Archive for the Tiny House Category

Skoolie Floor Plans – Designing Your Dream School Bus Layout

Skoolie Floor Plans – Designing Your Dream School Bus Layout

skoolie floorplansComing up with the perfect Skoolie floor plan for your bus conversion involves a lot of big decisions. Trying to figure out a great layout that makes the most of your limited space is something that requires planning and inspiration. So Here are a few tips to design the dream school bus layout for your future Skoolie.

NAVIGATION

Key Decisions For Your Skoolie Floor Plan

Key Decisions For Your Skoolie Floor Plan

A great place to start is setting some parameters for your build. These are the type of decisions that are difficult or impossible to change, will set the tone of your build and, if done well, can make a design successful.

Which Bus Size Is Right For Your Layout

Which Bus Size Is Right For Your Layout

One of the first things you’ll need to determine is what size bus is right for you. It’s not just about how much space you need— you should also consider how comfortable you are driving it down the road, how easy it is to park, and fuel consumption.

skoolie expertEXPERT TIP: What to consider when choosing a bus size?

One major restriction to keep in mind is for those looking to travel to national parks. The average maximum length allowed into national parks is 27 feet, which would restrict many to a short to mid-sized bus if looking to travel into many national parks. However, some national parks do allow up to a full-sized 40-foot bus.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

A smaller four-window short bus might be right for you if you just want something for a quick weekend getaway — something that you’ll load up after work and head out for a short weekend trip. A smaller bus like this will cost less because fewer materials are needed and it doesn’t need to have all the features of a full-time living bus. When not in use, it will also take up less space in your driveway.

A mid-sized seven-window bus might give you some extra room, without being too difficult to get up back roads as you adventure. I have driven longer vehicles on mountain roads and it’s not for the faint of heart!

If you need as much square footage as you can get, a full-sized bus with 13 windows might be your only option. This works best if you have a family or if you’re planning on living in your Skoolie full time.

BUS DECRIPTION LENGTH WIDTH SQUARE FEET
4-Window 20′ 7.5′ 150
7-Window 25′ 7.5′ 187.5
11-Window 35′ 7.5′ 262.5
13-Window 40′ 7.5′ 300

Choosing Locations For Your Bathrooms, Sinks and Drains

Choosing Locations For Your Bathroom in a skoolie floorplan

If I’ve learned anything about building on a mobile platform, it’s that you need to plan your drain lines carefully! Nothing is worse than going to install your shower basin only to discover the drain hole is smack-dab in the middle of a chassis crossmember or an axle.

You also need to consider where you’re going to run water supply lines. Unlike your drains which have to be in the lowest part of the bus, water lines can be routed more easily.

The one thing to consider is the locations of your sinks. If you centralize your kitchen sink to be on one side of a wall and the bathroom sink to be on the opposite side of the wall, you can simplify your plumbing a lot!

skoolie floorplan expertEXPERT TIP: Location of gas appliances.

My #1 most important tip is to keep all the propane appliances together to minimize the amount of propane pipe in a school bus conversion. The more propane pipe you have, the greater the chances of a gas leak. This is why most conversions that choose to have an RV range and an RV propane heater stack them with the range mounted above the propane heater. Then their propane water heater is usually not too far away, either.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Enclosed Vs. Open Spaces

open and closed spaces in a skoolie layout

Many older Skoolie floor plans were very closed off, dark, and filled with partitioned rooms, but more and more we’re seeing conversion layouts that are open concept. Gone are the days of dark spaces — now we use as much natural light from the windows as possible to fill the space.

Two spaces that are commonly closed off into their own rooms are bedrooms (especially with a family) and bathrooms. The obvious need for privacy in these spaces is what makes this necessary, but their placement is vitally important.

While you don’t generally want to close off the space in a Skoolie, choosing a layout that clusters these closed off spaces together to maximize the amount of open space is key. Having a solid wall for your bathroom is a must for most, so consider having it at the very back or as part of the partition between the living space and bedroom.

Determine What To Include In Your Layout

Determine What To Include In Your Skoolie Layout

After living in only 150 square feet for close to a decade now, there is one thing that I see people get wrong time and time again when they first decide to live small: trying to have their space do everything. You want a space that does a few critical things well and, in a pinch, can do things that come up once in a blue moon just okay.

how to find a used school bus to build a skooliePeople often try to take everything a big house can do and jam it all into a very small space. By its nature, making the transition to a Skoolie, you want to live a more simple life.

People think if they “just live in a skoolie” their lives will become simpler, happier, and more adventurous! This is fundamentally wrong and ironically is the reason you don’t have a simple life now. It has nothing to do with living in a Skoolie and everything to do with your frame of mind.

People can live simply in a large home, in an apartment, or in a Skoolie — the important difference is that people who live simply live that way because they’ve done the mental work to shift their life view to one that cuts out all that ties us down.

Because of this, figuring out what your Skoolie floor plan is going to do for you is as important as figuring out what it’s not going to do. It’s the process of shifting your life so you don’t feel the need for it to have all the trappings of a larger home that will get you the life you desire and lead you to a Skoolie design that works for you.

What Your Skoolie Floor Plan Needs To Do

skoolie layout blueprint

There are a few core things every house needs to do and some things that are more specific to you and your life. The biggest piece of advice is to focus on the things that you do every single day. The more time in a day you spend doing those things, the more space and attention should be devoted to it.

The rule of thumb here is things you spend the most time doing on a daily (or weekly) basis are things that your design should support. Things that you do once in a while, for a short amount of time, or on a scale of monthly or yearly shouldn’t be a design focus.
I’m going to set aside the fact that there might be some things you do daily that you should simplify out of your routine here. But to build a practical, functional, and livable space, you need to make sure the space supports your life, not try to fit your life to the space.

There are a few things that all humans need here:

  • A place to sleep
  • A place to go to the bathroom
  • A place to prepare food
  • A place to take care of personal hygiene
  • Storage for personal possessions
hanks skoolie interior

Of course, you are going to want to customize these spaces to suit your life. You need a place to sleep, but if you’re a single person, a full bed might work; if you’re a couple or a family, sleeping arrangements need to be bigger. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to cook, you might only need a small cabinet, a mini fridge, and a hot plate you tuck away. If you love to cook, a bigger kitchen with a full fridge and large stove top might be in order.

Think about what deserves space in your limited square footage.

What You Should Exclude From Your Floor Plan

What You Should Exclude From Your Skoolie Floor Plan

The biggest factor in a good design is not what is included, but is what is left out. A space should be practical, but if you try to do everything with a single space, it will just end up doing a lot of things poorly.

Choosing what to focus on means the space will do a few things very well. If we can design our floor plan to do the right things for us, we will have a beautiful space that is very livable.

skoolie bedroom layoutThe biggest culprit of trying to do too much in a space is what I call outlier activities. These are things you do every so often, but not every day. People’s designs often fall down when they jump through hoops to support these outlier activities.

A great example is a guest bedroom. People will have a whole space that they furnish, heat/cool, decorate, and keep clean so that one night a year a guest can stay there. We want to avoid situations in our design like this where possible.

Other areas I commonly see people trying to bake into their design is what I call aspirational spaces. When making a dramatic change like moving into a Skoolie, it can be tempting to think we are going to redefine our whole lives, do things we always wanted to do, or things we convinced ourselves are part of a preconceived notion of the lifestyle we strive for.

If you want to do crafts often and have a dedicated space for crafting, make the change now! If after six months or a year, you are crafting daily, then work it into your design. If you want a dedicated meditation space or yoga space, make it part of your daily practice for a long time, and then and only then should you include it in your design.

extra space in a skoolie floor planWhen making the leap to a simpler life, we often aspire to do or be certain things, but it’s difficult to make lasting change. There are two sides to this coin: don’t wait to live simply, do it now! And realize you have so little square footage that you can’t afford to not use every inch daily.

The last area you should watch out for is what I call transition spaces: places that take up square footage as connectors between areas of your Skoolie. Hallways are a great example of this — they’re wasted square footage that is only used for a few seconds as you walk through them. With such a small space, utilizing every inch matters.

School Bus Floor Plan Dimensions

School Bus Floor Plan Dimensions

Dimensions can vary between models and brands, so it’s best to figure out a rough plan and then get actual measurements from the bus you buy for conversion. Below are some general guidelines of dimensions so you can have a rough idea of what things might look like for your own Skoolie floor plan.

  • Interior – floor to window: 30.5″
  • Interior – floor to top of ceiling: Most are 72″ to 78″
  • Window width: Short windows are 25″ wide, Long windows are 32″ and 35″
  • Window height: 24″
  • Window sill height: 30.5″
  • Distance between wheel wells: varies based on model
  • Average size of wheel wells: 48″ in the front and 39″ in the back.
  • Front door width: 29” door with 27” opening

How To Design Your Skoolie Floor Plan

How To Design Your Skoolie Floor Plan

Planning is a big part of your design process. If I’ve learned anything about building, it’s that an hour spent planning often saves me many hours and wasted dollars later.
Laying out your Skoolie floor plan in broad strokes is a great place to start, then once you have a general vision, you can get into all the details and technical bits. So how do you start?

First off, you hopefully have taken some time to figure out what your design needs to do for you, what should be included, and, most importantly, what’s not going to be included. Take some time to distill these things into a checklist and use it to guide your design. As the saying goes: form follows function.

As you start to put pencil to paper or start clicking your mouse (I’ll go more into that soon), start with your design constraints and accurately map those out. These are things that you need to work around because you can’t change them.

Skoolie Design Constraints:

  • Length of your bus
  • Width of your bus
  • Location of doors
  • Wheel wells
school bus turned skoolie

These are realities that you simply can’t change, so start by mapping them onto your floor plan and consider making copies so you don’t have to rewrite them in every iteration of your design later as you experiment with different layouts.

The next big decision is where to place the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Start with general locations, thinking about how your daily life would flow with these areas placed where you have them. Most people place the bedroom at the very back of their bus and build in a large storage space under the bed.

skoolie expertEXPERT TIP: How To Design Your Skoolie Layout.

Imagine using the space and think about the flow of using the storage space. Every spot in a skoolie really should be designed purposely for how you will use the overall space to live, including sleeping, hanging out, cooking, working, playing, etc.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Once you have a general idea of the location of your three big areas, start to fill in the gaps in between them, keeping in mind the other items on your checklist. You’ll want to make sure you have good storage, a place to relax, and possibly a place to do your work from.

Families and couples should also consider the needs of each person. If you have kids, do you home school? Where will their toys be kept? If you’re a couple, do you need a quiet space to work, do hobbies, etc.? How will each member have privacy if they need some time to themselves?

Another consideration that you should take into account is how the weight of your Skoolie is balanced. You want to consider the weight of the built-in features, furniture, appliances, possessions, and even people. One major area people don’t consider is water tanks — at 8.5 lbs per gallon, even a small fresh water tank or tank hot water heater can add up to a lot.

skoolie floorplan expertEXPERT TIP: How You Should Balance Your Weight.

The easiest way to balance a bus is with a center aisle layout, as you can easily balance weight on both sides. Then, make a list of every item you plan on installing into the bus like the fridge, range, water storage tanks when full, and batteries. It is best to try to even these out on each side of the bus as much as possible.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Take some time to consider several different options. It’s good to spend some time designing your Skoolie and then give it some space for a while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. If you’re more than one person, make sure you get their feedback too.

The last thing I’ll mention is a few critical things people often forget:

  • Trash Can: Where will you put your trash?
  • Pantry: Make sure you have enough room to store food.
  • Laundry: Where will you keep dirty laundry before washing it?
  • Hot Water Heater: Where will you locate the tank or unit?
  • Electrical Panel: Where can you place it to be out of sight, but still easily accessible?
  • Shoes: Where will you store shoes that aren’t being worn?
  • Tools: Where will you keep items to fix your bus with?
  • Large Items: Can your couch, appliances, shower stall, and mattress fit through the main door?

How To Draw Your Skoolie Floor Plan

How To Draw Your Skoolie Floor Plan

At some point, you’re going to need to actually sketch your ideas onto paper to finalize your design. There are two main ways people go about this.

Graph Paper And Pencil

Graph Paper And Pencil for skoolie design

Sometimes going old school is the way to go when it comes to designing, especially when you’re making large changes in the beginning of your design process. Using graph paper is a quick way to get started. Start with getting your final dimensions by measuring your bus, then determine the scale you want to use and draw your design out to scale.

Once you’ve finalized a hand-drawn design, I’d suggest taking that and laying it out in a digital design software.

Skoolie Design Software

Skoolie Design Software

If you want to go higher tech or want to finalize your drawn plan digitally, using some sort of software is the way to go. While there are many good options out there, Sketchup is a great option that is pretty user friendly, has lots of free online tutorials, and is free to use.

There is a learning curve to Sketchup, but I find it to strike a good balance between simple enough to learn but powerful enough to do what you need it to do. After getting your main dimension mapped out, save the file as a template in case you want to try other designs. I also save my file as I make updates under a versioned file name. That way, if I mess something up, I can roll back to an earlier version more easily.

Sketchup is really nice because there are a ton of free YouTube tutorials, too. If you’ve never used Sketchup before, start with some basic tutorials and then you can search for specific tools or techniques as they come up.

Since the design is digital, you can quickly snap measurement labels between different parts of your design to see if you’ll have enough space to open doors, walk through the space, etc.

Skoolie Floor Plan Design Inspirations

Skoolie Floor Plan Design Inspirations

13 window / 40ft (full size) for a family with bunk beds

large skoolie floorplan


11 window / 35ft (full size) Skoolie floorplan bench seat

creative skoolie layout


7 window / 25 ft (mid-size) with open floor plan

skoolie floorplan for bus


4 window / 20 ft (short bus) with full kitchen

creative layout for skoolie floorplan

Skoolie Layout Design Tips

Skoolie Layout Design Tips

Here are some things to think about when it comes to creating a skoolie layout for your bus conversion.

  • Wait till you have your bus for real world dimensions
  • Consider what areas need to be private vs. semi-private
  • Balancing the weight of your bus is crucial for safety
  • Consider the locations of things you cannot change about your bus
  • Don’t forget to consider ventilation in your bathroom

 

Your Turn!

  • What are you going to include in your Skoolie floor plan?

Tiny House Shells Make Building A Tiny House Easy

Tiny House Shells Make Building A Tiny House Easy

tiny house shellsA tiny house shell is something I’d love to had the option back when I built my tiny house. While I’m glad I did it, build a whole house is no easy task when you’re also learning how to use tools for the first time and construction as a whole.

For the uninitiated, a tiny house shell is a tiny house where the outer layers of your tiny home are built by a professional builder, allowing you to customize the inside and cost much less expensive than a fully finished tiny home. Buying a tiny house shell is an ideal first step if you’re new to tiny house living. But what’s the cost of a tiny house shell? If you’re ready to buy a tiny house shell, how do you find the best deal?

NAVIGATION

What is a Tiny House Shell?

what is a tiny house shellA “tiny house shell” is precisely what it sounds like. Think of it as an unfinished tiny home. Tiny home shells typically include the walls, roof, and floor all built upon a trailer.

Tiny home shells are prefabricated, meaning the design is set. However, there’s still plenty of room for flexibility and customization on the inside. When you buy a tiny house shell, the inside layout is largely up to you. Most of the popular companies let you choose from several tiny house shell designs.


Tiny Home Builder Price Range Sizes Financing Electric Plumbing
mustard seed tiny homesMustard Seed Tiny Homes $15,995 and up 20′ – 34′ + Custom Sizes YES YES YES
tumbleweed tiny house companyTumbleweed Tiny Houses $25,000 and up 20′ – 30′ Length YES YES YES
mitchcraft tiny homesMitchCraft Tiny Homes $22,000 and up 16′ – 32′ Length YES YES YES
tiny hamptons homesTiny Hamptons Homes $13,000 and up 16′ – 28′ Length N/A N/A N/A
rocky mountain tiny homesRocky Mountain Tiny Houses $13,000 and up 12′ – 34′ Length YES YES YES

tiny home shell builders chart

Of course, custom, ground-up tiny house shell options are available too. If you want to design the exact tiny house exterior to your specifications, many companies will build the tiny house shell for you. Choosing this method for building your tiny house allows you to finish the interior at your own pace. It’s an excellent option for first-time builders who need some assistance with a solid structure but want to do the finish work on their own.

If you enjoy the DIY aspects of tiny house layout and design, then a tiny home shell is an ideal step. By doing the interior work yourself, you’re going to save money on your tiny home. You can then add those savings towards the cost to finish a tiny house shell. Typically, you’ll find that if you buy a tiny house shell, it’s still much cheaper than buying a fully finished tiny house.

How Much Does a Tiny House Shell Cost?

how much does a tiny house shell cost

As with most construction projects, the cost is dependent on a lot of factors. Generally they fall between the cost of a totally DIY house and custom build from a tiny house builder. If you choose to buy a tiny house shell that’s pre-designed or prefabricated, you may save a significant amount. Pre-built tiny house shells go from around $5,000 to $40,000 skewing to the higher end, so as you can see, it’s quite a range, even for the basic shell.

mustard seed tiny home shellSpeaking frankly, I wouldn’t trust a pre-built shell for anything less than $20,000 because below that cost the math really doesn’t add up: material costs (even the cheapest versions) will be at least $10,000 for a very small house. Add to that a builder that doesn’t estimate and charge around 40% and up for their labor is most likely extremely inexperienced (or a total scam) that you wouldn’t want them to build your home anyway.

Be warry of a deal that sounds too good to be true! I have lost count of how many people have paid a builder while ignoring major red flags, started without a contract or lacking total common sense, only to have a literal nightmare on their hands.

Another tiny house shell cost consideration is the materials that the shell will be built with. Each builder will be selecting or choosing for you certain materials. A great example is sheathing: OSB or Plywood, there is a huge difference in cost and performance.

Cheapest versions:

  • OSB sheathing
  • stock vinyl windows
  • laminate floors
  • asphalt shingles
  • builder grade door
  • vinyl siding

Balanced version:

  • Plywood sheathing
  • nicer builder grade windows
  • LVP flooring
  • corrugated metal roof
  • wood siding
  • door with a window

High end version:

  • Zip sheathing
  • custom clad windows
  • hard wood floors
  • standing seam metal roof
  • Hardie board siding
  • custom made door

At the end of the day, each piece that your builder uses to construct your tiny home is a decision, realize that not all builders are making the same choice. Many builders will claim to be high quality, custom, luxury, and so on, but realize that to actually be those things, if they aren’t doing things that are demonstrably different, it’s just talk.

how much does a tiny house cost

Tiny House Shell Builders

tiny house shell builders
Here are five of the most popular tiny house shell builders to help you get an idea of the cost range.

tiny house contracts

What Should You Look for When You Buy a Tiny House Shell?

What Should You Look for When You Buy a Tiny House Shell

When you’re ready to buy a tiny house shell, there are several factors you should look at. Of course, everyone is concerned about price—they want to find the cheapest tiny house shell. While the price is important, it’s been my experience that price often doesn’t correlate with quality, skill or professionalism. In too many instances, I’ve actually seen the opposite.

how to build a tiny houseThere are very talented builders, who are honest, hardworking, using good project management techniques and high-quality materials who should be charging way more than they do. There is also a lot of shady builders, using the lowest quality materials, cutting corners where they can, but talk a good game who charge way too much.

In my decade of tiny house experience, the later example is way more common, so be warry of slick talking builders. The best ones do amazing work and while they may smart business people they don’t have to do a lot of sales pitching, their work speaks loudly and so do their customers on their behalf.

When you’re moving to a tiny house, whether you’re building from the ground up, or starting with a tiny house shell, you need fewer materials than you would for a regular-sized construction project. The tiny home build size allows you to find excellent materials and spend a little extra on quality. So, when you look at how much to pay for a tiny house shell, consider the following aspects.

My feelings on any tiny house build are that it’s almost always better to choose quality. I’m a big proponent of quality materials, which is different from luxury materials. Because the tiny house’s footprint is so small, even higher-end finishes and materials will be much less than a typically sized home.

Wall Materials

Tiny House Wall Materials

sheathing

Whether the tiny house shell sheathing is made of the least expensive OSB (oriented strand board), mid-range plywood, or pricier Huber system zip panels, the quality of wall materials is essential. Yes, the cheaper tiny house sheathing may cost less upfront, but in the long run, you may end up paying more for insulation and exterior finishes.

Tiny house shell wall materials by price:

  • OSB Board $
  • Plywood $$
  • Huber System Zip Panels $$$

Roofing

Tiny House Roofing

roofing materials

As with a standard roof, you have the option of asphalt shingles or the high-end standing seam metal roofing. For tiny homes, galvanized metal rooves are also a nice mid-range option. Metal roofing lasts a lifetime and adds insulation to the house. Asphalt does the job but will last between 10-20 years. The mid-range galvanized metal roofs may not have the same look or options as metal roofing, but they will last upwards of 50 years.

Tiny house shell roofing materials by price:

  • Asphalt Shingles $
  • Galvanized metal $$
  • Standard Seam Metal Roofing $$$

Tiny House Trailers

Tiny House Trailers

tiny house trailer

I’ve written extensively on how to choose the right trailer for your tiny house. Some tiny house shell kits and tiny house shells come with the trailer already included. In other cases, you’ll need to choose the best trailer for your tiny home and provide it to the builder. The two main factors to consider are the size and weight rating. To understand what you will need, check out my post on calculating the weight of your tiny house.

Factors to consider when you buy a tiny house trailer:

  • Size
  • Weight rating
  • Price

Tiny House Shell Cladding

Tiny House Shell Cladding

cladding

Cladding is another way of saying the exterior finish. In a regular-sized home, you may hear it referred to as siding or simply “exterior.” For the exterior of your tiny house shell, you have many choices. T1-11 is a very affordable plywood siding that’s popular amongst penny pinch tiny home buyers. Vinyl siding is another option. Other options are wood siding, fiber cement (a.k.a. “Hardie board”), and metal for a modern look.

Tiny house shell cladding options:

  • T1-11 $
  • Vinyl $
  • Wood Siding $$
  • Fiber Cement/Hardie Board $$$
  • Metal $$$

Other Finish Questions Before You Buy Your Tiny House Shell

Other Finish Questions Before You Buy Your Tiny House Shell

other questions

There are a few other factors you should consider when you price out your tiny house shell. The biggest way to determine whether these factors are something you need or something you can DIY is to look at your comfort level and skills. Are you comfortable with doing your own insulation? What about electrical? Plumbing? In some cases, these jobs are better left to the experts. You may save time and frustration by including them when you buy your tiny house shell.

Jobs you may want to include when you buy your tiny house shell:

  • Insulation or no insulation?
  • Rough electrical included?
  • Rough plumbing included?

Windows and Doors for Your Tiny House Shell

Windows and Doors for Your Tiny House Shell

windows and doors
When you buy a tiny house shell, you should also consider the type of windows and doors included with the shell. Like traditional homes, many builders choose to install base-level windows and doors. It can be worth the investment to get a higher quality product. Windows and doors play a big role in your heating and cooling efficiency. In a small space, quality windows and doors can make a huge difference and be well worth the investment.

Tiny House Shell Levels: What Do the Levels Mean?

Tiny House Shell Levels

Many of the premier tiny house shell builders include levels on their listing. They may refer to these as “levels” or “tiers.” Some have two levels, and some have three. These levels describe the degree of finishing available (and obviously impact the price).

Understand this isn’t some agreed upon standard, it’s just a way for the builder to communicate different levels of quality, build, completeness etc.

how to build a tiny houseThe basic level, or level I, may include only the shell itself—walls, roof, and panels. The next level up may also include exterior finishes, customization, and even some additions like insulation. The top tier often includes a completed shell that’s ready for your interior finishing. Be sure to read and explore the different manufacturer levels, so you know exactly what your investment will include before you buy a tiny house shell.

When you buy a tiny house shell, it’s really about eliminating the more challenging DIY parts of building a tiny house. Of course, you can purchase tiny house layouts and plans and even design your own, but it can take a lot of work. In the long run, if you make a mistake, it can be costlier to fix too (or you’re stuck living with an inconvenience for years). A tiny house shell eliminates the unknown factors.

If you’re wondering if a tiny house shell is a good investment, weigh the cost of the tiny house shell against your time, materials, stress levels, and abilities. All of these considerations will help you decide if purchasing a tiny house shell is the best way to start living your tiny house dream.

Your Turn!

  • What are your thoughts on tiny house shells?
  • Would you consider building from a shell, or do you want to build from the ground up?

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

tiny house insulationFall is here and, with it, colder weather, so let’s talk about the best insulation options for your tiny house. Having lived in my tiny house for seven winters now, I know a little bit about how to stay warm in a cold climate. Insulation is critical to a comfortable tiny home. I’ll break down R values, costs, options, and the pros and cons for each of the top tiny house insulation options for when you build your own tiny home.

You can review all the options for tiny house insulation below or choose what is most important to you:

highest r value insulation
lowest cost insulation
best value insulation
sustainable insulation
spray foam insulation
ryans recommendation

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Insulation is an important choice and you want to make sure you choose the best insulation for your tiny home. Let’s start with some basics before we dig into the details. Most of the info in this post is from living in my own tiny house for close to a decade now and from helping build hundreds of tiny homes.

NAVIGATION

tiny house insulation basicsInsulation Basicshow to insulate a tiny houseHow To Insulateinsulating different parts of a tiny houseInsulate Wall/Rooftiny house insulation optionsInsulation Optionsclosed cell spray foamClosed Cell Spray
open cell spray foamOpen Cell SprayFiberglass batts for a tiny houseFiberglassrock wool insulationRock Woolfoam board insulation optionsFoam Boarddenim or cotton insulationDenim Cotton

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

R value is a measurement of how well an insulation resists heat being transferred. One thing that confuses first-time builders is that insulation doesn’t keep the heat of your heater in or the cold of your air conditioning in. All insulation does is slow heat from transferring to where you don’t want it.

In the case of air conditioning, cold isn’t actually a thing — it’s just air that has much less heat. So in the summer, the coolness of your house warms up as heat seeps inside. In the winter, you house will cool off as heat seeps outside.

R value is just a measure of how well something insulates from heat transferring. You’ll see it referred to as R-30 or R-7 the higher the number, the better job it does. But one thing to consider is how well something insulates per inch of thickness. This lets you compare insulations apples to apples. Keep in mind that most framed houses have 3.5 inches of space to insulate, unless you frame with 2×6’s, which have 5.5 inches of space to insulate.

Another important thing to remember is that heat rises, and for this reason, code requires your attics to be well insulated — often two to three times as much as the walls and floors. It’s pretty common to see walls that are rated at R-13, but the ceiling be rated at R-30.

highest r value per inch of insulation

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate – Climate Regions For US With R Values

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate

How much insulation do you need for your tiny house? Well that depends on your climate and how efficient you want your tiny house to be. The best guide is first determining your climate region with the Department of Energy’s climate zone map, which you can see here. Then use the chart below to see what the general guidelines are. From there you’ll need to get specific guidance from your local codes, which can often be found on Municode.

regional r-values of insulation
insulation r-value for wall thickness

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

It seems simple: choose your insulation, put it between your studs, move on. The problem with that approach is that the devil is in the details. If you get them wrong, your home will be hot, cold, moldy and uncomfortable.

Insulation does more than keep you warm. It also helps manage air flow through your wall systems and manages moisture in some very important ways. Nothing about insulating is difficult to do, but it requires you to understand some of the basics which I get into below.

Step 1: Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air sealing will do wonders for your home’s comfortability and how well your insulation will work. A leaky house with excellent insulation will actually perform worse than a house that’s sealed well and has average insulation.

The best thing to do is seal your house the best you can, then perform a blower door test. This creates a lower pressure inside the house and lets you see where air is being pulled in. You can use a smoke pen or a thermal camera to see where air leaks are.

Barring a blower door test, you can just make sure all the critical junctions are sealed:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Outlets
  • Exterior penetrations
  • Intersection of wall to floor
  • Intersection of wall to roof

The two biggest pieces of advice I have are to use Zip Panels tapped properly and use Great Stuff expanding foam to seal around cracks. These two things will let you seal up all the major areas of your home.

Step 2: Consider Thermal Bridges

Consider Thermal Bridges

This is a little advanced, but we’re now getting a lot of data showing this can be a big problem in the efficiency of tiny homes. To put it simply, thermal bridging is where a material that transmits heat crosses into or out of your conditioned space.

A practical tiny house example is wheel well fenders when building on a trailer,. If you build your walls partially over the wheel wells, you won’t be able to insulate around them as much as the rest of your walls. The metal of the trailer will take the heat from inside your tiny home and provide a pathway for it to more easily bleed out into the outside climate.

The studs of our walls act as a thermal bridge too, which is why we see more and more homes being build with an outer layer of insulation or a product called Zip-R which is sheathing with a layer of insulation built in.

Step 3: Check Your Codes

Check Building Codes for your area

Another important step is learning what code requires for your floor, ceiling, and walls. This is largely based on the climate you live in, so it will be different for each city/town. For moderate climates, you typically need an R factor of 15 in your walls and 30 in your ceiling. Colder climates will require higher R values.

Here is a great resource for finding your local insulation requirements.

Step 4: Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Later on in this post, I’ll get into the pro and cons of different insulation options for your tiny houses, but more broadly speaking I wanted to talk about choosing your insulation. The main considerations when choosing are:

  • Can you do it yourself or do you have to hire someone?
  • How much do you have to spend?

I’ll make this really simple: there are options that stand out clearly, but people don’t choose them because of cost or the need to hire someone to install it, which is essentially also cost. It comes down to how much money you can spend on your insulation.

The important thing to know is that insulation pays for itself in the long term. This is a widely understood and agreed upon fact, but people trying to get the most out of their budgets look for ways to cut costs and thus cut corners on insulation.

The difference between average insulation and the best insulation is around $2000, but remember that your power bill will be about 30% less each month for the rest of your life. This means that after about 3.5 years, you should be saving money.
Depending how long you live in your tiny house, it could save you thousands of dollars over the life span. Between my solar panels and insulation, I have not had to pay a power bill for the last eight years, so trust me when I say it’s game changing.

My advice is to buy the best option, even if that means delaying your build a few months for you to work and save extra. This isn’t an area you should skimp on, and if you do, it will cost you big!

Step 5: Understand Vapor Barriers

Understand Vapor Barriers

Vapor barriers are one of the most controversial topics among the building community. There is a lot of “that’s how we’ve always done it” thrown around, but most building hasn’t benefited from a lot of the data coming from actual building science.

The trick is that this can vary based on your location and your material choices. Take some time to read up on the basics of vapor barriers.

The quick summary is that we want to control where water vapor can enter and exit a wall, roof, or floor. Controlling this in the right place is all about where the moisture is coming from and which side warm moist air can come into contact with. When warm moisture comes into contact with a cool surface, it results in water condensing onto that surface. This can lead to mold, which obviously, we don’t want.

In general, you want to put your vapor barrier on the warm side of the insulation, but that’s where it can be complicated. For very cold climates or very hot climates, it’s pretty straight forward. If you live in a place like I do (North Carolina), it can be very hot in the summers and pretty cold in the winters, and we have a lot of humidity.

Step 6: Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

There is a lot of science that goes into today’s insulation, so getting the details are critical to it performing they way it was designed to work. Luckily, many manufacturers have realized the better job they do of teaching people on correct installation, the happier customers are. Happier customers will buy more of their product.

That means that most insulation manufacturers are willing to help you with questions and often have a lot of good resources about installation for free. Follow them closely and ask a lot of questions!

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

By and large, insulating your roof, walls, and floors is a pretty similar process. We frame out each of these in 16 inch on center framing (or 24 inch on center if you’re doing advanced framing). There are also some special notes about how to do each that I wanted to include as well.

Tiny House Roof Insulation

Tiny House Roof Insulation

The insulation in your roof is a big deal because heat rises, so it’s a major location for heat loss. That’s why code typically stipulates a much higher requirement for insulation, usually around R-30. The height of a tiny house is a critical dimension because we can only build so tall.

My recommendation is to frame your roof with 2×6 trusses which will give you 5.5 inches of space to insulate. Fill that with spray foam and you’ll have an R-30+ roof.

Tiny House Wall Insulation

Tiny House Wall Insulation
Your walls are pretty straight forward, with one major exception: slumping of insulation. Because the stud bays are vertical, your insulation is going to want to slide down to the bottom of the wall cavity. This is bad because insulation needs to completely fill the void and keep its loft to be effective.

Manufacturers know this can be a major point of failure for batt insulation, so they’ve devised several ways to prevent this. Typically they add in fibers or chemicals to maintain insulation loft, and include backings that can be affixed to the studs to hold up the insulation. The installation instructions include details to help prevent this, too.

Whatever your insulation option, pay special attention to installation instructions and choose options that are known to keep their loft for a long time to prevent insulation slump down the road.

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Insulating the floor of your tiny house is a critical area, as I find that tiny houses often have cold floors. The trailer of your tiny house on wheels will allow for cold air to flow beneath it. Add to that that there is a ton of thermal bridging happening in a tiny house through the floor, and you can see why this is an area that needs a lot of attention when it comes to insulating.

Because it’s so close to the ground, my suggestion is to frame this with treated lumber and choose an insulation that handles moisture very well. Foam board is a good option here, with any gaps sealed by Great Stuff foam.

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

As I mentioned above, a lot of tiny houses have cold floors. To help with this, you might want to consider installing insulated skirting for your tiny house on wheels. This creates a warm pocket of air underneath your tiny house trailer and reduces wind from flowing underneath, which carries your heat away.

The downside to this is that you’re making an ideal place for bugs, animals and mold to make a home. You’ll want to make sure it’s vented in such a way that air can flow through, but animals can’t get in.

I’d also suggest clearing the ground down to dirt and laying out a plastic sheet directly on top of the dirt to keep moisture from rising from it. Clearing the space of leaves and other organic matter will keep the bugs at bay. And if you have some gravel laid out with plastic sheeting on top, you’ll have even fewer issues with bugs and animals. Keeping it totally clear also allows you to inspect the space easily and easily spot any nests being built.

The skirting you build can be a good-looking façade that matches your walls or a nice contrasting color. I’d build this with a treated exterior grade plywood, seal it with a waterproof coating, and then apply a foam board insulation to the back of it. I’d also apply a flashing to the bottom edge of the plywood and insulation because it will be in contact with the ground.

It’s best to have the point where it touches the ground to be a few inches of gravel to allow for water drainage away from the materials. Be sure to grade your ground around your house to have water flow away from the house, too.

Tiny House Insulation Options

Tiny House Insulation Options

There are several types of insulation out there, and most are pretty good, but a few really stand out. Choosing the best insulation option for you typically comes down to cost.

I’ve seen it time and time again, people will be penny pinching so much that they actually cost themselves money in the long term. There is rarely a circumstance in life that has such a clear return on your investment, but insulation is one of them.

If you cannot afford the more expensive insulation options, delay your build just long enough to afford it, and you’ll thank yourself later.

There are a few exceptions to this.

If you have a severe chemical sensitivity and you want to build chemical free, you’ll have limited options. If you’re deeply committed to a sustainable building approach, there are a few options that do have some real drawbacks but are definitely a compromise.

Finally, if you want to use SIPs, they are mostly all the same, even across brands.

Closed Cell Spray Foam – R Value: 6.0 per inch

Closed Cell Spray Foam

ryans recommended insulation for a tiny house
highest r value insulation for a tiny house
spray foam insulation
Spray foam tops my list and, after years of working in tiny house building science, it’s the clear choice. Closed cell foam has the highest R value and is both a vapor barrier and an air sealer. The fact that it’s all three rolled into one is a big deal.

Initially, I considered it to be one of the better options, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that it is the BEST option. That kind of statement is one I don’t make lightly, as so much in building science is very dependent on a lot of other variables. Spray foam, however, is unique in being a clear winner.

Open Cell Spray Foam – R Value: 3.7 per inch

Open Cell Spray Foam

I’m going to make this pretty simple: Open cell spray foam lacks a lot of the benefits of closed cell foam, but only comes in at a slightly lower cost. For this reason, I suggest that people skip this option. The only reason people opt for open cell spray foam is for the cost savings, but If I couldn’t have closed cell, I’d opt for Rock Wool insulation.

Fiberglass Batt Insulation For Tiny Homes – R Value: 3.1 per inch

Fiberglass Bat Insulation For Tiny Homes

lowest cost insulation for a tiny houseFiberglass batts are one of the most common and economical insulations available. Because of their broad use, economy of scale has driven the price down to be very affordable. I insulated my tiny home for around $500 at the time I built.

They aren’t the greatest thermal insulators at an R value of 3.1 per inch, but the cost versus benefit here is pretty good. Most rolls are sold in an R-13 rating for your standard 2×4 walls. If you need more R value from your insulation, you’ll either need to jump up to 2×6 framing, use an outer layer of insulation (more on that later), or switch to a higher R value insulation.

Most of the rolls will come designed for the depth of your wall cavity: 3.5 inches for your 2×4 walls and 5.5 inches for your 2×6 walls. You can also find widths to be pre-sized for 16 inch on center framing or for your advanced framing which is 24 inch on center.

This makes it pretty easy to install because it trims down on having to cut things. Just unroll, cut the height of the framed bay, then staple into place.

Rock Wool / Roxul Insulation – R Value: 3.3 per inch

Rock Wool Roxul Insulation

ryans best insulation
best value insulation for a tiny house

Rock Wool, aka mineral wool or the brand name Roxul, is my second favorite option for many reasons. First off, it’s water resistant which is a big plus in my book. In the event that water does enter your insulation cavity, rock wool won’t break down and generally handles moisture pretty well.

Unlike other insulations that can slump over time or deflate if they get wet, rock wool is pretty rigid. While still being pretty easy to work with, you don’t have to worry about it slumping in your wall cavity in a decade or two. This isn’t always the case with other insulations and can lead to cold spots in your walls.

Another huge plus is the acoustical benefit, Roxul does a very good job at dampening sounds, which makes for a more comfortable living space. I like the fact that I can use a single product to insulate my exterior walls for thermal insulation and my interior walls for noise insulation. I put these batts in bedroom walls for a quieter night’s sleep and bathrooms for extra privacy.

Finally, rock wool is also a fire barrier. It can withstand a direct flame and not catch on fire. This is good peace of mind on top of an already well-performing insulation option for your tiny house.

There are of course some downsides, the big one being cost. Rock wool is about 35% more expensive than your standard fiberglass batts. Rock wool has a slightly higher R value, thought, so that does help. While mineral wool insulations come at a small premium, I feel the benefits outweigh the cost.

Since we are talking tiny here, you’re going to spend less than $200 extra dollars for this upgrade. It’s reasons like this why building tiny is great, as upgrades to nicer materials come at tiny cost increases.

Rigid Foam Board Insulations

Rigid Foam Board Insulations

Rigid foam board comes in a couple of varieties and the R values depend on which type you choose. In general, I use these types of insulation in the sub-floors of my tiny houses because they have a higher R value and are very water resistant.

With the floor system being closest to the ground, it has a higher chance of moisture contact, so rigid foam board is a good choice. In a perfect world, I would use closed cell spray foam in the sub floor of a tiny house, but you have to insulate the sub floor long before you insulate the rest of the house. You often won’t be able to get a spray foam contractor to come out and do such a small area. Sometimes they’ll even turn down the main body spray because it’s too small of a job.

To do this, first I built my sub floor framing and then sealed the seams with Great Stuff foam in a can. You can see how I did it in this video here:

From there I will lay in my foam board, which you can see here:

There are a few types of foam board that you will want to consider.

Extruded Polystyrene Foam Insulation (XPS) – R Value: 5 per inch

Extruded Polystyrene Foam Insulation

This comes in two varieties: blue board and pink board, which really is identical, just from different manufacturers. These have a good R value for the cost and thickness.

The one downside they have over the other major types is they will be slower to absorb water, but also slower to release the water back out. Generally, it is accepted that the other option I talk about next will hold up better long-term.

Expanded Polystyrene Foam Insulation (EPS) – R Value: 3.8 per inch

Expanded Polystyrene Foam Insulation

Expanded Polystyrene is essentially fancy coffee cup foam, which expands to fit a mold at the factory, creating a sheet of the foam. While EPS foam is similar to XPS foam (the one above), there are some performance differences.

Expanded foam is a good option for wet environments and is often used under slabs to insulate places where water contact is very likely. I’ve heard anecdotally that bugs like this stuff less than your XPS foams, but I’ve heard from others that they can still burrow through EPS, too.

This is commonly used as the foam board of choice for insulating tiny houses because it’s pretty easy to use, lower cost for the R value and handles water very well.

Polyisocyanurate Foam Boards (Poly ISO) – R Value: 6.7 per inch

Polyisocyanurate Foam Boards

Poly ISO foam isn’t used too often in residential construction, but you’ll invariably run across it on the shelves at your local big box store, so I thought I’d mention it. The nice thing about this foam is its higher R value and that it’s pretty tough stuff. It’s great when you want to affix it to commercial roofs and exterior cladding systems, and can take fasteners pretty well.

The Achilles heel of this is that when this foam gets very cold, it’s R value actually drops by 30%, a curious dynamic that not everyone in the building trade know about. At that point, studies have shown it to not be much better than EPS foam. In general, I’d skip this.

Denim Insulation / Cotton Insulation – R Value: 3.5 per inch

Denim Insulation Cotton Insulation

sustainable insulation for a tiny houseMade of recycled cloth, denim insulation is a reasonably sustainable option that has come to the mass market. I frequently see it as an option at my local big box hardware store. While cotton from recycled sources is great, cotton is a pretty intensive crop that isn’t always farmed in a sustainable manner.

The cotton is easy to work with because it doesn’t put off any toxic gasses or itchy fibers. However, it can be difficult to work with, as moisture absorption can be a real problem leading to mold. I’ve also seen a lot of problems with it slumping inside the wall.

Some people have also reported that it will not always be a uniform size, making it hard to fill stud bays with. In principal it’s a nice idea, but for me the moisture absorption is a big red flag.

Natural Wool Batt Insulation – R Value: 3.8 per inch

Natural Wool Batt Insulation

sustainable insulation for a tiny houseNatural wool batts are an interesting concept and the industry that produces them have come a long way. When I first starting building tiny houses, you could get wool, but it was a loose fill product. Today they come in batts which is much more practical and easier to install.

I think this approach is the most practical for a truly sustainable option. Sheep are sheared and the wool processed. The wool is cleaned, combed and washed several times, then created into the batts you’ll install in your walls.

Wool has been a practical fiber for a long time. People still reach for wool blankets, clothing and other wool items because it performs so well. It holds up to moisture quite well and has decent loft and good structure that holds up over time.

That said, unless someone is very concerned with sustainability or has a severe chemical sensitivity, I’d still favor closed cell foam. While far from sustainable, the higher R value, air sealing and total moisture resistance all add up to costing fewer resources in the long run from power plants or heating fuel.

Final Thoughts

thoughts about insulation

Insulating your tiny house on wheels is an important step in making your home efficient and to control costs going forward. A dollar spent on insulation will pay for itself many times over in savings on your power bill for years to come. There are a lot of options and many things to think about, but hopefully I’ve been able to help you navigate the question of what insulation you should use for your tiny home.

Why Closed Cell Spray Foam Is The Best Tiny House Insulation Option

Why Closed Cell Spray Foam Is The Best Tiny House Insulation Option

The thing that really won me over was the fact that closed cell spray foam is a vapor barrier in and of itself. This means that you have a vapor barrier on both sides of the envelope and within the insulation itself. That’s a really big deal.
Because tiny houses can move, you ideally want to be setup so your vapor barrier location accommodates all types of climates. If you build and layer your tiny house for a cold climate, then move to a hot climate, your vapor barrier will actually hurt you, not help you. Mold inside your home and wall cavities is highly probable at that point.
For people like me who live in a climate that has large temperature swings (hot humid summers and cold wet winters), there isn’t a great answer to where you put your vapor barrier.

Closed cell spray foam solves all that.

I can’t overstate how much of an advantage being an inherent vapor barrier is. Add to that that closed cell foam is a decent air sealer and has the highest R value insulation per inch — it’s truly a winning combination.

The Downsides Of Spray Foam

The Downsides Of Spray Foam

Closed cell isn’t without some drawbacks, and to not discuss them would be disingenuous. The biggest of course is cost. Spray foam will run you an additional $2,000 above the other options out there. But I’ve already covered why I think this is a smart place to spend your money.

The next biggest downside is that finding a roof leak could be tricky with closed cell spray foam. But I also think the spray foam, because it adheres to the surface it’s applied on, is just as likely to hold the water where the leak is and prevent it from spreading. Add to this that your roof will be brand new and most likely standing seam, and know that this is a small risk to take.

The other downside is that if you have an installer that doesn’t know what they are doing, they can make a real mess of things. The foam might not set right, it may cure and pull away from the studs, etc. If done improperly, it can be very difficult to clean up. For this, I’d make sure you visit some previous job sites of the installer, talk with customers, and get a sense for how many jobs the installer does in a given year. You want someone who has a good track record and does hundreds of jobs per year.

Spray Foam Off Gassing Of VOCs

Spray Foam Off Gassing Of VOCs

The final downside that I hear about is toxic off gassing after installation. The off gassing actually occurs while it’s being installed, but the EPA says after about 24 hours of curing, the foam becomes inert.

If you’re concerned about this, I’d stay out of your tiny house after the foam has been sprayed for at least 24 hours to allow it to cure. I’d then give it several days to continue to off gas any residual VOCs. Though there is a lot of anecdotal “evidence” thrown around, I prefer to read studies from reputable sources which mostly have not found any evidence of off gassing, but they readily agree that that’s also not the same as no off gassing.

This is how I choose to approach it. Since you spray your tiny house after you’ve already dried in your tiny house, meaning it’s a fully built shell of the house, you can let it sit empty to off gas before you continue building. If you’re really concerned, give it a few weeks while you plan the rest of your build or take a break.

Off gassing typically has a steep curve downward, meaning each hour that passes, you’re exponentially reducing the VOCs. Setting up a heater after the foam has cured to raise the temperature to something akin to an attic in the summer will also accelerate reactions. Ventilating well, using heat to facilitate any off gassing (if there is even any to be had), and time will all help this.

Your Turn!

  • What Insulation option are you thinking about choosing?

School Buses for Sale: How to Find a Used School Bus to Build a Skoolie

School Buses for Sale: How to Find a Used School Bus to Build a Skoolie

school buses for sale

NAVIGATION

Before I decided on my tiny house, Skoolies were a serious contender for me, to the point I explored how to find a used school bus for sale to build a skoolie. The concept had a lot of appeal – a house on wheels, ready to take off whenever the mood struck.

The major draw of a skoolie, besides the novelty of living in a converted school bus (which is pretty cool in itself), is that you don’t need to buy a vehicle to tow your house. If I wanted to move my tiny house now, I’d have to take the trailer off its blocks, and have a big truck with the capacity to tow a home. While moving a tiny house is certainly possible, it’s not easy.

A skoolie, on the other hand, is ready to roll! But, as I found in my research (and ultimately, what held me back from the skoolie life) is that it can be hard to find a used school bus that’s in the right condition. There weren’t many resources on how much it cost to convert a used school bus or how to maintain a skoolie at the time. So ultimately, I decided to go a different direction, but I must admit the idea of a skoolie still appeals to me. I decided to do some more research for those who are also intrigued by the idea of a school bus tiny house.

Are you someone who wants to travel with your house? Let’s examine the skoolie lifestyle and how to find a school bus for sale.

What the Experts Say About Finding a Used School Bus for Sale

What the Experts Say About Finding a Used School Bus for Sale

I’ve written a little about skoolies before because they share many parallels with tiny houses. After all, a skoolie is really a tiny house built into a school bus.

skoolie interiorI liked the idea of a skoolie because it combined the truck and house in one—move your home around without needing a separate vehicle and at a much cheaper rate. Some of them are as low as $4000—less than the down payment on a truck if I wanted to take my tiny house on the road. There are also fewer regulations when building a house on wheels, making a skoolie a good option for those new to the tiny life.

In my research, I connected with Chris at Skoolie Livin. It’s an excellent resource for all things skoolie-related. I wish I had known about the site back in the day when I was considering a skoolie. He shared a lot of info about finding a used school bus for sale in decent condition (and how to avoid expensive mistakes).

When he was looking for a bus to convert, Chris shared that they found one locally on Craigslist—a BlueBird TC1000 for $7,000. Ultimately, they decided that the rust and condition (as well as the sketchy circumstances) didn’t seem right. Then they drove from Indiana to Wisconsin for another Craigslist BlueBird with a DT360 engine but were disappointed again by rust and lights that didn’t work.

skoolie kitchenDespite being skoolie newbies, they now had a few ideas of what to avoid in their search, so they spent some time searching for options online. After many photos and phone calls, they ultimately found their first school bus to convert into a skoolie. For only $4000, they purchased a great bus from a diesel mechanic with a DT466 engine and low mileage (189,000). With regular upkeep and no rust, the bus was a great deal, saving them thousands in fixups.

The best way to get a handle on a bus’s condition is to get out there and really look. Don’t go with the first bus you find—listen to your gut, not your excitement! Remember, you’re buying the foundation of your future house. Be as discriminating as possible as you check the condition.

If you buy a skoolie that’s not yet been converted into a tiny house, there will probably be some issues that crop up during the process, of course. Mitigate what you can by taking the bus for a test drive, inspecting for rust holes, and checking for a solid foundation. Look at all the components—the chassis, ribs, brakes, wheels, and tires!

learn more about skoolies

Best Places to Find a Used School Bus for Sale

Best Places to Find a Used School Bus for Sale

As I discovered in my search for a skoolie, they can be tough to find. Over the last several years, there have been more resources online that have cropped up—many of them are extremely helpful, and I wish they’d been as available back when I was searching.

For more details and an excellent resource, I suggest checking out this page on finding a school bus. It lists all the general auction options and includes details to help you find local public auctions in your state. Although many online resources feature sellers from all over, it’s always convenient to buy locally, but that can often limit your options. Before you travel to pick up a school bus, be sure the condition is good enough that it will make it to your final destination!

What to Look for When Evaluating a Used School Bus for Sale

What to Look for When Evaluating a Used School Bus for Sale

There are several factors you should look at when you evaluate a school bus. Price is important, of course, but it shouldn’t be your only factor. Condition is just as critical (if not more so) and ultimately can help you save down the road.

Here’s what to look at as you evaluate a used bus.

Size

school bus size

Like deciding on the right size for a tiny house, you’ll need to decide on the right size for your school bus. This means examining how much space you’ll need for your lifestyle. If you’re single or buying for a couple, a “short bus” may be plenty of room. Families and people who prefer more square footage may need a full-size school bus. You can take this quiz to help you determine the ideal skoolie size for your needs.

SHORT BUS

short school busShould you decide on a short bus, it’s considered a “Class B” motorhome. Short buses make a cozier skoolie that’s more agile on the road, with no restrictions. Building costs are typically more manageable, with most short bus skoolies costing between $15,000-$20,000 to convert (including the bus itself).

Look for the 4-6 window buses, which are usually a “van-type.” If you’re looking for a skoolie with more room and more power, the 7-8 window school buses are an excellent choice. These short buses can be quite beautiful when converted and are a tiny living favorite!

MID-RANGE BUS

mid range school busMid-range buses are considered Class C motorhomes. They offer more space than the short bus and significantly more engine power. To build out a mid-range skoolie, you’re looking at a cost between $17,000-$28,000 (bus included). A mid-range school bus with 150,000-200,000 miles in good condition should cost around $5,000.

Watch for buses with 7-10 windows (again, these are considered “van-type” buses. These buses are often the cheapest option, and some are even less expensive than the short buses OR the full-size ones. Keep in mind, though, these buses have taken off in popularity, and it’s harder and harder to find these hot commodities. Don’t give up; your perfect skoolie is out there!

FULL-SIZED SCHOOL BUS

full size school busIf you’re looking for a full-sized school bus, there are many options. These are considered a Class D motorhome. They offer the most space, of course. Most have a great engine and transmission because they’re built to keep school children safe.

Building a full-sized skoolie will range between $25,000-$35,000, including the bus. The ideal full-size bus features 10-13 windows. These big buses are amongst the easiest to find because there are so many to choose from. Schools retire buses when they still have a lot of life in them, so you should find the perfect bus in nice condition.

Mileage

school bus mileage

While finding the right size school bus is vital, mileage is a big factor too. The mileage correlates with the wear and tear on the engine. Occasionally you can find an outstanding shell with a shot engine, but if you do that, you’re going to add in high labor costs (unless you are very familiar with the mechanical work required with a diesel engine).

So your best bet is to look at an engine with decent mileage. For details on how much mileage is “normal on a bus,” check out this mileage guide. Make sure it runs great and doesn’t require much more than regular oil and filter changes. There are plenty of school buses for sale, so don’t settle for something with tons of mileage that may need an engine replacement.

Chassis

school bus chassis

Check out the chassis on the school bus. Make sure you don’t see much rust, especially if you’re purchasing a bus that’s driven through a lot of cold-weather conditions. Salt and ice can really cause damage to the chassis, and you may be looking at sandblasting and rust treatment. Get underneath the bus and check it out before you buy.

Think of the chassis as your foundation. You wouldn’t buy a house with a lot of foundational damage. This is creating a solid frame for your home, so don’t settle for damage. Check the floor’s ribs as well—they should be solid, not rusted through or weak. The floor should feel firm.

Buses have a rubber floor and plywood over the metal bottom. The metal is visible from under the bus. There may still be surface rust underneath the plywood floor if there are no holes, but this should be expected and isn’t as big of a concern.

Brakes

school bus brakes

School buses feature two types of brakes—air brakes or hydraulic brakes. Some drivers prefer one over the other, and most newer buses feature air brakes. Air brakes stop a little quicker than hydraulics, so some drivers feel they’re safer. Mechanics claim that hydraulic brakes are harder to work on and update.

The most important thing is that whichever type of brakes your bus features, they should work correctly. Test the brakes before you buy. Make sure there are no squealing or grinding noises that can indicate a braking concern.

Body and Exterior

school bus body and exterior

Now, especially if your school bus was driven through wet weather, ice, and snow, you may see pinging, dents, and rust. Overall, this isn’t something you should settle for. A little rust can be fixed up with bodywork, but it is costly.

Significant rust and especially holes are bad news! It’s hard to completely fix up body damage, and you’re always going to be contending with it. It’s a losing battle. Once again, it’s easy to fall in love with a bus and assume you will “deal with” the rust later. There are so many options out there; it’s just not worth the hassle.

Tires

school bus tires

Tires are one of the most essential items to look at when you’re deciding to buy a used school bus to convert into a skoolie. Your tires are especially important if you plan to take your skoolie on the road for travel. Buses can struggle with off-roading, so good tires are needed for traction. Tires also improve your gas mileage and offer a more comfortable ride. Most importantly, tires are a safety issue.

school bus tiresTread life isn’t the only factor to examine when you check out the tires. You want to look at the type of tires on the school bus and their purpose. Keep in mind that most school buses are designed for short, slow rides—picking up kids and dropping them at school. Bus tires aren’t intended to go several hundred miles per day. So even if there is adequate tread life in the tires you’re checking out, you may still need to replace them, especially if you’re going on rough terrain.

So, how expensive are bus tires? Well, generally, a $4000 school bus turns into an $8000 investment when you need new tires. School bus tires aren’t cheap, and you’ll be looking at $3000-$6000 for replacement (and generally, you’ll want to replace ALL the tires at once).

What is the lifespan of school bus tires? Bus mechanics usually measure the life of school bus tires by years instead of mileage like cars. Most bus tires should last between 10-15 years with proper maintenance. Keep them properly inflated, avoid letting them sit for long periods (use tire covers when parked for longer durations), and only wash them with soap and water, not Armor-All or harsh chemicals.

Other Items to Check

school bus other items to check

Check the lights on the bus. All the brake and safety lights should work correctly. Headlights and taillights are crucial when you’re driving such a large vehicle. You’ll want to make sure the mechanics work—door latches, windows, and other items. While these aren’t make-or-break issues, small damages can add up and become expensive (or lead to a ticket).

When you look at the interior, check the seams for any rust. Unless it’s raining when you’re checking out the bus, you might not notice leaks, but rusting is a telltale sign. Aside from the seats on a bus, the interiors are often quite simple, which is why used school buses are an excellent framework for tiny homes.

When it comes to the seats, what do you do with all these bus seats? You can take them to a scrapyard, of course, but many people have had luck selling them on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Some skoolie owners keep a few of the seats to add to the charm. They can make comfy seats for your kids as passengers, and they’re charming mini couches or bench seating for a table.

Understanding Different School Bus Engines

Understanding Different School Bus Engines

It’s important to understand the difference between school bus engines when looking for a school bus to buy and convert into a skoolie. Most engines are diesel, making them slightly different from a car or truck engine (but not too much more maintenance if you know the basics). Here, I’ve broken down the most common school bus engines.

T444E engine

T444E

The T444E is a common engine found in small to medium-sized school buses. It’s reasonably reliable and has a similar power output to the DT466E models.

  • Common engine
  • Reliable
  • Considered to be a Ford Maxxforce engine.
  • Costly rebuild, as the sleeves cannot be changed out, like the DT466E.
  • Smaller fixes are a similar cost to a DT model.

DT466 Pre 1996 engine

DT466 (Pre-1996)

The DT466 was made through 1996. It’s considered one of the best engines for a school bus, and ideal for skoolies. It’s very reliable and lasts a long time. It’s also one of only a few engines that you can completely rebuild without removing the bus’s motor. Piston sleeves are easily changed out.

  • Extremely reliable.
  • Long-lasting.
  • Easy to rebuild and maintain.
  • Easy to change out piston sleeves without block removal.

DT466E engine

DT466E

The DT466E was made from 1996-2004. It’s essentially the same as the DT466 with an ECU on the engine, electronic injectors, and a single, high-pressure oil line. The added benefit of the DT466E is that it has a plug for a diagnostic as well. This is a popular choice, because it’s a newer engine with electronic benefits, but doesn’t have the extra newer emissions regulators.

  • Extremely reliable
  • Long-lasting like the DT466.
  • Easy to rebuild and maintain.
  • ECU on the engine.
  • Electronic injectors and high-pressure oil line.
  • Plug for diagnostics.

DT466 2004 Present

DT466 (2004 – Present)

The newer DT466 was built after 2004. The manufacturer dropped the “E” in the title but kept all the electronic features from the DT466E version. Since 2004, the DT466’s have an added EGR for emission controls, per government regulations.
Reliable.

  • Long-lasting like the DT466E and original DT466.
  • Easy to rebuild and maintain.
  • ECU on the engine.
  • Electronic injectors, high-pressure oil line, and plug for diagnostics.
  • EGR for emission control.

DT460 engine

DT460

The DT360 is considered to be a cousin of the DT466 and shares many of the same features. That said, it has less horsepower and torque displacement. The tradeoff is that it’s more fuel-efficient.

  • Similar to the DT466.
  • Lower horsepower and torque displacement.
  • More fuel-efficient than the DT466.
  • Reliable.

Cummins 5.9 engine

Cummins 5.9

The Cummins 5.9 is often found in larger, full-sized school buses. These are good engines for a regular bus, but unfortunately, people find the engine weak and undersized when they build a school bus into a skoolie. The Cummins 5.9 is a good engine in a small or mid-sized skoolie as it can support a smaller load.

  • Good engine for small to mid-sized skoolies.
  • Common in larger full-sized busses.
  • Often too weak and undersized for a full-sized skoolie build-out.
  • Often paired with AT545 and MT643 transmissions.

Cummins 8.3 engine

Cummins 8.3

The Cummin’s 8.3 is another engine that’s often found in full-sized school buses. These engines are great—reliable and able to support the more considerable weight of a full-sized skoolie build-out. It’s rare to find them in smaller buses, but they’re an excellent engine.

  • One of the best engine options for full-sized skoolies.
  • Rarely found in smaller or mid-sized school buses.
  • Often paired with the MD3060 transmission.

CAT Engines

CAT Engines

CAT engines are great engines as long as they are maintained (and have been maintained) properly. If they aren’t maintained, they become a money pit very quickly.


Mercedes Engines

Mercedes Engines

Mercedes engines are somewhat common, and they’re very much like a Mercedes Benz. They’re seen often, but they’re expensive to fix. Along with the CAT engines, these aren’t ideal for skoolie builders because they require finding someone specific to work on them.


Detroit Diesel 8.2L

Detroit Diesel 8.2L

These are another fairly common engine, but these aren’t reliable AT ALL. They’re finicky and hard to maintain. If you’re looking to buy a used bus to turn into a skoolie, I would avoid anything with a Detroit Diesel 8.2L engine.


7.3 IDI Engine

7.3 IDI Engine

These are good engines, but they’re older engines found in International school buses in the 80s and 90s. They’re pretty rare, and at this point, I would question the practicality of maintenance, even if the engine was still working.

What You Need to Know About School Bus Transmissions

What You Need to Know About School Bus Transmissions

The transmission is critical. Although not as expensive a replacement as an engine, it’s good to be sure that the transmission on your school bus is reliable and has been adequately maintained. Of course, the question with transmissions is always manual vs. automatic. More modern school buses almost always have an automatic transmission. Pre-2000 buses may feature a manual transmission (especially the really old collector buses), but automatic transmissions are common for the most part.

AT545 School Bus Transmissions

AT545 School Bus Transmissions

The AT545 is the most common transmission found in school buses. It’s important to note that it lacks a torque converter, so you have to rely on the brakes a lot when descending steep hills and mountains. This can lead to overheating and wear on the brakes, especially for inexperienced drivers. It also tends to slip a bit when climbing (causing potential overheating). If you don’t plan on taking it to the mountains, this is a solid transmission. Because it’s so common, replacement parts and maintenance are simple.


MT643 School Bus Transmissions

MT643 School Bus Transmissions

The MT643 is a reliable transmission, but rarer. It’s similar to the AT545 but a little beefier. This is a very dependable school bus transmission. You can easily convert from an AT545 to an MT643 with very few issues if you have a DT466 engine. The MT643 has a torque converter when you move into 3rd and 4th gear, making it a better choice for mountain driving.


MD3060 School Bus Transmission

MD3060 School Bus Transmission

This transmission is a good choice because it offers higher speed capabilities than the MT643, resulting in better mileage per gallon when you’re traveling. The biggest drawback of the MD3060 is that it’s costly to fix or replace. If you’re looking to compare the MT643 and MD3060, there’s a breakdown here.


Other Transmissions for School Buses

Other Transmissions for School Busses

There are 1000, 2000, and 3000 series transmissions out there that are all really good 5 or 6-speed automatic transmissions. The difference between the numbers indicates the amount of horsepower and torque in the engine that the transmission can handle. For an excellent high-level summary on school bus engines and transmissions, do further exploration here.

How Much Should A Converted School Bus Cost?

How Much Should A Converted School Bus Cost

So when we combine all these factors—the condition, the engine, the transmission, the tires, we’re left with the million-dollar question: how much should a used bus cost?

As you can see, there are several factors, and it’s hard to pinpoint an exact amount. To give you a ballpark figure, “Used school buses for sale with a low amount of surface rust and between 80,000 and 180,000 miles should cost between $3,000 and $10,000,” according to my friend Chris at Skoolie Livin.

Like most purchases, buying a used school bus means you get what you pay for. If you want to buy a used school bus for cheap, you’re likely going to need to do some serious research and searching to find a high-quality bus that is built to last. It’s essentially a house AND a vehicle, so you should plan accordingly.

When you try to negotiate a price, keep in mind that school bus sellers are often highly motivated because school buses are large vehicles that require a lot of space. They have become more popular as people embrace the skoolie life, though, so you may have competition. Start low with your offer but keep it realistic. Often with a little bit of back and forth, you’ll settle on a price that both of you are happy with. It’s a good idea to only bid on a bus if you’re willing to pay the full asking price because some sellers won’t ever come down (but it doesn’t hurt to ask)!

Tips for Buying a Used School Bus

Tips for Buying a Used School Bus

  • Know the size and kind of bus you want.
  • Balance your ideal school bus with being flexible about your options.
  • Avoid getting emotionally attached to ONE bus.
  • Remember that used buses are sold for a reason—choose wisely.
  • Get a professional opinion on the condition of the engine.
  • Test drive the bus and do a thorough inspection (including the underside).

Hopefully, this gives you a nice overview before buying a used school bus to convert into a skoolie. To this day, I still have a soft spot for the idea of living in a converted school bus. It’s so freeing to take your life on the road whenever you feel the urge.

If you’re hoping to buy a used school bus to turn into a skoolie, do your research. Skoolie Livin has been an excellent resource for me, and they have a handy help page to check out for more details and answers to your school bus shopping questions.

learn more about skoolies

Your Turn!

  • What size school bus would you prefer for trying the skoolie life?
  • What aspects of skoolie living most appeal to you?

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost: From Someone Who’s Done It

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost: From Someone Who's Done It

how much does as tiny house cost

NAVIGATION


If you were like me when I first started I have one big question: how much does a tiny house cost to build?  Now that I’ve actually built my own tiny house and come out the other side, I wanted to do the full tiny house cost breakdown for others that want to live in a tiny house on wheels.

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost?

average price of a tiny house

The average tiny house costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to build yourself, double those numbers if you hire a builder to build it for you.  But that is only part of the picture and depending on options, the price can vary a lot.  Many people are hoping to build their tiny house at a certain price point because of budget constraints or other factor, so the real question becomes, what’s the difference between a $10,000 tiny house and a $50,000 tiny house?

Tiny House Cost Breakdown

tiny house cost breakdown

What’s great about tiny houses is they’re really an approachable size, so it’s pretty easy to think through a cost breakdown for each part of a tiny house.

  • Trailer: $3,500 to $5,500
  • Windows: $500-$$6,000
  • Metal roofing: $500 to $2,000
  • Insulation: $500 to $3000
  • Siding: $1,000 to $2,500
  • Lumber: $1,000 to $5,000
  • Interior finishes: $500-$4,000
  • Electrical: $750 to $3,000
  • Shower: $400 to $1,000
  • Water heater: $500 to $1000
  • HVAC: $500 to $1,500
  • Toilet: $20-$800
  • Fixtures: $1,000-$5,000
  • Appliances: $400 to $4,000
  • Interior wall: $500 to $1000
  • Flooring: $300 to $1,000
  • Fasteners/Adhesives: $1,500
  • Paint: $50 to $200

Tiny House Building Materials List:

tiny house materials list

When it comes to getting a true sense of a tiny house cost, you need to understand the different materials that go into your tiny house.  When I first started my build, I had never done anything like it before, but what I realized is if I break down the house into different parts, I could make it even more manageable, that’s how we’ll figure out costs.

The big thing to know is most of your budget will be dedicated to your trailer, doors/windows, roof, and mechanical.  These are things that I wouldn’t skimp on at all, I’d buy the best I could afford.  This will account for 80% of your costs.  For an example my trailer cost me $3,600, my doors and windows were $6,000, roof was $2,600, and HVAC was $1,800.

Trailer

tiny house trailer

The trailer for your tiny house is one of those places you don’t want to skip and you don’t want to mess around.  I’ve see it now a hundred time, someone trying to save money by getting a used trailer.  Unless you are already handy with metal working and have some experience, you won’t save any money going the used route because fixes, repairs, reinforcements, a new paint job and new tires and wheels will leave you broke.

I have personally watch over 100 people try it and fail to save a dime.  What’s worse, they worry about their trailer not being good enough, which is a nightmare when you home is relying on it.

The next thing I see is people overspending for “tiny house trailers” that are purpose built.  The differences are minor and all you’re really paying for their markup.  None of the tiny house trailer sellers actually make them, so go to the source: Big Tex Trailers, Kaufman Trailers, etc.

Estimated Costs:  20 foot trailer: $2,800, 24 foot trailer: $3,000, 30 foot trailer $4,500

Windows For A Tiny House

tiny house windows

I spent a lot on my windows because they were all custom, but if you buy standard window sides and don’t mind white vinyl windows you can save a ton.  My windows cost me around $6,500 for double pane, argon filled, low-e glass that was tempered glass.  You definitely want tempered glass that are high quality and good efficiency.

Windows are one of those things that it can be tempting to try to save money on by going low quality, but you’ll pay for it in your electric bill month after month for the rest of your life.

Estimated Costs: $120 per window for stock sizes, $250 per window for custom options

Doors For A Tiny House

tiny house doors

I wanted to try my hand at building my own door and this was one thing that I struggled with immensely.  Even with the help of my Grandfather who is quite a skilled woodworker, we had a tough time building the door.  If I had to do it all over again I’d go with a metal or composite door bought from a manufacturer.

The problem you face with doors is they have to be exceedingly accurate and that is compounded by how wood moves, warps, and twists.  We employed a lot of techniques to stabilized the wood within the door, but in the end my door is still far from perfect.  Do yourself a favor, have a door manufacturer build your door for you.

Estimated Costs: $500 for self built door, $800 for basic manufactured door $1,500 good to high-end manufactured door

Roofing Options For A THOW

tiny house roofing options

The roof is a critical part of a tiny house, it keeps your investment safe from water.  It’s not something to do casually, you need to really nail it or it can spell disaster for you.  For a tiny house on wheels that you might want to move, metal roofing is the only practical option.  I opted for standing seam metal, which is amazing, but a ribbed metal or corrugated metal roof can work too.

The tricky parts of doing a metal roof is in bending all the custom bits to fit your edges, valleys, drip edges, and skylights.  That last one, skylights, are notorious for leaks on any roof, so make sure you follow the manufacture directions, most of them sell kits that cost an arm and a leg, but I’d just bite the bullet on that, it’s that important.

If you’re thinking of asphalt shingles, don’t bother.  They are too heavy and they get torn off while driving down the road.

Estimated Costs: $1,000 for ribbed metal, $2,000 for standing seam

Insulating Your Tiny House

tiny house insulation

Much like windows, insulation is one of those things that you spend a little more and you save each month for years.  The return on your investment is huge, so don’t skimp here.

In the early days I’d suggest a few options like standard fiberglass bats, foam board, and even sheep’s wool.  Now that I’ve been working with tiny houses for over a decade, I see how those options have their failings.  I now unilaterally recommend closed cell spray foam.

The benefits of spray foam are many, but ability to seal your thermal envelope, it’s water resistance, and its ability to prevent condensation issues are leaps ahead of any other option.  Not only that, but it has the highest R value per inch out of any other practical option.

So this is an easy one, go with closed cell spray foam.  If you have a contractor that recommends open cell, send them packing.

Estimated Costs: $3 per square foot for 3 inches thick (R 21)

Lumber To Build Your House

tiny house lumber

This can have a wide range of prices depending on what finish quality you go after, but for your standard framing pieces it’s all about the same.  There are two real buckets of lumber that you’ll need: framing and finish.

Framing for a tiny house will be very affordable, a few hundred dollar, up to about $1000 for the whole house depending on it’s size and any specialized beams like Glue-Lams.  There isn’t much price difference here, with the exception of treated vs untreated lumber.

Finish woods are where you can spend some real money, from a few hundred to a few thousand.  At it’s simplest you could build out your interior cabinets and built ins with MDF which runs about $35 a sheet.  My preference is Birch Ply which runs about $50 a sheet because I can stain it or paint it, it’s a much nicer project.  The only non sheet good products you’ll use is timber beams for your accents and loft framing.  For that I spent about $80 per beam and had 5 of them.

Estimated Cost: $500-$4,000

Flooring Options For Your Tiny House

Flooring Options For Your Tiny House

Flooring is one area that you can look for savings on. You can find reclaimed flooring, you can buy short lots of flooring, and you can even go with a cheap option now and upgrade later.  I’ve even seen people do a finished floor with plywood.

So when it comes to flooring you can really run the gamut depending on the price you want to spend.  For me I went with a solid hardwood maple floor that was about $4 a square foot.

Estimated Cost: $0.50-$8 per square foot

Electrical/Plumbing In A Tiny House

Electrical and Plumbing In A Tiny House

Wiring and plumbing your tiny house can be done pretty affordably if you want to do it yourself, if you need to hire a trades person, then it’s going to cost you.  it’s important to note that by law in many places you need a permit and the work needs to be done by a licensed electrician or plumber.

In my area an electrician costs between $75 and $150 an hour, plumbers are about the same.  For me, what I did was have the electrician do the main breaker panel connection and setup, then I did the rest of the work.  For the plumber, I had everything done and just had him come in and do all my crimps for me and check over my work.

The thing with electrical and plumbing most of the money and the variability in the price is in the labor, the parts are what they are, you’re not going to be able to shop for better prices because they are such a commoditization type of goods.  The copper, brass, etc that makes up the raw materials are what they are.  Figure about $300-$500 in electrical stuff and $300-$500 in plumbing items.  This doesn’t include finished stuff like faucet, shower, etc, just the actual connections.

Estimated Cost: $750-$3,000

Fixtures

I’m lumping in things like your lights, bathtubs, shower stalls, sinks, mounted fans, etc.  You can do this very cheaply outside of the shower, I’ve found that you can only get so low with a simple 32″x32″ shower stall for around $400.  You could technically do it cheaper, but I’ve found they often fail and lead to massive water damage.

Sinks can cost $50 or cost $500, my sink cost me about $225 for a nice stainless steel under mounted sink.  My light fixtures were pretty cheap, a bunch of $10 puck lights and a $80 ceiling fan.

Estimated Cost: $1,000-$5,000

Fasteners And Adhesives

tiny house fasteners and adhesives

This is one category that people always forget to budget for and it’s something you can’t reuse or find second hand.  You need quality fasteners and glues that are new because you need to know exactly what you’re getting for safety sake.  Code also has very specific rules around this.

For me I spend around $1500 for all my nails, screws, metal strapping, glues, and various metal ties.

Estimated Cost: $1,500

Tiny House Costs: Build Vs. Buying From A Builder

build vs buy a tiny house

Here’s the truth, if you want someone to build you a tiny house, it’s going to cost you big time.  Tiny houses came into being because you could save yourself so much money because of two things:  They’re smaller in sized and you could build it yourself.  There is no way around it, having a tiny house builder build you a tiny house will cost more money.

The rule of thumb I tell people is take the cost of the materials and then double it.  About 50%-60% of the cost of a home (tiny or traditional) is in the labor.  So a tiny house that costs $10,000 in materials, will cost about $20,000-$25,000 from a builder.  A tiny house that is $30k in materials, will cost around $60,000-$75,000 for a builder to build it for you.  If you use a builder, make sure to get a contract!

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.

Tiny Houses Cost Money, But It’s Worth It

tiny houses worth the effort

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.

Your Turn!

  • What costs are you considering when it comes to your tiny house?
  • What budget are you working with for a tiny house?