The Truth Behind the Hidden Costs of Tiny House Living

Recently, I was contacted by a writer about the costs of our tiny house. She asked me extensive questions about the costs and the benefits, which I answered in detail. After she received my answers, she asked one more simple question, "How much did your land cost?" I answered her question, but let her know that the land came long before the decision was made to build a tiny home, so the two don't go hand-in-hand.

And the article was published and this was the extent of my participation:
Other owners, such as Laura LaVoie, who lives in a 120-square foot home she and her partner built in North Carolina, already owned land; they bought their property for $100,000 in 2007 before the economy collapsed.
You can read the entire article here. 

Instead of talking about the financial benefits of tiny homes, she focused entirely on the costs with an effort to make it sound cost prohibitive.

But I thought I would, for the sake of clarification, share the original questions and answers so you can see what I really said rather than the way the article was spun.

1. I see that you built your home with your bare hands! How incredible! Good for you! What was that experience like, specifically pertaining to finances? Was it cheaper for you to build by yourself vs. a contractor?

For us, it really wasn’t about the house at all. The house was the catalyst that led to dozens of new things in our lives. Learning to build the house was part of that process.

In our case, we were living and working in Atlanta while traveling to Asheville to build our tiny, which is on a foundation in the mountains. We were only able to work on it about two weekends a month. 

We paid for every part of our build with cash that we had saved over the course of 10 years prior. We had always saved money with the idea of some future goal, but it wasn’t until we bought our land that we knew we would spend that money building a house. A tiny house just seemed like the most practical way to learn to build on a small scale. 

During the build, we were both still working corporate jobs in Atlanta. 

It was cheaper for us to build on our own than hire a contractor. We spent about $20,000 on the entire house. That included the materials, the tools, and all the mistakes. But what we didn’t have to pay for directly was labor, which is the bulk of the cost when you work with a professional builder.
However, if we were to build another tiny house for any reason, I would probably work with a builder this time. Our adventure was fun, but I don’t need to repeat it.

2. Did any surprise costs come up while you were building? Land? Permitting? Utilities? 

For us, all of these costs were factored into the build. In fact, we already had land before we knew we were building a tiny house, so that didn’t factor in at all. Our utilities are off-grid, and they cost us about an additional $2,000 and we factored that in. 

The biggest surprises we had are relatively small in the grand scale. For instance, we framed the whole house before we bought windows. We thought the window sizes were standard because we had inaccurate information. They were not standard, so we had to buy custom windows. But, ultimately, we are much happier with the windows we have.

3. Has your tiny home been cost-effective for you? 

Our tiny house has not only been cost effective, it has paid off. It was never about the house for us, it was always about what the house could represent. Because we reduced our expenses to move in, I was able to pay off my outstanding debt. When we moved in, I quit my corporate job and began writing full time. I am still writing full time. I couldn’t have done that without the tiny house. 

And, after we had lived in the tiny house for a little while, we were able to save enough money to buy a 700 square foot bungalow in the city of Asheville for cash. We couldn’t have done any of that without the tiny house.

4. What would you tell someone building a tiny home? Any cautionary tales?

I would say the most important thing to know is why you’re building. What is it that is driving you to want to live tiny? Is it about finances? Is it about simplicity? Is it about mobility? 

Ultimately, a tiny house is just another thing. It can’t solve any problems by itself. So it shouldn’t be something that happens without some serious soul searching ahead of time. When talking to people who have transitioned to tiny house living, they will all tell you it is never about the house.