As more people are seeking environmentally friendly housing (and let’s face it, affordable housing) tiny homes have seen a surge in popularity. Tiny Home Living has many benefits for those who are prepared for it. They don’t require a lot of land, energy to heat the house, or materials to build the structure. The major trade-off, of course, is space.
If you’ve been thinking about building or moving into a tiny home, this guide is aimed at giving you a clear idea of what to expect. Since this guide is much longer than Rinexii’s usual posts, we’ve included a contents section so you can simply jump to the heading that interests you most.
What is a Tiny Home
There is no official definition of a tiny house. Most people consider a house to be tiny when it is under 600 square feet of living space. A tiny home can be much smaller than this of course, with most of them falling between 100 and 400 square feet.
To give you an idea, 400 square feet is about the size of a two car garage. This can be a significant space difference if you’re coming from a full-sized family home, but perhaps not such a wild difference if you were originally in a studio apartment.
Because of their size, many tiny homes are built onto trailers so they can be moved and placed easily. Tiny homes on trailers are typically on the smaller end of the tiny house range due to the restrictions placed on trailer dimensions.
Finally, tiny homes differ from standard homes in that they typically have very creative methods of making the most of space. Since the goal is to live well with the smallest space, the results are often innovative when it comes down to storage space and room use.
Different Types of Tiny Homes
While the term ‘tiny house’ usually conjures up images of the extremely cute homes built on trailers, there’s actually quite a few different types of houses that fall under the term. Which one you want depends on your finances, where you want to live, and if you want to travel.
This is a detached tiny home with a foundation, which is named because it’s a tiny home often put in the backyard of a standard house so an elder can have privacy while getting the care they need.
Other names for this style might be in-law suite, accessory dwelling unit, or sometimes just plain guest house. These tiny homes have a foundation and are designed for one or two people. They usually simply have a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.
- Shipping Container
One of the most practical builds for a tiny home is one designed around the use of a shipping container. These are environmentally friendly because there are often tons of unused shipping containers to be had, are sturdy and can handle heavy storms, are fire resistant, and allow a lot of architectural flexibility due to their strength.
The drawback to using a shipping container as your tiny home is that you may need to work to get a permit. There’s a great guide for the US that goes into more details here.
- Tiny house on wheels
If you’re not sure where you’ll be in a few years time, or like the flexibility of being able to pack up and go, you may enjoy having a tiny house on wheels. These homes are especially small because they must meet certain dimensions to go on the road.
In the US this typically maximum dimensions are 13.5-feet tall, 8.5-feet wide, and 40-feet long. The total length including the tow vehicle can be no longer than 65 feet. This can vary depending on state, so check local laws.
While most of us think of the cute, miniaturized versions of family homes, those rustic hunting cabins are actually good examples of tiny homes. While hunting cabins often don’t have all the requirements for permanent living, a cabin style can be modified to make it a simple residence.
Yurts come from Mongolia and are used by nomadic people to bring their homes with them wherever they go. Companies such as Pacific Yurt have taken this ancient design concept and adapted it for use in a modern setting, including the ability to put in kitchens, bathrooms, and even lofts.
Yurts work well in a variety of different situations, and can even be set up without the help of a contractor (at least the basic design.)
Perhaps the most unusual of all the tiny homes is the Earthship. Although not all Earthships qualify as tiny homes (they can be quite huge) many of them end up being smaller. These dwellings are made to be less reliant on the grid, and are built trying to take 6 different human needs in mind: Food, (Clean) Water, Shelter, Energy, Sewage Treatment and Garbage management.
Earthships usually have a very environmentally friendly approach, including organic food production on-site, clean energy, and rain-water capture. This is another one where you’ll need to check local guidelines carefully, as rain-water capture and off-grid living aren’t legal in all locations.
There are almost as many different styles of tiny homes as there are full size family homes, but it represents the imagination and adaptability of people willing to live in them. If you’re serious about staying in a tiny home, it may be worth visiting others who have the types of home you are interested in, and experiencing it yourself before investing the money in one.
Where to Build Your Tiny Home
As you have probably guessed from reading the different tiny house styles, not everyone welcomes tiny house living. It’s illegal to build tiny houses in some places, while there are restrictions on others. In fact, if you chose for your tiny house to be on wheels, it may not even be considered a house in certain locations.
Laws are very specific, and you’ll need to research the area you plan to live in to make sure your home will be legal within the state and even cities. Since this is a fairly exhaustive list of possibilities, we refe you to this detailed guide on tiny living friendly states.
Safe bets for tiny living is to build your home in someone’s backyard. Almost every city and state has specific guidelines for ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units) which will help you figure out where to place them.
As for the dream of going off-grid in a tiny home, it comes down to zoning laws and also what state you’re in. Many states completely outlaw tiny house living, so you’ll want to check that the state you’re buying in will let you build your dream home.
Building Costs and Concerns
Once you have decided on a style that suits your needs, the next step is getting it built. Tiny homes are one of the most affordable types of homes out there to build, and some of them even have kits available that let you do the building yourself.
The average cost of a tiny home will run between $20,000 and $80,000. There’s outliers beyond this of course, with custom designs and lots of features running as high as $150,000, and cheap DIY’s made from reclaimed materials running as cheap as $6,000.
Figuring out where your tiny home will fall on the scale is a matter of deciding how many frills you want for your house. If you’re looking for a super tiny house (200 square feet or under), you’re planning to do all or most of the work yourself, your house will likely fall under $25,000. These super small homes often don’t have bathrooms however, so before you make peace with the lack of space, make sure you’re also at peace with what that lack of space means.
Houses that fall around the $50,000 mark usually have bathrooms, defined sleeping areas, and all the basic features that make you think of a house as a home. They may still use super cheap or reclaimed materials and be very small (under 400 feet) but they are most likely to fall under what people picture as a house.
After this point, costs increase due to using better quality materials, custom features, and often more space. Clever adaptations can be built into the home to make tiny living flow easier, such as drawers or shelving built into stares, a ¾ bathroom instead of just a toilet, a fuller kitchen, and more.
A well-designed tiny home can be a joy to live in, but a poorly designed one can involve huge sacrifice. If you’re not sure what tiny home living means, it’s best to rent one and stay there for a while to determine what adjustments you’ll want made before you call the contractor to have yours built.
If you’re hiring a contractor, you’ll also want to ask them about whether they’re familiar with the laws surrounding tiny homes, and whether they are local to the area or not. This can help you avoid costly mistakes later.
Buying an Existing Tiny Home
Tiny houses are being built all the time. Just like with standard family homes, every now and then a tiny home gets put up for sale. If you’d rather not go through the trouble of having one built yourself, purchasing an existing tiny home is an option.
Most of these homes are on wheels and transportable, but there are also tiny houses on foundations available. There’s even a listing website available that shows tiny homes for sale.
Not all tiny houses come with land, especially if they have wheels. You’ll need to double check if you’re looking for something that has property.
If you want new but not the work, buying a tiny home straight from the manufacturer is also an option.
What to Expect Moving In
Committing to a tiny home takes more than just picking one out. It’s not the same as moving from an apartment to a detached home, or from a rambler to a condo. Tiny homes require radically less stuff, which means you’ll be stripping yourself of almost everything you own.
This can be a relief in some ways—you can finally let go of that old china set you’ve never used but got as a wedding gift, but it can also be hard. You may be attached to the home library you’ve built or have a lot of clothes you enjoy wearing.
Tiny home living forces you to take a good, hard look at your lifestyle to see if it matches up with this type of home. If you’re already a minimalist, love spending time outdoors, or essentially just use your living space for shelter, a tiny home is perfect.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of kids or pets you may not find tiny homes as suitable as you hope. There’s no place to get some breathing space from your family. There’s no place to escape from your dog’s farts, and when everyone is under each other’s feet it can lead to friction.
It can also lead to more bonding and enjoying more family time together. Instead of one person working in the office, another reading in their room, and someone else tidying the kitchen, you’ll all be close together and have the opportunity to connect 100% of the time.
Whether you’ll end up connecting or finding new and creative ways to avoid each other is up to your individual family. In the end, it’s less about the home itself, and more about who you are as a person that makes tiny living possible.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you need a certain amount of organization to make tiny living work. You simply can’t leave your things out and pick them up later. If you don’t hang your coat up and put your shoes away when you come in, it’s going to be in the way no matter where you are in the home. It’s just easier to live tiny when every task is done immediately, including putting away items and tidying up.
If you find yourself enjoying tiny house living, the benefits of it are huge. You’ll save thousands of dollars compared to a full-time house. It’s cheaper to heat, cheaper to cool, and you’ll end up buying a lot fewer things because you don’t have any place to put those impulse buys.
The environmental benefits are also huge. Many people choose to live in tiny homes because it has a much lower impact on the environment. With lower heating, cooling, and storing needs those things aren’t needed. That means fewer fossil fuels getting burned up for daily comfort.
Finally, tiny homes allow for greater freedom. You can take most of them out on the road, and even if you can’t, moving is a much easier affair because there’s so much less to pack and move.
There’s also financial benefits beyond the upkeep of the home. Even the fanciest tiny home is often cheaper than even the most modest standard home, and many are cheap enough that owning your home outright is in sight—no mortgage necessary.
There are trade offs to living in a tiny home, just as there are with everything else in life, but if you have the right personality for it a tiny home can liberate you financially, mentally, and physically.