Tiny, affordable homes could help dire housing shortage in Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Known as the Sarah House, built by small house specialist Jeff White in Glendale out of two shipping containers several years back stands as an example of the work White has been dedicating himself to. Our Homes, Our Voices, a campaign to bring more attention to the affordable housing crisis across the country showcased the latest solution being presented by White, a 432 square foot experimental home he built inside a warehouse in Salt Lake that would cost about $36,000 and be easy to assemble on a lot.

What is 432 square feet, sleeps two and costs $36,000?

A tiny home.

Wednesday, small home architect Jeff White, in conjunction with the Utah Housing Coalition, showed off a prototype of an energy-efficient house that is made partially of a shipping container. The container is loaded up with a kit that contains the materials for the rest of the dwelling and can be easily transported to just about anywhere.

A do-it-yourselfer can put the thing together in a few days, White said, like building with Legos. Others might need a little help.

The container is 20 by 8 feet and has a floor space of 160 square feet. When assembled, the walls, floor and roofing inside the container build out an extra 172 feet, including a 32-square-foot storage space.

The unit also can be equipped with a deck on the roof.

“The house is as solid as can be,” White said. “We should be building affordable housing, but not cheap housing.”

Of course, a building lot, foundation and utilities are not included in the cost.

The unveiling was part of the “Our Homes, Our Voices” campaign to bring more attention to the country’s affordable housing crisis, said Tara Rollins, executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition.

In Utah, there are more than 68,000 extremely low-income households with incomes less than the poverty guideline, Rollins said. Across the state, there is a deficiency of more than 47,000 affordable rental units.

White’s tiny home model may be one way of addressing the shortfall, Rollins said.

He has been experimenting with tiny homes for about 20 years. The design he presented Wednesday is well insulated. The structural panels that make up the walls and ceiling are made up of six inches of styrofoam sandwiched by quarter-inch plywood.

It exceeds most energy standards, he said, with the walls rated at R-26 and the ceiling at R-32.

The house can be customized, so that windows and doors are placed wherever the buyer likes. Customers also can select preferred flooring, cabinetry, as well as air condition and heating types.

“It’s tailored and built for them,” White said.

In addition, he said, the prototype can be enlarged up to 1,100 square feet. Such a unit would cost about $70,000.

These dwelling are aimed at working people, White explained.

“We’re trying to build a house for the downtown restaurant worker,” he said. “That’s the market I’m trying to reach.”

Depending on parts availability, a unit could be ready for shipping in two weeks from ordering.

White is in the process of creating a limited liability corporation. In the meantime, he can be reached on Facebook at Sarah House Utah, where a video can be viewed of the prototype.