The iconic image of the Tumbleweed Tiny House is a little home on a trailer. While most people go this route to build their tiny house, it is precisely the opposite of what we did. Our tiny house is built in a little clearing about 200 vertical feet up a mountain with no road access. You heard that right – no road access. We had two main motivations for this process. The first was, of course, to have a tiny mountain home nestled in the woods off the beaten path. The second was to prove to ourselves that we could build this thing without instant access to power or water. We are not professional builders in any way so we had to learn how to do everything before we set out to build. The house is done now and we live there completely off the grid.
We started the project about three years ago. Because we lived in Atlanta and were building in North Carolina we could only work on weekends. We drove up to our land about two weekends a month during those years. Some friends occasionally came to help us and it was a lot of fun and a lot of exceptionally difficult and occasionally dirty work.
We primarily used rechargeable battery powered tools that we would then take back to Atlanta with us to charge up before the next trip. We also have a very small and efficient generator we use for larger power tools like the table saw. There is also a semi-reliable ATV that we could occasionally load up with supplies and building materials. When the ATV failed, we carried things up to the build site by hand.
The single most difficult part of this process was pouring the concrete foundation. Because we were building the house into a mountain we decided to go with post and pier but that meant we had to dig holes, pour concrete and set the hardware. We had to transport a small cement mixer, 30 gallons of water, and 2400 pounds of unmixed concrete up to the site. The ATV struggled and could only haul three bags at a time. And without any access to electric power, we mixed and poured concrete until the sun went down. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I figure if I can do that there really isn’t much else I can’t do.
As I mentioned, we live in the tiny house now and everything is off the grid. I hope to share more about how we live this way in the weeks to come.
Laura LaVoie and her husband live full-time in their Tumbleweed and blog about their experience at Life in 120 Square Feet. Get your own copy of a tiny house plan here.
Lee Pera and a group of tiny house builders attended a Tumbleweed workshop last year. This year, they broke ground on their tiny house community in Washington, D.C. Below is an update from Lee who will be guest blogging her tiny house community adventure with us regularly. If you're interested in starting a group build in your community, drop us an email and we'll work with you to connect with other tiny house enthusiasts, builders, and suppliers in your area.
We’ve been doing preparatory work this week meeting with other tiny house builders, scoping out materials and prices, looking at designs we like, and helping Brian out on the lot and garden beds. Making decisions usually stresses me out, and all the decisions that go into a tiny house have been overwhelming me, so it felt good to already decide on a couple things while looking at materials. For instance, I love the look of the interior of the Protohaus and have decided to go with bead board rather than the knotty pine that the Fencl tiny house plans call for (saving a significant amount of money as well). I have also decided I really like the look of cork flooring and many of its benefits and will most likely go with that for my flooring – whew…two decisions made effortlessly!
The biggest news this week is that I may end up downsizing even more. Originally I planned on building on a 22 ft-long x 8 ft-wide trailer, extending the Fencl out by 4 feet in length and one foot in width. But this week we were out for beers with our new tiny house friends Margaret and Zach – who are building an amazing tiny house in South Carolina – and Zach told us about an ad he had seen for a tiny house shell. It’s a fabulous deal, but the main issue I had with it is that, while built on an 18-ft trailer, the shell is just 16 feet long and 7 feet 10 inches wide. Could I really lose 6 feet of interior space? That’s a lot of room in a tiny house. Still, the price is less than what my trailer itself will cost, and the seller was excited that we even knew about tiny houses. Tony talked with the builder/seller and he seems to have done solid work, and Zach checked it out in person for us. It looks like I’ll be buying the shell all built out! We will finish the roofing, siding and interior starting in June.
Next, Tony and I went to spend some time hanging out in the Fencl (18 ft long x 7 ft wide). After spending about an hour, moving about in the rooms, hanging out in the loft, scoping out storage, I think I can make a smaller unit work. It will require getting creative about storing my stuff (or getting rid of more), but I’m excited about the challenge. I like to think I adapt easily to wherever I live and the size will be fine, but if it’s too small I can design and build a larger one over time. It will be useful to spend some time in one first to get an idea for what I really want and need in size and design. I’ll post more photos of the shell soon.
Living in a tiny house is often thought of as a lifestyle that appeals to the alternative types such as hippies, gypsies and everyone else who falls into the "eccentric" crowd. After all, who in their right mind would willingly live a life with fewer square feet and fewer possessions when both are so readily available? Or are they? Supply and demand is the most fundamental element of any economy and the short supply of money most people have has lowered the demand for square feet and all of the expenses associated with them.
The feedback I receive from the people I speak with daily is that they are no longer interested in exchanging their time working for a large house and filling it up with costly things. Another basic and fundamental economic term is scarcity, and the most precious and limited resource we all have is time. The growing number of converts buying into the tiny house philosophy are regular folks willing to look at their housing choices with a clear and open mind.
The Tiny House Listing website is geared specifically to the purchasing and selling of tiny homes which means it's not only visited by people curious about tiny houses, but actively seeking to purchase one for themselves. Here is a quick rundown of the demographics of people tha visit the Tiny House Listings site. This paints a clear picture of who is interested in living in tiny homes. You can click the image for a larger view.
As you can see, the tiny house crowd is a very diverse group of people. While the majority are educated with above-average incomes, all ages, races, male, female, with kids, no kids and so on are represented. So what is the message? The majority are educated with above-average incomes. That make the tiny house movement less centered around the eccentric and more mainstream. If you don't consider yourself an "alternative" type but are interested in tiny homes and the benefits of living in one, you're not alone.
This post is going to show you 13 ways that you can save $378 or more by living in a tiny house. And that’s just the beginning because some families are saving much more than that but for now, let’s get right into it.
1. Little to no mortgage
Making the decision to build a tiny house on a trailer so that you can live in means you most likely won’t have a mortgage. Actually, banks don’t normally finance little homes like this even though they will help you with an RV most of the time. We’ll see if someday we can easily finance our tiny houses on trailers. Even if you could somehow manage to get a 30 year mortgage on a tiny house, it would only cost you $366 a month if you had to pay 7% interest, had no money to put down, and you paid $55,000 for it. This would obviously mean that you did not do any of the labor yourself. Not too bad, right? It gets better...
2. Miniscule heating and cooling bills
I’m not sure what you currently pay for your utilities but I think you’ll be impressed with how efficient a little home is. Most people having to heat or cool their tiny homes pay just $10 to $35 a month for all of their utilities. Most people that I know pay an average of $120 a month for utilities, but it can easily be much more.
3. Easy and relatively cheap to build
Costs for materials for the average tiny house on a trailer that’s less than 200 square feet is about $21,000 if you buy everything new through a retail store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. This, of course, does not include labor for anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. You can always attend a Tumbleweed workshop to prepare yourself for your first project. Later, we’ll talk about how much you can save using reclaimed materials.
4. You don’t have to buy your own land
It turns out that most people who’ve built and now live in their own tiny house end up working something out with someone who already owns land. In these situations you can either pay a little bit of rent (as little as $100 a month) or exchange a service for your stay. You can provide care for an elderly person or labor for a small farm. Or you can simply park in a friend or family members rural backyard. And when the time comes to move, you don’t have to worry about land ownership.
5. Park it in your backyard and rent out your big house
If you’re lucky enough to already live in a location where you can park a tiny house on a trailer or an RV- or maybe you can build on a foundation as a shed, pool house, cabana, guest house, or accessory structure- you can start your project right away, or look for the right property to buy.
6. No more high rent or mortgage payments
I don’t know about you, but I pay about $900 every month in rent as I write this. That’s $32,400 every three years. I wouldn’t mind parting with that, or at least turning it into something I can own free and clear someday. Some of you pay less, and some of you pay more but either way it’s one of our largest expenses. If you’re paying a mortgage do you think you could rent your house out and cover all of your costs, if you wanted to? This way you’d turn your current home into an asset that pays itself off while you live mortgage-free in a tiny house. Now that would be smart, wouldn’t it?
7. You can use reclaimed materials to build your tiny home for cheap
I’ve talked to people who have built their own tiny house on a trailer for as little as $3,500 because they took the time to find free or cheap reclaimed materials like doors, wood, windows, siding, and more. It can save you a lot of money up front to dedicate an extra two or three months just for finding the right materials to suit your design. It also helps to be open to changing your design as you find cool stuff to use for your build. Whether you end up spending $16,000, $7,200, or just $5,700, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind home that’s fully paid for!
8. You can do the labor yourself
There are now several stories out there of everyday people, like you and me, with no previous carpentry experience, building their own tiny houses. Many of them end up recruiting the help of friends and family and others hire help when they need it (like for plumbing and wiring, for example). If you’re new to construction or just the idea of building tiny and/or on a trailer, you might want to consider one of Tumbleweed’s tiny house workshops.
9. No space for oversized and overpriced furniture
In a tiny or small house, there’s only so much room for furniture. Most people who are living tiny just have a couch (usually built in), a bed, entertainment center, and a table. That’s about it. There’s also built in bookshelves, closets, and other storage. That means you’ll never really see that Rooms to Go bill again just to fill all of that space in an oversized house, condo, or apartment. You won’t need a huge dining set, side tables, and an enormous desk, either.
10. No space for constant new clothes
Living small usually means cutting down on your wardrobe. In a tiny house, studio, or even in most apartments there’s just not that much closet space. Especially if you share the place with someone else. In a tiny house, there’s only room for what you love and personally, I like that. If you love your clothes, you can always adjust your design or choose one of Tumbleweed’s tiny house plans that includes the right amount of closet and storage space for you. But the point is that in a tiny home you’re less likely to go buy new clothes every forty days or whatever. Instead, you’ll probably buy a few really nice, high quality outfits that you really love wearing (you know, your favorites). That’s what I do to stay happy with less clothes (but I’m a guy, so what do I know).
11. Less repair and maintenance costs over time
Owning less means dealing with less. Isn’t that nice? So over time you’re going to save on all kinds of repair costs in money, time, and stress. Need to paint the house again? No big deal. Time for a new roof? No problem. Need to fix something? That should be pretty simple (especially if you were the one who built it, right?).
12. Less room for children
This is my least favorite money saving benefit because I love children. And when I’m older, I probably won’t be able to live in a tiny house anymore for this reason alone. But for those of you who don’t want kids, or already have them, it’ll save you money either way which leads us to the next, and last, money saving benefit for living in a smaller home.
13. Less storage space for excessive children’s toys and gadgets
Most kids who live in small spaces end up find creative ways to meet their needs instead of depending on the latest and trendiest toys and gadgets which can get really expensive for parents. These kids tend to play outside more and interact with other kids. But maybe with all of the money you save on everything else, you can afford to buy the family an iPad for everyone to play with! My niece and nephews love this thing more than most of their toys because of all the available interactive games you can play on it and it hardly takes up any space in your house.
If all of the above adds up to a savings of just $378 a month for you, you would end up with an extra $13,608 in your pocket after only three years. But I believe that most of you would get to save a lot more than just $378 a month by moving into a tiny house. The main challenge is coming up with the money to build it or buy it up front or getting financing for it. But if you look around, you might find that you can come up with enough money to start by letting go of some of the possessions you have around you. Just maybe, because not all of us have that option. But if you wanted to, could you? Would it be fair to your family? If not, then don’t. Your family is more important than saving money. Maybe you can ease them into the idea over time instead.
But the fact is that most of you can save a lot more than $378 a month by downsizing in some way. One young family, who I won’t name, is getting to save an entire full-time salary by moving from their big house to a tiny one that they built mortgage-free. They’re getting to put away at least $1,745 a month, but probably more.
Can you imagine that? That equals to $62,820 after just three years time. Wouldn’t you agree that that could be very powerful for an individual as well as a young family? That’s how to get ahead relatively fast. With that kind of money, you can buy a more comfortable home for a growing family, start your own business, pay for an education, or pay off your debt completely in just a few years.
Alex Pino promotes tiny houses and other small spaces through Tiny House Talk. He currently lives in a 600 square foot apartment and has been downsizing since 2007. In the summer of 2012, he’s going to be traveling through the United States after pairing down to what fits in a backpack.