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.



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.


Tiny House Q&A – Trailers, Water, Toilets, Heating, Cooling, etc.

Below are ere are some question sent to us by Denis B., along with some answers.

Q: Black water, grey water, composting toilets? What the heck are these and what happens to waste that gets flushed in a toilet in a tiny house?

Black water and grey water are terms used to describe waste water. Imagine clear water as drinking water. Gray water is slightly dirty, having been used for washing hands or dishes (for example). In some areas of the country, gray water can be drained in small quantities onto the dirt or into a make-shift tiny septic system (a hole in the ground) since it doesn’t contaminate the environment.

Black water is raw sewage from the toilet, and for sanitary reasons it must be disposed of properly.

Some campers, tiny houses, and remote off-the-grid cabins use composting toilets. These sometimes have chemicals to accelerate the biodegrading process, or they might use sawdust. The waste is dry and in small quantities can be buried. Some composting toilets use electricity or some other heat source to speed dry and/or incinerate the waste. These toilet solutions are designed for situations where running water and/or sewage systems aren’t available.


Q: Heating and cooling? Isn’t it cold in a tiny house? Is it possible to use radiant floor heating in a tiny house?

Smaller spaces are actually easier, cheaper, and faster to heat and cool. For heating they tend to use boat heaters since these are small and designed for air tight spaces. For cooling, very small window air conditioning units are more than adequate. Depending on the climate, shade, and each person’s preference, some people may just have a heater without an air conditioner.

Radiant floor heating might be possible. Some radiant systems rely on stone or other dense materials to retain the heat of oil or water piped through the floor. It’s possible that heavy floor tiles with pipes going through them will increase the weight of the house beyond what the trailer can handle. Also, radiant systems are more complicated than a boat heater and would require a place for the pumping and heating systems. This takes up space in a tiny house. So, generally the small and efficient boat heaters are a favorite choice.

Q: How do you decide what goes where when designing the inside?

That’s personal preference, but often some thought is given to how a single space might be used for multiple purposes. For example, tables that fold out are a good way to have the surface you need when  you need it, and then fold it away when you don’t need it. Some tiny homes have furniture and shelving built-in. Other tiny houses are clean and open inside, with modular furniture added and arranged over time to suite the use.

Q: Good trailer vs bad… How do I tell the difference?

A reputable trailer dealer should be able to match you with a trailer that will meet the weight and stability requirements needed for your home based on the weight, and also the height. For example, a tall house may require extra heavy duty springs to keep it from torquing and straining the suspension too much.

Q: How wide can a tiny house be on it’s trailer, and how tall maximums?

Tiny houses on wheels are governed by the same height, width, and weight guidelines as any other structure on wheels such as an RV or materials being transported. Ideally you’d want to stay at 8 feet wide or narrower. Otherwise you’ll need a wide load permit and it gets more difficult and dangerous to transport your home.

Having a travel height of 13.5 feet is about the maximum you would want. If you do a Google search for “height: 13 feet 6 inches” (without quotes) you’ll find millions of results from DOT websites describing this as a limit.

Regarding weight, the trailer vendor may be a better source of information for the particular trailer. Generally you’ll want the weight limit of your trailer to exceed the expected weight of your home to ensure it has plenty of strength to support it and move it down the road.