Building small Houses Cheap
One of the biggest concerns that I hear about around building tiny houses, is how much they will cost. I get asked this question a lot, and there's really no way around it. If you want to live in a tiny house, you're going to need to pay for it. My house cost around $40, 000 to build including materials and labor. Some people think this is far too expensive, while others myself included, think that this is quite reasonable given the quality and workmanship that went into the space. I used to get annoyed when I saw comments like this one:
I get a lot of those, or some version of the classic “you could just buy an RV for cheaper” However, now I've learn to just ignore them. Everyone has their own threshold for what kind of amenities they want in their house. Newcomers are initially shocked by the high price per square foot for a tiny house, and while tiny houses are expensive compared to their size, this does not take into account the long term costs of living in a tiny house (very low) vs. some larger structure.
However, it is really possible to build an inexpensive tiny house. I'd like to show you three examples of tiny houses built for far less than mine. I think the results speak for themselves!
Macy built her tiny house using all her own labor plus mostly recycled and donated materials. She started with a used trailer, which saves quite a bit of money, and was able to do the entire project for a whopping budget of $11, 416.16.
Macy is featured as one of the Tiny House Stories in my resource, Tiny House Decisions. You can even listen in on our 40 minute conversation where we talk about her unique choice in trailer (gooseneck instead of flatbed) and her decision to put radiant flooring in her tiny house.
Make sure you check out more photos of Macy's house on her website. Plus you can gather lots of great ideas from her build about ways to salvage materials and save money. I'm particularly fond of her siding, which is made from recycled pallets.
How Macy saved money:
- Utilized donated, sponsored and salvaged materials
- Self and volunteer labor
Ethan Van Kooten and Amy Andrews
According to this article in the Des Moins Register, these two college students transformed an old farm outbuilding into a $489 tiny house. Half of that budget was spent on plywood for the ceiling, by the way. Now, $489 for a tiny house is NOT normal. If you read deeper into the article, the 500 hours of labor necessary to complete the house was done completely by them and other volunteer students. Additionally, the house is still missing some basic functionality such as a water source and composting toilet. However, this is a good example of what can be done for very little money if necessary.
How they saved money:
- Existing farm structure was converted, rather than framing from scratch
- All salvaged materials used
- Volunteer labor utilized
$7k Tiny Vacation Cabin
I saved this example for last because I think it shows a good balance between price and features. While $489 is a bit unreasonable, the following example is impressive when compared to its modest budget. Also, it's amazing that this cabin was built in just 2 weeks!
How they saved money:
- This cabin is not insulated, which means it is only used during the summer (or is in a climate that does not get cold).
- This cabin is not built on wheels, saving the cost of a trailer ($3k-$5k)
Know when to skimp and when to spend
Contrary to what you might believe, it is not wise to salvage every single piece of your tiny house just to save money. In fact, there are certain materials that I would recommend buying new (such as your trailer) for safety purposes, and for convenience purposes (like framing lumber).
For a more detailed look at the top materials I recommend salvaging, see