A few years ago, the college-age daughters of longtime friends Frank Hazzard and Kirk Johnson got interested in tiny houses – small dwellings, sometimes on wheels, that typically cap out at around 400 square feet.
The girls’ interest faded before their fathers had time to build them tiny houses of their own, but Hazzard and Johnson were hooked and quickly realized there were few local resources for people interested in the tiny house lifestyle. Johnson, a retired executive recruiter with building experience, and Hazzard, a retired Baltimore City fire chief with a background in marketing and trade shows, combed their talents to create the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo, which debuted last fall.
This year’s Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo will take place at the Howard County Fairgrounds on Oct. 6 and 7. Ahead of the event, Hazzard and Johnson spoke about the appeal of tiny houses, what to expect at the expo, and what’s happening in the local tiny house industry.
What is the appeal of tiny houses?
Hazzard: There are four reasons people want these tiny houses. The first and foremost is financial – if you don’t have an expensive house to buy and maintain, you gain a lot of freedom. They range from $30,000 to $80,000.
The second reason is geographic mobility: people want to be able to hook their house on a vehicle and move without a lot of effort. Third is environmental sustainability. Some of these houses are completely off grid. And fourth is sense of community. They want to live in communities of tiny houses with other people who share their priorities in terms of finances and being carbon neutral.
What can people visiting the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo expect to see and do?
Johnson: Our plan is to have 20-plus tiny houses there, and container houses and converted RVs. Another thing we do is bring in vendors for the do-it-yourselfer: tiny house trailer manufacturers, heating and cooling manufacturers, plumbing, electrical. All the things a DIYer would need to build their own tiny house.
Also, we bring in speakers who address everything from the lifestyle and downsizing to concerns people have with living in a tiny house, issues like zoning and dealing with the government.
What are the big issues and concerns in the industry?
Hazzard: The biggest issue is where you can park it, which is really a zoning issue. Other issues are financing (borrowing money to buy one), insurance and building codes. Those things are all interwoven. For example, there are several standards you can build them to, and if you build one to a standard, it’s easier to get a loan.
What is the tiny house market like in Maryland?
Hazzard: They are not completely legal in any county or in Baltimore City yet.
In other places in the country, most notably Portland, Ore., they already had ADUs (auxiliary dwelling units, or a small guest house built on a property and owned by the property owner). They are now allowing tiny houses to be established on properties as the ADU in place of a more typical house built on a foundation. Frederick County is considering that right now.
[Baltimore nonprofit] Civic Works has a factory in Remington. They are building tiny houses there and teaching trades by building. It’s a fantastic jobs training program and builds interest in tiny houses. They’re at the forefront of the tiny house movement and are all about making it legal in the city.