Beginner's Guide to Tiny Homes

by Tessa Hobart | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

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Owning a large home used to be seen as quite a status symbol.

The belief was probably that the only way that you can prove that you’ve made it in life is if you managed to achieve the three-story home with the huge backyard that they showed on TV.

However, in more recent times due to the housing crisis, people have started re-evaluating the amount of space that they actually need and the costs that are associated with owning such unfeasibly large houses.

The ultimate conclusion that a lot of them have come to is that they might actually be more comfortable with a more minimalist way of life.

Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

We should clarify that bragging rights are obviously not the only reason why a lot of people choose to go for a bigger house.

While this may be a beginner’s guide to tiny homes, and we’re going to mostly be talking about the benefits of living small, we don’t believe that going big is wrong.

The most vital element when it comes to living space is comfort, and if you have a large family, you’re going to need a lot of space in order to accommodate everyone.

Aside from that though, we can’t think of any other reason as to why you might want to miss out on the tiny house movement that’s become so popular in recent years.

Even if you want to have a huge backyard and a large driveway, you can still do that even if the house is only a small part of your overall property.

In fact, a tiny house will provide you with more usable space on the plot of land that you own, allowing you to use it for everything from a home garden to an above-ground swimming pool.

What Do We Mean by Tiny Homes

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We’re going to go into the specific types of tiny homes a bit further on in the article, but the general idea of a tiny house is a one-story three-room building.

Tiny homes can either be constructed on-site or shipped to you already built, but again, we’ll cover that a bit later.

The rooms in question are going to be the essential combo of a bedroom, bathroom, and living space with a connecting kitchen.

This is only generally speaking of course, and you can have a separate kitchen and living room or even an outside bathroom if you want to, but that’s ultimately up to you.

You can also order or design a house to have rooms as small as some treehouses, but that’ll sort of defeat the purpose of the house itself if you can’t comfortably live in it.

So let’s just say that a tiny house should have an average width that’s more than 400 and less than 500 square feet.

The exact square footage doesn't have to stay within that margin for it to be considered a tiny home, but it should serve as an average marker for what sort of dimensions a small house should have.

Tiny House Living

Without a doubt, the biggest perk to living in a small house is going to be the small fortune (pun intended) that you’ll save every month on the utility bills.

Your small house is going to save you quite a lot of money by allowing you to heat up the more restricted space much more easily and quickly, and by having fewer rooms that need electricity.

The water usage won’t be affected all that much since you’ll still need to use it in the bathroom and kitchen, but there are still a lot of things that you can do in order to save a bit of cash.

What we mean is that you can easily convert a small space into an off-grid custom tiny home.

The reason why a lot of tiny house blogs tend to mention green energy is that the size of the house naturally lends itself to less power usage, and makes it an ideal candidate for renewable power sources like wind turbines or solar panels.

Of course, whether you want to make your own tiny house more self-sustainable will be entirely up to you, but we’re saying you’ll always have the option available to you, whereas larger houses will have a more difficult time making such a transition.

Maintenance

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There is also quite a lot to be said about how much easier it is to manage the general upkeep of a small home in comparison to something like its three-story counterpart.

First of all, it’s significantly easier to paint and decorate a one-story home since you barely need to get on a ladder at all, whereas anything bigger is going to require you to engage a professional crew in order to get the job done.

Secondly, spring cleaning in a large house usually takes a few days, will bring out dust from crevices that you didn’t even know your house had, and will break both your patience and your back.

Fully cleaning a one-story house is as easy as cleaning out an average-sized apartment, which means that you can simply do it as often as once a week if you really wanted to.

And finally, there are also the repairs.

Take something like water damage from a leaky pipe.

Homeowners will know exactly how common this sort of repair is and how costly it can get at times.

You need to replace the length of pipe that’s damaged, pay for the several hours of work that the plumbers are going to have to put in just to reach a pipe that’s hard to access, and that’s not even mentioning that floorboard or home damage that might have occurred if the leak remained unnoticed for a while.

In comparison, everything in a one-story home is easy to access, there’s less area to work with so something like water damage is much more easily noticeable, and while you’re still going to need to hire a professional, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll bill you for fewer hours.

Tiny House Design

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Needless to say, there is no set rule when it comes to what kind of floor plans a tiny house should have.

This allows you to create a homestead that’s entirely your own and which will be built in compliance with your own requirements.

Of course, this only applies when you prefer to oversee the building process yourself.

To clarify, what we mean is that when it comes to the tiny house building process, there are three options that you can go for - Kit Homes, Modular Homes, or Custom.

Kit Homes

Kit homes or tiny home kits are essentially large puzzle pieces that get shipped to you and you have to put them together.

The basic process is this - you meet with a designer, you plan out the layout and design of your house, they build all of the necessary pieces, everything is shipped to you after it’s finished.

All that’s left for you to do after all of the pieces get delivered to your doorstep is to hire a construction crew (if the kit home company doesn’t provide that service) and erect your home one piece at a time.

If the kit home builders provide the construction service, then all you need to do is open the door and let them do the rest.

Modular Homes

SImilarly to kit homes, modular homes are also built in a construction yard or factory away from your property, and then get delivered to you when they are completed.

The difference here is that the tiny home builders deliver the house to you in a finished state, so there’s much less on-site construction necessary.

This sort of small home can either come as a house on a trailer, or as something similar to the shipping container homes, which are placed directly on the ground.

The trailer homes will obviously be less stable due to them being placed on wheels at all times, whereas the static modular homes will require you to build a foundation that they can be placed on ahead of time.

Custom

A custom home or a DIY home building job is simply when you take the construction into your own hands and make the tiny house plans yourself.

Well, we say yourself, but what we mean is that you hire a construction company to do the building for you.

The benefits of this method are that you know exactly how many and what materials are being used and are necessary, how many hours the construction is taking, and you can oversee the entire operation yourself.

This will allow you to make last-minute alterations if necessary and it will generally give you a lot more control and awareness over the building process itself.

Of course, this means that the size of the house, as well as the overall cost, will be almost completely dependent on you.

Restrictions

Regardless of which type of home you decide to go for, there are still building codes that need to be obeyed and conditions of use that apply.

Depending on whether or not the house is on a foundation or on a trailer, there are going to be certain documents that you’re going to need.

There is also the matter of different insurance requirements, zoning restrictions, building permits, and so on.

The restrictions in Utah and the ones in Oregon might not vary all that much, but places like New York and North Carolina are likely going to have vastly different building policies.

Luckily, most modular homes, kit homes, and construction agencies know how to do their job, and all of those documents are usually covered in your contract.

However, you’ll still be charged either by the craftsman that you’ve engaged or the local Construction Code Enforcement Office for the price of obtaining these documents.

Conclusion

Speaking of price, there are a few general pricing costs that a lot of people don’t consider when buying a tiny home.

The price of the plot of land itself is a given, but all of these homes are going to need to be connected to a foundation, as well as the basic utility lines.

Even the modular homes on trailers will need a connection for electricity, plumbing, and water, otherwise, they’d be closer to a camper van than an actual house.

However, even if you take into account all of these prices, the average kit home will set you back somewhere between $30 and $50 per square foot.

And unless you go way over budget and use much more materials than you planned to, a custom one-story three-room house should go for anywhere between $20,000 and $70,000.

Considering that even a modestly sized standard two-story house goes into the hundreds of thousands when it comes to price, telling you that you’re getting off pretty cheap with any of these sorts of homes would be the understatement of the century.

Where to Get Started

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We can’t offer you a step-by-step guide on the mechanics of house design or the choices that you’ll need to make when buying a modular or kit home.

The exact prices of the homes, the materials, and the workforce itself are going to vary wildly from company to company and from region to region.

That’s why this is something that only you can determine when you’re in the planning stages of the construction process and only after you’ve consulted professionals on the matter.

However, we don’t want you to leave our beginner’s guide to tiny homes feeling empty-handed, so we’ll tell you what you can do to get started on your tiny life.

Getting Rid of Unneeded Junk

When it comes to downsizing and going from a large house to a small one, the first thing that you’ll need to do is to throw out anything that you might not need.

Even if this is your first house, and you’re moving from your room in your parent’s house or an apartment you were renting, we’re willing to bet that you still have too much stuff.

A lot of people see the limited storage space as a problem when it comes to tiny homes, but in truth it allows you to reevaluate what you actually need to bring along.

We all have that one pair of comfy jeans with the holes that we haven’t worn in years or that mug that we got from that one place that one time that we never use.

Whether out of habit or sentimental value, we all keep clothes and items that are of no practical use to us and simply take up too much space.

Moving into a tiny home really allows you to put things into perspective and judge exactly which items you need to keep and which have long since worn out their welcome.

In the beginning, it might be hard to get rid of your stuff, but after it’s done, you’ll likely feel relieved that you got rid of the junk that you always wanted to throw away but could never force yourself to.

Realistically, most of us could really stand to clean out our closets, and moving into a smaller house can really help you to do that.

Buy a Few Items

Once your place is finished and deemed liveable, you’re going to need to decorate it, which means hopping on amazon for a bit of shopping.

Naturally, you’re free to furnish your home however you see fit, but there are a few items that we think might just make it onto your wishlist.

Most of the items on our list are chosen with limited living space in mind, but they’re also a solid choice for just about any home, tiny or not.

For the bedroom, we’d recommend that you buy a full-on overhanging loft bed

This will optimize your space while also allowing you to sleep on a good mattress, as opposed to your other options, which would be something like a foldable bed or a futon mattress.

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For the living room, you probably want to get a wall mount for your TV so that you can skip over having to buy a TV stand.

For the kitchen, you without a doubt will want to go with something like the Shozafia Foldable Kitchen Table.

Not only is this a great table, but it allows you to easily store your chairs and free up space whenever you’re not using them.

And finally, you might also like to get yourself a Multipurpose Swivel Floor Chair.

This item takes up very little space when packed away, is incredibly comfortable, and can be used for everything from gaming to reading a bestseller.

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One Final Small Comment

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A tiny home does not mean a barebones shack in the middle of nowhere.

The best tiny homes can be as well equipped as you want them to be and you can live wherever you might like.

The idea behind owning a tiny home is that you can spend less money on bills and the construction itself while remaining as comfortable as you would in a bigger house.

It’s all down to personal preference, but in our opinion, a tiny home can provide new homeowners with everything they might need.

Tessa Hobart
Tessa Hobart moved into her first tiny home (a trailer in her uncle's backyard) when she was 19. Without giving away her age, she now has many years of tiny home experience and is currently designing an A-Frame as a second off grid home. She lives with her husband and enjoys card games and mountain biking.

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