So you’re thinking about building a tiny house? You’ve been watching Tiny House Nation and following #tinyliving. And now you’re drooling over cozy layouts and the promise of a simpler life. And you say… I could build that myself.
Stop. Let’s think about this.
Not about what it would be like to live in a small space. Or what you’ll do for money while you travel the country.
Because if you don’t think about a few things first, you’ll never get there anyway.
The answer to the question “Should I build my own tiny house?” comes in four parts. If you can’t answer yes to these four questions, you could get stuck in a project for LITERAL YEARS. Or never finish at all.
1. DO I HAVE THE MONEY?
It’s definitely cheaper to build a tiny house yourself than to buy one new. Mostly because you’re not paying anyone for the work you do yourself. And having total control over purchases can also cut costs. You can look for discounts and hunt for used or leftover materials from other jobs.
But even with these savings, building a tiny house isn’t cheap. The space is small but it has all the amenities of a full sized house. Kitchen appliances, plumbing and fixtures, heating and air conditioning — maybe even a washer-dryer if you’re fancy like that. And energy efficient, compact items can actually be pricier than their full-sized alternatives.
There’s a great blog post by The Spruce that details the costs of building your own tiny home. But you can expect to spend between $12K (nearly all reclaimed, budget materials) and $35K (for higher-quality, new materials). And that’s not including the costs of buying tools or renting equipment!
So, do you have that kind of money in savings? Or do you have a steady income? Can you afford to put that much into a big project over X amount of time?
If not, a tiny house isn’t in your budget. Yes, it can save you money once it’s built. But if you can’t finish because you don’t have the funds, it doesn’t matter.
But if you do have the money… it’s time to start thinking about a different kind of cost.
2. DO I HAVE THE TIME?
Building your own tiny house saves money but costs you time.
The Tiny House Community Blog’s Building Guide estimates that the average DIY tiny houser spends 480 hours on their build (120 for a professional). That’s 3 months of full-time work.
And that’s an average. The less experience you have, the longer it’ll take.
So do you have three or more months to take off? Can you give up your weekends for the foreseeable future? Do you feel amped up about after-work projects? If the answer to all these questions is no, this might not be your best option.
But if you’re ready to commit that kind of time, then let’s move on to question three!
3. DO I HAVE THE HELP I NEED?
I don’t care how independent you are or how great you are at building. The bottom line is, no one accomplishes anything alone.
Working with a friend, partner, or relative can make building your home much easier. But if you’re relying on someone else, make sure it’s someone you trust. If they have a flaky track record, consider what the project would be like without them. Could you do it alone? On a reasonable timeline?
Even if you’re not relying on someone to be there full time, sometimes you’ll need an extra set of hands. For two-person jobs. For lifting heavy things. For giving hugs when everything sucks.
So spend some time evaluating your support and ask… Is my partner in construction as committed to this project as I am? Will the friends who promise to help really show up when I need them? Do I have enough emotional support to take on a huge project?
If you answered affirmatively, you’re ready for the final and most important question…
4. DO I ENJOY BUILDING?
I considered making the last question, “Do I have the skills?” But I decided that isn’t the best way to gauge readiness.
Yes, building a tiny house is easier if you have construction experience. But in the age of YouTube and DIY bloggers, skill building is public property. Motivation is harder to get at.
So the real question is… Do you like working with your hands? Do you feel at peace when you’re up to your elbows in sawdust and your cheeks are smeared with paint? Does the buzzing of a saw sound like music to you?
If yes, I’m starting to think you can do this.
This is the one I want you to REALLY think about. Because it’s a question I forgot to ask myself before starting my own tiny house project. And if I’m honest, my answer is no.
This has been the single most limiting factor in my build. It’s hard saving money for a project that’s draining your energy. It’s not easy to give up your Saturdays for something you hate doing. You’re not fun to work with if you’re not having fun.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, when things are going well, I love the work. And working closely with my Dad is a bonding experience I’ll always remember.
But I assumed that as my skills grew, I would find true joy in building. Mostly I’ve found tedium and frustration. And where I thought I could rely on motivation, I’ve had to force discipline.
So if you’ve never built anything bigger than a bird box, start with something smaller than a small house.
And if you find your flow with a hammer in hand. If woodwork and tinkering get you out of bed in the morning… Then I think you’re ready to build your own tiny house.