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Baby steps being taken for tiny homes

Aspen Public Radio

To address the need for more affordable housing, Garfield County recently changed their building code to allow for tiny homes.

These are minimalistic structures, typically a fraction of an average home size. How much did the county’s modifications really do to affect change?


Bill Nestman’s tiny home has dutch double doors, which are the kind where the top can swing out, while the bottom stays put. He thinks it’s a clever design.


“Tiny houses are small, so the more you can let the inside out and the outside in really adds to the space,” he said.


Nestman lives with his wife and son up Four Mile Road, on the way to Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort. His tiny home is on a trailer, parked behind their main home. He and a friend built it over the course of three months and, from just a glance, it’s pretty clear he was going for a rustic look. The exterior is all reclaimed barnwood, the roof made with corrugated steel. Inside, river rock tiles cover the bathroom floor.


Nestman didn’t want to use any plastics or fake countertops. “I really wanted it to feel like you were in an old farmhouse,” he said.


The whole space is a roomy 250 square feet. Before April 1, no home in Garfield County could be smaller than 20 by 20 feet. This became law in the 1970s to keep a tight rein on trailer parks in the interest of preserving property values. The county’s commissioners, however, decided to scratch minimum size requirements. They also made some changes only significant to those whose goal is to create the smallest space possible. For example, the commissioners are now allowing a ladder to substitute for a staircase in order to get up into a loft.  


Changes like these should give people like Nestman more leeway. Afterall, he built his tiny home to rent it out. This is how he makes his living. You think a tiny home is a quirky vacation rental? He rents a treehouse out on Airbnb.


This past November, Nestman parked his tiny home behind his house. He listed it on Airbnb the first week of April. Before he knew it, he was booked solid.


“Something like this easily can generate $2,000 to $3,000 a month in income,” he said.


The tides, however, have turned and Nestman is selling his tiny home because his neighborhood covenants don’t allow two dwellings on the same property. It’s on wheels and is technically a mobile home, so no one can be living or even staying overnight in it.


Nestman could apply for a land-use permit with the county, which gets these requests all the time. He’d have to take his tiny home off its wheels, put it on a foundation and make sure it was properly hooked up to water and sewage. Still, he’d come up against his neighborhood’s rules.


He’s selling it for $47,000, which, he said, is about how much he put into it. He said he gets around 10 phone calls a day about it. A few inquirers have made offers, but most who call don’t have the money up front. Even if they did, Nestman said, “The biggest problem people are having is finding a space to put it full-time.”


If you own land, great. You can also put it on property zoned as “multi-family,” but a majority of Garfield County is zoned as “single-family.” This is why some say the county’s  changes to engender a tiny house movement didn’t actually do much.  


Jeff Nalley is the owner of OutWest Tiny Homes in New Castle. He dreams of building a tiny home subdivision. He saw one once, while on vacation  in Alabama, and thought it could work back in Colorado. The plan was for it to be a subdivision like any other, with utilities, roads, parking and so forth. Their price point was going to be between $40,000 to $45,000.


The dream came to a halt because of the minimum size requirement. Even with the recent changes to the building code, Nalley said other requirements still prohibit him from going forward with his business plan. A certain number of the homes need to be wheelchair accessible, as per ADA requirements, and the lofts need to have what’s called an “egress window,” for fire safety. These are state and federal requirements the county enforces.


“I mean, you’re still in the 600 to700 square foot range right now,” Nalley said, which means the homes aren’t tiny enough to be profitable.  


Both Nalley and Nestman have the same criticism of trying to get tiny homes going in Garfield County.


“Right now, it’s dysfunctional, it doesn’t work,” Nestman said, but, “Times change, environments change, laws change.”


How and when that happens is another story.

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