabric fibers are a major portion of the dust, the carpeting should be replaced a substitute that doesn’t gather/release dust and dust mites. Hardwood(without formaldehyde) is one substitute.

v.)PVC(Polyvinyl Chloride) Pipes: These plastic pipes commonly used due to its cheapness, durability, chemical/biological resistance, and easy manufacturing in tiny houses. However, embedded within PVC, there are harmful chemicals like phthalates, dioxin, vinyl chloride monomer(VCM), and etc. These are leached slowly while water flows. When disposed and burned, the release rate to the environment is even higher. There are alternative piping options like copper pipes, but copper pipes can leach small amounts of copper into the water supply. One good approach to dealing with leaching in PVC pipes is use a carbon filter to capture the leached VOCs at the tiny house’s entry point. It may also be possible to leave PVC as is if the leached amount is under the maximum levels according to the EPA; this latter option is more suitable for younger than elderly who have better immune systems.

vi.)Natural Building Materials: Instead of using conventional building materials that maybe interlaced with chemicals and petrol like plastic, paints, and treated wood; the other option is to build tiny homes entirely out of natural materials; that is directly from the earth. There is a wide variety of natural materials that can be used that are safe.

One category are non-organic materials. This includes materials like cob, adobe, and stone. Depending on the materials, tiny pores can enable the house to “breathe”; certain kinds of stone won’t enable breathing though. A possible danger when making these kinds of houses is that silt, clay, and/or other kinds of fine particles can become dust and become inhaled. In this case, the house’s inside should to be plastered or anywhere necessary to keep fine silt/clay dust from the air. Another category are organic materials like straw bales, bamboo, and cordwood. Because these materials are all non-toxic biomass, there is no fine silt/clay dust to worry about; and thus plastering may not be needed.

Although I have written an overview as how green building is healthier for seniors than modern building, there is much more to this subject. I will eventually cover more on tiny house green building in future posts.

C.Tiny House Design Ideas for the Elderly

While tiny houses and its small spaces may not seem suited for elderly at first, contrary to belief, Living in smaller spaces can be better for elderly. This is mainly because there is less distance from place to place, this means less exertion from the elderly. While the lessened distance won’t make much of a different for younger folks, it makes a difference to seniors.

This last section will cover how tiny houses can be made to be elderly friendly.

Install a Ramp or Build Low

For a tiny house on wheels or on a raised foundation, a ramp may be needed if the senior requires any form of movement aid like a walking stick, a walker, or a scooter. For tiny houses on wheels, because the tiny house is not permanently settled, the tiny house on wheels would need a retractable ramp. The retractability feature should be automated and be activated to be on/off with a remote/button. Also, the weight distribution inside of the tiny house on wheels should be considered because when the wheelchair/senior loads onto the ramp, the tiny house could tilt a bit to the side. A manual ramp is also fine as long as there is available labor to move the ramp since it can be too strenuous for an elderly person.

For tiny houses with a foundation, the foundation can either be set to be low or aligned with the ground so there is little or no elevation and thus no ramp would be needed. If the tiny house has a raised foundation, a ramp can be used instead of a staircase.

The last thing to note is that the ramp should not be too steep or else it can be more strenuous to go up the ramp’s incline than it is to go up few stairs.

Making a Tiny House Friendly to Wheel Chairs

Compared to tiny houses for young and fit folks, tiny houses for wheel chairs have to have wider lanes as well as room to maneuver a wheelchair. The ADA(American Disabilities Act) sets requirements for public buildings as to make it accommodating for wheel-chaired folks. While ADA doesn’t apply to private homes, the guide lines it provides can help tiny homes accommodate wheel chairs.

According to the ADA, the minimum space around a wheel chair is about 30 inches (760 mm) minimum by 48 inches (1220 mm) minimum:Wheel Chair Specifications

Here are a sample of of some of the ADA standards for wheel chairs:

  • If the wheel chair is to turn in place, the minimum space needs to be 60 inches in diameter.
  • If the hallway reaches a turning point, the hallway needs to be 36″ minimum if there is at least 60″ of turning space. If the available space at the turning point is smaller, the hallway has to bigger to compensate. The image provides a guide:Wheel Chair Clearing Width At Turn
  • If the surrounding furniture/objects are placed in a manner that results in an “alcove” to place a wheel chair in, here are the spacing suggestion to enable forward or a parallel approach:Maneuvering Clearance in Alcover Forward and Parallel Approach
  • Any place where the senior has to transfer from a wheel chair, there needs to be a guard rail installed nearby to grab onto make it easier to transfer from the wheel chair.

For more details on the ADA standards on wheel chairs, I recommend to start reading Chapter 3 and 4 of the ADA 2010 Standards before reading rest of the Standards

Avoid Ladders

Ladders are potentially hazardous for some elderly due to greater chances of falling. The main alternatives are to put in a staircase or put all facilities onto the first floor of the tiny home.

Stair cases can be put in depending on the senior’s health. When then tiny house has a raised bed or loft, a stair case(with rails) can be a less taxing alternative to a ladder for a senior.

The alternative to ladders and stairs is to put all facilities on the 1st floor. This means no raised bed/loft. The bathroom, kitchen, bed, and and necessities are all on the 1st floor. While more floor space might be needed, this arrangement is nearly imperative for seniors who require movement aids like a walking stick, or a walker.

Make Storage Spaces More Accessible 

This means to put everything within the tiny house at reach level. This means zero(or minimal) stretching, use of stools, tiptoeing, bending down, and other tedious movements; these movements are all stressful for elders. For storage places, and its contents, these should be positioned at approximately waist level or somewhat higher so it’s easy to reach for and within arm’s reach.

Ideally, all storage spaces should be accessible. However, if not all storage spaces can be positioned at waist level or slightly above, then some of the harder to reach spaces may then have to be used as storage spaces. In this case, seniors should reserve these spaces for content that is sparingly used to minimize use of tedious movements.

Lower the Risk of Falls

The best and main precaution needed to prevent falls is to install indoor railings and/or guard rails wherever necessary. Then the senior(s) would then need to be made aware of the rails so the senior can reflexively catch onto the nearby rail whenever he/she loses balance.

Before installing rails, the tiny house should be designed to minimize the total risk for a senior to fall. Earlier mentioned, keeping all facilities(like kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom) on ground level while avoiding the stairs is one way to design a tiny house to reduce fall risks.

Stairs can be used instead if the senior’s health is taken into account. That means if the senior still has suitable motor skills and doesn’t require movement aids, he/she would have a much lower risk of falling from stairs than a debilitated senior.

Make the Shower Area Appropriately Sized

A sizeable shower can be preferable because a shower stall that is too small can be cramped for seniors. Because tiny houses are involved, and according to ADA standards, a minimum of 36″ of width and a minimum of 36″ of length is needed to avoid a cramped space. A 36″ x 36″ stall for seniors should have enough space to put in a seat for seniors to rest on, a guard rail(s) for safety, and an extendable shower chord for a senior to used while sitting down. Below is an example of such a shower(to the right):ADA Shower Stall for Seniors

Taking a look to the right, there is a seat for sitting, a guard rail for safety and stability, and an extendable shower chord for the senior to wash his/herself at leisure on the seat. This shower stall has floor dimensions of 38″ x 39″ which is slightly bigger than the 36″ minimum, but is small enough that it can fit into a tiny house will still being suitable for seniors.

By the way, this 38″ x 39″ shower stall to the right has a product #Id APTXST3838BF5 is from the Accessibility Professionals website which offers ADA-compliant showers, tubs, kitchen counter tops, and etc. Open the above link into a new tab and use ctrl+F to find the above product using the product #Id. You can also look at the other ADA-compliant options as well.

The shower on the right is suitable for tiny houses on wheels(or tiny house on foundations with similar dimension) because of the maximum dimensions(and floor space) of trailers due to trailers having to comply with the road size and laws.

Full sized ADA-compliant showers are also possible and are better suited for tiny homes on foundations where the size of the tiny house can be increased to accommodate the ADA-compliant full-sized shower.

Parking a Tiny House at an Acquaintance’s Parking Lot or Yard

Already covered, many seniors need assistance of some kind. This doesn’t only have to come from paid assistance like homemakers, health aides, or housing with provided assistance. Assistance can also be provided by friends  and/or family.

A senior with a tiny house on wheels can park it on their friend’s/family’s parking lot or yard. This kind of accommodation provided by tiny house on wheels enables a senior to live with assistance while maintaining personal space and distance. By distance, I mean that the senior will appear less intrusive to the property owner.

The real difficulty with this kind of accommodation is getting the property owner’s permission to dock the tiny house on wheels onto the yard or parking lot. There are folk who are uncomfortable with somebody taking up residence  on their yard or parking lot. On top of that, there are folks who also find it too tedious to to look after elderly. How well this way works depends on how good the relationship is between the senior and the property’s owner.


The state of retirement in America is slowly crumbling as retirement programs(like social security, and etc.) are slowly dying, retirement housing costs are going up, healthcare costs are going up, and retirement plans are getting too complicated for many. Hopefully, this post managed to open your eyes to a new form of retirement via tiny house living that takes care of many of the problems associated with the standard retirement system.

If you like this post, please consider sharing(via social media bar) and subscribing for email updates(if you already haven’t). Leave a comment below regarding your thoughts, ideas, and experiences on the use of tiny houses for retirement.


Tiny Homes for Retirement




Image/Video Attributions(You may skip this):

  1. Header Image: “Old House in Provo” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by wickenden via Flickr
  2. Social Security Stress YouTube Video: from this How Social Security is Stressed YouTube Link
  3. Social Security and Medicare Retirement Age Cuts Charts: from National Priorities Project website
  4. Health Care Spending Per Capita Per Country: from the Institute for Affordable Health Care website
  5. Health Care Spending Based on Age Groups Chart: from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website
  6. Average Housing Cost in America Chart: from a Real Estate Report from JP’s Stock Charts
  7. How IRA Works YouTube Video: from this Roth vs Traditional IRA YouTube Link
  8. How 401k Works YouTube Video: from this How 401k Works YouTube Link
  9. Dollar Roof on Coins Image: from Pixabay by Skitterphoto released to Public Domain
  10. Online Mortgage Calculator Output: from the Online Mortgage Calculator On Calculator.net
  11. Tiny House and Pine Tree Image: “Tiny House and Pine Tree” (CC-BY-2.0)by Tammy Strobel via Flickr
  12. Old People in Retirement Home Image: “burn’s night at a retirement home” (CC BY 2.0) by k4dordy via Flickr
  13. Old Lady and Homemaker ImageKue released to Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
  14. Elderly Assistance Image: from the va.gov website; government works are under public domain
  15. Paris Tuileries Garden Cain Statue: By Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  16. Literally Green House: “Monopoly house” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Loozrboy via Flickr
  17. Wheel Chair ADA-Specification Diagrams: from the 2010 ADA Standards of Accessible Design
  18. ADA-Compliant 38″ x 39″ Shower Stall Image: from Accessibility Professionals website
  19. Pinterest Hidden Image(only visible when using Pin-it button on post): I reserve ALL RIGHTS to this image as I created this for my Pinterest sharing needs. This composite pin image consists of:
  20. Facebook and Google+ Posts’ Header Image: I also own all rights to this composite image as I made this for my other social media sharing needs. This composite image made up of:

4 Responses

  1. bidnesslady says:

    HI, Bobby. What an awesome article! I know quite a few people who will be facing retirement shortly and this was such an eye opener and all around great idea! There are many things to think about when retiring because the income will not be as much, nor come as often. One my also be doing his-her best to maintain a certain lifestyle and that may not be feasible upon retirement. The tiny house business is such an awesome idea since we know many people are barely above the poverty line. Also by retirement, most are left either alone or alone with a spouse and may not require as much space.

    I plan to share your article which I hope will at least give another idea/method to make it in this world without all of the bells and whistles! Although, I have seen a few tiny houses that were literally mini mansions…the sky is still the limit. I research WAH jobs and Home Based Business ideas, but since I’ve written about the tiny house idea, I have seen probably (10) different ways to be successful and make it on a smaller budget. Thanks again for such an informative article!

    • Bobby Kundu says:

      I’m glad you liked my post. Just like you, I also found how eye-opening the situation was regarding retirement when I did my own research. I think too many people underestimate the costs of retirement as well as how much money can lost though various fees and interest found in convoluted plans. Also, many people put off properly planning for their retirement until much later than they should. While tiny house are a helpful way to reduce costs, they’re still not mainstream enough to be accepted by many as a viable alternative.

      For each reader who wakes up to the current situation of retirement and the need for solutions, that makes writing this post all the more worthwhile.

  2. Heather Grace says:

    Wow, what a wealth of information you have here! The way you broken down all the scenarios and numbers really leaves a lot to consider. Retirement is something so few Americans consider. As you pointed out, Social Security likely won’t be there for future generations.

    I have never heard of Tiny Houses. If someone wanted to go about building one themselves, are there permits and such you have to consider? Is there somewhere to buy prefabricated ones? Or would a trailer work just as well? What about plumbing and such?

    • Bobby Kundu says:

      Yes, there are permits involved. Normally, if something is built under *blank* sq. feet., according to local laws, there is no building permit needed as they’re usually considered a workshop or shed. However, if one lives in it, it becomes classified as a “dwelling” and a permit is needed. After building the tiny house(w/permit to avoid legal hassles) and passing inspections, one should get a certificate of occupancy.

      There are prefabricated tiny houses. Prefabricated tiny house on wheels are easier to obtain and purchase; one such vendor is the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which sells complete models. Tiny houses on foundations are really hard to buy because companies won’t make these houses that often have legal hassles involved like zoning. You can buy a fully-built used tiny house on foundations from an online auction.

      With regards to plumbing and such, if the tiny(or small) house is on a foundation, it can be done similarly as with other houses. For a tiny house on wheels, the plumbing pipes will have to connect to a tank(s) or outside pipes via inlets/outlets similar to RVs.

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