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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.

 

 

  • Anonymous June 30, 2018, 4:56 pm

    These tiny homes are called ADU out here in San Francisco Bay Area. We are building one to mainly subsidize our mortgage.MMM if you have any open slots for doing a carpentourism out here in east bay .. it’s near perfect weather (never need an AC)..

    Reply
  • scott June 30, 2018, 7:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing the details of your tiny house. We have been thinking about visiting Weecasa. A tiny home might be the only way we could ever afford to live in Colorado. There is an interesting HGTV tiny home show (we’re watching it on hulu) for anyone looking to learn more. In fact, a couple of Longmont guys were featured in one of the episodes.

    Reply
  • Kim June 30, 2018, 8:42 pm

    What do you do about a bathroom though if you are airbnbing one of these things out?

    Reply
  • steve poling June 30, 2018, 10:34 pm

    You said, “smaller houses and mobile and manufactured homes have … sprouted an undesireable stigma: those things are only for poor people…” And this got me thinking: What are the relative advantages of buying a tiny-house versus buying a mobile home? The stigma is real, but I’ve learned that “egotrage” can save a ton of money. I haven’t stepped into a mobile home park in almost 40 years, but I suspect it’s not a bad fit for Mustachians. What am I overlooking?

    Reply
    • WanderingWhitehursts July 6, 2018, 5:21 pm

      I think you are right, Steve. There are a lot of similarities in a mobile home park or RV park and what MMM discusses here in social interactions, small spaces, time spent outside, etc. But two things come to mind regarding trailers and RVs vs tiny homes. The first is build quality. Even higher end trailers, and especially RVs (motor home and trailer style) depreciate with a ferocious pace, largely due to the reality that they only last so long. A 20 year old traditional home I would consider relatively new, perhaps in need of updated appliances, roof, paint, flooring and the other usual projects people take on. A 20 year old trailer is considered ancient (by my standards) and can be a nightmare of issues, mostly associated with possible water damage. A tiny home permanently placed on a lot should appreciate with the underlying land value.

      Back to living in mobile home parks… They vary in quality. Nicer ones tend to be more expensive… $1000 and more per month just to rent the spot not including mobile home ownership. And you are at the whim of the land owner selling and you left with needing to relocate your trailer (less likely to happen in a nicely managed operation). Not a small inconvenience. Most mobile home parks, though, are designed to maximize revenue. This is done, unfortunately, by increasing tenants per sqft. Concrete lots with no amenities and older trailers crammed together… What most people think of when it comes to mobile home parks, remain the typical arrangement. It’s highly unpleasant and tenants tend to have no sense of respect for the very place they live. Calling people “trash” happens for a reason. This is how they treat themselves and their home.

      As a full-time RVer, the few unfortunate occasions that I’ve stayed at combo mobile home/RV have always reinforced my desire to avoid those poorly kept low income parks. The ones worth staying at tend to be more expensive than I usually prefer to spend.

      But really, if you might be interested in living in that sort of arrangement, take the time to look at what is available in your area. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

      Reply
  • Stephen B. July 1, 2018, 5:38 am

    About that portable air conditioner is that I would caution to buy a 2-hose unit instead of the 1-hose pictured. What do I mean by that? Well, the 1-hose unit you have sucks air conditioned air out of the space to cool the condenser and then vents the air outside. By doing so it depressurizes the cooled room and creates all kinds of warm drafts of outside air necessary to supply the makeup air to the unit. The loss of cooling capacity is substantial, especially so in the East where humidity also comes in on that make up air. I don’t know if the cooling BTU ratings of such units take this into account, but I think not and the unit ends up using far more electricity and performs much worse than the rating numbers would lead one to believe.

    Much better are the 2-hose units that bring air in from outside to cool the condenser. These units do not suck all the cool air out of the room. I converted an older 1-hose unit to a 2-hose by building an air box on the back of the unit and running the box to a second air hose, but from what I’ve seen, most newer 1-hose units have a wrap-around condenser air intake that makes adapting an air box the way I did impractical. ‘Better to buy a 2-hose unit from the get go:

    https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_11?url=search-alias%3Dgarden&field-keywords=2+hose+portable+air+conditioner&sprefix=2+hose+port%2Cgarden%2C196&crid=9N4S415BX4XW

    Reply
  • Samuel Mandell July 1, 2018, 11:37 am

    I just finished my first ever construction project (a chicken coop in Montana), and now I’m hooked.

    I love the number of windows you put in the place. Also when I was looking at the pictures I was like “what are those large black discs… ohhhh… #crossfit”. :)

    Reply
  • David Houston July 1, 2018, 1:56 pm

    Shouldn’t there be more of a slope to the roof in case there’s a large snowfall?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 1, 2018, 3:18 pm

      That’s a good question!

      In super snowy climates (like mountain ski resort towns), you can get so much snow (and sustained cold temperature) that it just builds up to 10 or 20 feet of depth over a winter. In this case, you need enough steepness to shed the snow, or enough strength to hold that much snow.

      Everywhere else, if you see houses with mildly sloped shingle roofs you know they are not depending on snow sliding off. My area is one of those – we generally have snow-free conditions in winter, with only occasional storms coming through which will soon melt away.

      Reply
  • Art July 1, 2018, 2:20 pm

    I am reposting an entry I made in the forum about a year ago, which is particularly relevant to this new post.

    I am doing a little research. I own a 1942 two-bedroom, one-bath 900 square foot home I purchased in 1999. I live in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, where many houses similar to mine were constructed from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. These little 2-bedroom houses are known as “minimal traditional” by architects, or unofficially, “midcentury modest” (credit: http://www.retrorenovation.com). Turns out there are close to 30 million of them around the country. They were built as a result of the FHA legislation in 1934, in which the federal government began backing home mortgages (Before this time, if you wanted a house you pretty much had to pay for most of it up front). This enabled millions of people to own these homes with small down payments.

    These “exuberant, optimistic” houses, while small, were very well constructed. They were designed by professional architects, hungry for employment during the Great Depression. In order to qualify for FHA-backed loans they were required to have a minimum of two bedrooms and be modern, meaning electricity indoor plumbing, central heating. And they couldn’t cost more than $10,000. In order to meet these criteria most homes built were two-bedroom, one-bath homes, appliances included. They were often built, though, with an eye towards expansion. Many had unfinished attics or unfinished basements. These allowed families to add a third bedroom, for example, as their sizes grew. The common 3-bedroom Ranch came later, during the 1950’s.

    These homes today have the following benefits, of particular interest to MMM types:

    1. Great locations in walkable and bike-able parts of cities and inner-ring suburbs. These were often plant locations during WWII, and many of these houses were built specifically to house workers. This adds an historic, patriotic legacy to these homes, as well. Neighborhoods are filled with mature trees, and many of these areas are now undergoing major infrastructure investments including efficient LED lighting, bike and pedestrian paths, traffic-calming mechanisms such as roundabouts. Where I live many people bicycle to/from downtown jobs (< 10 miles). In addition, these areas are typically well-served by public transportation. This is important for senior citizens, as it allows them to remain in their homes and still have mobility around the city. There are many senior citizens in my community who have lived in their homes 50 years! They have resisted the urge to constantly upgrade their lifestyles via increased consumption, a Mustachian trait, to be sure.

    2. Very efficient use of space, and green, simply because the most green houses are pre-existing houses;

    3. Affordable: these are not McMansions, and unlike new exurbs, the cities are fully developed: there are no surprise assessments coming. Smaller sizes translate into lower ongoing operating expenses such as heating bills, taxes and insurance. The smaller sizes of these homes (especially closets) force one to always be ruthless about not collecting too many material possessions. Another MMM benefit.

    4. Classic designs that have stood the test of time, and will continue to do so.

    5. Very well-constructed, with built-ins, hardwood floors, arched doorways, coved ceilings, double-hung windows made of real wood: I can place a level anywhere in my house and the bubble is dead center. This 75 years after construction.

    There are a LOT of these houses still in existence around the country. I think the Millennials, in particular, will embrace them at some point, simply because they will not be able to afford bigger homes with lifestyles that require multiple cars and long commutes.

    I have been criticized by others, including family, for choosing to purchase such an "under-sized" home, when, in their words, "I could afford so much more". But it's a great feeling not having a mortgage!

    I am curious to know how many MMM types have opted for these down-sized abodes, avoiding the siren call of larger, newer homes?

    Reply
    • michael July 2, 2018, 1:53 pm

      Yep. I reached the same conclusion and, in fact, it is a low cost panacea as calculated in the spreadsheet. I find here in Milwaukee, these neighborhoods are in the ring about 3.5 to 6.5 miles from downtown. Pretty much anywhere in that band is within about a 30 minute bike ride of 200-250,000 jobs, the region’s most important civic & cultural amenities, it’s marquee parks, and the lake shore. I chose the south side as it has great main streets but also good access to full service groceries & home improvement store. It also has better lake access and it’s easy bike ride to the train station should I ever need to temporarily tap into the Chicago’s Global Top 10 job market (1:15 minutes away). It’s a large enough city that there’s direct flights to top 25 North American cities, but it’s totally hassle free. Homes can be had for 80-150K. Most of my neighbors are like me and just giddy with the good fortune of living in such a great neighborhood for a pittance. It’s highly recommended.

      https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/house_type/40516573_zpid/2-_beds/0-150000_price/0-598_mp/42.973365,-87.878373,42.953423,-87.91528_rect/14_zm/

      Reply
    • lhamo July 4, 2018, 5:26 pm

      We have tons of these in the Seattle area, especially in the outlying neighborhoods (like mine). The problem is that with the shortage of developable land, flippers are buying them for 400-500k, tearing them down, and putting up 1mill+ square boxes. With flat rooftop decks. I guess they are counting on climate change or have some kind of ultra durable waterproofing system — not the right construction style for a place with our wet winters. I digress. Anyway, I may well downsize to one of these if they still exist after my kids launch, as I enjoy having a garden but don’t need a bigger house. The other option is a closer-in condo. Price is about the same.

      Reply
    • Toby Bridgman July 22, 2018, 10:24 pm

      We have lots of homes like you describe in Saskatoon, Canada. The areas that they are found in are often considered less desirable. Yet they are close to the city centre, river, funky shops and restaurants, and established parks – everything is bikable. These neighborhoods are generally close-knit and content. Happy mustachians are as thick as thieves in these hoods!

      Reply
  • Dawn July 1, 2018, 7:23 pm

    Love your tiny house! I live in a 1033 sf, paid for condo about a mile from the ocean in California. I am retired at age 58 and after almost buying a three-bedroom unit (and take on a mortgage), have decided to stay put. My son is away at college most of the year, so he takes the sofa when he is home, as my daughter has the second bedroom full-time (she will graduate from college almost debt-free). Looking into a mini-split to cut down on the noise and keep me cool in the summer. My fireplace keeps us warm in the winter. HOAs are not cheap, but fortunately I bought when the market was low, so taxes are only 3k a year. When I was married, we had over 2100 sf, and I don’t miss that at all. This way, with my little condo, when I buy something new, i have to get rid of something to make room for the new!!

    Reply
  • Dave July 2, 2018, 3:16 am

    Cool place. A few questions/thoughts–did you consider 2×6 studs at 24″ OC instead of 2x4s at 16″ OC. you might get a better thermal envelope and the rigidity would be comparable especially for a small structure. Obviously, the studs are more expensive, but you have less of them and the 2×6 bats come in R-22 so you would get a similar R value to the R13 bats + your exterior insulation.

    Did you consider dense pack cellulose or Roxul stone wool instead of fiberglass + smart vapor barrier. I used lapsided cedar on my whole house, milled locally with a 1″ rabbit to prevent gapping–it was $1.10 BF and I stained it with a Sikkens cedar stain which looks a lot like what you have there. I also used stainless steel 304 ringshank nails with a complimentary caulking. So far, no major contracting or shrinkage after 3 years. Nice work!

    Reply
  • Ruud July 2, 2018, 3:18 am

    The tiny houses in most examples still take a lot of space when they are detached and have a garden etc.

    I heard a city planning expert claiming that the most effective way of housing people, with lowest effect on nature is actually the City! (cage chicken vs free range ;)

    I live in a 55 m2 (600 sqft) apartment in Amsterdam which you could call a tiny house as well. It is well insulated from all sides (by the neighbours!). And like many cities, walking or biking distance to almost everything you need (supermarkets, schools, shops, bars, jobs, public transport). The only thing we miss is a garden, but instead we built a nice rooftop terrace, and parks and terraces are nearby.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2018, 10:04 am

      You are definitely right Ruud – apartment buildings are the most efficient way to store people. And even though they have a reputation for being unpleasant places to live, this is only a symptom of bad design rather than a problem with the concept itself.

      If every apartment had true access to outdoors via a big balcony and good windows, and if the staircases were made large and on the outside of the building with windows so people were encouraged to walk instead of taking an elevator, it would be a start. Redesigning the indoor and ourdooe common spaces so they were inviting and in a place where every resident walks through them every day, so you actually meet almost everyone in your building, would be even better.

      Reply
  • Kiev July 2, 2018, 5:59 am

    Hi Pete, I love your article.
    I will create a tiny home project myself within the next 2 years. I live in Germany and have a roof which needs to be exchanged. This part is impossible for me because of skill, height and regulations. But we will do the interior work with help of coworkers.
    The house does have three stories and it provides 125 countable square feet under the roof. It has also room for installation specials. We could e.g. allow to push the bed into the wall to provide space when the bed is not needed. So getting the most out of the room in a convenient way is the biggest adventure.

    I will rent the apartment over AirBnb, since tiny homes are popular in Germany as well. This way I can use the space myself for providing guests a room while renting it out in the meantime. This is a very efficient way to share space depending on demand. In my city everything is available in walking distance, but I prefer riding a bike. The city is beautiful and green and prices are that high that you simple cannot afford to start building mansons. (10,7 square feet do cost 3000-10000€ at the moment) However, the houses are of extreme good quality. Our one is almost a century old and it will last yet another one without getting significant problems.

    I consider the Netherlands to host the most skilled experts on tiny homes. The country does not have much size and they are very innovative in housing.

    If I would have time, money and freedom I would like to build a tiny house village myself. I would like to enter the third dimension in creating a kind of tetris of favela style village. I would put the homes shifted on top of each other to get more out of the ground floor while providing private balconies. This way you can also share water pipes and use central heating. We do not use AC in Germany. Trees do provide some shelter 😉

    Reply
  • Simple Money Man July 2, 2018, 6:24 am

    I do plan to downsize even before retirement. And yes somewhere where friends and family are close so as you say to have those unexpected encounters. It’s all about quality of time. Great job on the new space!

    Reply
  • Angie July 2, 2018, 6:49 am

    I totally agree that people want to live in smaller more walkable areas again. I see more of my friends shifting in that direction. I’m lucky enough to live in Lansing MI – a town with a seamingly endless supply of incredibly cheap; walkable neighborhoods ($100k is the high -end!) all over the city with their own communities and quirks in every block. I’m actually working on my first remodel to help those less inclined to buy a house that needs substantial work get back into these neighborhoods. While on a larger scale than the tiny house it was a fun article for me to read and see how you priced out all of your work. Now if only I can refine my skills and do more of the work myself I could really provide affordable housing in a walkable area!

    Reply
  • Marton July 2, 2018, 8:03 am

    Sorry to be critic but that portable air-con does absolutely nothing. Let me explain: it sucks in room air, cools it down. It uses one part of the sucked in air to blow back cold into the room, an other part to blow the heat outside. The problem is, there is a negative air balance: it creates a slight vacuum in the room (as air is going out constantly), and it is restored by warm outside air creeping in (on holes, windows, seals, etc.). Therefore – by the simple laws of physics – it cannot cool down the interior. Only double-hose portable climatisers (which are very rare) can actually cool.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2018, 10:00 am

      First of all, I agree with that weakness: I do usually buy the double-hose type for more serious cooling loads.

      However, here’s where your criticism isn’t quite right:

      If the difference between machine intake and output temperatures (which is often 25F or more), is greater than the interior/exterior temperature difference (usually only 10F if you are using your A/C reasonably, unless you live in Phoenix :-)), you still make a “coolness profit” even if exhaust volume is equal to intake volume.

      When you combine this with the fact that only a PORTION of the intake air is used for exhaust, it looks even better.

      And finally, in the case of this tiny house, I drilled a special 5″ air intake hole in the floor of the building, so the replacement air is pulled from the cool damp gravel area down there. Generally quite a bit cooler than the ambient air, so it’s even better.

      The bottom line is that it works just fine – I do test these ideas with thermometers before recommending them to Mustachians, you know :-)

      Reply
      • Marton July 3, 2018, 1:37 am

        Approved, then :) You thought of everything! Smart move with the bottom air intake.

        Reply
  • MrRetiredByFifty July 2, 2018, 8:59 am

    Awesomely inspiring as usual! Very nice work!

    Reply
  • middleman July 2, 2018, 9:16 am

    Once you realize most of us live in cubicles smaller than the house you just built… it’s not a big deal to downsize.

    Reply
  • Jeff Hatton July 2, 2018, 11:49 am

    I have always thought a building project like this seemed too daunting. But when you break it down like you have in the spreadsheet, it actually seems doable. I know that breaking things down in to smaller achievable chunks is a time proven idea, but I never really even knew where to start with a project like this. Thanks for that.

    Reply
  • Roneil July 2, 2018, 12:51 pm

    really great article. I have been looking into container houses admiringly.

    Reply
  • Jwheeland July 2, 2018, 1:49 pm

    MMM, what were your thoughts on just pouring pier footer foundations?

    Reply
  • Cedar Fencing Guy July 2, 2018, 2:48 pm

    Love your blog, have been a fan for several years now. I also happen to help run the nation’s largest manufacturer of western red cedar fence boards, and we are a big supplier to the Denver market. There is an 80% chance you used our fence boards, much higher if you purchased from Lowe’s or The Home Depot.

    The thing about fence boards is that they are not kiln dried prior to being shipped into the market. Normal cedar lumber is dried to 8-12%, but fence boards probably average 20%+ when they are purchased by the end user, which leaves them vulnerable to shrinkage once installed. Not such a big deal on a fence (most fence boards shrink and the fence market expects this to happen), but problematic when using in a much more precise and aesthetic siding application.

    Note that the kiln drying process would add substantial cost to the product, so using fence boards is in keeping with the MMM ethos. If you air dried them prior to installation, you could avoid this problem, but that takes time…probably 1-2 months in the most arid condition.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 3, 2018, 4:56 pm

      Yup, I learned that the hard way! If there were to be a next time, I would stack them with lots of reinforcement and air circulation (kiln-style) so they would dry straight. And then oil-stain them on both sides to prevent much moisture exchange with changing seasons and humidities.

      Reply
  • Gander July 2, 2018, 3:38 pm

    Thanks for an enjoyable article. Just a note on the UK situation. There is a lot of regulation and planning control. Green belts exist but are currently under threat. The trend is for housing developers to be in the driving seat producing soulless executive estates typically 4 bedroom houses with garages crammed with the stuff that wont fit into the houses. Planning regulations tend to result in fake houses with plastic windows, reconstituted stone, concrete tiles and sometimes even OSB or chipboard floors. These are houses without character that just get worse from day one and do little for the environment.
    There was a time when architects designed social housing (with good and less good results) but very little social housing is currently built (for ideological reasons) just as we have a deregulated transport system.
    It would be interesting to scrap planning regulation leaving only provisos that houses look good (whatever they are made of and are self sustaining energy wise. I think, howevet we are a long way from that position.
    I liked the idea of the tiny house but with some shed building experience behind me i think I would go for something a bit more exciting at little extra cost – yes avoid the OSB floor and think about a living roof for example. I recently helped my daughter build a shed with a more complex shape (trapezoid) to fit into a corner of her allotment and that was very aesthetically interesting.
    How about the use of scrap materials. A friend build his very substantial Shed using materials all collected from skips (apart from the fibreglass roof he laid down. It is now an excellent dining/meeting place.

    Reply
  • Julie July 2, 2018, 6:19 pm

    A few from an architect…
    Is there any vapor barrier in the floor? Walls? Did I miss it, I hope? (Education moment: Conditioned space needs it even though tool sheds etc don’t. Because somewhere between the inside face of drywall and outside face of cedar, it’s gonna be like the outside of a glass of lemonade in the middle of summer: condensation central. In winter, same problem, but inside out.)
    Is your foam board taped? Staggering joints is important, and foil tape is good when it comes to infiltration.
    Is this thing attached to the ground or could it go all Wizard of Oz on you?
    Siding: Got a router table? Or dado blade on table saw? Just rabbet the same cedar (next time) to create a little slip space. Look up “ship lap” and you’ll get some similar cool ideas.

    Reply
    • Anonymous July 4, 2018, 7:30 am

      You echo my thoughts on the flooring and foundation. Hoping I missed something.

      Reply
  • Marwan Elrakabawy July 2, 2018, 9:23 pm

    If a lakeside city with warm winter temperatures fits your bill, I would absolutely love to do a project like this with someone who knows what they are doing. Come to Austin and let’s do it. I’d love to do and learn but have very little carpentry experience/skill. I have a mom who has been slowing down with an atypical parkinsons–and I’d love for her to live closer–like in the backyard.

    Reply
  • Joey Graziano July 3, 2018, 7:29 am

    Love this post! I started doing some volunteer work with the habitat for humanity as a side hobby so that I could learn a little about working with my hands.

    I built a little 200 sq foot barn for wood projects and then recently installed in a doggy door for the pup.

    Note to beginners: If you are new to building things, please start small. Buy or borrow tools along the way and as much as possible.

    Reply
  • MM Wannabe July 3, 2018, 10:48 am

    Nice design! It looks like an upscale version of my chicken coop. Also,it looks like your spreadsheet is missing costs for roofing and underlayment materials.

    Reply
  • Brady Faught July 3, 2018, 11:22 am

    Did you consider a heat pump instead of electric for heating + A/C for cooling?
    I hear Boulder is coming up with some awesome Heat Pump + Solar Panel $$ incentives…..

    Reply
  • EngineeringIndependence July 3, 2018, 6:51 pm

    My wife (21) and I (23) are currently in the process of building a tiny house on wheels that we will live in as we travel from job to job (I’m a engineer working in construction). Our trailer is shipping to us on in two days, and we will be having our first official build party the weekend of the 13th. We currently live in a 280 square foot studio apartment and are quite comfortable with small spaces so we know it’s going to work out for us. What’s funny, is that if you count loft spaces towards the total square footage, our tiny house will be a few square feet bigger then our apartment. Providing we decide that we are ok living in a tiny house when we have kids, we will have knocked roughly 200k-250k off our FI number, in addition to boosting our savings rate.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Robinson July 3, 2018, 7:47 pm

    Just curious……your little heater and a.c. unit pull how many amps on high? Most people do not size these item to the square footage of the space.
    If you tell people to just run an extension cord to power the tiny units that is potentially dangerous. It is not a good idea to run a tiny building on a circuit that shares with items on other circuits. It should be dedicated.
    1.Most home circuits are 15amps….especially older homes.This means 12 amps at the most on the circuit at one time. Most people do not know where the 20amp circuits are located. This means 16 amps at the most. Most people do not look at the name plates on the a.c. or heater to figure out. They just trip a breaker and reset. They contine to reset the breaker untill it needs to be replaced. It does not occur to them the circuit is being habitually overloaded because it is not designed to carry a large specific amount of amps. Please do not get me started with older pre 1970 electrical panels and faulty breakers.
    2. States and cities have different rules for auxiliary buildings. Your tiny building is an auxiliary building according to NEC code. It contains outlets and lights.
    3. I would consult an electrician to make sure your power needs are being met and installed in the correct manner. Your insurance company will ask you these questions when the tiny build becomes a tiny bonfire. The bonfire transfers to your main structure.
    4. I would put a disclaimer in your post..ask people to seek advice about thier power needs.
    Your friendly licensed electrician:)

    Reply
  • Sanjo July 3, 2018, 8:59 pm

    I mentioned your idea for a community designed for bikes and pedestrians in the comments of this article on Treehugger https://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/it-time-get-serious-about-hidden-carbon-cost-everyday-products.html. I hope you are still considering this idea.
    Maybe we need model communities to show the way: “We have to think about designing really fabulous, attractive and affordable multiple family housing that has so much less structure and surface area and embodied energy per occupant and makes walking and cycling possible. We have to build great streets that people really want to walk in.” MrMoneyMustache.com floated the idea of a town designed for biking and walking. Occasionally, small towns have been advertised for sale (ex. https://www.cbsnews.com/new… ) If some early retirees / FI, or work-from-home folks joined in together , it would be great to see what could result. Incorporate a central square / park, some small stores and eating establishments, a library, and maybe the tourists would flock to experience it like they do to wilderness biking paths in Sun River OR. Of course, it would also be great to incorporate opportunities for those who work at the local businesses to live in affordable housing.

    Reply
  • Anonymous July 4, 2018, 7:26 am

    So this new, very cute, place sits on gravel on the ground? That doesn’t seem like a good long-term idea, although I’m not a builder. Or maybe I missed the part about getting it off the ground.

    Reply
  • Fionn July 5, 2018, 4:47 am

    A single hose AC unit like that would work much better if you could put it outside instead.
    Perhaps you could tuck it away in a little enclosure behind the office? You’d also have a little less noise and more space freed up inside.
    As you have installed it, it creates a vacuum inside that draws in warm external air counteracting the effect of the cool air output from the vent.
    I have a similar unit that can do heating and cooling. I use it outside in heating mode, blowing in cool air through it’s exhaust hose for that reason.
    More insulation would also reduce the cooling demand obviously. If I were building it here I would have 100mm of PUR between the wall studs and 75mm of PUR wrapping the whole exterior. That would up the cost significantly however. Great finish on the drywall etc.

    Reply
  • Cubert July 5, 2018, 12:59 pm

    The only thing that scares me about these is when they’re based in Tornado Alley. High winds and big storms are scary enough when you’re in a regular house with a basement for shelter. But when you’re living in a tiny box on wheels, better have a plan B ready right quick.
    I do love these tiny homes, but would feel better about one for myself in low-volatile weather zone. A beach in Malibu?

    Reply
  • Mighty Investor July 6, 2018, 2:04 pm

    Once again, MMM is encouraging us all to think way outside the box. Thank you for this one! Really enjoyed it. Love people who do stuff like this and hack the financial system for all its worth.

    Reply
  • Married to a Swabian July 8, 2018, 8:09 am

    Nice post, MMM.

    I re-read Walden prior to our down-sizing to a 1200 SF ranch house in the woods. It’s a much more peaceful feeling to live in a space that’s the right size, with a property that doesn’t require participation in “the lawn olympics”! It’s also a great feeling to no longer have a mortgage. ;)

    Amazing how easily the average American is duped into thinking they “need” a McMansion. Bigger must be better, because that’s what marketers tell us….

    Reply
    • Ms Blaise July 8, 2018, 5:36 pm

      Love Walden. America’s gift to the world.

      Reply
  • MrBunny July 8, 2018, 3:45 pm

    Those Vegas suburbs look a lot like how we already live in the U.K., not the ostentatious bits but the areas where people who can afford what they live in have.

    Weirdly because we are relatively close we have to get along and that creates economies of virtue. So if I’m going to the shops for a neighbour then I’ll ask if they need something whilst walking past their door.

    That’s community.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 9, 2018, 3:16 pm

      Right.. the yards are small in that photo and the houses are close together, which is a good thing if you are going for density. But it’s still a bunch of detached houses which are all duplicating the same services inefficiently over and over, and it’s way out in the fringes of Vegas with no amenities nearby, so it encourages car-based living.

      This same space would be even better with cohousing, bigger buildings, more parks, and shaded bike paths as the primary way to get around.

      Reply
      • Married to a Swabian July 10, 2018, 5:33 am

        …and the Vegas houses were probably slapped together during the big building boom there prior to the Great Recession, with 3000SF plus and lousy insulation. Homes like that are uncomfortable to live in and energy hogs.

        They should put an “Energy Star” Rating on homes similar to rating system used for appliances!

        Reply
        • rh July 10, 2018, 10:04 am

          I know when you sell a house in Portland Oregon, you have to have an energy audit done that gives a energy star rating before listing it. I think you have to do this in Austin TX too.
          https://www.oregonlive.com/front-porch/index.ssf/2018/01/portland_home-sellers_must_dis.html

          Reply
          • Married to a Swabian July 13, 2018, 4:30 am

            Nice to see some focus on the important stuff. The constant emphasis by most realtors on superficial crap like granite counter tops is ridiculous. Want to see a small, energy efficient house? Look at how they build in Germany. R values are much higher and much more sturdy construction than the avg US home …. but that requires planning, saving and discipline.

            Reply
  • Liberty July 8, 2018, 10:53 pm

    My husband and I, along with our three-going-on-four small children, have lived in our handbuilt 200 square foot tiny house for two years. We live on an older couple’s farm for free, in exchange for chores.

    We spent $24k and probably have a couple $1000 more to put into it. Since we’re in expensive Northern Colorado, we’ve saved around $50-60k in rent and utilities if you count the year we spent living for free through housesitting during the build, plus the past two tiny house years. For us, starting with very scant resources, it has been a financial lifesaver and a springboard toward FI.

    Overall, tiny house living has been a life-changing experience full of challenge and growth, and we feel a renewed gratefulness for life and a sense of being able to weather whatever comes our way after this.

    Reply
  • BK July 9, 2018, 7:31 am

    Ever thought about using natural materials, like adobe? Potentially free, totally organic.

    Reply
  • Jill July 9, 2018, 8:44 am

    Love the tiny workspace! My fantasy has always been to install a modern pre-fab modular space (like the ones advertised in Dwell Magazine) in my backyard. Any thoughts on these kind of structures? I live in Brooklyn and I have no idea how feasible it would be to carry out.

    Reply
  • Jessica July 9, 2018, 3:32 pm

    A community of tiny houses – aka, a trailer park, before people got it in their heads that those were low-brow, undesirable places to live. FWIW, some of my best memories of a sense of community came from when I lived in a trailer park. People were friendly, and you really did have that scenario of walking down the street, seeing people you know, talking to each other and socializing. I miss that.

    Reply
  • BK July 10, 2018, 6:50 am

    Have you ever thought/looked into building with free/cheap and renewable materials like adobe? Potentially keeps the inside air cooler too

    Reply
  • Yard Work July 14, 2018, 4:53 pm

    After over a year of casual reading, here we are; I have finished the entire MMM blog. Love what you’re doing here, MMM.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainable towns and cities. You (or maybe we, all of us) should come up with a Mustachian Score for cities that isn’t just a somewhat arbitrary “bikable” score. What do you think?

    Reply
  • Michael July 16, 2018, 7:37 pm

    Next project idea, grow citrus fruits in Colorado:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD_3_gsgsnk

    Let me know if you need a hand!

    Reply
  • JP July 17, 2018, 12:03 am

    That looks great!

    But I’m surprised that it’s okay to put the joists right on the ground like that. Seems like if/when the bottom rots, it won’t be very easy to replace.

    I have a question about the pressure treated lumber. Where I live you can identify PT when there are little slots in the wood, and the wood is often darker than regular lumber. But in these pics I don’t see those slots. What kind of lumber is it?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 18, 2018, 5:13 am

      It’s the newer red-toned type of pressure treated lumber, although I couldn’t find the chemical difference with the bit of searching I did just now (anyone else know this?)

      Since the wood sits on a few inches of gravel rather than soil, it stays dry almost all the time and has less contact with bugs. So we are already much better off than, say, a pressure-treated fence post, and these can last 10-20 years in reasonable soil.

      But if you are concerned about rot (especially in wetter climates than mine), you can raise the building on blocks or use a concrete slab foundation.

      Reply
  • Rachel July 17, 2018, 5:20 am

    Nice work! Noticed a few things missing from the To-do list…footing? Permit? Curious how you approached these!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 18, 2018, 5:16 am

      Hi Rachel,

      No footings or permits are required for a small building like this in my area or many others – in fact, that’s why the building is only 120 square feet. For larger ones, you do need a permit and an engineered foundation.

      And if I were going to go through all THAT hassle, I would make the building as large as possible, with rentable commercial offices on the main floor and a couple of apartments above, to offset the much higher cost of building it :-)

      Reply
  • Tara July 17, 2018, 1:27 pm

    Love this idea completely–small living is super efficient. The only thing I would add however, is open, undeveloped land is not necessarily water-wasting, and to say that an impermeable structure in one’s back yard is better than a lawn is misleading, especially if one is in a flood prone region. Anything that covers dirt, whether it be a parking lot or a finished building takes away ground space that may be needed to absorb water in cases of heavy rains. I saw a recent episode of This Old House where in order for the resident (in eastern MA) to add an addition onto their house, they had to build a very expensive cistern-esque system to collect rainwater because flooding and storm run-off was so bad in that area. Always keep flooding in mind when building larger backyard structures or multiple structures, as they can negatively affect drainage, especially from flash floods. Areas where flooding was once a once a century occurrence are only going to get worse… the recent flash flood in Ellicott City, MD is another example of development and global warming creating the “perfect storm” of a devastating flash flood.

    However, tiny homes instead of massive 3,000 square foot mcmansions are much better for flood prevention, especially if the lot size stays the same. They should definitely be encouraged.

    Reply
  • Wednesday July 17, 2018, 5:06 pm

    I didn’t see the cost calculation of your time spent building the project. This is a very important step in other articles you write, like commuting etc. How much time did the planning, material acquisition and construction take?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 18, 2018, 4:54 am

      Hi Wednesday. This building took me about 120 hours of work, so you can account for that however you like. At $40 per hour, that would be $4800 of labor.

      But in my case, I count carpentry work (especially oudoor work like this) as a NEGATIVE cost more like being on vacation or going to the gym. It is something I would be willing to pay to do if necessary, because it’s good for the body and mind to do a few hours of physical work per day.

      This is totally different from commuting in a car, where you are sitting down and damaging yourself (and potentially others), and getting very little productive work done.

      Reply

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