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posted: 10/6/2012 5:00 AM

Woman believes in big market for tiny houses

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  • Sharon Read, founder of Seattle Tiny Homes, places dishes in the dining area in the Ballard model home that she created.

      Sharon Read, founder of Seattle Tiny Homes, places dishes in the dining area in the Ballard model home that she created.
    Meegan M. Reid/Kitsap Sun

  • The bathroom features a small clothes washer and dryer.

      The bathroom features a small clothes washer and dryer.
    Meegan M. Reid/Kitsap Sun

  • This 174-square-foot Ballard model home can be used as a guesthouse.

      This 174-square-foot Ballard model home can be used as a guesthouse.

By Amy Phan
Scripps Howard News Service

POULSBO, Wash. -- After years spent as a private contractor drawing floor plans for regular-sized homes, Sharon Read started Seattle Tiny Homes, a company that specializes in eco-friendly, high-end miniature homes.

The company debuted its first model in February during an environmental trade show and the buzz hasn't stopped since, Read said.

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She recently provided a tour of the first home she designed, a 174-square-foot unit made for small families.

Parked in the driveway of her 2,100-square-foot house here, where her family of five lives, she pointed out the unit's amenities.

It's comparable to any regular house, just smaller: a kitchen with a microwave, fridge and three-burner stovetop; bathroom with a small tub, sink, compostable toilet and washer and dryer; and two 60-square-feet lofts that can fit queen-sized beds. There's no need for a heater, since the units stay pretty warm on their own, she said.

Most everything inside, including trimming and windows, has to be custom-made since nothing in the market currently caters to pint-size units, she said.

The unit, with framed walls made of 2-by-4s, sits on top of a one-of-a-kind trailer, which Read also designed.

"This is hurricane-proof. It exceeds international standards," she said, adding that the homes are designed to travel far distances; everything is glued or screwed to create the safest unit possible.

Four base home models are anywhere from 84- to 192-square-feet, and prices begin around $35,000. The units are constructed in Eastern Washington and take about four months to complete.

"My No. 1 goal is to have this feel like a home," she said.

It's the homelike appeal that attracted buyer Gerald Stanley and his wife to one of Read's creations, instead of a recreational vehicle. The couple recently downsized from a four-bedroom to a two-bedroom home and needed extra room for out-of-town guests.

"To be honest, mobile homes are ugly. So when my wife found the tiny homes online, we thought this would be something that would fit in with the surrounding," he said.

The couple also was happy to learn that the unit didn't require any county permits.

A unit can be designed to have its own electricity, propane and septic systems to "live off the grid," Read said.

Her company is part of a growing trend of tiny-home builders who believe less is more.

Tiny homes are in an unregulated market right now, Read said. They're different enough from recreational vehicles and manufactured homes that those rules don't quite apply. Bank loans and insurance companies can be wary in investing in a trend that hasn't been vetted enough, she said.

Jeff Rowe, deputy director of Department of Community Development and chief building official for Kitsap County, said small-home buyers should consider getting the unit certified by licensed inspectors to make sure they are at least safe.

"Building institutions (like insurance) base what they do on how safe the structures are. And without having it inspected to code, you just don't know," said Rowe, who has not seen a tiny home.

Read hopes her tiny creations catch on.

"It's going to happen organically. We're right on the first bit of the bell curve (of tiny homes)," she said.

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