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Woman Builds Her Own Tiny House for Only $4,500!

You may already know Marsha Cowan. She who recently sold her Tiny Red Bus, remember?


Marsha has also built another tiny cottage before, on a 14′ trailer, you can see that one here. It’s known as The Darling Tiny House and one of our wonderful readers even shared an illustration of it here. And before that, she built one called The Nest. So she’s no stranger to building!

And today, I’m here to share the continuation of Marsha’s tiny house journey with you. So grab a hot cup of tea or coffee and enjoy, in her own words and images, below. 🙂

Marsha Builds Her Next Tiny Home for Only $4.5k

© Marsha Cowan

The tiny red bus sold a few weeks ago to a wonderful lady in California, so I used that money to build this tiny dry 5 1/2′ x 9′ camper at my wonderful friends’ house where we worked all day everyday for twelve days to build this and get me back to my AZ town where my classes had already started. I couldn’t have finished it so quickly if my friends had not been there to help me. It has a portaplug that supplies electricity to the inside by hooking up to an extension cord with four outlets and two usb ports and also has a surge protector on it. Otherwise, this camper is pretty much like all my others. . . Rustic and primitive. I still haul water inside from the spigot, and I still use the camp facilities, so life is simple.

There is a portable on demand water heater on the other side of this storage shed, so soon I will hook it up and have hot water when I want it.

On demand hot water heater.

Bay window out back. Inside it gives me a 12″ deep shelf.

Front door has wire mesh screen and sturdier screen for protection.

This loveseat, which is 52″ across, folds out into a full sized mattress, 8″ memory foam. Very comfortable. When pulled out, it leaves about 15″ of space in front of the kitchen counter in which to walk or come and go out the door if necessary.

Floor and front of sofa.

Tiny “door knocker” 🙂

There is a vent in the ceiling inside that draws hot air up and into the attic and out these roof vents. There will be a cover over the ceiling vent in the cold weather, but the roof vents will stay open to let out humidity. There is wire mesh screen behind the decorative screen just like in the front door.

Decided on shelves over the sofa and kitchen in leiu of a loft. The rest of the ceiling is high and gives a wonderful feeling of space in here.


Tiny sturdy laundry sink (specially ordered at building store) and butane stove. That is a tiny white refrigerator you see on the shelf, and a tiny trash can beside it that I have used for 4 years. My old bus tags are on the wall. The antique porcelain potty is used only for storing washclothes and hand towels. The cooler stores my socks. Lol! Everything has to store something in this tiny camper!

Summer Clothes are in crates. Winter clothes are in plastic storage bins in the storage shed.

Shelves over the sofa

Blinds are drawn up to let in the prestorm breezes in these pictures. Otherwise, they really help keep the sun out.

My rv court owner painted this miniature of my tiny red bus a couple years ago for a Christmas present.

I have a friend who does stained glass, and has given me about five stained glass fixtures for my windows over the past several years. These are peppers.

Curtain goes over the door at night for privacy. Otherwise, hang on the end of the rod.

Still have the antique family chair.

Tiny cutting board

Much of the inside finish on the sofa, counter, and shelves was done with these small pieces of wood cut off wooden crates. Not through with them yet.

Porcelain pot for holding water. I “got a round tuit” attached to the shelf underneath the basket. Lol! Gift from my friends. We also got permanent markers and wrote our names and all kinds of things inside the walls for posterity before we put the insulation up. It was a fun build! Oh, including the trailer, which was bought new, the build cost just at $4500.

© Marsha Cowan

Marsha’s Past Tiny Homes

Our big thanks to Marsha Cowan for sharing her wonderful new tiny home with us!

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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!




{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Dyane September 26, 2017, 2:13 pm

    Very cute and well organized. I doesn’t appear to be as small as the measurements given in the description. Very nice little home!

    • Marsha Cowan September 26, 2017, 5:20 pm

      Thank Dyane. I have been in it for three weeks now, and it is very easy and comfortable to live in, and stays cool even on 90 degree days. Still a work in progress.

  • G. Porter September 26, 2017, 3:08 pm

    Where is the bathroom?

    • Kristin September 27, 2017, 8:46 am

      It states in the article this is a dry, rustic/primitive tiny house, and that she uses the camp facilities.

    • [email protected] September 27, 2017, 9:54 pm

      There is no bathroom yet, though I have plans to convert the shed into a toilet area where I will use a portable flushing toilet tha my children gave me for my birthday. Have to reconfigure the door first. Presently, I am using the portajohn nearby, and I still bath in the sink.

  • Kristin September 26, 2017, 3:22 pm

    $4500 including a NEW trailer? What? We’ve priced out trailers and new ones cost more than $4500… I don’t understand how this was possible, let alone $4500 for the entire build.

    • James D. September 26, 2017, 9:16 pm

      Reclaiming and recycling can help reduce costs significantly versus buying everything new… and there are cheaper trailers you could use to build a basic Tiny House like this rather than go all out and get a custom built trailer specifically made for building a Tiny House on…

      Mind the dimensions 5 1/2′ x 9′… The trailer was probably one of those small utility trailers you can tow behind a car to carry some stuff strapped to it and should be well below a thousand even new…

    • [email protected] September 27, 2017, 9:58 pm

      My trailer is 9′ x 5 1/2′ , bought at Lowes in Casa Grande on sale for $1130 in August. It has a 3500 lb. axle and 1750lb each tires. They may still have a sale going on if you’re in the area. The trailers on sale had little dings here and there, like a ding in the tire cover, but I assure you, it was a good buy.

  • cl September 26, 2017, 5:03 pm

    You are amazing and should put your program on U Tube. I only wish I could refurbish our beautiful 40ft 5th wheel and be able to rent it out to help us with our rental storage. Being able to watch your process as you worked to create this beautiful, comfortable home is mind boggling. Have you ever thought of doing it as a business?? Crystal

  • Susanne September 26, 2017, 5:52 pm

    Cute! How would you say it’s different or better than your bus? congrats!

    • [email protected] September 27, 2017, 10:00 pm

      Not necessarily better, but not mobile. As my life got more active, I found myself driving my home around everywhere which got expensive. Now my home can sit and I can drive a car.

  • Annette September 26, 2017, 6:19 pm

    Looks like another charmer. I’d love to see more pix.

  • Debra Bushee September 26, 2017, 6:56 pm

    Iwould like to know how much and where you bought the memory foam? Also there is a wooden plack above your couch I would like too know the whole saying can only read the 1st and last lines. thankyou deb in VT.

    • James D. September 27, 2017, 5:11 pm

      Quote…

      BE THE KIND OF WOMAN
      that when your feet hit the floor
      each morning the devil says
      “Oh Crap, she’s up!”

    • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:05 pm

      The plaque says “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, ‘Oh crap! She’s up!’

      I bought the memory foam from Walmart for about $239. It came in a large box all rolled up. My friend and I unrolled it, and afte 48 hours, we off three inches from one end, and then cut the rest into 24” deep pieces. I went online to see if anyone had made a folding bed like the one I wanted and found one video showing how to sew the pockets and how to place the foam in the pockets so it would fold like an accordian. It has worked beautifully!

      • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:07 pm

        . . .oh, I used two canvas type cloth painter’s cloths that come in packages for about $11 each to make the bed, then used the scraps for the curtains and door cover.

  • Mary September 26, 2017, 8:42 pm

    Very nice but where is the bathroom or portable potty?

    • Kristin September 27, 2017, 8:47 am

      It states in the article this is a dry, rustic/primitive tiny house, and that she uses the camp facilities.

  • Michael L September 26, 2017, 11:24 pm

    Marsha:

    Another beautiful build! Each one you’ve done has been charming. And the thing that really hit me today while reading this post? I really don’t need to wait until I can save and build my dream tiny home… I can scale the dream down a little and so it now!

    Why on earth wait any longer?! What I really want is to have some things that are mine and have sentimental value with me while I tour some of our great nation. That is very doable at this point in life with a $4k tiny home.

    Thank you dear lady for helping me see the light! And btw what are you pulling this beauty with?

    God Bless!

    • Annette September 27, 2017, 3:53 pm

      Michael, you said it. Marsha’s cozy spaces always captivate me and now I know it’s because of what you say: they’re doable. She’s living the dream with grace and fire if not so much cash on the counter. I love that affirmation she’s posted. I bet it’s her through and through.

    • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:08 pm

      I am fortunate to have many great friends with big trucks! Lol!

      • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:09 pm

        The tiny camper weighs under 3000 lbs., so could probably be hauled by an SUV.

        • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:21 pm

          Btw, because I had to build it within 2 wks of flying into Arizona, I had no time to find and reuse materials, so all the materials are new from Lowes. The redwood trim on the outside and inside are picket fencing, 1×6″ on the outside, 1×4″ on the inside. Comparitably inexpensive. Both the outside and the inside are 1/2″ plywood which gives a total of an inch diagonal bracing, and is also the finish material when painted, so I saved a lot of money there. Even the floor and door are redwood picket fencing which does not shrink and has many other desirable qualities. 2x4s are used for all the framing of shelves, sofa/bed, and counter. Much savings.

  • Jim September 27, 2017, 12:47 am

    That’s a really nice place i’m building one now from a large popup camper and sure could use some help…I go back and forth from mass to NC. having a home on the road is beautiful,no worries or motels. Jim

  • Denise September 27, 2017, 7:04 am

    Great job Marsha – I particularly like the fusion of rustic and practical with clean lines and simple but pretty decor. This is very inviting and I imagine must be a real pleasure to come back to whenever you leave.
    I really like the use of surrounding materials and whatever is available to make things work like your crate counter; washcloth holding potty etc. I lot of people don’t have the ability to think outside the box (pun not intended) and be frugal plus creative in this manner. I particularly was inspired by your writing on the walls before insulating to leave a message for all posterity. Should 100 years pass by and your camper for some reason gets torn apart after your death, there will be some history about the person who owned it for the insight of a future generation. I think I will do that with my current build since I just finished the outside and getting ready to wire and insulate also. It’s a great idea. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Hugh Ryall September 27, 2017, 1:20 pm

    We are rather “king size” individuals considering a “tiny home.” I am
    6′ 1″ and 210 lbs. N o way will I disclose my wife’s weight but she is 5’7″ Our size would appears to create many challenges especially if one family member is a bit claustrophobic. Probably an RV would be a more prudent path to investigate, but the tiny home concept is so darn intriguing!
    Has anyone investigated/built a building as a series of modules that could be connected /disconnected individually as wanted. A total building of 2400 sq.ft. but built in say 5 modules of various sq. footages.
    Sort of like the space station we put up years ago. Big enough for us oversized, yet with 5 different parts that could be connected/disconnected as the one needed. i.e. to vacation in, go to ball games, week-ends, church retreats, rent one or more section for all sorts of events!etc.!
    Probably losing some weight might be easier?

    • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:14 pm

      Tere is a post about two tiny housea that share a deck, and one is the living area, and one is the office/work area, but they are perpendicular to each other, not connected. There are other posts where the entire bathroom is in a separate tiny house sitting outside then main house, and I don’t see why you couldn’t have one for the bed/bath, and one for the living/kitchen and join them with a short covered walkway that can be tucked inside when travelling. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

      • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:28 pm

        Actually, though, if I were you, I would find a good 20′ or so used camper in good shape and redo the inside like you need to be comfortable when you travel. Might be the simplest, fastest, and least expensive way to get on the road.

    • James D. September 28, 2017, 5:35 pm

      RV’s are cheaper but that’s because they’re not really made for full time living. So whether one will suite you depends on what you intend to use it for and where.

      Biggest issue is insulation, RV’s have little to none… Some of the newer high priced ones are getting better in this regard, new options like double paned windows are finally coming into the market, but what they usually mean by 4 season ready is that it comes with a heater and AC unit, which you may need a generator and/or additional fuel to use.

      RV’s are built with road safety in mind, in some cases RV have stricter safety codes than residential houses. But there’s literally nothing on determining how well built they are or how comfortable and well designed they should be… Most are simply optimized to be as light as possible for easiest towing…

      So the downside to RV’s is how often you will have to repair and maintain them, and how easy they are to damage.

      RV’s are also built at a factory on a assembly line, which doesn’t preclude them to be easily customized for each individual owner. Prices of custom build RV’s can even exceed the highest end Tiny Houses.

      The appeal of Tiny Houses is that each and every one can be unique, even at very low price ranges, and custom build specifically for the individual owner, and generally being built like a house means it’s more durable, better insulation, easier to repair and maintain, and can feel a lot more like a home… All of which saves you money in the long run and makes them much easier to live in full time.

      There’s a just a wide range of cost from DIY to commercial builds and the downside to building it like a house is that it tends to be heavy and harder to tow and thus not always idea if you wish to travel a lot.

      So the advice of maybe just getting a old camper and redoing it to fit your needs can be a good compromise between the mobility of a RV and the customization and comfort of a Tiny House, especially on a limited budget.

      However, zoning should be considered for all of the above if you wish to make it your primary residence. Both RV’s and Tiny Houses have issues finding places you can legally live in them full time and there are places that won’t allow you to park with either of them…

      This is one of the reason some people opt to do stealth conversions so they look like regular commercial vehicles and don’t look like someone may be living inside of them.

      So whatever you choose, make sure to do a good amount of research first…

  • Van September 27, 2017, 2:07 pm

    Ok, so let’s increase the size by 2 feet on the beam, 3 feet in length, add an othe 15-16thousand for the build cost and still better value then some small camper like THOW was seen recently.
    It can be done at a low cost and very nicely as Marsha’s trailer show the possibility.
    Nicely done, simple no frills but very functional.. obviously built for her needs and the location and the available facilities were taken into consideration In the design. It is even adequate for traveling with minor modifications to allow for simple bathroom facilities. Think teardrop campers with camping shower enclosure and solar water heater or even with propane on demand water heater.
    Anyhow lots of options. Good job. Proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have something decent. Anyone can do it as long as you spend the time to build instead of finding the excuses why you can’t.

  • DIANNE KNOX September 27, 2017, 2:21 pm

    WHY NO BATHROOM?

    • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:23 pm

      I grew up in the backwoods of North Carolina without bathroom or running water until I left for college. Those ammenities are not a given in my life. I.e. I can live without them.

      • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:25 pm

        . . .oh, and no electricity in my youth either.

  • Pat September 27, 2017, 3:15 pm

    Marsha, you are my inspiration! Yet ANOTHER awesome job.
    Pat in NC

  • Marsha Cowan September 27, 2017, 10:24 pm

    Thank you, Pat!

  • Bigfoot October 1, 2017, 10:47 am

    Congrats on your new build Marsha! Always refreshing to see someone build exactly what they need/want on a relatively small budget. I had a few thoughts & questions. How much time or labor hours do you think you have in it? I know you had a good deal of help so what amount of time would you estimate for a person doing a similar solo build?
    I was wondering what you used for insulation? Those canvas painters drop clothes from Lowe’s are great. Heavy material at a reasonable price & so many uses.
    I’ve had a thought for a long time & you mentioning that you bought all your supplies from Lowe’s including the trailer rekindled it as well as a few tips for buying construction supplies.
    I wonder if you went to management at a big box store & offered to buy all materials from them, agreed to let them publicize the build (hey, look what you can build from our store) , just how much of a discount you could achieve? I also wanted to mention that if a person can come up with a complete material list, they can shop it around & get the best price for their build materials. I’ve gotten some unbelievable discounts on some of my construction projects in the past by doing this. All suppliers want the sale & everything is negotiable. Lets say you want to deal with Lowe’s because they are close to you. If you get prices from other suppliers (get a printed quote) most all suppliers will meet or beat the best price of their competitor so you get to use the closest supplier & have the best price. One other point. If the supplier will deliver your goods, order 10%-15% more than you need because they won’t be very selective in picking the lumber. I know for a fact that Lowe’s or Home Depot will take back the excess as long as you haven’t damaged the materials in any way. This technique can save a lot of time.
    I noticed you used the torx head screws. They are about the only fastener I use anymore, great product. One cool thing about them is you could conceivably easily disassemble whatever you have built & save all the torx screws to boot.
    Have you considered a small attic vent fan? Might make it even more comfortable.
    Thanks for sharing your lovely little build with us.

  • Cynthia October 1, 2017, 11:10 pm

    Hi, I am amazed at your building…I would love to be able to build my own tiny home. Congratulations on your cleaver way of living.

  • Hunter-Grace October 21, 2017, 2:55 pm

    MARSHA, MARSHA, MARSHA………………i HAVE FOLLOWED YOU INTO EVERY NEW TINY YOU “DO” I CHANGE LINENS.YOU CONVERT AND DO TINY HOMES.I LOVE THEM ALL, BUT THE NEST HAS MY HEART.BEST OF THE BUNCH IN :MY” OPINION ,. LOVE YOUR WORK AND BEST WISHES.

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