How Much Should Tiny House Plans Cost?

So over at Treehugger they posed a good question: How much should at Tiny House cost?

My first gut reaction is that if a normal house plans cost $2500-$5000 for your 3000 square foot home that it essentially costs $1-$3 per square foot at retail.  With that logic we could pay $150 to $450 for a Tiny House.  Now we should recognize that the cost of developing a set of plans can be costly.  I know from talking to Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed has about a 6 month development process.   Once they do develop these plans they can sell them over and over, since they are digital, there is no reproduction cost and next to no distribution cost as its via email.

I guess I look at it this way.  There are two factors: what the market will bear and what is the ethical price.  Now some would argue that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive, while others wouldn’t give a single thought to ethics.  I won’t go into what the market will bear, because that’s pretty straight forward.

Why Ethics?  In my thought process I have come to focus on some things.  Primarily that everyone has the right to clean water to drink, good food to eat, and a safe place sleep.  In the United States I generally think people have access to free clean water, but will integrate water into my other efforts.  So I focus my efforts on food and housing.

For food I work to develop community gardens and consult to get new ones started. Local food that is highly diversified, decentralized, and sustainable is key to a healthy planet, a healthy community and essential for food security.  For housing I think Tiny Houses are the key to connecting those without a safe place to sleep with a place to call home.  I have looked at the solutions around and feel it is the most viable.

Now certainly as a business it is smart to have different price points for certain segments of consumers, which will be higher.  Tiny Houses are very affordable to their McMansion counterparts, but is being less than a large house enough?  Wouldn’t it be neat if Tumbleweed were to develop a free house plan that was ultra low cost?  From another view point, that housing is a right, what should the cost be?  Free?  $10? $100?

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  1. while materials may be able to be scaled down on a tiny house, the planning and engineering of one cannot. In fact, it would take MORE effort to design a structure with all the amenities of traditional housing packed into a structure 1/10th of the size. You said it yourself; it takes Tumbleweed six months to bring a new design to market. That’s a long time compared to what a McArchitect can crank out for a cookie-cutter design.

    Architects and engineers deserve to eat, too. To think that hundreds of hours of development result in a product that nets 10 bucks a pop is wishful thinking.

  2. The plans would vary depending on what is being asked to do. A custom set of plans requires many hours, meetings -virtual or otherwise- and sometimes several rounds of plans. Custom plans take time and effort. That is the initial part, and the next part of the process is answering as they arise, and there will be questions, and more details needed. At Tiny Green Cabins, a custom plan starts at $799 and that includes 2 rounds of drafting. Also included is a basic material list. Once those plans are done, then they can be reproduced at a lower rate. And I have yet to see someone who wants just the plan without some form of a modification to them. We are a custom cabin builder and as such we do not see requests for stock plans that often. If, the buyer then purchases a cabin/tiny house, the plan fee is then refunded by crediting the sale price, the cost of the plans.

  3. As a general contractor in the remodeling industry I am familiar with having to pay drafting fee’s for projects that we are working on, and the time that it takes to draft them. When you include “Green” attributes to plans, and then condense the scale of the project it can add a lot of difficulties. Especially when trying to figure out how to fit it all in, plumbing, water storage, electrical,and heat sources all take up a lot of space. If Tumblweed spend six months designing a plan, that is six months of time, energy, and costs that he has to try and recover as a business. Charging $500.00 plus does not seem outlandish at all for a “box cut” design that someone spent 6 month designing to eliminate all of the hassles you would face if you tried to design one yourself, and for custom plans the price would go up.

  4. This is a hard question due to variety.

    I answered for what I would be interested in, something small trailerable and not subject to housing codes.

  5. We look at the tumbleweed plans as, essentially, a work of art deserving proper compensation. Once we met with Jay and we were convinced this was the right move for us we gladly paid the price. It has been worth it for the phone consultations alone.

  6. I sell mine for $30 a pop, I will be offering them starting in February, I have been a residential homes builder for 25 years and know exactly how long plans take to make and put down on either paper or digitally.

    • I love the tiny houses. I am looking to convert a cargo trailer into a tiny house/toy hauler. I love the look of the interior of the tiny house. I need interior plans only, so the price is a little to much to pay for my purpose.

    • Do you still sell your plans for $30? Do they have running water and plumbing figured in? About how many feet are they?

  7. I can appreciate that it takes a lot of work to create tiny house plans, and those who do the work should be compensated. Since that process is outside my scope of expertise, I will gladly pay for someone else’s skills. I just think it makes better sense to charge no more than $150.00 for the plans and probably reach hundreds of people who can afford that price rather than $500.00 and only reach a small number of people who can justify paying that.

  8. As in so much else in life, plans vary greatly in how good they are: how buildable, how complete, how workable the finished result is, how easy they are to construct and how economical to both build and life in. To think that it is unfortunate that everyone cannot afford a particular plan is certainly a fair observation of life itself; I cannot afford much that I would like to have in life, either.
    As for a certain “retail price per square foot” that is an illusion, not the least because the parts that you spend the most time on are present in a home regardless of its size–and shrinking things down and still making them convenient and workable is at times extremely difficult and time-consuming.
    There are various plans out there you can indeed get for free–such as the “Solar House Plan” shed-roof design from the Tiny House Design blog. (That one is actually pretty functional and should be considered by more folks, I think.)
    Oh, yes–the after-sale services can be very important, particularly for first-time builders who need a bit of hand-holding. If that time and effort is not obtained in the price of the plans, it may be a separate charge if, indeed, it is offered at all.
    Sorry, but I think you are ‘way off base on this one. Let the market decide what a particular plan or plan source is worth.

  9. As a person who is downsizing due to the economy, $800 to $900 is really hard for me to justify or come up with; on the other hand, I’m sure that many design issues have been worked out over the years with the Tumbleweed house plans. I think that they are probably well worth the money, but its unlikely that I’ll be purchasing them, alas.

  10. One % of the value of the finished house is fair. Consulting is additional. Christopher Alexander claims a builder who has the internal design sense that brings life to a building doesn’t need plans.

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