October 7, 2021
New homes are being built all the time in Wells Park, but they’re a little harder to notice than you might guess.
That’s because the structures in question are tiny homes, and the construction is largely taking place behind the walls of a “factory” operated by LivLab Studios at the corner of Haines and Fifth. (Though at least one Alert Reader did spot the buildings peeking over the wall and wondered what was going on.)
Tiny homes are part of a broader small living movement centered on simplifying and downsizing living spaces, potentially offering less expensive situations that are also easier to maintain. And it is no marginal decrease: In 2020, the median size of a single-family house in the United States was 2,261 square feet, according to Census data. Tiny homes, by contrast, are generally between 100 and 400 square feet.
LivLab Studios is run by Steve Miller, Christopher Blaz, and his wife, Erin Blaz. Miller designs the houses, Christopher Blaz is the builder, and Erin Blaz handles all the day-to-day support services the company needs.
“We’re all committed to figuring out how to build quality homes that are affordable, and that allow people to live kind of outside the box,” Erin Blaz said. “They don’t have to go take out this huge mortgage to live in a three-bedroom, two-bath house. They can do something a little different.”
Some houses are designed with a standard foundation in mind while others come with wheels and can be towed around, though both options have their pros and cons.
“You can add tiny houses to a lot of the existing properties, it just depends on the neighborhood,” Christopher Blaz said. Thanks to the intricacies of zoning regulations and homeowners association covenants, “a tiny house on wheels can run into the problem of not being welcome in a neighborhood.”
LivLab’s tiny homes can serve as a main residence or as a casita (an “accessory dwelling unit” in planning parlance) behind another home, though there are plenty of regulatory hoops to jump through. The company is also looking beyond those two options, hoping to one day put up entire groups of tiny homes at once.
“We would like to put together and build tiny house communities and neighborhoods,” Christopher Blaz said. “We have conversations ongoing with other developers about how to go about that. We see a real need for it.”
The evangelization even extends to a monthly meet-up for any and all interested parties who want to talk shop.
“We want people to be part of the conversation,” Erin Blaz said. “Not just about small homes, but the future of our city and how we live in it. I welcome them to come to our meet-up group to bring their ideas.”
It takes LivLab about four to five months to build a tiny home. The company currently has seven employees, but they’d like to hire more and eventually find ways to reduce the time it takes to build each home to about two months.
“We love Albuquerque, and we’re trying to make our city become a better place,” Christopher Blaz said. “We have a lot of passion for this place and the people here.”
—By Ryan Lowery
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