Many of you have asked us in recent days the cost to build a tiny house, in particular hOMe. Before I go into the details, I want to be clear that prices vary from region to region. This is true for both labor and materials. As such, the cost details may be slightly different for you than they were for us; however, the final outcome will be reasonably close, whether you live on the East Coast, West Coast, or somewhere in between or beyond. Furthermore, the tips about how to keep your costs down will translate into savings no matter where you live.
So far the only time that we have felt that hOMe was a bit too small was when we laid all of our receipts out next to each other. We could build another tiny house out of just the receipts! Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there were a lot of long skinny pieces of paper and a LOT of numbers to crunch to get these totals. I’m not looking for sympathy (okay, maybe a little sympathy), I just want you to know how much went in to getting the two numbers that follow.
So, drum roll please……………………
I’m going to give you two different numbers to describe the cost to build hOMe. Both of these numbers are material costs only and do not include any labor costs because we built the entire thing ourselves. The first includes everything except the cabinetry and appliances. After all, you may want to choose different finishes than we did. That number is $22,744.06 (yes, we literally took it down to the penny). This equates to roughly $65/SF. The square footage used to calculate this number is based on the total square footage; i.e. it includes the loft spaces.
The second number is the cost to build hOMe exactly the way we did with all of the details included. This includes everything in the previous number plus all of the cabinetry and appliances, even our $1400 throne (read composting toilet). That number is $33,089.72 and equates to roughly $95/SF.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT WAYS TO SAVE MONEY. I’ve outlined the top three ways to keep your budget in line below.
• BUILD IT YOURSELF. This seems obvious, but not everyone considers taking on a project like this themselves. I have been a professional
builder for roughly 20 years and I can tell you from experience that paying someone to build your house will likely double the total cost. What’s more, I have been teaching hands-on construction workshops since 2004 and have personally taught well over 1200 people how to build their own
house. With the right resources and guidance, building one’s own house is well within the grasp of most people. Over the years, I have seen many people with little or no building experience step up and successfully build their own home. I have seen this again, and again, and again. We wholeheartedly believe that building shelter with one’s own hands in embedded deep in our DNA and allowing this inner knowing to come to light is an amazing experience. The sense of accomplishment that comes with building one’s own home cannot be measured in words. It is something that breathes life into the heart of men and women alike and will be an experience you never forget.
• CHOOSE YOUR MATERIALS WELL. Finding the right materials at the right price can go a long way to keeping the budget in check. There are many places to find killer deals these days from Habitat for Humanity retail stores and used building material retailers to big box stores like Ikea. The key here is to know what you have access to and incorporate that into your design. For example, if you find a bunch of high quality windows at a second hand retailer for an incredible price, buy them and then set them aside for your build. You can now incorporate those window sizes into your design. We did this on Terra’s Lookout and got all four of her windows for a steal. In the case of hOMe, we designed the entire layout around the Ikea cabinetry that we knew we wanted to use. This allowed us to use “off the shelf,” available sizes and drastically reduced the cost of our cabinetry from what we would have paid in custom cabinet work.
• GET CREATIVE/BE RESOURCEFUL. Some building materials are expensive and it may appear at first glance that there is nothing you can do
about it. In some cases this may be true; however, in most a creative solution can reduce costs significantly. Case and point: we really wanted hOMe to have interior panel boards like we had seen in Dwell Magazine and on Houzz.com but the panel systems that are used in such designs are a fortune. We came up with a creative solution to use a material called Ironply which is a substrate for vinyl flooring. Also, instead of an expensive panel attachment and spacing system, we simply used 16d nails to provide the proper gap, according to our design layout, around each panel. The Ironply itself was attached with construction adhesive and finish nails to keep things simple. Here’s another example. Need an off grid, composting toilet system but don’t want to pay $1400 for the one we have? Why not use the “lovable loo,” a simple composting toilet system that literally uses a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet seat? Here’s one more. Loft ladders, such as those used in private libraries, are beautiful yet expensive. We created the ladder for our secondary loft (the tiny house lounge) by demolishing the unnecessary pieces of a folding attic access ladder. A little stain and some structural hooks installed into the back of the remaining ladder section and we had our access. We anchored a short piece of black pipe (typically used for gas service lines and very inexpensive) to the wall and that became our rail system. The whole thing cost less than $150, looks great, and provides the function is was designed to serve. We could have built a ladder from scratch; however, this project was much faster, and it was fun to demolish something to create something new. With enough creative and resourceful thinking, you can bring down your costs significantly on many aspects of your build.
My last word of advice is to know where to cut costs and where to spend money. Some things are best left alone. For example, structural elements of the home should not be compromised in order to save money. You may also choose to spend money on specific finish details such as cabinets, siding, and/or appliances. The important thing is that you get your budget in line BEFORE you start building. Know what your budget limits are for each line item in your construction estimate and give yourself a contingency fund for unforeseen changes. Stay tuned to TinyHouseBuild.com for an upcoming article on how to estimate your construction costs so that you can save as much money as possible on your build.
There are, of course, many ways to save money when building a home. We’d love to hear ways that you have done it on your own projects. Feel free to share your ideas and/or ask questions below in the comments section.