An Essay on the True Cost of Tiny Houses
By Emily Gerde
Tiny Houses Are Cheap…Right?
There is a lot of talk going around about the cost of a tiny house….well the reality is that they often cost more than the current tiny house television shows say they do. This is especially true if you can’t build it yourself. A lot of you are thinking, “The whole reason I wanted to buy/build a tiny house is because it is cheaper.” Well it is cheaper, but not in the way you may think it is. We budgeted for 60,000 but quickly realized it will be closer to 80-90,000 (We chose to buy all things new and stainless steal appliance). You can lower your cost quickly by choosing cheaper materials, but we went with local, eco friendly, new materials. Let’s discuss why it’s ok that tiny houses cost more than you expected.
Up Front Cost Versus Long Term Cost
Before you get frustrated about the real cost of a tiny house I need to remind you that the upfront costs will be quickly paid off due to your new self sustaining, low maintenance home. The first thing that most tiny house lovers talk about is the “no mortgage” aspect of tiny living as a huge benefit. Well this may be true for some if you have 40-80,000 lying around, but not true for others. We were lucky enough to make enough off selling our home to pay for the tiny house with out a mortgage. For those of you who don’t have that kind of money lying around there are still huge benefits to going tiny.
Here’s where you will be saving money, even if you have to use a loan to pay for your tiny home. First, your utility costs can be almost zero depending on the choices you make while designing your home. We decided to go with a wood burning stove instead of propane because we will rent or purchase land in a wooded area, so free heat source. We also chose to do water collection from the roof to provide water for the dishwasher, shower, sink and washing machine. (We purchased this carbon filter to assist with eliminating toxins from the rainwater (http://www.pelicanwater.com/whole-house-water-filter.php). We will be visiting the local fresh water spring for drinking water. (http://www.premierwatermn.com/frederick-miller-spring-water-quality/) Search your area to find a local spring near you, but be sure it gets tested or bring it in to be tested at either your county government center. You can also bring it into a business that sells water softeners and filters and they will test to see what system you need for the water by telling you what’s in it. We are doing a solar system that again will have up front cost but no monthly payments. By eliminating utility payments you can quickly and easily pay off the loan you needed for the tiny house. Andrew Morrison goes into more detail here: https://youtu.be/wYhtKE-oEEM.
Things like Internet, cable, and renting or buying land are costs that need to be considered, but you can decide on less Internet, no cable and cheap land. We will be doing a more heavy duty Internet, but no cable. We use YouTube and Netflix instead of cable. The great thing about tiny houses is they can fit in places where regular homes can’t. If you make your home self-sustaining, you will have more options with land and in turn more choices with prices. Of course you need to talk to your county about zoning. I figure if more tiny house owners talk to their counties about how we can make them money off the land, than more of them will open their doors to tiny homes. So many counties have lots that have been sitting vacant for 30 some years because it is on a marsh or has no electricity or septic, but they may decide some money is better than none. The important thing is to have documentation on what kind of money tiny houses can bring into the community, such as shopping local, community education, and of course paying for the property. We have been able to find land under 30,000 dollars on places like landbin.com, landwatch.com, cheaplands.com, etc. We are going to rent from a farmer for a couple years while we save for a good down payment on land.
Long Term Savings:
Beyond saving on utilities, there are lots of ways you will save long term. One great example is remodeling. For a normal 200-300,000 dollar mortgage you will pay for the house 2-3 times depending on your interest rate. Once you do finally pay off your home, it’s time to start remodeling because everything is going bad or broken. Many times when people remodel their homes to get ready to sell again they are spending 100-200,000 dollars in repairs and upgrades that they will only enjoy for another 10 or so years. With a tiny house, you can remodel much more cheaply and more often if needed. You can also use nicer more eco friendly materials because it is a smaller space so the price tag won’t be so steep. Here’s a local store that sells lots of great environmentally friendly products: https://www.naturalbuilthome.com. You will also save on home insurance because there is less to insure as well as life insurance for the same reason. We were able to drop our life insurance in half, which saves us on monthly costs.
With a tiny house you have more time to think about your spending because clean up and organizing takes no time at all. You can be more thoughtful about your shopping and cooking to be sure you are not wasting food and you’re getting the best deal. With out all the maintenance, cleaning and yard work of our previous home, I have been able to make sure we don’t throw away any food, shop deals and find the store with the best prices. We buy all organic and shop at our local cooperative and at Costco. I can be more thoughtful in my meal planning to be sure everyone likes the choices and no food gets thrown or wasted. With more time we have been able to think about our budget more clearly and go on more vacations. Another HUGE benefit of tiny living is you can’t buy as much stuff because there isn’t enough room. It is also a great way to jump on the online or offline garage sale movement or swap with friends. I swap toys and clothes with friends for my toddler so he doesn’t get bored with toys and we save money. Sometimes, I sell toys he is bored with that are in great condition and use that money from the online garage to buy another toy. Here’s an example site: https://www.facebook.com/groups/345167388990458/.
None Monetary Benefits
Enough about money, let’s talk emotional health. Lots of studies show how important it is to be a minimalist (which is a different amount for everyone), as well as the freedom to move to a new place quickly and easily with low stress if your current location no longer serves you. Let’s be real… are humans really meant to be stuck in the same place forever? In my opinion, and the opinion of many researches, is no. Right now with our toddler we want to be near a city but far enough away where he can enjoy nature and have fresh air. We will be homeschooling and need things like museums and libraries around as he grows. When the kid(s) are out of the house we would like to move to a more rural location and perhaps back again to the city to be close to grandkids. Tiny houses can be moved without the stress of packing a whole house, a possible two mortgage payments at once while you try to sell, having a perfectly clean house during showings, maintaining grass for resale instead of a beautiful edible yard, etc. The biggest benefit of a tiny house is time. Whether that’s more time with family, more time for vacations, more time to cook good nutritious foods, and more time for relaxation and self-care. All in all, a tiny house offers a life of freedom, choices and a back to the basics lifestyle. Living tiny forces you out into the community to use local resources, activities, parks and events. It is a great way to meet new people, explore new ideas and support local business. I am so excited to spend the time outside and in the community. Or course, our home will be cozy and wonderful but it will be nice to get out every once and a while and enjoy all the wonderful free things every community offers.
Why We Chose to Use a Contractor Instead of Doing It Ourselves
I truly admire those who can build a tiny house themselves. I think it is so important to know what goes into your home and to make every decision wisely. Being that my husband and I know absolutely nothing about building, electric, plumping, etc. we felt it was important for us to hire a contractor. Jim Wilkins with Tiny Green Cabins (http://tinygreencabins.com) has been a lifesaver. When working with Jim and other contractors (especially those who specialize in tiny homes) you know for sure your home will be done right and safely. Andrew Morrison (http://tinyhousebuild.com) does a great job with having a DVD with step-by-step building guide, but he also states that his tiny house isn’t really meant for moving. That’s where Jim came in, to make sure we had a trailer that could handle moving, electric that is safe and efficient, plumbing that won’t leak and he gave us the ability to customize our tiny house to fit our needs. We have a toddler, 4 cats and a dog, so our tiny home had to be made differently than most. When it comes down to all the decisions that need to be made such as, does it fits there, is it in our price range, is it safe, is it eco-friendly, etc. have been answered by Jim. It is so much more efficient to have someone who knows the industry to help answer questions. Of course we did tons of research, but there is no replacing the knowledge of someone who has been in the industry for years.
Should I Live in a Tiny House
Here are some questions to answer for yourself when deciding to live in a tiny house:
- Do I want more time for myself, my family, vacations and nature?
- Do I want less cleaning and maintenance on my home?
- Do I want the freedom to move to the city that suites me or my family best?
- Am I ok with upfront costs but long-term savings?
- Do I want to be a part of my local community and meet new people?
- Do I want to live in a way that is good for the environment?
- Do I want to be as self-sustainable as possible?
If you answered Yes to at least some of these questions, a tiny house is for you.
Jim Wilkins at Tiny Green Cabins has openings! Contact Jim to reserve your spot today! 651-788-6565