Your Questions Answered: How Much Does a Tiny House Cost?
Tiny houses, just like big houses, can range in price greatly depending on size, systems, materials, and whether you build it yourself or hire someone to build it for you. Whether a house is 300 square feet or 3,000 square feet, how you intend to use the house will dictate what systems and materials should be inside, and how much you might need or want to spend on them.
Dee Williams built her 84 square foot tiny house back in the summer of 2003 (when things were cheap) for approximately $10,000. She managed to spend so little on her build because she used salvaged materials, the free labor of friends and innocent neighbors walking by, and the deals she scored while spending nights and weekends walking the isles of Portland’s Rebuilding Center and the Habitat for Humanity Restore. But that was then, and today Dee’s DIY house would cost closer to $15,000. She estimates she spent well over 300 hours building her house over a 3-month period in the summer…while also working full-time. It was a loooong summer!
Big Houses and Tiny Houses: Apples and Oranges?
Some people like to compare the cost of tiny houses to big houses based on the cost per square foot ratio, but there are two main reasons this is not a helpful metric to use:
- Some of the costs of a home will be the same no matter how big the house is. A smaller fridge, a smaller range, and a smaller sink don’t necessarily come with smaller price tags. Because small appliances and fixtures are not as common, they can actually be more expensive. Additionally, the labor costs for installing these appliances and fixtures (or installing a metal roof, or connecting the electrical or plumbing…) will likely be nearly as expensive as they would be for a larger home because of efficiencies of scale.
- The cost per square foot ratio does not take into account the cost of financing a mortgage. For instance, a 1,500 square foot house that sold for $250,000 (or $166/sq ft) costs a great deal more to finance and maintain than is represented in the cost per square foot number. A homeowner will pay more than $179,000 in interest alone for a 30 year mortgage on $250,000 at 4% interest, so the total cost will be closer to $429,000. Furthermore, this figure does not include insurance and maintenance costs.
On the other hand, a tiny house that’s only 150 square feet might cost around $40,000, which works out to roughly $266/sq ft. Although the cost per square foot is much higher for a tiny house, the total cost is less than a 10% of the total cost of the larger home. The down payment on the larger home could cover the full cost of a tiny home! Additionally, the costs of maintaining and living in a tiny house are a fraction of the costs of a big house.
Tiny House Cost Ranges
So here’s what we at PAD call the “Tiny House Ballpark Estimate with Caveats”: A tiny house can cost between $15,000 and $80,000. An experienced builder who has access to great salvaged materials and friends who help out for free could construct a small, simple structure for $15K. If you have a custom home tiny home built for you by an experienced builder, and master craftsmanship is the bar, you should budget $80K. According to an infographic by The Tiny Life, the “average” tiny home – built by its owners with some help from friends and some hired help, and with some salvaged materials and some new materials – costs about $23,000.
What Not To Cheap Out On
Knowing when and where you can effectively cut costs is important if you want a beautiful home within your budget. For instance, it’s not advisable to pinch pennies on your trailer purchase because a trailer is the foundation of a tiny home on wheels. We know many people who have spent as much retrofitting a trailer as they would have spent purchasing a brand new trailer custom built for their tiny home! Don’t buy a used trailer, and don’t buy trailer that is not designed to carry the load you’re about to put on it.
Similarly, installing salvaged single-paned windows may seem like an affordable solution in the short term, but you’ll be paying for it every month in your heating and cooling bills. Salvaged framing lumber may also seem like a great way to save money, but chances are you’ll spend more in labor costs as you wrestle with it. So we recommend purchasing new materials for the structural components like your foundation and framing. On the other hand, scouting for salvaged finish materials such as previously-loved cabinets, flooring remnants, and gently used appliances can both reduce the overall cost of your tiny house and increase its character. Building your tiny house with the smartest materials and using advanced building techniques will keep you comfortable and feeling like royalty in a tiny castle. For a more detailed look at the cost of materials, check out Brian Levy of Boneyard Studios’s excellent breakdown of cost of the materials that went into his award-winning Minum House.
Want to Learn More?
To learn more about building or living in a tiny house, check out these two low-cost resources from PAD that can teach you a boatload without breaking the bank:
- Go House Go, Dee Williams’ basic guide to building a house on wheels
- Life in a Tiny House, Billy Ulmer’s book of photos and interviews with ten households who built and live in tiny homes.