How Much Does it Cost to Build a Tiny House?

The cost of building a tiny house

Over the past year, I’ve detailed our adventures building a tiny 350 square foot house, from sinking the first post in the ground, to siding and framing, to insulating, and finally moving in! (you can read the entire series here).  A question that comes up frequently when we mention that we’re building a house is, “How much does it cost to build a tiny house?”

It depends.

I know that’s a horrible answer to give, but it’s true!  The cost of a tiny house will depend on many factors such as:

  • Whether you are doing the building yourself or hiring out the labor
  • What permits are required where you live
  • If you’re using new or reclaimed/recycled materials
  • The quality of your materials (for instance a granite counter top vs. a re-used counter from the Habitat ReStore)
  • And many other factors, such as wiring for electricity, plumbing, etc.

We kept detailed records of the cost of materials as we were building, and I’d love to share that information with you today. I’m also very fortunate to have a neighbor who also built her own tiny house, and she has generously shared her records with me as well, as comparison.

Beth’s Tiny House

120 square foot tiny house

Beth'sHouse2

Beth is a skilled natural builder who used a combination of her own labor, volunteer labor, and hired labor to build her 120 square foot house on wheels. Her house includes a 6 x 8′ porch, and a 7 x 7′ sleeping loft.

Materials
Beth’s house was built with a combination of reclaimed lumber for the framing, subfloors, and trim, and locally milled wood to frame her porch and sleeping loft. The reclaimed lumber was obtained from a regional friend whose cottage industry is to find, collect, and prepare reclaimed lumber so builders can use it in a “like-new” condition.  As such, his lumber costs .80 cents a board-foot.

Beth’s walls and ceiling are insulated with 1″of rigid foam and 6″ of blown cellulose, and the floors are insulated with 8″ of rigid foam, which she says certainly added to her costs.

Other reclaimed materials include cabinets, all windows except one, floor tile, sink, formica countertop, tongue and groove subfloor and loft floor, trim wood, shelving in closets, and a trailer chassie.  She purchased a new table and chairs and those costs are reflected here as well.

Materials Cost: $14,200 (this includes a used hay wagon chassie on which her house sits)

Labor
Beth’s Labor: close to 1,000 hours (Beth might charge $15/hour locally)
Volunteer Labor: 100 hours
Hired Labor: approx. 465 hours @ $15/hour
Labor Cost: $7,000

Total Cost of Beth’s 120 Square Foot House: $21,200

*****

Our Tiny House

348 square foot house

December 2013

My husband Brian has years of building experience, and did most of the labor on our 348 square foot house.  We gladly accepted volunteer labor when it was offered, but did not track the hours, as much of our building was done in between planting trees, growing a garden, and chasing after two kids!

Materials

Our house was built with a combination of reclaimed and new materials. We used locally milled wood for the framing, but purchased reclaimed 100 year old barn wood for the exterior siding. The windows and doors were a combination of reclaimed from the Habitat ReStore, and bargains from a materials overstock warehouse.

The house is insulated with rigid foam in the floors and blown cellulose in the walls and ceilings.  Half of the house’s floors was insulated with free, used rigid foam; the rest was new.

Our house’s interior is still unfinished, but we have included our estimate of the materials we need to purchase (sheetrock,plaster, and cork flooring in the kitchen). However, we have not included the cost of our front porch, or some interior finish wood/shelving, as we are milling and planing our own wood.

Unlike Beth, we did not account for items like a table and chairs, sink, counter top material, or a wood stove because we already owned those items.

Materials Cost: $7,800

Labor

We saved thousands of dollars by doing most of the work ourselves, occasionally trading work with friends and neighbors, and hosting a week of work parties for the final push of insulating.  We were also blessed with three weeks of help from Brian’s parents, and many hours of drop-in volunteer assistance.

We did hire our neighbor Beth for several days’ work, as well as another carpenter friend for one afternoon.

Labor Cost: $470

Total Cost of our 348 Square Foot House: $8,270

 

Table of how much it costs to build a tiny house
So what does it cost to build a tiny house?  It depends. 

It depends on exactly what you are including when you declare your sticker price.  I have seen advertisements online for plans to build a tiny house with new materials, for $2,000. But when you read the fine print, that cost does not include doors or windows.

It depends on how quickly you need your house built.  In our case, we needed to move into our house before the fall weather became too cold to camp in a tent.  So we ended up purchasing new materials that we perhaps could have obtained used, because we needed them immediately.

And I think one should also consider the costs of maintaining and living in a tiny house. Beth, who spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on insulation, literally heats her house with small sticks of wood that she gets for free at the local sawmill, or cuts by hand from the forest around her house.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject. Please feel free to share this post with your friends, and comment!

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Comments

  1. That’s amazing to see the cost break down! My mom is planning to move out here when she retires and we’ve talked about building her a small house on our property. My husband also has a lot of building experience so this shows just how cost effective it might be for him to build her a tiny house. Thank you for another great, inspiring post!

  2. loved this. fuel for my someday dreaming ;)

  3. This is amazing. Wish we could downsize this much. However, we did live in a 600 square foot cottage with four kids before we moved to the country. You do what you have to do. :)

    • Teri Page says:

      Carol, I have to be honest – we’d prefer something a BIT larger. Since we cook all of our meals from scratch, can and preserve, make cheese and sausage, etc, we have a lot of homesteading equipment that does not fit into this house. We do “stuff” as a rule, but we do have tools, and they don’t all fit into this house!

      • Teri, have you considered building another small building to serve as a “summer kitchen,” a space dedicated to the canning, preserving, cheese making, etc.? Those activities don’t necessarily have to go on in the main residence, do they? That could relieve some of your storage issue as well.

        Just a thought. Love the cabin!

        • Teri Page says:

          Hi Debra, we did have an outdoor kitchen this year, which worked great. Our current challenge is where to store everything in the winter and spring. We’re building a few outbuildings now, which should help!

  4. My “tiny house” of 210 square feet cost just $3200. It is a Silver Streak travel trailer and has served my needs well for 15 years. Old aluminum travel trailers are plentiful and have many carefree aspects to them, but they are not really houses. Old aluminum house trailers are out there too, and I have seen some full sized beauties with 8 foot ceilings and regular sized appliances and bathroom fixtures that cost $10-20,000. Portability is attractive to me; I like the idea that I can move my little home and leave no trace but wheel tracks while I seek out a new view or seasonal aspect. My first travel trailer was a 24 foot long sheep herder’s trailer that got towed around a 65 acre parcel, once stashed in blackberry bushes and later a grove of cottonwoods and finally came to a longer term rest in full sun so I could enjoy a passive solar heater and photovoltaic electricity. That 168 square foot home cost a mere $250, delivered.

    • Teri Page says:

      That’s some useful trailer! I would enjoy the portability factor too, but also appreciate a grounded house.

  5. I L O V E this post! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. och…

    We’re putting the house up on the market come spring ’15. I am all about living local and small but I don’t think I could go any smaller than our 1100 sq ft home. We’re a family of 5 and we homeschool. (I’ve tons of homeschool goodies. ;) ) I’m really excited to read the rest of the series because I think we could make that 1100 work for us in a new home if the house was open and of a better flow and storage.

    Question…if it’s addressed in the rest of the series ignore me but…what about your pantry? Do you can everything up and where do you store your winter staples in a small home?

    OH…pinning it too! ;)
    ~Honey

    • Teri Page says:

      Great questions, Honey. First of all, we don’t fit everything into this house. As I mentioned in a comment below, we have our homesteading tools (and we also homeschool and are challenged with where to put supplies). Quite honestly, this 348 square foot house is a bit too tiny for our long-term needs. It is a great solution for what we needed – an inexpensive, quick to build house that we could occupy with less than one year’s work. I think we’d do really well with the size of our former house – about 750 square feet.

      Our pantry is actually pretty spacious here – shelving uses available space efficiently – but we stored some bulk foods outside in 5 gallon buckets this winter, and we have a freezer off-site. And there are also creative solutions – like storing winter squash on shelves over our bed!

  7. Don’t forget the invaluable utility of getting injured during critical moments of the build. Help just pours in!

    • Teri Page says:

      I certainly wouldn’t recommend that as a cost saving strategy, but we are lucky to have such great neighbors :)

  8. This is so inspiring! That is wonderful you have some great neighbors that were able to help out.

  9. I have been looking at small house plans, i like the way your house looks and think it would pass with our city housing codes. I it possible to get a sketch of the layout or basic plan that you worked from, where and how much space for kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom? I assume your house is 18wide and 19 long.

    Thank you for any information.

    Renate

    • Teri Page says:

      Thank you Renate. I don’t have a floor plan available at this moment, although it is a great idea. But I can tell you that yes, our house is roughly 19 x 18, and divided almost equally into four quarters. So the kitchen takes up 1/4 of the space, the living room 1/4 and the bed loft almost 1/4 (it is a king sized bed with storage underneath). The remaining 1/4 is the entry/mudroom/pantry, and will eventually have a built in booth seat. Hope that helps for the time being!

  10. Great to see the cost breakdown for your house. We put up a 480 sq. ft. shop, using mostly new local materials, a sheet metal roof and free recycled windows. The price was under $7000 with no labor costs since I did all the work myself. It’s not insulated yet but will be at some point using left over materials from our current house construction. I’m now building a 1500 sq.ft. house for our family of 5. Most materials will be local and I’m milling all the lumber myself from the trees cleared for our home. I’m working with a $20,000 cash budget which will include the house, off-grid power, water, and septic system. I look at our home as a long term investment for our family …. especially our children. Once our home is completed the net value of our property will increase by at least $250,000 …. a 125% return for 2 years sweat equity and a moderate financial investment.

    • Teri Page says:

      Great to hear your costs too. I imagine we will build a larger house on a cash budget too, as soon as the shop and barn are complete!!

  11. Extremely informative-thanks for sharing!!

  12. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!

    It is the little changes that produce the most important
    changes. Thanks for sharing!

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