Tiny Houses

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What is a tiny house?

The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. Tiny houses come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, but they enable simpler living in a smaller, more efficient space. For families living in a tiny house, I generally say 250 square feet per person.

How Much Does a Tiny House Cost?

Tiny houses built on a trailer that is built by the owner typically starts at $10,000 and goes up from there, with the average being around $30,000 for a self-built tiny house. We have a free set of budget plans where you can build your own tiny house for around $10,000. If you are considering hiring a builder to build you a tiny house, the rule of thumb is material costs times two. So, a tiny house build will budget materials tiny house might start at $20,000 and go up from there with the average being around $60,000. These prices do not include appliances, furnishings, utility connections or transportation.

How to build a tiny house?

Tiny houses are pretty approachable for most people, but there is a lot of research that needs to be done. First, determine your needs so you can develop a tiny house design that’s right for you. From there you’ll need to learn how to actually build the house, the decisions that need to be made and construction techniques. Once you have a solid design and you understand how to put it all together, it’s time to create a budget for your tiny house, price out materials and find a build site for your tiny house.

How to downsize to Live in a Tiny House?

First start out with determining why you want to downsize and live in a tiny house. If you’re able to identify your why, it will carry you through the tough times when downsizing get difficult or trying. Start with going through one room at a time, sorting things into three piles: discard, donate, and keep. Don’t start with things that will be difficult to downsize, like heirlooms or nostalgic items, start with the easy things and work up to those items. Go with your gut feeling, make snap judgements, all these things can be replaced if you make a mistake, so just keep moving.

How to Legally Live in a Tiny House

There are over 3,000 jurisdictions in the USA each with their own unique building codes, so this is one place you need to do real leg work on and call your local officials. First start with coming up with a rough design of your tiny house, draw it out, and then contact your local building code enforcement agency. Talking with your building code department make it clear where you want to put it, what your plan for power/water/sewer is, and that it would be your “primary dwelling and residence”. That part is key, you need to make it clear you intend to live in it full time. From there each place will be different. For more information on tiny houses and building codes go here.

How to go off grid in a tiny house?

First it starts with understanding your power consumption needs. The easiest way to do is this is purchase a Kill-a-watt meter for less than $20 which lets you measure exactly what each thing uses. Once you’ve documented everything that you’ll be using in your tiny house, take that wattage and multiply it by the number of hours. Example: 100 watts for 5 hours would be 500 watt/hrs. That will give you a rough target about what you’ll need total in a day. Check out my solar power for a tiny house post here.

How big is your tiny house?

My house is 150 square feet, plus a sleeping loft.  The house is built on an 18 foot trailer, but the house is 8.5 wide, 20 feet long and 13′ 4″ tall.  Inside the house is 11.5 feet tall in the main room, in the kitchen which is under the loft, its about 6’4″.  The loft is about 4.5 feet tall.  My trailer from ground to top of deck is about 17 inches.

Did you build it all yourself or did you know how to build before?

I had never really built anything before my tiny house. I also didn’t know anyone that had these skills either.  That said, I did build this house by myself with my own two hands.  The exceptions would be I hired an electrician to wire it, I paid someone to do the roofing because I didn’t have the equipment to bend the metal for the roof, and I hired someone to help me hang my front door.  Other than those three things, I did it all.  You can see my build videos here.

What would you change if you had to do it all over again?

I think I’d opt for all casement windows,  most of my windows are awning style.  I’d also purchase a door instead of building on.  The main reason I had to get some help hanging my door was because since I built the door from scratch, I also had to build a custom door jam and that was tricky to get the door just right.  I think I’d also go from a 18 foot trailer to a 20 or 22 foot trailer.  I think that two extra feet would be ideal for me.

What appliances do you have? Heater? Water heater? Etc?

I have a gas stove made by Verona, which is a professional series sold for $545.  My water heater was a RV500 by PrecisionTemp, but I ended up replacing that for a Rinnai tankless hot water heater.  My fridge is a basic bar fridge: specifically the Danby 4.4 cu. ft. Energy Star Compact Refrigerator because it was about the biggest fridge that came without a freezer section.  My heating and cooling is handled by a mini split: the Fujitsu 9rls2 which is 9,000 btu’s max wattage of 800 watts on high heat that can handle a few hundred square feet.  This was the most efficient mini split when I bought it with a seer rating of 27. It cost me $1,400 for the unit and another $800 for the install.  I also use a standard toaster oven.  I don’t have a microwave or standard oven as I just don’t have much use for them personally.  I wish I had a washer and dryer and I just use a laundry service.

Where do you get your power, water, sewage, internet?

Initially I was going to be grid tied, but the city wouldn’t allow it.  So, I had to at first rely on my generator, which is a Honda EU2000i. It’s an amazing generator, if you need one, I can’t recommend it enough.  At $1,000 it’s very pricy but it’s super small and on eco-mode it can be running and I can’t hear it in my house at all.

My solar array is 4,000 watts, 15 solar panels and 12 batteries. The batteries are Lead acid 370 watt/hours 6 volt.  The system cost me $19,500 for parts and labor.  The reason it is so high because I want to heat and cool with this.  If I were to cut out heating and cooling with my mini split, I could drop down to a system that was about $10,000.

My internet is through my cell phone hot spot.  I have no cable TV. My cell phone is my only phone.  My water is city tied.  For sewage I have a composting toilet.  I also have a grey water system to hand water from my sink and shower.

How did you deal with building codes?

For me, after several lengthy talks with the building code enforcement folks and going around and around with permits and inspects, the main code enforcement officer told me to “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  That, combined with me trying to be a good neighbor and having my tiny house nestled out of sight in the woods, allows me to live in my tiny house.  It is technically illegal.  It is built to code, but not inspected.

How did you find the land that you are parked on and do you lease or own?

I currently lease land from a friend.  The property is in the city, but on a very large parcel of land, 32 acres to be exact.  I found it because I was looking for a place to park and asked a friend who I thought might know of a place I could rent.  Turns out he had an empty parcel that he wanted someone to keep an eye on.  I pay $1 a month plus help him do some website work every now and then.  I did a video about it here.

How long did it take you to build your tiny house?

I typically say a year of nights and weekends.  Technically on a calendar it was about a 1.75 years, but I took a 3 month break at a point and once I was held up for 4 months waiting on a window.  In general, a professional could build a house in 2-3 months, an amateur 1-2 years of nights and weekends.