Tiny Home Cost: A Reliable Estimate For Building Materials

by Tessa Hobart | LAST UPDATED May 27, 2021

Tiny home interior
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By now, you've probably heard about the tiny house movement and how homeowners across the globe are embracing alternative lifestyles to mitigate unnecessary financial pressures and boost overall happiness.

While the average cost of smaller homes is certainly less than traditional homes, the fact of the matter is that any new house, regardless of its size, will cost a lot of money. And that includes the small housing market.

Estimating Tiny Home Costs: Building Materials

A couple sitting in front of a tiny home

So, rather than throwing out a bunch of low figures to get you excited about exploring this alternative way of living, I took the time to estimate the average cost of a tiny house based on my fifteen-plus years of experience living in a wide variety of downsized DIY domiciles across the US.

Below, I will provide a detailed estimation of standard tiny home costs and explain how much you can expect to pay for the building materials in the real world.

But don't expect to hear you can build a tiny home for cheap in this article because that's not the reality. Instead, I'm here to give you the cold-hard numbers without all the fluff so that you can build a tiny home without going broke during the process.

The Truth About Tiny Home Cost: It’s Not Particularly Cheap

Secluded tiny home near water

While the tiny house trend is still in full swing, things have somewhat quieted down in recent years regarding digital content covering tiny house buildings.  

A few years ago, you could easily find multiple articles claiming you could buy or build your own tiny house for as little as $20k. There was also no shortage of content convincing readers that tiny home costs start as low as $10,000 for a brand new model.

The issue is that these pricing claims are laughably inaccurate, and they're estimating that you can get a living space for cheaper than you could buy a fully equipped camper van. 

If you try, you could probably find a "house" for as little as $10k; however, for that price, your square footage would probably be the same as the average restaurant bathroom.

The Reality of Tiny Home Cost: More than $10k

Tiny house builders specializing in this craft can probably give you an accurate estimation of the final tiny home cost. Still, you'll need to sit down with their engineers to review the specifications of the final product and any additional costs for home buyers. 

Prices usually gravitate around the $30,000 mark to start; keep in mind this figure is a low-ball estimate. There's a good chance you're going to pay much more than that, so prepare to divvy out at least $40,000 for your initial tiny home cost regardless of your requirements. 

Sites like Tumbleweed have house prices that start at around $60k, but these are high-end tiny homes, and you might be able to find companies that can do the job for significantly less. So, make sure you understand the full spectrum of tiny home costs before entering into any contractual agreement. 

Additionally, building your own DIY tiny house is generally cheaper than buying a new home from a company, which is why the vast majority of the tiny home community prefer a DIY approach.

Just remember, there is no standard way to estimate the final cost of a tiny house without a little bit of deviation at the end of the day. It's your job to estimate the median cost and find a way to build it on a budget that doesn't break your bank, which is why I prepared this blog post.

Tips for Independent Tiny Home Builds

Tiny home in nature

If you're looking to build a custom home yourself, you'll need to consider the floor plan, the exact square footage, and the prices of building materials before you can accurately budget for tiny home costs.

In any case, tiny homeowners will want to consider the affordability of local zoning laws, tiny home insurance, regulatory issues, building permits, and so on. Suppose you have anxiety about the paperwork, compliance, or a lack of the required technical skills. In that case, it may be more advantageous to hire a construction company or tiny home builder to help you along. Just be ready to pay double. 

Otherwise, there's a lot you need to think about before building a tiny house independently, so take a few moments and read through my ultimate beginner's guide to tiny homes first. After that, pop over to the article on tiny home appliances to ensure you know how to fill up your small space after construction efficiently.

Tiny Home Cost Estimation: Building Materials List

The most significant advantage of building a tiny house over buying a prefab model is choosing which materials go into the construction, one of the most critical issues affecting overall tiny home cost. 

I should also mention some construction companies allow you to choose building materials, but most of them use the same essential standard items with very few variations.

Regardless of whether you buy or build, the materials in question will determine whether your tiny living experience is a modest affair or an expensive high-end take on the tiny home lifestyle. 

You're free to throw caution to the wind and customize your interior design with whichever items you like. Still, you'll need to be careful when picking out the building materials because this is where tiny home costs start to add up.

We've already established that in most cases, you won't be able to build a home for anything less than $30k. The question now becomes exactly how much you're willing to invest in your home and which materials you can afford to save money on without reducing the quality of the house.

In general, the labor is about half of the tiny home cost, so an excellent way to estimate how much you'll need to spend is to calculate the price of the materials and then double it.

Now, let's review some of the most expensive building materials on the list so you can accurately estimate how much to budget for the tiny home of your dreams. Although this list is far from exhaustive, it covers the basics.

Trailer Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000

Depending on the size of your house, there are many different trailers to use as a base.

The more moderately sized 20-foot trailers come in around $3,000, and the 30-footers generally cost somewhere along the lines of $5,000.

There are apparent discrepancies based on the model type, the exact width and length, material, and many other factors influencing the tiny home cost, so choose your trailer carefully. 

However, most of the time, you'll be able to get away with spending somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000 for a decent trailer. 

If money is tight, look out for repurposed or second-hand trailers. Just take the time to conduct a thorough inspection before making any purchases. Older models may have frequent mechanical issues and require more maintenance, so do your best to find one that won't end up costing more money in the long haul. 

Metal Roofing Estimate: $1,000 - $2,000

In my opinion, metal is the only way to keep your house protected from the elements. Now, you'll also need to add insulation, but we'll discuss that tiny home cost in a moment.

Ribbed metal usually comes in pretty large chunks, so there's a good chance two pieces are enough to cover the top of your home. 

Assembly may require a bit of cutting and heavy lifting, but in general, installing metal roofing is a fairly straightforward procedure. Homeowners can also exchange the ribbed metal for a standing seam or a corrugated metal variation.

But there are notable price variations between the types of metal. The corrugated metal roofs cost around $3 - $7 per square foot, while the standing seam costs double, at $8 - $14 per square foot.

Insulation Estimate: $500 - $3,000

Like many materials on our list, insulation is a bit tough to nail down price-wise since it primarily depends on the size of your home. You'll also need to consider the different types of materials before correctly estimating this tiny home cost.

If I had to put a number on it, I'd say that your total figure will come to around $2-$5 for every square foot of insulation. 

I estimated this tiny home cost based on the average rate for standard 3-inch thick insulation, with spray foam as the best cost and ease of application option.

Good insulation can cut down your yearly heating costs, so it's wise to get something that'll do the job right — although, in a pinch, something as simple as sheep wool will suffice. 

Lumber Estimate: $500 - $5,000

The following tiny home cost is an estimate for framing and lumber. 

Framing wood is simply the lumber to make your support beams and the inside of your walls, and they usually cost $1,000-$3,000 for an average-sized small home. 

Finished wood is what you're going to use to make your interior and exterior walls, and unlike the framing wood, you'll need more money to treat it.

MDF is cheaper per sheet than birch ply, but you might want to spend a bit more money and get something that absorbs paint a bit better. But I'll leave that up to you.

Electrical Estimate: $500 - $3,000

In general, the smaller the space, the lower the overall electric bill. However, electrical installation costs are the same per square foot as any standard-sized house. 

So aside from downsizing, there's not much you can do to cut down on this tiny home cost because there isn't much price variation for building materials. 

Once you know the square footage and number of power outlets, it's easy to determine how much money you'll need to run electricity in your tiny home. As stated, planning is always vital to formulating a reasonable budget for your project.

Flooring Estimate: $200 - $1,000

In most cases, the wood for the flooring won't break the bank. For one, there's significantly less square footage to cover. 

There are also tons of different options and price points depending on the type of building material, so take the time to explore the market and find flooring options that fit your budget for tiny home costs.

A reasonable hardwood maple costs somewhere around $4-$5 per square foot, whereas plywood will come to less than a dollar per square foot. Bear in mind the cheaper materials are of inferior quality. 

As a solution, many homeowners opt for a cheaper alternative initially and upgrade the floors later on when money isn't tight. 

If you go for this alternative, remember that ripping off the old floorboards and putting in new ones is quite a hassle. My advice is to get the flooring right the first time, or you may end up spending even more money on upgrades later on. 

Interior Finishes Estimate: $500 - $4,000

Interior finishes refer to small materials used on the inside of a building to supplement functionality and design. 

I'm talking about light switches and lighting fixtures, drapes, doorknobs, locks, and other miscellaneous items that add to the overall aesthetic. 

For the most part, these items are relatively affordable, so don't expect them to influence your overall tiny home cost much unless you're going for world-class quality. 

Plumbing Estimate: $1,000 - $3,000

Every budget focused on tiny home costs must factor in plumbing materials. 

The good news is the price for pipes and plumbing is relatively uniform, so there isn't much variation from house to house outside of proximity to city utility lines and the number of faucets. 

However, the most crucial tip for plumbing installation is to keep the pipes protected. At the same time, it's vital to ensure the lines are accessible for repairs and routine maintenance. 

Regardless of your setup, most tiny home builders can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 for plumbing materials. 

Windows Estimate: $400 - $4,000

Your standard-sized window usually doesn't cost more than $100, with custom-sized ones generally costing double.

In any case, this tiny home cost largely depends on features like double-pane, tempered glass, argon-filled, so choose accordingly.  

Aside from unique features, the other factor that may affect the price (albeit indirectly) is the seal. When buying windows for any home, ask about the sealing to ensure it's air-tight. 

You might not always have a way to physically check this before purchasing, but pay close attention during the installation process and make sure that the ones you put in are draught-proof and help your insulation. 

Of course, this will largely depend on the windows' quality, so I always suggest not buying the cheapest models in the store. What you save now, you'll pay for in the form of repairs and replacements later.

Final Thoughts About Tiny Homes Cost

Tiny home in the woods

Aside from the materials mentioned above, it's also a good idea to put at least $3,000 to the side to cover tiny home costs like adhesives, fasteners, and even touch-up paint.

There are also elements like appliances to include in your tiny home cost estimate. Still, I didn't list them here because I'll be writing separate articles about those topics soon. 

Check out the links below if you're looking to explore budgets and guides for other alternative lifestyles like off-grid living, van life, and digital nomadism. 

Van Life Costs

Guide to Tiny Home Appliances

Off-Grid Toilet

Van Life Toilets

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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