Tiny Homes: What’s the Real Deal?


When it comes to building homes, size matters. And while others might subscribe to the idea that bigger is better, tiny houses are making a huge impact on the housing market. From tiny house buying TV shows to builders specializing in tiny homes, extreme downsizing is shaking up real estate. Building a tiny home on the cheap can definitely seem like a smart swap, but what’s the process really like?

Before you start dreaming small, do your research. What may seem like your ticket to financial freedom might be more expensive than you thought. In some cases, a tiny home can become a big pain. Understanding the process from start to finish can help you decide if a tiny home should be part of your future.

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Give tiny home living a try before committing. Image: Matthew Heritage

Thinking tiny

Before you dive headfirst into all things tiny, do some due diligence and research. If the tiny house trend has bitten you hard, here are some ways you can think objectively to decide whether it’s a feasible option for you and your family.

  • Read up on city codes. Most cities have codes that dictate the size of homes within city limits. In some cases, this could prohibit tiny homes altogether. Other cities may allow tiny homes, but only in certain areas such as mobile home developments. Find out what your city says about tiny homes and consider how this could affect the building process.
  • Understand land. Whether you choose a mobile tiny home or you’d like to put down roots with a stationary foundation, don’t forget to add the cost of land into your building budget. If land makes the idea cost prohibitive, you could consider leasing land, asking family to give up a piece of their land or looking for more affordable locations.
  • Consider your motivations. Understand why tiny houses are appealing to you. Is it just because you like their trendy nature? Or are you more interested in lowering your cost of living? Because tiny homes are a way of life, you’ll need to have strong motivations to make a large change to your current lifestyle.
  • Test drive tiny. Not sure if tiny living would be right for you? Give it a test drive. Rent a tiny home for the weekend and see how you like the idea of downsizing.
  • Price it per square foot. You might be surprised to find that a tiny home doesn’t always give you the most bang for your buck. Always price the home and land out per square foot and compare that to other living situations – a smaller home or apartment, for example – before you jump on the bandwagon.
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A tiny home means big design plans. Image: Sol Haus Design

Designing tiny

If you’ve decided that you want to go ahead and build a tiny home, you should know that the design process is very different from designing a standard home. It’s important to work with a designer who knows how to maximize every square inch of your home with smart solutions. The key to loving your tiny home is livability. Consider these factors when working on the design of your home.

  • Find the right designer. Seek out a designer that specializes in tiny homes or purchase your plans from a well-known tiny home manufacturer. While the homes are small, they require a lot of expertise. You might be able to sketch a general idea of the floorplan you’d like, but leave the details to an expert.
  • Start downsizing. Don’t wait until moving day to downsize your possessions. Start getting rid of and storing things now; it’ll be easier to make the transition if you start thinking small now, rather than making a big change when you move into your home.
  • Measure everything. Planning on keeping some of your furniture? Keep a measuring tape handy and use it to guide the design process. If you’re set on bringing your bed with you, you’ll need to design a sleeping area big enough to accommodate it and other bedroom furniture.
  • Give yourself wiggle room. One of the biggest mistakes buyers make when designing a tiny home is designing it just big enough to fit their current possessions. If you’re like most people, however, you’ll continue to accumulate stuff after you move in, so it’s important to give yourself wiggle room in the form of empty storage.
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Maximize every inch with smart storage. Image: Tiny Happy Homes

Building tiny 

You’ve come up with a design you love and are ready to build. Because tiny homes are built on a smaller scale, they’re pretty much a DIYer’s dream. Still, you might be surprised at the scope of expertise required for some of the tiny to-do list.

  • Use a builder. If you’re not particularly handy, a house isn’t the project on which to cut your teeth. Use a builder if you’re a newbie, or hire a contractor to oversee the project and step in for trickier stuff (think plumbing and electrical).
  • Avoid major changes. Sure, an outhouse bathroom would save space in the home, but going from indoor plumbing to something a little more antiquated makes the jump from standard to tiny living harder. Build the home so that it mimics your current way of life for an easier transition.
  • Budget better. Don’t forget to create a building budget that makes sense. Sure, you might be able to build your home on the cheap, but there are other costs involved. Add land, land improvement and utility costs to your budget to stay on track.
  • Enlist help. Tiny homes are perfect crowdsourcing projects. Save money by enlisting friends and family for an afternoon of labor. Because the scope of the project is smaller, you can get more out of just a few hours of help.
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Living in a tiny home might require a few adjustments. Image: Timbercraft Tiny Homes

Living tiny

Move-in day might seem like the finish line to a tiny house race. Remember, though, that moving into a tiny home can be a big adjustment. Give yourself time to get used to the new arrangement by settling in little by little.

  • Keep it clean. Tiny homes get messier faster; it’s a fact. With each surface and storage area of the home pulling double duty, it’s best to keep your home clean and clutter free. Invest in good storage solutions and make sure your home stays neat with a daily chore list.
  • Maximize outdoor space. The outdoor space surrounding your tiny home can make your living quarters feel much more spacious. Seating and cooking areas outside can relieve some of the cramped feeling of a tiny house.
  • Have an exit strategy. Tiny homes aren’t for everyone. It’s OK to admit that you preferred more space. Having an exit strategy in place can stop you from feeling trapped. Make a deal that you’ll try tiny living for six months. After that, if you want to throw in the towel, you’ll feel better knowing that you gave it a try. You’ll also take some valuable life hacks to your new place.

Tiny homes always look trendy, smart and streamlined on TV. It’s important to remember, however, that those tiny spaces are inhabited by real people after the cameras stop rolling. In real life, homes get messy, spaces get cramped and bumping into your partner stops being cute after the thousandth time. By going into the process with your eyes wide open, there are fewer chances for surprises and you have a better chance at making a tiny home work for you.

What about you? Would you ever consider living in a tiny home?

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