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My $3500 Tiny House, Explained

Meet “Timothy”, the new tinyhouse-style conference room at MMM HQ.

One of the nicest new trends of recent years is really the revival and rebranding of something very old: the smaller dwelling.

Over the last few months, I have built just such a structure, and it has turned out to be a rather cool experience. In fact, I’m typing this article for you from within its productive new confines.

Technically, it’s just a fancy shed. But it is functioning as a freestanding office building, a sanctuary, and would even make a pretty fine little dwelling for one person, if you were to squeeze in the necessary plumbing. It’s a joyful place to spend time, and yet it only took a moderate amount of work and less than $3500 of cash to create it.

The experience has been so satisfying and empowering, that it has  reminded me how much we rich folk are overdoing the whole housing thing.

The latest and most distant Las Vegas Suburbs – still expanding (actual screenshot from Google Maps)

For decades, we have been cranking up household size and amenities in response to increasing productivity and wealth. In the 1940s, the typical US household had four people sharing 1000 square feet, or the equivalent of one large garage bay of space per person. Nowadays, new homes average around 2600 square feet and house only three people, which means each person floats around in almost triple the space. We have also started placing these dwellings in bigger expanses of blank grass and/or asphalt, which separate us further from the people and places we like to visit.

The funny part of all this is that we prioritize size over quality. Houses are sold by the square foot and the bedroom and the bathroom, rather than the more important things like how much daylight the windows let in or how well the spaces all fit together. And we settle for the shittiest of locations, buying houses so far from amenities that we depend on a 4000 pound motorized wheelchair just to go pick up a few salad ingredients.

Meanwhile, smaller houses and mobile and manufactured homes have continued to exist, but they have sprouted an undesireable stigma: those things are only for poor people, so if you can afford it you should get yourself a large, detached house.

My Tinyhouse Dreaming

Ever since my teenage years, I have dreamed of casual, communal living. 1992 still ranks as possibly the Best Summer Of My Life, because my brother and I lived a leisurely existence in the utopian garden-and-forest expanse of our Mom’s half acre backyard complete with swimming pool, fire pit, and pop-up tent trailer.

We lived at the center of small, historic town, with very little for teenagers to do in the summer besides find a way to get beer, and find somewhere to drink it so we could play cards and make jokes and if we were really lucky, find romance. And in these conditions, Mum’s backyard came to the rescue of our whole social group.

People would show up in the morning and just linger and come and go all day, swimming in the pool, grilling up lunches and dinners, playing cards at night or watching movies in the impromptu movie theater I had set up in the old detached garage. There were last-minute multi-person sleepovers every weekend. Leftover spicy bratwurst for breakfast cooked over an open fire in the morning. The fond memories from this early-nineties teen utopia live on in all of us*. So naturally, I have wanted to find ways to recreate that carefree feeling ever since.

According to people who actually study this stuff, the key to a really happy community and warmer friendships seems to be unplanned social interactions: you need to run into people unexpectedly every day, and then do fun stuff with them. To facilitate this, you need to live close enough together that you encounter one another when out for your morning stroll. Smaller, cheaper housing is the key to this, as well as a key to spending a lot less money on isolating yourself from potential new friends.

Weecasa resort (image credit Weecasa)

Need a few real-life examples? Right next to me in Lyons, Colorado, someone (I wish it were me!) thought up the idea of creating a resort out of tinyhouses called WeeCasa. Consuming less space than just the parking lot of a normal hotel, they have a beautiful and now highly popular enclave where the rooms rent for $150-$200+ per night.

Two friends of mine just bought a pair of adjoining renovated cabooses (cabeese?) in a Wisconsin beach town, with plans to create the same thing: a combination of a pleasant and walkable lifestyle with fewer material strings attached, and a stream of rental income when they’re not there.

Another friend built her own tiny house on a flat trailer platform, and has since gone on to live in a beautiful downtown neighborhood, both car-free and mortgage-free except for a small parking fee paid for stationing it in her friend’s back driveway. The monetary impact of making such a bold housing move for even a few years of your youth, is big enough to put you ahead for a lifetime.

Even my neighbourhood of “old-town Longmont” has recently inflated to the point of tiny starter home selling for $500k, for the same reason: people really want walkable, sociable places to live and house size is less important than location. While I’m in favor of this philosophy, I’m not in favor of anyone having to spend $500,000 for a shitty, uninsulated, unrenovated house. So we need a greater supply of smaller, closer dwellings to meet this higher demand.

But that’s all big picture stuff. The real story of this article is a small one – a single 120 square foot structure in the back of one of my own properties right here in downtown Longmont, CO. So let’s get down to it.

The Tinyhouse Conference Room

An interior view of our new workspace.

Nearing its one year anniversary, the “MMM-HQ” coworking space has been a lot of fun to run so far. It has been a mixture of quiet workdays, heavy workouts, evening events, and occasional classes and markets. (We have about 55 members and are looking for a few more, so if you happen to live in Longmont click the link above.)

But with only one big room as our indoor space, some members have felt the pinch of needing a quiet place to do longer conference calls or client meetings.  So the plan has always been to build a couple of new spaces, and at last I have one of them mostly finished. And I made a point of documenting the whole process so I could share any ideas and lessons learned with you.

What goes into a Tinyhouse?

As with any big construction project, I started with a spreadsheet of steps and materials.

Here’s the complete list of steps and materials. You can click for viewing or download an .ods version for tweaking.

To save time, I tried to think ahead and get everything in one order **- most lumber shops will do free or cheap delivery on large orders like this.  Of course, I ended up only partially successful and had to go back for missed objects, but I added those to my spreadsheet so your order can be more complete than mine.

At this point, it was just a matter of putting it all together, an effort which took me about 120 hours (three standard weeks) of work, spread out very casually over the past three months. Most of the work is standard house framing stuff, but just for fun we can step through it in rapidfire style right here.

The Super Simple Insulated Floor

Normally when building a small house, you’d dig a hole and pour a reinforced slab of concrete, as I did for the larger and fancier studio building at my main house. But in this case, the goal was fast, cheap and simple. So I just raked out a level patch of crushed gravel, compacted it with my rusty homemade welded compactor tool (“La Cruz”), and then started laying out pressure treated 2×6 lumber.

Here’s the 12×10 floor platform. Note the little support rails which allowed me to tightly fit in the foil-coated foam insulation between the joists. Most joints are done with simple 3.25″ galvanized framing nails, but I added Simpson corner brackets on the insides of the outermost joists for more strength.

Framing

Once I had those floor joists super square and level (hammering in stone shims under corners and joists as needed), I added a layer of standard 3/4″ OSB subfloor and nailed it down judiciously with the framing nailer to ensure a very rigid base. Then started to make the walls.

I used the floor as a convenient work platform for building the four walls. I built them flat and even added the 1/2″ exterior sheathing in advance, then tilted them up with the help of a friend or two. This method makes for heavier lifting but higher quality, because you get a perfectly straight and square wall almost guaranteed. Plus, it saves time because sheathing is a fussier job to do on an already-installed wall.

Once all four walls were set up and locked in place, I created the roof frame, which is really just a rather large wall. I did this on the ground, but had to compromise and skip the pre-sheathing step even though it would yield better quality, because we needed to keep it light enough to lift. If I had really strong friends or a telescoping forklift like real framing companies have, doing it all on the ground would have been a big win.

Framing and roofing.

A Metal Roof (of course)

I wanted a relatively flat-looking roof, so I cut wedge-shaped 2x4s and nailed them to the tops of the roof rafters before adding sheathing. This results in a slope of only 2%, but with a careful underlayment job and the seamless nature of metal roof sheets when compared to shingles, I have found it is nicely watertight. If in doubt, you can add more slope or use a rubber EPDM roof. The other advantages of metal: longer lifespan, lighter weight, and better protection from summer heat.

Insulation and Siding

Various wall layers revealed, insulation, lights, super frugal wood floor!

On top of those handy pre-sheathed walls,  I added 1″ foil-covered foamboard, then some stained cedar fenceboards to create the reddish exterior you see in these pictures. Although the cedar gets quite a few compliments, it was an experiment I wouldn’t repeat: the boards expand and contract in changing weather and leave visible gaps at times. Next time, I’ll use more wavy metal siding, or something prefinished with an interlocking tongue and groove profile.

Electrical was done exactly the same way you’d wire up a normal house, with outlets and switches in AC Romex-style wiring. But on a tinyhouse like this, you might choose to have it all terminate at a male outdoor receptacle on an exterior wall like an RV or camp trailer, so you can run the whole thing from a good extension cord.

Insulation was just basic batts in this case, but you can use spray foam for even better performance.  I drywalled everything using standard 1/2″ “lightrock” wallboard, hoping to keep the structure weight down in general, in case this thing ever needs to be moved with a forklift.

For lighting, I used these LED lights I found at Amazon at $4.20 per fixture.

The bare drywall stage – one of so much promise.

The Final Touches – Interior Trim, Furniture and Climate Control

At this stage in the construction story, I had something that looked like any other ready-to-finish example of modern house construction, and it was such a happy and familiar feeling. It’s a blank canvas but also a very solid one upon which you can create anything – an office, a bedroom, music studio, living room. Or if you’ve got the pipes for it, a kitchen or even a bathroom with a fancy shower.

Normally by this stage in building a house, you’ve spent at least $100 per square foot, so you can imagine the pleasantly Mustachian feeling I got when I arrived here at about $22.

So to keep the frugal trend going with the floor, I decided to try just smooth sanding the raw OSB with a good belt sander and clearcoating it with this really tough floor urethane. It came out looking pleasant, and is very durable and mud/gravel resistant. But I found the sanding was a slow process – throwing in a basic but attractive engineered wood floor at under $2 per square foot is probably a better idea next time at only slightly higher cost, unless you are building a big enough space to justify renting a real floor sander.

I made my own trim and window jambs by buying three 4×8 sheets of 3/4″ MDF and slicing them up on the table saw. Like the floor, this adds a bit of labor, but the benefit is you can get nice beefy trim in whatever dimensions you like (and even throw in some matching custom shelving and built-in cabinetry!) and save a couple hundred dollars per room.

The portable air conditioner occupies only one shelf.

For furniture, I picked out a mixture of stuff I already had, an Ikea desk frame from Craigslist, and a nifty chairside table from a local big box store.

Finally, I added some simple but effective climate control by just throwing a low cost portable AC from amazon up on the shelf (it vents through a 6″ hole I cut to the exterior). In the winter, I’ll just stash that little air conditioner somewhere and replace it with a silent oil-filled electric radiator for heat.

By plugging either of these machines into a wifi-controlled electrical outlet, I can even control the heating and cooling from anywhere using an app on my phone, as I already do for the various patio lights and ventilation fans I have in my life.

So do YOU want a Tiny House?

The real point of this article is just to share the idea that small structures can be very useful for many things. They are quicker and cheaper than creating a traditional house or building an addition onto one. They may allow you to have a guest house or home office or even an AirBnb rental in space that was formerly just a water-sucking part of your back lawn. Many cities allow you to place small things like this in your yard without requiring a building permit. And if you have the skills to build these things, you can even create an instantly profitable business cranking them out to satisfy the strong demand.

As for me, I’m hooked – later this year I’ll build a second one of these things here at MMM-HQ. And perhaps I’ll even get a chance to help someone build yet another in a tropical seaside location this winter, as part of my ongoing “Carpentourism” habit.

Happy downsizing!

*except my Mum, who still regrets letting so many teenagers run free and attract the ire of the older neighbors and occasionally the police department. Sorry Mom..  but also, thank you so much!

** I also took advantage of the large chunk of spending for a tiny bit of “travel hacking“, picking up an Amex Platinum card that gives me about $1000 of cash/travel credits only if I can spend $5000 within the first three months. For travel hackers, timing the acquisition of a new rewards card to coincide with a chunk of planned spending can be a useful way to squeeze the travel budget into an existing renovation budget.

 

 

  • Steve June 30, 2018, 9:43 am

    Absolutely love it! I took a look when we were there for the meetup a few weeks ago and could easily see its purpose. Since we live in a whopping 200 square feet already, we know firsthand how useful these small spaces can be. All you really need at a fraction of the cost? Sign me up!

    Reply
  • Suvi June 30, 2018, 9:51 am

    So it is a coincidence of course, but still felt slightly creepy even to get a notice about this post while googling through tiny house plans… We live quite moderately as is, but I already dream of a radical downsizing after the kids have left the nest, good thing I have some years left to talk my space loving husband into it. Great and thorough explanatios as always, thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  • Sam June 30, 2018, 9:52 am

    My wife and I moved into an 850 SF apartment and we are loving it. We have a pool, weight room, billiards table, huge TV with cable in the common area. Lots of chances to interact with neighbors every day. Add in renting and not having to worry about maintenance, mowing, or snow shoveling, and this is the life. We should have been doing this since the beginning.

    Reply
  • Derrick June 30, 2018, 9:55 am

    I’ve always loved the feeling of small spaces and how they give you a sense of security. My cousin and I spent an entire summer using a 75 square foot shed as a playhouse and fort. I dream of getting an office like that one day.

    Reply
  • Mack June 30, 2018, 9:55 am

    Nice! Longmont just lowered their restrictions on ADU’s too!

    Reply
  • Kristine June 30, 2018, 10:00 am

    Brilliant idea for any serious Airbnb’ers to get more out of their space! Thanks for sharing the financials. You could easily rent out one bedroom for $50+/night, so this would pay for itself in less than a year!

    Reply
    • Kayote July 5, 2018, 10:27 am

      Though if you are renting it out, you really need a bathroom–which will up the complexity and the cost!

      Reply
  • Norm June 30, 2018, 10:03 am

    This is like fulfilling a dream that I had when I was building my 8×10 shed a few years ago. I’ve never really built anything big, but while putting it together, I realized I could just keep going and turn it into an actual house! It came as kind of a shock, like, “Wait, I think this is how houses are made, too…” I didn’t do it because it was just going to be for storage, but thanks for demonstrating just how easily and cheaply it can be done. Maybe next time.

    Reply
  • Colin June 30, 2018, 10:03 am

    One of my favorite things about Philadelphia is our endless expanse of dense row homes. Ours is just over 1000 ft.² and is more than enough for me and my wife. This morning we spent 10 minutes on our stoop and met a new neighbor and saw five others. We’ve got two grocery stores, both our jobs, multiple bus lines to Center City, and a public pool all in walking distance.

    Reply
    • Abandon Comfort July 10, 2018, 12:59 pm

      Hey Colin, we’re looking at rehabbing a potential Airbnb investment in Philly. Any insights on what areas you like best? We are thinking about northern Fishtown/Kensington area.

      Reply
  • Jacob June 30, 2018, 10:08 am

    Nice! Mind if I ask how you dealt with drainage? In my neck of the woods (very humid), treated 2x6s wouldn’t last long flush with the ground. I could probably use concrete footings though . . . . Anyway, great post, thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply
    • Richard July 1, 2018, 5:17 pm

      I had this same question. Where we live in Australia you couldn’t have wood touching the ground due to termites, if not a heap of other things as well. But I guess a builder would be able to sort something out to avoid this problem.

      Reply
    • Mario July 2, 2018, 6:24 am

      It looks like he raised the platform slightly off the ground with some wedges (pieces of paving slab?) so the wood isn’t in contact with the floor.

      Reply
    • eric July 5, 2018, 6:29 pm

      My question was about the floor too, but I was curious about mice–won’t they chew into and live in the insulation? I’m building a 12×12 treehouse, and I just spent a morning nailing 1/ inch steel mesh onto the underside of the floor…

      Reply
      • eric July 5, 2018, 6:30 pm

        * 1/4 inch steel mesh!

        Reply
  • freddy smidlap June 30, 2018, 10:10 am

    i couldn’t agree more on the joy of running into friends or making new ones just by walking around the neighborhood. when i lived in the french quarter i only drove my little truck about 1500 miles over 2 years and i would just go out the door and find somebody i knew to have a good time. no organization or internet or phone involved, it just always happened.

    i think it’s tough to sand on those space age polymers used to hold OSB together.

    Reply
  • Chris Urbaniak June 30, 2018, 10:18 am

    Well done, MMM! I have a friend who actually did something very similar in his backyard, and now rents it out on AirBnb.

    I really agree with your comments early on about unplanned social interactions. Nowadays it seems that all get-togethers need to be pre-planned. To help combat this, we intentionally tell all of our kids’ friends’ parents to just send their kids over and ring the bell. No pre-planning necessary. I would encourage everybody else to do the same or similar :)

    Reply
  • Fernando June 30, 2018, 10:37 am

    I am curious about the compactor. Can you send/post some pictures of La Cruz? Thanks.

    Reply
  • Nathan June 30, 2018, 10:37 am

    That little thing is sweet! I’ll have to keep this in mind in the future. When my wife and I have kids, we will most likely grow out of our 1000 SF house since I work from home and need office spcace. We probably wouldn’t have to move if I could make one of these though.

    Reply
  • QuittingTeaching June 30, 2018, 10:44 am

    Great build! And what a cost!! Would make a great space for an outside gym also…

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 30, 2018, 10:52 am

      A gym? Hmm.. I guess maybe if you needed a luxurious indoor yoga studio or something. In general, I think exercise is best done outdoors, so we keep the barbells and kettlebells and dip rack in the area right next to this tinyhouse:
      https://twitter.com/mrmoneymustache/status/952250657066635264

      Reply
      • Dylan June 30, 2018, 7:14 pm

        What precautions, if any, do you take to avoid rusting on the equipment? I plan to have a similar setup. I notice you focus on exercises that are the best bang for your buck, similar to your outlook on money.

        Reply
      • Carrie Willard July 2, 2018, 6:20 am

        I recently moved my exercise equipment onto our screened-in backporch. Studies show that exercising outdoors leads to greater happiness boosts, AND, my little kids’ play kitchen and toys are out there, so I can hang with them while they play instead of them annoying me by being underfoot in my bedroom while I try to get my movement in. LOL!

        Reply
  • Paul June 30, 2018, 10:44 am

    Thanks for the article. You mentioned your Co-Working space. I had forgotten about that. Any chance of an article that explains how many members you have attracted, how you set your fees, how you may have had to adjust the fees, what you provide for members?

    I’m considering such a co-worker space in my town, in part to have a place to sponsor seminars on entrepreneurship, online marketing, looking for problems that need to be addressed, and networking our large retired population with people interested in starting a business. Our economy is mainly tourism related service industries; hotels, restaurants, t-shirt shops, etc. Also, construction and some business to business services, but there is no place for the majority of residents to go once they move out of the 8 to 12 dollar per hour jobs.

    Reply
  • bec June 30, 2018, 10:46 am

    We live in a neighborhood built in the ’50s in a 1200 sq ft or so home. We’ve heard many comments from people about what a nice “starter home” we have, and our former real estate agent keeps stopping by trying to not-so-subtley convince us to upgrade. We just roll our eyes. It’s just the two of us now, so it’s more house than we need but we don’t plan to buy something bigger when we (hopefully) have a household of kids. Our neighborhood is slowly becoming more walkable, with a grocery store several blocks away, a few restaurants, and a newly opened community theatre. All this, and our mortgage is manageable. I don’t get the obsession with bigger = better, unless you’re talking about a bowl of froyo or perhaps a hammock.

    I am curious if you had to jump through any hoops with your city to get your tiny house built. Some municipalities seem to be more friendly than others.

    Reply
    • Matthew Huie July 2, 2018, 9:03 am

      In the Seattle area, most cities allow < 200 sq ft "accessory" structures without permit. (Seattle excepting at 120 sq ft). If livable, that's a different story.

      Reply
  • Simplesam June 30, 2018, 10:46 am

    Yes! I’ve always loved the idea of having everything you need in just a few hundred square feet – or even just a couple hundred! It makes you really think about how much stuff you acquire. I live in New York City and I’ve always preferred great location far above square footage.
    Also am really digging your idea for a tiny house community. It could probably work both in a rustic setting, with actual tiny houses, or an urban setting – in a building with small apartments and lots of great common areas.

    Reply
    • Kayote July 5, 2018, 10:55 am

      Or even a sub-urban. In fact, they already exist. In at least two styles!

      My grandparents lived in a trailer park and knew their neighbors well, had a bit of land for a garden, there were activities at the club house, etc.

      There are also areas in towns (at least older towns that grew big) with small houses tucked together (possibly on those half-acre lots that are so rare now but MMM rhapsodizes about). A former roommate bought a nicely laid out 800 sq ft house when she went to graduate school that was well older than she was. It was a delight. It was in walking distance of downtown and the blocks around her had similar sized houses.

      Reply
  • Mr. Financial Freedom Project June 30, 2018, 11:19 am

    Nicely done – those stained cedar fence boards really pop!

    I’m a big believer in prioritizing time and financial security above slaving away to be able to afford sprawling modern housing. While I was in college and for a few years after, I lived in an 800 sq. ft. mobile home on 4 acres. Orchard, garden, vineyard, wild raspberries and blackberries, nature trails, campfire. You name it, I had it. While the outdoor upkeep was no joke, I enjoyed the time in the sun.

    My place became the hangout and crash pad for my college friends, with impromptu bonfires, sleepovers, movie nights, the works. People were constantly coming and going. And like your experience, I too count those years as some of the best of my life. They were simple times, but extremely fulfilling.

    It taught me a valuable lesson regarding the true meaning of happiness – for me, it’s not a huge house, but the time and ability to invest in relationships with others and enjoy the outdoors.

    Reply
  • Lily June 30, 2018, 11:20 am

    Wicked job! WeeCasa looks so adorable, I would love to stay in one someday. Definitely agree with your observation of quantity. “We prioritize size over quality” in pretty much everything Americans do from food to houses to clothes!

    This is a millennial snap back against the Baby Boomers isn’t it? Seriously every generation rebels slightly in their own way! :)

    Reply
  • Troy June 30, 2018, 11:20 am

    The tiny house movement I feel fits in very well with a stoic mindset and lifestyle. For example, my wife and I have a 500 square foot condo in Oahu, but it’s perfect for us….view of the ocean, walking distance to everything we need, and it has a pool. Who needs extra space, it would just end up getting filled with crap anyway.

    Although it is nice to have your own space and not be able to hear your neighbors (or their crying babies), but hey that’s what noise cancelling head phones are for :)

    Reply
  • Nicola Simmons June 30, 2018, 11:21 am

    This is exactly what we are planning for our backyard. Our house is 725sq ft for the two of us. 2 beds, but the second is an office for various side hustles. We want a small cabin as a work space, extra storage and as a “spare room” for visitors. To rent an ADU here, it has to be attached to the main dwelling (weird, island bylaw), which I don’t think we would do. However, if we add a composting toilet outhouse and some kind of outdoor shower, we could rent it discretely to friends of friends. Here it would probably rest on those blocks they use under the legs of decks, just because it’s so wet here in the PNW.

    Reply
  • Troy June 30, 2018, 11:23 am

    Also MMM it sounds as though you are kind of advocating that people live in communes, regarding your “unplanned social interaction” comment, is this something you would see yourself doing in the future?

    Reply
  • Shelley M June 30, 2018, 11:36 am

    Love, love my Mr Money Moustache Saturday morning reading! I am so far from having the skills to build a structure like this but yet find it incredibly inspiring. If you were going to hire someone to construct something in this fashion, any idea what they might charge? Colorado pricing would give me a good idea, although I live in Encinitas, CA within 1 mile of the beach with on an acre lot.

    Reply
  • Mr Shirts June 30, 2018, 11:37 am

    Sweet house! I agree about the need for more tiny houses. It’s absurd to see subdivisions go up then have restrictions on the minimum square footage. It’s all about quality people!

    Reply
  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance June 30, 2018, 12:06 pm

    I’ve been dreaming about living in a tiny home for a long time! I started reading blogs about tiny homes and watching tiny home videos on YouTube.

    I’m not 100% sure if I want to sell our house and move into a small space. But it’d be nice to have it as an option in our backyard. I want it to be a studio with a bed, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a living room. If one day we decide not to stay there, we can rent it out or AirBnB it :D

    Reply
  • The Curious Frugal June 30, 2018, 12:24 pm

    Swoon. Love your tiny house! Our house would be enormous compared to that, but at a very modest 850 SF for myself, my husband and toddler and two cats, we have a much smaller house than most people these days (and smaller than every single one of our friends/family). Some not tiny news is that last week we paid off our mortgage. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet and we still have to celebrate, but our small house was a huge part of that happening.

    Reply
    • Ms Blaise July 8, 2018, 5:22 pm

      congratulations. That is a huge achievement. Well done you.

      Reply
  • Mr. Tako June 30, 2018, 12:25 pm

    There is definitely a need for affordable housing out here on the West coast. Many of the major cities are overrun with homeless. Tiny homes might be a good solution, but it’s not clear to me these kinds of structures are permitted by current building codes.

    Space is still at a premium in major cities, so land is very *expensive*. Building ‘up’ might be a solution for affordability — but then we’ve just built “the projects” again.

    Reply
    • Loydeen mayer July 1, 2018, 8:09 pm

      I am thinking of tearing down a 1944 single car garage and putting a tiny house at my daughter’s home in west Seattle. Did you find the info needed to work with city of Seattle? Thanks for any info

      Reply
      • lhamo July 4, 2018, 5:16 pm

        The current rules for this type of construction (which would be called a DADU – detached accessory dwelling unit) in Seattle are available here:

        http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/permits/commonprojects/motherinlawunits/default.htm

        The city is nearing the end of an environmental review process on a new version of these rules that might make it easier to pursue this type of project. There is a lot of resistance to increased density among many single-family homeowners, though. One of the biggest sticking points is parking — current rules require at least one on-site parking space (street parking in front of the house doesn’t count for the main house, and one space for the accessory unit. And you still have to meet setback rules. A lot of older houses aren’t configured so that this will work, even if the lot size meets the requirements.

        Reply
  • Chad Carson June 30, 2018, 12:32 pm

    It was fun seeing this in person, Pete! Thanks for showing me around.

    I have a similar question to someone above. Would it have been a better solution to put the 2×6 floor-frame on cement blocks to get above the ground? I understand a slab like at your house would have taken more time/money, but wondering if blocks would be beneficial for moisture reduction long run while still being fairly simple to install?

    Also, I can’t agree more on the happiness-boosting benefits of living close to your community and having spontaneous meetups. It was probably the highlight of our 17 months as a family in Ecuador. We met up almost daily with friends, sans plans. And we just walked to each others apartments, to the park, or to a restaurant/pub. It was so awesome, that incorporating it into our future lives wherever we live is priority #1. And tiny houses or just smaller footprints in general are certainly part of the way to make that happen.

    Reply
  • Ms ZiYou June 30, 2018, 12:34 pm

    The new space looks ace, although I’m nowhere near your level of building expertise, I love seeing how these projects come together – you make it look far too easy!

    And here in the UK, I’m just laughing at those house sizes. You must think our houses are tiny when you come over! My 1930s house would be considered large, and is probably about 1200 sq feet?? I can’t work out why America diverged so much – did they want to show off to the old colonial masters that they have more space in the new world than our tiny island provides?

    Reply
    • Carrie Willard July 2, 2018, 6:24 am

      Indeed… the McMansion as status symbol. I personally hate it. I have 7 kids at home (age 3-20), run a home business and homeschool…. because I LIKE being around my kiddos. We live in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home that most people would consider small for a family of 5, much less 9. Even still, the bigs end up spending a lot of time in their rooms and I have to encourage them to come out.

      Reply
    • P Burgos July 2, 2018, 8:36 am

      Doesn’t the UK have greenbelt and other restrictions that severely limit the amount of greenfield development that is the possible in the UK (while also serving to greatly increase the price of land on which one can build)? I have read that the UK has one of the most restrictive legal/regulatory/permitting environments in the developed world (from Economist-y type publications).

      Reply
  • Josh June 30, 2018, 12:39 pm

    I’ve so enjoyed these posts for a little over a year now and found them so helpful! Could you please share a citation about the part of the article that talks about unplanned social interactions with friends? I’d love to read more!

    Reply
    • Anne July 7, 2018, 12:21 am

      Yes! I’d also love to see this article!

      Since moving to the Seattle burbs from Brooklyn, its been so much tougher to have the unplanned social interactions; they’re definitely what I miss most about urban living. I would love to read more about the research on this topic.

      Reply
    • Annamarie Pluhar July 8, 2018, 3:34 pm

      I too came here to ask about research on “unplanned social interactions.” Since I’m advocating for people sharing housing I’d love to know where you got that. Great article – thanks for the detail.

      Reply
  • NateG June 30, 2018, 12:39 pm

    My wife and I built our 900 sq ft palace. 1 bed, 1.5 bath with a loft for guests. No regrets about downsizing.Our utilities are a third of what they were in the old place. So much easier to clean. Walking distance to nearly everything we need. We had to borrow 60k but, fingers crossed, that’ll be gone soon enough. Wish I could post a pic.

    Reply
  • Steve Johansen June 30, 2018, 12:39 pm

    This is the one of the options the Seattle city Council is promoting here for the homeless.
    There are several completed projects now occupied by residents.

    Yours looks to be much more “higher end” than what’s been done here.
    There is also a modular box type house being built at one of the local churches.
    Not sure on pricing, but I’m betting considerably under your budget.

    Reply
    • Steve P. June 30, 2018, 7:18 pm

      Here is a project that my dad built and patented after we volunteered down in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

      This is a reusable temporary home designed to house people after a natural disaster that can be cleaned, disassembled and stored until they are needed again.

      The idea is that it would reduce the waste that we saw from all of the rvs that were unusable after the houses in the area were in habitable again.

      https://youtu.be/TaponSM7ulg

      Reply
      • Gerard July 8, 2018, 8:32 am

        Cool! It looks like the walls are self-supporting. What are they made of?

        Reply
  • Mrs. Sweetspot June 30, 2018, 12:39 pm

    Congrats! Tiny homes our fun. We recently got some land and moved to a 200 square foot RV converted into a microhome. We are also building a “shed” aka the largest structure we can do without housing permits (144 sq ft) which we want to turn into a little cottage. It’s A LOT of work, and I’d be lying to say it’s all fun, but it is very satisfying. I do really enjoy living small. When the cottage is finished we want to make it an Airbnb.

    Reply
  • Michael June 30, 2018, 12:41 pm

    Nice post and thanks for sharing the how-to part, with materials.

    I’ll have to say it kinda sucks reading these blogs when you’re still incarcerate in a downtown office building working the day shift. It’s seems like such a waste of time, but I’m selling my home this year, and plan to give the corporate job the boot with-in the year… it’s been far too long since my summers were my own!

    It seems one key is to live near other friendly, helpful, handy types so you can build projects as a community and then of course they would need to also be free of the corporate job so they actually have a life.

    I first read your blog about 3 years ago, making good progress but plan to make the jump prior to 4PcR.

    Reply
  • Rebecca June 30, 2018, 12:44 pm

    I am so thankful for this article today! I am moving onto my cousin’s property to start a market garden. It is encouraging to know we can build a tiny house for me to live in with out borrowing money

    Reply
  • Accidental FIRE June 30, 2018, 12:51 pm

    Nice man… I wish I was more handy. I’m not the worst per se, but I’m not that great either although I try to capitalize on every opportunity to DIY something or fix something. But sometimes you can give me clear, step by step instructions and I’ll still screw something up.

    I’d LOVE to be able to build something like this, goals…

    Reply
  • Brian June 30, 2018, 1:04 pm

    The mortgage interest deduction and lesser shenanigans by the real estate and banking industries has driven American home sizes higher. Paying $2 to the bank to save $1 on taxes doesn’t work for me, nor does hoping not to get whacked (again) when yet another housing bubble bursts. I’d really like a nice, small, downtown apartment but due to my very wealthy town being run by economic illiterates there’s a shortage of housing and rents are astronomical.

    My housing hack: intergenerational living. Only works if you get along with your family but saves a ton of money. Duplex, triplex, old fashioned manor designed for extended families, old house carved into apartments, etc. It makes it easier for the home to stay in the family too. If I ever have the money to build a house I want to build an old-school English manor. With modern wiring and such of course, in conduit so it can be updated. Bring the tribe together.

    Reply
    • Annamarie Pluhar July 8, 2018, 3:37 pm

      Yes, yes and yes. And if your family isn’t where you want to be, find others you can live with. I’m serious. Where did this idea that we should live alone come from?

      Reply
  • Chuck Albacore June 30, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Do you have any timelapse videos of the construction? I see a camera on a tripod in several shots…

    Reply
  • Aaron June 30, 2018, 1:11 pm

    Very nice!
    Only thing missing is a
    Cubic Mini woodstove for the cooler seasons.

    Reply
  • Nice Joy June 30, 2018, 1:25 pm

    Can you connect that AC unit to a few solar panels?

    Reply
    • 205guy July 9, 2018, 4:12 pm

      I was wondering about that too, seeing that roof all bare. Here is what MMM needs, a solar powered mini-split heat pump. It runs off of DC straight from the panels, no inverter, and this one doesn’t even need an AC connection (you can add one for cloudy/night-time usage). Cooling in the summer, heating in the winter, simple as that.

      http://www.hotspotenergy.com/solar-air-conditioner/

      Reply
  • Matt June 30, 2018, 1:34 pm

    Hey Pete –

    Have you read any of architect Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House books? I think you’d enjoy her philosophical approach of quality over quantity–it was an early reaction against the demands for McMansions. Some of the designs are now dated, but the attitude is not: https://www.amazon.com/Not-So-Big-House-Blueprint/dp/1600851509/

    Also, the concept of co-housing is starting to gain traction as people, feeling communally and, dare I say, spiritually displaced thanks to big houses, big yards, and shitty neighborhoods. Some concepts that resonate with some of the things you mention in your post. http://cohousing.org/

    Reply
  • Shawn June 30, 2018, 1:50 pm

    So cool. And so many good points in the beginning. A lot of the increases in cost of living that we so often hear about these days have been self-imposed, including the decision to move into bigger ans bigger houses.

    http://freedomthirtythree.com/2018/03/24/millenials-biggest-obstacle-is-millenials-themselves/

    Reply
  • Marcia June 30, 2018, 2:21 pm

    I myself have a love for tiny homes and have been reading about them for at least 5 years. One of the reasons? Well, I live in a 1940’s 1100 sf house with 4 people. Tiny houses provide great ideas for living in small spaces. Of course, I live in a place that rivals most for cost of living, so it’s not cheap. It’s also less walkable than it could be (20 walk score).

    One of the things I love about my hood though? Our street has a potluck at the local park every single Sunday. Evenings in the spring/ summer/ fall, brunch in the winter. Talk about getting to know your neighbors! It’s the best.

    One of my neighbors and I were chatting about the crazy housing prices and cost to add on also (what I wouldn’t do for a second toilet, but permitting and costs are looking like $50k+. So, how badly do I need that toilet? Well, we’ve been here 14 years so far…). His house is similar to ours – 2BR, but he’s got 3 kids. His solution? He built a shed in the back yard, and that’s where his teenaged daughter lives. Yes, she has to come into the house to use the bathroom. California has legalized granny flats statewide (which is good and bad…I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of the lack of parking requirements.)

    Reply
  • Rohan June 30, 2018, 2:22 pm

    Great little tiny structure! Tiny houses have become the trend here in NZ too. But mainly to avoid the high cost of actual houses. The ones here a build on trailers to avoid the need for any permits. Unless you build less than 10 square meters, you need a permit to build for such a structure. This wee Jem of a tiny structure is just over at 10.8 square meters (12×10 ft). Putting them on wheels makes it a movable structure- hence no permit. There are even businesses starting up that build them.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 30, 2018, 4:26 pm

      Yeah, it is interesting how in the case of structures, regulation is often holding us back from building what we really need. I wish it were more relaxed in my area too. Like, how about we replace the “building inspection department” with the “building ADVICE department”. A relaxed and super-skilled builder would come out and how to tell you to best create your house or addition, but it would be up to you whether you wanted to follow that advice.

      Reply
      • Fireby35 July 1, 2018, 8:09 am

        If only there were a civic minded, independently wealthy person with enough time to attend city meetings and say stuff like that….

        If the city officials never hear such a suggestion from a real live person, how could they know to implement such an idea?

        Go get’em.

        Reply
      • Margaret July 6, 2018, 1:11 pm

        YES! In my perfect world you would be able to apply and receive some kind of ‘Gold Star’ when you have followed he currently mandated regulations with a voluntary approach.

        I am just finishing my own tiny house which I will use as overflow sleeping at my summer cabin. 106 square feet which is maximum that does does not require building permit here. Bed nook is cantilevered out of one side but not floor space so does not count,

        Roof framing is highly original in order to accommodate one bump out and one cantilever under a single gable roof. I figured it out myself and ran the concept past structural engineer friend of mine. Although irregular- if anything structure is overbuilt.

        Total cost of the structure so far is less than $800. I have used almost entirely used materials discarded by others. Some wood I have had milled from trees on the property Some windows (there are 9) i was able to dumpster dive for. Others I built from scratch or built frames from panes. Purchases have been cement to mix with sand and gravel for foundation and shingles for the roo-and a guy to install the roof,

        As an almost 60 year old woman who is self taught I am very proud of this structure I have designed, sourced material for and built almost on my own for under $800..

        Reply
      • Michael July 6, 2018, 4:28 pm

        For most of us here this probably makes a lot of sense, but if you have ever been to a 3rd world country you will see people building a home out of tin and cardboard boxes. When living in CA a few years back I heard someone complaining of these types of homes going up for migrant workers. It’s not something you want to see in a nice neighborhood, if you live there.

        But maybe they could get rid of the fees and just have a skilled pro come out and make sure everything is legit, that or let a person prove they know how to build and then give them a lifetime permit for small projects.

        Reply
      • Catherine July 17, 2018, 11:44 am

        The “building advice dept” exists. It’s called an architect.

        Reply
  • Keith June 30, 2018, 2:27 pm

    Did I miss the inspection/ building permit fees? Or is that unnecessary for this type of structure?

    Reply
    • Marcia June 30, 2018, 3:59 pm

      Prob depends on the location, size, and neighbors. For example, our 8×10 shed didn’t require any kind of building/ permit fees – below the size needed.

      And our neighbor put a shed up in the back to use as an office. It’s quite a bit bigger, and right up against the fence line. But…we weren’t going to say anything about it. Doesn’t bother us at all.

      Reply
      • Florida Mike June 30, 2018, 7:06 pm

        Yep, all based on location. Most building codes allow accessory structures up to 150 sq ft. But here in Florida, something like the tiny house\office would be arduous to permit as you would need engineered plans, etc. And many zoning codes would prevent it on the same lot as the house without a variance. It could all be done but with a lot of red tape, hoop jumping.

        Reply
  • Ang June 30, 2018, 2:38 pm

    I’m getting ready to start a tiny home project on my property for guests. I think I’m sticking with a 10×12 with space for a loft bed. The cost breakdown really helps.

    Reply
  • Daniel Tavelli June 30, 2018, 3:37 pm

    What about using a mini split for heating and cooling? Is it too small to justify one?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 30, 2018, 4:23 pm

      That would be the fanciest and best option. A bit more costly to buy and more work to install, but then you get the quietest form of cooling, plus more efficient heating. I am planning to install exactly this type of mini-split on the main building this year.

      Reply
  • Rod June 30, 2018, 3:45 pm

    If you’d like to build one in my backyard in Tampa, FL this winter for some carpentourism please let me know!!

    Reply
  • Jon Sharpe June 30, 2018, 4:10 pm

    Love it! I’m embarrassed to admit that we live in a small mcmansion (wife, 2 kids, and the dog) in the Philly suburbs. We’re in a great school district and it’s close to work, but I dream of retiring to a much smaller place in walking distance to daily necessities. Well done!

    Reply
  • The Vigilante June 30, 2018, 4:38 pm

    Those unanticipated social interactions were the best part of the college life, and something my wife and I aspire to return to ASAP! Even without any other definable life change or any definable significance to any one meeting, just the excitement of random run-ins and spontaneity adds so much value and happiness to life! Made me value every day I had more than any other time in life by a considerable margin.

    Reply
    • The Curious Frugal July 1, 2018, 7:55 am

      I completely agree! Most of my close friends all lived within a small radius back then. We would run into each other all the time! Now those same university friends are spread out all over north america. I’m starting to get that community feeling again where I live now. Part of it is the neighbourhood we live in for sure but part of it has been having a social baby/now toddler! :)

      Reply

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