When tiny homes started coming out, by far building them yourself was what everyone was doing. Now that they have been around for some time there are many more options than there used to be. Many builders have seen the need for tiny home builders. They have successfully started companies that specialize in building tiny homes. To do anything in life you need time and money. If you have time then DIY might be your approach. If not, buying could be the best option to get you into a tiny home. Should you build or buy? Look at the following items and ask yourself some questions and you can determine what will work best in your situation.
Build Or Buy – Cost
One of the first thing that people think about when they are deciding to build or buy is what is the cost? Do It Yourself (DIY) will be less expensive. The question is by how much? If you look at just the cost of materials for a DIY vs a professional built model then it will cost 2-3 times more for a professional built model. What most people don’t factor into a DIY build is their time should be worth something as well. There are also added costs of tools and equipment. Another additional cost is having to do something over if you make a mistake.
I recently built a 14’ x 16’ shed. When we started out we planned for and budgeted for $3,000. Like most projects, little things came up and additions got made. We finished for just over $4,000. I know you could plan out a better budget and not see a 30% increase in building cost if you plan it out well but you should plan on at least a 10-15% bigger budget than what you estimate. Things will come up, and it is better to plan for them in the beginning then add them in later and not have enough money to complete your project. .
At Tiny House Giant Journey Jenna shares her cost of building her tiny home. Her cost were $31,160. This included the appliances and was a finished home. She did not include in the breakdown the costs of hired help like for her electrician, plumber, or finish carpenter. Also she didn’t include the cost of tools, paint or other supplies. She estimates her total cost of the home to actually be between $35-40,000. A lot more than most people expect.
DIY Ways To Reduce Cost
There are some things you could do to reduce the cost of your DIY project. One of the big ones would be to use reclaimed or repurposed materials. Check out our article on Tiny Home vs Recreational Vehicle to see how Wesley Birch built his tiny home for only $8,000! It is doable but takes a lot more time and effort to find the materials and things to do it for less. For some people the extra effort is worth the savings.
Another area that can save you money is you can shop around for items like cabinets, windows, doors etc. With a builder you get the price they give you for an item. When you are doing it yourself you can get competitive bids or shop multiple channels to find the best bang for your buck.
If you are going to build on your own, make sure you plan things out well. If you don’t plan well and end up wasting materials and time it can be more costly. By properly planning and being very deliberate about your build you will save time and money.
Buying a tiny home of equal quality will always cost more than if you DIY. There are some definite advantages though. One of those is that it will get done a lot quicker. Most tiny home builders are able to complete a home in 60-100 days. This is compared to most DIY projects that are taking 12-18 months.
Also, when you hire a professional to build your tiny home you know the costs up front. They provide you with a contract, (or should if they are reputable), which will clearly state what your home will include and for how much. Unless you make changes to the design later on in the project the amount you agree to upfront is what you will pay.
There is a huge selection of Tiny Home builders to choose from. They range from some that build only a few models to those that will do complete customization. Some people feel that if they don’t DIY they will not get what they want. That is not the case. As long as you can communicate clearly what you are looking for there are builders who can make it happen.
Finally, an advantage of a professionally built tiny home is that you may be able to obtain financing to purchase it. Places like LightStream lend money for tiny homes, but not if you build it yourself. By being able to finance your tiny home you would be able to get into it quicker. If you chose a DIY project you would have to fund your entire project.
Build Or Buy – Quality
I speak for myself here. When I DIY a project, the quality may not be as good as if I had paid a professional. There may be little mistakes I have to cover up or work around. Personally, I am OK with that. It is a learning experience and none of the mistakes are so bad that they mess up the entire project. Most of the time other people don’t even see the mistakes. I get great satisfaction from having built it myself.
As long as you have or can learn sufficient skills to make sure you are happy with the end result, then there should be no issues with the quality of your DIY tiny home.
Compared to most DIY projects the quality will be better. Realize that a builder has made multiple homes. They have experience with this type of work. They have repeated and perfected the process of building a tiny home.
This isn’t to say that a DIY project would not be a quality build. It is just the fact that if you do something everyday that you are usually better and more efficient at it than someone who is doing it on the side or learning in the process.
You have the opportunity to pick the level of quality that you want in everything from your appliances to your finished carpentry. Usually, the more you pay the better quality you will receive.
There are times when there is some comfort in letting someone else take the liability for the job brings peace of mind. One case that comes to mind is when I had the fifth wheel hitch installed in my truck. Could I have done it myself? Sure. Did I do it? No. I figured that if something were to go wrong I would much rather have had a professional install it and be able to go to them to take care of any problems. If the hitch comes loose and there were an accident or I lost my trailer, I could have gone back to the installer to fix the problem.
A professional builder of tiny homes should be able and willing to make a guarantee that it is suitable for its intended use. If you are buying a Tiny House On Wheels (THOW) it may bring peace of mind when towing it down the road that it was professionally built and is not going to fall apart.
Build Or Buy – Skills
There are tons of resources out there to help you if you decide to build a tiny home. People who did not have any prior building experience have been able to put together their own tiny home. There are workshops and online resources that can help you gain the knowledge you need to complete your tiny home. You could also do like some tiny home builders, and do what you feel comfortable with and then contract out the rest. Things you may want to contract out could be electrical, plumbing, air conditioning or other items.
If you want to DIY you can. One theme that I see in a lot of tiny home owners though is to make sure you are committed if you decide to build on your own. It is a major time commitment and many people have started only to realize that it takes a lot more than they ever thought it would. It is estimated to take anywhere from 400-600 hours for a expert to complete a build to 800-1,000 for a beginner. This could take even longer if you are spending the time and effort to obtain reclaimed materials.
No experience necessary. Your builder will take care of all the necessary requirements, and if needed, bring in subcontractors to complete the necessary work. If you are working with a professional builder it is their responsibility to ensure that everything is completed in a timely and professional manner.
Build Or Buy – Tools
If you are like me and an avid do-it-yourselfer, then you probably already have a pretty good collection of tools. You may or may not need to add a few to your collection to complete a tiny
home. For me, a new project is always a good excuse to buy a new tool or two.
If you don’t already have the tools you will need available, then you need to figure them into the cost of building your tiny home. Some people talk of renting tools. This works if you only need the tool for a day or two. If you are going to need the tool for an extended period of time, renting will cost you more than buying it.
Having a nice collection of tools when you are done building your tiny home is great! It just presents one challenge. Where will you store them in your tiny home?
When you turn your build over to a builder you don’t have to worry about any tools. The builder will have all the tools they need to get the job done. This could save you several thousand dollars over building a tiny home yourself.
Build or Buy – Location
In order to build a tiny home yourself you will need an area big enough for your construction project. If you are building a tiny home on a foundation then the location is obviously predetermined. If you are building a THOW then most likely will not be the final location of the home. As long as wherever you choose to build provides enough room to work around your home it should work.
Depending on where you live, the weather may affect how often you get to build. Your time to completion could be seriously delayed if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Check out this tiny home that 22 year old Thomas Kenny is building in his parents driveway.
Thomas Kenny is building his Tiny Home in his parent’s driveway.
Tiny home contractors have somewhere they can build your home. Many of them have indoor facilities so they can work year round and not be hampered by the weather. They also will know how to place a tiny home to make it easier to work on. Their building site will be optimized for efficiency. Just having the proper setup and the tools available where and when they need to be will save a lot of time.
Build Or Buy – Hybrid Options
There are a few options that are between the DIY and professional built options. The most simple is to buy plans from someone. You can purchase a set of plans fairly inexpensively and they can cut a lot of the guesswork out of your design time. Many will even include a materials list that will let you figure out exactly what you need to purchase to get the job done.
A second option is a kit. There are a few select places out there that will provide you with a kit for your tiny home. When you purchase their kits they come with almost everything you need to complete your tiny home.
Jamaica Cottage Shop sells cabin kits that can work as tiny homes. Close to Home offers a Shelter In A Day option. There is also a company called Arched Cabins that sells a kit. Unfortunately none of these offer a THOW option.
Finally, there are quite a few builders that will sell you a shell, or even fully completed exterior tiny home. Then you are free to customize the interior any way you choose. Some will even rough in the electrical and plumbing for you upon request. Some places that offer shells are: Tiny Heirloom, 84 Lumber has several tiny home kits, Lakeside Tiny Homes USA also offers shells in various sizes.
Any of these can save a lot of time on your build and would be less expensive than buying a turn key home.
There is not right or wrong way to get into a tiny home. You just need to look at your situation and decide what is important to you. Do you value time or money more? Which do you have more readily available? What is your skill set? Could you complete a project of this size comfortably?
This article should have given you enough to think about to really determine which option is best for you. It is becoming more and more popular to have tiny homes built and there are a lot of good options out there.
If you prefer the hands on approach, completing your own tiny home can bring a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. When you are done you will know all of the intricate details of your tiny home and would have the knowledge to perform maintenance and repairs as necessary.
After you make these critical decisions, the last one you have to make is when to start. Once you have your finances in order, you can get started on the next phase of the journey to go tiny. Actually completing the home.
Whether you choose to build or buy your tiny home, the satisfaction of seeing it completed and getting to move in will be an exciting time. Living tiny provides a lot of opportunities that you won’t find anywhere else.