Types of Tiny Homes (and Pros & Cons of Each)

by Tessa Hobart | LAST UPDATED June 22, 2021

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The tiny house movement is a phenomenon that started quite a few years ago, and it’s still going as strong as ever.

The main reason behind this is the affordability of the houses themselves. Many people have a much easier time being able to afford a reasonably priced small home instead of a costly traditional house.

This means that pretty much anyone can be a homeowner as long as they have at least a bit of money saved up, and you won’t have to take a loan out or pay off a 20-year long mortgage.

However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind before you start looking into real estate (and prices) near you.

The Price

A small space that takes up anywhere between 90 and 200 square feet is obviously going to be a lot cheaper than a grand 3-story monstrosity of a house.

However, there is no truth to the stipulations that you can buy small homes for as little as $5,000 or even $10,000.

If you exclude the price of the property itself, the piping and all of the necessary electrical connections, all of the construction permits and documentation, and every other additional cost as well, you’re still looking at a bill for anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

The exact size of the house and the exact floor plans are going to increase or decrease the price by a lot, so we can’t make a more accurate estimate without a bit more detail on your exact preference in home design.

What we will say is that you’ll easily be able to choose between grand accommodations and downsizing on a few of the everyday needs to make your new home as minimalist or as luxurious as you might possibly want. We should also mention that a big reason why buying or constructing a tiny home is this expensive is because half of the cost goes to the construction crew. However, if you were to attempt to build a DIY house yourself, the price could probably drop as low as $20,000 - $30,000.

However, unless you have a lot of free time and past experience in the construction field, you probably won’t be able to make anything other than single-room tiny cabins. Additionally, you won’t get far if you’re unfamiliar with your local zoning laws and building permits, so it’s best to pay a bit extra and have the professionals handle everything for you.

Not For Everyone

Tiny home surrounded by mountains

There are plenty of different types of tiny houses, and all of them have their own drawbacks and benefits, but regardless of how great of a fit they can be for some people, tiny house living is undeniably not for everyone.

Being a tiny house enthusiast is all about making the most out of the space you have and getting rid of unnecessary clutter. The limited space is also energy-friendly, so it’s very adaptable to off-grid living as well. Additionally, tiny homes typically have the square footage of anywhere between 100 and 200, so they’re actually a pretty comfortable fit for a single person or a couple.

However, if you’re planning on starting a family, then none of the options on our list are a good fit for you. There may be plenty of different types of tiny homes, but none of them are really a suitable fit for more than two people.

Speaking of different types of tiny homes.

The Two Main Types of Tiny Homes

Tiny homes over a water

When it comes to the main characteristics of a tiny home, there really aren’t a whole lot of similarities between most models that you can find on the market.

We’ll go over the most well-known examples of tiny homes a bit further on in the article, but we think that it’s important to point out the main difference between most of them—the foundation.

Prefabricated tiny houses are usually made with certain limitations in mind when it comes to their exact square footage, but other than that, there really isn’t anything that prevents people from designing their homes exactly how they want to.

Any structure that can be classified as a living space with a roof can be considered a tiny home, but there is a difference in the foundations. This is a very important factor in terms of zoning laws since most states are going to draw a clear distinction between mobile homes and modular homes.

The Difference

A mobile home is quite simply a small house that’s built on a trailer with wheels, whereas a modular home is a living space with a solid foundation.

Most tiny home builders specialize in one type of tiny home or the other, and a company rarely has an option for both.

Mobile homes are built in a factory and then later transported to the homeowner’s property, and modular homes are designed in a factory and shipped piece by piece until they can be assembled on site.

Modular homes are much closer to traditional homes, but neither type of tiny home is superior to the other since they have their pros and cons.

Tiny Houses on Wheels

There are many predesigned mobile home templates available for you to choose from, meaning that you won’t have to do much planning if you don’t want to. Instead, you can request specific alterations to be made during the planning stages to make the house a bit more suited to your tastes and your needs.

The main issue that mobile homes have is that they can’t easily be classified as either a standard house or a trailer home, which makes the zoning laws and building permits a lot trickier to handle.

A lot of states are going to require that you permanently ground your trailer to a specific point on your property before they allow you to set up the necessary pipes and cables, thereby defeating the whole purpose of the mobile home in the first place.

Additionally, If your trailer is wider than 8,5 feet or longer than 30 feet, then you’re going to need to acquire a special wide load transportation permit before you’re able to move it from your property on your own.

There are, unfortunately, plenty of rules and regulations when it comes to what you can and can’t build on your property; however, there is a workaround. There are no prohibitions that state that you can’t live in a mobile home that’s parked on your property. This means that if you go off-grid and refuse to connect up your house to the government channels, you won’t be in breach of any zoning laws.

Modular Homes

Modular homes have significantly fewer restrictions, but the ones that you have to adhere to are a bit more troublesome, so in essence, they make up for the fewer annoying rules by simply having more irritating ones. For example, the most troublesome building code that you might come across is likely going to be a restriction on the size of your house.

A lot of states have a minimum number of square feet that a house needs to hit before they can actually classify it as a living space. Luckily, most states are pretty lenient about the square feet that you actually need to reach, so as long as you at least reach triple digits, you should have no issues.

A solid foundation for a home is also always welcome, and it usually makes a homeowner’s life a bit easier since you can plan out your floor plan and your layout a bit better. Mobile homes, on the other hand, need to be connected to the utility lines every time after you take them out of their designated spot on your property.

Additionally, although we refer to them as more traditional types of tiny homes, it’s important to note that modular homes are pretty different in terms of their construction. The piece-by-piece building method means that the construction is going to be finished in a significantly shorter timespan than your standard house. In addition, since each piece was designed and built beforehand, the final product will also be exactly what you agreed on during the blueprint stages, with minimal variation from your vision.

Shipping Container Homes

The shipping container is probably the most popular choice of modular home material that you’ll find in the tiny house community.

There are obviously other more easily malleable materials that you can choose from, but the initial use of the containers makes them durable enough to withstand any sort of weather that might be thrown their way.

The simple shape also makes them literal oversized building blocks that can be placed next to one another or on top of one another to make an easy two-story structure if that’s what you’re looking for.

They can also be placed on any sort of foundation easily and outfitted with the proper insulation, flooring, utility lines, and walls.

The biggest downside to these types of tiny homes is probably how useless they are until you do these heavy modifications to the containers.

You’re also going to need to pay attention to how you connect the containers as well since cutting out too many of the walls can weaken the integrity of the structure to such a degree that it won’t be able to reliably support its own weight.

A fully decked-out house that’s comprised of 2 connected shipping containers can be built for as little as $25,000, with a single unit being able to be made for around $15,000.

Also, keep in mind that the more units you add, the more zoning and building restrictions you might be in danger of violating, so make sure that you have all of your permits in order before you start putting the blocks together.

Cob Houses

A cob house is a structure that’s made out of clay, straw, and sand instead of the more standard construction materials. This type of tiny home is quite a bit different from the modular homes, and the construction process means that there is virtually no hope of you fulfilling the building requirements that are necessary for you to be able to be hooked up to the public utility lines.

Additionally, there aren’t many construction companies that work on cob houses, so building and maintaining the house is going to solely be your responsibility. This is bad news for anyone who isn’t particularly good with their hands, especially since you still need to keep the structure up to a specific building code to be deemed safe for habitation.

However, this simple structure is ideal for any potential homeowner looking to get off the grid and be a lot more self-sufficient.

A cob house wastes no energy; the only water that you use is the one that you bring in yourself, and all of the materials are eco-friendly and quite a lot cheaper than your standard cement and mortar. As long as you make the walls durable and make sure that the roof can stand up to any sort of weather, you shouldn’t have any issues.

It’s also worth mentioning that due to the lack of construction companies or utility lines, this house is remarkably cheap to build and maintain.

Trailer Homes

There are essentially two major differences between trailer homes and tiny homes on wheels—the price and the equipment.

Trailer homes are at the very least around five times cheaper than a tiny home on wheels, and it’s a pretty reasonable bet that you’d probably be able to find a decent one for around $10,000. You’re naturally going to be able to find a cheaper alternative for about half that price as well, but it’s likely going to either have some significant issue to warrant that price, or the onboard equipment is going to be significantly lacking.

Speaking of equipment, a tiny home on wheels will be more comfortable than a trailer home.

Trailers are good temporary vacation homes for a weekend getaway, but they generally have a much more cramped living space, sub-par kitchen area, and a virtually non-existent bathroom, which makes them less than ideal as a permanent residence.

The price and the facilities that you get are mostly balanced out, so you’re going to get exactly the type of home that you’re paying for. If you’re in-between residences at the moment and you need a short-term solution to the problem, then this is a great choice for you if you’re looking to save some money. However, we can’t really see any other situation where this type of house can really be useful.

Treehouse

When we say treehouse, we could be referring to one of two types of tiny homes.

There are genuinely small houses that are built between several trees, using them as a support structure in order to keep the treehouse off of the ground. These houses are usually incredibly small and a DIY job, so they aren’t all that reliable or sustainable for an extended period of time.

The other type of treehouse is usually a small home that’s built on a log foundation on the side of a steep incline. There are logs that are used as support columns underneath the foundation, and the house needs to be made mostly out of wood or a lighter material in order to keep the burden on the logs as light as possible.

A treehouse is pretty cheap to build, and it’s protected from things like floods or snow build-up during the winter. However, actually constructing this type of small home is a giant pain, and it really isn’t worth it unless your property is on too much of a steep incline to allow you to build anything else.

Log Cabin

Similar to our previous entry, the typical log cabin doesn’t really use typical construction materials or even insulation in the construction and instead keeps its design a lot more natural.

These sorts of structures are in pretty high demand, so there are plenty of companies that specialize in their design, meaning that you have a lot of options open to you, and you can haggle a bit more for the cost of the project.

The materials are also almost exclusively limited to wood, making things a lot cheaper and a lot cozier from an interior design standpoint.

Due to the fact that a log cabin is simply four walls and a roof, you can also choose to try your hand at building one on your own as well, but it might take you quite a bit of time.

The main downside of these wooden structures is the lack of insulation that we mentioned earlier, and while you don’t have to worry about a weight limit like our previous entry, you do have to worry about maintaining the log cabin.

This might not sound too bad, but the non-standard shape of the outer walls actually makes outside maintenance a bit trickier and more time-consuming.

A-Frame

The name of this particular type of tiny home comes from the front-on view of the roof that comes all the way down to the ground.

An A-frame home has quite a bit of headspace thanks to the high roof in the middle, though the sloping walls will take a bit of getting used to.

The top of the house near the center point of the roof is usually an ideal spot that you can use as a loft for your bedroom, which is something that a lot of people do in order to maximize space and not have their large beds take up too much room in their house. The large roof is also ideal for putting in some roof windows in order to be able to let in plenty of natural light.

While the shape of the A-frame is iconic, the dimensions aren’t, which means that you can make it as tall or as wide as you might want. Our advice is to not go too wide but to make it just wide enough for you to be able to sleep on the loft comfortably without worrying about hitting your head on the side of the roof.

School Bus

Believe it or not, bus conversions are actually a pretty common thing when you’re talking about the tiny house community.

While it might not seem that way at an initial glance, if you strip the seats out of a standard school bus, you actually get quite a bit of space to work with.

There isn’t much space for major modifications to the exterior, and you can’t really extend the living space without making major modifications to the bus itself, but the living room that you can make on the inside can actually be pretty spacious.

Similarly to the tiny house on wheels, this vehicle is going to need to be grounded if you’re planning to hook it up to the city lines, but otherwise, you don’t have to take the engine apart or remove the driver seat unless you’re planning to change the front end of the bus completely.

Busses aren’t quite as cheap as mobile homes, but you should still get a reasonable price for a decommissioned school bus, as long as you’re not expecting a monster under the hood, that is. We should also recommend that you immediately buy some paint and a brush and change the (in our opinion) horrible bright yellow color schemes on the outside.

Conclusion

Wooden tiny home

Aside from the house’s foundations, we also went over a few homes that are more geared towards a temporary living solution rather than a permanent one, homes that are difficult to design and build, and homes that are convenient to build but might cost a bit more.

The final say when it comes to which home you go for, or whether you’ll choose any of the ones that we mentioned on our list, is up to you. However, we stand by the opinion that each of these tiny houses has its own benefits and can be useful in its own way.

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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