Chattanooga carpenter and budding entrepreneur Travis Pyke is building a business around the idea that the American dream of homeownership doesn't have to come with a lengthy, expensive mortgage.
"It really does make life simpler when you don't have so many bills to pay," he said.
Pyke and his wife, Brittany, live in a 200-square-foot home that Travis built. They spend $35 a month on water and power costs.
Their tiny home sits on an 18-by-8-foot trailer, so it's mobile. It cost about $14,000 to build.
The Pykes and their business partner, Jeremy Weaver, are joining the tiny home trend with their business Wind River Custom Homes.
"I heard about [the trend] about three years ago," Travis said. "My wife and I live here ... [and] we both didn't want to have a mortgage."
The tiny home trend has been growing in popularity over the last decade, according to a Country Living article that recently featured Wind River Custom Homes.
Travis built his home for $14,000 because he got good deals on supplies, he said. For example, he purchased reclaimed wood for 75 percent off, and he bought a relatively inexpensive used trailer, which acts as the home's foundation.
Without those deals, Travis estimates that other homes will cost between $15,000 and $18,000 to build. Add in labor costs, and customers could get a dream tiny home for between $30,000 and $40,000.
"You could pay for one of these in rent in about three years, depending on how much you pay for rent," Travis said.
In addition to the low cost, there are other benefits of living in small spaces, Travis said.
For the Pykes, living in the smaller space means they spend more time outside in their garden. And Travis said a deep clean of the entire house only takes about 30 minutes.
The mobile homes can also make travel easier, he said.
They can be hooked up at campgrounds the same way RVs can, and, in many places, they can be parked on private property without special permits—although the rules vary depending on the area, he also said.
"We feel like less is more," Travis said. "The less stuff you have, the more freedom you have to travel and the more money you have to travel."
Travis expects that students and young adults, as well as retirees, will be ideal tiny homeowners.
He's gotten inquiries from people in their 50s and 60s who are thinking of downsizing, retiring and maybe traveling.
He knows it will take a lot of work and navigating through "red tape," but his ultimate vision is to create a downtown community of small homes.
"Our long-term goal is to have an urban community downtown within biking distance of UTC," Travis said.
Students could rent or rent to own, he said.
"In four years, instead of $35,000 going to [pay for] housing, you can pull a home away," he said.
The home he built for his family is 18 feet long, but he can build larger versions that are 20 to 24 feet long, he said.
Part of his vision is to help people downsize and simplify. He will custom-make any small home but doesn't want to get into building bigger homes, he said.
"We'd like to teach people more about how to downsize; teach people how to get rid of stuff; and have a personal, one-on-one relationship [with clients]," he said.
Travis said his company will custom-build any design here and then subcontract for delivery or do their own delivery anywhere around the country.
The team will also sell trailers for people who want to build their own small homes.
"I think Chattanooga is a perfect city for this," he said.