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Q&A: How Long Does it Take to Build a Tiny House?

If you’ve been wondering how long does it take to build a tiny house on wheels, you’re at the right place.

I received a question from a reader (you can read it entirely below) who was also wondering how long it takes to build tiny, and I thought you might be wondering the same thing. So why not answer it right here on a public blog post and open the topic up to discussion in the comments?

This is a great question and there’s obviously not just one answer because it largely depends on your situation. Like what you want in the house, how detail oriented you are, how much learning you have to do, and more…

Like whether or not you want to take the extra time to find reclaimed materials like a used trailer that needs to be refurbished. Or if you want to harvest your own wood and need to find the time and resources to mill it.

This question also largely depends on not only how much construction experience you already have and who might be available to help you but also on how much time you are able to dedicate to the project every week. Let’s dive deeper and get your question answered below.

How Long Will It Take Me To Build a Tiny House?

how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-tiny-house-on-wheels

Image © TheRitzOnWheels (featured here)

Building Part Time (While Working a Full Time Job)

To put things into perspective, people that build around a full time job (meaning they’re working full time and building on the evenings and weekends) usually take about 1 to 3 years to finish their tiny house project. Again, depending on how much help they have, how much experience they have, and how well the entire project was planned and executed.

Building Full Time (~40 Hours a Week)

Those who can dedicate a full time effort to the project can usually get it done in about 2-3 months (usually a little longer than that) with experience and proper planning. It can, of course, and usually does- take longer (4-6 months). It’s a serious project to embark on, but it can be done, and is being done by everyday people. And you can do it too if you really want to.

How long will it take to build a tiny house? (reader Q&A)

Let me allow you to read the question from our wonderful reader, Maeve, below so you can chime in on this discussion in the comments too (I love getting to read your input, as do other readers):

I have been interested in tiny houses for a few years, and my husband and I are considering building and/or purchasing a tiny house to live in with our children (and dog and outdoor cat…) while we build a somewhat larger house.  The tiny home will then get passed on to another family member.  We are trying to figure out the right balance of spending our time vs spending our money.  Do you have insight into this question?  We both have construction experience.  Should we buy a shell and finish it our selves?  Just build it ourselves start to finish?  Buy a finished product so we can move in and get started on the permanent house?
We would like to be moving into the house before summer 2015.
I have seen people say their tiny house took 8 months, 10 months, 2 years to build…and also found this article that said it took around 120 hours of work:

http://tinyhousebuild.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-tiny-house/

I would greatly appreciate your advice!

Thanks for your time,
Maeve

Question: Should we buy a shell and finish it ourselves? Should we build it all ourselves? Or should we buy a finished tiny home?

Should they buy a shell and finish it themselves?

Should they just do it all themselves from start to finish?

Or should they just buy a completed tiny home and get started on their ‘small house’?

This is something that you have to decide for yourself according to your own situation, what you value most, and what you currently have to work with.

If you have a high paying job, then maybe it makes more sense to stay focused on that job while hiring contractors to do majority of the work for you or maybe even just buying a completed tiny house from Tumbleweed, Tiny Happy Homes, or any of the tiny houses for sale listed here.

If you don’t have the money, maybe you have the time? In that case, it makes more sense to consider doing it yourself. Especially if you already have the construction experience or are highly motivated to learn because you’ll save lots of your $ in labor while learning a lot, too.

Another option is to do a combination of the two. Do some of the work yourself (maybe the parts that you enjoy most and are already good at) and hire the rest of it out to contractors (then watch, learn and help if you can and want to).

Question: I found this article that said it takes around 120 hours of work

As for the 120 hour estimate (shown here), it doesn’t include the interior finishing process which is very tedious. It also doesn’t include the design/planning phases.

So in many cases I would double or triple that labor estimate.

I suggest most of you to triple the estimate to account for planning and designing, making and fixing mistakes, decision making, occasional redesigning, shopping for materials, etc. So I’d say it’s really more appropriate to expect about 360 hours for most of us.

In Summary

Building a tiny house yourself from start to finish on a full time basis: 3-6 months of ~40 hour work weeks.

Some examples that might be helpful for you to re-look at…

Building a tiny house yourself from start to finish on a part time basis: 12-24 months of ~20 hour work weeks.

Examples…

How Many Hours Does It Take, Really?

These estimates are based on about 360+ hours of planning, designing, decision making, and building. Which of course varies depending on what you build, how you do it, and how much learning you have to do.

Your Thoughts Please

How long do you think it takes to build a tiny house on wheels from start to finish?

We’d absolutely LOVE to read your thoughts in this question in the comments below. Thank you!

If you enjoyed this Q&A discussion on how long it takes to build a tiny house on a trailer you’ll absolutely LOVE our free daily tiny house newsletter with even more! Thank you!

Our big thanks to Maeve for asking this excellent question and bringing it up for discussion for all of us to benefit from.

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Sarahjane September 26, 2014, 5:03 pm

    We took an old tool shed down to the studs and rebuilt it into a very tiny house (96sq.ft) in 3 months. It cost us less than $4,000 because we used recycled, discounted, and found materials. Only the bathtub (made from two water troughs, one galvanized and one Rubbermaid purchased on sale at Tractor Supply) and tiles used in the 3 x 5 ft bathroom were new. My husband and I did all of the work. We are retired educators with two teenage children.

    • Alex September 26, 2014, 6:24 pm

      Thanks for sharing Sarahjane! I’d love to see your shed converted tiny house if you and your husband would ever want to share it here with us!

  • Sarahjane Dooley September 27, 2014, 7:24 am

    I am not sure how to send you all of the pictures, but I am happy to do so, Alex.

    • Alex September 27, 2014, 10:09 am

      I’ll send you an email now and you can reply with photos, etc there if you’d like to 🙂

  • Denise March 27, 2016, 4:54 am

    I started my backyard cabin/tiny house project in 2013 and took half a year off for hand surgery. I started by excavating the site by hand, then laying the foundation and building thereon – that took the entire summer. I framed it exactly 6 months after surgery – spring and summer of 2014, working each night until dark after work and the whole day on my midweek day off. Last summer, I put the metal roof on and next week will begin walling it in, then electrifying it. The goal is to get this completed by the end of summer and then I will hire out the plumbing. Another reason it is taking me a bit longer to do it than average is not only because I am working alone, but I am also doing it on a budget – buying the building materials a little with every paycheck, what I can afford and not going into debt over it.
    It is a cabin attached to a shed for what completed will be a tiny house. I am looking forward to having most of it done so friends can come visit and stay in it as early as next year. I can’t wait to also camp out in it too, for fun when I want a little get away and can’t go anywhere. 🙂

  • Phillip March 30, 2016, 9:30 pm

    I get that it can take amateur, unskilled people with no good plan years to scratch one of these together in their spare time but these timeframes are absurd for those of us with a skillset.

    I can build a full sized house in a month from scratch, a tiny house should in no way take 4-6 months of full time work.

    For example, I will have mine framed up and dried in over a weekend. A couple days to rough-in the various systems, a day to side and trim, a day to close up the interior and a few days to trim and finish out the interior. At most a simple, small trailer build should take a couple weeks of actual, full time work if planned well and prepared to make it happen…

    • Troy D. June 26, 2016, 11:50 am

      Perhaps somebody is trying to show off or talking about a 100 square-foot structure without any real finish work. A basic shell perhaps. Andrew Morrison, who builds hOME, an 8′ 6 x 28′ took four months of full-time work, and he is a professional builder, and had the help of his wife.

      Sure, you can frame up a structure in a few days, but if you’re doing a metal roof with proper flashing, fascia and soffit’s, painting, vents, etc. it’s a lot more time-consuming than no finish detail. You can use SIP’s like Brain levy, and simply paint the OSB or you can finish it out in sheetrock and paint. You can throw a piece of carpet down or do hardwood floors. I guarantee hardwood floors were gone take a lot longer than carpet though.

      You want to buy off the shelf cabinets or do a custom cabinets and a custom counter top? How about a custom front door? Do you need your plumbing to accommodate a washer and dryer, that’s a lot of extra plumbing and electrical.

      As the saying goes the devil is in the details, and those details are what really eat up the hours. Some things simply cannot be rushed. You cannot make paint dry faster or sheet rock mud dry in 10 min., particularly your first coat. Sometimes materials need to acclimate to the environment, hardwood floors or tongue and groove knotty pine are good examples. Let’s not forget that an essential part that’s supposed to be included in your ceiling fan kit, but you have to drive to 4 hardware stores to find it, or worse, order from the manufacturer and wait a week or two or three. . .

      I don’t think a few weeks is realistic and all. There are just too many details and time delays to finish that quickly.

  • Troy D. June 26, 2016, 11:17 am

    I’m currently building a 12′ x 28′ , no loft. One thing I believe people should factor in is their age as well. I do have quite a bit of building experience, but I’m also 55 this year, with a less than ideal back.

    I’m about one year in working part-time, between 10 and 20 hours a week. I’m probably about 70 to 80% complete. I can say as you get into the details, it’s really easy to kill a half day on what would seem like very simple projects. Count on it.

    Trim work will really slow you down. Finished plumbing and electrical are other examples of detailed work that takes a lot longer than you think. Hanging ceiling fans, hooking up a hot water on demand, can really eat up the hours.

    Back in my 30s I’m sure I would be done by now and enjoying the space. I would also say to people to count on delays. I for example had to wait five weeks for my Windows, and Lowe’s got the order wrong on one window, and it also came in damaged. I have been waiting an additional four weeks, and they still have not replaced the window, and have not even ordered a replacement. It’s not uncommon to have to wait 4 to 6 weeks on a lots of materials, particularly during prime building season.

    Sometimes you can just do something different, but other times, materials can hold up the entire project. Can’t do siding without windows for example. Can’t tile without a tub, etc. The list goes on.

    Good luck to everybody who takes on this challenge. Also be prepared to feel a bit out of the norm. People will think you’re out of your mind to live in such a small place or you’ve hit rock bottom, etc.

  • Grace October 18, 2016, 8:00 am

    I am only 14 but I am looking to build a 130ft2 tiny house. I have been planning, researching, and designing on Sketchup for the past 2 years. I currently have the general idea of what I want the space to look like. I still have A LOT of researching to do regarding appliances, insulation, ect. The project has taken countless hours of my time. (I have been working around my school schedule)

    I hope to start building next summer, however it takes time to raise that much money when you aren’t even old enough to get a real job. Fortunately, I have skills that I have been able to use to earn money. But that, too, takes time.

    I will be building my house and probably won’t have a whole lot of help from grownups so it will probably take a while. I also don’t have very good skills regarding electrical, plumbing, roofing, and so on.

    I hope to be finished enough to move in and live in it in 3 years. Does that seem reasonable?

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie October 18, 2016, 3:57 pm

      Hi Grace — Wow 🙂 Kudos to you for chasing your tiny house dreams so young. That’s amazing. I think three years sounds pretty reasonable to be, so long as you can find salvaged materials to make it easier on your bank account 🙂 I think it’s awesome you are doing this! — Tiny House Talk Team

  • Grace October 18, 2016, 4:11 pm

    Thanks Natalie!

    I already have quite a few reclaimed materials sitting in the basement (much to my father’s annoyance), and am constantly going to places like Habitat for Humanity Restore.

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