Some of you might be wondering how I actually got my tiny house built. What was the process. There is no prescribed set of steps and I think everyone approaches it in their own way, so I will list out the most important steps I took to hopefully give you something actionable and to use as a basis if you are on a similar path to tiny house living.
1. Read my post So You Want To Go Tiny
You first need to understand what tiny house living entails so that you can decide if it’s actually for you. What are your needs, motivations and lifestyle requirements. Get a better idea of what it means to you and read about other people’s experiences. There are people from all walks of life living tiny, including singles, couples, families, students, retirees and many more. A quick search on Google for “Tiny House Blogs” or watching tiny house shows on HGTV will give you a bit more insight. Search Facebook groups, Instagram and Pinterest for articles, ideas and general chatter.
2. Find your inspiration
Once you’ve decided you want to own a tiny house, the fun begins! I began by looking around online and searching for tiny house companies, predominantly in my area (at the time I was in Seattle, WA) for inspiration. There are tons of great ideas out there, and I wanted to find one to use as my base. Tiny house designers will post to Pinterest and/or sell their plans. Tiny house companies often sell various models with some level of options or customization. While I was in Seattle I came across Tiny Mountain Houses which I absolutely loved. My tiny house design was inspired by their Little Tahoma Peak which I thought made the best use of space. I also looked at TexZen (who built my house), Tumbleweed (very popular, offers various options, offers financing), Seattle Tiny Homes, Wikkel House, New Frontier, Wind River Tiny Homes, Wheel Haus, Hobitat and Monarch. If you can see a model or even rent a tiny house before you start building, it will give you a sense of the space and what your sizing requirements will be.
Your design options essentially include: do it yourself, find a tiny house designer (online or local), pick a builder and let them design it or purchase an off-the-shelf model. It really depends how much energy and creativity you want to spend. I really wanted to design everything with some help on the architectural details and wanted to learn how to use SketchUp, the 3D modeling tool everyone uses, so I did mostly everything myself.
3. Figure out where to park
This is far and away the biggest obstacle tiny home owners face. It’s ridiculous how difficult it is to find a place to park a tiny house. Typical residential areas have zoning laws prohibiting anything under 400 square feet as a permanent residence unless it is an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) which basically means a guest house on the property of a “normal sized” residence. I was lucky and moved into a mobile home park which is a mix of tiny houses, RVs, and manufactured homes. This is one option. Other options include buying your own land (often restricting you to the countryside), RV parks or someone’s backyard. Tiny house communities/villages are cropping up in places like Texas, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and New England. The best advice I can give is to scour the Internet, search Craigslist, talk to realtors, drive around your local area, talk to your tiny house builder, and post questions in tiny house community forums.
Figure this out BEFORE you start building because you will be screwed if you have nowhere to park your shiny new house once it’s finished, unless of course you decide to take it on the road.
4. Figure out how you’re going to pay for it
This pretty much drives how you approach the rest of the process. First, figure out your budget. That is, how much do you really want to spend on the tiny house. Second, figure out how you’re going to finance it. Financing a tiny house is a bit tricky. Since it’s not a typical house, there is not enough collateral for a typical mortgage loan. Some tiny house companies like Tumbleweed offer financing and I found out about LightStream through TexZen who have a special program for tiny houses. Of course you can always ask friends and family or save up the money yourself. If you pay everything up front without financing, you will not have lien holder like you would for a car, which can be beneficial outright in owning your home right away. Of course, if you go the DIY (do-it-yourself) route, the cost will be considerably less than say if you go with a tiny house company, in which case your financing options may be different, or you may not even need financing.
5. Build vs. buy
My post So You Want To Go Tiny will offer some help in deciding what you want to do here if you’re unsure, as this is a very important question. Main things to consider: do you have the time, money, skills, tools and expertise to get the job done. What is the opportunity cost (what are you giving up) to build the house yourself vs. paying someone else to do it for you. For my situation, I needed to get a job to pay for the house which left me little time to actually build the house. I had nowhere to stay in the interim, not to mention I am not a builder nor do I have the tools for the job. Although I wanted to build it (and learn along the way), the decision for me to buy was clear.
6. Define your key requirements up front
Do you research and decide what are your key requirements. This could include things like length, square footage, loft, gas vs. electric, off-grid, green materials, special appliances, smart home tech, etc. You want to go into a meeting with a builder having at least a general sense of what you want. Some of them are good at working with you to refine (or in some cases define) your vision, but I found a lot of them are not as creative and will either only build exactly what you tell them or build what they know. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so naturally I did a TON of research on designs, materials (I wanted only green/sustainable/non-toxic) and appliances (e.g. fridge, induction cooktop, windows, insulation, etc.). I wanted smart lighting and had a very specific layout in mind to maximize space, modularity and flexibility to change in the future. You certainly don’t have to go to the lengths I did, but I learned a lot in the research process which was helpful in communicating to my builder what I wanted and also to understand any limitations, challenges or recommendations they had.
7. Find an exceptional and reliable builder
If you want your house to be what you ask for, you want it to last, and you don’t want to endure the headache that is construction, find an exceptional builder. Ideally local if possible if you really want to be involved in some capacity. I found reliability to be extremely hard to come by. Maybe it’s just construction in general, but I had a difficult time getting pricing quotes with some of the options I requested, even just asking about those listed on their website! People would not get back to me or they would not entertain my ideas, they only wanted to sell me what they offered. Personality is also important. I was able to find a builder who was as perfectionistic as myself, understood the style I was going for and understood me. We clicked immediately and as a result the house was a smashing success.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and if you’re looking for some design or research help, I’m available for hire!
2 Replies to “How I Got My Tiny House Built”
Hey Justin. This is Joe Capone. Your father’s friend. I am fascinated with this Tiny House. Is it more expensive than just purchasing an RV? and does it withstand the elements? and do you need to plug in the bath water and hook ups like an RV and all that stuff? It is great, Joe. You probably answered all these things as I just haven’t read everything. Love your booklist also!
Hi Joe, nice to hear from you! The cost of a tiny house is very dependent upon the materials and labor. They range anywhere from DIY $20K to “large” and luxurious at around $100K. RVs are similar in that price range and can even be more expensive. One way to think about it is the cost of materials would be between $20K-$50K on average, then double or triple it (depending on complexity) for labor if you decide to have someone build it for you. Tiny houses are more livable and feel more like a house (but smaller) where an RV is better suited for traveling and mobility. Of course there are some really fancy RVs, but you don’t get to customize them like you would a tiny house, which to me is one of the biggest draws. The company that built mine did a fantastic job and as a result has withstood TX heat of 110 degrees, two snowfalls with freezing temperatures down to the 20s, and a hurricane (Harvey) with a week of nothing but extreme wind and rain. Build solid! Hookups depend on where you put it. Mine is RVIA certified which essentially means it’s built to this code and will hook up anywhere that has standard RV hookups. So there is a hookup for power, water, and sewer. You can also do gray/black water tanks or make it off grid capable. If you have your own land or put in your backyard, you can really do whatever you want for a custom build tiny house.