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7 Tricks for Building a Tiny House for Cheap + One Thing You Should Never Skimp On

7 Tricks for Building a Tiny House for Cheap + One Thing You Should Never Skimp On

In my research, the average Tiny House costs around $25k to build. My house is no exception (click here for an explanation and breakdown of my Tiny House costs). Does that mean you have to build a $25k Tiny House? Certainly not. You CAN have a cheap Tiny House, built on a shoestring budget. Cheap is not necessary a bad word. If it bothers you, replace it with “thrifty.” In this article, I list SEVEN TRICKS THAT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY ON YOUR BUILD. Use all these tricks, or just a few, to stay within your budget.

7 Tricks for Building a “Cheap Tiny House”

1). Refurbish a Trailer

Manufactured Tiny House trailers can cost thousands of dollars (mine was $4,850). Often, it’s a big chunk of your budget. Macy Miller built her Tiny House for $11.416.16, and one reason that was possible is because she refurbished an old gooseneck trailer that she bought for $500.  If you have the skills, structural knowledge, and time to refurbish a used trailer, go for it! You can save thousands of dollars on your build.

Cheap Tiny House
Macy Miller and her $11k Tiny House

2). Source Reclaimed Materials

Deek Diedrickson (writer, instructor, and HGTV show host of “Tiny Home Builders”) is the master of cheap Tiny House construction. What’s his secret? He spends A LOT of time sourcing and restoring reclaimed materials. Refurbishing old items can save your budget and add character to your home. I used reclaimed materials on my Tiny House, such as my reclaimed crate staircase. Salvaged items can be great for saving you money, but they won’t save you time or labor. You’ll pay for it with sweat!

3). Build Smaller

This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. The smaller you build, the less money you will spend on materials. Do you really need a 26-foot Tiny House? Perhaps an 18-foot Tiny House is better for your shoestring budget. Adhere to the saying: “If you build it, you will fill it.” The larger the house, the more belongings you will have. Building a smaller abode will save you more money in the long run.

The first Tiny House that was ever built was only 14 feet long!

Cheap Tiny House
Touring the first Tiny House ever built, by Jay Shafer

4). Install Less

Question everything you want to put in your Tiny House. Do you need an oven? A bathroom sink? Should your design have 10 windows, or will 6 be enough? Can you live with a DIY composting toilet ($5) or do you need a manufactured compost toilet ($900+)?  Appliances can blow your budget, especially smaller and more efficient appliances. If you really want to save money on your build, opt for used appliances or live without.

5). Skip the Wood Stove, Solar Power & Skylights

These three items made up $8.296 of my total budget of $31,360. That’s a lot of money! These items aren’t “needs.” They are “wants.” I love them, but I recognize they were splurge items. Choose where to save and where to splurge.  Keep the balance to stay within your budget.

6). Design Openings to Have Standard Sizes

My windows were all custom sizes because, at the time, Tumbleweed plans used only custom sized windows. Tumbleweed has since updated their plans with standard size windows, saving new DIY builders thousands of dollars.

Likewise, a custom door will cost you a lot of money, while standard size doors are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Entry doors are generally 30 inches, 32 inches, or 36 inches wide. Meg Stephens modified her Tiny House plans (which she designed as an architect) to have a standard door size. She then salvaged an old door and spent two days refinishing it.

Cheap Tiny House
Meg Stephen’s Tiny House with a reclaimed, standard size door

7). Find Sponsors

My sponsors saved me! Even though I say the total cost of my build was $30k+, some of that value was put up by sponsors. I have written an in-depth article about how to attract sponsors to your project, read it here. Another great resource is Andrew Odom’s (fellow Tiny Houser) eBook: Your Message Here and the sequel Put Your Message Here Too.

One Thing You Should NEVER SKIMP ON …

Structural integrity. Unless you are an engineer or expert carpenter, you should purchase a set of high-quality build plans that are PROVEN to withstand forces on the road. In fact, it’s a good idea to buy plans even if you are an expert. Tiny House construction can be different from regular construction. There is no point in building a cheap Tiny House if it falls apart. Buy plans, be safe and build a safe Tiny House.

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  1. Michelle
    June 22, 2017 / 8:17 am

    Not use wood burning, why? When we’ve seen people heating their tiny literally using very small pieces of wood. Plus after I’ve seen how propane can blow and take out anything in the area…..:(
    And your costs for solar not as high as it could have been, plus allows you to go anywhere- being off grid. Why you advise against it?

    • June 22, 2017 / 10:04 am

      The point of this particular article is how to save money on your Tiny House build. I do love solar and wood burning stoves, and I have them in my Tiny House. But the cost of my wood burning stove was almost $5,000. The cost of my solar was thousands as well. Most people looking to build a low-budget Tiny House would not have this in their budget, even if it will save you money in the long run (many years).

  2. Dustin
    March 23, 2017 / 9:08 am

    Does anyone notice that from the moment you decide to go tiny until you finally start your build, you go smaller and smaller with you design?
    I started out wanting a 400 square foot. Then it was 300 and I felt like I was quite daring. Now I’m aiming at under 200!

  3. Travis
    February 15, 2017 / 5:17 am

    I am building my tiny home myself… literally. Although these do amount to great savings, the first two suggestions however would increase one’s build time significantly. A fabricated tiny home designed trailer I imagine saves weeks on construction compared to refurbishing a used one. Also, finding new retailed materials has been a challenge enough. Searching for used materials would seem very time consuming by comparison. If time is not a factor, both suggestions would save a lot of money. The “building smaller” advise is golden! Some of these “tiny” homes are becoming behemoth! Climate is another consideration for not installing a skylight. The amount of heat or cold coming through even the most quality constructed skylight can compromise your home energy efficiency significantly, especially if you have the Arizona sun beaming down on your TH.

    • February 15, 2017 / 9:26 am

      Couldn’t agree more. In many cases, time is money. Of course, if you have the time… it may be worth the savings. Thanks for your comment.

    • Dustin
      March 23, 2017 / 9:06 am

      If you check out Habitat for Humanity, you can find new materials for practically nothing. Anything from paint cabinets and windows.
      I don’t know where in Arizona you are, but if it’s Prescott, they have a HFH in town and I’ve seen some killer deals.
      I think once you go in there, you might really see what’s absolutely necessary, or what’s just “fancy” (the term I use for the extravagant things, like an oven. There are cheaper alternatives).

  4. February 3, 2017 / 3:06 pm

    I think it is amazing everything that can fit in a tiny home. Just like with building a larger home, the more add ons you have the more the home will cost. Great tips on how you can save. Thanks for sharing!

  5. February 3, 2017 / 1:04 pm

    Perhaps the best way of saving money on a tiny home–or home of any kind–is to befriend people who work in the business. A guy who knows trailers will save you from one that’s about ready to fall apart or is unsuitable for the task (some trailers are designed to flex–you don’t want that), and a guy who knows framing can save you a ton of headaches and money in that task, too.

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