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?

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