Tiny houses may be trendier than ever, but plenty of people still refuse to accept they’re any different from good ol’ RVs or have any real staying power. One person definitely not in denial about the popularity of tiny houses? Dan George Dobrowolski, founder and CEO of Escape Homes, the Wisconsin-based tiny house builder that’s been putting small dwellings on wheels since 1993.
“We’re living in a tsunami,” Dobrowolski says in a recent phone interview, referencing the exponential growth in demand over the last five years. He says business has grown 6000 percent since they first got started. Their manufacturing plant has also been expanded three times, from 12,000 square feet to now just over 30,000 square feet.
This ever-expansion is perhaps more clear in Escape’s proliferating product line of RV-certified tiny houses. Since launching the Escape Traveler—a 269-square-foot tiny home with full-size appliances—in 2015, the company has, in rapid succession, put out an eight-person “XL” version of the Traveler, and introduced two new lines (the modern Vista with huge windows and the traditional Vintage with a gabled roof), each in multiple sizes.
Chatting with Curbed, Dobrowolski spoke about the who and why behind tiny houses, and more. Here’s what we found most intriguing.
1. Customers run the spectrum—One common first question about tiny houses is: Who even wants these? Well, according to Dobrowolski, lots of people. He says they get “everybody,” from empty nesters to young couples just starting out, from the owner of an NBA team to a New York City startup (who’s been using a Escape Vista as a mobile showroom, see below.) In the past, we’ve also shared how tiny houses have become home to a DIY-minded millennial, resourceful family of three, and a couple with three dogs.
2. Many people don’t live in them full-time—In contrary to what many a tiny house reality show and blog might suggest, plenty of tiny house buyers aren’t trying to downsize their whole lives into a tiny house. According to Dobrowolski, most of their customers use their products as vacation homes, short-term rentals, or secondary dwellings on properties. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, since trying to live in a tiny house full-time typically comes with zoning hurdles that could get folks evicted in some places.
3. It’s not all about the cute look—A major appeal of tiny houses, at least as experienced on the internet, is how adorable they look with all their tiny components cleverly laid out. But when asked what people need to know about tiny houses, Dobrowolski emphasizes the importance of quality construction, down to the nitty gritty. He mentions a series of things to watch out for to make sure the tiny house you buy is safe to use, starting with getting the structure inspected by a certified third party. He then recommends taking a close look at the fit and finish of the unit, as well as what materials were used and the condition of the bathroom, A/C, and kitchen fixtures. If the house is on wheels, make sure it meets Department of Transportation rules and, better yet, that the trailer used was built for the unit.