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Couple’s DIY Steel-Frame Tiny Cabin in the Woods and How Much It Costs Them to Live Tiny

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Remember Jay and Kim Merrett? They’re the couple who built a 240 sq. ft. steel-framed tiny house in the woods, remember? You may also recall when they shared photos of their tiny home decorated for Christmas!

Well, today, we’ve got an update from Jay and Kim and I’m happy to be sharing that with you. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live tiny on your own land, and the costs associated, I think you’ll love this story/update! So I’m going to “pass the mic” to Jay & Kim. Enjoy!

Jay & Kim’s DIY Tiny Cabin & Homestead in Texas (Plus How Much It Costs Them To Live This Way)

New Additions (Deck, Cabinets, Bees, Storage and Taxes

We added a deck and updated our interior cabinets. We’ve also added beekeeping to the property (12 ac) to work towards Ag-exemption. With this in place, our taxes on the 12 acres, the house and a 12’x12’ storage building will be around $250/yr. We have a solar array that offsets most of our electrical use. Our insurance is also very reasonable because of the size of the house. Here’s a breakdown of our expenses. Maybe some of your readers could find use in this.

Other Costs (Mortgage, Insurance, Utilities, Solar System, Cost to Build House, Etc.

No Mortgage – we paid cash as we build over 3 years. We had the land already.

Insurance – $309/yr (they only care about the size and value of the house and bldg)

Electric Utility – $20/mo ($15/mo service fee to be grid-tied and a $5/min bill on usage although we usually don’t use any electricity past what our panels produce)

Water Utility – $49/mo. We do have water catchment system and a 1550 gallon cistern but have not put the systems in place to adequately filter this for consumption. Right now the water from the cistern is for landscape and garden.

Solar Array – Grid-Tie 1560W system consisting of 6 panels and micro-inverters. No batteries to purchase or maintain. All power goes back into the grid to reduce our bill. Easy to scale by adding additional panel/inverter sets. System was $3,000. We installed it all ourselves. We got a $1,000 rebate from our electric company and a $1,000 rebate from the IRS leaving our net price at $1,000 for 30 years worth (life expectancy of the system) of free electricity.

House – 12’x20’ (240sf) steel framing on concrete piers. Hardiboard concrete/fiber siding. Steel roof. Structure cost was $15,000. We put in another $8,000 worth of furniture and appliances. My wife and I did all of the planning and construction ourselves of 3 years of weekends as money and time would allow. Framing, roofing, electrical, plumbing, sheetrock, etc. No contractors hired.

The Goal

Our goal with the property was to come up with a living situation that would minimize our perpetual housing bills. Even if someone gives you a property, you still owe Insurance, Taxes and Utilities on it forever. All of these were dramatically reduced by shrinking the size of the house. By moving storage of “stuff” from the house to the storage building, we reduced our taxable footprint as well as our insurance and utility burden in one step. We wanted a building that met our daily needs (bed, kitchen, bath, living) without worrying about the items that we only used occasionally. All of these items could be put in a storage building on property 30’ away without significant tax, insurance or utility burden. In the end, we get to keep all of the “Junk” we want, we just don’t pay for it over and over again through perpetual bills.

Beekeeping and Septic System vs. Composting

Beekeeping really had nothing to do with living Tiny, it just gave us a way to have additional land without the tax burden. We could have just as easily purchased a 1 ac plot but we found land that we really liked that was in our budget so we chose it. All of this was possible by purchasing a property outside the city limits in a county that had very few regulations and restrictions. No building restriction. No permits required. The only true burden we faced was the requirement that “IF” we chose to put in a septic system, it would have to be permitted, have engineering approval, be professionally installed and inspected yearly. For this we would have the privilege of paying someone $8,000 for the system plus a yearly inspection fee. We answered this challenge by building a composting toilet for $200 and skipping the septic system all together.

The Bottom Line

Bottom line – we now have a house that’s paid for and our total housing costs are about $100/mo (taxes, insurance and utilities). This makes up for all of the mistakes I’ve made through the years by not saving and investing enough for our retirement. It’ll keep us off the steps of Walmart as a greeter in our old age and will allow us to retire, travel and spend time with our family in the years when we can still appreciate it.

Our journey can be viewed at DreamsByTheAcre.blogspot.com

Viva Tiny!!

Jay & Kim Merrett

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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!
{ 21 comments… add one }
    December 13, 2017, 10:56 pm

    I love what they’ve done and the low cost, peaceful and healthy lifestyle. Where is this what? What state? County?

    • James D.
      December 14, 2017, 3:43 pm

      They don’t specify the county but they’re in Texas…

        December 14, 2017, 10:22 pm

        Thank you !

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:04 pm

      Thanks! We’re in Rains Co, TX, east of Dallas about an hour.

  • Meg
    December 14, 2017, 11:17 am

    Nicely done! What a fantastic, low cost way to live…best of luck with retirement, travel and family

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:05 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Michael
    December 14, 2017, 6:23 pm

    It shows that you can reduce your monthly bills significant in our mostly over regulated country. The only thing is to flexible and find the loopholes.
    Well done.

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:15 pm

      Thanks! We looked for 4 years to find the right land. It was the cornerstone for everything we did. It had to be affordable, allow self-builds, no-permits required, no restrictions on buildings, allow ag-exemption and be in a safe neighborhood that we would be proud to live in. It was harder (and more frustrating) to find the land than to build the house!

  • Vince
    December 14, 2017, 10:58 pm

    Hi every time I try to look at floor plans all I get is an ad for rings and someother thing that has nothing to do with floor plans

  • David
    December 14, 2017, 11:45 pm

    Hello Jay & Kim,
    You are to people that have your head screwed on the right way! Most people think that spending money is the road to happiness, IT IS NOT.
    Your story, your read has become my inspiration, thank you!

    Best of luck & best regards David

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:17 pm

      Thanks! It took a lot of life mistakes to drive us this direction. We’re all a sum of our experiences. I hope this encourages others to embrace this lifestyle without having to make the mistakes we did! lol

  • Joanna Chanin
    December 15, 2017, 6:36 am

    Nice layout, beautiful

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:28 pm

      Thanks! Considering we had no plans and just kind of put it together as we went, we’re really happy with it!! 🙂

  • Marsha Cowan
    December 15, 2017, 2:16 pm

    Totally amazing! The home is beautiful, and I love the corner kitchen sink! The whole homestead is wonderful, and you have your own honey! Love the outside fireplace and the lovely trail with arching branches. What an amazing place! And its paid for!!

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:23 pm

      Thanks, Marsha, for the comments! We love it here and hope this helps others accept the lifestyle. Have a great holiday!

  • Jeannie Carle
    December 16, 2017, 4:00 am

    I agree with all comments! I live alone, so this would be absolutely perfect! AND it’s pretty and SO well put-together 🙂 Ummm – except – how do you heat it? And where is the bedroom? I saw the closet – but no bedroom??

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:12 pm

      Thanks so much for the kind words! Currently, we have an electric space heater. We tried a propane heater but it put so much moisture into the house it was not usable. During winter, baking a single batch of cookies in the oven goes a long ways to heating the whole house! Mmmm. We’re planning an update of the air conditioner to a Mini-Split system this coming summer. It is a dual heat pump, providing cold in the summer and heat in the winter, 12,000 BTU each. We also thought about a wood burning stove but it would have taken up a lot a space and only been used a couple of months per year. We don’t get very long (or severe) winters here in Texas. The sofa folds out to a sleeper. We’re too old to be climbing out of a loft every night to go to the restroom! lol I think if we had to do it again, we might build on a bedroom. It would add about 120 sf to the project and we may do that still. This house would be easy to add on to with the single slant roof.

      • Jeannie Carle
        December 20, 2017, 1:50 am

        Thank you for the reply! I SO agree on the loft – I’m nearly 70 and can’t see doing that for many more years. An added-on bedroom would be SO sweet, but I’ve slept on a couch for several years, and it works just fine:-) My son moved me into a gigantic 100+ year old school bldg (his 3rd grade room is now mine 🙂 ) and built me a bed. I’m lovin’ it and learning how to live “tiny ” My room is 40×20 – bathroom and kitchen waaaay downstairs LOL, but I have a fridge and microwave, so it’s all good (oh and a coffee maker). My 2 large dogs and I live in here alone for about 9 months out of the year – not losing my dogs – too many doors, windows, sounds………. I love your little home!

  • Ivlia Blackburn
    December 17, 2017, 5:14 am

    This is living tiny but with enough planning to make sure they don’t have to get rid of almost all possessions. On site (or in our case off site) storage for items you will need but not on a daily basis or which are bulky is essential. We rent, both storage and a tiny house (12′ x 35′) but even with rental costs plus electric we still only pay about €1000/mo which is less than half of what we were paying to rent a house (3 rooms up and down plus bathroom so not large) a couple of years ago, and we now get to live in the countryside and work from home (forbidden in most rentals) and have pets (again forbidden in most rentals). We pay €20/w electric but actual use is half of that while in the house we were using/paying more than double that. All you really need is a roof over your head, a floor under your feet, shelter (and preferably some heating in the winter) plus cooking facilities and basic bathroom facilities plus enough storage for every thing you have (and it’s always more than you think you should), and this place has all of that plus extras.

    • Jay
      December 19, 2017, 12:21 pm

      Thanks, so much! Some look at it as a huge sacrifice. We look at it as a compromise. We spend our hours indoors in a smaller space but we have lots of outdoor living room now. We also have a lot of freedom, financially, to enjoy life – earlier retirement, less stress as we get older, travel, and family involvement. It’s really good! Wish we had moved this direction 20 years ago!

  • Chuck
    December 14, 2018, 11:00 pm

    I find your urine diversion system to very interesting. Where did you get the actual diversion bowl which looks to be made of fiberglass? Does the urine go into a French drain or where does it go?

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