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This story is part of the Grist arts and culture series Remember When, a weeklong exploration of what happened to the climate solutions that once clogged our social feeds.

In 1997, Jay Shafer built his first tiny house: a miniature country chapel with tastefully weathered wood, a high-pitched roof, and tall, crimson-trimmed windows. The exercise was part design challenge, part architectural rebellion. Shafer’s abode measured roughly 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, less than the minimum size requirements for a house dictated by most building codes. 

“Once I learned it was illegal to live in a house that small, I decided I had to,” he said, “just to show that it was actually a safe and efficient and reasonable thing to do.”

But as Shafer would soon learn, tiny-home living appealed to more than those with a taste for civil disobedience. While most Americans were never going to move en masse into trailer-size homes, within certain environmental circles, it was fairly common to hear someone sigh into a Nalgene a... Read more

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