Monthly Archives: February 2016

Why Cost Per Square Foot Is A Bad Metric For Tiny Houses

Cost per square foot (s.f.) is a metric used by developers to more and to sell bigger, as the size goes up cost per s.f. goes down.  In that way a huge house may actually look like a better deal.  We seem to label that s.f. cost as the most important metric when shopping for a home.  I’d like to break down why it isn’t.

I am going to give hypotheticals here:

Houses have an overall cost per s.f. but if you break it down further each room does too.  I’m going to remove land costs because that can throw the whole thing off andd it’s not usually a factor in a tiny house anyway.  Let’s just start here, kitchens and baths have a lot to them, millwork, fixtures, plumbing, etc. they tend to be more costly than bare walls.  Let’s ‘hypothetically’ say:

  • Kitchen Costs – $250/s.f.
  • Bathroom Costs – $150/s.f.
  • Living Room Costs – $80/s.f.
  • Bedroom Costs – $80/s.f.
  • Hallway – $50/s.f.

In both of these cases I will not include land costs.

Lets say, in a standard three bedroom, two bathroom ‘small’ house you have about 10’x10′ kitchen (100 s.f. = $25,000), two 5’x10′ bathrooms (100 s.f. = $15,000), two ‘living rooms’ @15’x15′ (450 s.f. =$36,000) and three 10’x10′ bedrooms (300 s.f. = $24,000).  Maybe you have a hallway connecting rooms, say about 50′ of hall (50′ = $2,500).  Total cost of your 3 bedroom, two bath simple 1,000 s.f. house is sitting around $102,500.  In this case the standard house comes in right about $102.50/s.f.

Now lets look at a tiny house.  Most tiny houses are pretty close to half kitchen/bath half living/bed (say in the case of a loft style).  So, same square foot costs applied to a 200 s.f. tiny house lets say… 100 s.f. living area (100 s.f. = $8,000), the bedroom actually occupies the same area so you get to save a bit, let’s say its half the cost at $40/s.f. (you still have taller walls and windows to add in but save on the roof/floor/etc.) so (100 s.f. = $4,000). Then you have 60 s.f. for the kitchen, because the kitchens in tiny houses are usually a tad larger than the bathrooms (60 s.f. = $15,000) and 40 s.f. for a bathroom (40 s.f. – $6,000).  In theory the trailer would be included in all that cost just like the foundation would be included in the cost of the standard house.  That brings out tiny house cost to $33,000.  So the tiny house comes out to $165/s.f. using the same metrics.

That is saying apples to apples comparison of costs of rooms.  In reality tiny house folks generally up their finishes a little since it’s such a small amount of material needed, I think it would be more realistic to say tiny house kitchen finishes put that room into a higher range, maybe $300-350/s.f., similar in the bathrooms.  Because you are using space for multi purposes you’re able to decrease the cost overall in some areas.

A couple other points, often appliances in tiny homes are less common and therefore can be more costly than standard fixtures bringing that base cost up even more per s.f.  Additionally, in standard housing, when you add space to the house it is rarely in the form of extra ‘expensive rooms’, it’s more likely in the form of bigger living areas, more bedrooms, etc.  Adding more space in that way will actually decrease the overall square footage while potentially adding significant cost to the home. A graph of what this might look like is this:


This is why it is hard to make tiny houses ‘pencil out’ on a sheet of paper compared apples to apples next to more standard housing.  Many people get into tiny houses because of financial reasons only to find out ‘financially they don’t make sense’.  Only they do.  It’s just a different way to do the math…

In this example a tiny house is still performing the exact same functions at 1/3 the total cost.  $33,000 is easier to come up with and pay back than $100,000.  If time=money than you’ll need three times as many hours of your life to earn enough to pay for a standard small house and thats not including the increase in monthly utilities!

To me, it makes more sense to have everything I need, live tiny and use those hours for things that are more fun than paying for housing!  Because there IS more to life than finances.

Tiny House People January Recap

Top Posts

Our first Ask Me Anything with Vision Solar pertaining mostly to grid tied solar power

Monthly Poll, How did you finance your tiny house?

A great thread on the not always so positive side to adjusting to tiny home living.

Insured with State Farm (with loopholes)

Some favorite tiny house products listed by one of our members.

Frost on your tension ties?

Mold was another hot topic this month.

How you deal with unsupportive friends and family.

Attaching to the trailer.

DIY Builder Callouts!

We have so many great builders in group, sometimes we all need a little extra words of encouragement. Nice comments make all the difference in the world when pushing through those rough patches of the build!  If you have a moment check out these builders and leave a comment on their blogs or send some thoughts of encouragement!

  • Pamela has been a very active member of our tiny community and this month she officially kicked off her build!  You can find her and her pretty new triple axle foundation in our group and also on her builds facebook page HERE.  Leave her some comments and words of encouragement along the way!
  • Alicia and William Gates (<— Click that for some cool stairs!) are sprinting toward the finish line of their home.  Having done the work before I am amazed at how fast they are cooking! They have both asked great questions along their whole build, use the search bar for their name to follow some great dialogues!
  • Sean David BurkeBaylie Carlson [both long time members and big contributors in group] and the Tacks (Christopher and Malissa), have gotten together and started a tiny house community in Washington! (yet to be named) Sean has an under construction shipping container house, Baylie has a family of four in their second tiny house, and Christopher and Malissa have theirs FOR RENT on AirBNB… in case you’re looking to try on the lifestyle you could have a vacation, stay in one of the original ‘famous tiny houses’ AND probably have a cup of coffee with other tiny house savvy folks! It’s a pretty unique situation that I am excited to watch unfold!