Want to live in a tiny house, but you aren’t sure how much it’s going to cost? The Tiny House Blog is here to help!
Small homes, just like their larger cousins, vary widely in price. The materials you’re using, the systems you want to have, and doing it yourself versus hiring a contractor all play a role in how much scratch you’re going to have to lay out to live the lifestyle of your dreams.
Let’s break down the choices you need to make one by one, and look at some examples from Dancing Rabbit Eco-village to demonstrate how these decisions might impact your final price tag. (By the way, if you want to check out more than a dozen tiny houses all in one spot before you get started on your own, consider coming to visit us! We’d love to show you around and give you some hot tips.)
DIY vs. hiring a contractor:
The first big decision you’re going to have to make is whether to build your house yourself or hire someone else to do it for you.
If you have no experience with construction, I STRONGLY recommend that you forget about trying to do it yourself. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, you’re never going to be able to match the professionals. Paying to retrofit mistakes down the line can be cripplingly expensive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Anyway, building a house yourself takes a long time. I mean forever. Modern day pioneers, Mae Ferber and Benjamin Brownlow, have been building their own house for over two years and they still aren’t finished. The tradeoff is a lower price tag, because they aren’t paying wagers to builders. (Though they still have to find ways to meet their living expenses in the meantime.) So far, they’ve spent about $6500, excluding their own labor, tools and sporadic hired help for specialized tasks and heavy lifting.
Thomas Kortkamp’s house is an ongoing work in progress, ten years in the making, and he’s only spent around $1300! (Most of which was for a primo wood stove, and doesn’t include the value of his labor.) But Thomas is an experienced builder – he eats, breathes and sleeps natural building techniques, and he spends tons of time keeping up to date on the latest advancements. (He also didn’t shy away from sleeping in temperatures close to zero while he was living in a tent during the early stages of home construction.)
The Flouch is another good example of a DIY house, built by sustainability expert Dan Durica. His gorgeous house came with a price tag of around $15,000. not counting his own labor. Dan knows his stuff, had a romantic partner willing to pitch in free of charge, and it still took him a couple years to do.
Now it’s time to do a little honest self-assessment. Be authentic. Does spending the next few years in a tent sound like fun to you? Do you have the savings on hand to quit your day job while you’re building your tiny house? If not, are you prepared for the stress of working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for YEARS? Are you familiar with your local construction codes, restrictive covenants and so on? If not, are you at least willing to invest hundreds of hours in learning that sort of fun stuff?
If you can answer yes to ALL these questions, then go ahead and do it yourself. It can be rewarding, and most importantly, it can save you big bucks.
However, if you’re not up for playing the DIY game, your next option is to have a tiny house built for you.
Last year, I asked a local natural builder, Hassan Hall, to draw up plans for an 11’ x 9’ tiny house and give me a quote. I was looking for a minimalistic starter home. He offered to do it for $12,000, which I think was a great deal.
His friendly competitor, Anthony “Bear” Barrett, offered to construct a hyper energy-efficient 8’ x 8’ house for $10,500. It also would have been a good deal, considering the cost of modern materials and the quality of windows he was planning to install.
(I ended up buying a straw bale cottage built by a women’s empowerment workshop for a little over $8000 instead.)
If you need help finding a local contractor who already understands the wisdom of the tiny house movement, I recommend checking out this great resource from TinyHouseListings.com.
The nation’s leader is tiny houses made to order is the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. You can expect one of their finished houses to run somewhere between $57,000 and $70,000, with an option for financing plans with monthly payments.
How much space do you REALLY need?
Tiny house enthusiasts often fantasize about living in a closet with three windows and a door, but in reality you’re going to need storage space, a place for your appliances to go, room to sleep and somewhere to stretch your legs. If you’re living with others, you’ll also want separate areas so everyone can have some privacy, and enough elbow room to prevent your family from degenerating into a pack of snarling wolves before everyone has finished their first cup of morning coffee.
If you ask me, a reasonable minimum is 100 square feet per person. (I live alone in a house with an 8’ x 12’ interior, and it suits me wonderfully.)
The national average price per square foot for new construction is $125/square foot, but that can go as high as $500/square foot for custom work.
What systems do you want?
Before you do too much guesswork about what your major systems will cost, I recommend contacting your local utility companies directly and asking for ballpark installation figures. Many companies offer convenient tools on their websites to help you assess costs, and in some cases, installation of a new connection is free if you agree to sign on as a customer for a given length of time.
When it comes to supplying your house with electricity, your two primary options are to design your own renewable energy system with solar panels and wind turbines, or to tie your house to the local power grid. Remember Dan’s house that I mentioned earlier? Half of his $15,000 price tag went to his extensive off-grid solar panel array, batteries and the electronics needed to complete his power supply system. (A grid tied system might cost another $500 or so for the right kind of inverter.) He’s able to run a chest freezer, chest refrigerator and all of his household appliances on sunshine. (With occasional shutdowns when clouds want to play keep-away for days on end.)
The downside of a solar/windmill array is the batteries – they require a lot of maintenance, they’re heavy, they off-gas toxic chemicals, and sooner or later you will have to replace them at a cost of thousands of dollars.
If you choose to tie into your local power grid, the main factor in determining how much it will cost is how far your house is from the nearest connection terminal. If the installation is fairly standard and routine, it could cost you as little as a couple hundred, but if the power company has to install yards and yards of line to reach your dream home way back in the sticks, it could cost you tens of thousands.
You could also encounter a problem if there is private land between your plot and the connection terminal. If you have unfriendly neighbors, you may have to pay to have your connection routed around their property.
Water and Gas:
Your next big consideration is your water supply. You should expect to budget between 30 and 40% of your capital for wet systems. I’m talking about plumbing and major fixtures.
If you want an in-ground cistern with a rain catchment system, you’ll also need to factor in the costs of hiring an excavation crew, construction of a foundation and/or housing for the cistern and specialized equipment like a transfer pump and UV filter to ensure your water is safe to drink.
Tying in to your municipal water supply network is generally less expensive, provided that your home is easily accessible. If they have to lay a quarter mile of pipe to reach your house, the water company is going to charge you an arm and a leg. (And maybe your firstborn child.)
The same principles go for your local gas company.
Bear in mind that, depending on where you want your dream home to be, you may be REQUIRED to connect your house to the local sewage network.
Where is your house going to be located?
Obviously, if you’re going to build a house somewhere, you need some land to put it on, and prices vary so widely the best I can do is give you a few rules of thumb.
Cheap land is cheap for a reason. It could be remote, on top of a fracking sinkhole, adjacent to a factory animal farming facility, on the route of a noisy train, or some other wretched circumstance. Do your homework before you make a deal.
Conversely, the more demand there is a given piece of land, and the closer you get to civilization, the more expensive it’s going to be.
The U.S. national average price per acre for land outside of city limits, (farm real estate,) is a little over $3000/acre.
A mobile tiny home frees you from the constraints of buying land, but comes with other restrictions including road-worthiness and RV camping guidelines.
Beware the siren call of cutting corners.
If you think you’re going to pull a fast one on the real world by cutting corners at every opportunity, I urge you to think again.
Cheap windows and insufficient insulation will cause your monthly energy expenses to skyrocket, in addition to making your dream home uncomfortable to live it.
Second rate materials lead to second rate houses – the worth of a home is more than the sum of its parts.
DIY disasters are expensive to correct, and can be downright dangerous to live with.
The final verdict.
I know… you just want a ballpark figure. With all the caveats above out of the way, here is the best range I can offer you.
Spartan Shanty: $500 – $8000; $4000 average:
If you’re content to live with the bare minimum of convenience, you can probably expect to spend at least $500 on up. Kyle’s Gnome Dome is a comfortable, minimalist tiny space, and cost about $3000 overall to construct, not counting his own labor.
The initial skeleton of Dan’s rental property, Wisteria, cost a mere $1500. Finishing materials, tools and sporadic assistance were several thousand more.
DIY Tiny House: $5000 – $40,000; $20,000 average:
Hassan’s self-built natural home cost a bit less than $5000 to put together, including materials, electrical installation, major appliances and some occasional hired help, but excluding his own labor.
Conversely, Bear’s customizable super-efficient tiny house on wheels has a listing price of $16,000, and a finished version would likely run in the vicinity of $35,000, which includes the market value of his labor.
Katherine Hanson is a radical recycler whose tiny dream home is made out of an abandoned school bus. It only cost around $6000 to build.
Contractor-built Tiny House: $10,000 – $80,000; $35,000 average:
Of course, this class of tiny houses will have the biggest spread. Size, materials, contractor experience and the area you’re building in all have an important role to play. Still, I can give you a few useful data points.
Online parent coach, Kassandra Brown, bought a two-story tiny house for herself and her kids for around $27,000.
Grad student, Stephen Shapiro and his Italian lady-love, Erica, bought a single story home with a sleeping loft for the about the same price: $27,000.
Eco-impact investor Nathan Brown retrofitted a shoddy workshop and installed a hyper efficient air source heat pump in his up-cycled cottage, which cost EXACTLY $36,903.57. (Shouldn’t have bought that candy bar, Nathan!)
Bluestem is a family home made almost entirely of recycled materials, currently for sale for $47,000.
Want to learn more?
If you’re ready to quit daydreaming and get started on your tiny house for real, I invite you to set some time aside and visit us at Dancing Rabbit Eco-village.
We have a number of experienced builders in our community who can tell you everything you need to know to get started, along with the pitfalls to avoid, and the lessons they learned from their own mistakes. (By the way, if you’re wondering what a tiny house lifestyle in my village is likely to cost you, check out this comprehensive article.)
You’ll also be able to see more than a dozen tiny homes firsthand all in one spot. You’ll also make new friends, eat superb organic food. Along the way, you’ll learn how we live fulfilling, high quality lifestyles on a fraction of the resources used by the average American, at a fraction of the cost.