So you want to build a tiny house. If you’re like us, you have spent hours looking at pictures, dreaming of having no mortgage, imagining yourself free from the burdens of large home maintenance, or the constant irritation of living on top of your neighbors in an apartment building. So, like us, you KNOW this is the right thing to do, but…WHERE do you begin?
You might be overwhelmed, like we were, by all the options out there, and knowing where to start. Maybe you don’t know anything about building a house! What do you do first? Buy a trailer? Choose a location? Contact a builder?
Actually, the question of where to start is an easy one to answer. Start with the decisions!
DECISION 1 – Tiny House Foundation
One of the first decisions you must make is will your house be on a trailer, or will it be stationary? If you want to be able to move it around, you will want to put it on a trailer. Some people choose to build on a trailer even though they don’t plan to move their tiny house.
Mobility – although moving it is expensive, whether you buy the towing vehicle yourself, or hire a company to move it for you.
Cost – it’s less expensive to build on a trailer than on a foundation.
Classification – a tiny house on wheels isn’t subject to the zoning and size laws that a traditional house is. However, many places have laws against living full-time in a mobile home. You can park in an RV park, but that can be expensive, and many RV parks limit the length of your stay.
Size – you aren’t restricted to square footage or shape, like you are if the TH is on a trailer. You could build a second story, an extra room, a deck, and so on. Of course the more you add, the more it costs.
Utilities – you can hook up to normal utilities, but it’s also easier to make use of off grid sources such as solar panels or rain water collection.
Outside amenities – with a TH that you aren’t going to move, you can invest in a storage shed or a large grill, or plant a garden, without having to give it all up when you move your house.
A third foundation option with benefits: Skids
Mobility – while you can’t tow it yourself behind a vehicle, homes on skids or rails can be lifted onto a trailer and moved. If you want to be able to move but don’t plan to do it often, this might be the way to go.
Cost – skids are less expensive than either buying a trailer or building a foundation. Like a trailer, however, you still need to consider height and weight restrictions.
Classification – a house built on skids is considered temporary, so it may not be subject to certain building codes and permits.
DECISION 2 – Tiny Budget
What are you willing to spend on a tiny house? How soon do you expect to recoup your expenses in savings from your rent or mortgage? What are you willing to spend to rent a place to park your TH? Once you have built it, what do you expect your monthly budget to be?
According to PAD (Portland Alternative Dwellings), a tiny house can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $80,000. An Infographic from The Tiny Life estimates that the average cost to build a tiny house is $23,000, if built by the owner. There are so many variables, including the types of materials you choose, the amount of work you do yourself, whether you have free experienced help, whether you can use salvaged or recycled goods, and where you can cut expenses and where you should not. For example, plan to insulate well. Cheap insulation will cost you every single month that you live in the home.
DECISION 3 – DIY or buy?
Should you build it yourself, buy from a TH company, or act as your own contractor, hiring people to do the work as needed?
This decision clearly comes after your decision about the budget. It also depends on the time you have available, your knowledge and experience, and whether you have skilled helpers, be they family or friends. From all the research we’ve done so far, we believe it takes a team to build a tiny house! At least it’s very helpful and much more fun that way.
To make this decision, consider the costs involved. Do you already own the tools you need? If not, you will have to buy them, and that goes in the expense column.
Will it take you a year to build it by yourself? What if you could build it in 6 months by paying for some help? Will the 6 months you can now save money by living in the TH make up for the labor you had to hire?
Do you have the time? Will this take away from your income producing hours? Maybe it’s better to do what you do, and hire someone to do what they do, that is, construction. In Tiny House Decisions, Ethan Waldman writes that it takes about 800 work hours to build a Tiny House. That means if you put in 2 full 8 hour days every weekend, you could do it in 50 weekends. Factor in trips to the hardware store, time spent correcting mistakes, watching you tube videos to learn how to do something, your cousin’s wedding, the flu, Super Bowl weekend, well, you get the picture!
DECISION 4 – Tiny House Parking
Where will you park your tiny house? This is an extremely important item to consider BEFORE you build. Knowing the laws and restrictions in the area you want to locate will help you decide what type of foundation you need, depending on how you want to be classified. If your home is considered an RV, it may not be legal to live in it full-time. If it’s classed as a mobile home, some parks have a requirement that it be built by a certified builder. If it’s on a foundation, it will be subject to size restrictions and building codes. According to Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, there are over 17,000 Building Departments in the U.S. A good place to start is to contact your local department to learn about their regulations.
Are you willing to try to stay off the radar, perhaps in parking in someone’s backyard, or in a more rural area? Many tiny house dwellers do just that. Often, they can do it for as long as no one complains. Would you be willing to live in an RV park, or are you interested in living in one of the TH communities that are springing up around the country? Here is a terrific map to locations for both communities and private individuals who offer parking for tiny houses. Tiny House Community Map
Other sources for communities and parking locations are listed below in Resources
DECISION 5 – The Structure
At this point, you need to decide things like the framing, the insulation, siding, plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling. Here are some of the items to consider:
Shingles or Metal Roofing
Windows and doors
Sleeping loft or storage loft or no loft
Shower or tub or both
Composting or flush toilet
Drywall or paneling
Flooring: wood, carpet, or tile
DECISION 6 – The Home
Although this decision came last in this article, it probably could have been first! The question is what are your basic requirements for a home? All houses should provide shelter, a place for someone to live. But how you live depends on what you choose to have in your home. According to this article in Mother Earth News, Livable Space Design for Tiny Homes , there are 14 basic requirements of a livable home. Do you agree with all of them? What are your requirements? Here are Sharon and Leanne’s lists, along with a few others. Living in a tiny house means you may decide to make some compromises, so it’s important to know what is essential for your own happiness and well-being. Each of us is different and it’s important to consider our own individual needs and wants when designing our own home. After all, isn’t that the point of Building our own Tiny Life?
Share your requirements for a livable home with us in the comments. We love hearing from you!
The Tiny Home Builders eCourse by Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders
Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell The book allows you to familiarize yourself with some of the key bureaucratic road blocks, along with suggestions to possible pathways for building your home from the legal perspective, and several strategies to make your tiny house plans a success.