Buy or Build A Tiny Home: Cost And Considerations

Buy or Build A Tiny Home

NAVIGATION

Making the decision to live in a tiny house is only the beginning of your journey! Once you decide to adopt the tiny life, you’ll need to figure out whether you want to build or buy your tiny home.

There is a lot to consider when making the decision to buy or build, but there are really only a few basic things worth considering most heavily.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I made the decision to build my own tiny house 10 years ago, I had to learn as I went. Since then, I’ve helped over 3,000 people build tiny homes of their own; here is what I’ve learned when it comes to making this critical decision.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Should I Build Or Buy My Tiny House?

Should I Build Or Buy My Tiny House

There are many important questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to build or buy a tiny house. At the end of the day, whichever way you go, you’re going to be investing time, money, and resources into the project. You want to make a decision that will help the outcome be worth your while.

is it better to build or buy a tiny homeWhen I started looking into living tiny, things were totally different than they are today. The tiny house community was a small movement still finding its way. There were fewer tiny home owners and online resources, and there weren’t even any builders until much later in the game.

Keep in mind that I was working for corporate America in the middle of the recession, I had never built anything myself before in my life, and money was tight! For me, the decision was simple, and cost was the major driver.

I was 23, drowning in student loans, and I had always been attracted to the idea of building my own home and learning skills I could use down the line. I knew building my tiny home was the way to go.

Today, the tiny house community has grown so much. There are builders in every state who offer prefabricated, turn-key tiny home models shipped straight to your town. You can also partner with building companies to create custom designs. The opportunities out there are abundant.

How Much Can You Afford To Spend On Your Tiny House?

How Much Can You Afford To Spend On Your Tiny House

The amount of money you have to invest in your tiny house is the most important thing to consider. Money is pretty black and white with things like this; you either have $10,000 or $50,000 to spend on the project, or whatever amount you have. It kind of makes the decision for you.

tiny house kitchenIt’s always going to be more expensive to buy a house through a builder because you’re paying for materials, labor, and their overhead, whereas if you build the home yourself, you’re handling those hoops on your own.

Whether you choose to buy or build, don’t let the size or idea of a tiny house trick you into believing it’s not a huge financial investment. The average tiny home costs about $27,000. However, the price of tiny homes has a huge range because of how many elements are considered.

It really comes down to how much you’re able to spend. Be honest about where you’re at financially and act according to the numbers, not according to your desires.

how much does a tiny house cost

Can You Put In The Time And Effort Required To Build A Tiny House?

Can You Put In The Time And Effort Required To Build A Tiny House

If you choose to build your home yourself, you’re looking at a year of time dedicated to the project at the very minimum. When I say a year, I don’t mean like when you commit to a book club for a year and have a couple meetings a month. I’m talking dedicating the bulk of your weekends and weekday leisure time to your tiny home.

getting a grip on a busy scheduleWhen I was building my tiny house, I was going to work during the day, and when I wasn’t working, I was either planning, buying materials, researching, building, or sleeping. There wasn’t much time to do anything else.

I’ve had friends who think they want to build their own tiny home, but when I tell them how much time and effort it actually takes, they realize they can’t afford a commitment like that at this time in your life.

I’m not saying this to discourage the building option. Like I said before, I built my own tiny home and would definitely choose that route again! However, it’s important to have a realistic understanding of what goes into building a tiny home so you can decide if you’re able to actually do it. The worst feeling is getting halfway through a project you’ve invested so much time and money in only to have to abandon it halfway through.

Maybe you’re raising four kids right now, you have a really demanding full-time job, or you just don’t feel like you’re in the place to invest all your time and energy into this. However, just because you don’t feel like you can go all in right now, doesn’t mean the dream of building your own tiny house cannot become a reality down the road.

Do You Have Building Experience?

Do You Have Building Experience

If you want to go the building route, having previous building experience is a big advantage. But it’s not an absolute necessity.
I went from being a corporate businessman to a skilled builder through the process of building my tiny home. The whole experience was a huge learning process for me and gave me confidence and lifelong skills I still use today. Trust me — if I can do it, anyone can.

Just because everyone can learn, though, doesn’t mean that everyone is ready to. It’s not easy, and it takes hard work, being a corporate desk worker meant I wasn’t used to long days of heavy physical work. If you aren’t feeling ready to do it all on your own, consider asking friends, family, or neighbors who have the skills to come over and grab a hammer.

Even if you have lots of people to help, realize that you’re going to still be doing a ton of work and, sometimes, having people help you can actually slow you down.

One of my last and most important pieces of advice: make sure you have health insurance if you’re building your own tiny home.

Not only can building be challenging, but just like with any construction project, you can get hurt. I’ve had two friends put a nail through their hand with a nail gun and one friend fall off a ladder and break her back. Of course, injuries won’t happen to everyone, but you want to stay safe above all else.

tiny house design and build collection

How Much Control Do You Want Over Your Design?

How Much Control Do You Want Over Your Design

Another thing to consider when deciding to buy or build is how personal you want your home to be. There are so many options out there when it comes to partnering with a builder and creating a custom design, but it’s still someone else’s work at the end of the day.
Even with the closest builder-to-buyer relationship, there may still be elements of your home that don’t turn out exactly the way you had wanted. If you’re building the house yourself, you’ll have full control over every decision and detail!

how to design a tiny house

How Quickly Do You Want To Start Living In Your Tiny House?

How Quickly Do You Want To Start Living In Your Tiny House

Time is another important factor to keep in mind. Like I mentioned before, if you’re building your own tiny house, it will likely take you a year at the very least. Probably closer to two years, realistically.

With a building company, a custom design will take some time, but not as much time as building your own home. The fastest option is to buy a prefabricated model and get it shipped to you. The route you choose will depend on how quickly you want to unlock your door and say, “home sweet home.”

Buying Verses Building A Tiny Home: Cost Comparison

Buying Verses Building A Tiny Home Cost Comparison

Cost is ultimately the biggest consideration when deciding to buy or build your tiny house. Whatever way you cut it, building yourself is the cheapest option. However, there are many specifics ways you can buy verses build, and they’re all going to vary in price.

The Cost To Build A Tiny House

When it comes to building, the price is going to vary depending on several factors. A tiny house is not one lump sum, but is instead made up of many individual parts that add up to the total cost.

The Cost To Buy A Tiny House

The cost of buying a tiny house is much more cut-and-dry. Since the tiny house has already been built, you’re paying for materials and labor that are no longer malleable. The price for a tiny house you buy is what it is. For some people, that makes the entire process easier. Others would rather have more of a say over each detail of their home.

What Are You Paying For In A Tiny House?

What Are You Paying For When You Buy Or Build A Tiny House

There are lots of things to consider that affects where those dollars go, whether you buy or build. Either way, you’re investing in materials, labor, and other elements of the home. I want to spell those things that cost you in order to help you make the most informed decision possible.

The Bulk Of Your Cost Is Materials

The Bulk Of Your Cost Is Materials

Whether you buy or build your tiny house, a large portion of the cost will be materials. This includes buying the actual lumber, screws, wiring, plumbing, doors, windows — anything that goes into a home.

You’re paying for these materials whether you assemble the house yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. This means that you want to invest in high-quality materials where it makes the most sense, while cutting costs where you can to mitigate the price.

tiny house plumbing
tiny house tools
tiny house electrical

Paying For Labor Can Add Up Quickly

Paying For Labor Can Add Up Quickly

The next thing to consider when breaking down the cost of a tiny house is the price you pay for labor. This is the differentiating factor when we’re talking buying or building.

A general rule of thumb is that labor is usually proportional to the material costs. Take the cost of the house you want to build, and if you’re going to have someone build it for you, double the price.

While it is ultimately more expensive to hire a builder and invest in the labor, you know it will be done right (hopefully). If you build the home yourself, you don’t have to pay for labor, but you run the risk of making mistakes that could end up being costly down the line.

tiny house building checklist cta

Ways To Save Money On Your Tiny Home

Ways To Save Money On Your Tiny Home

Whether or not you decide to buy or build, there are ways to specifically mitigate cost. However, there are also some elements where going cheaper may reduce the quality of your home. Staying informed on where to cut corners and where not to is key, whether you’re buying or building.

Money-Saving Measures In Your Tiny House

Money-Saving Measures In Your Tiny House

There are several areas where you can save money without reducing the quality of your home. This isn’t the case with every element, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know what works.

Things To Spend Less On: Floors, Cabinets and Fixtures

tiny house floors

Floors

The nice thing about flooring is that, square footage wise, tiny houses are small. It doesn’t actually take a lot of flooring to cover your home. If you’re looking for a place to cut costs in your budget, flooring is the first place I’d start. The best thing about saving on flooring is if you decide down the line that you want to make a change, it’s not set in stone.

tiny house cabinets

Cabinets

Cabinets are another feature you can spend a ton of money on unnecessarily. I would suggest going with Ikea cabinets or a pre-built, project cabinet kit from Lowes or Home Depot. You can stain them or paint them yourself, and they have tons of styles and sizes. This is the most affordable option.

tiny house fixtures

Fixtures

You can also save big on fixtures. With lighting fixtures, you can find some good deals or go secondhand. With plumbing fixtures, I’d stick to standard, off-the-shelf models.

Overall, whether you choose to buy or build your tiny house, you can make decisions that cut costs without sacrificing quality. At the end of the day, both options have pros and cons, but it really comes down to what works for you, your partner, or your family.

Tiny House Elements You Should Not Cut Corners On

Tiny House Elements You Should Not Cut Corners On

The last thing you want to do is spend less money on things you should really be investing in, compromising the quality of your home. There are some elements of your tiny home, whether buying or building, that it’s worth spending more on the front end to save yourself from spending a lot on repairs down the road.

Things To Spend More On: Trailer, Roof, Windows & Doors

tiny house trailers

Trailers

My recommendation has always been to buy a brand-new trailer from a reputable source. That’s your foundation, and you don’t want to cheap out on your foundation because your whole house is built on it.

I’ve seen people try to buy used trailers or build their own, and it’s just not the way to go. Every single person I’ve talked to who has pursued a used trailer has regretted it. Unless you’re a metal fabricator, don’t even go down that road.

tiny house roofing materials

Roof

Second, invest in your roof. Your roof protects everything, because everything in your home sits below it. Your overhead protection is not worth skimping out on. I personally like standing C metal roofs because they are wind resistant and hold up for a long time. It’s much easier for shingles to fly off when driving down the road, so I’d avoid that route.

tiny house windows and doors

Windows and Doors

When it comes to windows and doors, go with stock sizes. Custom designs can triple or quadruple your cost, and there’s no need to go this route when you can get stock sizes for the same quality.

Just be sure to invest in quality products. These are the parts of your home that lead to the outside world, so refraining from cutting corners here will keep your house protected from things like bugs or the elements.

Your Turn!

  • Are you planning to build or buy your tiny home and why?
  • How will you strategically save money when you buy or build?
2 Comments
  1. Well, as much as I would like to build it myself, I lack the physical capability to do it. I walk with a cane and hurt on a daily basis. So buying second hand is my only option, and I know that most areas where I want to live don’t want a “shed” I live in to be the house I live in. No matter how pretty it is, it would be below the minimum size for the area and they would be miffed if I told them to go pound sand.

  2. Thank-you for your insights above!
    It would be great to have a chat with you some time.
    I am working to build a DC Model Home. I don’t want to call it a Tiny Home, but it will be Tiny. I would rather call it a DC Efficient Home on a campus with other DC Efficient Homes….but, I’ll stick with DC Model Home.

    I submitted my email for a download (somewhere else on your site), but I never received an email.
    Let’s see if this correspondence works.
    BR, -David

Leave a Reply