Tiny House Hunters – A Binge-Worthy Break

By Caitlin Zera                                                                                September 30, 2016

Ever wanted to live in a Tiny House? HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters will let you do a little daydreaming but doesn’t fully comprehend environmental concerns.

Episode Runtime: 25 minutes, 3 seasons

I first watched Tiny House Hunters on a plane through the free in-flight service. Each episode is about 25 minutes long and the first season just became available to stream (you can also watch full episodes on HGTV’s website). Tiny House Hunters is actually a spin-off of the original HGTV franchise House Hunters. Watching something like House Hunters, a show in which people buy homes/second homes that are often large and expensive has never seemed all that appealing to me. But living vicariously through a tiny house hunter? I was sold on that idea.

More than anything else, Tiny House Hunters is a binge-worthy break from other more taxing viewings like say, An Inconvenient Truth or Cowspiracy. It’s funny – sometimes even charming – and most of the hunters on the show are families, young professionals, and mid-income couples looking to spend under $80,000 on a home. If you’re a fan of tiny houses and the Tiny House movement, Tiny House Hunters will offer you everything you’d like to see in a show about tiny houses, despite a few annoyances.

Each episode begins with the hunters and their parameters – cost, interior/exterior features, geographic limitations, and square footage requirements. In season one, a family of six strives to find a tiny house of 600 square feet – allowing each individual family member to have 100 square feet of personal space. Most hunters are downsizing from their current living situations, and it’s a common trope on the show to demonstrate how much they’re downsizing with comparisons like, “At 600 square feet, their ideal tiny house would fit inside the master bedroom in their current home.”

Throughout the episode the hunters tour three potential houses and then weigh the pros and cons of each. This is the most indulgent part of the show, getting to see different tiny house layouts: everything from modern shipping container houses to yurts and bungalows to rustic cabins. The show allows you to get excited about things like two burner stoves, couches that collapse, kitchen tables that convert into office desks, stairs that double as storage, and compostable toilets (which don’t often go over well).

Tiny House Hunters is not explicitly or consciously environmental – most people featured in the series want to cut down their expense, de-clutter their lives, be closer to family members or have a mobile home that doesn’t feel like a trailer. Tiny housing can certainly achieve all these goals and each of these factor into why the Tiny House movement can successfully meet our changing housing and social needs. However, few people on the show are interested in downsizing because it’s an environmental necessity. Efficiency, carbon footprint, and energy impact are not top selling points for the hunters, though solar panels do make occasional appearances on the show. While environmentalism may not be the focal point of Tiny House Hunters, the show’s anti-McMansion stance is undoubtedly environmentally positive as there is an overall reduction in resources required to build a tiny house.

This is why HGTV’s gamble that audiences will want to watch a show about small living versus its usual shows about large, luxurious lifestyles is interesting. Tiny House Hunters treats the Tiny House movement as a fad, not as a serious shift in the conversation about housing in the United States. Also at play may be the fact that many of HGTV’s advertisers are home improvement companies who have a stake in selling people more products to enhance and maintain larger homes.

What may be most amusing about the whole show is the reaction hunters have when they tour the tiny houses for the first time. Almost all are surprised by just how small the living space is. “Where will all my clothes fit?” “This shower is not big enough.” “I don’t think there’s enough storage space.” “Where is the dishwasher?” It may make you start to wonder just how prepared the hunters are to actually live in the tiny house they select. These reactions are of course very symptomatic of how we have come to think about housing, design, and material goods in our society. This is the one part about the show that leaves of trace of bitterness after finishing an episode – why do we tend to characterize small living as a sacrifice?

Perhaps this is because tiny living is still seen as an alternative to large, luxurious living (McMansions, if you will) that are the epicenter of the American Dream. We must start understanding small living as a necessity instead of an alternative. And we must imagine a system in which the benefits of small living, like more time and money to invest in civic duties and social activities, reach all members of our communities and are equitably distributed.

Tiny House Hunters does not tackle these issues (it rarely even touches on the limitations tiny house builders face when it comes to preposterous urban zoning and permitting). Tiny House Hunters displays a utopian picture of the Tiny House movement that is distinctly American: the lone family in a quest for betterment seeks to build or buy a tiny house that will make them self-reliant. They’ll plop it down in the wilderness or tow it on the back of their truck across the country in the ultimate assertion of freedom. The tiny house movement should not be about a lone family toughing it out. It should be about spending more time outside with neighbors in the community.

Tiny House Hunters will not teach you about how to build a tiny house nor will it engage you in a discussion about the tiny house movement in a completely meaningful way. It will entertain you and make you somewhat grateful that tiny houses are at least being shown on television. Almost assuredly, you’ll be sketching your own tiny house plans before the first season is through, even if you have no actual desire to live in one.