In the discussions about affordable housing in the Keys, the term “tiny home” comes up over and over again. On the surface, the logic makes sense — one construction professional estimates a barebones tiny home (like the one described at left) would cost about $50,000. But the specifics of Keys building and codes, makes it next to impossible except in an RV park.

“The problem with the tiny homes is that they cost almost as much to install or build as a regular home. People want to maximize their lots with a full-size home even though it may cost more,” said Donna Lookadoo, partners with Ben Daniels in Modular Homes of the Florida Keys.

Factors driving tiny home costs up include elevating it out of the flood plain and making it hurricane resistant with special windows and tie downs. In addition, the Keys has rigorous density requirements which limits how many tiny homes can go on one lot. In the end, though, it may just boil down to land cost and building rights.

In the City of Marathon, a tiny home requires a BPAS, or building right, just like any other dwelling. In Key West, where they are called mother-in-law suites, it requires a “fractional” building right — or 0.78 percent of a full right. In Monroe County they are allowed, but only in trailer parks. Some local governments are researching the possibility of adding an “accessory” unit to their code, which would ease the path of tiny homes in the Keys.


4 guys, 12 days

What’s perhaps the first tiny house was built in the Keys over the course of 12 days. As soon as it was finished, it shipped out this past Wednesday.

“It’s going to an RV camp on the Peace River near Arcadia,” said homeowner Joe Giordano, who is also a foreman at Keys Contracting Services in Marathon. “I decided to do it about three years ago, and it finally came together.”

Because of his construction industry connections, Giordano was able to keep the costs downs — using repurposed kitchen cabinets, a donated trailer frame, etc. Many of his colleagues donated their services to help plumb and wire the 350-square-foot home that features a full bath, small kitchen, two bedrooms and a loft.

It was constructed in the company’s yard on 107th Street in Marathon. More than one person stopped dead in their tracks, mouth agape, to ask, “What is this?”

Giordano just laughed. “I think about nine people came in off the street to see it and asked for one of their own,” he said.

In fact, the project was a bit of an exercise in possibilites. The four-man Nicaraguan crew paid close attention, Giordano said, and expressed an interest in building similar homes in their native country. Others, like Giordano’s brother, want what he has: a place to hang their hat on a remote piece of paradise. Still others want to live off the grid by installing solar panels and a holding tank.

“We’re doing some research right now to figure out what the market is,” said Chris Gratton, owner of Keys Contracting Services. “We need to figure out the certifications, warranties, FEMA and building codes.”

Gratton said the business has the facilities to start building more if the interest pans out.


About the house:

At 350-square-feet, this structure qualifies as a tiny home. It has two bedrooms (one queen, one bunkbed), a small kitchen and a full bath. It’s equipped with a gas stove and hot water heater (both gas appliances with a battery ignition switch), and an energy-efficient air conditioner — when plugged in the whole thing draws less than 12 amps, Giordano said. The space was designed to the inch by Joe Giordano’s wife, Kristen, and their favorite spot is the loft for their daughters — ages 5 and 9. It was a challenge to include that feature and also keep the height of the structure low enough to pass under interstate bridges. The tiny home also has a small porch with a hinged overhang on the rear. The most expensive elements, Joe said, were the tongue-and-groove interior ceiling and the exterior cedar siding.

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