This complete guide goes into every aspect of our self-built big tiny house. It includes the costs, the design, the materials and our process for choosing to live tiny.
I hope to provide you with enough resources to educate on the costs and considerations of a tiny house and living tiny. Our tiny home allows us to keep the luxuries of a beautiful home while focusing on living an abundant life.
We intentionally chose the option to live in a tiny house on wheels because we wanted to:
1. Simplify, downsize & Declutter
2. Affordably Own, Not Rent
3. Reduce Our Household Expenses
4. Have Leisure Flexible Living
5. Pursue Debt-Freedom & Financial Independence
6. Create Work and Life Balance
Our tiny house on wheels gave us the best option to pursue those goals.
I will include tips, strategies, and resources to help you evaluate a tiny house. The sections below will contain tabs so you can navigate each subject with ease.
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What is the Tiny Lifestyle?
A common misperception of the tiny lifestyle is that it requires getting rid of everything. I don’t consider our family minimalist, instead we consider ourselves as living intentionally. We relate the number of our possessions to our choice of lifestyle. We enjoy traveling, so we spend on travel experiences. I enjoy cycling, so I spend in good cycling gear.
We buy and invest in things that we enjoy and we are cognizant in the space we enjoy them. We use our tiny house not only as our home but also as a tool that is allowing us to live more in other aspects of life. As a result, we live minimal compared to living in the average size home today. This path of Intentionally living in smaller spaces is what the Tiny Lifestyle is all about.
How does a family of 3 with a dog live in 339 square feet?
The advantage of downsizing and decluttering is to simplify your space to focus on good routines, habits, practices that nurture happy living.
When clarifying needs and pairing down wants, the size of a house is not a factor to enjoy your home.
Our small-space allows us to be more present and have better communication. There’s no way to avoid it because personal space is less. This creates awareness of one another to enjoy living together.
What is the sustainable impact of living tiny in our tiny house on wheels?
Calculating our Ecological Footprint Impact on living tiny in our bigCasita utilizing the Global Footprint Network Calculations resulted in a current footprint of 3.5 gha. A “gha” is a global hectare, about the size of a soccer field, and it’s used to estimate how much biologically-productive land is needed to accommodate your lifestyle. The average American footprint is 8.4 gha which put us way below the national average. Before going tiny our footprint was 7.6 gha. and we have reduced our impact by more than double in living in a tiny house on wheels.
What is your current footprint?
Resources: Global Footprint Network
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household expenditure for housing is 30% and above. In Los Angeles, this percentage is higher.
The cost of our tiny house was $55,000 +/-. Our current annual household expenses are $11,000 annually. In comparison, the cost of our previous traditional house was $380,000 and the cost to sustain it was $37,626 annually. The difference is $26,000 in savings, which lowered expenses by 70%.
Living tiny and owning our home allows us to drastically reduce household expenses. In a city like Los Angeles, where the cost of living is high, our tiny house on wheels made perfect sense financially. We chose to reduce high cost of living by reducing our living space and channeling our time and money into other areas of our life.
How to get started with a tiny house can be overwhelming. It was for me when I decided to pull the trigger.
The best way to get started is to approach it like a major project. I used EverNote as my online notebook to have all my research and notes in one location that I could access anywhere. This made it easy to access and jot down ideas, design, resources, etc.
The three main hurdles with a tiny house on wheels are Cost, Parking, and Legality.
Cost: You want to start with what you can afford and price out if the house you want is within your range. This will help guide if self-building or purchasing are viable options.
Parking: Do you know where you will be placing or parking your house? If not, you want to research resources that can help you find parking. I found parking on the Facebook marketplace searching for ads offering parking for RV’s.
Legality: Do you understand the regulations given where you plan to place your home? The laws for tiny homes vary greatly by city and the best place to start is by asking directly with your municipality and within Tiny House community forums. Los Angeles recently passed the ordinance allowing tiny homes to be used as Accessory Dwelling Units.
The overall design of the interior space is meant to be multi-funcitional and uncluttered with an open feel. Head space is maximized with the low slope shed-style roof which allowed us to increase lower level ceiling height while not cramping loft height. Lots of windows allows for light and open feel. Privacy was important so the house has a lower level private bedroom. Our family cooks, so it was important to have a sizable solid kitchen with standard size appliances. Our smart dining table doubles as a kitchen island and dining table. One loft is utilized as his and hers “roll-in” closet and the other loft for our son. The living space fits a standard 3-seat sleeper sofa, and the bathroom has enough space to also house our stackable washer and dryer. All-in-all we were able to design the tiny space to have the functionality of what a standard 3-bedroom home can provide in 360 square feet footprint.
Total Interior Costs: ~$9,870
Tip: Design based on on your actual needs first followed by the wants you can afford. To not tire of your smaller space, it is important to design on the functional intent of the space and splurge on everyday functional items. What makes tiny houses on wheels popular, is that they can be customized to your specific needs giving you more flexibility to splurge.
The master lower level private bedroom has a double function. There’s a queen size murphy bed that when tucked away functions as dual working desks. Therefore the bedroom also doubles as an office. To allow conditioning to enter the room, we installed a thru-wall transfer fan that sunctions conditioning from the rest of the house into the bedroom. The bedroom also has cubbies built-in for additional storage and space for storage cubes above the bed.
Total Cost: ~$425
Murphy Bed Hardware Kit | Wall-Mounted Drop-Leaf Folding Table | Suncourt ThruWall Transfer Fan Storage Cubes
The living room space is large enough to fit a large sofa. Opposite the sofa is a 60 inch smart TV and home theater 5.1-Channel surround sound. All the wiring is ran inside the walls for a wireless look.
Samsung KM57C 5.1 Vizio 60″ Smart LED
The kitchen is 13 feet long and mostly sits on top of the wheelwell. It has white quartz countertop and a custom copper apron sink. For cooking, there is a 30-inch 4-burner downdraft cooktop converted to propane gas. We saved money by purchasing on sale and designing around some of the materials we purchased. For example the kitchen cabinets were purchased at wholesale price vs big box stores. Our house was designed to fit given the cabinets we purchased. The retail cost of our kitchen is approximately $7000+ and we saved over $3,000 by pre-purchasing on sale before building.
Total Cost: $3896
30″ downdraft cooktop | 30″ Kitchen Aid refrigerator | Grey Shaker Wood Cabinets with Snow White Quartz | Handmade Copper Kitchen Sink | Pfister Marielle Kitchen Faucet
We designed the bathroom to be modern, simple, clean feeling and functional. Since this is a space that gets used alot, we incorporated multi-use as a laundry. The stackable washer and dryer are 24″ in size and dryer is ventless. The standing shower is 38″ x 38″ with framed glass enclosure enabling the use of 1/4″ thinner glass helping to lower costs. The toilet is a standard comfort height 1.28 (gpf). With the space being exposed to higher degree of water and moisture, the envelope has extra barriers to resist any complications.
Total Cost: ~$2619
Tip: Compost or other off the grid toilets are expensive many costing $800+. If you need to be off the grid you can use a standard toilet combined with portable black and grey water tanks to keep cost to a minimum.
Kohler Highline Toilet | Dreamline Shower Pan | Sinkology Copper Sink | Electrolux Washer & Dryer | Siga Majpell Mositure Barrier | Rheem Tankless Electric Water Heater
In our previous home, I enjoyed having a bar and wanted to incorporate it in the house. Therefore, a bar was built as part of the access ladder to our son's loft. This was built from left over wood and a used wine barrel we purchased for $100.
A total of 12 windows and 1 clear glass front door surround our tiny house. All our windows are new vinyl low E dual pane. We purchased new windows from reuse stores such as habit for humanity as well as excess builder materials from a builder we found on Facebook. Efficient windows are expensive so we designed our home around windows we purchased affordably vs having to fit new windows on already made plans. In total, our windows cost us $404.41 using this strategy.
Our front door was purchased on craigslist for $100. Our front door retails for $600+.
Our savings on windows and doors added up to over $4000 if we were to purchase them at retail.
Total Cost: $505
Habitat for Humanity
We used LP Smartside siding which is also rated for structural support on the top section and cedar lap on the bottom section .
Resources: LP Smartside Siding
We used Onduvilla Asphalt Shingle for our roofing at a cost of $1,212. This roofing material has a nice rubber-like feel and was easy to install. The roof underlayment membrane used was Grace Ice & Water Shield. This is a self-adhered roofing membrane that seals itself to the roof sheathing. It’s flexible and sticks like crazy. This underlayment is pricey in comparison to standard underlayment, but it was worth the price.
Total Cost: ~$1,530
Resources: Onduvilla Grace Ice & Water Shield
For the external lighting we are using solar motion lights sprinkled throughout the exterior. In the front porch we are using Kuna smart security light which has an HD outdoor camera incorporated into the light fixture. I wanted a house that was secure and smart and this light fixture satisfies that.
Total Cost: $210 Cost
Litom 24 LED Solar Lights Kuna Smart Securty Light
The exterior of our tiny house has several connections and accessories that perform different functions. Some of the connections are based on the systems of the house (utilities: gas, electrical, water), other connections are aesthetic such as our awning. We also utilize a water softener, wheel covers to protect our wheels and outdoor speakers. These are accessories that are sometimes overlooked when considering a tiny house.
Total Cost: ~$780
Camco Sewer Hose Support | Camco Sewer Kit Connect | Camco 50 Amp Electrical Extention Cord | Propane Tank | Propane Tank Gauge | Propane Tank Cover | Window Awning | Water Softener | Triple Axle Wheel Cover | Pyle Waterproof Outdoor Blutooth Speakers
The bigCasita tiny house was designed by us and plans were custom drafted to current IRC code at a cost of $750.
Tip: When shopping for plans compare both pre-made and custom drafted plans. Pre-made plans are less expensive because you are licensing to build a pre-drafted design which may require modification to fit your needs. Where as custom drafted plans are made to order specifically for you which cost more. Which ever option you choose, make sure your plans contain engineering approval, drafted to code, foundation plans (i.e trailer plans), and include CAD / Sketchup files.
The utility systems of our tiny house is similar to what you would see in a traditional house. The HVAC system is a 12,000 BTU 26.1 SEER mini split that conditions the house. The electrical is controlled by a 100 Amp circuit panel. For plumbing PEX piping and standard ABS is used. The water heater is a tankless 3.0 GPM. Total Cost: ~$4,300
Design your systems to work with your immediate avaiable sourcers. For example if you have access to electricity from a grid, don’t spend money getting solar energy. Tiny Houses are very efficient whether on grid or off-grid. The same goes for sewer access. Save money by adding the systems you currently need for the intended purpose of your house. Resources:
theBigCasita Tiny House was built to the International Residency Code (IRC) AND also certified to Park Model specifications to ANSI code A119.5.
Total Cost: ~$3,000
Tip: ALWAYS consider certifying your tiny house on wheels. Certification will not only give you peace of mind that your house is built according to code, but it also provides additional options when moving or parking your house depending on location. Do your due diligience on where you plan to “park” the tiny house so you certify according to those regulations Resources: NOAH Certification Pacific West Tiny Homes, Inc.
Our tiny house sits on a 36′ x 10′ custom fabricated trailer. The trailer is considered the foundation of a tiny house on wheels and one of the most important elements of the house. They also provide instant flexibility for the house to be mobil.
Cost: $11,000 including taxes and registration
Tip: Do not skimp on the trailer or build around a used trailer to save a buck. It’s not worth the potential hassle and cost that may come if the trailer fails. Do compare and research trailer price and features. Most manufacturers design trailers with various features and options (i.e. drop axle, tounge, tubing, jacks, metal flashing, etc.) which are many times negotiable. Approach your purchase with knowledge and confidence to get the most out of your money.
Total labor cost added up to ~$16,000. It took over 1000 hours to build the house in 4.5 months with primarily a crew of 2-3 builders, me being one of them. Eli (son) and Sarahi (wife) were also part of the DIY build process as well as having some help from family and friends.
Tip: Preparation and knowledge is the #1 way to save money on labor. Doing your due diligence and creating a plan will give you leverage when negotiating a contractor or working with a builder.
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