When my wife and I first decided to start looking for a homestead, we were thinking pretty conventionally – buy a home somewhere in the rural western United States and enjoy our life together. Then we found the tiny house movement, and things took a very different path. Tiny homes can equal big fun, as well as big savings, but they’re not for everyone. If you’re not familiar with the tiny house movement, allow me to introduce you.
What’s a Tiny Home?
The name really says it all. The tiny house movement grew out of the need for more sustainable, smarter living. It’s been embraced by people in all stages of life, from retirees to young couples to singles, and even families with kids.
There are no “hard and fast” rules here. A tiny house can be built using a conventional foundation on land that you own, or it can be built on a trailer. However, most are trailer-based designs that can be towed. There are several reasons for this, which we’ll get into shortly.
Tiny homes range from under 100 square feet to about 400-500 square feet depending on your needs and those of your family. Anything beyond about 500 square feet is too large to be considered a tiny home, though.
What Do They Cost?
Tiny homes started from the desire to build greener, build better and build at a lower cost. You’ll find they’re significantly less costly than the average home in the US – the more expensive models can cost up to about $50,000-60,000 or so.
However, you can build one for far, far less money with a little ingenuity and some help. There are plenty of sites out there showcasing homes designed and built for only a few thousand dollars using recycled materials, scraps and discarded items. Derek Diedricksen of Relax Shacks is well known for his ultra-low budget designs, although they might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
In the end, the cost is really up to you. How much do you want to spend on a home that’s only 300 square feet? If you’re handy or have friends that are, you can buy plans and build your own for very little. If you’re not handy or don’t want to take the time for a DIY project, you can buy pre-made homes from many different companies, including:
- Tumbleweed Tiny Homes
- Tiny House Company
- Tiny Home Builders
You’ll find dozens of others out there as well, and many of them feature ongoing workshops held across the country to teach would-be small home owners how to go about achieving their dreams.
Permits and Such
Building a home requires a lot of legal red tape, but tiny homes are different (at least those on trailers). Most locations won’t let you build a home under a certain size, but by building on a trailer, you get around that. There are no permits or licenses necessary in this situation, as it’s not considered a permanent dwelling. Rather, it’s a temporary structure. So you have no building permits, no building inspection fees or other costs. Note that this is beginning to change as the tiny house movement catches on. It’s always important to check your local laws and regulations.
Power, Water, Sanitation
Because of their small footprint, going off-grid with these structures is a natural.
A small solar array, possibly coupled with a wind turbine, could easily power such a home. Add a generator or battery back-up, and you’re set. Water and sewage is handled by RV-style clean/gray/black water technology that is readily available.
If it’s being added to a property with existing utility power, water and sewage, a permanent tiny home could just be added to the current system. An alternative would be to run an “RV hook-up” similar to what you find at many campsites, out to a fixed point that just happened to be where you place a trailered version of a tiny home.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Living in a tiny home offers some amazing benefits, but it doesn’t come without a cost. Some of the most important benefits are the ability to own your own home without worrying about making a mortgage payment, as well as paying little or even nothing in utilities (if you’re able to operate on solar and/or wind, for instance).
However, there are tradeoffs to be made. Tiny homes are, well, tiny. That means you don’t have any room for unnecessary stuff. You have to make very smart decisions about what items you keep and what you discard.
Utilizing your space wisely is also very important – you’ll find that most tiny home designs are closer to a camper or RV and feature dual or even triple purpose furnishings, foldaway designs and the like.
You’ll also need to consider where you’ll live – will you buy property? Will you move your tiny home onto one of your kids’ properties? Will you take it on the road?
Tiny homes are getting big – they’re amazing ways to live without the burden of debt, and to simplify your life.
Uses For Tiny Houses
Aside from making one of these tiny homes your new, primary residence, there are many other uses –
Temporary living accommodations while building your primary residence – build a tiny home on a trailer, and haul it to the site of your new homestead. Maintain a relatively normal lifestyle during construction.
Living quarters for guests – do you really want your family members to see you in your boxers in the morning? With a tiny house on your property, the in-laws can visit, but you still get your privacy. If you were going the “on a trailer” route, I’d set up something similar to “RV Hookups” – you bring water, electrical and waste disposal to a fixed point on your property, and hook up the tiny house that way.
Rent before owning – this was actually my first experience with tiny homes. A young couple knew they wanted to move from the Big City, but weren’t ready to make a commitment to a large homestead in an unknown area. They rented some land, and built a tiny house on a trailer. In this way, they got to “kick the tires” of the new community to make sure it was a right, long-term fit.
Home-based business office space – this really appeals to me. Building an inexpensive office space that is separate from the primary residence will help to reinforce the, “this is work space” focus that so many people lack.
Hunting/fishing/get-away cabins – build it on-site, or pre-build on a trailer and move it to your prime, remote location. “Once and done” has great appeal!
Kids moving back home – this is happening with increasing regularity throughout the country. What better way to help your kids, but reinforce the idea that, “This is a temporary situation” than by moving them into a tiny home?
What are some of your ideas on this subject? How else might you use one of these tiny homes? Share your ideas, share your concerns, share your enthusiasm!
For more information on plans, go to the free portion of our Independence Library – Members>Independence Library>Tiny House Plans to gather more ideas.