The decision to forgo a traditional apartment or house and live in a tiny house is a big one, requiring dramatic changes in lifestyle that could mean a significant decrease in your cost of living. However, tiny houses aren't always cheap, and building or buying one may cost more than you would expect.
The average home on TinyHouseListings.com was about $45,400, based on more than 1,300 tiny houses listed for sale in the U.S. and Canada on the site in June. What qualifies as a tiny home varies widely, though, as tiny houses can include everything from a partially completed truck-trailer conversion to a professionally designed tiny home built on a foundation.
Luxury mobile tiny homes can reach more than $100,000, while some individuals manage to spend less than $10,000 building an off-the-grid tiny house that stays in one place. If you’re looking to own land that you keep your tiny house on permanently, factor in that cost separately and consider additional costs like access to utilities, including water, gas and electricity.
A tiny house will continue to need maintenance and the occasional repair, just like a traditional house or even a car, so don't forget to factor in those costs.
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Here’s what you can expect to pay for your tiny house, whether you’re building it, buying it or maintaining it.
The Cost to Build or Buy a Tiny House
The choice to buy a new, professionally built tiny house, a used tiny house or the materials to build one yourself will have the biggest impact on your wallet. New, professionally designed and built tiny houses can cost anywhere from $45,000 to $150,000 or more, depending on size and amenities.
You may be able to save on a professionally built tiny house by purchasing it used from an owner. But like buying a used car, consider the potential for deferred maintenance and customizations that may not appeal to you.
You’ll be able to cut out the cost of labor if you build the tiny house yourself. “As a general rule of thumb, when you see a house that’s $80,000, $100,000 (or) $120,000 by a builder, you can say that roughly 50% of that is going to be a labor component, and the other 50% is materials,” says Chris Schapdick, owner of Tiny Industrial, a tiny house building company based in New Jersey, and author of the upcoming book, “Building Your Tiny House Dream: Create and Build a Tiny House With Your Own Hands.”
Where You Want to Spend More on a Tiny House
Whether you’re building your tiny home or hiring a professional, there are a few details you’ll want to pay particular attention to prior to construction to ensure that the structure will be safe and secure.
If you plan to make your tiny house mobile, the trailer that the home is built on is the most important factor. “The foundation of any building is always critical,” says Dan Dobrowolski, founder and CEO of Escape, a tiny home builder based in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. You want a trailer that’s designed to carry a structure like the one that will be built on it – old, rusted trailers will just lead to problems down the road.
The exterior structure must also be well built, like any house, but with the added obstacle that it must be able to withstand traveling at fast speeds if you’re building your home to be mobile. “Make sure the outer walls, the construction is built tough,” Dobrowolski says.
Some materials might not be right for your project. For example, “a shingle roof is not good for a tiny house because it doesn’t hold up on the highway,” Schapdick says, adding that a thick metal roof will ensure it will be durable for travel.
Inside your tiny house, the kitchen and bathroom are often the costliest areas, just like in a traditional house, Dobrowolski says.
You can opt for smaller versions of appliances and fixtures, but the plumbing and electrical work will cost roughly the same as in a traditional house. If you’re building your tiny house yourself and don’t feel confident about doing this kind of specialized work, you may be better off hiring professionals for the plumbing and electrical work. Licensed electricians and plumbers typically charge between $45 and $200 per hour, depending on the company and where you live, according to HomeAdvisor.
Where You May Save on a Tiny House
There are still areas you can save on your tiny house. If you don't need your tiny house to be built by a certain deadline, Schapdick says you can save on the cost of materials by shopping around. Instead of buying lumber from Home Depot or a local hardware store, a DIY builder looking to save could keep an eye out for lumber listed for sale or for free on Craigslist, or even ask a site manager on a nearby construction project if there’s any surplus wood.
You can also furnish your tiny house with thrifted furniture and items you already own to help offset the added costs of a better-equipped trailer, for example.
Design decisions can also help you save money after the space is complete and ready to live in. Dobrowolski recommends using 12-volt power for the lighting and fixtures, as opposed to the 120 volts that are standard in most traditional home outlets. This saves on power use, makes plugging into power at a campsite or RV park easier and cuts down on utility bills if you live permanently in one spot.
“You can run almost the whole building on a battery you would use in a flashlight,” Dobrowolski says.
The Cost to Maintain a Tiny House
When a tiny house is built correctly, necessary maintenance shouldn’t break the bank. “Ongoing maintenance is no different than your house, other than it’s a smaller package,” Dobrowolski says.
Have your heating and cooling system serviced annually like you would with an HVAC system in a traditional house to avoid major problems on the hottest and coldest days of the year. Keep an eye out for areas around windows and doors where you may find air leakage to avoid higher energy use, and follow regular maintenance guidelines for appliances like your water heater, stove and plumbing.
If you’re building your tiny house yourself, Schapdick notes that you may find you’re better set up to maintain and repair the home over months and years of use because you developed the skills during the building process. “You have very intimate knowledge of where everything is, and you have a better grasp of how everything works because you had a part in putting it together,” he says.
Embrace the small-town life.
For many, the big city just doesn’t cut it. The fast pace, noise and density of a major metro area sends some of us in search of more land, quiet evenings and uncrowded streets. But how do you find a small town that offers all that plus job opportunities and a welcoming community? Here's a look at the fastest-growing small cities in the U.S. with between 1,000 and 50,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 estimate, the most recent full data set available. Almost every destination on this list has doubled its population size between 2010 and 2018, and each offers enticements such as affordability, job opportunities and perks for families, including inviting communities, unique local attractions and access to larger metropolitan areas.Vineyard, Utah
2010 Population: 139
2018 Population Estimate: 10,052
The town of Vineyard is located close to Orem and Provo on the eastern shore of Utah Lake, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. The Geneva Steel Mill that defined the area starting in World War II closed in 2001, and following that the town made significant efforts to clean up the mill area and make it safe for people to work and live. New development has focused on both commercial properties and residential neighborhoods, helping grow the population beyond 10,000 people in just eight years. Vineyard today is not just a quiet place on the outskirts of larger cities, but a self-sufficient town in its own right.Fulshear, Texas
2010 Population: 1,134
2018 Population Estimate: 11,990
Located on the outskirts of the Houston metro area, Fulshear was incorporated as a town in 1977 but didn’t see its population surpass 1,000 until the 21st century. With an estimated population of nearly 12,000 as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fulshear has benefited from the growth and expansion of the Houston area. Fulshear’s local government website points to local attractions such as hiking and biking trails, vineyards and even spots to see alligators in their natural habitat. While housing and commercial developments continue to bring people to the area, Fulshear appears to maintain its small-town feel, with local grocery stores and family-owned restaurants.Timnath, Colorado
2010 Population: 625
2018 Population Estimate: 3,992
About an hour’s drive north of Denver, the town of Timnath has long been home to residents who primarily work in farming and agriculture. Its short Main Street is reminiscent of many classic small towns, complete with local shops and restaurants, a post office and the elementary school a few blocks away. However, the growth of Fort Collins, located less than 10 miles from the center of Timnath, has led to expansion in nearby towns as well. Walmart and Costco now have locations with Timnath addresses, which not only brings people who aren’t Timnath residents to the area regularly, but also benefits those looking to live farther out but still enjoy the retail options of a larger metro area.Watford City, North Dakota
Watford City, North Dakota
2010 Population: 1,744
2018 Population Estimate: 7,080
If you’re looking to be far from the hustle and bustle of a major city, North Dakota is a good place to start, and Watford City may be the right fit for you. Watford City has seen its population grow due to the North Dakota oil boom, and city officials have focused on creating the infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of people moving to the area for work. The city’s website even offers a relocation guide to help introduce new residents to local businesses, resources for getting a mortgage and finding a real estate agent, local clubs and workforce training options.Granville, West Virginia
Granville, West Virginia
2010 Population: 781
2018 Population Estimate: 2,590
Located along the Monongahela River and across the water from Morgantown, Granville has seen its population more than triple since 2010, thanks to its development of a major shopping center that caters to residents living throughout Monongalia County. The University Town Center area in Granville includes a Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, national chain restaurants, hotels and apartments that draw people to the town for a few hours, as well as to live permanently. Locals can root for the West Virginia Black Bears, a minor league baseball team that calls Granville home.Whitestown, Indiana
2010 Population: 2,867
2018 Population Estimate: 8,627
Whitestown benefits from its proximity to Indianapolis, making it easy for people to live on the outskirts of the metro area and commute into the city for work. Whitestown describes itself as an "ag-urban" community, noting its location near farmland, retail and businesses. While small towns often offer a lower cost of living compared to major urban centers, Whitestown residents benefit from Indianapolis’s affordability as well: Indianapolis ranks No. 7 on the U.S. News list of Best Affordable Places to Live, requiring just 20.72% of the area median annual household income to cover the cost of living.Cave Springs, Arkansas
Cave Springs, Arkansas
2010 Population: 1,729
2018 Population Estimate: 4,970
Cave Springs is another small town seeing its population grow along with a nearby metro area. Just a 15-mile drive from Fayetteville, Cave Springs also benefits from its proximity to Interstate 49, which can take you north into Missouri or south into central Arkansas. Fayetteville residents have easy access to outdoor pursuits and can enjoy local fishing and hiking trails at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. A quick trip to the Ozarks is also possible as well, requiring roughly a two-hour drive each way.Thompson's Station, Tennessee
Thompson's Station, Tennessee
2010 Population: 2,194
2018 Population Estimate: 6,114
Named for the railroad station built in the town in the mid-19th century, Thompson’s Station has had residents living in the area since the 1700s. The small town is located 25 miles south of Nashville, making it a more rural and less expensive option for those who work in the city. The storied history of Thompson's Station also attracts visitors who come to see evidence of the first European-American settlers in the late 1700s and the Civil War battle fought in the town. Thompson’s Station maintains the former pasture where the battle took place, which is named Preservation Park.Dripping Springs, Texas
Dripping Springs, Texas
2010 Population: 1,788
2018 Population Estimate: 4,667
If you love all that Austin offers but would like an escape from the hustle and bustle, Dripping Springs may be the right choice for you. This tiny town had a population of just 1,788 in 2010, and has seen more than 160% growth as of 2018. Still, with a population below 5,000, you can expect more space between houses and plenty of outdoor activities nearby in the Texas Hill Country. One of Dripping Springs’ best-known attractions is Hamilton Pool, part of a natural preserve and widely hailed as one of the best swimming holes in Texas. To keep Hamilton Pool from overcrowding, visits are by reservation only.Liberty Hill, Texas
Liberty Hill, Texas
2010 Population: 967
2018 Population Estimate: 2,433
Another small town in the outskirts of the Austin metro area, Liberty Hill has grown to 2,433 residents from the 967 reported in the 2010 census. With the official tagline “Freedom to Grow” on the city's website, Liberty Hill is home to annual activities aimed at attracting visitors and giving locals the small-town feel with an artsy edge. It hosts a Christmas festival that includes a parade and gathering of food trucks as well as a hot air balloon and sculpture festival that brings in artists and balloonists from around the world. The local Lion's Foundation Park, which is privately owned, is home to a sculpture park for the public to enjoy.Valencia, Pennsylvania
2010 Population: 551
2018 Population Estimate: 1,380
With a population of just 1,380, this Pennsylvania borough is the smallest town on the list. Valencia is located in the western part of the state, about 20 miles from Pittsburgh. What appears to be giving more people a Valencia address is the development of new residential neighborhoods that have drawn people to the area. With the development combined with the town's rural setting, residents can enjoy living in a new house and still benefit from living in a tiny town.Fruitland Park, Florida
Fruitland Park, Florida
2010 Population: 4,078
2018 Population Estimate: 10,122
Located in the center of the state, Fruitland Park isn’t coastal, but it offers ample access to local lakes, rivers and ponds. As Florida continues to see more and more people moving to the state, homebuilders have been answering the call for more housing, and it appears Fruitland Park is seeing its population grow as a result. National homebuilder Maronda Homes has developed a community called The Glen in Fruitland Park, noting that it's close to a few small cities including Leesburg and is roughly an hour's drive from Orlando.Annetta, Texas
2010 Population: 1,288
2018 Population Estimate: 3,176
The town of Annetta is about a half-hour drive west of Fort Worth, where residents can commute for work. Neighborhoods in Annetta tend to be sprawling, with large front yards and few houses built close together. The number of homes with pools in the backyard can be both a testament to the wealth of Annetta residents and to the heat, as locals will do anything they can to stay cool during the sweltering summers.Prosper, Texas
2010 Population: 9,423
2018 Population Estimate: 22,358
With a population of less than 10,000 in 2010, Prosper is now home to more than 22,000 residents, making it the largest small city on this list to see its population more than double in an eight-year period. Located in the northern edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, Prosper appears to be living up to its name. While the older downtown area of Prosper looks like a standard Texas small town, complete with small storefronts and silos visible in the distance, much of Prosper’s geography is characterized by developed residential neighborhoods nestled alongside farmland.McLendon-Chisholm, Texas
2010 Population: 1,373
2018 Population Estimate: 3,200
East of Dallas is McLendon-Chisholm, which remains a largely rural town with an increasing number of residential subdivisions in development. Homes on the market in McLendon-Chisolm are sprawling, with plenty of bedrooms for a growing family – or one that expects to host a lot of visitors. You can find existing homes and new-construction options for less than $300,000, but larger houses climb to $950,000 on the local multiple listing service. Don’t expect much of a traditional Main Street in McLendon-Chisholm, however, as the area appears to remain largely agricultural and residential.Buda, Texas
2010 Population: 7,295
2018 Population Estimate: 16,449
One Texas town with plenty of charm is Buda, located about 15 miles south of Austin. Buda has many big-city attractions and amenities, with events like a “sip and stroll” featuring wine tasting while shopping, and “First Saturday,” a monthly event to encourage local shopping, with live music, sales and food and drink offerings. Buda also touts itself as the “outdoor capital of Texas,” with 13 parks and natural areas in town offering fishing, playgrounds, pavilions, skate parks and more.Fate, Texas
2010 Population: 6,357
2018 Population Estimate: 14,206
Fate is located northeast of Dallas and has seen similar growth by way of residential development. Fate's population has increased by nearly 8,000 people between 2010 and 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many parts of Fate remain rural, however, and it’s reasonable to expect more people to continue to move to the area seeking housing and quieter options than suburban cities closer to Dallas.Manvel, Texas
2010 Population: 5,179
2018 Population Estimate: 11,535
Manvel in located within the larger Houston metro area, south of the city itself. Manvel doesn’t offer much by way of a self-sustaining downtown, but its growth is largely due to the development of master-planned communities in the area. With a large commercial area in nearby Pearland that includes a Target, Costco and outdoor mall, Manvel residents don’t have to travel more than 15 minutes by car to get everything they need at home. The more developed suburbs with office, retail and industrial businesses nearby make for an easy commute if you live in Manvel; otherwise, it takes just half an hour to get to Houston.Manor, Texas
2010 Population: 5,037
2018 Population Estimate: 11,173
Outside Austin, Manor is seeing new housing developments like many of the small towns on this list. But it also has older neighborhoods closer to the center of town, with closely built houses and locally owned businesses a few blocks away. National retail and fast food brands like Walmart and Starbucks also reflect the continued growth of the area. Manor is a certified community in the Film Friendly Texas program, which means locals can receive film industry training and job opportunities, and the media industry can take advantage of incentives that make it easier to film in the town.Hardeeville, South Carolina
Hardeeville, South Carolina
2010 Population: 2,952
2018 Population Estimate: 6,515
Located just north of Savannah, Georgia, Hardeeville is just a 30-minute drive to the coast. But people seeking easy access to water don’t even have to go that far, as the Savannah River runs along the western edge of Hardeeville and is popular for fishing and boating. Hardeeville is a part of the Hilton Head Island metro area, which is both a major vacation spot and a permanent destination for people seeking warm weather and proximity to the ocean.Melissa, Texas
2010 Population: 4,695
2018 Population Estimate: 10,199
With a population over 10,000 as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate, Melissa is located on the northern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Residential development has helped bring more people to Melissa, which offers a small-town atmosphere and proximity to a major city. The city's parks and recreation department and neighborhood development office work closely together to help residential development go hand in hand with increased access to public outdoor spaces.Lincolnville, South Carolina
Lincolnville, South Carolina
2010 Population: 1,139
2018 Population Estimate: 2,451
This tiny town outside Charleston was founded by seven former slaves following the end of the Civil War, and consists of just a couple dozen blocks despite its growth in recent years. Population growth throughout the entire Charleston metro area is likely a contributing factor in the population growth in Lincolnville. Formerly wooded areas in Lincolnville are now being developed with single-family homes, and vacant land is on the market throughout the small municipality, making it likely that more new development will happen. Larger subdivisions with even greater numbers of houses have also popped up along the edge of Lincolnville in nearby Summerville.Rolesville, North Carolina
Rolesville, North Carolina
2010 Population: 3,786
2018 Population Estimate: 8,111
On the outskirts of the Raleigh and Durham metro area, Rolesville has grown to a population of more than 8,000. While Rolesville was once primarily agricultural land, much of the municipality has since become a grouping of many large master-planned communities and developed neighborhoods. Different communities within Rolesville are designated by name, including Hampton Pointe, Carlton Pointe, Wall Creek and Granite Falls. Rolesville still offers small-town charm, however, with local shops and businesses located on Main Street and a city park within a couple blocks.Duck Hill, Mississippi
Duck Hill, Mississippi
2010 Population: 732
2018 Population Estimate: 1,558
One of the smallest towns on this list, Duck Hill has seen its population grow from 732 to 1,558 in an eight-year period. The small, rural town has long been prone to flooding, but efforts by the city and local residents have begun a sustainability effort to slow down the flow of water, reduce flooding and add green infrastructure to the town, according to a May article from The Daily Yonder, a news source focused on rural America. The efforts of the town have created job opportunities and training for those looking to build a more sustainable community.Brookland, Arkansas
2010 Population: 1,642
2018 Population Estimate: 3,491
Located between the larger towns of Jonesboro and Paragould in the northeast corner of Arkansas, Brookland has more than doubled in population since 2010. The southern end of the town is being transformed into new housing developments that make it easy for people looking to live in a more rural setting while still being close to the highways that bring them just about anywhere. There's just a handful of restaurants in town, so expect to travel to Jonesboro or Paragould for an evening out.Great small towns to live in the U.S. include:
Great small towns to live in the U.S. include:
- Vineyard, Utah.
- Fulshear, Texas.
- Timnath, Colorado.
- Watford City, North Dakota.
- Granville, West Virginia.
- Whitestown, Indiana.
- Cave Springs, Arkansas.
- Thompson’s Station, Tennessee.
- Dripping Springs, Texas.
- Liberty Hill, Texas.
- Valencia, Pennsylvania.
- Fruitland Park, Florida.
- Annetta, Texas.
- Prosper, Texas.
- McLendon-Chisholm, Texas.
- Buda, Texas.
- Fate, Texas.
- Manvel, Texas.
- Manor, Texas.
- Hardeeville, South Carolina.
- Melissa, Texas.
- Lincolnville, South Carolina.
- Rolesville, North Carolina.
- Duck Hill, Mississippi.
- Brookland, Arkansas.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.