Tiny Houses Making Big Impact

Fort Worth Business Press – August 8, 2016

With more than three decades of experience in the precast concrete industry, Todd Sternfeld is looking to put his own imprint on the tiny house craze sweeping the country.

As hundreds, if not thousands, of prospective builders elbow into the tiny house industry that appeals to millennials, baby boomers, singles and others, Sternfeld says he stands alone in building tiny dwellings with precast concrete and steel that are sturdy, long-lasting and require no maintenance.

“I’m building homes with roofs that can withstand 120mph winds and are maintenance free forever on the outside,” said Sternfeld, the CEO of Euless-based Superior Concrete Products Inc.

Sternfeld has built his reputation in the precast industry for innovations that have produced more eco-friendly, sustainable building products such as precast fencing and retaining wall products. While durable, Superior’s products mimic the look of wood planking, tile and natural stone in a variety of

A native of Los Angeles, Sternfeld started the business with a partner in California about 35 years ago. The company’s initial precast wood-look product was less expensive and maintenance free compared to real wood and received overwhelming response when they were introduced at an International Builders’ Show in 1983.

By 1986, Superior moved to Tarrant County and began building upon its success to achieve about $10 million in annual sales. Sternfeld bought out his partner in 1996 and moved his headquarters to Euless a short while later.

About the same time, he purchased property in Cleburne, where Superior manufactures its proprietary line of precast concrete fence panels and other products.

Over the years, Sternfeld grew the firm’s business to include a variety of residential and commercial clients that used the products for everything from utility substations to storage buildings, equipment enclosures, barns, ranch fencing and sound walls between oil and gas drill sites and residential and commercial developments.

His clientele also includes international clients, who purchase molds and materials from him to be used for homes and other structures.

When the tiny house movement started to take off, he began thinking about using his products for a tiny house side business.

“I’ve known for a long time that my products were being used for houses in other countries. I said, ‘I could do that’, ” he said.

And that is what he did.

Sternfeld built the Chisholm Trail Cabin, a 375-foot tiny on wheels that includes a 120-square-foot precast concrete porch attached to the two bedroom home.

His 600 square-foot Cleburne Ranchette was introduced at the 2016 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif., earlier this year and then won first place in the National Precast Concrete Association’s competition for creative use of precast concrete “CUP Award” in the above ground category.

The rustic-style two-bedroom house features a full-size bath, kitchen with full-size stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. It also has an oversized front porch and a livestock corral.

Tiny home prices will range, depending upon the features and finishes. Sternfeld plans to keep his homes competitive with the market that is generally between $50,000 and $120,000.

Last week, Sternfeld was putting final touches on a 200 square-foot home on wheels, which he is taking to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the second annual National Tiny House Jamboree Aug. 5-7. This tiny house includes upscale finishes such as granite countertops and a contemporary bathroom with a full-sized glass shower with a decorative tile surround.

About 150 tiny homebuilders are expected to participate this year, up from 40 last year.

The increase is not surprising given the growing enthusiasm for benefits of a simpler, greener, more economical and flexible lifestyle that appeals to many types of people, particularly millennials.

The American Tiny House Association, an advocacy group that supports the tiny home industry and promotes safety standards in tiny homebuilding, does not track the number of builders in the market so it is unknown how big the movement has become.

“It is definitely a burgeoning industry that has been given a lot of attention on TV,” said Robert Reed, president of the organization. “A lot of builders are jumping on trend while others are waiting to see where it is going to go.”

As an advocate for sustainable housing and communities, Reed said tiny houses can be an important part of the affordable housing market for middle-and working-class people who otherwise would be shut out of the American dream of home ownership

But as builders work to turn out little custom-crafted masterpieces that can be put on trailers or affixed to a foundation, industry leaders are focusing their attention on where owners can put them.

Since most cities have zoning rules that prohibit them, owners face resistance and limited choices when it comes to finding somewhere to put their tiny houses. Off-the-grid homes in wildness areas that rely on solar power are an option for some but not the majority of those interested in tiny home living, Reed said.

“A lot of tiny homes on wheels end up in RV and trailer parks, said Reed, who works for the Atlanta, Ga.-based nonprofit Southface, which offers programs and services to support green building and sustainable living.

Slowly, progress is being made as Pima County in Arizona has adopted tiny-friendly zoning and building codes; and Fresno, Calif., became the first city to allow tiny houses on wheels in residential neighborhoods. With a population of about 1,000, Spur, Texas, a city about 70 miles east of Lubbock, is the first “tiny house friendly” town in the United States to allow homes on foundations with no minimum size restrictions.

Lynn Motheral, president of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association, said zoning challenges and building codes have stymied the industry locally.

“Right now the only place to put tiny houses is out in the counties outside city jurisdictions,” he said. “It’s a great concept and they can be built quickly and cheaply and in a controlled environment but we’ve got to get those bigger issues addressed.”

To solve that dilemma, Sternfeld is purchasing 24 acres near Joshua in Johnson County, where he plans to operate his tiny home division and build the little dwellings.

Part of his business plan is to create a tiny home village, where owners can locate their tiny homes around an open common area with parking outside the living area.

The site will also offer would-be buyers the opportunity to “test drive” a tiny house by spending a weekend
in a model.

“We want to give people a sense of what it’s like to live in a tiny house,” he said. “We think this is a good way to get it off the ground by giving people the experience.”