Posts Tagged Construction

Tiny House Tools – What I Used To Build My Tiny House

Tiny House Tools – What I Used To Build My Tiny House

Tiny House Tools

ryan tiny house and the tools he used to build itHi, I’m Ryan
I’m often asked about what tiny house tools I used to build my tiny home. Having helped build over 3,000 tiny houses, I’ve learned a few things about what tools you really need and what you don’t. There are some places where you can save money on tools and others where you want to buy the best you can afford.

So, what tools do you need to build a tiny house?


Hand Tool Recommendations For Building A Tiny House

Hand Tool Recommendations For Building A Tiny House

It’s funny how some tools greatly benefit from being powered while other hold their own despite being dead simple. There are a few hands tools that do just that — they get the job done.

Hammer: Estwing E3-16S Hammer

Estwing E3-16S Hammer

There are small cult followings around which hammer brand is the best: Eastwing, Martinez, Craftsman, Irwin. My recommendation is to look for a solid metal or composite handle that feels good in your hands and is around 16 oz. These are pretty commoditized so prices are all affordable. Expect to spend $20 to $40 on a hammer. For that price you’re striking (ha!) a nice balance of good quality without overspending.

The Eastwing E3-16S Hammer sits in the sweet spot of good value and decent quality. For around $25, you can have a good hammer that will serve you well, get the job done, and not cost a whole lot.


Ryan’s Hammer Recommendation:

Vice Grip Pliers: Irwin Locking Grip Vice Grips Set

Irwin Locking Grip Vice Grips Set

Vice grips are my all-time favorite tool. If Ductape and WD-40 are universal go-to tools, vice grips are right behind them. If you’re not familiar, they are essentially pliers that have a cam in them that locks down the jaws to hold the item tightly. You can lock it down and let it go and it will still hold fast.

I’d suggest going with the original brand, which is Irwin, and have at least a large curved jaw and a small curved jaw. These came in handy so many times when building my tiny house, let me tell you.


Ryan’s Vice Grip Recommendation:

Screw Drivers: Craftsman Screwdriver Set

Craftsman Screwdriver Set

Really any name brand will do here. You’ll want a smaller and larger version of both phillips head and flathead. Get something that seems pretty sturdy, feels good in your hand, and isn’t part of some large set. You’re shooting for something that isn’t the cheapest, but one step up. Some of the cheaper sets out there will be made of very low-quality metal and only lead to stripping your screw heads.


Ryan’s Screwdriver Recommendation:

how to build a tiny house

Box Cutter: Metal Body Box Cutter

Metal Body Box Cutter

My suggestion is to look for something that you can change the blade on, has a retractable blade, and has an all metal body. For $5 you can get a decent one, so I’d suggest whatever looks good to you. You may want to consider having a few of these lying around — they’re often sold in multi-packs.

Make sure to pick up some replacement blades.


Ryan’s Box Cutter Recommendation:

Wire Pliers

Wire Pliers

These specialized pliers were something that I didn’t initially think I needed, but as soon as I got into wiring my tiny house I realized my regular pliers weren’t going to cut it. I picked up a pair of purpose built electricians pliers and twisting and stripping wires went much faster.


Ryan’s Pliers Recommendation:

Hand Chisel

hand chisel

These were things that I didn’t use often, but the few times I needed them they were super helpful. I’d get a small set of these for the few times you’ll need to notch out a board, clean up a joint etc.


Ryan’s Hand Chisel Recommendation:

Pry Bar: Estwing 21 Inch Nail Puller

Estwing 21 Inch Nail Puller

There just comes a time when you need to tear something out. You’re most likely a brand new builder, so mistakes happen. This pry bar plus a Sawzall are the solutions to those mistakes more often than not. You really can get any nail puller. It’s just a strong piece of metal that let’s you lever out nails and pull apart boards.


Ryan’s Pry Bar Recommendation:

Pex Water Line Cutters: SharkBite U701 PEX Cutting Tool

SharkBite U701 PEX Cutting Tool

Plumbing often comes with some specialty tools, but using quick fit connectors in your PEX will avoid most of that. The cutters are really important to make sure you cut your PEX cleanly so they seat properly into your fittings. For only $13, you can have a great cutter that will make quick work of your PEX lines.


Ryan’s Pex Cutters Recommendation:


tiny house plumbing

Power Tool Recommendations For Tiny Home Construction

Power Tool Recommendations For Tiny Home Construction

Having the right power tools is critical to getting the job done. A good set will let you make more accurate cuts, prevent your arm from getting tired, and make quick work of things when it comes to building your tiny home.

Impact Driver

Impact Driver

If you’ve never used an impact driver before, let me introduce you to your new best friend. Next to my miter saw, my impact driver was the one power tool I reached for more times than I can count.

If you’ve only used a drill before, an impact driver is similar, but with a lot more torque. A normal drill will have around 400 foot pounds of torque while an impact driver will have around 2,000 foot pounds of torque.

Impact Driver bitsSo what does that even mean? It means that you can drive in screws without pre-drilling holes and you can drive in much larger, structural screws that replace the need for large lag bolts. I’ve been able to drive home 10” high shear screws without any fuss, whereas a normal drill wouldn’t be able to get them an inch in.

Why does this matter? Because with this one tool alone, you’ll cut out the need for pre drilling in all your rough carpentry, meaning 50% less operations. When we’re talking about build a whole house, 50% less operations is a big deal!

My suggestion here is to buy brand new, have at least three batteries, and buy a major brand name. This is a place you want to splurge because you’ll be using this all day, every day. These are often sold as a combo pack with a drill, charger, and two batteries which will get you setup nicely. Plan on spending $200 to $400, and instead of getting the cheapest tiers/price points, I’d suggest buying one or two steps up.

You’ll hear people be dogmatic about their brand, but if you buy DeWalt, Milwaukee, or Makita, you really can’t go wrong. It’s often best to stick within one brand for battery-powered tools so you can share your batteries among them.


Ryan’s Driver Recommendation:

Battery Powered Drill

cordless drill

A drill is another really great power tool to have. Like I said above, you’ll be using your impact driver a lot, but a drill comes in handy for drilling holes, which you’ll later sink a screw into with your impact driver.

Drills also have a smoother, more consistent spin to them, making drilling holes with a bit much easier. Think of a drill as the tool for drilling holes into wood, while impact drivers are used exclusively for driving screws into wood.

Having two tools — a drill and an impact driver — means you can pre-drill a hole when needed and then without changing bits, drive the screw in. This will speed your work up a lot and is just plain convenient.

My suggestion is to figure out what impact driver you want, then look for a combo kit that includes both the impact driver and drill. The drill included will be pretty evenly matched in quality and the kit should include both tools, a bag/case, a charger, and often two batteries.


Ryan’s Drill Recommendation:

Power Tool Batteries and Chargers

cordless drill batteries

Extra power tool batteries are usually pretty expensive, but having a good battery is key. When it comes to NiCad vs. Lithium Ion, Lithium Ion is the way to go for weight, performance and it’s ability to hold a charge. There are many brands with cult followings, but any of the major brands will suit your needs. If you don’t know, these batteries use a proprietary connector, so you’ll have to use the same brand of batteries that your power tools are.

The cheapest way to get batteries is when you buy them as part of a kit. I will often figure out what tool I want, then go find it in a combo. Tools sold as a “bare tool” or in these combos typically include a case and extra batteries.

My suggestion is to have three batteries between your drill and impact driver. This allows you to have a battery in each tool and a third on the charger at all times. Again, this just helps you be efficient in your work. You’ll also make your life easier if all your tools can fit any of your batteries (e.g. the same brand).

For my tiny house build I found that the charger included with the drill and impact driver was enough for my needs. They do sell multi chargers, but I found that if I had one in my drill and the other on the charger I never ran out.

Driver Bits

Driver Bits

While you’re at it, pick up some impact driver bits. These are a little bit higher quality than standard bits because of how much more force is involved. These use a universal connector, so for the bits, any brand will fit in any other brand’s impact driver. If you’d like a suggestion, I’d get a set of 2” long ones for every day (like these 2” impact driver bits) and then a few longer ones (like these 6” bits) to have on hand. I also like to use screws with a Robertson (aka square) drive for less slippage, so if you use those, here is a good option for Robertson driver bits.

The last thing to know is that branded bit sets come in boxes that will neatly store in the tool’s case, so I bought this driver bit set and it fits perfectly.


Ryan’s Driver Bits Recommendation:

tiny house building checklist

Drill Bits

Drill Bits

You’re also going to want to have a set of bits for your drill. Many brands make small kits in a nice case that will cover all your needs. Figure spending around $20 to $40 for these sets.

Any brand of drill bits will fit in any drill, but one think to consider is the boxes they come in. If you buy the same brand as your drill, some of them are designed to fit in their own hard cases. For example, this DeWalt bit set fits perfectly in their hard drill cases. It’s a little thing, but it makes it very convenient to fit two tools with batteries, a charger, and a bit set and driver set all in one box.


Ryan’s Drill Bits Recommendation:

Spade Bits

Spade Bits

If you’ve never seen these before, they allow you to make certain size holes from 1/8th of an inch up to around 2 inches. You should really only use these for rough carpentry because they can be hard to control and result in a rough hole.

That said, they are super useful when it comes to running wires or other smaller hole needs where precision isn’t necessarily the goal. For these, I’d get something with good reviews, but you don’t have to spend a lot for your needs.

This budget spade bit set will cost you about $16 that should suit your needs. For myself, I decided to spend a little bit more for a spade bit set that came in nice hard plastic box. I just find that a storage box keeps things organized a bit better as it jostles around in my toolbox.


Ryan’s Spade Bits Recommendation:

Hole Saws

Hole Saws

These are circular saw bits that cut larger holes with your drill. A spade bit is good for making holes up to about 1.5” to 2”, but beyond that you’ll want to have a hole saw. The main use for these is cutting holes for shower and toilet drains in your floor, your mini split passthrough in your side wall, and vent fan wall connections.

They sell some budget versions that come with a lot of different sizes. I just waited until I had a need for one andbought the size I needed. Lenox is the main name brand, but you don’t need to spend a lot here because you’ll only need to cut a few larger holes during your entire build.


Ryan’s Hole Saw Recommendation:

how much does a tiny house cost

Corded Power Tools You’ll Need To Build A Tiny House

Corded Power Tools You Will Need To Build A Tiny House

There are some power tools that I prefer to have in a corded option. While I often like the convenience of cordless, sometimes a corded version gives you more power, although this has been changed a lot in recent years as battery powered tools can actually be more powerful in some cases.

One area I usually opt for the corded version is with any tool I buy for a very specific, one-time use job. For example, my Sawzall, or reciprocating saw, is corded because I rarely use it and the corded version is about 1/3 the price of its equivalent in power and quality cordless cousin.

Miter Saw

Miter Saw

A miter saw or compound miter saw is one of the tools, next to an impact driver, that you’ll use most during your build. It is incredibly useful during your tiny house build and is one place I suggest you dedicate some of your dollars to splurge on.

You’re going to want to stick with a name brand in a size that can easily cut both a 2×10 board and a 4×4 post in a single cut each. If your saw can cover those two things, you’ll be able to do most cuts easily on the saw. Plan to spend $200 to $500 here on a brand new, high-quality miter saw.

These saws come in three main sizes, is the difference being the size in diameters of the blades they use: 7.5”, 10”, and 12”. The smaller 7.5” is fine for weekend warriors or hobbyist, but is too small for the size of the project that is building a whole house. The 10” saws are ideal for 95% of your cuts, especially if the saw is specified to cut the above size lumber. While it can be tempting to get a 12” miter saw, I think it’s mostly unnecessary.

The area I might consider really splurging is on a sliding miter saw. A miter saw built on a slide allows you to cut wider boards. If I were to buy a sliding saw today, I’d opt for a Bosch glide arm miter saw because it gives you the advantages of a sliding saw without needing a lot of depth. This saves space if you’re building in a shop, and I believe we’ll see more brands come up with their own version in the coming years.


Ryan’s Miter Saw Recommendation:

Table Saw

Table Saw

A table saw is something you could do without, instead using a circular saw. I was able to find a good deal on a table saw one Black Friday that met my needs for cheap. Table saws are really useful for breaking down sheet goods like plywood or OSB.

A table saw will provide you with the ability to make the most accurate cuts on your sheet goods. You can do a lot with a circular saw, but I think you can still rely on a table saw being more accurate. I wouldn’t spend a lot of money here, but entry level saws start at around $300 and go up to around $600.

If I were to build a tiny house again, I think I’d skip a table saw and opt for the next item.


Ryan’s Table Saw Recommendation:

Track Saw

Track Saw

A track saw is essentially a circular saw that slides along a track which makes your cuts way more accurate. If I were to do it again, I’d go with a high-quality track saw cutting on the ground with a piece of foam under the plywood.

Track saws have recently really come into their own. There are several brands that made good quality saws, and prices have also come down recently. The top three saws right now are the Makita SP6000J, the DEWALT DWS520K, and the more expensive Festool TS 55 REQ-F-Plus.

If I were to buy one today, I’d go with the Makita. This saw seems to be a very popular choice that a lot of my woodworking friends have recommended to me. At around $450 with the track, it’s not cheap, but track saws in general are pretty pricey.

The biggest reason I’d suggest this over a table saw is that I find it gives you more control when it comes to cutting sheet goods. I’ve used table saws on and off for 20 years as a hobbyist woodworker, but I still don’t feel 100% comfortable with them, especially with boards being able to get kicked back at me.

A track saw lets you set your track exactly where you need it and stays put. Working on the ground on top of foam makes the wood easy to cut and, because you can stand or kneel on top of the sheet itself, your wood doesn’t move. All this adds up to being able to make very accurate cuts while supporting the piece firmly and mitigating risks like table saw kick back. It does all of this well and is much easier than I find cutting with a table saw.


Ryan’s Track Saw Recommendation:

Circular Saw

Circular Saw

A circular saw is a very practical tool for cutting boards, sheet goods, and more. I don’t use my circular saw much, but when I need it, it is great. I’ve opted for a corded version of this because I don’t use it much and often use it on the ground. A corded version is also less expensive.

The saw I recommend is very popular and pretty affordable: the Dewalt DWE575SB is a great saw that you can’t really go wrong with — and for $139, it’s a great choice. I don’t usually recommend one brand over another, but this one has seemed to attract a lot of high praise even from builders who are usually loyal to other brands.


Ryan’s Circular Saw Recommendation:

Orbital Palm Sander

Orbital Palm Sander

A sander is one of those must-have tools when it comes to finish woodworking. There are a few types of sanders out there, but the orbital style sander is really the only one you’ll need for building a tiny house. There were a fewtimes when I needed to sand away a lot of material quickly, and for that I borrowed someone’s belt sander.

The orbital sander essentially makes a random circular-ish sanding motion. This means you won’t have a sanding pattern show up in the pieces you sand, which is what you want. I’ve used a lot of them, but this Bosch Orbital Sander seems to strike the balance of high quality for a pretty affordable price. I actually have two of these and have used them a lot.

When you buy a sander, pick up a large pack of 80 grit, 120 grit, and 220 grit paper discs with a hole pattern that matches your sander. I’d also recommend corded tools here.


Ryan’s Sander Recommendation:

how to design the perfect tiny house

Router

Router

A router is a tool that will modify wood edges to make them into different profiles. It’s also used to route out channels in wood to slide pieces of plywood in for things like shelves. This is definitely a finish woodworking tool and not entirely necessary, but it is certainly nice to have.


Ryan’s Router Recommendation:

Jig Saw

Jig Saw

This is one of those tools that you won’t need to use a lot, but when you do, it will be the only tool that can do the job. It’s mainly used to cut out curves in plywood, so I’d suggest going with a budget brand here and maybe even considering used.


Ryan’s Jigsaw Recommendation:

Oscillating Saw

Oscillating Saw

Rockwell is the brand to beat in this category of tools. When I first saw these come on the market, I dismissed them as some useless tool that was sold to weekend warriors who had no clue what they were doing with more money than they had sense. Now I’m an unabashed convert and I own this oscillating saw kit for $133.

These tools are great for making square plunge cuts into a face of wood. Outlets are a great example of this. Oscillating saws are one of those tools that can do a few things well, but they aren’t going to replace any other tool in your toolbox. This is very nice to have, but not required.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Sawzall / Reciprocating Saw

Sawzall Reciprocating Saw

A Sawzall is another one of those tools that shines when you need it. I referred to mine as “the problem solver” — when I made a mistake, it took care of it. These really come in handy when you accidently nail something with a rink shank nail (which are nearly impossible to pull out) and need to cut them out.


Ryan’s Sawzall Recommendation:

Measuring Tools For A Tiny House

Measuring Tools For A Tiny House

Being able to measure and cut accurately is something that seems easy, but to do it consistently is easier said than done. Here are the measuring tools you’ll need for building your tiny house.

Speed Square

Speed Square

A speed square was one of those tools I hadn’t used much before my tiny house build, but which quickly found a place on my toolbelt. I was constantly using it to extend my marks across boards, as a saw guide for straighter cuts, and for rafter cutting.


Speed Square Recommendation:

Combination Square

Combination Square

A combination square does a lot of the same things that a speed square does, but has some other features that make it useful. Because the ruler slides through your shoulder piece, it’s great for measuring depths, setting blade and router bit heights, comparing depths of two cuts, and more.

Its main use is for more complicated joinery in your finish work, but I found myself using it throughout my build process.


Combo Square Recommendation:

Spirit Level

Spirit Level

A level is critical to making sure things line up and stay straight. Make sure you get your tiny house trailer totally level before starting and continuously check it along the way. I’d suggest buying two levels from your local big box store: a 24-inch version and a 6-foot version. Don’t cheap out here — I’d recommend purchasing the best you can find.

Carpenter’s Square

Carpenters Square

A carpenter’s square is for checking right angles. Get a big one so you can quickly check how accurate your 90-degree angles are over more than a few inches. It also makes quick work of putting down cut marks on your sheet goods when you’re breaking them down. I went with a 24” model and that’s what I suggest you get as well.

Carpenter’s Pencil

Carpenters Pencil

This seems like a simple thing, but a carpenter’s pencil is something I recommend to a lot of first-time tiny house builders. They have a flat side so you can more accurately and easily draw along a board surface. The flat side also means they won’t roll away if you put it down on a table, they’re great to use as a spacer when doing deck boards and the likes, and they make scribing easier. I’d get a big box of them — I often started my day by tossing a few in each area I was going to work so I always had one at hand.


Ryan’s Pencil Recommendation:

Pneumatic Tools That Will Make Building A Tiny House Easier

Pneumatic Tools That Will Make Building A Tiny House Easier

This class of tools was intimidating when I first started, but after teaching myself the ins and outs, I’ve come to love them. If there is one set of tools that will make building a tiny house easier, it’s these. The labor they save you is huge and means you can get more done quickly and easily.

The other thing that these help you with is wear and tear on your body. If you talk to some old timer framers, you’ll quickly learn that building a house is hard on the body. Most of you reading aren’t builders or contractors and that means you’re not used to this kind of work. Do yourself a favor and get these tools — you’ll thank me for it later.

Air Tool Combo Kits

Air Tool Combo Kits

This is a great way to get started and, if you’re building a tiny house, it’s all you really need. I was worried that this 6-gallon pancake compressor wouldn’t keep up, but not once was I left waiting for it to catch back up.

These kits are great and I’d suggest one to anyone wanting to build a tiny home. The only additional things I’d suggest are a palm nailer, an extra hose, and a framing nailer; more on that next.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

6-Gallon Air Compressor

6-Gallon Air Compressor

The heart of any pneumatic system is the compressor, which makes pressured air that will power all your tools. A standard 6-gallon pancake compressor is all you’ll need. Just make sure you get a name brand and consider buying new because the combo kits are so affordable.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Finishing Nail Gun

Finishing Nail Gun

A finishing nailer uses small 16-gauge nails that have a very low-profile head. These are only to be used in finishing work, as they aren’t suited for anything structural. The narrow head means the nail will make a very small hole in the finished piece that you can either fill or leave as is.


Ryan’s Finish Nailer Recommendation:

Framing Nailer

Framing Nailer

A framing nailer is what you’ll use when doing anything structural. The nails it can drive are much larger and heavier, specifically 3” .131 ring shank nails, which you’ll be framing your tiny home with. You could use a hammer to drive these, but a framing nailer, which can be had for $86 brand new, is too affordable to not use. Plus as I mentioned earlier, this will save your body a lot of pain.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Palm Nailer

Palm Nailer

A palm nailer is a neat little air hammer that fits in the palm of your hand. For tiny home building, I used it for two main areas: nailing in siding and nailing Tico nails into joist hangers and tiedowns. Both those applications can be done with a one-off specialty nail gun, but since we’re not professional builders that will use them over and over, a palm nailer is the perfect solution.


Ryan’s Palm Nailer Recommendation:

Air Hose

Air Hose

If you get the combo kit I mentioned above, it will come with a low-quality hose that I found to be quite serviceable for my build, but I also did go out and buy a second hose. These hoses have universal connectors, so you don’t have to worry about mixing and matching brands.

At the start of my day, I’d set up my work station and tools, then would run one hose to my house for my nail gun and a second hose to my cut station with a blow gun to blow off dust as I made my cuts. Not necessary, but definitely helped make things go a little faster.


Ryan’s Air Hose Recommendation:

how to build a tiny house

Other Tools You’ll Need To Build A Tiny House

Other Tools You Will Need To Build A Tiny House

There are a few other items you’ll need to build your tiny home. Most of these fall into the safety category, so they should be considered carefully. Make sure your safety equipment works for you andis comfortable and easy, that way you’ll be more apt to use them and stay safe.

Ear Protection

Ear Protection

Do yourself a favor and figure out ear protection that works for you. A lot of people like over the head ear muffs, but because I wear glasses, I found ear plugs to be more practical for me. I picked up a big box of them at the start of my build, that way I never had the excuse of not having some. The box linked to here is a pack of 200 sets all individually wrapped, which was perfect to give to any friends and family who showed up to help.


Ear Protection Recommendation:

Eye Protection

Eye Protection

Like the above, have a few of these on hand for you and anyone who comes to help you. I wear glasses normally, so I didn’t really think about these, but I did have a set on hand for helpers.


Eye Protection Recommendation:

Work Gloves

Work Gloves

If you are anything like me, you don’t come from a construction background. In fact, during my tiny house build, I built on the weekends and went to my corporate job in HR during the week. The point being that my hands weren’t toughened up like a trade persons’ hands would be.

Gloves save you a lot of wear and tear until you can toughen up your hands. I kept a few pairs of these Mechanix brand gloves on hand and I love them.


Ryan’s Work Gloves Recommendation:

Mask

Filtration Mask

People will have their own preferences here. Find something that works for you so that you’ll actually use it.

Clamps

Quick Clamps

You’re going to need a slew of clamps during your build process. I’d start out with a basic clamp set like the Irwin Quick Grips and then see what you need from there.


Ryan’s Clamps Recommendation:

Tool Belt

Tool Belt

I started out using a tool belt all the time, but later on I only wore it when I was up on a ladder or climbing around on a roof. Go to your local big box store and try on some to see what works for you. I also used a smaller apron just to hold whatever fastener I was using and a 5 gallon bucket to hold everything else.

Ladders

Ladders

I used three ladders throughout my build and I don’t know that I could have done with any fewer. First I had a 24-inch tall platform that was useful for things when I just needed a little bit of height. Then I also used an 8-foot ladder and a 20-foot extension ladder for working on the roof.


Ryan’s Ladder Recommendation:

tiny house building checklist

Final Thoughts On Tools For Building A Tiny House

Final Thoughts On Tools For Building A Tiny House

As you can see, you’re going to need a lot of tools to make your tiny home happen. I think all told, I spent about $2,000 on new tools to build my tiny home, but you might be able to get away with less. Buying used tools can be a great way to save some money, but I’d steer clear of used battery power tools and measuring tools.

There are a few things that you might only need once during your build, so borrowing a tool here and there is the way to go in those instances. I didn’t know anyone with tools outside of your basics, so I had to buy a few extras. There are also some tools that it makes sense to rent — a flooring nail gun was one I rented.

The other thing to budget for is all the fasteners, plates, adhesives, paints, and sealants you’ll need to use with these. I spent about $1,500 on just these and was shocked how much that all added up to.

I hope this was helpful in figuring out what tools you’ll need to build your tiny house.

Your Turn!

  • What tool for a tiny house build did I miss? What would you add?

Tiny House Roof – Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roof – Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roofing Options

NAVIGATION

roofing detailsRoof Detailsvented roofingVented vs Unventedroofing profilesRoof Profilesroof framingRoof Framingroofing optionsRoof Options

When I built my own tiny home, my tiny house roof was something I took a lot of time and care to install. A roof defines the character of your house, keeps the rain away, and protects everything under it, so making sure you get this right is crucial.

Your roof seems simple at first, but it has a lot of things that go into it. In this post I’ll get into what types of tiny house roofs you can choose from, what materials to consider, how to insulate your tiny house roof and whether should you vent your roof or not.

But first I want you to understand that a tiny house roof is not a single piece — it’s actually made up of several layers that make up the roof system. Understanding this system is critical to building a roof for your tiny home that will keep your house in good repair for a long time.

What Does A Roof Do For A Tiny Home

What Does A Roof Do For A Tiny Home

Let’s start out with what a roof does, because after teaching so many people how to build one, I’ve seen some common misconceptions. Making sure your roof is done properly relies on you getting the details right.

Your Roof Controls Four Things: Rain, Air, Vapor and Thermal Transfer

Roof Controls Four Things

I learned these from when I was building my own tiny house, but years later I was turned onto Joseph Lstiburek’s Perfect Wall concept over at the Building Science Council which summarizes it perfectly. He talks about how your outer system needs to have these four things to make a high performing wall, which he then goes on to show how that perfect wall turned sideways is also the perfect roof.

When we start to think about our roof, it’s helpful to think of it in layers. Each layer has an important function and the order matters. If we can get each layer right and in the correct order, we will have a great roof that will protect our tiny home.

The first thing a roof has to do is keep water off the rest of the structure with shingles, metal panels, etc. Water seeping into your tiny house will do a lot of damage, and ensuring a roof doesn’t leak when you have complicated dormers, valleys, or roof penetrations is no easy task.

how to build a tiny houseThe next thing we want to do is control air flow through our system. This again seems straight forward — just seal it up. But having a perfect air seal transition from where the roof meets the top of your wall, going around air vents, and working around insulation can be quite tricky. Having a well air-sealed house is very important to having an efficient tiny house.

While many people focus on insulating their roof, air sealing will actually make a bigger difference. In fact, a well-sealed house that’s poorly insulated is dramatically better than a well-insulated house that is poorly sealed.

With air comes vapor and that moisture-laden air can lead to mold in your tiny house if not controlled. It’s often the case that the layer that prevents air from entering into your roof structure also is the same that prevents moisture from entering too, like with Tyvek or tar paper.

The last layer, and least important of them all, is the thermal layer. Insulating your tiny house roof is an important step to building your roof system, but won’t mean much if you can’t first control water, air, and vapor. The roof of your tiny home will need to be more insulated than your walls or floors because heat rises. Typically roof insulation is two to three times the R value of your wall insulation.

Vented Vs. Unvented Tiny House Roofs

Vented Vs Unvented Tiny House Roofs

A big decision to make about your roof is whether it is vented or unvented. The distinction is pretty obvious, but the details are again very important.

Vented Tiny House Roof

Vented Roof on a tiny house

A vented roof allows for air to move along the underside of the roof, entering in the soffit vents and out the ridge vent. This is the traditional approach to building a roof and many benefits.

how ridgevent allows airflow through a roof

The natural air flow allows for any moisture vapor to be dried as the air flows through your vented roof. In the winter it keeps the bottom side of the roof the same temperature as the outside, which prevents ice dams. In the summer, when the heat from the sun is absorbed by your roof, a vented roof will actively cool the space between the roof and your insulation.

Unvented Tiny House Roof

tiny house Unvented Roof

An unvented roof is a sealed system that does not allow for air to move through it. This is a more modern way of building a roof and for tiny homes is the one I recommend. In a tiny house, you only have so much vertical height because of DOT rules. This means that if we were to vent our roof, we would have to give up internal space we’d otherwise use for living space to allow for venting, which is very limited to begin with.

tiny house dimensions

An unvented roof is also easier to build in my opinion. While the details are important, I find there are fewer things to worry about. At the end of the day, an unvented roof is easier to build, is less complicated, and gives us more living space; that’s a win, win, win in my book.

Tiny House Roof Profiles

Tiny House Roof Profiles

Like with any home, you have a lot of different roof profile options, and the shape and style of your roof can have a huge impact on the look and feel of your tiny home. For example, a flat roof will be more modern looking while a gambrel roof has more of a country or farm feel to it. A gable roof with clean lines will be more classic of a look and so on.

Your roof style will also impact the available space inside your house. A Gambrel roof tends to have the most internal space, but for my taste, I don’t love the look.

A flat roof can really lend to a more modern home design and is very simple to construct. If you feel overwhelmed by all the compound miter cuts of a hipped roof, a shed roof might your ideal approach. People often put the loft in the higher end so there is more space in their tiny house loft while the lower end is on the opposite side.

types of roofs you can put on a tiny house

How To Frame A Tiny House Roof

How To Frame A Tiny House Roof

Framing your tiny house roof is a big step and one that took me the longest when I built my own tiny home. The combination of having to climb up and down plus the complex angles that need to be cut meant it took me a while to get this right.

There are three main components to your roof framing: the top plate of the wall, your ridge beam, and the rafter that connects the two.

Step 1: Straighten Your Walls

How To Straighten Your Walls when building a tiny house

First start by squaring your walls. It’s amazing how much your wall framing can move, so make sure that the wall is straight across its face. You should also check that the frame of the outside of the wall is square to itself. Check the plumb of the wall and each of its studs. Then finally make sure all the walls are square to each other.

You’ll no doubt find that your walls, despite being built properly, will be out of alignment in some direction. There are various techniques to push and pull your walls into square, but my go to was with ratchet straps. I applied the straps to pull the wall into alignment and added my sheathing to the outside (which we’ll talk more about soon). Then I could start to build my ridge beam.

using straps to straighten a wall

Step 2: Make A Rafter Template

How To Make A Rafter Template

This is another important step and one that will give you the most grief if you’ve done it wrong. It is vitally important that your walls are totally straight so that when you install these rafters, you can trust things to line up.

There are a lot of elements that go into cutting rafters. Boiled down, you have the rise of the roof (how tall it is above the wall), the run of the roof (how wide that side of the roof is), and the pitch (the angle of the roof).

rafter template guide

You’ll frequently hear about a “12/12 roof” or a “4/12 roof,” which essentially means for every number of inches of the first number, it will rise the number of inches in the second number. A 12:12 roof means that for every 12 inches of run it will rise 12 inches.

rafter tail description
view of rafter tail

You’ll want to make a rafter template because it will ensure that all your rafters are exactly the same and speed things up. The angles of your rafter tail, bird’s mouth, and ridge can be tricky, so do yourself a favor and figure them out only once with your template.

You’ll use the template to make all your rafters ahead of time, then start installing them on the house. Don’t try to custom cut each rafter as you go or you’ll end up with a very uneven roof.

cut rafter template

Step 3: Install Your Ridge Beam

How To Install A Ridge Beam

Once you’re sure that everything thing is actually square, I start by installing a temporary 2×4 on the outside of the house to temporarily hold in place my first set of rafters and my last set of rafters. This establishes your start and end points to make sure that you’re placing them exactly in the right spot.

To those sets of rafters I install my ridge beam at both ends, checking that everything is straight and installed in the right place, and at the correct angles. Double (and maybe triple) check this because getting your rafters right at the start and end will set you up for success as you fill in the rest of the rafters.

installing a ridge beam on a tiny house
ridge beam installed on a tiny house

how to build a tiny house

Step 4: Install The Middle Rafters

Install The Middle Rafters

This part should be pretty quick because you’ve already done a ton of work ahead of time to make sure this exact step goes off without a hitch. You’ve straightened your whole tiny home, made all your rafters from the same template, and started the roof off on either end.

Part of the reason we do all of this is because often the ridge beam is a single piece of wood or two pieces laminated together. This undoubtedly means the ridge beam isn’t perfectly straight. Remember that lumber warps and twists, and I’ve found the longer the piece, the more warping it will have. Since we’ve made sure everything else is straight and plumb, we can use the rest of the house to index off of.

tiny house with rafters installedAs you go in and add your rafters, you’re going to physically push and pull the ridge beam into alignment with the rafters. Depending on the warping of the ridge beam, you’ll have to pull the ridge beam towards you or push it away so the plum cut at the top of the rafters lay flush on the beam’s face.

If the top edge of your plumb cut on the rafter rises above the ridge beam, you’ll have to pull it down to be flush, even going as far as hanging on it with your full weight. Alternately, you may need to push the ridge beam up a bit to get it to be flush — to do that I wedge a 2×4 between the ridge beam and the floor and lever it into place.

Keep in mind that all of this is totally expected and isn’t a problem, assuming you did all the leg work ahead of time to make sure everything else is straight.

Step 5: Attach Your Hurricane Roof Ties

Attach Your Hurricane Roof Ties

Even if your local code doesn’t require this, I suggest you do this step. Going down the road at 60 mph isn’t something that a normal home will do, but for a tiny house, it’s not uncommon. You’ll want to use Simpson Strong-Ties with the appropriate Tico nail to secure these in addition to your regular nailing and screwing.

Here is how I did my ridge strapping:ridge strapping over ridge beam
How I attached bottom end of rafter using ties to wall:straps to hold rafter ends to wall

Step 6: Add Blocking For Attaching Your Roof Sheathing

Add Blocking For Attaching Your Roof Sheathing

How you lay down and attach your sheathing to your roof framing needs to be done in a very specific way. I go into it more in my How To Build A Tiny House guide. As you’re laying down your decking, you might find that the seams of your sheets don’t have wood right behind it to support the seam and to attach directly to with a nail, screw, or staple.

Here is the inside of my roofing, where I’ve added this extra blocking to support the roof decking seam (hidden from view by the blocking):

bllocking for roof sheathing
cracking the code book

Step 7: Add Roof Decking

Add Roof Decking

roof sheathing clipsAfter you’ve added all your rafters, hurricane strapping, and checked that everything is square, it’s time to add your roof decking. Between your plywood or ZIP panels, you’re going to want to add roof clips. Add the panels to your roof decking and attach with the appropriate code-compliant fastener (local codes are very specific about this).

Step 8: Apply Underlayment

Apply Underlayment to tiny house roof

roof underlayment in place

This is a layer of our roof system that is part of our water control layer, but can also cover your air and vapor control layers. Traditionally this would be done with felt paper, which is still a very commonly used option.

However, on a tiny house, because we have such a small area to cover, I’d suggest going with a self-adhesive roof underlayment like Grace’s Ice and Water Shield.

Since you only need one roll of this to cover your entire tiny house roof, it just makes sense to buy the best. Where a traditional roof’s size would be cost prohibitive, on a tiny house it only adds about $90 to the bill.

Step 9: Add Roofing Material – Metal Roofs, Asphalt Shingles, Etc.

Add Roofing Material to tiny house

An important thing to note here is that most underlayment is only designed to be exposed to UV rays for 30-60 days — anything longer than that and they can start to break down. When you get your roof decking on and sealed up, try to add the roofing material soon after.

Each of these options are going to have a different way of installing them, but make sure you follow your directions from the manufacturer and concentrate on getting transition points like ridges, valleys, and dormers right.

Broadly speaking, you want to think about how water will flow off your roof. Typically this means you’ll start your roofing at the bottom and work your way up, so that each preceding layer covers the bottom one. This allows for water to flow down and off your roof.

Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roofing Options

You’ll need to choose what type of roofing material you’re going to cover your roof decking with as there are several options for you to consider. I’ll start with my personal recommendation, then go on to other common ones.

Standing Seam Metal Roofs

Standing Seam Metal Roofs

Standing seam metal roofs are what I recommend to most people for their tiny house. Metal roofs are very durable, and standing seams (meaning the joints are off the plane where the water will run) have a huge advantage of hidden fastener points. What this means is that you can attach the roof to the decking without having that fastening point being exposed. Metal roofs are also much better at handling higher wind speeds.

PROS

  • Very durable
  • Long lasting: ~50 years
  • Many color choices
  • Hidden fastener

CONS

  • Most expensive
  • Tricky to install on complex roofs
  • Requires a special order
  • Asthetic not to everyone’s taste

Asphalt/Fiberglass Shingles

Fiberglass Shingles

Shingles are a popular option because of how affordable and approachable they are. However there are two big drawbacks to shingles: they are known to blow off a tiny house as it drives down the road and they are heavy.

PROS

  • Decently durable
  • Affordable
  • Widely available
  • Easily installed

CONS

  • Blow off going down the road
  • Heavy: 2.5-4 pounds per square foot
  • Not suitable for low slope roofs
  • Prone to streaks and staining

Corrugated Metal – Through Fastener Panels

Corrugated Metal roofing

This is an attractive option that gives you the durability of a standing seam without the price. These panels are also widely available, so you may not even need to order them ahead of time. They’re also pretty easy to install, which is done by driving a rubber gasketed screw through the face of them. The fact that you attach them by driving a screw through the surface is the biggest drawback, as you’re essentially poking hundreds of holes into your roof, which isn’t a great idea.

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Widely available
  • Easy to install

CONS

  • Through fasteners can leak
  • Slightly higher cost
  • Requires cutting metal
  • Tricky to do transition points

Other Tiny House Roofing Options

There are of course many more roofing options like wood shingles, slate roofs, terra cotta tiles, composite panels, copper roofing, etc., but they all have more drawbacks than positives. In general, I suggest standing seam metal roofs for all tiny houses because of their hidden fasteners, high wind rating, and overall durability.

Tiny House Minimum Roof Pitch

Tiny House Minimum Roof Pitch

An important consideration for your tiny house roof is the minimum roof pitch or angle. General advice is that your roof should have at least a 2/12 pitch, meaning for every foot of run, your roof will rise 2 inches. You can go shallower or even flat with an EPDM roof (similar to a pool liner material), but these end up being a lot of extra work as they require the details to be done just right and, as I’ve heard from my tiny house friends with flat roofs, tend to leak.

I’d advise people to stick to at least a 4/12 pitch to be on the safe side. This is mainly because a tiny house might not always be level depending where you park it, and a tiny house that is slightly out of level with a roof pitch of, say,2/12 might be canted enough to one side to allow water to pool on your roof.

Tiny House With A Garden On Roof / Green Roof

Tiny House With A Green Roof

From time to time, people ask about having a green roof or a tiny house that has a roof-top garden. People are attracted to them because they’re an interesting element, help reduce heat absorption, don’t contribute to the heat island effect in cities, and add green space to what is normally an unused space.

garden roof diagram

It is important to understand that these types of roofs are often very heavy. If you’re thinking about building a tiny house on a foundation, this could be a really good option. But if you want a tiny house on wheels, this is most likely going to be too heavy for your trailer or, at the very least, you’re going to have to calculate the additional load and get a trailer with a higher weight rating.

Your Turn!

  • What are you going to do for your tiny house roof?

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?

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?

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long

heating a tiny house

NAVIGATION


Heating a tiny house in the winter has it’s challenges. Now that we’ve moved to Vermont from the sunny South we’re doing research into heating appliances. We have been talking to folks in the area about what they use and we’re pondering between a few options.

Choosing Which Tiny House Heater Option Is Right For You:

There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing a heater for your tiny house and it boils down to a few key things. First off will you be on the grid or off the grid. Off grid winter heating will narrow your options to a few, while if you are on the grid, you have many other options.

Once you’ve determined your grid status, you’ll need to consider the practicalities of your lifestyle. What do you want your life to be like day to day and what is and isn’t going to work for you. Many people idealize a wood stove, but they don’t think about waking up in the morning to a cold house before they can stoke a fire up again. For me I just wanted the simplicity of pressing a button, so I opted for a heat pump in my tiny house.

Sizing your heating system is critical to keeping your house nice and warm without getting too hot. I’ve been in my fair share of tiny houses where a heater either couldn’t keep up with how cold it was outside and I’ve also been in an equal number of tiny houses that were so hot we had to open windows in the dead of winter to prevent us from sweating. For me, I needed a tiny house heater that made about 3,000 BTUs for where I live in N.C. Use a BTU calculator to figure out what is right for you tiny house.

comparison of heating fuel prices

Finally price, money is important. Some setups cost more on the front end and less over time, while some are cheaper to start with and require on going costs or the costs are higher over the long term. I’ll dig into each of these as we go through all the options.

Electric Heater Options For A Tiny House:

heating a tiny house with electric

Electric Heater Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to find at any store
  • No installation, just plug in
  • Can find the right BTU size for you

Electric Heater Cons

  • Takes up floor space
  • They’re not particularly good looking
  • Expensive to run, draws a lot of power
  • Not practical for off the grid

Electric
Cost

  • $40-$100

Probably the easiest, cheapest option right now and fairly efficient in terms of heating a space our size. We could get through the rest of the Vermont winter comfortably with our current electric heater but it’s certainly not attractive and it takes up floor space. This option also requires you to be on the grid, most of these heaters start at 1,500 watts for a around 5,000 BTUs and go up from there. With electrical loads like that, you’d have to have a very expensive solar array to power that in the winter.

The great thing about electric heaters is that they’re super cheap, we picked our us for around $45 and you can find that at any major big box retailer. The do work well to heat a space and you have two main options: forced air and radiant heaters.

Forced Air is for when you want to heat up a space fast, the fan in them often is pretty loud, but you can heat the space quickly which is nice when we come home from work and want to turn up the heat. While they are noisy, this is a good option for us because we are out and about often, so we turn down the power while we are gone.

Radiant Heat is for when you can take the time to let a space to heat up. These are often oil filled radiators style heaters, which are near silent in their operation and gently heat the air around them. If you’re on the grid and going to be spending a lot of time in the house this is a good option because you can heat the house up and then let it coast.

Since this would only be a temporary situation right now, seeing as we will be hooking up our solar panels this summer and investing in a small wind generator later in the year. We’re also contemplating micro-hydro electric but that’s for another post!

Heating A Tiny House With A Wood Stove Or Pellet Stove:

heating a tiny house with a wood stove

Wood or Pellet Stove Pros

  • Cozy fire is nice
  • Less impact on environment
  • Can be used to cook, heat and more
  • Fuel generally cheap

Wood or Pellet Stove Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Needs large clearances
  • Hard to find one small enough
  • Takes work and can be messy

Wood or Pellet Stove Cost

  • $800-$2,000

We met a tiny house dweller on a farm nearby who uses a wood fired stove. She loves it because she enjoys the processing of the wood and the look of the wood stove in her tiny house. She’s also able to heat water on top for tea making or dish washing. When electricity has gone out during the winter she has had no problems keeping warm and heating food.

There is a homey feeling to a wood stove that you just can’t quite achieve with gas fueled units. However, a wood stove is messier, with ash falling through and wood chips and bark trailing in from the wood.

Tiny House Wood Stove Options

It’s not easy to find a small wood burning fireplace, most are just too big for a small space. Jotul is a popular wood and gas stove company here in Vermont and folks tell us they are the best. We’re not sure they make one small enough for our space so we’re going to check out their showroom this week. We’ve also been looking at Dickinson Marine wood stoves as well as Woodstock soapstone stoves made regionally over in New Hampshire. Kimberly Stoves are also an option, but are expensive.

Finally Hobbit Wood Stoves are a popular options because it’s one of the few best heating options for small homes due to it’s size. It’s designed for small spaces so it’s a serious contender for wood stoves for your tiny house.

ways to make the most out of a wood stove

There are a few considerations you need to make when it comes to having a wood stove in your tiny house. First is getting a stove small enough for you tiny house, if you don’t size it right, it will generate too many BTUs and leave you roasting inside your tiny house. This happens to most people when they try to heat their small house with wood because it’s hard to find a wood stove that’s small enough.

Next is the space it takes up. Wood stoves require a lot of space just in their size, but also in clearances. You often need to give a good amount of space around the wood stove to make sure it’s safe and doesn’t catch nearby surfaces on fire.

Finally consider your lifestyle and how a wood stove will impact that. Wood stoves require frequent tending, wood needs to be chopped, stacked, then hauled in and finally the stove needs to be cleaned. It’s a lot of hard work and it can be a messy affair when soot gets out. Pellet wood stoves I’ve found to be a happy medium between ease of use, easy temperature maintenance and ease. You can’t really make your own pellets, but there is a strong case to be made for them.

Kerosene Heaters For Indoor Use:

heating a tiny house with kerosene

Kerosene Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Kerosene Heater Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Kerosene
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Several people have told us that kerosene is worth the set-up and cost of fuel. It burns really hot and it is 90% efficient according to a local gas supplier. In terms of BTU output kerosene beats out propane, but it’s not as clean burning and is more polluting to the environment although they make filters now that reduce emissions.

Kerosene is the cheaper option when compared to propane, but we have found it’s not as easy to find. I’m also most concerned about carbon monoxide so a vented heater would be essential in such a small space. The Toyotomi Laser kerosene heaters are an option, but I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. Another option is a free standing kerosene heater like a Dyna-Glo heater, which is nice because you can remove it when not using it. The main downside is that it isn’t a direct vent heater, so you need to be careful about air quality and safety. Overall, kerosene seems like a good option for back-up to electric heating,m but after more online research we are considering this option less and less.

Tiny House Propane Heater Options:

heating a tiny house with propane

Propane Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Propane Heater Cons

  • Medium-to-high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Propane
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Clean burning, efficient, relatively inexpensive and easy to find we’ve seriously considered the propane option. Our stove currently helps heat our house and it’s run off propane so hooking up a heating element wouldn’t be too difficult.

The Dickinson heater is an attractive and efficient option and was a contender to the wood stove option in our deliberations, but after talking with many other tiny housers, we heard a lot of bad things. Mainly that they look nice, but don’t put out enough heat. Even though the Dickinson heater says it puts out 4,000-5,500 BTUs, many people have called that into question. It also lacks a thermostat which was a deal breaker for us.

The other really good option if you’re considering this is a Mr. Heater propane heater. This was great in the south because we didn’t always need a big heater, so we could store it away when we needed to, but on those colder than normal nights we could break it out and heat our tiny house up fast. While it uses 1lb propane canisters, we felt it was very wasteful, so we got the 20lb propane tank connector hose (the size your grill runs off of).

What I like about propane is that it’s pretty cheap, I run my tiny house off of it and we spend about $100 per year heating the house, using it to cook and for my hot water heater for my tiny house. The other thing is you can get the tanks refilled almost anywhere and I prefer to use the 20lb tanks because even when they are full, I can carry them pretty easily.

Tiny House Heat Pumps:

heating a tiny house with heat pump

Heat Pump Pros

  • Can heat and cool
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Takes up no floor space
  • Very efficient

Heat Pump Cons

  • High initial cost
  • Requires some expert help to setup
  • Doesn’t work in very cold climates

Heat Pump Cost

  • $800-$3,500

This is a good option for people who live on grid, because heat pumps are getting more and more efficient. In really cold locations this should generally be avoided because the system functions by capturing any available heat from the air and concentrating it to heat the home. Once you get to around 30 degrees, most units have electric heating coils to boost the system, but that puts you back in the boat of standard electric heating.

The upside to heat pumps is that the provide heating and cooling for your tiny house, which is what I ultimately decided for my system. While it is difficult, you can run a mini split off solar with a large enough system and an efficient enough system.

The main brands you want to look for is Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, both make good units that are a high SEER rating which is a measure of how efficient they are. You’ll want to find a unity that is at least a SEER 20 for on grid use, if you’re off grid you want to be as high of a SEER rating as possible. At the time of writing this, Carrier just launched a new mini split that is a SEER 42 which is astounding.

What’s great about mini splits is you can mount the air handler on the wall so it doesn’t take up any floor space. It is also programmable, so the thermostat can turn on and off when you want and some even allow you to control via your phone so you can turn it on remotely to come home to a toasty house.

Best Heating Options For A Tiny House:

best heating options for a tiny house

Now that we’ve broken down some of the major types of heaters for a tiny house, I want to share what I think are the best options when it comes to heating a tiny home.

1. Carrier Infinity Heat Pump – $2,500

Heat pump by carrierIt’s hard to beat these heat pump mini splits because that can heat and cool all in one unit. Their high efficiency inverter heat pump with a SEER of 42 is insane, I have yet to setup one, but I’m guessing it can heat at around 500 watts which is unheard of.

2. Heat Storm Deluxe Indoor Infrared Wall Heater – $80

convection electric heaterThis is the best alternative I’ve found to the popular Envi Flat Panel Heater which is no longer made. What’s great about this heater is it plugs right into an outlet, its very low profile so it doesn’t take up much space because it mounts right on the wall. The kicker is that since it’s just a plug in heater, you can remove it easily and store during the warmer months. At $80 and a 10 minute install it’s hard to beat it if you’re on the grid.

3. The Hobbit Small Wood Stove – $1,100

hobbit small wood stove for a tiny houseFor those who want to go off grid with your heating you’ll need a very small wood stove and the Hobbit Wood Stove is one of the smallest ones out there. While you could go with the Kimberly Stove, its very expensive. At 18 inches x 12 inches you can’t get much smaller and still feed it wood, so this is a great option for those who want to heat and cook with wood.

4. Mr. Heater – MH9BX Propane Heater – $69

Mr. Heater propane portable heaterThis is a great heater and super practical. It runs off of propane which you get almost anywhere, it’s easily portable and it puts off a lot of heat when you need it. I think everyone should have a Mr. Heater regardless of what heating option you go with as a back up heating source. It can be fuels by 1lb tanks or you can get the hose for grill size tanks.

5. Oil Filled Radiator Heater – $72

oil fille radiator heaterThis is another good option and make the cut for my list because they’re good at heating spaces, you can wheel it in when you need heat, but still store it when it’s warmer weather. The oil filled radiator means you have a nice even heat that doesn’t make much noise. The down side to these is that use up a lot of energy, so if you’re off grid it’s not an option and if you are on grid, power bills can be high.

Considerations When Heating Your Tiny House:

considerations when heating your tiny house

The last few points here to consider are safety, indoor air quality, and insulation. Obviously safety is paramount and many of these flame based heaters can lead to fires if you’re not careful. If you have smaller children, a heater on the floor presents a hazard to kids touching it. Indoor air quality is something to consider too. When in such a small space, as you burn fuels you’re using up your oxygen and putting out gasses like carbon monoxide which is serious business. Venting is always preferable, but it’s a trade off because venting takes up a lot of space and need to be done correctly.

Finally if you’re build your own tiny house, it’s important to make sure your house is well sealed and spending more money on insulation upfront will result in a lot less money being spent later on. Don’t skimp on your insulation and choose the highest quality windows that you can afford.

Ultimately our main criteria for heating units include efficiency, safety, cost and environmental impact. We are deliberate in every choice we make with the house and want to make the best choice for our space, the environment and our wallets. It’s not an easy choice but a very necessary one now that we live in a state with actual winter. It’s definitely going to be easier to heat the tiny house than it was to cool it in the hot, humid Southern summers!

which fuell option is best for heating a tiny home

Your Turn!

  • What do you recommend for heating a tiny space?
  • What options have you considered?