How to Move into a Tiny House
Tiny houses have catapulted to the forefront of housing trends over the past 10 years — look no further than shows like “Tiny House, Big Living.” They show the uncomplicated, inexpensive advantages of living in a home that’s only 100 to 400 square feet. More than half of Americans say they would consider living in a home that's less than 600 square feet, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders. And 63% of millennials said they would adopt a tiny home lifestyle. You may be ready to zip to the forefront of this minimalist lifestyle, especially when considering your budget and thinking about how much house you can really afford. But before you start “living tiny,” learn as much as you can about what preparation, work, and upkeep of a tiny home look like. Follow our guide and learn from real people who own tiny homes as you plan your tiny home move.
In this article
- Financial implications of moving into a tiny home
- What to consider when moving into a tiny home
- Stories from tiny house movers
Financial implications of moving into a tiny homeAdopting the tiny house lifestyle doesn’t just involve building the house itself. You’ll have to consider factors like where you’ll put the home and how you’ll move it — are you going across town or across the country? Here’s a breakdown of costs you can expect whether you tackle the whole project yourself or hire a builder.
CostsThe cost to build a tiny house depends on the details of the structure itself. Costs also fluctuate based on whether you want to build your tiny house yourself or hire a professional. According to The Tiny Life blog, the average tiny house costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to build yourself. The cost goes up significantly if you choose to have a professional build it for you, and can range from $60,000 to $75,000. You can also buy tiny home building kits on Amazon — many are priced under $20,000. For example, you can buy the Allwood Ranger Cabin Kit for $19,900. The Tiny Life offers a breakdown of costs on its website for the average tiny house build if you build your home yourself. Here are a few main costs you need to budget for:
- Tiny house shell: Cost can depend on the size of the structure. Approximately $17,000 (12-foot structure) to $37,000 (28-foot structure)
- Land: Cost per acre depends on the state you live in. Wyoming is the cheapest, at about $1,500/acre. New Jersey is the most expensive, at about $196,400/acre
- Interior finishes: About $500 to $4,000, depending on the details of your tiny home
- Windows: About $500 to $6,000, with prices ranging based on the required customizations
- Appliances: About $400 to $4,000, depending on what you need and the details of your home
- Electrical: About $750 to $3,000
How to finance your tiny houseYou may not have the money to support the upfront costs of building your tiny home, so you’re going to need to get a loan. You can tap into a few options: a mortgage, an RV loan, or even a personal loan. Here are the pros and cons of each:
MortgagesThere’s no good way to get a traditional mortgage for a tiny house. In fact, most financial institutions will not lend money for a tiny house, for several reasons:
- It’s not easy to appraise the home and property.
- Tiny homes are often on wheels (and you’re not supposed to be able to drive your home wherever you want when you have a mortgage).
- They’re not attractive to banks or other financial institutions, as most will only consider a mortgage where they can lend around $50,000.
RV loanIt can be tricky to get an RV loan for your tiny house because they’re traditionally for recreational vehicles (RV). It’s possible to make it happen, though. In order to meet the loan requirements, your home must be on wheels and needs to be certified by an organization like the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, according to U.S. News and World Report. RV loans work much like car loans. Most RV loans are secured loans, which means you put the tiny house up as collateral. Your financial institution can take possession of your tiny house if you stop making payments on your loan. Interest rates for RV loans are usually lower compared to personal loans. Loan repayment can be for up to 15 years.
Personal loanPersonal loans are fixed-interest loans distributed as a lump sum that you can take out to use for any reason — including a tiny house. They’re usually unsecured, which means the loan is issued based on your creditworthiness. They’re not backed by collateral, so you have more freedom as to how you use the loan. A personal loan could be a great option because your tiny home will not be taken away if, for some reason, you fail to repay the loan. Personal loans often have a higher interest rate than other types of loans. They’re largely determined by your credit score, your payment history, and your annual income. It’s a good idea to compare rates from different lenders so you can make sure you’re getting the best rate. Check out banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions for personal loans.
What to consider when moving into a tiny homeBefore you build and move into your tiny house, consider the home’s resale value. Even though tiny homes are currently trendy, they still play by the same rules as traditional homes: The more of a niche the home, the fewer buyers there are for it. Think practically about your tiny home, as it might not appreciate the same way a traditional home might.
Tiny home designThere are hundreds of tiny house plans sprinkled all over the internet. Here are some factors to consider as you choose your design, according to The Tiny Life:
- The cost of the plan
- House weight and towing capacity
- Trailer size (which determines the house’s square footage)
- The number of lofts, or the size of the loft
- The roof type
- Home schematics that outline how to installing pipes and wires and frame the walls
- Dormers, which can add headroom to a sleeping loft
- Maximum height — a tiny house must have a maximum height of 13.5 feet to tow without a permit
- A list of supplies, so you know what you need to build the house
- A list of expected costs associated with the design
For single individuals:These tiny homes are the tiniest. They’re best for single individuals because of their small living areas and bedrooms.
For couples:These tiny homes feature larger, more spacious features, such as a larger loft, more closet space, and functional living areas.
For families with children:If you’ve got kids, you’re going to need more space, whether you include another bedroom, closets, or more living space.
For empty nesters and retirees:You may not want to climb all over your house to reach things when you’re a retiree — that’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you have ample room. Stick to larger tiny house plans to give you more space to move:
For builders on a budget:You’re probably already budget-minded if you’re into tiny living — but if you want to save even more, consider these plans: tinyhouselistings.com to find tiny houses for sale based on price.
AppliancesFurniture and appliance choices for a tiny house can be difficult because everything needs to be compact and fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. When choosing appliances, here are some factors you may want to consider:
- Your budget: How much are you willing to spend?
- Your layout: Will you need stackable appliances or ones that fit into cabinets easily?
- Your power source: Are you planning to live fully off-grid or want a fully on-grid home? In other words, will you connect to a city or town power line or use solar power instead? You may have higher power needs, and that can be tricky. Thirty-amp and 50-amp tiny houses have different electrical capacities, and the number of appliances you can run will vary.
- Your environmental impact: Are you looking to shrink your ecological footprint? If so, you should consider Energy-star certified appliances that are water and energy-efficient.
- Refrigerator: You’ll need to get something compact, like a 4.4 cubic ft. compact fridge or a 7.4 cubic feet apartment fridge.
- Range and cooktop: Consider an apartment-sized gas range that runs on propane or a small and efficient cooktop. You can choose from electric, propane, or induction. If you really want to go off the grid, you could use a solar cooker!
- Heating and cooling: To stay warm, you could go with an electric oil-filled radiator. For cooling, you could choose a small window air conditioning unit. There are also all-in-one options that provide both. You could also opt for a wood-burning stove if you have plenty of access to firewood and have the gumption to split it.
UtilitiesTiny homes can offer you flexibility for electricity, water, or sewer. But first, you’ll need to answer one main question: Will you be stationary or mobile? You can hook up to regular utilities if you’re stationary, and if you’re in the vicinity of another house (your tiny home may be in the backyard), you can keep everything connected to the main house. On the other hand, if your tiny home is mobile, you may have utility hookups similar to an RV. Utilities can cost more than you’d expect because tiny houses require specialized appliances, according to Business Insider. These appliances need to be energy-efficient and compact — factors that can add up. If you live on your own land, you’ll be responsible for:
Changing your addressDo you need a post office box, or do you get a real mailbox? If you plan to move into a mobile tiny home, you might want to get a P.O. box, and if you move into a tiny home that has a permanent foundation, you might consider getting a real mailbox. If you’re moving and planning on staying in a fixed location, you can change your address easily online with the USPS®. We recommend making this change online two weeks before you move, to give the change-of-address form time to process. On the other hand, you might plan to move around constantly — and may want to consider an online mailbox, like Traveling Mailbox. It costs $15/mo. for a basic plan, and you’ll need to complete the USPS® Form 1583. As your mail arrives, Traveling Mailbox scans the front of the envelope, and you tell the company whether or not to open it. The company will then scan your mail in full color and send it to you.
Decluttering and downsizingIt goes without saying that you’ll need to declutter and downsize in order to fit all your stuff in a tiny house — particularly if you’re moving from a regular-sized home. “A small space tends to get messy really fast, so remember less really is more!” says tiny house owner Kelsey McCullough. “Do you really need 10 pairs of jeans, or is four enough?” McCullough says getting rid of the clutter in her life is “really freeing.” “I no longer find myself buying frivolous things that I don't need,” she says, “So my bank account appreciates it too.” Decluttering and downsizing can make your inner Marie Kondo so happy. Here are some tips for inspiration:
- Start slow: Rome wasn’t built in a day, either. Five to 10 minutes of going through your stuff should do the trick.
- Fill up trash bags for donation: Put out a set number of trash bags. Then, pile clothes, toys, knick-knacks — any extra things that you don’t need — into those bags, and don’t stop until you’ve filled them all. Anything that you don’t use regularly might be able to benefit someone else if you donate it.
- Get help from a friend: Have a friend or family member help you declutter. You might think you have a great reason for keeping an item, but your friend might completely disagree. If so, chuck it.
- Fill up four boxes every time you pack: Label each box “trash,” “give away,” “keep,” or “relocate.” Put every item in your house in one of these four types of boxes and get a new set of four boxes every time you fill up the last four.
License and registration – especially if you’re tiny home is mobileZoning ordinances and building codes can be a challenge for tiny house owners — especially for those on wheels. The only legal place a mobile tiny home can stay is at an RV park — and these costs aren’t sustainable. Staying in mom and dad’s back yard can’t be a forever thing, either. Rules and regulations for tiny homes are evolving. Here’s what you need to know:
- Many municipalities are now open to accessory dwelling units (ADUs). This is when a tiny home is added to a property where a conventional house exists. ADUs are only allowed in certain states — and those states also tend to allow tiny house communities.
- The International Residential Code (IRC) establishes specific guidelines for tiny houses. Check these out before you move into or build your tiny home.
- A few communities welcome tiny houses, and some states are more tiny house-friendly than others. Those states include California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Texas.
- You can still apply for a variance through the local planning commission to build outside the existing codes.
- If your small house has wheels, it may fall under the recreational vehicle code. Some local laws don’t allow people to take up permanent residence in RVs, Realtor.com reports.