By Margaret Jackson | Feb 12, 2020
Employees: 3-6, depending on how many tiny homes are being built
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Tiny homes
The Fearses were living the high life after retiring from owning an adventure boating company in Hawaii. The couple thought they had invested wisely -- with notorious Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff -- but discovered that they'd been taken.
"Almost all our retirement funds were with Bernie Madoff," Byron says. "It made us feel real fortunate for five and a half years. But when that happened on December 11, 2008, all of a sudden it's like, 'We've got to make money again somehow.'"
The nation was in the throes of the Great Recession at the time, which provided an opportunity for the couple to buy distressed homes around metro Denver and do what Byron calls "functional art projects," as opposed to the fix-and-flips other investors were doing. Because each project was a work of art, they didn't sit on the market long. "The longest it ever took us to sell is 17 days -- we sold one in 14 hours," Byron says.
But the business didn't suit the Fearses' philosophical beliefs surrounding sustainability, and as the economy improved and more people were drawn to Colorado by the promise of legalized marijuana and gay marriage, the inventory of distressed properties dried up, so the couple switched gears and started SimBLISSity, their tiny homes on wheels company.
"We're old hippies," explains Byron. "We live off the grid in a log home and have done all sorts of environmental things. Here we were tearing houses apart and contributing to landfills. It was out of purpose with our life."
The tiny homes utilize exterior materials chosen for their longevity and minimal maintenance needs, and because of their small size, the energy used to heat and cool a tiny home is significantly reduced. The high R-24 to R-28 insulation value of the walls and R-24 to R-48 in the floors helps achieve additional energy savings.
Air quality is preserved by minimal use of interior finishes. Low-E double-paned windows with foam insulated frames helps reduce heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter, and a tankless or on-demand water heater eliminates the need to continually keep water hot, again reducing energy needs.
The tiny homes are designed to be tied to the grid or converted to a solar PV system. LED lighting and Energy Star-rated appliances add to energy savings.
But the switch from remodeling regular homes to building tiny homes came with a learning curve -- everything had to be scaled down. As a former boat captain and former silversmith and goldsmith who had lived in vans, Byron was accustomed to living in small spaces. "Morphing homes to smaller spaces took imagination and creativity to make it work," he says. "It took being able to gear everything down."
Byron and Dot also also had to find a contract manufacturer that could build trailers so they could fulfill their vision of tiny homes on wheels. Byron helped design the trailers, which are built by Trailer Made in Olathe. "It came from a design that I took to him and we've morphed and made it work," he says. "Too many tiny homes that didn't have a movable foundation were built. It's all about foundation."
Challenges: Government regulations, zoning and financing are the biggest obstacles SimBLISSity faces. "Despite Colorado being the epicenter of the tiny house movement for years, the state of Colorado was not on board with tiny homes and still is not on board," Byron says. "Zoning is still the biggest challenge."
While banks will finance an automobile or a motorcycle, they balk at financing tiny homes on wheels because of the fear the borrower will disappear.
Opportunities: Byron serves on the board of the Tiny Home Industry Association, which is working on convincing municipalities to revise their zoning to allow for tiny homes. "Once we get our zoning laws changed, we have great potential for growth and financing and a more sustainable future for the country," he says.
Needs: Most people in the market for a tiny home haven't figured out where they'll put it yet, which can make selling them challenging, so Byron says municipalities need to loosen regulations that prohibit tiny homes for his business to really thrive. "We need for municipalities to start being concerned about housing for people and accepting tiny homes on wheels as legal living space," he explains.