Fascinated with the idea of living with a smaller carbon footprint, tiny houses has been captivating my attention lately – especially DIY tiny houses. In the past, I have looked into beautiful small eco homes and sturdy earthships, which have their own pros and cons.
Although using recycled materials like tires and glass bottles to build a home is interesting, building an earthship in an urban city, however, seems unpractical because there are tons of regulations and codes for such a non-tradition home – perhaps a topic for the future. Most earthships are built in rural areas where building codes are more relax – I’m not ready to commit to a rural lifestyle yet.
Small eco houses, on the other hand, are essentially tiny houses in concept – smaller the house, smaller the carbon footprint – but generally a bit larger. The main difference between the two concepts are that eco houses utilize a lot more of self efficient systems like solar panels and water collection systems. Such systems can make an eco friendly focus home more expensive than a simple tiny home.
So, the important question. How much does a DIY tiny house cost? Well, the cost of building one yourself can range anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000. Hiring a contractor or ordering a new premade house can cost from $27,000 to $68,000 for a 64 to 400 square feet home.
Although this post is focus on the DIY aspect, I must mention that some do NOT recommend inexperienced builders start a DIY project like a house, even with how-to guides on Youtube. The dangers of faulting construction and retrofitting mistakes, which are costly, outweighs the savings and the tenuous hours you have to put into building the house yourself. This is the decision you must ponder, only you know what’s your limit on ability and stress.
Also, issues due arise from city standards. Some county, especially major population centers, requires a minimum of 960 square feet to be a legal house. These rules can be headaches, please check your county. The tiny house will be considered a RV in some states. These laws and codes are there to maintain property value in the neighborhood. Isolation is another problem for those living away from urban areas.
The huge price range of a DIY project has to due with the ability to obtain recycled/salvaged materials and appliances, furnishing, volunteers, and how much of the construction is hired out – especially plumbing and electrical.
For example, two college students were able to build one for $489. The stationary house took them 500 hours total to complete with volunteers. In addition, they utilized recycled and donated materials. However, the house does not have a water source or a composting toilet, not really ideal for most people; definitely, more of a “project” than a permanent home.
On the other side of the spectrum, a couple were able to complete their 28’ x 8.5’ tiny house for about $33,000 that took them four months. The house features a full sized kitchen with appliances, office/dining room, a regular sized bathroom, two upstairs lofts, propane stove for heating, and lots of windows.
Here are some expenses and price breakdown for building a tiny house: $26,000 home in New Zealand, unforeseen expenses of a first time builder, and tiny house contractor, Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses. These will give you a faint idea of what to expect.
To my surprise, the most expensive item is a trailer, unless you plan on a stationary home. Being the foundation of your home, a good trailer can cost about $4,000 to $8,000. The trailer gives you options in term of mobility. If you decided to build bigger house in the future, you can sell the tiny house without moving you and your family.
Be careful when picking up a used trailer. One builder found out that his salvaged trailer costed him an extra $1,000 to fix up, the final cost would have gotten him a brand new trailer. Some recommended a new trailer for new beginners – for the safety of you, your family, and safe transportation.
Depending on how much are you willing to build yourself or amount of volunteers, the next biggest expense is labor. Some are able to quit their jobs and live off their savings while building their homes, while some work on the house slowly over time with a full-time job. By the way, building slowly over a long period of time can be less stressful and great way to save even more money as the extra time allows you to find deals for materials and appliances. However, builders are usually most energetic at the start of the project so burnout and life events can end the project prematurely.
A simple $7,000 “cabin” without insulation or a trailer can be done in two to three weeks, while one with the fixings can take up to two years – part-time. Majority of homes took about two to four months to complete with a small close group of volunteers like family and friends.
Part of the labor expense are electricians and plumbers. Even those experienced might want to hire out an electrician, especially if your house needs to be tap into the local grid. The same goes for sewage. Fire and serious water damage due to faulty installation can put you and your love ones at risk. Knowing someone that can do these type of work is great, but expect to pay about $60 an hour for each profession.
The next big expense is the materials to build your new tiny house. You can save a lot of money here by using recycled, salvaged, or donated materials. Most items look new and those that do not can be restored if you have time to spare. Craigslist – especially the ‘Free’ section – can be a great site to check daily, even hourly. Contractors may unload surplus materials or culled lumbers on Craigslist. Second hand stores like Habitat for Humanity ReStores can be a good place to save some money on materials as well. Of course, there always the chance of family, friends, and neighbors donating needed materials and appliances. Start collecting early.
Speaking of appliances, contrary to what you might think, compact appliances are more expensive than standard sized appliances so design your tiny home with that in mind. You should also build your home around any windows and appliances you obtained, not the other way around.
Another tip on saving some money is buy nails, blades, bits, and paints in bulk. First time builders can make the mistake of buying in small increments only to see the bill rack up at the end, especially paints. Nails and bits can quickly add up, expect to spend about $400 and up; one builder spent about $1,200 on nails, fasteners, blades, and bits. Don’t use dull blades and bits to prevent injuries. In addition, high quality paints might end up saving more money due to less layers to obtain the desired color. Paints and supplies can cost $200 to $400.
Since designing your own tiny house is more accessible, design your home according to your personal activities and centerpieces. Large kitchen for those that enjoy cooking, for example. Perhaps consider a spacious living area to display your lovely $4,500 wood stove.
Remember, it is perfectly fine to build an expensive tiny house. A tiny house doesn’t mean you have to live in a Spartan shack.
So why trouble yourself with a DIY house? Many people simply do not have the money to buy a “standard” size house while others want to save money and not have to borrow money. Many save about $1,250 to $1,300 each month when factoring the utility, property tax, and rent of a standard home; plus avoid a suffocating mortgage. For example, 4% interest of a $160,000 house over 30 years is about $115,000 of interest. For some, stepping away from the consumerism – no space to store – and scaling down their lives. Others enjoy designing their own house and flexibility of tiny house to relocate if need be.
Whatever your reasons, or future reasons, be sure to commit.