Nineteenth-century American essayist Charles Dudley Warner is credited with saying, “Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.”
Darin Zaruba, CEO of EcoCabins and champion of the tiny home, is counting on a chunk of civilization taking those words to heart.
In fact, he’s bet his livelihood on it.
He said, since he added manufactured tiny homes to his portfolio of projects just over a half year ago, demand has been through the tiny roof.
‘Soup to nuts’
Zaruba, a Loveland native, moved to Colorado Springs in 1992 and became involved in factory-manufactured housing 15 years ago. In 2013 he launched his EcoCabins brand, specializing in park models (which abide by recreational vehicle zoning) and modulars. In late 2014, while attending a TEDx talk in Colorado Springs, Zaruba made the acquaintance of speaker Andrew Morrison and his wife Gabriella, who reside in a tiny home (defined as approximately 300-400 square feet) in Oregon.
“I sat down with them and asked, ‘What do you do with these? You have to be getting inquiries,’ ” Zaruba said of their first conversation. “They said they sell floor plans, but have a hard time getting contractors to understand [the concept]. I said [this sort of manufacturing] is what I do. We partnered and I licensed the design. Now I have three factories online or getting online to produce 24- and 28-foot versions of that home.”
Zaruba’s “soup to nuts” business sells modular, park and tiny homes, and assists buyers in finding land on which to place them, from solitary getaways to small-home communities.
He has established a presence in Colorado Springs, Michigan, Texas and Florida, with a network of factories that can manufacture and transport homes to virtually any state, he said. His marketing varies, depending on location. Retirees are the primary demographic in Florida, lakeside cottages are the push in Michigan and Texas runs the gamut, from rural tiny-home communities in East Texas to urban abodes in downtown Austin.
The three ‘Rs’
Zaruba said clients have fallen primarily into one of the three ‘Rs’: Resort-minded shoppers looking for a second home, retirees with aims to downsize, and those living in tiny or park model homes as their primary residence — or the “residential” demographic.
While he thought the first two categories would make up the majority of his business, he said it has been pretty evenly split. Unfortunately, Zaruba said, tiny homes have not yet, at least from a zoning perspective, taken hold in El Paso County. He noted the irony, stating no area embodies the need for tiny homes more than Colorado Springs.
“I think we’re like No. 4 in the nation for urban sprawl,” Zaruba said. “For the density of people we have compared to [developable] land, we are one of the worst when it comes to urban sprawl. And we have something like 18,000 acres of infill property around downtown or Old Colorado City — these pockets that haven’t been developed.”
The majority of his Colorado business comes from Teller, Park and Summit counties, but the concept is also a viable, sustainable housing solution in cities, he said, adding his goal is to work with county developers to update zoning.
“You may — no, you will — see communities pop up over the next year,” he said.
A tiny movement
Zaruba said two factors primarily influence the tiny house movement, and movements to simplify one’s life in general.
“Technology has changed and the economy has changed,” he said. “This isn’t a trend; this is a movement. A huge paradigm shift is sweeping the nation.”
Zaruba holds up his phone.
“This is my CD collection, my video collection, my TV and everything else right here,” he said. “People used to have just stereos that took up a bunch of space.”
Additionally, Zaruba said Millennials in particular, due to their experiences through the Great Recession and housing bubble burst of the late 2000s, have curbed the collective appetite for consumerism.
The tiny house movement is a byproduct.
“Those in their late 20s and early 30s saw their parents lose houses, they’ve seen the mortgage crash and they don’t want to live that way,” he said. “They want a house free and clear [of debt] and the ability to pick up and move. And they don’t need a lot of space.”
Zaruba, while explaining the tiny homes he sells are smaller than his office, said the concept is “a great solution for a lot of people. But it’s not for everybody.
“If you’re single and mobile, it’s a great lifestyle to pick up your house every two years and move from Seattle to Colorado Springs, plop it down and work a job here. [Living in a tiny house] will always be a niche, but within the niche, these could be great second dwellings or mother-in-law homes or an office in the backyard.”
Zaruba aims to broaden the niche, however, and put Colorado Springs on the tiny map with this year’s inaugural Tiny House Jamboree scheduled for Aug. 7-9 at the Mining Museum, 225 North Gate Blvd.
“As of [last week], 10 countries and all 50 states will be represented. We expect a minimum of 10,000 just attending the jamboree,” Zaruba said, adding that due to the simultaneous Housing & Building Association’s Parade of Homes, an additional 5,000-6,000 may attend the event.
“I want to encourage the movement,” he said. “There’s no better place than Colorado Springs. People would flock here … but we need to change our urban-sprawl thinking.”
Zaruba said areas known for tiny home urban infill, to include Portland and Austin, don’t really resemble the El Paso County market — yet.
“We’re losing that demographic. People don’t really look at the Springs as a progressive thought leader on … anything,” he said. “There are many things that make this a great city, but we don’t really have a personality. This could be our personality.”