10 Things You Must Know Before Buying a Tiny House Plan & Start Building

I have looked at 100’s and 100’s of tiny house floor plans, articles, videos and designs with the sole intent of finding the pro’s and con’s of each. Bookmarking things I think will work in my own plans as well as those features or layouts that have serious flaws, or simply do not take full advantage of the space available.

In this process, I started to think more about how various people, of different ages and degrees of health might use a tiny house. This led me to compile a list of what I feel are the 10 most important considerations a person should take into account before they purchase a tiny house floor plan, land or trailer.

10 Important Considerations For a Tiny House Project:

  1. First & Foremost – Can You Live in a Tiny House?
    • You may think you can, but until you have tried it you won’t really know. If you plan to buy a tiny house or build your own quality tiny house, the investment can easily run between $25,000 to $70,000 (for a professionally built unit), this is a sizable sum of money and you want to be sure the tiny house lifestyle is right for you first.
    • I recommend renting a tiny house if you can, or at the very least, a similar sized RV. Not in mid summer, but the off season when you will be indoors more than usual – this is the real test of tiny house living. Spring and summer is easy when you can spend lots of time outdoors, but the real question is, “How much will you like your tiny house in the rainy season or winter when sitting outside is not a reasonable option?” If you rent a unit and are comfortable under these conditions then you are likely a good candidate for the tiny house lifestyle!
    • If there is a spouse or partner in the picture it is also important to plan and design with the needs and expectations of both people in mind.
  2. Is Your Budget Realistic?
    • When looking at plans you’ll need to be realistic about the costs involved. Even if you plan to use recycled materials the costs can still climb very quickly – especially for mobile houses where specialized fixtures and parts may be required (e.g. supplies designed for RV’s or Marine applications).  There is nothing worse than running out of money before you are done and having to let the house sit in the elements for a long period of time. It is better to budget a little higher and wait before building than run out of money.
    • A quick way to determine an approximate budget if you plan to build your own house is to look at the price of units built by professional builders like The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. If they are offering a basic unit at say $60,000, it would be reasonably safe to assume the cost to build would be about 2/3 of the retail price – or about $40,000. Keep in mind this is a quick and dirty way to price out a tiny house but it will give you a rough price and place to start. Anything you can save on using recycled materials could be deducted from that price. If this still fits into your budget, then it will be worthwhile to do a detailed costing of the tiny house plan you want to use.
  3. Trailer Mounted or Permanent Foundation?
    • If you plan to move your tiny house frequently it is a given that a trailer mounted design is best, but plans and size are limited to the trailer you can afford and are able to pull with your vehicle.
    • A permanent foundation offers more flexibility and you can choose a larger plan, add decking, covered decks and add on to a plan very easily. That said, a home on a permanent foundation will likely require permits, inspections and cost more to complete. The upside if you follow the permit and inspection path is that you will easily be able to acquire insurance for your home and sell it for a higher price in the future.
  4. Do You Buy or Build Your Tiny House?
    • As a professional contractor and carpenter I know first hand what is involved in building any type of structure or home. A tiny house is not a small project and involves almost every building skill that is required to build a typical home. There is framing, carpentry, woodworking, electrical, plumbing, roofing, painting and more. If you plan to build your own tiny house you really need to do a personal and realistic assessment of your skill set and what you feel you can do – and do properly. A home built for mobile use needs to hold up under high winds and heavy stresses and most of all – be safe to live in.
    • That said, if you plan to build on a permanent foundation and using permits, the process is more forgiving but you will have to build to code and have each step inspected where required.
    • Resale value is also a factor when building your own tiny house. If you don’t get it right and don’t do a professional job, the amount you can sell your house for, if you decide to, could be far less than the amount you invested in the house. In my opinion, a mobile unit will always sell for less… much like a mobile home depreciates in value. A permanent unit that has been inspected and passed is likely to retain more value and be easier to sell (provided it has a nice design and is in a good location).
    • All these considerations are very real, and building your own tiny house is a lot of work. DIY’ers should double the estimated time they think it will take to build. Experienced carpenters should add 25% more time if this is the first time building these type of units. But, most importantly, if you have any doubts about your ability to do the building yourself, buying a ready-built unit might be a good option. It may cost more but you will have a unit complete and ready to use – and backed by a professional builder, which is a plus if you ever have to sell (or choose to). You’ll also have the peace of mind knowing your house is built safe and backed by a warranty.
  5. Do You Build To RV Specs or Standard Home Construction or Off-Grid – or All 3?
    • While this applies to mobile tiny homes more than those built on permanent foundations, how you build your home, and the fixtures and appliances used, will be critical in relation to your intended use and the locations you plan to use/park your tiny house.
    • If you are 100% certain that you will always park your tiny house where water and electrical hookups are going to be available, then building a self contained unit similar to a RV would be the way to go. However if you feel there is a possibility that you will buy land and setup your house in a permanent location later on, I would build your tiny house with hookups that can be modified in the future to take advantage of permanent water supplies, septic system and power.
    • For example, you could install drain pipe in the floor for a regular toilet and water hookup for flushing ( both can be capped and hidden until needed). For water supply, your design should allow for the required space to install a small pressure tank and related equipment should you need to hook up to a shallow well, water tank or other water source (until then, the space could be used for extra storage). Your electrical system should take advantage of low voltage fixtures and be wired in such a way that if you need to, you can hookup to the grid or your own solar/wind power system – these means making sure you have room for the required equipment in an off-grid system (of course, if you setup in a fixed location you could add a utility room for this but remember that your existing electrical panel will need to be setup and located in your tiny house to make this easy and affordable).
  6. Are There Features You Just Can’t Live Without – or Simply Don’t Want Too?
    • Everyone has certain things that they really want in their home. It might be a cooktop, a particular washer/dryer unit, piece of furniture or small workspace that suits their needs. If there is a feature, appliance or other item that you really want in your tiny house it is important to consider this when viewing plans. How will the item effect your living space? Can the design/layout accommodate it without too many changes? If you have to make a substantial change, does the layout still work for you? If you have certain wants or needs, be sure to verify if and how these will fit any floor plan/design you are considering.
  7. How Big a Trailer Can You Afford & Pull?
    • This is very important! Tiny houses are going to be heavier than a RV of equal size, you are using regular construction materials on a heavy duty trailer and this can quickly add up to 8,000 – 14,000 lbs in dry weight – or more, depending on the materials used. In general, if you plan to go mobile, the longer the house, the greater the weight.
    • Bigger houses require bigger trailers. Heavy duty trailers are not cheap and you will need a rock solid trailer to handle a tiny house – even a small one. This cost should be considered when deciding on a plan and whether to go mobile or permanent foundation. In addition to the extra weight, you will need a truck capable of towing your tiny house and we are not talking compacts here – for an average sized tiny house it is likely that a full sized pickup with a towing package and strong motor/tranny is a must. These are not cheap to buy, run or maintain, and the extra cost should be part of your decision making process when choosing tiny house plans, and if going mobile is an option or not.
    • For additional information on towing a tiny house and specifications, please check out the Tumbleweed Towing Guide Here
  8. What is The Total Height of The Tiny House You Like? Will You Clear That Overpass?
    • For anyone planning on building or buying a “Mobile” tiny house it is important to consider the total height of the house on the trailer. While most overpasses are 14′ or more there are many that are not – and not all are marked! If the design you like is 13′ 6″ you will have to know your travel routes and use caution when approaching tunnels and overpasses. For example, on the California Department of Transportation website, they have a chart showing overpasses that are 13′ 4″ in height. If you were unaware of this and hit one of these overpasses you would be saying goodbye to your new tiny house – and possibly paying the local municipality for some repairs and structural testing! Knowing the total height of a tiny house unit (and travel restrictions on heights) could save you a lot of headaches and extra detour travel in the future.
  9. Insurance – Can You Get Insurance?
    • If you plan to go mobile, getting proper insurance, or any insurance will be tricky and you will likely have to be creative in obtaining insurance (I will write more on this in future posts). There are few sources to insure a mobile tiny house and should disaster strike, on the road, or parked, you could lose everything.
    • With a plan and tiny house built on a permanent foundation using proper permitting and inspection processes, you will be able to insure your tiny house just like any other type of house. The cost of insurance is likely to be much cheaper than a mobile unit as well.
  10. Age & Physical Health?
    • I think it is really important to choose a plan suited to your age and physical condition. If you are getting older, or any age and have physical limitations, you will likely not want a plan with a loft bedroom area if you are going to have trouble climbing a ladder or moving around in a small space. Plans with a stairs to a loft area are an alternative provided you feel they are easy for you to climb. In addition, loft sleeping areas tend to have low ceiling space and this may not be comfortable if you are not in the best of health. In these cases, a plan with sleeping space on the main floor would be a very good option and something to look for in your tiny house plan search.
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