Two Louisville business owners have joined forces to create a startup aimed squarely at the tiny home movement.
The company, Mighty Small Homes, founded by Damian Pataluna and Cyndi Masters, sells customizable kits to customers who want to build efficient, affordable and small houses.
Pataluna owns the manufacturing company FischerSIPS and Masters is CEO of the website design company DBS Interactive. They met at the Louisville chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and knew they wanted to work together in some way.
FischerSIPS was already producing insulated panels for homes in the United States, and with the growth of the tiny home movement, Pataluna and Masters saw an opportunity to capitalize on the trend as Pataluna had already received inquiries about creating panels for tiny homes.
The movement started around the idea that homeowners don’t need so much living space. In the South, 2,393 square feet is the average square footage of a new single-family home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People are drawn to the idea of smaller homes because they can mean less debt, less to spend on furniture and other goods, freeing up money to spend on experiences.
“There’s a big movement for downsizing your life, particularly among millennials and retirees,” Masters said. “Both seem to have come to the same value system, which is ‘I don’t want to be owned by my house. I want to travel. I want an independent lifestyle.’ ”
The movement is popular enough that it’s even garnered its own HGTV show “Tiny House Hunters.”
Mighty Small Homes takes advantage of FischerSIPS expertise making insulated panels to create prefabricated panels that can be pieced together to create the frame for a house.
“It’s like putting together a big set of Legos,” Pataluna said.
The company doesn’t sell a complete house with windows, plumbing, roofing and other necessities — at least not yet.
FischerSIPS, which started in 1987, makes insulated panels used to build large homes and commercial buildings. The company does custom work and mostly works with builders and developers, whereas Mighty Small Homes sells standard home kits, and its target customer is the average consumer.
Mighty Small Homes wants “to empower individuals,” Masters said.
Charlotte and Tony Fishburn of Nashville, Ind., said they decided to build a less than 200-square-foot home on wheels after seeing the documentary “Tiny.”
“Both of us had been living kind of small anyway,” Charlotte Fishburn, 29, said. “It just seemed like this was a good way to have something of our own.”
They also didn’t want the financial burden of a mortgage, Tony Fishburn, 29, added, and a mobile tiny home would allow them to travel.
“We enjoy being off the grid a little bit,” he said.
How it works
The idea behind Mighty Small Homes is that customers will pick from one of 10 layouts offered by Mighty Small Homes and then put the home together themselves or with the help of a professional.
“The plans are all basically done. Pick one of these and we can get your things turned around a lot faster,” Pataluna said, explaining the concept. However, Mighty Small Homes will work with customers if they want to create a custom small house design.
Mighty Small Homes offers a tiny home option that is just under 200 square feet, but Masters said she and Pataluna also realized that people may want to live with less but want more room than a tiny home would provide. That is why the company offers “small homes,” which range from 256 square feet to 1,200 square feet.
Prices for the panels range from $11,000 to $29,500 depending on the size of the house.
“Our price is reasonable for our quality,” Masters said.
Those who want a tiny mobile home will likely have trouble finding financing, however, because most lenders have minimum loan amounts and require that homes sit on permanent foundations in order to qualify for a traditional mortgage, according to NerdWallet. Even if someone wants to build a small home on a permanent foundation, it is best to check with multiple lenders to make sure he or she qualifies for a loan before moving forward.
Another option is to take out an unsecured personal loan to fund the construction, though interest rates on those loans are higher than mortgage rates, NerdWallet said.
After a customer picks the layout, Mighty Small Homes contracts FischerSIPS to make the panels, which are then shipped to the customer. The process takes about a month if the customer selects from one of the layouts. Custom panels take six to nine weeks.
The Fishburns got in contact with Pataluna about a year ago after researching companies that produce insulated panels and began working with him to design a tiny home to fit the 25-foot gooseneck trailer that they had fabricated.
Tony Fishburn said he liked the panels because they helped keep energy consumption low. The Fishburns are able to heat the home with a small oil heater.
The panels also allow for more customization, he said. In their case, the Fishburns were able to cut out the window holes themselves to fit the windows they found rather than the other way around.
“It gave us a lot of flexibility,” he said.
The company offers the bones for the home, but items such as windows, roofing, plumbing, electrical, flooring and siding must be purchased separately. Customers also must have a foundation laid for the panels to rest on or buy a trailer if they want the tiny home to be mobile.
The panels are precut to fit together and already have holes cut out for doors and windows to be added as well as electrical chassis to make it simple for someone to wire the house. If someone has experience building a home, piecing the panels together should be simple, Pataluna said, but he suggested that people without any home building or house flipping experience use a professional contractor.
“You want it to be square, and you want it to be built properly,” he said. “If you are not thinking about this, you are potentially going to end up with a house that’s going to fall apart. It is good to have some professional input.”
Tony Fishburn said he and wife did much of the work themselves and relied on a community of tiny homeowners and builders in and around Indianapolis for advice and support.
“DIY is kind of real big in my family,” he said. “If we can look at it long enough, we can usually figure out how to put it together.”
His father also is an experienced electrician and helped review the work.
“It is definitely great to have somebody with the knowledge and experience,” Charlotte Fishburn said, even though the process was fairly simple because they are using 12-volt solar panels.
There are no special regulations for tiny homes in Louisville, according to a spokesman with Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services. As with any home construction in Louisville, permits are required for any electrical, plumbing or construction work. Someone building a Might Small Home would need to obtain those permits from the city before moving forward with construction.
A team of three to four people can put the panels together in a few days, Pataluna said. An experienced builder could probably erect the panels in a day.
Tony Fishburn said they erected the walls over a weekend with help from Pataluna and friends. The house is not completely done, they said, noting that they haven’t been in a hurry to finish, and Fishburn’s been doing work during his free time.
Eventually, Mighty Small Homes wants to add to its product list and not just provide the insulated panels. Pataluna and Masters are looking at siding, windows and roofing materials and hope to offer options starting in the spring, Master said, adding that they are trying to narrow down the best offerings.
“We want something that is tried and true. We have a few tiny homes out there now, and we are trying to learn from their experiences,” she said. “Eventually, we want to sell every single thing that goes in the house.”
How much it costs to build the house out varies from person to person.
“It depends on how much you do yourself,” Master said, and how thrifty the person is. She estimated that she could build a home for $60,000, though someone could easily spend double that.
Once finished, the Fishburns said their tiny mobile home will cost $27,000 to $30,000. Tony Fishburn noted that they did most of the work themselves, but the solar panels added to the cost.
The prefabricated homes could be an easy and less expensive option to replace dilapidated homes in Louisville, Masters said, adding that she’s had preliminary talks with people in the Portland neighborhood who bought lots for cheap after a home was demolished and are thinking about building a Mighty Small Home on the remaining foundation.
They also are looking into entering the emergency housing market and working with an organization such as Catholic Charities or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Rather than erecting temporary housing following a disaster, Pataluna said, the organizations could use the prefabricated panel to quickly build permanent homes.
“We just need to understand it better before we move into it,” he said.
Pataluna and Masters have a lot of ideas for what Mighty Small Homes could be, but because the business just got off the ground and has only had a handful of customers so far, they are still trying to define exactly what the business will be.
“We know we have a great product,” Masters said, “and we want to get feedback before we define our business plan.”