Tiny Homes: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide To Small Living

by Tessa Hobart | LAST UPDATED March 21, 2021

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Tiny homes: A beginner's guide to the small house movement

It's a fact, a growing number of people are getting rid of their unfeasibly large houses in exchange for fully-functioning tiny homes. But why?

In the past, the size of your house said a lot about your financial status. But today, society is reevaluating the definition of a home and what it means to be truly happy. The good news is people are waking up to the fact that a minimalist lifestyle might be the better way. 

If you've been tossing around similar ideas or feel a strong desire to get rid of your possessions and downsize your home, this article is tailor-written just for you. That's right; we're here to encourage you to get rid of your junk and consider the advantages of tiny homes.

An introduction to tiny homes

We're not saying that it's wrong to have a big house full of lovely things—if that's what makes you happy, go for it. We want to point out the benefits of tiny homes as an alternative way of living, so listen up because there is a lot to learn before you can start living small! 

Below we will explain everything you need to know about tiny homes. First, we will present a few components of this minimalist lifestyle before reviewing the different types of tiny houses. Then we'll share a few general maintenance tips and a bit of pricing info. After that, we'll make several suggestions on how you can get started. Let's begin.

What are 'tiny homes'?

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The average-sized home in the USA measures roughly 2400 square feet. Comparatively speaking, any dwelling smaller than 500 square feet unanimously qualifies as a tiny home, although there is no official size or definition. 

Nonetheless, tiny homes eat up significantly less floor space and come in various designs and architectural styles, where the common factor is minimalism. Whether you prefer a tiny home that's constructed on-site or shipped to your location, options for a suitable small house are numerous. 

Check out this recommended read for more insight on styles of small homes ranging from DIY to plug-n-play, including movable and stationary, but more on that in a minute.

Three benefits of tiny homes

There are lots of benefits of a tiny home lifestyle. Let's explore three reasons why tiny homes are better than traditional housing. 

Benefit #1: Tiny homes use less energy.

The smaller the floor plan, the less energy is required to power your home. While perfect spatial functionality is a common feature of small house craftsmanship, most builders make sure their dwellings use significantly less energy. 

Benefit #2: Tiny homes are cheaper than traditional homes.

Tiny houses are cheaper than traditional homes for many reasons, but the primary reason is simple—they're smaller, more efficient, and require fewer materials. Therefore, they are cheaper to build, power, and maintain than a traditional unit. 

Benefit #3: Tiny homes are sustainable and eco-friendly.

Tiny houses are more eco-friendly because they use less energy and emit a smaller carbon footprint. Sustainability is at the core of the design philosophy and a driving factor of the tiny home movement as a whole.

Types of tiny houses: Kit homes, modular, and DIY custom

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There is no shortage of options when it comes to deciding on the best tiny home for you. Whether you want to build your home from scratch, customize an existing model, or have your residency delivered on-site in one piece, the market is bursting with sustainable options. 

Let's review a few of the most popular styles of tiny homes.

Kit homes

'Kit home' refers to prefabricated structures delivered in pieces and assembled on-site. In most cases, all the parts are pre-cut, meaning they are factory-made. Just remember, kit homes come in various sizes, prices and with lots of customization options, so conduct careful research before pulling the trigger. 

Whatever the situation, the benefits of prefab homes are plentiful. Kit homes are highly cost-effective, cheaper to build, and designed with flexibility in mind. Not to mention, they usually come with a detailed set of instructions so you can put it together without hired help. 

Modular homes

Similar to kit homes, modular homes are also factory-made. The difference is that kit homes require extensive assembly, whereas a modular home is a plug-and-play—outside of preparing the foundation, the house is delivered ready-to-go. 

Modular homes are advantageous because they're affordable and convenient. They are also popular because they don't require manual installation and are easy to relocate when situated on wheels. Remember to pay close attention to quality to make sure you get your bang for your buck because poor-quality modular homes are ubiquitous. 

DIY (custom tiny home)

The third option for your luxury tiny home is to develop the project yourself and build a custom home according to your preferences. While this option demands time and energy, it usually yields the best long-term results.  

The benefits of this method are that you control everything from concept to completion, and nobody stands between you and your fully-customized tiny house. You determine the cost, materials, interior design and get the job done according to your plan, and there are no prefab limitations to work around.  

In a nutshell, DIY tiny homes provide absolute control but may result in higher stress levels (at least in the beginning). Before you undertake a project of this magnitude, make sure you have the resources to build your own home according to your wishes.

A note about building code restrictions

Regardless of which type of home you decide to go for, be aware that building codes also apply to tiny house communities. Don't forget to prepare the necessary paperwork and be ready to deal with zoning restrictions, building permits, insurance requirements, and a slew of other building code issues regardless of your location.

Luckily, most construction agencies and tiny home builders take care of this for you, but if you're going the DIY route, expect to deal with it on your own.

General maintenance tips for tiny homes

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Despite their rising popularity, most home care specialists are unfamiliar with routine maintenance for tiny homes. In most cases, downsizing your living quarters may require specific knowledge regarding basic upkeep and home improvement.

Below we've outlined a few simple tips to help you prevent common issues affecting downsized homes under 500 square feet. 

Roof and gutter tips

It's imperative to maintain the roof and siding of tiny homes regularly. That means doing your best to keep debris (leaves, sticks, snow, ice, etc.) off your roof and out of your gutters as much as possible. 

The goal is to keep your roof clear and dry to prevent water seepage. When debris is present, moisture gets trapped. And when that happens, rotting and water damage may occur. In the long run, maintaining a clean roof and siding preserves the color and quality of your rooftop material and avoids costly repairs. 

Humidity and condensation tips

For the most part, humidity levels in tiny homes are higher than in traditional houses. When condensation has little room to evaporate, moisture and humidity get trapped in unwanted places. As a result, daily activities like showers, dishwashing, and even breathing can eventually cause problems like mold growth which can attract pests. 

A simple way to control the condensation in your home is to keep the humidity around 45-55%, use a dehumidifier, and perform regular maintenance on your mini-split. Another tip is to keep fans running to optimize airflow. 

HVAC tips

Instead of a traditional ductwork system, owners of tiny homes often install mini-split systems for heating and cooling purposes. Regardless of your HVAC system, it's probably a good idea to keep an eye on your air filters and clean/change them as needed. 

When it comes to proper insulation for your small living room, we suggest you pay attention to the area around the windows to ensure heat and air aren't escaping. 

Tiny home prices: An overview

According to a recent article from CNBC, the average cost of a tiny home in the USA is $52,000. While that may seem like a hefty price tag for a limited amount of space, consider that number is still 87% cheaper than your average-sized American home.

Downsized homes can indeed save you lots of money, but from a square footage perspective, owners actually pay 62% more than your typical home, so be aware when selecting your tiny house builder. 

But don't get it wrong. We're not saying it's impossible to find a quality dwelling for less than 50k. We saw models as cheap as $8,000 during our research, so there are plenty of options out there if you're willing to spend the time.  

While the cost of a tiny home is affordable in some states, it's overpriced in others, so take your budget into account when deciding on a location. New Hampshire, North Dakota, and New Jersey are three of the cheapest spots for tiny home living, whereas Hawaii, Montana, and New Mexico are the most expensive. 

And let's not forget about the cost of land too—but more on that another day.  

How to get started with tiny house living: Three suggestions

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We can't offer you a step-by-step guide on the mechanics of house design or how to buy the best small home around. But what we can add to our list of tips are a few things you can start on right now. 

#1. Determine your budget and decide which style is right for you  

The first thing you need to do before starting your journey is to formulate a comprehensive budget so you can build a minimal dwelling without completely breaking the bank. The idea is to know exactly how much you can spend in total before you start making purchases. 

As stated, there is much to consider regarding design, land, taxes, and building restrictions, so take your time and develop a master plan. After that, you'll have a much better idea of which type of tiny home is best for your situation and how exactly to go about it.

#2. Start getting rid of unneeded junk

After you have your home and location picked out, the next thing you can do is start getting rid of all your junk. Many people see the limited storage space as a problem, but in truth, it allows you to reevaluate your needs. 

In the beginning, it might be hard to get rid of your stuff, but afterward, you'll likely feel relief. Minimalism is a vital component of this lifestyle, and the only way to fully embrace it is to get rid of the majority of your possessions. We advise you to think about what you need and what you don't. In the end, you won't have much choice anyway, so it's best to start detaching from your belongings as soon as possible.

#3. Customize your tiny house with these essential items

Tiny homes require owners to optimize every inch of space. In most cases, standard furniture is too bulky and takes up too much on the floor plan. More oversized items like beds, kitchen tables, and chairs might cause a problem when you're configuring the layout. 

That's why we took the time to put together a few essential items every homeowner would benefit from having. These miniature furniture options will effectively optimize living space without sacrificing quality or comfort. 

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1. Yaheetech Rustic Lift Top Coffee Table 

We recommend this item because the top opens to a hidden compartment with extra storage space. It's ideal because it gives you a compact work desk that converts to a coffee table. Not to mention, it comes in three small sizes. 

2. Alpha Home Convertible Sofa Bed (3-in-1)

We like the Alpha Home 3-in-1 sofa bed because it's tailor-made for small home living. It's a folding sleeper chair with pillow, foldable chair bed with 5-level adjustable backrest, and a leisure chaise all in one. 

3. Walker Edison 5 Shelf Entryway Bench

The Walker Edison is the ultimate entryway piece for small spaces. It stands at 72 inches and functions as an entryway bench, hall tree coat rack, shoe storage shelf, and mudroom hallway organizer.

Final thoughts about tiny homes

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A tiny home does not mean you're stuck with a barebones shack in the middle of nowhere, so get that idea out of your head right now. Although the tiny house movement does require you to give in to a minimalistic way of life, there are no rules against having nice things.

The goal is to reexamine your life and decide what you need to survive in the modern world. The good news is, in most situations, owning a tiny home makes the process pretty easy. 

As our beginner's guide points out, the secret to a positive small house experience lies with careful planning and serious consideration. Take the time to weigh the pros and cons, formulate a financial plan, and choose a home that fits your specific needs.

If you follow these few simple steps, there's a good chance owning a tiny home will be highly beneficial and deeply rewarding for your wellbeing.

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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