Family of 4 lives in 168-square-foot house

After losing their home and their business, this family decided to do some serious downsizing, and built their own home for $12,000.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate May 8, 2012 12:50PM

Video still of family with tiny house (© Via YouTube, the recession hit in 2008, Karl and Hari Berzins lost everything, including the restaurant they owned in Central Florida and the three-bedroom home they had refinanced to bankroll the business.


Like many families, they sought to downsize to recover from their financial woes. But their method was unconventional: They built a 168-square-foot house, where they live with their two young children in rural Virginia.


The house cost $12,000 to build, using scavenged materials and building supplies they acquired off Craigslist and other sources. That included the flatbed trailer upon which they built the 8-by-21-foot house.


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If you include the two sleeping lofts at either end of the home, their abode is actually 320 square feet. The "ground floor" includes a living room with a built-in couch that lifts up for storage, a foyer, a computer nook, a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower.

The couple was on Anderson Cooper's talk show last month, as part of a series on "Outrageous Ways People Save Money." Inhabitat has lots of still photos and more details.


The Berzinses don't have a mortgage. Their home is well-insulated (with rigid foam insulation they salvaged), so their electric bill averages $40 a month, they said.

They were inspired by the Tiny House Blog, and they publish their own blog, Tiny House Family, in which they share their experiences living in a small space. Hari Berzins wrote about the freedom she finds in living with fewer belongings:

Our big house overwhelmed me – dusting, mopping and vacuuming all came AFTER putting away the stuff. And we loved stuff. We had decorative candles, ornaments, platters, memorabilia. I had shelves lining our bedroom just to hold sentimental collections of dust. …
What felt so great as I gave tours of the tiny house last August was knowing how much I’ve grown. My husband and I no longer argue about the order of our home – it’s rarely out-of-order. We got rid of most of the clutter through a series of yard sales and donations. What we kept for our future small house is boxed up and in storage. Living with only the things we use on a regular basis has freed us from the task of putting away clutter."

The family's goal is to eventually build a larger house, at least one large enough for a bathtub, that they can live in mortgage-free.


We're written several blog posts about people who have chosen to live in smaller spaces, trading home mortgages for a different kind of life. The recession and the housing bust have forced many homeowners to think about how much home they really need.

As Michael Janzen writes at Tiny House Design:

In 2007-2008 many of us found ourselves trapped in upside-down mortgages or in foreclosure. We had grown complacent and convinced that homeownership came with few risks. Now that the bubble has popped and has little possibility for reinflation, we now understand the true value of paying our dues upfront instead of mortgaging our futures.
By sharing their story on television, Karl and Hari are showing the world an option the majority may have not considered – an option that values frugality, saving and financial freedom. If you’re feeling the financial pinch yourself, consider extreme downsizing and living simply.

What do you think of the tiny house movement? Would you live in a home this small in order to live debt-free?

Mar 27, 2014 9:38AM

sounds like a typical family


...of illegal immigrants

May 4, 2013 5:17PM

This is a very interesting topic. Although we haven't done it yet, We're looking at the options with a much smaller home. I know for sure my wife and myself would LOVE to not have to pay: $450 per month in gas & electric, $165 per month for the cable bill (in part because of three high def receivers), $700 per month for property taxes, $140 per month to cut the lawn, and the stupidity list goes on and on and on and on....


It would be a HUGE piece of mind to actually be able live comfortably and without fear of saving for our daughter's education (and eventual retirement) and kick in a bit to live a little more "green". I'm far from a tree hugger, but everything has certainly gotten out of hand with the home sizes over the past 40 years or so, along with the (bailed-out) banks eagerness to finance them.


The home sizes are rediculously wasteful with regard to heating/cooling/dozens of can lights, etc... That pretty much is an oximoron to all of those "high efficency" applicances because the savings for the utilities are being burnt up if you're heating/cooling a thousand square feet+ of fancy cathedral ceilings, which of course isn't "living space" simply because it looks expansive. Huh?


Both of our parents have large families who raised large families themselves just fine in small homes.


We're definately ready for a downsize change.


Bless all of you in the same situation. Keep your chins up.  :-)




Jul 12, 2012 10:26PM
Well hell, that's what a lot of the Mexicans do in SoCal, live 20 to a house and debt-free (except for the shiny new black pickup truck). 
Jul 12, 2012 10:12PM
I think this is great. I had me and my partner, my son and his twin girls, my partners two daughters and her grand daughter,a friend who had no were to live and three dogs a Guinea pig and fish all in a two bed room. Now that all have moved out but my partner and I the house seems so big and I have been thinking about downsizing and going solar. After reading about this house I an sure this is the way to go.
Jul 12, 2012 9:57PM

Haven't u people heard of RV's??


Jul 12, 2012 8:08PM
are you gonna buy a decent home with all the money you saved??? omg
Jul 12, 2012 6:45PM
I think it is a wonderful idea, I currently live in a large home and although we are topside on the mortgage I hate the stuff and trying to keep it clean.  The house would  have been better if we had built smaller because now it is just me and my husband, with a large empty nest.
Jul 12, 2012 6:16PM
This is pretty amazing. It is very cool to see people live in moderation. I think its a great idea, a lot of space is wasted in huge homes. There is no real reason to get all of the extras that people now a days turn into NEEDS instead of realizing they are definitely WANTS.

Cool Story Kudos to this family.
Jul 12, 2012 6:06PM
awesome - I recently moved into an 800 sqft 2 bdrm apt w/ my 2 sons (I am a single dad) 14 and 11 yo.  we love it.  We moved from 3000 sqft expensive and tiresome home with yard into this tiny apartment.  but we live in the downtown of our city and I walk to work and my boys walk to school.  we have gotten to know our city and ourselves.  we also bike everywhere and we feel great and healthy from being active without actually exercising.  we are saving a ton of money.  we also have grown much closer in our relationship.  I am looking at buying a small home and building on a tiny in town lot.  we love the minimal maintenance and super low expense.  our living room is the local coffe shop.
Jul 12, 2012 4:23PM

Life is so lonely .I am a older and single man at present .I need a woman who can love me back .I also uploaded my hot photos on..... seek40plus...... under the name of DM1129..It’s the largest and best club for seeking CEOs, seniors, successful people, users over 50.. Please Check it out!I’m serious.

they said I can only build a minimum of 750 sq ft for a family of two. So many elitist cities in America. Why can't we live the way we can afford ourselves instead of how the government says we must live. Daniel Boone would not be allowed to live in America today.

Jul 12, 2012 3:39PM
The most interesting thing I find in the "tiny house" is the mobility of it. However I don't think I'm cut out for that tiny of a house. My husband thinks there great & he could live in one with no problem but I need more space.  We live in an 1800 sq ft house with two dogs and no mortgage. We managed to get to that stage & plan to stay there.  
Jul 12, 2012 2:32PM
YES, I would live in a small/tiny house to be debt free.  My husband & I lived in a house that was less than 500 sq. feet for 8 years until we built bigger.  I miss the small, cozy, inexpensive home.
Jul 12, 2012 2:13PM
I think it is wonderful and I have been trying to talk my husband into it for over 3 years now. I am tired of fighting to make the mortgage payment each month or worry if my husband made it. (He's in charge of that now!!)

I loved how Hari described keeping up a larger home and all the dust possessions take. HOORAY for those who are brave or rather SMART enough to give it all up!!

Jul 12, 2012 1:30PM
I live in a small condo (about 1000 sq.ft.) after having lived in larger homes and find it quite sufficient for my needs.  I could live in a space half as large if there was a need and be quite happy.  I too got rid of many possessions along the way and don't miss them.  It is much easier to keep orderly and clean and with less space I buy fewer possessions because of storage limitations.  Four people in that small space would mean everyone shares and accepts less privacy but that is not all bad.  The fact that my two boys and two girls had to share bedrooms made them much more adaptable to sharing a dorm room when it came time to go to college.  So small spaces can can have positives for a family that outweigh many of the negatives we seem to think we can't accept. 
Jul 12, 2012 1:14PM
Meanwhile, lumber, appliance and banking industries, to name a few of the parties, scream like a little child at the thought people might build not enriching their corporations.
Jul 12, 2012 12:42PM
I ended up buying a broken down trailer home from a junk yard for just about $2,000.00 and then fixing it up with new flooring, painting, and repairs for about another $1,000.00 or so.  And it's bigger than that home and just fine to live in w/ three bedrooms.
Jul 12, 2012 12:36PM
AWESOME.....I am a lifelong minalmist who hates stuff with no use or purpose. If something has no purpose to be in my space then its out.. I applaud them for taking thier situation & not whine about but take what you have & maximize it! To the "finger pointing" judgmental Grace Best; the fact you can't see nothing big on this story shows just narrow your field of vision is even in what you describe as your downsize move until.....appears you've learned nothing from your experience. but enough of you. Because I live under my means for many years when my office closed 04.13.12 I was the only one in my office that was stress free & also let me say my outward appearance is impecable & an outsider would never guess my frugality as I always go for quality & never pay too much for that muffler. Go minalmist!!!
Jul 12, 2012 12:32PM
I love these stories! You know, if you lived back before I would say roughly the late 40's, many family members shared a small home. A lot of foreign families that come here do the same thing today, to help make money and do better in the long run. Back in the earlier days government was happy to know a child had a loving home even if it was smaller than normal, as long as they were provided for. My grandparents raised eight kids in a two bedroom home that my grandfather built new for his young bride. They had to make another bedroom out of the living room and used the kitchen for the gathering room. AH, just like the hearth rooms are today. There was always enough room and food on the table and respect in the home. There was an outhouse and water was hauled from the spring BUT I knew when I laid my head down while visiting them that the sheets were clean, the home was clean and I didn't need so many things that people claim to need today. Love and working together is what makes it happen!
Jul 12, 2012 12:07PM
 I paid $1,000 for a 1978 fleetwood travel trailer. "18 foot long" Lived in it for eight years.  I bought a three bedroom two bath home for $76,000. There are many times I look back and wish I could still be in the trailer?  It was too much of a commute to work 680 miles a week. I figured with what I spent in gas. I could by this house. Instead of giving my money to a Saudi Sheik. Here I am in a 1900 square foot home. Plan on selling it and breaking even when I retire in fifteen years.
Jun 6, 2012 4:55AM
Trying to talk my wife out of our 2,000 sq ft house, 2 acres, and 800 sq ft guest house into about 500 sq ft! Unfortunately my wife and I were separated for about 6 mos last year and I was living in a house my aunt had with nothing. I had a bed and some things to cook and I was happier than ever(other than being separated)! My first house was 480 sq ft and we were very happy back then. I have found that too much stuff complicates life!
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