Cottages & Tiny Houses

Tiny House Construction Costs

Tiny House Construction Costs: The Real Numbers

Tiny house construction costs are at the heart of the first question asked about a tiny house. Well, maybe the second, the first being how do you live in 400 SF? One of the authorities on designing, building, and living in tiny houses is Ryan Mitchel of the website The Tiny Life lives in 150SF. A few months ago, he published “How much does a tiny house cost: From someone who has done it.” Ryan is modest—he didn’t just do it. He is one of the few people on the planet who knows more than anyone about how much a tiny house costs.

Ryan Mitchell's 150 SF house.

Ryan Mitchell’s 150 SF house. A modification of the Fencl design by Tumbleweed Houses.

When I made the leap to living in a tiny house I was concerned due to how much it was costing me.  But I knew if I could live in my tiny house for 2 years, it would be the same amount as me having paid rent in an apartment in my city.  Now looking back, it’s been over 5 years of living in my tiny house full time and I couldn’t be happier.  With more money in the bank than ever while working less hours, it’s a winning combination.

Since going tiny, I’ve left my corporate job for a better self employment path, I work way less hours, make more money and spend more time with friends, family and traveling.  It’s an amazing lifestyle and it all starts by taking charge of your life and going tiny.

Ryan Mitchell, The Tiny Life

This article is an extensive overview discussing costs and provides a breakdown so you can see what your choices will cost. He also explains the pros and cons of materials available and the up-and-downs of doing-it-yourself or hiring a professional tiny house builder. Another option, not discussed by Ryan, is purchasing a tiny house from the current owner. Ken Griswold’s  The Tiny House Blog lists tiny houses for sale. These examples were for sale in Colorado in 2020 with asking prices.

$10,000 to $30,000, or $20,000 to $60,000

The average tiny house costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to build yourself, twice that if hiring a builder. It can easily cost $50,000 depending on your choice of options. The difference between a $10,000 house and a $50,000 house is the number of options you choose. Hiring a builder choosing many expensive options can easily cost $100,000 for a tiny house on a trailer.

Reviewing the costs of some options gave me a sense of the more expensive options. It also reminded me of the number of decisions I would have to make and how difficult it would be to do it myself. (Not possible for me but your mileage may well vary.)

From Ryan’s estimates:

  • Windows: $500-$6,000
  • Metal roofing: $500 to $2,000
  • Insulation: $500 to $3000
  • Siding: $1,000 to $2,500
  • Interior finishes: $500-$4,000
  • Electrical: $750 to $3,000
  • Water heater: $500 to $1000
  • HVAC: $500 to $1,500
  • Fixtures: $1,000-$5,000
  • Appliances: $400 to $4,000

As you can see, the range of costs for each option is wide and could be wider if you shop for used appliances and fixtures. Someone renovating a house might let you take them just to have them disconnected and carried away. The items that Ryan recommends not skimping on were the doors/windows, roof, HVAC, and mechanical items. These he estimates will be 80% of the costs.

And What Else?

Interior of Ryan Mitchell's 150 SF house.

Interior of Ryan Mitchell’s 150 SF house.

This doesn’t include land or any infrastructure you might want or need to install. Running new water pipes, sewer connections, and electrical service and also vary widely depending on the urban or rural location and the distance into the woods.

Depending on local zoning codes, a house “on wheels” may have different requirements than a house on a foundation. Some locations consider anything on wheels temporary and thus free of some zoning requirements. Other factors that would affect a permanent installation are water and sewer connections, building permits, etc.

Ryan recommends a high-quality trailer for a firm foundation and to move the house easily and safely. His estimates for trailer expenses range from $3,500 to $5,500 and he gives sources.

Good doors and windows are important because they will save energy costs “forever.” I would take this into account when estimating costs—they reduce your living expenses. Unless you have done construction and know this, the cost of nails, screws, metal strapping, adhesives, and metal ties is not a major expense but a significant budget item.

Ryan’s Bottom Line

This leads me to the big take away, tiny houses only really make sense if you can build it yourself and the really good news is that I believe literally anyone can build their own tiny house, even if you’ve never build something before.  It’s totally doable and if you want to live in a tiny house, you shouldn’t pay a builder in my opinion, you should build it yourself.

You’ll save a ton of money, learn valuable skills and you know your house will be built right because you did it, not some builder who’s trying to turn out a house each month to earn a profit.

The good news is anyone, yes even you, can build a tiny house.  If you’ve never used a tool in your life, never built anything, if you aren’t that strong or don’t know how… You can build a tiny house.  I put all the info together for you in my book:  How To Build A Tiny House.

Ryan Mitchell, The Tiny Life
9 December 2020

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