Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

The Fallacy Of A Cheap Tiny House

So over the years I have seen many people touting their tiny house as only being a few thousand dollars to build and many crying out in protest over how much some Tiny Houses cost.   While I do think there are many ways to save quite a bit of money during the building process, the fact is Tiny Houses cost money and a good bit of it.

Even though Tiny Houses pale in comparison to the cost of traditional homes, the price tag of a tumbleweed style house or similar often leaves people wondering how they can cost so much.  So I thought I’d break down some key factors that those who claim their house is only a few grand often neglect to mention.

 

istockphoto_5212090_time_is_moneyYour Time:

One of the biggest places that people often don’t assign costs to is time spent on your house; Particularly if you time spent on building your house takes the place of working a normal job.   The fact is that many people don’t have the money to build a tiny house all at once, but they do have time.  So they build it themselves and many spend time sourcing reclaimed materials.  While there absolutely nothing wrong with this, I am taking this approach, you simply cannot say that your time is free.  You have value, your time is valuable, and you are giving it up to build/source in the place of something else.

When it comes to finding reclaimed materials, dumpster diving, checking craigslist every day to find all or some of the materials you need, it takes a huge amount of time.   For those of you who haven’t tried to source materials for an entire house, it can be very hard to understand how much time.  If I were to estimate a figure, I would guess you spend twice the hours spent on building.  Additionally, the ones that do reclaim their materials often have pre-existing social connections that facilitate this that the majority of us simply don’t have.

 

Their Time:

I get a lot of people asking me how to get a tiny house built for them and for many, this is how they want to get to their dream of living in a Tiny House.  For many they don’t have the skills to build a house (though I firmly believe almost anyone can learn)or they have the time to do it.  The fact is that regardless of it being a Tiny House or a McMansion, labor costs to build a home can be anywhere between 40% – 60%.

Now there are some that criticize tiny house builders of charging $50,000 when it costs $25,000 in materials, as building in huge profit margins.  The fact is, if you sit down and really crunch the numbers for what it takes to hire workers, insurance, rent a build site, tools, utilities, and a million other things, I’m surprised that they can eek out a modest living; in fact I don’t know for sure that anyone has been able to have it as their sole job.  Even Jay Schaffer had to expand into books, classes and plans when he first started.

 

Consumables:

15839812-a-close-up-of-a-screw-in-woodSo I am going to cry foul on many people who claim they made their home for only $3-5,000 because at this point in building my Tiny House (only about 1/3 of the way built) I have spent almost $900 on nails, screws, bolts, glue, fasteners, brackets, etc.   There is no way you can get around buying these things because you can’t really reuse nails, screws or glue.  As for brackets and bolts for tie downs, you might be able to reclaim them, but in most examples (not all) I have seen, people simply were cutting corners and not adequately anchoring their houses to the trailers.

Tools:

For many of us, we have a basic set of tools, but it is a far cry from what you need to build a house.  Often the people who claim to build houses for a few thousand already have the tools they need, which isn’t representative of the vast majority of people.  Even if you have the tools, to be honest, you should amortize the cost of the tools.

Over the past two year I have been purchasing tools where I could get them for real bargains or used and so far I have spent around $1,900.  If you are going to be doing your own welding and metal cutting you will need the equipment which would add another $400-$800.

 

Trailer:

trailerI have seen several cases of where a used trailer worked out and just as many that didn’t.  I often hear people say “I got my trailer for free” but if you do a bit of digging many will fess up that they then had to reinforce it, get a new coat of paint, and a surprising number had to replace the axles and get new tires/wheels.  So about half the people I see going the used trailer route do pretty well, the other half seem to spend just as much as a new trailer.

My other real big hesitation with used trailers and those that strip on from an old RV/camper is they often look very flimsy.  People swear that they are rated at 5,000, 7,000, 10,000 lbs but you take one look and see 2-3 inch channel outriggers.  Compare that to the trailer I am using, mine is made from one of the largest trailer manufacturers in the US and is built from 5″ channel, half of which is double hung (two pieces stacked) and my cross members look larger than some of the main supports on some of these trailers.

 

Appliances:

Again many of the houses for pennies often neglect to factor in the cost of appliance or have really basic setups.   Many, but not all, of these houses often have basic kitchens that consist of a container of water and camp stop on top of a counter.  To compare that to a tumbleweed style kitchen that has a working sink, hot water tank, built in stove with concealed gas lines isn’t to say that one is better than the other, but it really is an apples vs. oranges comparison.

Another thing that many of the budget houses don’t have is heating and cooling systems.  They often later add a space heater and/or a window air conditioner, while tumbleweed houses include systems that do this.  My house has a built in mini split system that cost around $1400, while if you when the budget route you might be able to get away with a solution for $200-$300.

 

Build Site:

There are many of us who don’t have a location to build our home for free.  There have been many tiny houses built in rented space or land that they are paying for.  Sometimes that location doesn’t have power, so you need to either get a power hook up (expensive) or a generator that uses gas.

 

While I do think there are areas that you can get some great savings on, I really could go on for a while about the fallacy of a Tiny House for only a few thousand dollars, but I think I made my point.  If I do the math on the topics I covered here you are looking at around $4,500 minimum plus whatever your time is valued at.  For your time figure around 1000 hours if you buy the materials, 3000 hours if you reclaim most of it.


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126 Comments
  1. what I want to know is where do these people get free land to put the trailer on.
    as far as I know land isn’t free
    if I had land I would move out of the city and live in a tent
    then if I had the wood I would build a log cabin that’s cheaper

    • Emilie,

      In my research, I’ve found that people recommend finding someone who has a lot of land, a farm, a small farm, someone who would “rent” you a spot. I’ve read somewhere that sometimes people pay “as little as $100/month or exchange services”. I don’t know where you are, but I live in an area where people have plots of land (there’s “country” out here in NC). If you’re in a more urban area maybe there is a RV park or even a tiny house village starting up. If you’re a pro-active type of a person (which i will make a huge generalization – i think most people interested in building their own tiny house are pro-active) you might be able to start up a group somehow. I have no idea about how to do that so i’ll stop commenting. good luck!

    • A tiny house can be cheap. The only thing that really costs is the land. I ended up buying a piece of land. I do have to pay the bank every month for my land but it represents 1/3 of the price I would have to pay for renting a studio. I then built a tiny house, using recycled and NOS materials. I may not be the typical tiny house builder since I already had all the tools and skills. I also have plenty of contacts to get cheap, refurbished materials. I also can mill my own lumber. Thing is, I build the house for 1600 usd (not on a trailer) and now only pay for the land. Being off-grid, I also save on electricity and water and have enough land to grow my firewood and a few vegetables.
      A cheap house doesn’t necessarily have to be a fallacy.

      • A good way to get free things is to attend auctions. I buy lots from companies closing down. I keep what I need and sell the rest to pay for the lot. Last month, I bought camper accessories. Sold all I didn’t need and kept a new fridge and 500 amp of solar panel batteries. Even earned some money since I sold for more than I had payed the lot.

      • Yep !!!

      • Kissing the landlords be-haunkus is the real fallacy ……I do not care to be a pawn…a “consumer” in someone else’s get rich quick scheme. Let’s see all the “landlords” get off their duff and get a real JOB…go contribute….That is a large factor in the “homeless” PROBLEM. As long as “investing in real estate” is viewed as a noble money making proposition…..their will be homeless……

        • Do you have any idea how stupid you sound? Go to your corner and hate the world in silence Libtard.

      • Thank you for this. I was getting very discouraged. I think the land will be the largest problem for me. I can get a loan but, I don’t want/need a large plot of land. I am looking for like minded people to go in on this with. ANyone is and around Austin that is interested, please post.

        • Check out LaHacienda. It’s a high end RV resort by Lake Travis. My dad lives there in a camper and loves it. You might be able to move a tiny house onto the property.

    • I received two acres from my youngest son for helping him build his new home, I’ve since given those two acres to my daughter and son-in-law and helped them build a small two story 640 s.f. home located on those two acres. My 8’x16′ tiny shelter that I built back for slightly less than $3,000.00 in 2014 is located there also.

    • Sadly a lot of places don’t allow you to live in a tent on your own land, not to mention some places have minimum size restrictions on homes you could build on your own land.

  2. A BIG BEEF I have with MOST of the Tiny Houses I see is that they LACK ENOUGH INSULATION!!!

    Even if the house is well-built, almost none of them surpass R-13 in the walls, FLOORS or ROOF!!! In fact, the vast majority I have seen have NO insulation at all! Therefore, as a REAL HOUSE, that is lived in on a permanent basis, most Tiny Houses are ENERGY HOGS!

    Another factor is the extreme INFLATION of building materials over the past few years. Here in NY, in 2009-2010 an 8 ft. 2×4 cost $1.13 each; in 2014 they cost over $2.50 EACH. Also, in 2010 a package of R-13 insulation batts cost only $20, but in 2014 they cost a whopping $50! So, a house built in 2014 using new 2×4’s and insulation would cost MORE THAN TWICE the same house built back in 2009!

  3. Sorry for the typo. My first model is The Weekender

  4. I built an 8’x12′ tiny house in my back yard for $1,000. It’s on the ground, on patio blocks. It can be seen at jackgoldman1 on youtube. I used oriented strand board, and rolled roofing for roof. I heat this with a 1500 watt electric heater in Minnesota. This takes a zero degree outside temp to 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside. One 15 amp circuit provides heat. An Air conditioning Unit is $100 at Sam’s club if desired, but not needed in MN. An electric hot plate was $15. It’s not fancy or attractive but it can be lived in cheap. I built it my self when I was sixty years old with no other help from anyone. It’s not that hard to do.

    • A tiny house is indeed cheap, but it depends on what we’re talking about. We built tiny houses, not the fancy RVs some are talking about here! Like me, you forgot to count the cost of the time spent building the house. Thing is, I am actually spending time on this internet site: should I really calculate the cost of this time wasted on internet?… If you like building a tiny house, your time is hobby time. Many hobbies cost much more per hour…

      • Couldnt have said it better myself!

        I find it funny that tons of people have something to say about why others shouldn`t live in a Tinyhome, and yet I have never heard someone in a Tinyhome say you shouldnt live in a normal sized house.

        If you don`t like Tinyhouses…Don`t move in. 😉

    • thx so it can been done

  5. I like to think my 85 sq ft tinyhome, here in Alaska, is one of the cheaper designs based on is simplicity. But agree with you completely, my house so far [not finished, although we do live in it] has cost us $11,300, and probably wont be completely done until we reach the $20,000 mark, maybe even 25k.

    • Glad to see folks still talking about this. Fact is Tiny houses built right by professionals are going to be more expensive.

      As Tiny homes become more legal and accepted they will need to be built right so they can get certified for living in Tiny house villages and other more urban living situations.

      Even if you build it yourself there are expenses you can’t predict. Also are you really saving money if it takes a long time or you have to wait until you find all the reclaimed materials you need/want? The sooner you get into your TH the sooner you can maximize the savings of living in one. Ultimately that’s why I bought my TH used. Built by pros, with all the bells and whistles installed and under 30K. I’m saving over 12K not paying rent for my apartment for the year or more it would have taken me to build it.

      There are many ways to a tiny home. Pick the way the suits your budget but be sure to work the numbers without emotion.

      • You can live in it while finishing it and its a wonderful way for those without good credit to have the Tinyhouse as an affordable living option.

        I also save almost $12k per year by living in it while i build.

        I will point out how different the space is once you move in, and how your interior plans evolve with your needs. My Husband and I feel it is an advantage to have been living in the home as we build for this aspect.

        We don’t plan to live in a Tiny-village, although i understand the wonderful perks that would have. We are self sufficient and plan to own property. Justin served in the Army and has a VA Loan [Living in the Tinyhouse has allowed us to begin improving our credit to qualify for said loan]

        All this said, there is a great sense of connection with your home when you design and build it yourself. And I think its a wonderful option that nobody should be discouraged from.

  6. NO ONE MENTIONS the PEOPLE FACTOR!!! A family must be uber compatible to get along well in a small space! And small spaces put pressure on relationships!

  7. I am a carpenter and have built things for 30 years. I applaud you for breaking the fallacy of the cheap tiny home. Time is a valuable commodity, which is underestimated. And materials aren’t cheap. I figure $1000 every time I fill my truck with wood. I would love to see a share option for tools so people who want to invest the time can without such a large purchase of things they may only use once.

    • Agree with you on the tool sharing! My husband and i have had to buy quite a few tools building our Tiny Home and it would certainly save time and resources if those tools were available through some sort of community sharing program.

  8. I do not understand the excitement level for the tiny house movement. These have existed for over 60 years. RV trailers, campers and more specially Manufactured homes in land lease communities. There is nothing new about small affordable homes and cost wise purchasing a existing efficiently designed used RV or manufactured home on leased land is money and time better spent than trying to reinvent the wheel. If the movement is serious spend less effort making a small shed look like a conventional home in appearance and concentrate on more practical, conventional affordable/existing solutions that have a broader appeal.

    • Why don’t the rv manufactures just make 8 ft wide rvs that look like houses for $20k since they are already making them at 13 ft wide???? DAHHH There is obviously a market. People want to feel happy coming home, not having to live in an ugly trailer. I can buy a house 2 acres of land, well and a septic installed for $50k this is ridiculous.

  9. Thanks for painting the picture you did. For $50,000 I get a tiny house but for $70,000 I can get a much, much, much, larger mobile/modular home here around Smithfield NC with free delivery. I can buy a ten year old modular unit in great condition for $40,000. You helped me make my choice. I can’t imagine why the mobile home business hasn’t started getting into this. If they can deliver a mobile home cheaper than a tiny can be built then hopefully they will. You are the man. I almost shelled out a ton of money.

    • I think the reason it hasn’t taken off is that mobile/modular homes are much bigger and require expensive equipment to move. That plus cities and towns everywhere are closing and getting rid of the parks that people have these homes in. I’m not saying that THOW are better but that being able to hook it up to a pickup and move it yourself without having to pay $$$ is positive. Plus you can put a THOW in someones backyard if you want to. Bigger for the money is only one consideration.

  10. Regarding mobile homes, I have heard the mobile homes and RVs are built of more toxic, less natural and thus less healthy materials. The wood tiny homes can provide a less toxic environment. I personally prefer to live in a wood structure. Wood is also far more aesthetically pleasing to me.

  11. I’m surprised no one has mentioned whether a metal framed THOW would cost more or less than traditional 2’x4′.

    • Metal framing costs quite a bit more on a small scale like that. Also, labor tends to be more costly. It is much easier to find wood framers. Metal requires much more specialized tools and fasteners.

  12. I own, free and clear, about an acre of land in Southern CA. It is about a mile from the beach. A portion of the land has around a 60% incline, the remainder is primarily flat and in very good condition. Along with some other possible ideas, I plan to grow a modest sized, organic community garden, which would include several species of organic fruit trees, a variety of vegetables, some exotic types of fruits and possibly some medicinal spices, herbs and other types of healing plants. Those who participate will be welcome to join in the bounty. The remainder will be sold to the community at a reasonable rate to help recover expenses. I also plan to obtain 2 or 3 small sheds in which to store our tools and gardening supplies, and organic fertilizer, along with providing a discrete out-house and small sink to accommodate the sanitary and sewer needs of the gardening staff, along with a deep sink, and some type of kiosk with shelves from which to display and keep the organic produce clean and fresh. Is anybody interested in parking on the land (for free) in exchange for helping? If so, please call Jenah at 714-653-3160. Thank you!

  13. Back in December of 2013 I started the build on my 8’x16′ tiny shelter, I moved into it on March 1st of 2014. Actual cash spent was slightly less than $3,000.00. Seventy-five percent of the lumber used was cut and milled less than 3/4 of a mile from where I’m located, my neighbor has a porable sawmill and the cut down three sixty foot yellow poplar trees and milled them into 2″x4″ and 1″x6″s. I traded $330 of my labor for the lumber and then paid the Amish $50 to plane 280 of those boards. The trailer frame was free, it was a 1965 Yellowstone Cavalier travel trailer frame salvaged from one of my neighbors. Since I’ve been doing construction for almost 50 years now I had almost an unlimited supply of nails, screws and other types of hardware. My largest cash outlay was for the metal roofing materials — around $800.00. My tiny home has no electric, so no ‘modern’ conviences, I use kerosene lamps and solar lights, I heat and cook with wood and have a composting toilet. My ‘shower’ is a large round galvanized tub with a hanging shower curtain which I put up and take down as needed.
    I’ve been in it now for over two years and I just love it!

  14. I agree with Greg. My Park Model manufactured “tiny” home cost $7,000. Reinventing the wheel indeed.

  15. Iam in Charleston SC and I am interested in buying a tiny house.can you set them up in a campground. How do I get started.

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