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.
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.
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.
So 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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.