When you’re considering making the move to tiny house living, there are a lot of questions you’ll want answers to. From the design of the house, to building laws and zoning codes, to the logistics of downsizing. But perhaps the first question you’ll ask is: Is it cheaper to build or buy a tiny house?
And it’s a reasonable question to ask. At the end of the day, finances are one of the most important things to consider when buying or building a home. This is especially true if you’re operating on a tight budget. So today we’re going to dive into the process of building and buying a tiny house, so you know which options are going to be more affordable for you.
Factors To Consider
If you’re wondering is it cheaper to build or buy a tiny house, you also have to consider the factors that dictate how much they cost. These are the aspects of a build that can often make a build/buy either cheaper or more expensive.
- Built on a trailer or a foundation
- Materials used
- Utilities – are you connecting to a local grid or using your power sources?
Another point to remember about tiny house costs is that, unlike traditional homes, most tiny houses will not appreciate in value. They tend to depreciate instead, like most used commodities. If you think it’s likely that you’ll sell on your home in the future, this is something you may want to consider when budgeting for your tiny house.
Costs Of Building a Tiny House
On average, building a tiny house can cost you as little as $10,000 to $30,000. These numbers are entirely possible to achieve. They can cover the basics of your build if you plan carefully and keep an eye on your budget. This is assuming you plan to do the job yourself, or with the help of volunteer labor. If you’re planning to hire a builder or contractor to complete the job, you can expect to pay as much as double the price.
Base materials for the structure of the home will set back most tiny house builders anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000. This number is so varied because you can either buy everything wholesale, or you can find fairly simple ways to get your materials cheaper. Within the tiny house movement, many people advocate for salvaging materials from older builds that are being demolished or leftover materials from construction sites (with permission of course).
In some places, you can even find businesses that sell used, leftover, or partially damaged materials. These can easily be salvaged and reused on your build. Some people even go to local tips to repurpose abandoned products and materials that can be used on their build. Your mileage may vary with these tactics, but using them can drastically reduce the costs of your build. Just take a look at the couple in this video below, who built a 67-square foot tiny house and spent only 425 Australian dollars (approximately $300USD)!
They built their home using a majority of recycled materials, meaning they got most of their resources for free. Though it’s smaller than most people would like for a tiny home, this project just shows how much can be done with a very low budget. For some, it can seem like an easy answer when you’re wondering “is it cheaper to build or buy a tiny house?”
Factors To Consider:
- Do you plan to build on a trailer or foundation? Either will likely set you back between $5000 to $8000, but this choice will also change how you build since you can always build bigger on a foundation. A trailer will limit how big you can go which may make your build less expensive.
- You will also have to pay for a building permit, but it should only set you back around $1000-2000.
- If it fits the design you’ve got in mind, you could consider building a shipping container tiny house. A 40’ brand new container costs around $6-8,000, and a used one should cost around $3-4,000. These kinds of builds are very cost-efficient. That’s because you’re essentially buying the frame of your house and building onto it, which is not only easier but more time-efficient. The drawback is that it’s much harder to build ‘up’ (as in add loft spaces). You are also more restricted in how you can design.
Costs of Buying a Tiny House
Similar to building a tiny house, the cost of buying one will vary, though pricing tends to be more consistent. According to RocketMortgage.com, the typical prefab tiny house in the US will set you back anywhere between $30,000-60,000. On average, each square foot of a prefab tiny house will cost around $300. This is compared to only $150 for an average-sized home.
These are just an average estimation, however, as some pre-built homes can cost up to $150,000 according to homeadvisor.com. This will usually occur if you’re paying for a luxury tiny house or a highly customized one with extensive modifications and full amenities.
Some people who want to buy but have a more restricted budget will buy a pre-used tiny house. Because they tend to depreciate, this can cost you as little as half the price of an average tiny house. This is depending on the age and build of the home, and how much of the installed amenities will stay behind (fridge, oven, plumbing, etc). Your options for pre-used tiny houses will vary depending on where you live. In some states (if you are in the US) and countries, tiny houses can be less common.
You can also purchase prefabs quite cheaply (between $15,000 and $30,000). Though these will often be small and plain, and potentially less than 100 feet.
Factors To Consider:
- A prefab build will be more expensive if you want to include off-grid options in the entire packaging. Things like solar panels, water tanks, and more will set you back by a few thousand.
- Consider whether you want to install appliances like HVAC, ovens, microwaves, etc yourself, or pay to have it done. Many tiny house sellers will install appliances. Their homes will come with functional plumbing and electrical wiring.
- Not all tiny house builders are equal. Be sure to do your due diligence before choosing a seller to buy from. This includes asking for references and testimonials, and checking all online reviews of the business.
So it’s time to answer the initial question – is it cheaper to build or buy a tiny house?
For the most part, the cheapest possible option is building your own. That is unless you plan to buy a very basic preowned tiny home, build a complicated and super customized tiny home, or pay someone else to build it for you. On average, building a basic 200 square foot tiny house will cost around $30,000. Buying a similar prefab structure will cost much closer to $50,000.
Again, the price of either can be lower or higher, it all depends on what you want in a tiny house and how you approach your build. It’s also important to remember that building a tiny house on your own or with help from friends and family is far more time-consuming than simply buying a prefab. If you’re someone who just doesn’t have the time to give up 2-4 weeks (or more) to build your own house, buying is going to be much more efficient. This is also true if you have lack confidence and experience in building.
Tiny house kits (which come with the pre-cut and semi-built parts of the kit) and pre-built shells are also a good meeting point between building and buying. You have a list of detailed instructions to follow and simply have to put everything together and complete the interior.
As you can see, costs can vary widely when both building and buying a tiny house. It all depends on the kind of house you want to build, and how you want to customize it. Now that tiny house building is more common, there is an enormous amount of flexibility involved in the process. This is both a blessing and a curse – which can make the decision to buy or build more difficult.
But if you know exactly what you want in a home, and what you can give up (whether that’s time, money, or resources) to make it happen, making the choice will be easy. Asking, ‘is it cheaper to build a tiny house?’ means you’re already well on the path to making your dream tiny house happen.