We hear it all the time…Why do tiny houses cost so much?
Folks on the coasts or in big cities (who could easily pay $400-900K for a home) typically understand it, but if you are from a more rural spot where you can get a regular home for $70,000, the cost of tiny house can seem exorbitant.
In order to help you see where all that money goes when a builder creates a tiny house for you to purchase ready-made, I’m relying on a great breakdown from our friends at Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses. Then we’ll compare that with a DIY-ers cost breakdown.
Rock Mountain starts by laying out its goals: an 8×16 tiny house with average finishes should cost $35,000, while a larger one with great finishes should cost $80,000.
Why Do Tiny Houses Cost So Much?!
Let’s start with the materials and labor:
- $3000-8000 Cost of a real good trailer
- $2800 Windows
- $400 Single Entry Door
- $1200 French Doors
- $1000-5000 appliances
- $800 roofing
- $3000 lumber, sheathing, etc.
- $2800 insulation
- $300 Shower
- $500 electrical bits
- $500 plumbing bits
- $500 lights/fans
- $1000 Composting Toilet
- $600 flooring
- $2000-$5000 interior materials
- $500 finishes
- $800 cabinets
- $6 box of screws. Doesn’t sound like much until you have to buy like 30 of them
Right here, using his cheapest quotes, we have $22,060 in just materials.
But then he lays out the per hour rate of helpers:
- $45/hr typical rate for a rough or finish carpenter
- $20/hr typical rate for helpers
- $60/hr typical rate for a plumber or electrician
- $30/hr general labor, finish work, trim, etc.
Just to be fair, I looked up the average hourly rate on Payscale.com for each of these because labor costs will certainly depend on location. Even though Rocky Mountain is in Colorado where the cost of living is higher, not all tiny home builders are in expensive areas.
- $20/hr. rate for a rough or finish carpenter
- $14.45/hr. Rate for helpers
- $20/hr. For a plumber or electrician
- $14.33/hr. Rate for general labor
Tinyhousetalk.com answered “how long does it take to build a tiny house” previously and estimated 2-3 months if you work 40 hours/week: or around $8,160 of labor with Payscale estimates and $18,600 with Rocky Mountain’s estimates. (Note: I took the average wage from the four jobs and multiplied it by 480 man hours).
Right now, the cheapest Rocky Mountain could build you a home is for $30,220 — or just about what it estimated a small, average tiny house to cost. But they still have more expenses.
Rocky Mountain has other overhead that a DIY-er wouldn’t have, or would already be part of your household budget:
- Professional Liability Insurance
- Worker’s Compensation
- Business and Tax Licenses
- Tools and shop/office supplies
- Internet/ Phone
- “Time” be it design, running to the lumberyard, on the phone ordering long lead time items, coordinating with the client, or actually building the house
And finally, it’s a business, so ideally the owners are making a profit. These numbers make it very clear how a tiny house can cost “so much,” but they also show how one could save a lot of money if you are willing to build a tiny house yourself with salvaged materials and your own effort.
Even then, tiny houses will cost you money. Tom Wilson of New Zealand shared his DIY tiny house breakdown and admits it cost double what they had expected when they started out. All these prices are in NZD except the final cost which I converted to US dollars for reference:
- $32.83 E-book (Tiny house design and construction guide)
- $15.67 Ebook (Tiny house floor plans)
- $98.34 DVD
- $178.49 Plans
- $7,800.00 Trailer and transport
- $215.75 Truck hire + petrol
- $200.00 Demo depo windows
- $122.00 French door
- $25.00 Internal door
- $952.00 100 x 50’s and coach bolts
- Free (Found some) Underfloor insulation
- $810.24 Plywood
- $120.85 Foil roll and drill bits
- $670.00 Insulation (green stuff)
- $3,390.00 Roofing + cladding
- $600.00 Shower
- $284.88 100 x 50’s
- $90.00 100 x 50’s MSG10
- $106.63 Various Mitre 10 things
- $140.39 Flashing
- $70.20 More flashing
- $68.44 Head flashing, scribers, window facings
- $67.95 Nails + putty
- $55.50 Key cutting and transition flashing
- $103.12 Resene broadwall surface prep and seal
- $50.00 Stainless Steel Screws
- $161.50 More flashings
- $4.98 Mitre 10 sample pot
- $50.00 Toilet seat
- $244.95 Middle earth tiles
- $17.76 Sika boom
- $38.52 Nails and weatherboard soakers
- $68.05 Window flashing tape
- $277.08 Packers, sikaboom, paint, window tape, paint stripper.
- $303.75 Paint, paint, pva, plaster of pari
- $256.00 Stainless steel brad nails
- $180.00 Moving the trailer
- $30.00 Chandelier
- $1,268.00 Squabs for lounge + ottoman
- $1,420.54 Cedar panelling
- $120.75 Laminate flooring
- $49.98 Flooring underlay
- $2260 Kitchen cabinets, corner seating and storage stairs.
- $605.51 Weatherboards, Fascia, Scribers
- $316.28 Scribers + skirting + architraves + barge boards
- $36.71 Shower liner glue
- $36.92 Door latches
- $1,207.23 Electrician’s work
- $661.25 More Electrician’s work
- $750.00 Gas hot water
- Free Gas Cooktop (a wedding present)
Total: $26,634.04 (New Zealand dollars)
Total: $19,228 (U.S. dollars)
What you’ll notice is that in materials, the DIY version cost only a couple thousand U.S. dollars less than the builder’s version. But the DIY version only included an electrician’s labor and didn’t put a price tag on all Tim’s time and effort.
And remember, if you aren’t already in construction, a tiny house build might require a lot more trial and error, and therefore time.
There are always ways to cut costs on building a tiny house when you control everything from the 2x4s to the finishing touches and can scour Craigslist for great deals — and use free labor (yours). But as soon as a builder takes on a tiny house build, he or she needs to use higher quality materials and has to pay employees and overhead, which increases the price of a tiny house substantially.
In conclusion, if you can build a house yourself — do it! If you can’t, now you understand just what you are paying for: materials, labor, expertise, overhead, and yes — a little profit.
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Natalie C. McKee
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