Tiny House Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a tiny house?

When most folks use the term tiny house, they are often referring to a home built using conventional methods but on the scale of an RV travel trailer. These homes are often built on flatbed trailers and are owner-built. Their square footage usually does not surpass 300 square feet. But small cabins, cottages, and other small residences can also be considered tiny houses. So the term is not so much an exclusive definition, but an inclusive category of extremely small residences.

Q: How much does a tiny house cost?

Many people choose to build tiny homes themselves with their own design or house plans they find online. When materials are chosen carefully, the price of a home can be brought down significantly. Anecdotal evidence shows us that owner-builders typically spend between $15,000 and $25,000 on their homes, not including their own labor. We’ve seen projects that come in under $10,000 too. Professionally build tiny homes are typically priced between $30,000 and $50,000. Tiny houses can go over $50,000.

Q: Can I finance a tiny home?

Most folks don’t borrow money to build their tiny homes. A more common path to tiny home ownership is to first downsize expenses and possessions, save money, secure a place to build the house, and then start the build. It’s a slower path into a tiny home than taking out a loan, but seems to be most common.

Some tiny house companies have been able to secure financing options by joining the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and building their homes to those standards. This route can get you into a tiny home faster, albeit with a mortgage. The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is an example of a company that builds homes that meet RVIA standards.

Another option that may work for you is crowdfunding your project through a website like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. A crowdfunding campaign typically offers rewards that are produced by the project to backers that contribute money.

A successful crowdfunding campaign typically depends on the perceived value of the rewards by backers and the effectiveness of your marketing. In other words, if you offer great stuff to backers at fair market prices, and you are able to tell a lot of people about the project, the potential of success increases. If you decide to go this route feel free to let me know and I’d be happy to post news of it. Just send an email to michaeljanzen@tinyhousedesign.com.

Q: Where can I buy a tiny house?

There are many builders around the world. Check the Tiny House Map and select ‘Builders’ on the search bar. Also be sure to check Tiny House Listings for owner-built & professionally-built tiny homes.

You might also consider looking at sheds and shed builders. In many towns you’ll come across roadside businesses that sell tiny sheds, barns, and cabins. You may also see these at your home improvement stores. Not all sheds are built in such a way that they can be finished-off as a tiny home, but  with some clever tinkering many can. Sometimes these sheds can be financed, depending on the seller.

Another consideration is to simply find a good contractor near you that’s willing to build a tiny home for you. Not all contractors have the skills or knowledge to build a house from start to finish but many can. The disadvantage of this route is cost, the advantage is you get what you want and if the contractor does good work you’ll end up with a quality home without breaking a sweat.

Q: Where can I buy plans to build a tiny house?

Many of the builders also sell tiny house plans. Check the Tiny House Map and select ‘Builders’ on the search bar. Here are a few other places to get plans. Feel free to suggest more, just send me an email at michaeljanzen@tinyhousedesign.com.

Q: Where can I learn more about tiny houses online?

The Internet is a great place to learn. Here are a few websites to start your search. Feel free to suggest more, just send me an email at michaeljanzen@tinyhousedesign.com.

Q: Where can I park or build a tiny house?

Most people park their mobile tiny homes on their own property or at friend or relative’s place. Some folks travel and move around from place to place. RV trailer parks may be an option too, especially if the tiny home has RV or conventional plumbing.

The truth is that tiny houses are still in a grey area and zoning & ordinances don’t really account for this type of alternative housing – but this is changing. Some communities are adapting as the popularity of tiny homes increases. To find out if your community allows tiny homes check with your local planning department. It may be wise to use words other than ‘tiny house’ and instead tell them what you want to do.

For example, if you want to build a tiny house on wheels, you might tell them you’re considering building a house on a flatbed trailer that you hope to live in – and tell them where. Then ask if there are any allowances for that in your community like that. For example would your community consider that an RV, or an ADU (accessory dwelling unit, a.k.a. granny unit), and is it legal to use it as a dwelling in your community. Every community has different codes, zoning, and ordinance so it pays to do some research.

Q: Are tiny houses legal?

It depends where you are and how you use it. Some communities have few building restrictions and are very friendly to alternative housing solutions. Other places have rules coming out their ears plus oodles of uptight neighbors that don’t want people living in their neighbor’s backyard.

People who are motivated to find solutions to their housing challenges will find the ingenuity in themselves to make it happen. The best advice I have on this is to research and learn as much as you can about the community you want to live in, and look for zoning loopholes and alternative housing friendly neighbors.

Tiny houses can also be built on foundations with permits if you want to go that route. Not all communities have minimum dwelling size rules but often the biggest hurdle is getting an exception to the minimum square footage requirement.

One common loophole for this is to look for land zoned for multi-family housing (i.e.: apartments) and then get a permit to build a tiny house. It’s common for multi-family zoned areas to have no minimum size for dwellings because these zones must allow for small apartments.

Another option is to look into the ADU (accessory dwelling unit, a.k.a. granny unit/mother in law house) allowances. Many communities allow a small house to be built in the backyard of a larger home if the dwelling is to be used for family or caretakers – and not rented out.

Q: Do I need building permits to build a tiny house?

If a tiny house is built on a trailer it typically falls into the category of ‘travel trailer’ and building codes don’t normally apply. But it is best to build to standard building codes and make sure your house is strong enough to withstand highway speeds. A good approach is to build the house with the same materials & methods used in locations subject to hurricanes.

If a tiny house fits the definition of a shed it may not need permits, although it also may not be legal to use as a dwelling. It’s always best to check with your local planning department before building anything, look for the loopholes and know your local laws.

Q: What kind of toilets do people install in a tiny houses?

Most people are using composting toilets or RV toilets with waste tanks. The most popular composting toilet seems to be the lovable loo, a sawdust toilet developed by Joseph Jenkins. Once you get over the idea of doing your business in a bucket and covering it with sawdust you’ll realize this simple solution is far more sustainable, sensible, and environmentally friendly than other choices. It’s virtually free too, which is always a plus.

The main advantage of commercial composting toilets is that they break down the waste faster by adding air, movement, and heat. All of this extra help composts the material faster requiring less storage. A simple sawdust toilet also requires a compost bin/pile so it can cook for a couple years. After that time the compost is safe for the garden.

If you build a mobile tiny house and plan to move it from place to place a commercial composing toilet is probably a better choice. If you stay on your own land a sawdust toilet may be the way to go.

Q: How do I heat and cool a tiny house?

For heating, most people use small propane heaters or electric space heaters if they have a utility grid connection. There are many marine propane heaters on the market. Some people use wood stoves but they tend to overheat such small spaces.

For cooling, air conditioners are the most common choice. A very small window unit is often ample for a tiny home that’s on the grid. If you’re off-grid it’s not practical due to the high energy requirements… in other words it would take a lot of panels/batteries to keep a place cool with an air conditioner in a hot environment.

One clever off-grid option I’ve seen is the Pepino, a low voltage homemade swamp cooler build by John Wells at The Field Lab.

Q: How do I deal with waste water (grey water)?

Many people setup their homes with grey water tanks like an RV but if you are living in one place setting up a grey water system seems ideal. If you have access to a sewer system and have the proper plumbing your waste water can go there just like a conventional home.

Q: What are the size / weight limitations for tiny houses?

Each state/region has different rules. Typically trailers aren’t much longer than 38′ or 40′, and tiny homes don’t often get longer than 24′. Weight considerations for tiny houses don’t typically push the oversize road limits; but they do push the limits for height and width. Typically 13′ 6″ in height and 8′ 6″ in width are the maximum dimensions without requiring a special move permit.

To give you a better idea of legal road limits for trailer, here’s a quick guide for truck lengths in California.

Q: How much does a tiny house weigh?

The final weight of a wood framed tiny house depends a lot on how the house is finished. As a general rule of thumb you can estimate the final dry weight by multiplying 450-pounds by the length. For Example:
  • 16-foot = 7,200#
  • 20-foot = 9,000#
  • 24-foot = 10,800#
  • 28-foot = 12,600#

Q: What kind of trailer should I build my tiny house on?

Unless you have a lot of experience building or restoring trailers we suggest buying a new trailer. Flatbed car hauling trailers are commonly used for tiny houses but some modification is needed. Ideally buy a trailer build specifically for tiny houses or have a trailer custom built. Visit Tiny Home Builders to see what purpose-built tiny house trailers look like.
Many tiny house companies use triple 7000# axle trailers for 24-foot and longer homes. But you could also use two 10,000 pound axles. Two 7000# axles would not leave a lot of room for possessions on a 24 or 28 foot house.

Q: Can a family live in a tiny house?

Sure, and there is no one-size-fits-all for housing. A family will need more space than an individual or couple. People that work from home will need more space. The whole idea of living simply in small spaces is that the true value of the home is realized, and the home doesn’t become a burden. In other words it’s about finding balance and the first step is reducing the number of possessions.

Q: Land is so expensive, how can I live mortgage free?

In some places land is expensive, probably due to too many regulations and demand. But there are still many places where land is cheap. The trade-off is usually location or the quality of the land.

Lamar at Simple Solar Homesteading has done a great job showing people how to live mortgage free and find cheap places to live. This is in fact one of the main reasons I blog about tiny houses. I’m really searching for the true value of a home and I don’t think homes should cost any where near what they do.

Q: Where can I learn to live more sustainably?

Tammy at RowdyKittens writes a lot about living a minimalist life and regularly shares her learnings. If you want to peek into other extreme sustainable lifestyles investigate places like the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and the Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute.

Q: Are tiny houses off-the-grid?

Any tiny house can be powered by off-grid electricity, but like any off-grid house choosing to use less power will get you the lowest cost system. Giving up things like microwaves, electric heaters, blow dryers, and electric clothes dryers, will allow you to really scale down your electricity needs.

Q: How do I insure a tiny house?

Check with your insurance agent, and put it in terms they can undertand. Typically calling it a ‘custom travel trailer’, or cabin, will help them undertand what you are talking about.

Do You Have a Question?

If you have a question that’s not answered here send me an email at michaeljanzen@tinyhousedesign.com and I’ll try to answer it. The answers above are my opinions and should not be considered legal or professional advice.

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