“Big Tiny takes the movement one step further by placing its beautifully designed, handcrafted compact homes on wheels in spectacular rural settings.”
The Tiny House movement has taken a big turn when three young Singaporean entrepreneurs decided to take up the idea and integrate it with ecotourism. They produce the eco-friendly houses in Malaysia, then sell them to farmers in Australia or anyone else who can then use them to rent out to tourists in scenic locations across the world.
But the homes have a twist, they have wheels which make them subject only to motor vehicle rules. Incidentally, the wheels came in very handy when they had to evacuate the tiny homes from the Australian bush fires recently.
The tiny homes sizes range between 186 sq ft – 240 sq ft which can comfortably house at least 2 persons.
Asian Property Review talks to Adrian Chia, one of the co-founders and the one who was inspired when he had a holiday at the Great Ocean Road, Australia in 2016.
Are the tiny houses just restricted to farm locations or can they be placed in jungles, riverbanks, mountains, etc?
AC: Big Tiny is the first company in Singapore to integrate the concept of “tiny houses” with eco-tourism. “Tiny houses” are part of an international trend of simplifying lives by reducing the size, and therefore the resource consumption, of homes without sacrificing quality of life. Big Tiny takes the movement one step further by placing its beautifully designed, handcrafted compact homes on wheels in spectacular rural settings. The intent – to amplify the benefits of the “tiny house” movement by pairing the advantages of a thoughtfully efficient abode with the recharging potential of an intimate connection with Mother Nature. It can be placed anywhere like jungles, riverbanks, mountains, etc.
Would this concept be similar to a sub-set of AirBnb where the tiny houses can be booked through AirBnb?
AC: The concept started with one of our cofounders from Singapore (one of the most densely populated cities in the world), recharging himself in a farm in Australia. It was the perfect get away from the hectic and digital lifestyle of a city dweller, accompanied by vast greenery and beautiful sunsets. He wished there would be more spaces like this for city dwellers to recharge. This sparked off the idea to use tiny houses to realize this dream together. Besides using tiny houses for Airbnb, the tiny houses can be used for other purposes like cafes, event spaces, granny flat or additional dwelling at home. It is not restricted to only Airbnb.
Where are the tiny houses produced? Where are the materials sourced from and what are their sustainability features?
AC: Big Tiny is based in Singapore and the company has a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. The tiny houses in Big Tiny are designed using a unique panel system and it can easily be assembled with just 2 to 3 persons with no need for any lifting machines. Our team currently assembles a tiny house in just under 3 hours. The panels used in the tiny houses are prefabricated in our factory in Malaysia.
The house is designed to be eco-friendly, with solar panels harvesting energy from the sun, a composting toilet and a rainwater collection system. We sought to evoke the feeling of spaciousness with minimal design (floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum natural light) and used multi-functional fittings to maximise comfort in a small space.
“Big Tiny houses can be assembled with just 2 to 3 persons with no need for any lifting machines in just under 3 hours.”
Can anyone buy a tiny house and transport it to their location of choice? If yes, how much is the price?
AC: Anyone can buy a tiny house as the unique panel system allows us to flat pack and ship a tiny house to any one to their locations of choice. Our smallest panel kit set starts from SGD$35,000 excluding shipping and tax.
How many different designs are there? Are they designed by architects?
AC: We have 5 designs currently in our portfolio. These tiny houses are designed by our designers and signed off by the necessary professionals. The unique panel system allows Big Tiny to customize the design and size of the tiny house based on requirements.
Which countries currently have your tiny houses? Where else do you plan to expand to?
AC: Big Tiny is currently in Victoria and New South Wales of Australia, and Malaysia. Our team is also in Indonesia, preparing for an expansion. In our business plan, the next expansion will be into New Zealand.
Why did you choose Australia first to start your venture?
AC: We are focusing our efforts on placing Big Tiny houses in Australia because research has shown that 500,000 out of the 8 million tourists to Australia in a year are Singaporeans. In addition, the number of tourists into Australia is also growing steadily. We believe this is a good market to explore.
In 2014, the Australia government considered the adversities of its farming community by relaxing planning regulations to allow tourism-related activities on rural land. This presented a window of opportunity for land owners to work with Big Tiny, hosting houses on their land to complement their income.
What are the challenges you face in this venture?
AC: Ideas don’t come out fully formed. It only becomes clearer when you work on it. You just have to get started. It has been a challenging process from idea conceptualization to production of houses to actual hosting of houses on land. It’s always about fine tuning the business in the process and that’s what we enjoy most.
One interesting challenge is the sheer size of Australia. Singapore is a small country and even driving from one end to another, will take at most an hour. When we first started to build our business in Australia, we had to drive for hours to meet one person. We even tried driving from Melbourne in Victoria to Sunshine Coast in Queensland and that is a whopping 1,700 KM. We took this into consideration when setting up our factories in Victoria and New South Wales too.
Are the tiny houses considered as residential/ commercial property and subject to the property laws of each country?
AC: Building permits are not required but we are building our Big Tiny houses in accordance with the Australian government’s building standards. Prefabricated materials will be transported to Australia where they are assembled in accordance with the country’s building and land regulations.
In addition, a “tiny house” on wheels is not regulated as a permanent structure. Rather it is now classified as a light truck or caravan. The standards governing the construction of a light truck or caravan are set out in the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (Cth). The Act sets up standards, known as Australian Design Rules, specifying the shape, size, weight and safety requirements of construction.
How have the Australian bushfires affected your business?
AC: As you might have heard or seen the bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales recently, bushfires in Australia impact extensive areas and cause property damage and loss of human life. It’s definitely a tough time for affected people but with the wonderful Aussie spirit, it means that we will always overcome whatever challenges we face.
Amidst the bushfire bad news, we are glad to inform that all our land partners and tiny houses are safe. As the tiny houses are on wheels, it’s easier for us to manage our risk and evacuate the tiny houses. To date, we have evacuated 2 tiny houses back to a safe zone. We are eyeballing all assets and safeguarding the business too.