Tiny Houses and Prohibitive Costs


by Jeremy Fitzgerald

I have been following the tiny house movement for years. The one thing that turns me off is the prohibitive costs involved. Tiny houses would be a great solution for lower income people if the companies that manufactured and promoted them charged less (or used more reclaimed materials). For now, it seems that the tiny home is an option for people with disposable income. (I know this is a broad generalization, but…)

My wife and I own a home in Utah. We have a detached garage (15X22) that sees little use outside of being a storage area. One of our good friends, Dan, lost his apartment in November, and being self-employed, he had neither the credit or money to get a new place. Dan asked us if he could stay in the garage (our home is too small for guests). We agreed.


Dan spent the winter in the garage, heated by only an electric radiator. It was not comfortable for him. Dan is a building contractor. Over the course of the spring months, we began salvaging materials from different restoration projects that Dan was working on.

Dan drew up plans for splitting the garage in half with the intention of turning his half into an apartment. So far, we have spent $10.00 (yep!!) on a window from the Habitat for Humanity store. Over the last few months, we have salvaged enough materials to build the walls, ceiling, and floor. We’ve salvaged wiring, wallboard, framing timber, a heater, and an air conditioner (Utah is hot!), kitchen sink, cabinets, electric conduit, and doors. All we need now is some insulation and we can finish the project.

The cost of running plumbing to the garage is prohibitive, so Dan’s kitchen will feature a gravity fed sink with a gray water bucket underneath. Dan uses our bathroom for showering, etc. When completed, Dan’s little apartment will be around 150 square feet and have all the amenities of a home (with the exception of toilet and shower) including a stove and refrigerator, sleeping loft, living room area, and storage for his tools and other items.

We do not have to get permits for this project as there is no plumbing and the apartment is being built into an existing structure. Once finished, Dan will have a brand new home that he will be proud to call his own, we will have converted an unused space into living quarters, and there will be one less homeless person in our community.

When I get the time, I will take pictures and email them to you. I hope our story can inspire other people to share what they have and take an active part in solving the homeless problem. I see so many structures that could be converted to nice little homes for people in need. The tiny house movement seems filled with people who have to much and want to simplify their lives. I think it’s more important to use tiny homes as a way to share our good fortune with those who have nowhere to call home. If you have to much, give it to someone who has nothing. Thanks for reading our story. – Jeremy Fitzgerald

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dean - May 20, 2014 Reply

Exactly! I reaslize labor is expensive but not 40k for a shed! You can buy mobile homes new for that. Considering most use a bucket for a composting toilet, not sure how it costs so much for these tiny homes. There is a guy in Huntsville tx that builds homes from all reclaimed/used materials. Check it out!

    Lorena Elizondo - May 20, 2014 Reply

    I totally agree with you; it’s a SHED! Very livable, but definately overpriced! Anyhow can you give me the name and/or website info of your friend from Hunstville TX that builds reclaimed homes. Please & thank you. ;o)

Currant - May 20, 2014 Reply

Sounds grand, can’t wait to see the pictures.

    Pam - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Me too—-I’d like to see interior pictures! Congratulations on a great idea!

Jen - May 20, 2014 Reply

I think the Tiny House Movement can handle both – those of us who have too much and want to simplify, and those of us who have nothing and need space to live. Don’t you?

    Cindy - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jen,

    I completely agree with you. Of course the tiny house movement can meet a variety of needs for a variety of people – one of the coolest things about going ‘tiny’ is the personal relevance it has for each individual and the lack of judgement regarding that relevance. I found a place in Seattle that is creating tiny homes for people with physical disabilities (ADA compliant!) I think that is awesome. They also work with an architect who is committed to building homes for people so that they can ‘age in place’ and remain safely in their homes and maintain independence as they grow older. Since I will be retiring in the next 10 or 15 years, I found this particularly appealing as well. My admiration goes out to Jeremy and his family – what a wonderful gift to give a friend. Kudos to you guys!

Eldaka Admore - May 20, 2014 Reply

This is a wonderful and inspiring story. I agree that tiny homes should be used to assist the homeless, I have read many articles in support of homeless population. Also I also agree that tiny home companies should work to make them more affordable. If they were I would definitely reside in one today.

    Bob - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Tiny homes would be perfect for the homeless and the elderly; enabling many older people to age in place. Affordability is a key issue regarding the tiny house movement.

alexandra - May 20, 2014 Reply

What good people you are! I wish Dan a strong and healthy new future with a place to call home!

Deborah Burns - May 20, 2014 Reply

Awesome! Inspiring. Thank you for writing this article. I hope more people will think like you.

Crow DogWidow - May 20, 2014 Reply

This is fantastic!

Barbara - May 20, 2014 Reply

Beautiful, inspiring story Jeremy. Thanks for sharing this.

Diana - May 20, 2014 Reply

It is nice when someone gives instead of take for friends. I moved in with my son and his family but would love one of these little house at a reduced purchase price and maintainance cost

Jason - May 20, 2014 Reply

There was once such a thing as a tiny house for low income people. It was called a single-wide mobile home. Most were energy inefficient, cheaply built, but light (due to their metal siding and thin framing), ingeniously laid out, and often with built-in cabinets and dressers. Manufactured housing standards forced them to become safer and more efficient. They still manufacture large single-wides but the tiny house movement will need to bring back the smaller ones like the 8×40, 10×50, 12×60, and 14×56. The smaller units available right now cost about the same as a tiny house but the quality isn’t as good. They also require a professional to move them.

sunshine - May 20, 2014 Reply

I love your website and i think there is muchmuch need for efficient little houses like shown here. I think the writer is right. Stop the hoarding of needles junk and use your space with those who who lost jobs and houses because of sick banks, bonusses, politicians. I don’t like to pay taxes either, but i do not understand how on earth americans do exept the very rich in your country hardly pay any! I know democracy only can survive if the range between the haves and havenots are to a certain extend. To me it now seems democracy is dead in your country with so much poverty, one out of 3 children living under horrible situations. They are a countries future!!…I recognize the remark about costs..it is as if tiny houses become more and more a hobby for the well to do, a real business like the treehouse in the backyard for the well to do….Please help design little houses for those people who had to leave their houses due to ‘others’ and have not much to loose anymore nor to spend! Renee from Holland.

    D Rhodes - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Dear Sunshine,
    Some of what you say is right. Your heart is in the right place for the most part. We are not perfect here in the United States. Every country has its faults, yours is no exception.

    Nate - May 24, 2014 Reply

    The USA is not a democracy, it is a constitutional republic. We are in bad shape because our leaders have ran it like a democracy (two wolves and a sheep voting on whats for dinner).
    But at the same time it is very good for people to learn to live with less.

    Keep in mind also there is a lot of lazy, irresponsible and mentally handicapped people that wouldn’t keep a house if you gave them one. And being that this is a free country, you are still allowed to make poor decisions and life choices and not be deprived of the consequences.

    If someone want’s to spend 100K on their tiny home, please don’t judge them because they have every right to do so and it doesn’t mean they had any less struggle than you did.
    Thanks for reading..

Judy - May 20, 2014 Reply

Dan is lucky to have such good friends! Having to use your toilet and shower is a challenge though.But as long as it works for all of you, that’s what matters!

Devon - May 20, 2014 Reply

You, sir, are the type of person we need more of. Thanks for sharing and inspiring! We are on the “Dan” end of things, and appreciate that there are foks trying to come up with cheaper alternatives. God bless you richly.

Kari - May 20, 2014 Reply

Thanks for this great article, Kent. I can’t wait to see pics! I have been salvaging for awhile now, with the intention of only building with what my affluent neighbors leave on the curb. It’s SO inspiring to hear of other folks with common

curt - May 20, 2014 Reply

Wonderful! Great to hear that people are helping others!

phil - May 20, 2014 Reply

Jeremy, I applaud your spunk and charity, and I couldn’t agree more with the thoughts concerning prohibitive costs involved with tiny homes. I have long thought that tiny homes go hand in hand with tiny budgets, and having tiny budgets, you have to think outside the box; tiny box in this case. Reclaiming materials is a fantastic way of getting the job done on a shoestring, keeping the material from going into a landfill, and overall just making more sense. I am all about recycling building materials and do every chance I can. In fact, it’s hard for me to throw away a 2×4 if it’s more than 4 feet long. I keep thinking I’ll have a use for it at some point. I tend to think most of the world views re-purposing of building materials a little differently than Americans do. Perhaps tiny house blog can have a whole segment on re-purposing.

Sharon - May 20, 2014 Reply

I quite like the sentiments which you have expressed in this article, ie with a little bit of elbow grease, unused space could be transformed into an attractive and useful habitat for someone else in need. I am really looking forward to seeing the results of your work but would note, as you imply, that if you and your friend didn’t have access to salvageable materials (and didn’t know how to use them) then this retrofit would have cost much more. The cost is something that occurs to me also as I have viewed many stunning designs on this site. I assume that often people splurge more on materials, reasoning that if they are to live in smaller spaces, then they had better be surrounded by beauty. In many areas of Canada, we have to factor in both extreme cold and heat, not a lot of ways to get around that and often miniaturization costs more in appliances etc. But I still love those Tiny Houses!

D.Burris - May 20, 2014 Reply

Anxious to see the results of the new apartment when you’re done. I lived in Utah for two years, It’s a state, that has everything in beauty. But now I’m in a stick home in southern Ca. and thinking about alternative living when I see the cute houses on this site. I’ve seen where a two car garage was turned into a really cute apartment, but didn’t realize the plumbing issue.
Good luck!

Deb Stephens - May 20, 2014 Reply

Check into composting toilets, homemade or bought this would solve some issues for him.

Kate - May 20, 2014 Reply

I agree. The costs do seem to be prohibitive. Here’s something hopeful: Occupy Madison has incorporated (Google OM Madison, WI) and is building Tiny Houses for the homeless for around $3000 apiece– with community financial support. It’s part of a much larger project: a village. When the homeless individual or family finds their feet again, the T.H. will be passed on to the next person in need. Take a look.

Carol Hopkins - May 20, 2014 Reply

We had insulated our attached garage (covered the door with insulation and hung floor to ceiling curtains and added a side door for separate entrance and 2 windows – all at nominal cost (Goodwill, Habitat Store, etc). Added a window unit, space heater and this has served many people over the course of 16 years. Serving people as they have need – Jesus said Love your neighbor as yourself. We shared the kitchen, bath – really our entire home.

We disconnect the overhead garage door so it could not be opened accidentally while we had guests. Like all things in life – change happens. Our garage is currently a garage – that holds my car – but we know we can always redo our little space into a living space again.

Thank you Jeremy for sharing your story of generosity with the world. God bless.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Carol – I love your story and the way you think. I wish there were more people who were not selfish and opened their homes to those in need.

Cherlynn - May 20, 2014 Reply

In our small cabins we reinforced the attic space and put a small cattle tank from our truck and use that to provide running water. It works well for doing dishes and taking quick showers and all gravity feed. We refill with a garden hose as needed. The small tanks can hold as much as 210 gallons but we usually fill to the 150 gallon mark and so far none of our primitive campers have run out of water. Its a simple cheap solution to provide water where there is none to be had.

Andy Hawkins - May 20, 2014 Reply

I think I’m gonna have to disagree on this one. As a one time self employed person I wish I had approached my business with a bigger focus on profit than I did. Maintaining premises, staff, tools, inventory etc costs money, as does marketing, advertising, strategic planning and pretty much everything else. As consumers we tend to look at things and have thoughts like “but there can’t be much more than $10 of materials there and they want to charge how much for it?” and “I could have built that for a fraction of the cost”. Both these thoughts are true and accurate and perfectly valid but companies are charging us not only a premium so that we don’t have to, they are also charging us for everything I mentioned earlier before that premium even enters the equation.

And reclaimed materials are only cheaper if they arrive in the same pristine condition that new materials do. Say for instance you have a neighbour that will give you all his barn wood as long as you come and take the barn you may well think “great, free wood” but when you factor in the tools you need to do it, the vehicles you use to move it and the time involved to actually take it apart and prepare the lumber so that its useable then the cost gets high pretty quick. Now the nice thing is that if we do it ourselves then its sweat equity we’re putting in rather than financial equity but if you run a business and have wages to pay and overheads to cover then sweat equity isn’t an option.

I think the simple answer is that pre-built tiny houses are either something you think is worth the money, or they’re not. Self built tiny houses are something you either have the skills and time and tools to build yourself, or they’re not.

Dollar for dollar though I think tiny houses represent better value for money than cookie cutter mcmansions, not so much for what they cost you, but for what they don’t cost you. You spend less in taxes and maintenance, you spend less on “stuff” to fill it, less on utilities and you gain a freedom that big houses don’t offer for a lot of people.

    LouAnn - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Well said Andy. People who have never run a business rarely understand the costs involved. Regulations and taxes, wages, etc. come into play long before any profit is realized AND if there is no profit, the business will not survive because the owner(s) have to eat and have a roof over their heads, etc.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Andy – I have seen tiny homes that cost 100K+. I bought my 926 square foot home with a third of an acre in a major metropolitan area for 128K (about $139.00 a square foot). To me, a 150 square foot tiny home that costs 100K (about $667.00 a square foot) IS prohibitive and overpriced. I’ve priced out MANY of the tiny homes in this price range and found that the materials often cost about 80% less than the asking price. That being said, for the tiny house movement to truly catch on, the costs should reflect the average cost per square foot for a traditional home. A lot of tiny home manufacturers are asking exorbitant prices for their products – which is essentially a niche or boutique product. The manufacturers are marketing to people who can AFFORD $667.00 a square foot. I feel there is a profound disconnect between the intentions of the movement (use less, own less, try to reduce the impact on the earth) and the reality of the movement ($100,000 for 150 square feet.)

      Skooj - May 21, 2014 Reply

      Where on earth did you see a 150 sq/ft, $100k house. That would indeed be a boutique product. I know wheelhaus has a park model that’s pushing $100k, but it is intended to be a niche product with very high-end finishes and fixtures, but even that only works out to $250 per sq/ft.

      You say that tiny houses need to have a per square foot price that is comparable to traditional houses, but the per square foot price is incredibly misleading. If they ever get popular enough that we start to see economy of scale kick in, they might get closer, but will probably never meet.

      Look at Jay Shafer’s new company, for instance. He’s not actually offering houses for sale, just plans, so there’s no reason to pump up materials costs, but for his 112 sq/ft model he lists an estimated price to build it yourself at about $19k for materials. That’s $169 per square foot before any labor costs. The hOMe tiny house recently shown on this site cost the owners 33k for a 200 sq/ft home ($165 per sq ft) using all their own labor.

      Square footage is the cheapest thing you can add to a house, and the more you add the cheaper it gets, because it lowers the average and diffuses the cost of other items. A $500 on-demand water heater adds $5 per square foot to a 100 sq foot house, but only 50 cents to a 1000 square foot house.

tinyhousetom - May 20, 2014 Reply

A building permit is required in my county when:

Construction or finishing of rooms in the basement or attic.

So check your local regs before converting any existing structures. Turning a detached garage into a bedroom changes it from an auxillary building.

Infill uses like the one in this article would go a long way to limiting urban sprawl.

Marka - May 20, 2014 Reply

I’m of two minds here. I love the point that Jeremy has made. I’ve renovated two houses with help from my siblings. While there are things that I won’t touch (Got a thing about electricity) I’ve basically learned as I went. You have to be careful and know exactly what you’re doing, but it’s not rocked science. And going to your local reuse store like Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store will save you a bundle on cabinets and supplies. You can even get wood at some reuse stores. It’s 50 cents for lengths less than 8 feet at my favorite local store which is called The Loading Dock. You can also haunt Craigslist. You’d be shocked at what you can get in the free section. You can do it cheaply and enjoy it to boot. The other side of the coin is the builders side. I enjoy building and I’ve been a regular follower of this and other tiny house sites. I’m also chronically short on cash, so it was only a matter of time before the penny dropped and I (like a million other people it seems) though “Hmmmm….why not build them to sell?” I can do it relatively cheaply, no problem, but we’re looking at a tremendous investment in time for a small builder, especially one who has another job. Reusing everything from lumber to fixtures saves a bundle, but not if you buy them instead of scrounging them. Buying reused lumber can be horribly expensive if you buy it prepped from a salvage yard specializing in hard to find salvage.. Yes, some of that price can be price gouging, but for a lot of sellers, the price represents the prep time they put into it. Think of it like you’d think of car repairs. Spock plugs are cheap, relatively speaking. If you can do it yourself, you’ll save big. But if you have the plugs changed on some of the newer model cars where the plugs are not accessible without a lift, like in some minivan models, you will wind up paying for five hours of a mechanic’s time to put in that cheap part (in my van he has to pull apart the front of the car to get to them) and you’ll be looking at a large bill. Same with salvaged wood. Pull down the boards yourself, pull the nails, sort through them, scavenge pallets and saw them apart and pull nails, fit them into the design or design around the flaws and you come off cheaply…but at the cost of more of your time and the clock is ticking. Buy ready prepped from a high end salvage operation? You’re paying for their time. Look for the nonprofit salvage outfits listed above for a happy medium. My point is that I can do it cheaply, but it could easily take a year of my time working alone. My material cost could be low, but if I wind up paying myself only a dollar or two an hour for that year of work it is not worth it. If I charge enough to pay myself carpenter wages or even carpenter assistant wages, I may be selling for a price comparable to those that you have been writing about. Can I find that sweet spot where I charge enough to make my year of work worthwhile while still coming in below what’s currently for sale on the market? I don’t know. I may be willing to try. At worse, I’ll have a killer work studio at the end of the process. For Jeremy and all of you site readers out there, I’d like your opinion. Can you tell me what you think is a good price for a tiny house that’s NOT on wheels? (the expensive trailer would kill all hopes of coming in below current market price,) Thanks.

    LouAnn - May 20, 2014 Reply

    Hello Marka, You, too, have made some very good points. It is too difficult to determine what a good price for a tiny house should be because there are too many variables such as climate, cabinetry, size, off-grid or not, etc. To be worth anything, the house must match the needs of the buyer. For instance, I personally would not want to have a kitchen without an oven, since I love to bake. Other people might be perfectly happy with a one burner cooktop. A small RV range with an oven cost almost as much as a full size stove but of course would not fit in a tiny house. Some people would be content with 3 or 4 windows, I would not. Some people love quality, others don’t care . And the list goes on.

    Judy - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Just speaking for myself, I’ve been looking for 2 years now at Tiny Houses, and my top price is 25K.I expect a nice kitchen and bathroom for that amount. One that I’ve been following is 16K and has less kitchen cabinets than I would like, no bathroom sink ,just toilet and shower and the floor and ceiling are stained plywood. I want 200 sq ft and at least 1 loft for storage. Answering your question really made me realize the difference in prices. Good Luck!

Joy - May 20, 2014 Reply

I agree with what Jeremy said, in that many of us cannot even afford to build a tiny home. I have been renting room shares and or doing caretaking exchanges for partial rents, the last several years. Now I know , even at my age, I could build a shed and finish it out, but land expense is prohibitive. I receive Soc. Sec. for my income. I have the double whammy of no vehicle, at present. I’m sort of forced into getting a senior apt.

My point is…..What can folks do that have less than 1K a month to totally survive on, no vehicle and no savings, or possibility of additional income? It’s embarrassing to talk about, but this is a real issue , and hopefully some brilliant contractor will see their way to build decent small homes , and allow easy payment plans.

Sean - May 20, 2014 Reply

Jeremy, there are some who specialize in salvaged materials: http://tinytexashouses.com.

However, I strongly agree with Andy about the market forces setting the costs of all things. The price of the product must cover everything Andy says, plus salvage materials come with hidden costs and hidden liabilities. Regulations and local codes have also become much more stringent in regards to energy use, fire code, human habitation, (especially sleeping quarters), permissible use of a structure zoning compliance and many, many other “imposed” costs that the powers that be deem you must pay. It’s just expensive to build in American cities and still obey the law. Some freedom is probably atill available outside of municipalities.

P.S. Double check the
Municipal code on that gray water bucket, as an example.

Michael - May 20, 2014 Reply

The Tiny House movement absolutely has room for both high-end and economy homes. My wife and I build our 12 x 16 “cabin” from all new materials and it still only cost $5,000. That also included the $1,200 for the earthmoving to prepare the site.

The biggest savings one can make is to do it yourself. I built our cabin in 4′ x 8′ panels and hauled the panels to the site. I used deck screws instead of nails, so when (not if) I made a mistake I could easily take the panel apart and correct it.

You can do this. Get a basic carpentry book and try it.

Teri - May 20, 2014 Reply

I can’t wait to see the pictures either!!

Wendy - May 20, 2014 Reply

When people who own high-end homes do extensive remodels, it is amazing what they will simply throw out. Plumbing fixtures, bricks, wood, cabinets, etc., all in excellent condition, just not what they want. Since Dan is a contractor he likely has access to all kinds of materials for free (in fact, the owners doing the remodel have to pay to have that kind of stuff hauled off).
One thing I would suggest is the possibility, since Utah is warm for part of the year, of building an outdoor shower. He could frame up a little fenced yard and install a gravity fed, solar-heated shower. My husband has one that is basically a large, heavy dark plastic bag you fill with water and then hang in the sun, which heats it. You can get them through camping supply companies. I think Sun Shower is the brand name of one of them. I would also look into a good composting toilet. Since he’s a guy….no doubt he only really needs a toilet for “serious” matters most of the time.
Really great of you to extend your home to him like that- what a good friend you are!

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Wendy – We’re installing a solar shower soon!

Tonita - May 20, 2014 Reply

While this sound like a great idea to use a garage for living quarters, it is not legal in MANY towns, cities and counties across America. If it were many more home owners would love to turn garages into rental units for added income. Where it is legal and one does not have to fly under that radar it makes good sense to convert buildings in to living options. Local health departments would frown on this type of living situation and with no plumbing or running water and it would not fly through county inspections and or codes. The electrical would also need to be inspected and passed in most counties in America. Thousands of tiny home and alternative homes are inhabited by people who have to fly under that radar to occupy their space or home. While tiny home owners may be mortgage free there are a new set of headaches in always wondering if you will have to pull up roots and move if there is a complaint about where you are parked. Just curious if your home owners insurance will insure the garage now that it has become a type of rental property? Depending on one’s location it could be an asset and then again I see how it could easily become a liability.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Tonita – I’m not super concerned with zoning, the insurance company, or any of that. The garage is not a rental property – Dan lives there for free. We have gone to great pains to keep the garage looking like a garage from the outside – to avoid all of the legal issues.

Wendy Powell - May 20, 2014 Reply

Is there an outside faucet? You can rig up a shower right outside of your backdoor with a hose, privacy fence and mounting for the shower head.

In addition, you don’t need plumbing for this toilet!

All you need is electricity to ‘bag up’ your waste… I know it is not particularly green but it is a solution so that the person does not have to have a key to your home … and you do not need to pull a permit for plumbing or waste …

Irene - May 20, 2014 Reply

1. Thanks for being so kind to your friend.
2. As someone said above, it’s shocking what people will throw out. Much of my furniture has been stuff I picked up from the sidewalks on my walking route. Now that mid-century modern is in, it turns out I am completely hip. For free. I see discarded windows and doors frequently. If I had a truck and a garage, I’d be hoarding this stuff.

Wendy Powell - May 20, 2014 Reply

No relation to the Wendy right above mine … but “great minds think alike” with the shower thingy … ;>)

Todd S - May 20, 2014 Reply

The article is inspiring and shows what the possibilities are, however don’t push blame on those companies that are producing tiny homes. They’re a product with a market. I build homes and know what it costs. If you go the buying a prefab product route, you’re trading the time and effort involved in salvaging materials for having something ready made. Also, there’s a drastic swing in prices of materials and labor based on your material and design choices. You can build a basic “bedroom” in an existing garage from recycled materials for very little. If you want a nicely finished, detailed and well-designed prefab tiny home that you don’t have to spend hours and hours running around trying to find construction debris, then you’ll have to pay more.
On another note to the author…….yes you do technically need a permit. If you were walling off an existing garage as a uninhabited storage room, then no. But you’re creating an occupied, living space which needs a permit. Yes, not having plumbing keeps it from being labeled an accessory dwelling unit (which might not be allowed by your zoning), however that doesn’t negate the requirement that a change from a storage (garage) space to a living space needs to be permitted.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Todd – Dan’s room is a LOT More than a basic bedroom. It is a beautiful, functional space – or, in your words “nicely finished, detailed and well-designed”. We have spent more money since I wrote this article 8+ months ago. I think we’re up to about 500 bucks, most of it insulation and lighting fixtures. 2 points with regards to the legal ramifications: 1. If it was illegal in my county, I would have done it anyway 2. in my county, it is not illegal to let someone sleep in your ‘improved’ garage – because of the lack of bathroom facilities and running water, it is technically NOT a living space and does not require a permit. Building codes differ dramatically from municipality to municipality. If I was in the next city over, I would have to have architectural drawings, permits, etc. just to put a wall in my garage.

      Donatella - May 23, 2014 Reply

      I agree with the idea of ‘screw the permits and regulations’. There are far too many homeless people who have literally no where to go (they’re harassed or arrested which costs 50K a year/prison time, couldn’t we just give them that money to have decent housing, since the funds seem to be available?).

      My entire life I’ve had a flag waved in my face and been told how ‘free’ I am, only to have everything need a permit, to be taxed, and hounded by the cop and court system if I didn’t do everything by the interminable book of rules. F’ em. I’m not the property of the banksters, the people who put a charge and interest rate on everything only to make us permanent debtors, nor am I beholden to anyone to ‘not reduce their property values’.

      It would serve the McMansion people right if I bought a (ridiculously overpriced) lot in their neighborhood right smack dab between some lousy-built lawyer-foyer 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom monstrosity and put in a nicely done 250 sf cottage, and then invited them all over after the dust settled to point out to them that my taxes will now be 1/10 of theirs, as well as the heating and cooling costs. Watch the lawsuits kick in and the CC & Rs be quoted! God forbid you shouldn’t follow arbitrary Gestapo rules. Hasn’t anyone noticed that this country, the U.S., is following the same road as Germany in 1938?

      For me, I’m planning on moving to Mexico next year. The central highlands have low cost of living, the rural areas are cheap, no need for heating or cooling and the food is fresh and local. Medical care is a few hundred $ a year for insurance and cheap otherwise, and you don’t need a prescription to buy ‘prescription’ drugs. Every comfort (a la the U.S.) is available for a price and one person could frugally live on 1K a month. The progressive Mexican government has committed billions over the next several years to modernize the infrastructure and in many parts it already looks a helluva lot better than places in the U.S. where most of our government money goes for interminable wars against ‘terrorists’ who just happen to be sitting on oil or mineral reserves.

      Sorry for the rant but I get so tired of people quoting codes like they’re scripture. The U.S., like the shrinking middle class, is a sick joke at this point.

alice h - May 20, 2014 Reply

Reading through bylaws for a particular area can be a nightmare, so many little things to figure out. One interesting thing where I live is that you can have a studio apartment that’s not an apartment, in that if you install a kitchen range or the wiring for one the space is considered an apartment but without one it’s just a rec room or whatever even if it has a sink and fridge in it. It could legally be a sleeping room if you have the right size window, to make sure you have an emergency exit. Bonus if it has a private entrance and attached bathroom.

You don’t need to shower outside, you just need a wash tub or tote to stand in that holds more water than the shower bag and rig up shower curtains that tuck inside the tub when showering. I have a system like that I can put away when not in use and the tub works for laundry too. I heat water in an electric tea kettle to add to the shower bag. Even with very long hair I can get wet, turn off the water, shampoo and soap then rinse off all using 1 to 2 gallons of water.

Walt Barrett - May 20, 2014 Reply

There is no excuse for high prices if you go the DIY route and are willing to do a lot of salvaging and improvising and shopping for cheap land. A great deal depends on your location. I would put the building alone in a range from $2,000.00 to $25,000.00 including solar electric for lighting and electronics. You have to be very patient, a good planner, a hard worker and very good a salvaging for “stuff”. You also need an old pick up truck or cargo trailer for your car. The first thing that you need though is to draw up a decent plan and steady it well. Or you can buy a cheap house trailer on Craigs list, take it home and rehab it. It will save you a lot of trouble.

Dana - May 20, 2014 Reply

Wow. I love it…friends taking care of friends.

April Anson - May 20, 2014 Reply

I couldn’t agree more! Tiny houses can be a great way to strengthen community, share resources and grow quality of life. As just another means to more accumulation, their potential is lost. Great post!

Gail Van Luvanee - May 20, 2014 Reply

A WONDERFUL article with wonderful points. I am an archictectural paraprofessional and an architectural designer drafter and i have seen many promises but also concerns about Tiny Houses even though i’d love to have one myself, and cost is one of them (lack of plumbing and handicap accessibility are others). —- I can see potential problems with having this apartment, however, depending on the climate — the main one being the posssiblility of flooding because the floor of the garage is basically at ground level so that the cars. The simplest solution that i can see for this particular situation?; raise the finished floor level at least 4″, preferably 8″, at with pressure-treated 2X’s (pressure-treated wood is required to eliminate any wood rot that occurs when wood is in direct contact with masonry, as your friend would know. If the garage is built according to standard building techniques, that will give him the standard ceiling height of 8′-0″ and the bottom of the door should be at the correct 0′-0″ finished floor height and any windows should be at the correct height. You will need to leave a space at the garage door for that to “envelope” into, though. Done correctly, this will also level out the finished floor from the standard slope that garages need. Additionally, it will be easy to convert the area back to a garage in due course. **** There is also a design technique that i’ve liked to use to help low income people have the housing that the need; houses that are designed to “grow” with a family by starting out with a studio tiny-house, then adding a 1bed/1bath addition, then another 1b/1b addition, a gar/laundry addition, and so on. I’d love to see the pictures.

David Remus - May 20, 2014 Reply

The traditional Japanese house at one time was regulated by law based on the number of tatami mats. If you wanted a 12 mat house, the builder already would have many of the parts made. You design the order and position of the shape the 12 mats fit into, and the builder would have a lot of standardized sizes to work with.

With modern technology a series of small house designs could share the same mass produced parts, assembled into the desired order, and be finished in a very short time. We could have a wide variety of designs and materials that went together like a K’nex set. Interior pices that fit to the foundation, exterior pieces that fit over that, etc. A whole designed system could be based on the common 4×8 foot sheet with a framework holding them together.

If you play with just 10 1×2 inch pieces of paper (each representing a 4×8 plywood sheet), you start to see how many floor plans could made in a 320 square foot home.

Gail Van Luvanee - May 20, 2014 Reply

Looking at the picture of the door area, it looks like the entry door is below the standard finished floor level, but a step-up entry area can be designed into the built up floor to allow for that … and give an spark of design, too … maybe by making it a little bit larger than needed and adding a 45 degree angel in it …. and a closet. I’ve seen a patio “sink” that attaches to a hose that might give him atleast some from of running water (see Brylane Homes)

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    The picture is not of my garage – just a stock photo the site used….

Norma - May 20, 2014 Reply

Jeremy Fitzgerald, thank you for giving your friend a place to live and showing support and encouragement. Thank you for your civil humanity. It was a joy to read this.

David Remus - May 20, 2014 Reply

Where I live my house would have to be zoned to have a tenant. If I had an illegal tenant and anything happened, a fire for instance, it is unlikely my insurance would cover it. If they got injured on the property, I would have to foot their medical bills. And even changes not requiring a permit must be done strictly to code.

I am all for helping people, this living arrangement is a great idea, but as with all things it is wise to fully understand the obligations and responsibilities you are assuming.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    David – a ‘tenant’ is someone who pays rent, right? Dan is a close personal friend – he goes on vacation with us, he eats his meals with us, we spend holidays together, etc. – and he doesn’t pay ANY rent or utilities. I would NEVER have a tenant. In addition to Dan’s garage, I usually get 2 or 3 friends every summer who need a place to stay for one reason or another. I just let them set up tents in my backyard, rent free.

Ericc - May 20, 2014 Reply

Thank you Kent,
This story is a great example of conquering a practical need by applying wisdom + time.

It clearly illustrates how the Tiny Home Movement has a great need to address local government to provide zoning and building codes to address the growing problem of homeless accomodation. The majority of homeless are victims – not by choice, and local government needs to act to accomodate all residents in a manner which supports rather than drives them out of town.
This blog and others could do well to lead the parade to organize action movements to pressure local governments to accomodate everyone in a realistic manner.

Cedar - May 20, 2014 Reply

Great post and lots of good comments. My own experience with building tiny has been reclaimed and found material with minimal need for purchasing materials, but I do also love seeing the homes being designed and built for purchase. All in all, I appreciate the inspiration in creative design and the gift of community – caring for those with limited means. No criticism for the diversity of this tiny house world…….thank you, everyone.

D Rhodes - May 20, 2014 Reply

I too find tiny homes that are well built a great alternative to expensive housing – for some, not all. Most of the comments and articles I read on this blog are from younger folks with a lot of energy and time ahead of them. Good. I applaud people trying to help friends survive by presenting an opportunity to build and remodel. But with experience, having seen the attempts of remodeling or building with salvaged materials by an unskilled person/people with good intentions do more harm than good. Resulting in a dwelling that is unsafe and of shoddy craftsmanship. Safety and keeping to building codes has an important place in our home environment whatever the economic situation. Please build good and build safe. Thank you.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    D – Dan is an experienced contractor and his room is overbuilt – beyond what code requires. We only salvage ‘like new’ materials that come from job sites Dan works on – where the owner is remodeling. We choose our materials carefully.

J Jensen - May 20, 2014 Reply

I too find the cost totally out of my reach. I have looked a many different “tiny houses” and cabins and find them even more than the cost of a new home. I a so disappointed!! I love the small house idea. But then I suppose most of the builders are just in it for the money…right? The mighty $$$ speaks…:(

Chuck Huston - May 20, 2014 Reply

Nobody hates excessive regulation (with the invariable costs that go with it) than me. I’m a builder after all, but the responsible house movement is just gaining steam. The last thing we need is to incur unneeded attention and wrath by building unsafe, unsavory, uninsurable small houses. We need to keep it tight so we don’t undermine what progress we’ve made. Let’s keep these houses higher in quality than mainstreem housing. Take the higher ground for our cause, responsible housing.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Chuck – The room we have built is neither unsafe or unsavory. It is built inside an existing structure. The room is built beyond what local code requires – much stronger and safer than the ‘average’ home. I have taken every precaution to ‘ incur unneeded attention and wrath’ by keeping the exterior of the garage looking like a garage. I think we need to put pressure on local governments to change the minimum size requirements that nearly every municipality has, to allow multiple structures on one parcel, to allow multiple sewer and water connections on one parcel, and to allow homeowners the freedom to use the considerable resources that they have dumped into buying a ‘traditional’ home. According to local zoning, I could fit three more regular home on my lot – if it were turned sideways and the long side was facing the street. Meanwhile, it is fine to build an apartment monstrosity complex in my city – same idea, different application. We need to get local governments to recognize that there are safe ways to utilize spaces and structures that are pre-existing.

scott - May 20, 2014 Reply


There are a lot of great comments here. As it happens, I am in the process of building a few small homes in Maine. In most areas, you either have to be in an area that allows for mobile homes or a rural area that allows homes in the 400-500 sq ft range. I am currently working with a builder to design and build a 400-500 ft house, pot belly stove, solar panels, rain barrels system, sewer and well. (No they will not allow a composting toilet but I plan to use it after inspection!!!) I am looking at 5-10 acre lots that are within 30-45 minutes of Portland, Lewiston and Auburn. You are right that not everyone can afford these homes, as they will likely end up in the 150,000.00 range but you will have privacy, acreage, can grow your own food….. If you currently live in a metropolitan area this is cheap.

I love the idea of homes on wheels but out of personal preference they are just a little too small for me. Secondly, it is complicated to put them just anywhere unless you are doing so on the sly or really living out in the middle of nowhere. Again that is not my preference. Personally I don’t want to have to be looking over my shoulder wondering when an inspector is going to show up.

I do however think there are some other options that may be suitable for some… For me, I am simply wanting to decrease my footprint on the planet, collect less, and be able to grow my own gardens and perhaps have a few animals, (not to eat). I want to enjoy more time with nature an being of service when I can.

I do love the idea of purchasing an old farm and creating a homestead where probably 5 or 6 people could live comfortably in the house and then allow a few houses on wheels to park on the property for a fee. I think if you added a couple of composting toilets and a couple of showers,9for access from the outside), the small house on wheels would work just fine. Some of the farms I am looking at have about 100 acres so everyone could have some land to grow and farm. One thing that I have to add is all of this costs money and it takes money to run the utilities, pay the taxes, keep up the house, etc…. While you might not have or want a professional/grind job you would still need a job to supplement basic expenses. Anyone like the idea of a shared farm???

    Jet Tilton - May 21, 2014 Reply

    This is probably the best idea out there, letting several families live on a larger piece of land. Darby with tinytexashouses is trying to develop a community like this where bartering is also part of the plan. I see so much land here in Texas just sitting there, and it seems that running a few head of cattle is more important than providing a small space for a family to avoid homelessness. It is an issue I think of daily, as we lost our home last April to foreclosure, and it seems that you can either camp out for a week at a time or find a homeless shelter. I don’t know all of the rules about sub-leasing land, but even having a travel trailer or large tent would be better than living out of a car….I do believe that many people would choose a tiny home of ANY kind IF they could find a place to put it, which seems to be the main deterrant – county and city zoning and restrictions..

Beverly - May 20, 2014 Reply

Good friend. I can afford to build a permanent tiny home with plumbing except for one small (huge) problem: zoning ordinances require any new home to be a minimum of 1000 sq ft. Unfortunately for me, my current home has a 2 car attached garage so it would not be a wise investment to convert our garage. You can’t sell the house without the garage and I really don’t want to be that close to neighbors!

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Beverly – Sell the house and then buy a tiny piece of land and build a tiny house with the profits. Problem solved.

      Max - June 26, 2014 Reply

      And live where in the meantime?

joanna jacobson - May 20, 2014 Reply

You have cast your bread upon the waters. I am SURE all good things will come back to you. What a nice guy you are!
The BEST of everything to you. ?

Kacey - May 20, 2014 Reply

You are doing the most important thing our society can do and that is to share what we have; it is even more important than the tiny house movement (though they are both part of a better world). In this country, so many have so much more than they need, and it is through the act of sharing that we see the rewards in life that money cannot buy,and the inner peace that we all seek.
How I hope that your post will inspire millions to do the same, and will also help to change all those ridiculous codes that have minimum square footage requirements. -Kacey

Carol Stahl - May 20, 2014 Reply

I am so happy you had the bldg, space, and large heart to help your friend! Thank you for writing this, you made my day too. At one time I thought everyone who had a camper or RV they used less than a month out of a year could share it with someone homeless, but not everyone is as generous (and trusting) as you.
The issue where I live is city and county planning depts. Traditional housing sizes and methods with costs and profits are set in stone here. *** Another thing about the tiny house movement, at least in its present phase, is an emphasis on “back-to-the-land” either to farm or escape city or suburb life. Personally I want to live in a medium size city without having to cut grass and shovel walks now that I am 70 and alone. A small amount of green space around my home (and the neighbors if they don’t want a garden either) would be ideal. *** I want a small house because I want to reduce using up utilities and materials I don’t need. I drive a hybrid car, installed solar panels on my house, obtained high-efficiency appliances, ride a bike as much as weather permits, recycle, have a patio pot garden for veggies, etc. Despite this, it too often is environmentalists who are opposed to doing anything new or different. One example is that I would be heavily fined if I tried to use my own gray water on my own land. *** All this by way of saying, the tiny house trend is in its infancy or revival, and there’s plenty of work in a large number of areas for us all to tackle. Pick a cause and spend thought and time on it.

    Kacey - May 21, 2014 Reply

    I love what you have written – hope you inspire lots of people to “pick a cause”.

glenn bell - May 20, 2014 Reply

We own 15 acres in the Sierra foothills and have hired many locals to help us to maintain it. Very few have been truly reliable, actually, none. We then hit upon the idea that we might be able to find a live-here-for-free caretaker who would give us a certain amount of hours of work each week in exchange for a place to live, high speed internet, and Direct TV. The man we finally settled upon was just on the edge of homelessness, had an alcohol problem, and was rather unkempt—but he was very smart, knew how to use tools, and seemed like an intelligent guy without much discipline, hopefully only because everyone around him were heavy drinkers.

So I bought a 30 ft. travel trailer in good shape for $1700 and it became his home. He insulated it, improved the electricity and plumbing, and I finally found a very small wood stove he uses because there is a forever supply of oak right here. It’s not that there weren’t a few issues, but he has been her almost two years, drinks almost not at all, and has gained a lot of self discipline which has enabled him to join the community again, on his own. I found him an old Volvo which runs like a Swiss watch, and here, at least, is a veteran who is quite likeable, very funny sometimes, and did not succumb to PTSD and did not end up in a shelter. He is a true success story. I (We) are about to leave. The property is for sale-divorce-but he has a transportable very comfortable home, a good car, lots of local work, some veterans benefits, and his life back.

    Bob Ratcliff - May 21, 2014 Reply

    Your caregiver home is simply wonderful. Ironically enough we’re in the early stages of copying you except we’re going to add on to our existing garage (larger base) and then build an apartment upstairs. Early estimates are at around $65,000 or more but yet with both my wife and me very disabled in body, we’d love nothing more than to help someone who’d then in exchange help us. My goal is to get it paid off within four years (no goodies in our life whatsoever) so we’ll then have the option of offering cash along with the deal just in case we need more help. Why can’t more people be like you? Everyone wins and in a case such as yours, you’ve REALLY helped above and beyond. My one criteria is that the guest accommodations must be “very” nice and that we’ll help the caregiver find new reasons to find purpose in their lives while they’re helping us.

    Lori - May 22, 2014 Reply

    I’m sorry you have to sell. Thank you however for saving a man. That is the most amazing thing a person can do. You are an amazing person and I admire you.

    Robert Ace - May 23, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for helping one of my brothers in need, may God bless and keep you!

Bruce Morgan - May 20, 2014 Reply


    Allen - May 26, 2014 Reply

    This does make the place a fire trap however.

Jean - May 20, 2014 Reply

Try looking up dry flush would totally work for you

Anthony Rizzo - May 20, 2014 Reply

The main obstacle to little home ownership is not just the cost to buy one or the learning curve to build one but the friends, family or neighbors that will be okay with these in their neighborhood, back yard or driveway. You and your wife are good people who are willing to put your space where your value is. Most people don’t begin to deal with the homeless problem until it has happened to them! If everybody took in a friend, neighbor or family member that is down on their luck there wouldn’t be a homeless problem.

Deb - May 21, 2014 Reply

In 2011, I lost everything due to the economic downturn. I got by working 3 or 4 part time jobs while finishing my PhD but went through most of my life’s savings. In between working overseas for months at a time, I couldn’t find a place for me and my two (large) dogs that I could afford to rent for a few months. I put up a tipi in my friends back yard, but after two months of the rainiest summer ever, the mud, wet and mosquitos got to me and after one of my elder dogs passed away, I Just couldn’t take it anymore. I was able to move into my friend’s garage-converted-to-an-art studio for the rest of summer before going back overseas for three months. This act of kindness by two friends has allowed me to get on my feet and rent a small house while I rebuild my life. A few more years and I plan to build a tiny home of my own and live rent/mortgage free. I pass this lesson on to my university students….sudden change can happen to anyone and building resilience means having a support structure. Thanks to all of you who have supported others. If only the zoning codes would change to fit a new form of community….smaller homes, friends living with friends, etc.

emme - May 21, 2014 Reply

Like some others have said, I can afford to build a tiny house. I can even afford some land. Finding a place with jobs nearby where I can legally do this is my obstacle.

    Nate - May 24, 2014 Reply

    Thats unfortunately the plan the progressives are pushing, cram all the people into the cities
    where they are easier to control and tax. All while the open country dries up and the BLM can grab the forgotten property.

    On the other hand I live in the suburbs, and the neighbors and I have the city code bureaucracy either afraid of us, or apathetic of the the things we have done, and will continue to do without their consent.

    Even the best of places can get ugly quick of the riff raff move in or the city bureaucracy decides to destroy you. It’s best to always be semi-mobile. And that’s why I love the tiny home idea. Not because I’m a wanna-be eco communist.

Bob Ratcliff - May 21, 2014 Reply

This story touches my heart to its inner core. Now if only there were more like you in this world. With the way we’re watching social services diminish for those caught in the middle where they’re to rich to qualify for help yet not poor enough, that leaves lots of people out in the cold. Your an example of people helping people that’ll always exceed ANY of our social programs. Not only did you provide a roof over their head. You were an example and ongoing resource that proves NO problem is unsolvable so long as we’re willing to work the problem together:)

Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 21, 2014 Reply

Wow! I am amazed at how many people have commented on this story. A couple of points: The pictured garage is NOT my garage, but a stock photo that the site used. I sent this story in many months ago and now Dan’s space is almost completed. Dan is a qualified and excellent contractor, and has basically overbuilt his room, going beyond what code requires. We did not use sub-par materials. There is no need for any bathroom as sharing one is not an issue (There are now 6 of us living here). If you can’t share a bathroom, you really shouldn’t be thinking about a tiny house. We are in the process of adding another room to the house for my sister. My official stance on permits is: screw ’em. If the structure is built properly, and the city can’t figure out what you are doing, then go for it. I know there will be a lot of opposition to that statement, but I don’t care. I will do as I see fit for my friends and family and continue to share our blessings. I am not a wealthy man by any means, but when I have something that someone else does not, it really irks me and I figure out a way to share. Don’t be so afraid of your neighbors, taxman, local government, or what others perceive as normal. Reach out and help people – that’s what Dan’s garage is really about. It’s not about tiny houses, it’s not about living more simply, and it’s not about whether or not it helps the ‘movement’. A guy needed a warm safe place to sleep – please remember that…

Guillaume - May 21, 2014 Reply

Thumbs up for all you did to help your friend! I’ve been following the tiny house movement for years and often have been annoyed by the fact that most blogs talk about “rich” people living tiny for ideological reasons. Tiny living is also a great solution for the poor. I see many fancy tiny houses build by contractors and am convinced they are worth the price.
Nevertheless, my history is different. I returned to Europe (after many years abroad) withe around 2000CAD, a mountain bike and all my stuff in a trailer. I was homeless. I biked 800Km and stoped at an old friend’s house. He had plenty of land and allowed me to build my first tiny house. He had a truck, I had plenty of time, It took me about 500USD to build a livable tiny house. Salvaged materials and time: I was no longer homeless. 2 years later, I found a job 600km away and moved. I wa

Guillaume - May 21, 2014 Reply

Thumbs up for all you did to help your friend! I’ve been following the tiny house movement for years and often have been annoyed by the fact that most blogs talk about “rich” people living tiny for ideological reasons. Tiny living is also a great solution for the poor. I see many fancy tiny houses build by contractors and am convinced they are worth the price.
Nevertheless, my history is different. I returned to Europe (after many years abroad) with around 2000CAD, a mountain bike and all my stuff in a trailer. I was homeless. I biked 800Km and stopped at an old friend’s house. He had plenty of land and allowed me to build my first tiny house. He had a truck, I had plenty of time, It took me about 500USD to build a livable tiny house. Salvaged materials and time: I was no longer homeless. 2 years later, I found a job 600km away and moved. I was sad to leave my house but I am now happy to know others live in it.
Having a job, I now managed to buy a piece of land, but with a heavy mortgage. No money left for the house. The solution: salvaged tiny house again. I’ve spend 1200usd so far on my house. It is comfortable but not quite finished. It might take me 2 more yea

Guillaume - May 21, 2014 Reply

Sorry for multiple posts, I don’t know what went wrong…
Thumbs up for all you did to help your friend! I’ve been following the tiny house movement for years and often have been annoyed by the fact that most blogs talk about “rich” people living tiny for ideological reasons. Tiny living is also a great solution for the poor. I see many fancy tiny houses build by contractors and am convinced they are worth the price.
Nevertheless, my history is different. I returned to Europe (after many years abroad) with around 2000CAD, a mountain bike and all my stuff in a trailer. I was homeless. I biked 800Km and stopped at an old friend’s house. He had plenty of land and allowed me to build my first tiny house. He had a truck, I had plenty of time, It took me about 500USD to build a livable tiny house. Salvaged materials and time: I was no longer homeless. 2 years later, I found a job 600km away and moved. I was sad to leave my house but I am now happy to know others live in it.
Having a job, I now managed to buy a piece of land, but with a heavy mortgage. No money left for the house. The solution: salvaged tiny house again. I’ve spend 1200usd so far on my house. It is comfortable but not quite finished. It might take me 2 more years to finish it (Building + working full time + family time + friend…) but I will have a home for 2500usd.
My point: I’d like to hear more about the poor who have managed to build a cheap but comfortable home and less from the rich just seeking a fancy RV.

Shell - May 21, 2014 Reply

What a nice and inspirational story. Thanks for sharing that. Namaste

Howie - May 21, 2014 Reply

Yeah, I hear ya on the ludicrous prices for some of these tiny homes. Some of these jokers only mouth the values of sustainable and moderate living, but in the end they’re merely greedy wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Keep up the good my friend.

bilw - May 22, 2014 Reply

Best part of this story is that you freely gave to someone in need. That should be the spirit of the tiny house movement. Comfortable shelter for all.

dewhit - May 22, 2014 Reply

The Land. It is all about the land.

Every long term successful homesteading with a small house or tiny house that has been on this or other sites is linked to some owned land.

Personally, I cannot understand a man that cannot keep some kind of roof over his head. It is different matter with a wife and children.
There are too many cheap vehicles, sheds, tents, campers, etc. for a single man to have to depend on the charity of others.

    Jeremy Fitzgerald - May 22, 2014 Reply

    Dewhit – What if police officers harassed you every time you parked your vehicle to sleep in it, pitched your tent in a public place, parked your RV, etc. ? These are the realities of being homeless. What if you had no income and couldn’t even afford a tent, shed or vehicle? What if your entire check was going to child support and food for yourself? The sad reality of homelessness is that it can happen to anyone. 8 years ago, my home in NY state was destroyed in a flood. My wife and I had money in the bank, but nowhere to spend it – the roads were closed, bridges washed out, etc. We slept in our van (on a friend’s land!) and then progressed to a tent until one of our friends allowed us to use their RV (again, parked on someone else’s property.) The reality of the situation was that money could NOT buy us shelter – the local hotels were flooded out, Red Cross shelters turning away people, churches overflowing. You need to rethink your position. Homelessness is a chronic problem in the United States, exacerbated by public camping laws (how many signs have you seen in public parks that say ‘No Overnight Camping’ ?), inordinately expensive move in costs for apartments/homes (first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit), and outrageous weekly fees for residential hotels that make it near impossible to save up for an apartment. You haven’t even considered how climate affects living outside: Can you sleep in a tent when it’s -20 Farenheit? Would you want to? How about a shed in that type of weather? Homelessness is a serious problem that requires objectivity and compassion. Try being homeless for a while. I think it would change your opinion significantly. To get back to your original point, the tiny house movement ultimately does boil down to LAND. Somewhere to park your house on wheels, or somewhere to build your tiny house, can be prohibitively expensive. A lot of tiny home dwellers with homes on wheels experience ‘the charity of others’ when neighbors, friends or relatives allow them to park on their property. One final point – the giving and receiving of help is not an inherently bad thing, and I hope that if you ever need help, you have someone in your life to turn to.

      dewhit - May 23, 2014 Reply


      I applaud you for helping your friend. That is what friends do. That is why friends exist.

      I have been on both sides of the friends issue and have been without a home. I got tired of it and grew out of it and put little steps together.

      There is a point where a single man has to come out fighting with some type plan or action. It doe not have to be the best plan, but it has to start somewhere. All he has is himself to suffer until things start changing. Families make it tougher for those men with problems and chances and plans must be better planned and thought out with little or no resources.
      That is understood by friends also.

      I have had numerous friends that needed a helping hand and a place for a dry bedroll and a meal, but after my marriage and especially after having children, there was a point where some of the single friends needed some tough love to get motivated to moving along and doing something to get back in motion for themselves long term.

      Homelessness is not the lack of a home but the underlying problems that cause homelessness.

      We have a couple of local characters that work full time on a interstate off ramp with various signs about despair and needing help, but will not take a ride to some easy construction or tote work and labor for the day. Always some kind of excuse.

      If would be a wonderful world if all the homeless persons were the friendly hobo type or roaming minstrel type just having a little smoke or a nip and watching the world go by but that is just not the case any longer and your first responsibility with a family is to your own tribe.

    Alan - May 25, 2014 Reply

    Being homeless in NJ, I can’t begin to tell you about the enormous expense of your “land” statement. I work three jobs, yes three. I live in my car, my wife and two boys live with my in-laws. To purchase a one acre piece of garbage land will cost a minimum of $20,000.00 in NJ. Then when you want to do something to that land, double your purchase price and that will approach the cost of the usage change permits. Why? Because all land in NJ is within a town’s city limits. Your arrogance about people who are homeless is horrible. Even though I am homeless, I still help others who are homeless also. Try looking up Tent City in Lakewood NJ to get a tiny glimpse of what it is like to be homeless before judging others.

      dewhit - May 25, 2014 Reply

      I am sorry for your plight Alan and your long hours at labor in supporting your family, but the writing is clearly on the wall as far as trying to take minimal financial resources and buy land and build anything in a large populated metropolitan area.
      Everyone would love it if small affordable housing were available in the established areas that have broad appeal and many public services, but it is not going to happen and that is not going to change.

      Your tone in your response makes it sound like it is better to run down those that take some steps and move to where they can have a plan and start to have something and build a better life. Why is it easier to throw rocks at someone that decided to quit beating their head against the immovable object and make another plan ?

      To be quite blunt about it, if everyone that writes about how the homeless should be pulled up actually pulled the homeless up, there wouldn’t be a homeless problem. It is a hell lot harder to work to have and keep something meaningful than keep crying about not having anything and keep waiting and waiting for the cavalry to come to your rescue.

      Many of us are more than willing to help our fellow man that walks slower than us on the trail and needs a hand, but we have seen enough to know that we aren’t going to pick him up and carry him.

      Alex Libman - May 26, 2014 Reply

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Rebecca Lindsey - May 22, 2014 Reply

As for insulation. If you have a local spinning guild or fiber mill or ranchers of fiber animals (sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas) there is a lot of waste fiber and it is not a fire hazard as wool does not burn well. It is also highly insulative. Pack the waste in old pillow cases and stuff between the walls. You can wash it in mesh bags to remove any odor and if it felts a bit since it is just for insulation it does not matter. Actually the mesh laundry bags would be good to stuff the walls with too once the wool is air dried. There are spinning groups on Yahoo and Facebook that might donate waste wool to a good cause. Some of it is used for felting projects and stuffing and some goes on the compost heap. Better to recycle it and use it for a good cause. Shearing season is over but come fall they will be shorn again. I am saving my waste for my own place once I get to build it. When you process a fleece some of it is of poor quality or during the processing of it into spinnable fiber there is a good bit of waste. Some of it is raw wool that is removed after shearing and some by the spinner called skirting the fleece and then there is more waste during carding and combing getting it ready to spin. Once soaked in hot, soapy water and rinsed and dried in the sun it is fine for stuffing in a wall. If a flame is held to wool it burns, but as soon as the flame is removed it usually self extinguishes. So, it is one of the few waste fibers I would recommend for insulating a wall. Newspapers and cardboard are a fire hazard. Old wool army blankets would also be a good choice. You can find them sometimes on the cheap at thrift stores.

jonnie hammon - May 23, 2014 Reply

Your generosity to your friend, is commendable. Your point of prohibitive cost, is so true, and your solution is just common sense. I agree with using reclaimed, and salvaged materials, and wonder why more people don’t do this. I think it’s that they look at it the wrong way. They will spend a fortune on a 200 year old house, and restore it, bragging about the original material they found to use, but shudder at building a ‘new’ tiny home, out of ‘used’ material. There is a man in Oakland, CA, building micro homes, out of ‘found’ materials, and giving them to the homeless. They are micro, and wonderful. He began by using stuff he found in piles on the street. Honestly, life is becoming cost prohibitive. My great-grandparents, lived in a house, built before the civil war, it had 3 rooms,they used an outhouse, well water,pumped straight from the well. They raised 12 children in this house, and given the opportunity, I would live there in a minute, and love every second of it. I lived their a part of each summer growing up, and to have a home, even without all of the ‘ stars, and whistles, would be heaven to me, and every other person, who wants a home of their own. People are willing to, spend money, big money, on these tiny homes, why aren’t they willing to save money and the environment for the same benefit ?

Rebecca - May 23, 2014 Reply

I too am tired of the gee look at me wealthy having tiny homes for show or guests or whatever.

I am poor to middling and have purchased five acres first. It came with an old single wide mobile 840 sf.

I want to build 480 sf cabin with greenhouse. Already have a root cellar.

Zoning laws are fierce here. Considering I already have electric and septic should be a breeze but just poor enough it is not. Reading about the garage with no plumbing caught my attention. I have to permit everything here, but a greenhouse could include a small living area.

Mariah McCord - May 26, 2014 Reply

I love what you did for your friend. The fact that you shared your bounty with him is what it’s all about. The search and use for reclaimed material to complete your project is highly commendable. Shows some of that good old American fortitude. I am a female disabled veteran of the Viet era and have been in love with tiny houses for several years. Eventually plan to build one or buy one. I so wish that we could mobilize a movement to create these small homes not just for homeless folk but…for our veterans from all of our wars who come home and are somehow lost in the re-entry into civilian life. They end up homeless, ill, and starving with no where to go and feeling like there is no where to turn. If we could partner all across the country with Veteran organizations to salvage materials and offer these homes to vets who could put in a sweat equity like Habitat for Humanity folk…..the cost would be so minimal….we could alleviate a large portion of the homeless in our country. Anyway…thanks for sharing…you are indeed an inspiration.

Martin - May 29, 2014 Reply

Hey Jeremy, thanks for your common sense in using the resources you had at hand. Housing costs are so agonizingly confusing, between people paying hundreds of thousands for tiny houses vs. people blogging that “I built this awesome place for $500!”. It starts to seem impossible to do anything at all.

I can’t explain away all those differences, but I can explain some of them. I can also suggest a few things that anyone talking about costs needs to be more honest about.

First of all we’ve got to include all the kinds of costs. If buying or renting land is involved, that’s obviously huge. But just as important is time. In your example Dan is qualified to do construction, so he can do lots of things for “free” — but if he was building it for somebody else he would charge them something, whether it’s cash, or some trade, or whatever. So Dan’s time is an expense. And it is a big one. If someone builds a place for $1000 but doesn’t talk about the 1000 hours they spent, they’re not accurately reporting the costs. If materials are reused, they might be free, but finding and collecting them still has costs in terms of time, fuel, etc.

Second, we’ve got to distinguish between construction cost and operating cost. You need to do the math in each case individually, but it might be totally rational to spend heavily on a place that has practically zero utility costs, or that has no rent associated with it. Over the years that could be a great investment. Building cheaper and then spending out the nose for utilities could be very expensive in the long run.

Third, we’ve got to be honest about what’s built. A completely independent permanent dwelling is a different project than the renovation of an existing garage interior, with no fixed plumbing — which is what Dan’s project is.

At a web site I edit, accessorydwellings.org, we’ve been studying the costs of “accessory dwelling units,” which can either be freestanding things like backyard cottages, or attached things like basement apartments. The attached things are far cheaper — about half the cost of detached units, on average. Dan’s project falls into that attached, cheaper category. They’re more economical because they use things that already exist — like the structure of the house, the presence of nearby electrical lines, etc.

For people that don’t need to house cars, garages have a lot of potential as dwellings. I’m surprised more people aren’t converting them, and doing good along the way like you did.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Amish Furniture Factory Blog | Learning & Loving Amish FurnitureCan Tiny Apartments Solve the Tiny House Cost Problem? - June 2, 2014 Reply

[…] By Tobin Dimmitt   Jeremy Fitzgerald has something to say on the Tiny House Blog. If tiny houses are so simple and cheap to run, then why aren’t […]

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