Tiny House Q&A: Where can I find a local small house builder?

Q: Where can I find a local small house builder?

A: On our website we have a directory of designers and builders, as well as a listing of local contacts.

However, because the small house movement is still relatively new, it’s unlikely that there’s a small house builder located in your community.

What people typically do is contact a local contractor or local builder in their area. That person can be the local builder and work with house plans from one of the national designers. Even if they don’t have extensive experience building tiny homes, they have the tools and experience needed.

Another option would be to purchase a ready-made tiny house and have it delivered to you (or go get it from a builder).

Tiny House Q&A: What does it cost to build a small house?

Q: What does it cost to build a small house?

A: The simple formula to determine the cost of building a small house is to multiply the cost per square foot by the number of square feet you plan to build. It’s said that the national average is $125 per square foot. So, a 300 square foot home should cost $37,000. It’s simple math. Yet, in reality it’s a bit more complicated.

Factors Influencing Cost Per Square Foot

However, the cost per square foot for new construction of any home (large or small) varies widely depending on where you are building since the cost of materials and labor depends on the local economy. Another factor to consider is the quality of materials being used. Higher quality materials will cost more.

Smaller homes are more dense. For example, a 2,000 square foot home, with large open spacious rooms, uses very little material in those large open spaces. In a small home, there is much more wood, shelving, and possibly built-in furniture. So, more materials are used per square foot than in a larger home. This makes small homes potentially more expensive per square foot.

This is why you might find some small homes for sale that exceed the $125 per square foot average.

Building a Quality Home

Some people choose to build small, because they can stay within their budget while still choosing the highest quality materials for construction and selecting the best quality appliances and amenities. For these people, the cost per square foot may be much higher, and the ultimate cost of their small home may seem very high, yet the quality is what matters most to these builder/owners.

Building a Cheap Home

Small houses on wheels are not as closely scrutinized by local building inspectors. In fact, most municipalities don’t care what kind of camper, RV, or cottage on wheels you park in your driveway. They aren’t going to come inspect it (unless a neighbor complains about something). Small houses are also easy to setup in rural areas, far from anyone who might be critical of their size or construction.

For these reasons, it’s possible to build a small home with cheap materials and save lots of money. The cheapest homes are basically a shed made of plywood without much concern about quality or attractiveness. They are built to provide basic shelter and that’s about it.

If using used, reclaimed, and repurposed materials, it’s possible to build a ‘home’ for several thousand dollars.

Working with a Contractor or DIY

If you have someone build your home for you either delivered to you or build on-site, the costs may be higher since you’ll have the labor costs on top of the cost of materials. See our list of tiny house designers and builders for examples of cost for buying new tiny homes.

Those who build a home on their own, are often surprised with how much time it actually takes to construct a quality home. When people calculate the cost per square foot to build tiny homes, they often forget to include the value of their own labor. Even if they work ‘for free’ the opportunity cost of what they could have earned at a job needs to be considered.

Tiny House Q&A: What about financing small houses?

Q: “What about financing small houses?”

A: Getting a loan for a tiny house can be difficult for a variety of reasons:

  • Cost Overruns. Home loans are based on the appraised value a home, not necessarily based on what it cost to build. A bank won’t loan more money just because there were cost overruns on a project. Most tiny house builders make choices based on personal preference and not profitability. It’s common to spend more money for quality materials and custom designs. These may not result in a higher market value for the home. Many tiny homes are owner-built from purchased plans or from designs people make on their own. Materials are often purchased from various sources including repurposed materials. So, it may be difficult going into a home build project to know how much it will ultimately cost.
  • Future Value Concerns. To establish a loan, banks need to determine current and future value of a home. Standards of building vary widely — resulting in varying degrees of durability, safety, and reliability. This impacts future values significantly. The market is new, and with few home sales, there’s little data available to estimate appreciation. For this reason, banks have a difficult time providing a loan without knowing whether a property will go up in value or down in value.
  • Insurance. When buying a home or car, the lender typically requires that the buyer pay for insurance to cover the full replacement cost of the item being purchased. It’s difficult to get insurance for a tiny house on wheels. As a result, banks will not want to provide a loan for an uninsured purchase.
  • Loan Recovery. When a home owner stops paying their mortgage, a bank will foreclose, evict the buyer, and sell the home to recovery the loan amount. With houses on wheels, it’s more difficult to track down the house and owner. Without very good credit and references, a bank may not want to risk someone skipping town and taking their home with them.
  • Unknown Market Value. A bank typically provides a loan amount that’s smaller than the market value of the home. That way, if they need to foreclose and sell a home, they can get their money out of the home when it sells. The market for used small homes is new and still unpredictable. If a bank were to provide a loan for a tiny home, they’d likely want a very high interest rate and a large downpayment to make sure they don’t lose money if the buyer stops making loan payments.

Insurance and Loan Options for Small Houses

Some small houses are certified as RV equivalents. This makes financing options more available. There’s a nice article on the Tumbleweed website that explains RVIA certification and financing for their homes. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association sets standards in construction and safety.

If the insurance company and bank can be reassured about the construction standards, quality, safety, and durability of a home, it’s more likely they can work with you. If many homes are built to the same standard, and sold for the same price, then it’s possible to begin evaluating resale values, and predict the future value of a specific home. This helps insurance companies and banks work with tiny home purchasers.

 

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Tiny House Q&A: What about land for small houses?

Q: “I have a question; what about the land? Does the land have to be purchased or rented? Do your estimates include the land and hydro and water hookup?”

A: Estimates about the cost of having a tiny home usually just include the cost of the home itself and not the cost of land, water hookups, sewer, or delivery of other utilities and services.

For moveable dwellings, it’s common to rent land. For example, campers, RVs, and trailers have been popular for decades. There are campgrounds, trailer parks, and facilities coast to coast for these.

Tiny houses on wheels are a relatively new phenomenon, so it’s not always clear where they can be placed. However, most campgrounds would probably allow a tiny house to park and pay camping fees.

For long-term living, people will sometimes make arrangements to stay in someone’s back yard. This could be a friend, family member, or someone offering to rent space for a tiny house.

It’s also possible to purchase land and put a tiny house on it. However, zoning, neighborhood covenants, or local housing codes may restrict the ability to build tiny.

Some municipalities permit pocket neighborhoods and accessory dwelling units. In these communities, it’s possible to have tiny houses side-by-side with larger homes. However, most cities don’t permit tiny houses within city limits. So, if you’re planning to buy land for a tiny house, you’ll likely need to find land in a rural area where the county zoning laws may be less restrictive. In some cases, people have purchased larger acreages and setup cabins or tiny houses. Inspectors don’t typically hike through vast amounts of private lands looking for housing violations.

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Media Request: Courier-Post of South Jersey Seeks Small Housers

OrganizationCourier-Post of South Jersey

Type of media: Newspaper & Digital

Contact: Shannon Eblen

Emailseblen@gannett.com

Deadline: 11 October 2015

Request:

Hi, I’m the features reporter for the Courier-Post, a South Jersey newspaper. I’m working on a story based around the growing popularity of tiny houses, “How to live small.” I want to talk to people who have moved into tiny houses about why they chose the lifestyle, and how they pared down their belongings and built their houses, as well as the architects or builders, preferably in the South Jersey area, who specialize in this style.

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Higher Education Researcher Seeks Small Housers

Researcher Name: Beth N. Rossheim, Ph.D.

Emailbjrossheim@cox.net

Phone Number: 757 229-1070

OrganizationThe College of William and Mary

DepartmentDepartment of Art and Architecture

Deadline: I would like to conduct these interviews between now and January 2016; sooner is better!

Request:

I am conducting architectural research at The College of William and Mary on the “tiny house” movement in North America, looking both for significant historical precedents and the philosophical motivation of users. This material will be the basis of an article and a university presentation. As well, I intend to design and build a model of a typical tiny house with the university architecture professor.

My request is for an opportunity to interview owners and/or occupants of tiny houses to expand my understanding of their desire and commitment to live small. The interview will be by telephone or e-mail, but will not be recorded or video taped. All names will be used or not used according to the wishes of the individual(s) involved. I would be very grateful for the opportunity to talk with you. This is planned as an open-ended interview with no intrusive questions.

 

Ideally, I would like to connect with individuals (single or couples or families) who have built and are occupying a tiny house. I do not need to limit this to individuals in my area although that would be ideal. I estimate the time of the interview at 15 minutes; more could be added if the individual(s) are eager to discuss their motivation for this lifestyle.

Thanks so much for your willingness to share this experience and your personal commitment to this dramatic housing movement.

Beth Rossheim

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Casting Call: Planning to own a tiny home? We Want You!

Are you planning to buy a Tiny House? Have you always dreamed of living in a luxury home? Now you can have both! Don’t downgrade when you downsize!

HGTV in association with Bodega Pictures are now seeking families, couples and individuals who are looking to build or own a tiny home. Candidates will be introduced to a highly skilled, top-of-the-line tiny home manufacturing team to design and build a 100% customized house that boasts high-end amenities creature comforts and above average design and detail. This is your chance to live in a premium quality home tailored to your desires and your unique personality!

Having the home of your dreams doesn’t have to break the bank!

EMAIL: tinyluxury@bodegapictures.com

Important: To submit please email your name, location, your budget range, FULL contact information (phone and email) recent photos of yourselves and a brief bio describing why you are interested in owning a tiny home.

* Interested candidates must be located in the U.S. and plan to either build or buy a tiny house within the Fall of 2015 or by Early 2016.

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Media Request: Boston University Thesis Project

Organization: Thesis Project at Boston University

Type of media: Film/Video

Contact: Emily Schulz

Email: eschulz@bu.edu

Phone: (540) 993-3538

Deadline: 22 September 2015

Request:

Hello!

My name is Emily Schulz, I am a student at Boston University, getting my Master’s in Film. I currently live in Los Angeles until December. My thesis project is a script for a documentary I am working on. The documentary is about the tiny house movement, specifically the tiny house community.

I am looking for a few friends to help answer some questions for me, in hopes to use your statements in my project. I would be asking questions about your involvement in the community, your backgrounds in how you got involved, and relationships you have made through the tiny house lifestyle. I am preferably looking for people who have either already built their house, or are currently living in it. That being said, the more people I could speak to the better.

If you are interested, or you know someone who would be interested in helping me out, please contact me! You can reach me though email or through phone number. I would love to hear from any and all of you!

Best Wishes Wherever You Are.

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Note: We’ve had some people posting comments here on this page in response to the above. Instead, please contact the person directly as indicated above. Thanks!

Media Request: Public Radio Seeks Small Housers

OrganizationKCRW

Type of media: Public Radio

Contact: Sasa Woodruff

Email: SasaWoodruff@kcrw.org

Deadline: 30 September 2015

Request:

I’m a freelance journalist working for a public radio station. I’m currently in Bratislava, Slovakia and would do interview via Skype. I’m working on a story about an off-the-grid ecopod and would like to talk to an expert in the movement who could discuss how this one compares to other ones on the market. The interview should take 15-30 minutes. Please email me so we can arrange an interview. Thank you!

 

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Small House Society – Great Lakes Region – 2015 Summit

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UPDATE @9PM on 24 May 2015

We didn’t get sufficient response to hold this event. We’ll plan something else in the midwest region soon. Thanks!

Summary

The Small House Society is hosting another pop-up conference! This time we’re meeting in Munising, Michigan. Learn more below, and attend if you’re able.

Why a Pop-Up Conference?

We’ve chosen to have spontaneous pop-up conferences because organizing and hosting larger events is very costly. Promotion costs are high, and securing a location for many people is expensive. Because of their spontaneity and short notice, pop-up conferences generally have fewer people attending. Small conferences can be more personable, and can be offered at a lower cost. We also want to encourage people meeting in their own regions rather than traveling a long distance to an event. This helps promote local connections, collaborations, and projects.

Event Location

Our meeting venue overlooks Murray Bay and the Grand Island Lake Superior (shown below). This is the view from the patio just outside the hotel.

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Murray Bay — Munising, Michigan

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 25 May 2015
  • Time: 9AM-3PM
  • Location: Holiday Inn Express, Munising, Michigan [map]
  • Registration Payment: Suggested event registration is $30. This nominal fee is simply to help defray some of the cost associated with hosting the event. It also helps to ensure that those who indicate a desire to attend are serious about it and likely to attend. Payment can be made as described on our donations page.
  • Lodging: Each attendee is responsible for their own lodging accommodations. At present, the Holiday Inn has no vacancies.
  • Format and Content: Because this is a pop-up conference, the format and content will be determined by feedback we receive from those who register. See the registration form and survey below. The location may change depending on how many people register to attend.

Format Options

Depending on the preference and interest of those attending, the event will take the form of:

  • Clinic – Personalized consultations with individuals on the topics of interest to them.
  • Conference – Presentations on various topics.
  • Expo – Product demonstrations and tables.
  • Meet-up – Networking with peers.
  • Seminar – Classroom format with educational approach.
  • Summit – Policy and strategy sessions and discussion.
  • Symposium – Panel discussions on topics.
  • Workshop – Small group discussions and engaging projects.

Content Options

The small house movement has grown and beyond the obvious how-to-build topics, there are many other aspects that go into  living small and promoting the movement. Here are some possible topics that you can select from in the registration survey below:

  • Design & Construction. Presentations or discussion centered around the design and construction of a tiny house, including materials, insulation, heating, water, electric, lighting, and other topics.
  • Small Living Experience. Presentations or discussion centered around the experience of living small. Greg Johnson is available to share from his 6+ years living in a 10×7 off-the-grid tiny home in Iowa City.
  • Location & Zoning. There’s more to living small than just building a small house. The legalities of small living bring up many questions. Where can small homes be placed? What are the requirements for size, location, materials, occupancy, safety and other concerns? How are services like water, electric, and waste management addressed?
  • Monetizing. Many people who live in small houses have found ways to generate revenue from the experience through things like book sales, product sales, videos, or an online blog. Once a person has built a tiny home they become a local resource, and may be able to help others with the design and building of a tiny home. There are a variety of ways to let small living work for you.

Schedule and Program

The following schedule, format, and content is subject to change based on feedback from those who register. The revised schedule will be posted here by the end of the day on Sunday 24 May 2015.

  • 8:30 AM – 9:00 AM <> Registration and Check-in
  • 9:00 AM – 9:30 AM <> Presentation by Greg Johnson, Summit Agenda and Goals, “Energizing the Small House Movement”
  • 9:30 AM – 10:00 AM <> Break-out sessions / Small Groups
  • 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM <> Presentation by Greg Johnson followed by Q&A: “What I learned from living off-the-grid in 140 square feet for 6 years”
  • 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM <> Expo and professional networking. Vendors, authors, designers, builders, and others meeting and networking.
  • 12:00 AM – 1:00 PM <> Lunch (not provided, but attendees are encouraged to continue the morning’s discussions over lunch)
  • 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM <> Small house design and construction.
  • 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM <> Small house location and zoning.

Note: Because this conference is designed to change and adapt to attendee needs and interests, the schedule and locations may change. If you’re planning to attend, you must register so we can keep you informed regarding times and locations.

After Conference

For those in the area, we’re planning a possible follow-up on Wednesday evening, 27 May 2015. Contact us for details using the registration form below and indicate your interest in the Wednesday evening event.

Registration

Please complete the registration form below if you plan to attend. The content and format of the event will be democratically determined by those who register. The final program will be posted above on this page by Sunday evening.