Tiny houses are homes with much less square footage than the average U.S. dwelling, and they are all the rage. Coffee table books extol their beauty. Television shows like Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Nation take us on the adventure of finding and living in one.
People consider living in tiny homes for different reasons. Some want to decrease clutter. Some want a smaller carbon footprint. Some choose tiny homes because they are less expensive, both initially and in future energy costs. Some want to live off the grid, which the mobility of a tiny house can make more convenient. Some want to live far from cities, which is often part of the tiny house dream.
If you’re interested in and researching tiny homes for yourself, you might be considering whether you should do it yourself (DIY) or buy an already-built tiny home. Here are four factors to think about.
A very large part of the DIY or buy debate centers around money. The relative expense of a tiny house varies greatly by whether it’s built or bought. That said, tiny houses are certainly less expensive than regular size U.S. homes. The average traditional home in the U.S. costs approximately $188,000. Tiny home prices vary but are already built models are usually between $35,000 and $95,000.
The same considerations that affect housing prices generally affect the tiny house price range. An already built ti
ny home will likely be at the higher end of the price range. Custom materials, furniture and appliances for the small space may also be quite expensive, and that’s true whether you buy or build.
An integral part of thinking through tiny home prices is assessing how much space you need. In both building and buying, space affects the price. Spend some nights in a tiny bed and breakfast to see if you’re comfortable before deciding. If you buy, you may pay less than $30,000 for 110 square feet. If you want to buy a larger tiny house, $95,000 will get you 240 square feet.
If you DIY, prices range from $8,000 to $40,000 for a 24-foot tiny home. Some tiny house aficionados caution materials can run $25,000. They also caution, though, factoring in time and labor is likely to arrive at the higher price range.
As with any craft, discussions of time are very integral to questions about cost. If you buy a tiny house, you are saving in sweat equity but spending more. If you DIY a tiny home, it may take up to 1,000 hours or more. Many tiny house enthusiasts want to do it very cheaply. They focus on reclaiming wood, buying overage from new construction homes and purchasing second-hand appliances.
One general rule of thumb about DIY projects is to translate the hours into your hourly salary. Do you make $25.00 per hour? If so, a tiny house DIY could cost you from $25,500 to $75,000 just in building and labor time, with an additional $25,000 for materials.
If you have the time, that’s great. Maybe it would be a terrific summer adventure. If you’ll be sleeping on your cousin’s couch until it’s done, it may become a strain. Remember, all building projects, no matter the size, tend to take more time than originally planned.
The DIY or buy question should take into account your building skills. Can you handle a hammer and nails? A saw? A drill? Or do you have a group of friends who can?
You’ll need to take stock of how much you can do. Tiny homes need plumbing and energy from electricity or solar. Can you or your friends install plumbing? Wire electricity or install solar panels? Bear in mind, space in tiny houses is, well, tiny. The size may increase the complexity of the job.
Many people drawn to tiny houses are charmed by certain features, like a loft bed or furniture customized for the space to do double duty, like sofa and bed. These features would be part of the building. Could you do it?
It’s possible to learn as you go, of course. Just be sure to factor in the learning curve versus your time available.
If your fantasies include a tiny cabin by a mountain stream, that’s great, but building on a rural site may not be easy. For all sites, make sure you have what you need if you want to DIY. You will need electricity for power tools. You may need light sources, so you can keep working once the sun goes down. Does your site have these? If so, DIY is possible. If not, buying is likely a better option.
The site’s condition and features matter, too. Is it free of debris? Is it level? If so, building will have fewer impediments. If you must clear out debris, factor the time in. If you will be working on a non-level site, it may need to be leveled as part of the pre-building work.
Working toward a tiny house can be the adventure of a lifetime. It can give you hours of pleasure just thinking about it. When deciding DIY or buy, consider all the factors above for a stress-free entry into the tiny house life.