Alexis Stephens' tiny home
Alexis Stephens' tiny home (Photo: Christian Parsons/Tiny House Expedition)

Contrary to their moniker, tiny houses have left a big mark over the past decade. Typically ranging from 100 to 400 feet, these cozy dwellings have solidified themselves as the architectural darlings of budget-minded minimalists.

Our obsession with simplicity aside, one of the most enduring reasons why people are so attracted to the idea of tiny houses is because of how ecologically friendly they can be. This is especially true for homes that are constructed from recycled materials like old flooring, salvaged barn wood and reclaimed shipping pallets. One of the most well-known tiny house evangelists is Ryan Mitchell, who started the blog This Tiny Life after building his own ecologically responsible tiny home in 2013.

"[Tiny] homes are built with a purpose: to pare down on space and possessions in order to focus on the important things in life," Mitchell writes. "While many want tiny houses to be confined in a neat box, the truth is a tiny house, at its core, is about breaking preconceived notions of what a house is."

There are a few defining principles that unite all of these humble abodes, however. An effective use of physical space and a smart, intuitive design is vital for meeting the basic needs of residents, but perhaps most importantly, these charming little homes should act as a vehicle for the lifestyle that the inhabitants wish to pursue. Sometimes the "vehicle" part is taken quite literally — after all, there are quite a few tiny houses making their way across the country hitched to the back of cars!

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to build one of these ecologically responsible abodes in Mitchell's new book, "Tiny Houses Built with Recycled Materials." In addition to providing guidance for building your own tiny home using reclaimed or salvaged supplies, the book treats you to gorgeous photos (and floorplans!) of ecologically friendly tiny house designs from around the world.

"Many looking to make the move into a tiny house are looking for a more affordable way to live. Others want to live in a home that is gentle on the Earth and lessens their impact," Mitchell explains. "Reclaimed materials are great in meeting both of those goals."

Continue below for just a small selection of the houses featured in the book, paired with some thoughts by each owner on what it's like to live in their pint-sized dream home.

Natalie Pollard's cozy tiny house.
Natalie Pollard's cozy tiny house. (Photo: Max Cooper Photography)
"I made the correlation that less space meant more money, more time and more freedom."
— Natalie Pollard, owner of a custom Nanostead tiny home
James Galletly's tiny home
James Galletly's tiny home (Photo: Alicia Fox Photography)
"The biggest part of the appeal is the DIY mentality. People are building their own homes and coming up with designs that are far more original and creative and have more personality than what is normally considered a home."
— James Galletly of The Upcyclist
Greg Parham's tiny home
Greg Parham's tiny home (Photo: Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses)
"You don’t have to get rid of everything you own to live in a Tiny House (I myself have a nice collection of bikes, skis, gear, and tools), but making the decision to dwell in something so small will be an exercise in determining what you really can and cannot live without."
— Greg Parham of Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses
Aaron Maret's tiny home
Aaron Maret's tiny home (Photo: Aaron Maret)
"The whole process — the research, the design and actual construction of it — was one of my favorite things I've ever done."
— Aaron Maret, builder of the Pocket Shelter

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.