Industry: Built Environment
Products: Tiny houses, tiny house plans, and DIY kits
When Parham moved from Austin to Durango in 2011, he was looking for a small piece of property in the mountains on which to build a small cabin. He couldn't find one.
But when some friends forwarded him an email about tiny houses, he started thinking about building one of his own. "Before I started construction on that house, I had this idea that I could make a business around it," says Parham, who graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005. "I met with the business development center, and they thought it was a good idea, so I started it."
Since then, he's built about 60 tiny homes and has expanded the products his company offers to include do-it-yourself kits and tiny house plans. He also offers design and consulting services and will travel out of the area, provided the client covers travel expenses.
Tiny houses are typically 18 to 20 feet long and 7 to 8 feet wide so they can fit on the trailers used as bases. Legally, the structures can be 13 feet, 5 inches high, but Parham builds his just under the legal height to ensure there are no problems.
Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses strives to keep the weight of its homes to a minimum yet maintain high standards of durability. The company avoids using heavy materials like sheetrock, tile, dense hardwoods and solid-surface countertops.
Parham, who has been interested in the building trades since the age of 15, builds his tiny houses using traditional framing methods. The company uses medium- to heavy-gauge metal for roofing because it will stand the test of time, as well as highway winds.
A Durango-area manufacturer custom builds its trailers and has the metal that isn't critical to the safety of the trailer removed.
Challenges: Because of the popularity of tiny houses, many other players have entered the industry. "The problem I'm facing is that the market is kind of saturated at this point," Parham says.
The other challenge is that the cost to build a tiny home in Colorado -- especially in more remote locations like Durango -- is far higher than it is in states like Tennessee. "I know for a fact that their labor costs are considerably lower, and their real estate is less expensive, so where they're physically based, the cost of running a shop is lower," notes Parham. "The cost of materials is lower, too. They're also closer to bigger outlets. We have a Home Depot here, but a lot of stuff we have to order. For us, being in Durango is a challenge."
Opportunities: Parham says he's noticed that an increasing number of tiny house buyers are more interested in doing the work themselves than purchasing a pre-assembled tiny home. "We'll buy the materials and pack them on a trailer and give you a set of plans," Parham says. "It's kind of like an erector set."
Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses also is trying to break into the what Parham refers to as "tiny commerce." He explains, "It's a tiny structure on wheels, but instead of a residence, it's a business -- a coffee shop, cafe or mobile learning center. We're trying to tap that market, but it's not nearly as big.
The tiny commerce structures also are well-suited to artists and makers that travel to festivals across the state or even the country, Parham says. "It's a gypsy lifestyle," he says. "They'll just sort of take their house with them."
Needs: Parham says he's been looking for a location to build a new shop for Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses for three years. There are outbuildings on the property the company rents, but the setup is not ideally suited to accommodate an assembly line to manufacture the tiny houses. "We have some covered space, but it's not insulated," Parham says. "We can stay out of the rain, but we can't stay out of the cold."