Tiny houses carve a small niche in Switzerland

Kevin Rechsteiner, AT Verlag

Despite the legal difficulties in Switzerland, one occasionally comes across a tiny house next to a farm, on wasteland or even in the city. 

This content was published on April 29, 2020 - 11:00
Sibilla Bondolfi (Text) and Ester Unterfinger (Picture editing)

The so-called "Tiny House" movement originated in the United States thanks in part to the financial and real estate crisis of 2008. Many people who lost their homes or jobs turned to small mobile homes because they were cheaper, more resource-efficient and allowed people to live where there was work. In addition, unlike caravans these micro homes are made of "real" building materials thus offering a superior level of comfort.

Since then, the movement has spread to Europe, where downsizing, minimalism and environmentalism are in vogue. Micro houses, which generally do not exceed 45 square metres of living space, are mostly self-sufficient and therefore more environment- and climate-friendly than conventional houses. On the other hand, they are not the solution to urban sprawl, as they occupy more land per person than apartment buildings.

In Switzerland, it is difficult to find a legal spot to park these houses. Nevertheless, the concept still has supporters in the country. Proof of this can be found in forums, social network groups, a dedicated association (in German), courses on how to build your own micro-house, or manufacturers and dealers. A book on the Swiss tiny house experience (in German) has just been published by Verlag publishers.

Kevin Rechsteiner, AT Verlag

Some people manage to find a way to make their tiny dwellings fit tight legal regulations, such as the ecologist Tanja Schindler. She has conceived a mini eco-house and has been living there since 2013. While it lacks wheels, it can be moved by a crane on a low-bed trailer.

The house is 45 square metres in size. The basic construction consists of a wood frame insulated with wood fibre. The walls are made of pressed clay, a material that stores heat. Heating is provided by a wood-burning stove. Electricity is supplied by solar panels mounted on the outside walls.

Schindler is now selling her mini eco-house for CHF180,000. However, it will set you back a total of CHF250,000 if you factor in construction, power and water connections, foundation and transport.

Tanja Schindler

Student Fiona Bayer is building her own micro-house with the help of friends and has installed it next to a farm in the canton of Zurich. She invested around CHF24,000 and many hours of work into the house. To date, the interiors have not yet been completed.

Kevin Rechsteiner, AT Verlag

Actor Martin Rapold lives in a circus trailer. He uses the toilet and shower of a shared house next door. A wood stove provides heating in winter.

Kevin Rechsteiner, AT Verlag

Since 2018, Florentina Gojani and Alesch Wenger have been living in a tiny house that weighs under 3.5 tons. The light weight allows them to transport it in normal road traffic as a “special vehicle”. Currently, the self-contained micro-house is located in the city of Zurich. They plan to apply for a permit to get it classified as a "normal house" in order to live there full-time. They have invested around CHF150,000 in the construction.

Kollektiv Winzig

The experiences documented in the book show that it would be worthwhile to find solutions for the licensing of micro-homes in Switzerland. They offer an interesting opportunity to live in a more sustainable way. In contrast to other countries, Switzerland is neither extremely cold (like Norway) nor hot (like Spain) and there is enough rainfall to live self-sufficiently. The only obstacles to tiny house living here are the laws and regulations. 

Kevin Rechsteiner, AT Verlag

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