Tiny Houses Are Cheap…Right?

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.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions at: koec0016@gmail.com or follow us on our blog at: http://tinyhousebigmoments.blogspot.com

Jim Wilkins at Tiny Green Cabins has openings! Contact Jim to reserve your spot today! 651-788-6565

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Tiny House Propane Rack

Or how to mount 2 – 100 lb propane tanks onto a tiny house

Tiny House Tank Fabrication Platform

To mount 2 – 100 lb tanks onto a tiny house, one should not just bolt a bracket onto the last steel member as the downward weight will twist the steel and premature failure. What we did was weld together steel that had one long cross member that would help carry the weight 2′ in from the end of the trailer, and be welded to the trailer beams as well as welded to the end beam on the trailer.

Tiny House Tank Fabrication Platform 2

Then we welded plate steel to the boxed area, with corners cut out so that water would not collect where the 2 tanks would set.

Tiny House Tank Fabrication Platform 3

The above picture shows the underside of the trailer with propane fabricated supports

Tiny House Tank Fabrication Platform 4Here we see a  tank sitting on the platform being cradled by the steel members

Tiny House Tank Fabrication Platform 5

The upper cross member is bolted to the house wood frame with arms that project into the tank shroud which allows for a padlock to be inserted to secure the tanks to the wall, as well as easy removal for filling the tanks. This also acts as ballast to the trailer and will reduce the tongue weight by 100 lbs or so.

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Rustic Traveler Tiny House

Traveler Tiny House


  • Custom tiny house trailer
  • Size 8′-6″ x 26′-0″
  • Sleeps 3 – 5
  • Curved Bow for aerodynamics when towing
  • Sunken Living Room
  • Full Sized tub
  • Space for washer dryer
  • Vanity at bath
  • Dual Lofts
  • Dual Stairs with storage
  • Fold up deck
  • Fold down deck canopy
  • Sliding patio door with grids
  • Wood framed (steel optional)
  • LP Smart Siding shingle panels
  • Corrugated Steel siding
  • Steel roof, guaranteed 50 years
Rustic Traveler Tiny House

Rustic Traveler Tiny House

Rustic Traveler Slice

Rustic Traveler Slice

Rustic Traveler Slice

Rustic Traveler Slice

Pricing starts at   $68,019.53



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The Move

Or Growing pains for the shop

A month ago, we were informed that our space that we were sharing with Pete’s Fabrication and Repair was ending as he was terminating his lease with the buildings owners. Our 1st thought was to rent the whole shop out for Tiny Green Cabins, but after running numbers, it was proving to be more than I wanted to undertake at this time. Some of our ideas for using the extra space;

  • Rent out some space for a private party to build their own tiny house
  • Host a series of workshops on building tiny
  • Rent out space for someone needed a shop for a weekend or short project
  • Move to New Ulm, MN for a less expensive shop

In our search of New Ulm we found a place that was for sale and inquired about it. The building was for sale and it could be leased.

After asking questions about utilities, we learned that the heat bill was over a $1000 a month through the winter. That heat cost made the New Ulm space more expensive that what we were looking at in Blaine. We made an offer on the lease asking for the owner to pay for 50% of the propane costs for the 1st winter and we would do a 2 year lease. He declined .

So we decided to stay in the Blaine area for the foreseeable future.

Then we had a visit from another shop owner that did welding and fabrication whom asked if we would be willing to switch spaces. He had 3000 sqft and we had 6000 sqft. The numbers were a wee bit more friendly, and after some thinking and discussion with family, I decided to make the switch. That meant tow shops that were working plus one that was closing needed to switch spaces. For me, that was an easy task as my work had not accumulated a lot of stuff….yet!!

Our part of the move was easy. The fabricator has a lot of specialized equipment and a mezzanine to move. He said he had built the mezzanine so he could take it with him. This we had to see.

And he did it. I am impressed!!!

However, Pete was swamped with trying to finish up his back log of clients and others that heard he was closing and wanted that last minute car repair done by him.

So we loaded our trailer and moved it to the new place and then moved the hOMe out of the shop to its new place.

So, now it was up to sort things out, pack up what he wanted, and toss the rest. He tossed out a lot, and he still has a lot to sort and liquidate. In the meantime, he is using some of our space and will be having a fire sale over the next month..

We are just about finished with the hOMe bound for MA, and have the other custom hOMe started. And that is all we can fit in the shop until Pete moves his stuff out. In a week or so, we will have room to start the Prairie Rose for the workshop class we will be holding the end of October.  And when Pete moves his stuff, we will have room for a 3rd tiny house.

The start to finish of the move took 8 days, with the weekend included in that.  Now we need to organize the shelves and shop so we can find stuff easily.

If anyone wants us to build or start one in the next month or so, I would suggest that you book that slot. Otherwise, the next slot after that would be early spring of 2016.

Tiny House Builder, Jim

Tiny House Builder, Jim


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Steel Frame Naked Tiny House

“Living it Up” Tiny House

Our latest naked welded steel frame model, “Living it Up” moves out of production and is picked up by customer who will finish the build in Atlanta, Georgia.
The “Living it Up” has an elevated living room with a tuck under bedroom and loft sleeping area above the kitchen and bath level.

It is 8′x 18′ with an price of $15,900.00 FOB at the shop.


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Window Installation

We install windows at Tiny Green Cabins using the following steps for all of our tiny houses.

Tools Needed: Hammer, caulk gun, slap stapler, level, tape measure, utility knife, work gloves

Materials needed: Butyl Caulk, Dupont Flex Wrap, Dupont Straight Tape 4″ wide, Shims, Great Stuff Window spray expanding foam

Step 1;  After the Tyvek house wrap has been installed and wrapped into each of the windows opening, cut

Wildflower Tiny House Bunkhouse Model

Wildflower Tiny House Bunkhouse Model

the Tyvek house wrap at the window rough opening top corner diagonally about 4″ upward and away from the window and tack back.

Step 2; Cut the Dupont Flex Wrap 12″ to 16″ longer than the window sill. Peel off the paper backer centering the Flex Wrap in the opening and full width of the sill. Press into place across the bottom and up the sides of the window – minimum up each window side is 6″.

Step 3; Peel the paper off the back of the flex wrap hanging outside the window and starting at each window corner, pull the corners outward and stretch while adhering it to the walls, then pull and press the rest of flex wrap into place.

Step 4; Using the shims, lay a shim at each window sill corner for creating a space to insulate used in step 10

Step 5; Caulk up the sides of the window frame, across the top of the window rough opening and down the other side to the sill. Warning, DO NOT CAULK ACROSS THE BOTTOM OR WINDOW SILL  – EVER

Step 6; Insert the window into the rough opening, center the window on the opening, and nail at one top corner of the window flange. Level the window and after leveling nail the other top window corner.

Step 7; Plumb the window sides   Tip: Square the window and check the reveal spaces where the window meets the window jamb. To square, using a tape measure, check the measurements diagonally from each corner to the opposite corner – they should be equal.  Also check the window edges from other features of the wall, such as wall corners or fascias to make sure things are set correctly. On a tiny house, since other features are close to the window, this is a check that everything is spaced correctly. After this check nail the window in place and around the window perimeter, nailing through every other hole in the flange.

Step 8; Install the corner flaps at each corner of the window.

Step 9; Cut the butyl tape for each side of the window and across the window head. Each piece should be cut 8″ to 12″ longer than the window. Install each side, and then install the top piece of Butyl tape.

Step 10; Do not install Butyl tape across the bottom window flange – EVER. This flange is left without butyl tape and caulk to allow water and moisture to escape in case it ever gets behind the window.  This is why the flex wrap is used as a sill pan flashing.

Step 11; Pull the Tyvek that was tacked out of the way, fold it down, and tack in place, cutting just short of the window head. Tape to the butyl tape and Tyvek together to seal them tight.

Step 12; insulate the window jambs cavity to wall opening. We recommend Great Stuff as the expanding foam seals the cavity better than a stuffed fiberglass can. Plus the foam does not allow mold to grow if the window leaks.

Here a good video that follows our best practices

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Tiny Houses are filling a Vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum

With the great recession of 2008, a void or vacuum appeared in the housing market, and it is not where one would think it is. The McMansions are thriving with larger and more unique designs every day.

These buyers are a move up from the previous level of buyers as well as buyers already in that niche that want something bigger or as a result of having to move. So, if one follows the buyers backwards, one finds a niche that has fallen on hard times in the housing market.

That niche was filled with 1st time buyers as well builders that carved out a niche for themselves with this market share. As these buyers started being locked out of the housing market because they were unable to qualify for started homes, it impacted those builders also.

The mortgage industry, after taking a beating on loans from 1st time buyers, changed the requirements to qualify for a loan. That meant increasing the down payments from 5% to 10- 20% and more. The 1st time buyer using this loan plus their meager savings is considered by many to be the foundation of the housing market. And no one in the housing market gains move up equity until the entry level buyer does. With no one buying in the entry level market, the next level of homes does not gain equity very fast, so they become stuck.

However, the people that own McMansions have deep pockets, so equity is less of a concern and keeping up appearances is more so. I helped build a mansion that was over 25,000 square feet, and one of the owner comments was that he had to build a place that large for entertaining clients as well as business partners.

It had 4 levels, with a nanny’s quarters in the trusses of the house that was 2000 square feet. The great room could hold 6 Tinys easily. The place was huge and it required 2 years to build. It is a beautiful elegant home and one could get lost in it easily. It also kept many people busy during the build, and I am sure the decorating and furnishing budget being about 25% of the build cost would mean that furnishing was at least 3-4 million. That is a lot of tiny houses in comparison.

And the McMansions and its owners keep caretakers, housekeepers, cooks, chauffeurs, and nannies employed, so the McMansions are a benefit to many people in the workforce.

The recovery in housing is becoming “supersized” as these people build bigger driving up the average square feet of housing with square footages growing faster now than during the peak of the housing boom. The average square foot has grown from 2,392 square feet in 2010 to 2,600 square feet last year. This growth is size has resulted in a new word for McMansions, ginormous homes. Homes over 4000 square feet have increased by 12%.

So, where have the people in the starter home market gone? Some have moved in with parents and some parents have moved in with children, a lot of them are renting rather than buying. And some are buying or building tiny houses. Except these tiny houses are on wheels and not classified as housing and do not impact traditional single family square footages.

This supersizing of McMansions is in direct opposition to the tiny house movement of people downsizing to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

And some call it a small or tiny movement and a trend. No one knew how big it is, or if it will grow much, but after last weekend and the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado, people may rethink the size of the movement. The tiny house movement may become more than just a small, tiny movement. Facebook groups that have 150000, 100,000, and 20,000 fans are growing faster than butter melts on a sizzling hot griddle.  The Tiny House Jamboree that was expecting maybe 10,000 visitors had well over 16,000 visitors for the weekend event. That is a lot of people that are more than curious about tiny houses and kicking tires.

Tiny Green Cabins is expanding and evolving along with the movement to better serve our customers; from an average of 1 to 2 homes a year, we are now employing 3+ people and have room for building 3 Tinys at a time in our new shop area.

As the movement grows, companies that build park models are making an entrance into the tiny house market.  They offer basic floor plans with standard features as well as standardized furniture. And when it comes to options, you may want hardwood floors, or a custom exterior you need to go a custom tiny house builder. And that is where Tiny Green Cabins excel. We have over 40 years’ experience in building custom homes, so we enjoy creating a new look for the discerning customer.

So, when you are ready to start your build, give us a call or email us to start the process rolling.

Tiny Green Cabins, Mountain Cabins, Tiny Cabins, Green Cabins, Tiny Green Cabins, Garden Office


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