The tiny house trend is a social movement wherein people dramatically downsize their living spaces to houses smaller than 400 square feet. Reasons for downsizing include financial limitations, environmental impact, and fewer maintenance responsibilities. Below, we highlight the cost, benefits, and examples of trends in tiny houses as a showcase of this movement.
How Much Does a Tiny House Cost?
The cost of a new tiny house depends on the size, finishes, types of appliances, and foundation. Overall costs also depend on whether the house is manufactured, custom-built, or do-it-yourself (DIY). In general, expect to pay from $10,000 to over $200,000 for your tiny house, with the average tiny house costing about $60,000.
Common costs that affect the price of a tiny house include:
- Construction costs: The cost to construct a tiny house is the most substantial and most variable factor affecting overall costs. Though smaller than traditional homes, many tiny houses must be built such that they remain stable during transportation. This can increase the cost per square foot beyond that of a traditional build.
- Foundation: While many tiny houses are designed to be mobile, some are simply built to be smaller than a typical single-family home, permanently affixed to a property. Permanent tiny houses require foundations, however, which adds to the overall cost.
- Interior finishes: Just as with a traditional home, the interior finishes of a tiny house impact the overall cost of the structure. Keep costs low by choosing basic, contractor-grade finishes and hardware; you can also buy discounted materials at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
- Appliances: Tiny houses, by definition, require smaller appliances than traditional homes. These size requirements reduce the appliances available and may limit your ability to find low-cost options. What’s more, if you are relying on propane or a combination of propane and electricity to run the appliances in your home, you may need to buy ones specifically built for recreational vehicles (RVs).
- Land: Whether you want a tiny house with a foundation or one that can be pulled by a truck, you will have to identify a location to park your tiny house. Typically, this involves renting a space at an RV park or camp group, boondocking on public land, or leasing or purchasing a piece of land.
- Transportation and fuel: If you plan to travel constantly with your home or even move your tiny house periodically, you will need a truck that can haul your new home. Check the hauling capacity of your current vehicle before choosing a tiny house and keep in mind that you may need to invest in a new vehicle before taking your house on the road.
- Utilities: Depending on your needs, you may need to arrange for utilities. Some homeowners live entirely off-grid and don’t need to consider these ongoing costs, but if you want access to water, electricity, and other utilities, you will need to consider monthly costs for these services.
- Insurance: Non-permanent tiny houses cannot be insured by traditional home policies. Instead, you may be required to pay for RV insurance, vehicle insurance, or, at a minimum, equipment insurance. Keep this in mind as you consider the type of tiny house you would like to build.
It’s also important to note that, while most of these factors affect new construction, you can also buy a tiny house that was previously owned; this will likely reduce the overall purchase cost and preclude additional expenditures for things like foundations, utility setup, and land acquisition. However, you may have to spend more money on home fixes or retrofitting to meet your unique needs.
5 Steps to Tiny House Living
The process of moving into a tiny house is more complex than moving from one traditional house to another, as it often requires a significant change in lifestyle. For that reason, the first step should be to prepare for the transition by visiting other tiny houses, reducing your possessions, and talking to people already living in tiny houses. Then, determine your needs and budget, decide where to park or build your tiny house, and choose the right tiny house for you.
Steps to follow when joining the tiny house movement include:
1. Prepare for the Transition
Minimizing possessions and adjusting to life outside a traditional house can be the most challenging part of joining the tiny house movement. For that reason, you should take steps to familiarize yourself with the tiny lifestyle before committing to a smaller living space. To do so, visit other tiny houses in your community, start reducing the volume of your possessions, and start thinking about what you might want and need in your new home.
Before moving to a tiny house, take these steps to ease the transition:
- Talk to residents of tiny homes to learn about their lifestyle.
- Study styles of current tiny homes to figure out the right design for you.
- Rent a house on Try It Tiny or stay in a tiny house Airbnb before buying your own.
Once you are committed to a tiny home, you can begin to map out the specifics of the transition—especially the budget for building or buying a home and all of the other necessary elements critical to tiny house living, like transportation, fuel, and land.
2. Determine Your Budget
When determining a budget for your new tiny house, consider both your assets—like your available savings and income—and likely household expenses, like food and transportation. If you’re moving to a tiny house to free up funds for student loans or other debt, also consider your monthly debt service and whether you want to make extra payments. Based on this information, calculate how much you can afford to pay for a tiny house upfront or monthly as part of a loan.
3. Outline Your Needs & Preferences
As with any home search, you should examine and clearly delineate your needs and preferences before beginning to shop. However, this process is slightly different when shopping for a tiny house because space is more limited and it’s difficult to fit everything you could possibly want into one structure. For this reason, you should take the time to develop clear priorities for your living space before you start looking at homes.
For example, if you work from home, it may be more important to have a large living area with a desk and comfortable seating. Alternatively, if you cook most of your meals, you will likely prioritize a larger kitchen space with full-size appliances. Other tiny house dwellers prioritize entertaining and find that they need extra sleeping bedrooms or other sleeping spaces for house guests.
4. Decide Where to Park or Build Your Tiny House
Once you have priorities and budget set, determine whether you want to build a permanent tiny house or a transportable one. The considerations for both differ; for mobile units, you can rent land with utility hookups and move at your discretion, whereas you will need to purchase land and build a foundation for a permanent home. Once you’ve decided which you want, consider where you will put your tiny house.
Evaluate Parking Options
Generally, you can park a tiny house wherever it’s legal to park an RV. This means you can lease a space in an RV park or, in some places, on private property. However, keep in mind that local zoning laws may restrict where you can park and for how long. You should also consider how much you can afford to pay for a parking spot, how frequently you’re willing to move, and whether you need water and electricity hookups to support your ideal house and lifestyle.
Factors to consider when choosing a place to park your tiny house are:
- Zoning and homeowner association (HOA) restrictions: Zoning laws dictate the types of structures that can be located in each specific location within a city. Some cities are more accommodating of the tiny house movement and allow people to park on private property with the owner’s permission. Other cities and neighborhoods limit where and how long you can park.
- Monthly cost: If you’re not planning to park on land you own, you may have to pay weekly or monthly rent. Don’t forget to factor this expense into your overall budget.
- Utility hookups: Those who want full-size appliances, traditional plumbing features, and electricity will likely benefit from parking their home where there is access to electricity and water hookups. If you plan to live off the grid, remember you’ll have to maintain things like your compost toilet, solar panels, and water tank (given the absence of convenient utilities).
- Moving schedule: Some campgrounds, RV parks, and even neighborhoods impose limits on how long someone can be parked in one place. Before signing an agreement or otherwise committing to a piece of property, find out how long you can stay in one place.
Consider Permanent Locations
If you decide you would prefer a stationary tiny house, then begin looking for land where you can build a foundation. Keep in mind that the land will need to have utility hookups unless you intend to live completely off the grid. As you look at parcels of land for purchase, think about the space you will need to accommodate your lifestyle and additional possessions, such as cars, storage units, and pets.
5. Purchase the Best Tiny House for You
Once you have determined your budget and home type, purchase a tiny house that’s a good fit for you. For a totally custom home, choose a tiny house builder who can work with all of your design ideas. If you want a move-in ready tiny house but don’t have the budget for a custom build, consider prefabricated homes, online kits, or pre-owned homes. Finally, if you want a custom home and are up for a DIY challenge, consider constructing your own home.
Options for buying a tiny home include:
Choose a Tiny House Builder
If you have specific needs and well-defined preferences for your tiny house, consider hiring a professional builder. You may be tempted to hire a traditional contractor, but it’s important to choose someone with extensive experience building tiny houses. Find a quality builder for your project by reading online reviews; asking other members of the tiny house community for recommendations; and inquiring about the builder’s availability, subcontractors, and suppliers.
Here are some builder criteria to evaluate when considering professional construction:
- Experience with tiny houses: Choose a builder who not only has experience building tiny houses, but who has experience constructing tiny houses similar to the style you want.
- Availability and timing: When interviewing a contractor, ask about their availability and proposed timeline for completing the project. If the builder is available immediately, it may be because they are not qualified enough to be in high demand. Contrarily, if they are in high demand, you may have to choose a contractor based on their timing.
- Reviews and references: Though not always available, online reviews are a great way to vet a tiny house builder before hiring them. If you can’t find any reviews, reach out to your local tiny house community or the community as a whole for recommendations.
- Subcontractors and suppliers: In addition to reviewing a prospective contractor’s previous work, you should ask them about the subcontractors and suppliers they work with when building homes. For example, if you want a solar-powered tiny house, make sure your contractor works with electricians who are qualified to install solar systems.
Buy a Manufactured or Pre-owned Tiny House
If you want a tiny house but need it on a tight schedule or limited budget, consider purchasing a prefabricated or pre-owned home. Some large manufactured home providers, like Clayton Homes, have subsidiaries that produce houses that are consistent with the tiny house trend. Aspiring tiny house dwellers can also purchase a tiny house online through builders like 84 Tiny Houses or a marketplace like Tiny House Listings.
If you want to focus on pre-owned homes, spend some time looking through the listings at Tiny House Listings. You can also rent some of these units, which allows you to experience tiny house living without the commitment of a home purchase.
Build Your Own Tiny House
If you don’t have the budget for or interest in buying a manufactured, custom-built, or pre-owned tiny house, consider building your own. Because of the smaller size of these dwellings, tiny houses are often easier to build than traditional homes and do not require the expertise necessary to build a larger home. Plus, the grassroots nature of the tiny house movement has yielded a large selection of DIY building plans that are free or less than $50.
Top DIY Tiny House Plans
Deciding whether to build your own tiny house can be challenging—and picking a design can be even more intimidating. To help, we identified several DIY tiny house plans from online providers like Ana White, Tiny House Design, and The Small House Catalog. Review the DIY plans below for inspiration before deciding what kind of tiny house to build.
Here are some sample DIY tiny house plans:
Designer: Tiny House Design
Size: 128 square feet
Designer: Ana White
Size: 204 square feet
Designer: Tiny House Design
Size: 420 square feet
Designer: The Small House Catalog
Size: 616 square feet
What It’s Like Living in a Tiny House
The experience of living in a tiny house can be quite different from the curated version presented online. However, many members of the tiny house movement are sharing their experiences in a way that is honest, informative, and inspiring. We identified some of the best tiny house Instagram accounts to illustrate what life is like in the tiny house movement.
Here are some of our favorite Instagram accounts about life in a tiny house:
Elena at The Tiny Casita uses her Instagram and blog to document the process of ordering a custom-built tiny house through Minimaliste. Now living in their tiny house, Elena and her husband share daily details about important tiny house subjects like compost toilets, cooking in a small but functional kitchen, and living with less.
The Not So Tiny House Project is a great Instagram account and blog if you want to follow a DIY tiny house construction project from start to finish. The account offers detailed images and thoughtful commentary on every step of the building process, from buying a trailer and choosing a floor plan to framing, waterproofing, and choosing interior and exterior finishes.
Dream Big Live Tiny® Co. compiles some of the best tiny living photos from the web and helps connect people to other members of the tiny house community on their Instagram account and website. Because Dream Big Live Tiny is an online resource rather than a personal account, it’s a great place to find a wide range of tiny house inspiration, DIY plans, and tiny house finishes for your new home.
Pros & Cons of the Tiny House Trend
As with traditional homes, living in a tiny house comes with both benefits and disadvantages. People drawn to tiny house living enjoy the lower costs, lack of a traditional mortgage, and lower maintenance dwellings. However, tiny house owners are likely to face challenges like more limited living and storage space, restrictive zoning laws, and more difficult, non-traditional financing methods.
Pros of the Tiny House Trend
Pros of the tiny house trend include:
- Lower expenses: In general, tiny houses cost much less to build or buy than traditional housing. What’s more, the smaller size means utilities are lower than in a larger house.
- Mortgage-free: Because of the lower price of many tiny houses, you may be able to pay cash for your tiny house or the supplies necessary to build it. However, keep in mind that tiny houses do not typically qualify for traditional mortgages; if you need financing, a tiny house many not be the easiest option.
- More environmentally friendly: Due to their size, tiny houses are more energy-efficient than traditional houses. Tiny houses are also easier to power with solar, making them lower impact and more environmentally friendly than traditional homes.
- Easier to maintain: Tiny houses are easier to maintain because of their smaller size and more limited building materials. If you’re hoping to cut down on the time you clean and maintain your home, a tiny house may be a great solution.
- More flexible: Tiny houses built on trailers rather than stationary foundations offer greater freedom and flexibility than traditional homes. This means you can pick up your house and move it to a new location when you want a change of scenery.
Cons of the Tiny House Trend
Cons of the tiny house trend include:
- Less living space: By definition, tiny houses have less living space than traditional homes. While this may be a difficult transition at first, many tiny house dwellers find that they spend more time creating and enjoying outdoor living spaces.
- Limited storage space: In addition to having less living space, tiny houses offer less storage space. For that reason, tiny house dwellers must cut back on their belongings or store extra items elsewhere.
- Restrictive zoning laws: Because zoning laws do not traditionally favor tiny houses, it can be difficult to find a place to park your house. If you plan to park in a city, check with the zoning department to find where you can park your tiny house without violating local law.
- Difficult financing: Tiny houses often do not qualify for traditional home mortgages, so they can be more challenging to finance. However, financing may be available through the tiny house builder or via personal or RV loans.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the maximum size of a tiny house?
In general, tiny houses range from about 100 square feet to 400 square feet. However, some real estate experts consider houses up to 1,000 square feet to be “tiny.” Tiny houses towed on public roads in most U.S. states cannot be larger than 13.5 feet tall by 8.5 feet wide and 40 feet long.
Why are tiny houses so popular?
Tiny houses are popular for a number of reasons. They are less costly that larger homes, they reduce a homeowner’s environmental impact, and they offer more freedom and flexibility. Tiny homes are also consistent with the recent popularity of minimalism and the increasing prevalence of remote employment.
Why are tiny houses illegal?
Tiny houses are illegal in many locales, largely because of zoning laws and building codes that establish minimum dimensions for homes and accessory dwelling units built on foundations. For this reason, many tiny houses are built on trailers so they are not classified as buildings.
Bottom Line: The Tiny House Trend
If you are intrigued by the tiny house trend and are considering joining the movement, start by talking to members of your community who are already living tiny. Then, take time to understand your budget and needs to determine the type of tiny house you should buy. Finally, choose a tiny house builder to construct a custom home, consider pre-owned or prefab homes, or find plans online to build the tiny house yourself.