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Thinking About Building a Tiny House? Consider These 3 Factors

Chelsea McGrathSeptember 10, 2018

If you’re looking to downsize your living space and perhaps your cost of living in general, then you may be one of many who are checking out the tiny house trend.

It’s easy to see the romantic appeal: the idea of swapping thousands of residential square feet – and a bunch of stuff – for the freedom and cost-saving that tiny houses seem to offer. Yet while many people are becoming more interested in this building alternative, few may know where to start.

Here are three factors to think about as you get down to the brass tacks:

1. Where to Put Your Tiny House

Most tiny houses fall within the 100-400 square-foot range, so you can pretty much build it anywhere and take it anywhere, right? Not so fast! How and where you construct a tiny home will affect your building options, pocketbook and lifestyle in a big way.

On Land or On Wheels

Begin by deciding if you want the house on a foundation or on a trailer.

Permanent foundations like concrete slabs give you more control of the floor plan. You aren’t limited to the dimensions of a trailer, and you can add features like a crawlspace. Building on a foundation may require local permitting, so it’s important to check with the local building department. Building permits run homeowners between $452 – $2,101, on average.

The biggest advantage of building on a trailer is obviously mobility. You won’t be subject to building codes in most areas if you build on a trailer, but the unit might take on RV status and make it subject to RV regulations. And like with an RV, you’ll be limited to RV hookups for utilities.

Zoning

Many states don’t have zoning specifically for tiny homes. You may want to check with your city or county to be sure you aren’t violating any zoning laws by having a tiny home on a site.
Some zoning laws have minimum square footage requirements on the parcel. Other areas may even have covenants limiting the length of time an RV can remain on a site.

2. How Much Do You Want to Spend

Tiny houses can cost less than $12,000. If you buy a new one, most sell for somewhere between $35,000 and $80,000, and if you build your own, the average price for materials hovers between $20,000 and $30,000.

In most cases, the average cost per square foot is more (and often much more) than that of a traditional home. However, that doesn’t account for the fact that traditional homes typically cost more to finance and maintain. In the end, you can own a tiny home flat-out for the cost of a down payment on a buying a house. But there are many things to consider, including:

Where You Live

Per the USDA, the average cost of land outside of city limits (all land and buildings on farms) is $3,020 per acre. The closer you get to civilization, the higher the cost.

What Materials You Want to Use

Tiny homes might not be big, but the list of construction options is long. For example, you might want to bolster your tiny home if you go mobile. A metal roof is recommended over shingle to handle wind, and could cost up to three or four times more for installation. Let’s say you build on a foundation in the countryside and forego the power grid. You’d need an alternative, and solar panel arrays – a popular choice – can tack on $8,000 to your bottom line.

What Features You Want to Add

With the limited space, there won’t be a lot of large items to purchase. However, you may want some amenities like a patio or deck, unique décor, and storage that can increase the size of your investment.

Thinking about how you want to have your tiny home constructed, you have two options: do it yourself or hire a contractor.

DIY

A unique aspect of a tiny home is that even if you’ve never built a home before, you may be able to do it yourself anyway.

Plans and cost lists are plentiful on the internet. You’ll find that you can build an entire tiny house from the ground up or stick to constructing the shell of the home, such as the flooring, outer walls and roof, using a kit.

Hire a Contractor

With the popularity of tiny houses, more builders are providing this option as a product.

According to Tiny Home Builders, depending on whether you just want the shell or the whole house completed, you’re looking at a cost range of about $12,000 to $61,000.

3. How to Fit Everything You Need

Since space is more limited in a tiny house, you need to think creatively about storage and features. But first, evaluate the things in your current home and the features of the home itself.

What must you bring with you and have in your new tiny home? What can you live without? Chances are, you’ll need to make some tough decisions and fashion your space around the essentials in your new life.

Creative ways to save on space in a tiny home include sleeping in a loft space above the rest of the home or in hide-a-way bed if you utilize a loft for storage.

If you want to maximize space, a good rule of thumb is to furnish your tiny house with things that turn into other things, like couches that turn into shelves and window blinds that turn into racks.

You can also add a small shed to the side or back end of the unit, or make use of space under a floating floor or under a bench seat.

Time to Think Design!

Once you consider location, cost and creative ways to house everything you need, it’s easier to start imagining what your tiny home could look like. Learn more and check out some samples to get your mind going.

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    Chelsea McGrath

    The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.