Most people that you ask these days would tell you that a tiny house is a home built using but on the scale of an RV travel trailer. These homes are often built on flatbed trailers and are sometimes owner-built. Their square footage usually does not surpass 400 square feet. But small cabins, cottages, and other small residences can also be considered tiny homes. So the term is not so much an exclusive definition, but an inclusive category of extremely small residences.
There are some questions you should ask yourself before you embark on any tiny house build…
Skill – Building a safe, durable tiny house takes skill. Do you currently have construction knowledge and experience? If not, do you have the patience and commitment needed to acquire the skill? If you’ve never built anything, consider building something simple, like a set of shelves or a table, to test your skill and gain confidence before beginning your tiny house.
Build space – Do you have, or can you find, a place to build your tiny house?
Time – Building a tiny house takes between 400 and 1,000 hours, depending on your skill level and the complexity of the house. Do you have this much free time? Can you be comfortable extending your build timeline as necessary to fit it into your existing work and family commitments?
Money – If you have savings and know where you’ll park your tiny house, buying one that’s already complete may be the best path. If money is tight and/or you’re not sure where you’ll live, take it slow and work through your options.
Nook Tiny Homes has you covered. More often than not, it’s actually LESS expensive for us to build your tiny home.
The cost of a tiny home varies greatly. Many people choose to build tiny homes themselves with their own design or house plans they find online. While there is often a bit of satisfaction found in this method, we always recommend having your tiny house built by a professional, experienced builder. Typically it will end up costing roughly the same amount of money if you are doing it right. Really small tiny houses can be built for very little money while most builds range from $30,000 to $70,000 depending on the size, function and location.
Most folks don’t borrow money to build their tiny homes. A more common path to tiny home ownership is to first downsize expenses and possessions, save money, secure a place to build the house, and then start the build. It’s a slower path into a tiny home than taking out a loan, but seems to be most common.
We’ve got a whole section of our site dedicated to tiny home financing. Check it out here!
Most people park their mobile tiny homes on their own property or at friend or relative’s place. Some folks travel and move around from place to place. RV trailer parks may be an option too, especially if the tiny home has RV or conventional plumbing.
The truth is that tiny houses are still in a grey area and zoning & ordinances don’t really account for this type of alternative housing – but this is changing. Some communities are adapting as the popularity of tiny homes increases. To find out if your community allows tiny homes check with your local planning department. It may be wise to use words other than ‘tiny house’ and instead tell them what you want to do.
For example, if you want to build a tiny house on wheels, you might tell them you’re considering building a house on a flatbed trailer that you hope to live in – and tell them where. Then ask if there are any allowances for that in your community like that. For example would your community consider that an RV, or an ADU (accessory dwelling unit, a.k.a. granny unit), and is it legal to use it as a dwelling in your community. Every community has different codes, zoning, and ordinance so it pays to do some research.
To learn more about finding land for you tiny house, check out out this page!
It depends where you are and how you use it. Some communities have few building restrictions and are very friendly to alternative housing solutions. Other places have rules coming out their ears plus oodles of uptight neighbors that don’t want people living in their neighbor’s backyard.
People who are motivated to find solutions to their housing challenges will find the ingenuity in themselves to make it happen. The best advice I have on this is to research and learn as much as you can about the community you want to live in, and look for zoning loopholes and alternative housing friendly neighbors.
Tiny houses can also be built on foundations with permits if you want to go that route. Not all communities have minimum dwelling size rules but often the biggest hurdle is getting an exception to the minimum square footage requirement.
One common loophole for this is to look for land zoned for multi-family housing (i.e.: apartments) and then get a permit to build a tiny house. It’s common for multi-family zoned areas to have no minimum size for dwellings because these zones must allow for small apartments.
Another option is to look into the ADU (accessory dwelling unit, a.k.a. granny unit/mother in law house) allowances. Many communities allow a small house to be built in the backyard of a larger home if the dwelling is to be used for family or caretakers – and not rented out.
If a tiny house is built on a trailer it typically falls into the category of ‘travel trailer’ and building codes don’t normally apply. But it is best to build to standard building codes and make sure your house is strong enough to withstand highway speeds. A good approach is to build the house with the same materials & methods used in locations subject to hurricanes.
We will help walk you though the research part of your tiny house build to make sure you have the right permits. There may be extra costs associated with your particular municipality.
For heating, most people use small propane heaters or electric space heaters if they have a utility grid connection. There are many marine propane heaters on the market. Some people use wood stoves but they tend to overheat such small spaces.
For cooling, air conditioners are the most common choice. A mini-split unit is often ample for a tiny home that’s on the grid. If you’re off-grid it’s not practical due to the high energy requirements… in other words it would take a lot of panels/batteries to keep a place cool with an air conditioner in a hot environment.
Many people setup their homes with grey water tanks like an RV but if you are living in one place setting up a grey water system seems ideal. If you have access to a sewer system and have the proper plumbing your waste water can go there just like a conventional home.
Each state/region has different rules. Typically trailers aren’t much longer than 38′ or 40′, and tiny homes don’t often get longer than 24′. Weight considerations for tiny houses don’t typically push the oversize road limits; but they do push the limits for height and width. Typically 13′ 6″ in height and 8′ 6″ in width are the maximum dimensions without requiring a special move permit.
Sure, and there is no one-size-fits-all for housing. A family will need more space than an individual or couple. People that work from home will need more space. The whole idea of living simply in small spaces is that the true value of the home is realized, and the home doesn’t become a burden. In other words it’s about finding balance and the first step is reducing the number of possessions.
Any tiny house can be powered by off-grid electricity, but like any off-grid house choosing to use less power will get you the lowest cost system. Giving up things like microwaves, electric heaters, blow dryers, and electric clothes dryers, will allow you to really scale down your electricity needs.
Check with your insurance agent, and put it in terms they can undertand. Typically calling it a ‘custom travel trailer’, or cabin, will help them undertand what you are talking about. We have more information about insuring your tiny home in our Resources section. You can find it here.