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Rewards and Costs of Going Tiny

In 2017, the average size of a single-family home in the U.S. was roughly 2,635 square feet. All of that space comes at a cost—large mortgage and utility payments, piles of furniture and clutter, heaps of time spent on maintenance—and some people have decided to avoid all of that by going tiny with their homes. As in 400 square feet or less kind of tiny.

This drastic lifestyle choice is often a reaction to the financial and housing crisis of 2008. But more than that, it reflects a growing number of people who have different lifestyle and financial priorities than those living large in traditional suburban neighborhoods.

The tiny house movement has lots to offer, including a mix of rewards and costs.

Rewards

Fewer expenses. A tiny home can be purchased pre-built for as low as $23,000. If you want higher-end finishes and materials, the price tag can reach $100,000+, but this isn’t the norm. If you build your tiny home yourself and have the time, space, low-cost materials, and tools to do it, the price can be as low as $10,000.

This lower cost means slashing or eliminating mortgage payments and frees up money to be spent elsewhere, like paying off debts or saving for other lifestyle wants like extended travel. Over 60 percent of tiny home owners are living mortgage free.

In addition to saving on mortgage payments, tiny homes incur smaller taxes and utility bills and require fewer household items like expensive furniture. With these savings, tiny house homeowners are financially freer to start their own business, work part-time, pursue new passions, go back to school, or work from home.

Greener living. Tiny houses require smaller and usually higher efficiency appliances. In general, they create a smaller carbon footprint and encourage limited waste and limited consumption.

Travel. Most tiny homes are mobile and built on trailer beds hitched to a truck. If a job requires lots of travel or short-term stays in different cities, a tiny house means never having to leave home behind. And if bills and income needs are lower, tiny house owners are free to travel around the country seeing the sites.

Or a permanent structure tiny house can be built (or a mobile one parked) on a piece of property. The savings of buying (or building) a tiny house might mean a larger or pricier piece of property can be purchased. However, there is red tape to navigate in each state if this is your plan, so make sure you do your homework about state and county laws regarding tiny houses (see Costs section below).

Time saved. Larger houses mean more time (and money) spent on cleaning, maintenance and general upkeep, and landscaping. With the minimal lifestyle of a tiny house, owners spend less time caring for their belongings and more time doing what they love!

Costs

Gas-hog trucks. The trade-off for owning a green(er) mobile tiny house is the need for a large truck to tow it. These vehicles aren’t easy on the gas bill or their carbon footprint. If you’re willing to pay the higher price of a hybrid vehicle, you can stick to your environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Isolation. Although there are tiny house communities popping up across the nation, in general, owners aren’t part of traditional neighborhoods and can feel isolated. With such a tight space also comes restrictions on hosting friends and family.

Less space for pets and kids. While not impossible, living in a compact space with animals and children poses a host of challenges: more frequent animal clean-up, noise easily transferring between “rooms” or space inside the house, little space for specialty children’s furniture like cribs and highchairs.

Red tape. Each state and county have their own laws regarding where you can temporarily and permanently park your mobile tiny house. Some counties classify tiny homes as RVs, so you must park at an RV park and pay their fee. If the square footage of the home is too small, it may not qualify as a permanent dwelling on private property and owners run the risk of being kicked out or asked to build a bigger structure.

If you think the tiny house life might be for you, remember it doesn’t have to be a long-term lifestyle choice. It might be a great option for a few years to pay off student loans or other debts before expanding to a larger home.