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Updated July, 2023
The tiny house trend is increasingly popular, as more individuals seek out more sustainable living situations. Tiny homes can be connected to the electric grid or renewable energy, and the customization within each individual home makes construction a relatively easy process. But what is the true cost of a tiny home?
Building materials and labor make up the majority of the cost of building a tiny home. Whether you choose to buy a pre-constructed home or build one yourself, there is some variability in cost for these two things. The average cost of a tiny home tends to be at least $10,000, though this price can vary significantly.
For example, if you opt to build a DIY tiny home from salvaged materials and provide all of the labor, you could build a home for the price of parts. If you opt for an architecturally designed tiny home with a bunch of custom features, you could be looking at a price range closer to $150,000.
The higher price points associated with tiny homes often arise from the need for suitable land to park or construct them. Building and zoning laws often create unnecessary hurdles. Is this option practical for you? Performing a tiny house cost breakdown can show whether this option is cheaper than building a traditional home.
Tiny House Cost Breakdown
1. On-Grid vs Off-Grid Tiny Houses
Choosing utilities is one of the most important factors when breaking down the cost of a tiny house. Whether or not you choose to connect to the electricity grid will have a substantial impact on your budget. Connecting to water, setting up sewage and electricity can get expensive, especially if you need to do things like dig a well or install a septic system.
Alternatively, if you decide to go off-grid, you may pay a bit more upfront for items such as solar panels, but over time you will save significantly. As of 2020, the average cost savings for solar is about $1,400 per household annually.
You also have to consider that you are building new and will have HVAC costs regardless of which type of home you choose. A traditional HVAC system costs anywhere from $7,000 to $36,000 to install, depending on the amount of ductwork and size. Installing solar is only slightly pricier upfront and saves more in the long run, so weigh your options carefully if doing a ground-up build.
Tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) are great because they’re small enough to move from place to place, allowing you the freedom to travel with all your belongings. However, you need a sturdy trailer to haul your house. This is something you should not go cheap on — it is literally carrying your entire life. You also need a truck capable of towing it, and anything less than a full-ton won’t cut it.
You can go the cheaper route and purchase a used trailer for your THOW, but unless you can fix it up when it needs to be repaired, you’re going to end up spending just as much money as you would on a new one. Your home is relying on a sturdy trailer. It will likely cost a few thousand dollars, depending on the length and width of your tiny house.
One issue with THOWs is where to park. Many residential streets forbid RV parking, and your trailer would qualify. You’ll run into the same restrictions as you’ll face with traditional site-built tiny homes in regards to building and zoning on typical lots. Before investing the money, ensure you’ll be able to use your new home as you intend.
When building a tiny home, it is obvious that you will save money on less square footage compared to building a traditional home. However, the cost of specialty appliances that are usable in small spaces can sometimes get expensive.
For example, if you need an apartment-sized refrigerator but need to order it from a special company in Europe, it will definitely cost more than a regular fridge you can pick up at the local home goods store. However, depending on the appliances you choose to incorporate, you can still save money in this area.
For instance, many people opt to use fewer appliances when they build a tiny home. Part of the aesthetic of living minimally is using less, which means fewer products. If you choose to live without a dryer, microwave or dishwasher, you can absolutely save money when building a tiny home.
Today’s world of combination devices makes it easier. Who needs a bulky stovetop and separate microwave when you can find an all-in-one air fryer, convection oven and griddle combo?
4. Recycled Materials
Unless you decide to purchase a pre-constructed tiny home, you have a ton of freedom when it comes to materials. While it is possible to build a luxury tiny home of all new materials, it is also equally possible to build a beautiful home using reclaimed and recycled materials. In fact, some people even choose to renovate old structures into tiny homes, using the original frame as their base.
If you are able to source locally manufactured goods or hardware, it not only is more environmentally friendly, but it may also be cheaper. It may require a little more flexibility or creativity in your home planning, but it will be easier on your overall budget. For example, you can find old shipping containers for $1,500 that are perfect for a single-person tiny home. Combine several, save yourself a ton of framing work and build a tiny home for less.
5. Windows and Doors
Windows and doors are an essential part of any house, tiny or not. The right ones should keep your home at the perfect temperature all year, without any worry of leaks or cracks in the sealing.
You can go cheap on the windows and doors, but they might not be doing their job over time. Get quality items for your tiny home, especially if you plan to travel often. You want them to last a long time and save you money on energy bills.
Ensure accuracy with measurements because the home can warp depending on the weather. Self-made windows and doors will be less expensive, but the costs might add up over the years if they’re not energy efficient.
Don’t skimp on insulation. If you spend more upfront, you’ll save over time with energy costs, similar to doors and windows. Some insulation options include:
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a mixture of sand and recycled glass, fused by high temperatures. It creates a thin fiber, almost like cotton candy. One great thing about fiberglass is that it is inexpensive, and you can get it at most hardware stores. However, it is flammable, can get moldy if exposed to water and is not a great option if you’re environmentally conscious.
- Rock wool: This insulation is also fused by high heat, but it is made of basalt rock. It’s highly flame-retardant and inexpensive, but it’s not as prominently used as it once was.
- Polystyrene: There are a couple of types of polystyrene — extruded and expanded. Both are on the expensive end of insulations. Expanded is better for the environment than extruded, and they are both lightweight.
- Spray foam: All spray foams put you at a health risk because of the toxins. They don’t usually deplete, though, and add some rigidity to your structure.
You’ll have to do research to choose an insulation that’s best for you. The average cost of insulation is between 15 cents to $2 per square foot, and it depends on the type you choose. If you select high-quality insulation for your tiny home, you’ll save on energy and won’t have to replace it as often.
7. Land Costs
Land is another factor that’s more complicated than it seems. Many states across the country have building and zoning restrictions that make buying land for your tiny home out-of-bounds. Owners of larger properties who want to protect their values often put up a considerable battle to keep such developments out of residential areas. This factor alone keeps tiny homes from arising everywhere, as those opting for the lifestyle must often reside in rural areas, which isn’t always practical career-wise.
Some areas allow tiny houses as ADUs (accessory dwelling units) — for example, California allows tiny homes as “caregiver dwellings” in some counties. However, you’ll need to research whether this applies to your municipality.
Many owners of tiny homes opt to rent land, so evaluate your local options and see what you can find. Mobile home parks may also accommodate rentals for tiny houses, though they often have restrictions against tiny houses on wheels. Eventually, you may settle on the perfect plot of land to buy.
However, just like with a traditional house, you will still need a significant sum. As always, location is everything. Rural states like Oklahoma have land parcels that cost less than $2,000 an acre, while New Jersey offers the same for $200,000. Make sure you’re aware of the costs and zoning regulations before you decide where to settle.
Is Buying or Building a Better Option?
All points considered, you can see that both buying and building have advantages and downsides. Between factors like utilities, materials, appliances, land and more, tiny homes are investments that cost thousands. Will you save more by buying or building? It depends.
Average Costs for Buying
There are many conveniences that come with buying a tiny home. First, you won’t have to do any construction work, so you can save time and money. It’s also a smart play when you have to move into your new space relatively quickly, as you won’t have to wait around for the build.
What tiny homes are available to purchase? Manufacturers sell professionally-built tiny houses that range in price. For a basic pre-built tiny home with a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, you should expect to spend at least $60,000 as a base price. This cost doesn’t include acreage.
Keep in mind that budget options don’t necessarily exist. It takes extensive work to build a tiny house. Therefore, you won’t find many inexpensive picks on the market. While $30,000 can buy a tiny home, you’ll probably need to forgo amenities like a bathroom with that price cut.
Consider luxury tiny homes, as well. If you want a fully upgraded property that has stainless steel appliances and new granite countertops, you can find them in certain options — but you’ll need to pay around $160,000. That’s still less than many full-sized homes, though.
Average Costs for Building
Can you save money when building a tiny home? There’s definitely room to cut back on the expenses, but you’ll also need to put in the necessary time and energy. Plus, you have to either hire labor to complete the project or teach yourself the necessary construction skills. But building a tiny home may still be the best option for your budget.
While building, you can anticipate between $15,000 and $30,000 for total material costs. This figure doesn’t include the construction tools and architectural plans you need to see the project through. These expenses will go toward everything you need to build the structure, as well as interior amenities.
There are also options for tiny home shells. If you want to buy a pre-built structure so you can skip that step in the construction process, you can purchase a finished exterior that’s already set up on a trailer and wheels. Then, you’ll be able to customize the interior to your preferences. This choice usually costs at least $10,000, but you could spend up to $30,000.
What’s the best decision? It depends on how much work you want to put into your tiny home. If you don’t mind the construction process, you can save around $30,000 when building a tiny house with the necessities. However, you have to be careful about which amenities you choose to keep costs low.
Here’s a final look at the expenses to consider when buying or building a tiny home.
|Utilities||Around $50 monthly|
|Building Materials||Between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on which products you choose|
|Labor||Around 10% to 20% of the project’s total cost|
|Land||From $1,500 to $200,000 per acre, depending on location|
Therefore, you can see that you can’t avoid certain costs, including utilities and land. If you choose to build a tiny home, you have to pay for both materials and labor. If you pick a pre-built tiny house, you can avoid those specific fees, but you’ll have to pay more overall.
Can You Afford All the Costs of a Tiny House?
If you are looking to build a tiny home on a budget, it is definitely possible. It may require a bit more planning to get started, but the payoff is worth it. While there are some financial investments you can’t skip, like insurance or the cost of a plot of land, there are certainly ways to make a tiny home feasible.
When it comes to breaking down the cost, consider utilities, appliances and building materials. These three factors will have the most impact on your home budget. Opting for renewable energy, using recycled materials and living with fewer appliances are just a few ways you can make tiny home living truly affordable.