How much space does one need to live comfortably?

Taylor Vos ’08 is in the middle of conversations about “living smaller” in Phoenix, Ariz., part of his abiding interest in environmental sustainability.

Vos, who works in urban real estate development at LVA Urban Design Studio, is particularly intrigued by the “tiny house” movement—sub-400-square-foot homes that provide incredible efficiency gains and allow almost total freedom from an energy grid.

“There is a financial and environmental appeal to tiny houses,” said Vos. “You can build a house for less than the down payment on a typical residence, and then consume far less energy.”

Vos worked in communications for the RDV Corp. in Grand Rapids after college graduation, and then he and wife, Annie, decided to see the country by traveling—and living—in a conversion van.

“We’re both interested in urban planning so we thought the best way to see what was going on in cities across the country was to draw up a map and see for ourselves,” he said.

He noted that Calvin sociology professor Mark Mulder’s urban sociology classes provided helpful background for the journey. Vos fashioned an interdisciplinary major at Calvin, taking all of Mulder’s classes and other courses that supplemented his interest in urban planning.

On the road, the young couple asked many questions, took notes—and lived in a very small space.

Settling in Phoenix, they decided to investigate building a tiny house.

“We got used to living very simply and engaged in the tiny house conversation,” he said. “Our research showed we could build a home for $15,000.”

However, tiny houses are currently subject to the same zoning and building codes as traditional homes. All houses are required to have a foundation, and the numerous other permits and fees began to change the financial equation for them.

He assisted a friend who was ahead of them in the tiny house building process and was trying to overcome the same barriers they discovered.

“We wound up buying a 790-square-foot place in a historic neighborhood,” said Vos, “and our friend will eventually put her tiny house on our property as an accessory dwelling unit.”

Taylor and Annie haven’t given up on their interest in a tiny house and continue to be engaged in local dialogue on the subject. They know there have to be changes in city codes and restrictions for the movement to flourish.

“We’ll be involved in any conversation that is about how we can challenge ourselves to live better,” he said.

Reflecting on their six-month van tour, Vos encourages Calvin students and young alumni to “jump out there and do something” to enhance their learning and leadership on important issues.

And the issues behind the tiny house movement aren’t just for the young.

“In our experience we’ve come across empty-nesters who are looking to downsize, live in walkable neighborhoods, drive less and generally improve their quality of life,” he said. “These living-smaller initiatives are for everyone. You don’t need to be in a 120-square-foot home to make a big impact. There are multiple ways to conserve.”

Vos said he and Annie are encouraged by their local faith community, City Square Church, which is very focused on environmental issues.

“Smaller building footprints are a trend across the country,” he said. “Making this process easier is a big mountain to climb, but not out of the question.”