Unless you’ve been off the grid in a tiny home for a while, you’re probably aware that tiny homes are all the rage. Compared to just 4 years ago when we’d started, there literally been an explosion of information that’s become available to Joe Q. Public. Since then, there’s been multiple documentaries, TV shows, and a long list of blogs, videos, and resources available for the would-be tiny home builder to access instantly online. The thing is, because of the sheer volume of data, it can be downright overwhelming for a tiny-home-newbie to begin disseminating the good information from the bad, in order to put it together into a coherent plan.
My advice to a person just looking into building a home, and the reason I’m writing this article, is to relax, take a deep breath, and carefully plan out where you want to be, before you get into the craziness of actually building a home. I see far too many tiny-home dweller who put up a wonderful home in a location they didn’t really enjoy, or couldn’t afford. So this article is about taking a step back from the building plans, the financing, the tools and timelines, and really considering the “where” and “what” of your future tiny-home.
Visualize Your Tiny Home
Before you do anything, it’s good to get an understanding of what exactly a tiny-home is, and isn’t. While there’s tiny-home purists out there, the size of a tiny-home typically ranges from between 80 and 1000 square feet. When the houses are less than 200 square feet, they are frequently built for easy portability on trailers. Most people assume that a tiny-home needs to be on a trailer, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Now that you have an idea on what a tiny home is, one of the first steps in making one a reality involves visualization. This is a very important step, and one that many folks gloss over in a rush to get started. So, slow down a bit and actually *think* about where you want to be. And by thinking, I mean actually closing your eyes and picturing that place in your head. The more detail of this perfect picture, the better.
The great thing about tiny homes is that they can fit nearly anywhere, so it helps to get specific with the view, the surrounding geography, and amenities, either man-made or otherwise. Make sure you define if you’re tiny home will be on a trailer of fixed on a foundation. When we first started I sketched a picture of our perfect tiny-house and location and talk it over with my wife and kids at length and drew in all the missing pieces they wanted to see. We then made a check list of all the requirements and got to work looking for locations.
For me, looking around the world for locations that fit our vision was by far the most exciting part of the process. Its ridiculous how many beautiful locations we’d found that fit our criteria TO-A-TEE. The problem became whittling it down from a few dozen to a top-ten list.
Once we had out top ten list, that’s when the details like permitting, fees and cost of living (the next steps) came in to give us clarity to where our eventual location would be.
Set Your Budget
The next step in the process is to define a budget, not just for the cost to build the tiny home, but for living expenses once your there as well. The cost of a tiny-home usually range in cost between $20,000 and $80,000 to build. Obviously, if your tastes leave you craving a 24 carat golf plated thrown instead of the usual porcelain variety, your costs might exceed these figures, so plan according to a budget that you feel you can afford. As with many construction projects, cost overruns are typical, so plan with a good margin of error, especially if you’re a novice builder. Take that picture of your perfect tiny-house and try to estimate just what it would costs to build.
In more practical terms, also try to determine what you feel comfortable with spending in terms of monthly living expenses. This will help you later on as you try to narrow down the list of prospective places to live. Obviously it’s much cheaper to live in the foothills of California than it is in San Francisco.
Narrowing the Search
At this point in the process you should have a fairly good idea of what your home will look like, a list of places that fits your ideal and a budget – both in terms of startup costs and cost of living. Take a look at the locations that fit your requirements and start doing the research. This is where I love Google Maps and their Street View functionality. Although nothing actually beat going to a location and experiencing it first-hand, Google Maps Street View is such a good way to get a feel for the area without actually being there. Where’s the closest grocery store? How about parks, places to walk? Does your dream-spot have a post-office? Again, get specific and try to picture what you’ll be doing on any given day and make sure that it has the amenities to do what you’ve envisioned.
Next thing to check is the cost of living of the area. While it’s true that actual cost-of-living numbers may be hard to come-by for some remote locations, we use this Cost-Of-Living calculator (https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/comparison/springfield-illinois/brussels) to give an idea of the expected expenses of living as compared to your current city. It works for most international locations as well.
While your dream may involve living atop Half-Dome in Yosemite, the simple fact is that – alas – you cannot. Yes, it’s true, you can’t simply live where you want. Some places are off limits, or simply do not allow trailer-type home at all, expect in certain area. This is where a simple call to the municipality, or building inspector’s office in questions may shed some light on the feasibility of actually living there with a tiny home. The good news is, at least at this point, is that you can describe to them what you’re proposed home will look like, and they can instruct you on the necessary permits / coding that your home will need to carry / be built with.
Every municipality is different, and many are still figuring out how to permit properly for tiny-homes, so it pays to up front and honest on your intentions in order to determine the long-term feasibility of living there.
By now you should only have a handful of places left, hopefully 2 or 3, that have passed the filters above and your family’s requirements. My suggestion, although somewhat expensive, is to travel to these destinations and really experience what it’s like to live there. Try to stay for more than a few days. Get a feel of the passing of time and ask yourself, “Can I really see myself here, living in a tiny-home?”
If you’re seriously considering building a tiny home, stop thinking and start planning. While at some point you may actually have to pick up a hammer and starting building a home, a solid plan and well-vetted location will get things going on the right foundation. Thanks for reading!