(TNS)—With the average new home price in the U.S. coming in at more than $350,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, some people are scaling down. They’re building tiny homes, complete with most of the modern conveniences of normal-sized homes, such as working kitchens and bathrooms. These homes are usually only a few hundred square feet and cost an average of $23,000, according to tiny house resource site TheTinyLife.com.
“With a tiny home, you save lots of money in the initial purchase price, maintenance and relocation to another town,” says Ross Beck, of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Of course, without proper planning, tiny houses can lead to not-so-tiny home costs, he added.
Shawn Bronson, a film art director from Pennsylvania, recently built his tiny home. His work takes him around the country, so a home on wheels seemed practical. He also has substantial student loan debt, originally $180,000, now down to $130,000. “(A tiny home) was my answer to having a home while paying off those crazy graduate design school debts,” he says.
Bronson hated the idea of a mortgage—more debt—and didn’t want a cookie-cutter home. His tiny home is anything but cookie-cutter, but it did run over budget, he says, costing $38,000. He says he could have built it for less if he didn’t use some of the special materials he selected. But, his eye for design got the better of him.
Bronson talked about his biggest tiny home surprise expenses and shared some tips on how potential tiny home builders can avoid them.
The Cost of Windows and Doors
Bronson wanted his tiny home to be unique. That meant straying from standard windows and doors. His floor plan called for windows and doors where he wanted them, as opposed to where standard framing dictated. He also wanted a lot of them to open up the confined space.
The surprise: “If I wanted standard windows, I could have gone to Home Depot, spent $2,000 and been done in a day,” Bronson says. Instead, he had to custom-order his modern style casement/awning windows and doors, wait a month and cough up $7,000.
Tiny house tip: Although Bronson is happy with his choice, if you are on any sort of budget, he says going with standard windows would save a lot. If you want to get creative, plan well in advance so you don’t lose time and can get a few bids.
For a period of time, Bronson’s tiny home suffered from an infestation of flies and spiders, thanks to his outdoor location and having to work much of the time with the windows open, he says. “It was really unpleasant, especially when I had family or friends visit the site,” he says.
The surprise: Aside from it being incredibly unpleasant to work while a swarm of flies buzzed around him, Bronson says it also cost him time and money. In the end, he had to spend nearly $50 on products to fumigate his worksite.
Tiny house tip: Make sure you seal up all drains or holes in your structure every time you leave it. If you’ll be away from it for any length of time, set preventive measures, such as insect traps. If possible, build your tiny home in an indoor structure. Finally, budget for a good fumigation before moving in.
The Build Time
Bronson expected to finish his tiny home’s construction in five months, mainly over the summer. He planned to do most, if not all, of the work himself, and be living and traveling in his home by December.
The surprise: Bronson says he grossly underestimated the time it would take to build a tiny home. In fact, the smallness of the project often led to more difficult construction: Tight spaces made work harder. Also, doing something for the first time meant a big (i.e., timely) learning curve, and Bronson’s work schedule busied up unexpectedly.
Tiny house tip: Be realistic about the amount of time you will need, then add even more. Bronson found that often he could only spend a day or two a week on his house. “Also, be flexible,” he says. “Because it’s your home and your money, it’s difficult not to be a perfectionist. But sometimes you’ll have to let it go.”
The Hitch and Towing
Bronson planned to travel with his tiny home. His work takes him around the country, and he planned to tow his home with him, saving money on living expenses and having the comfort of his home while away from home.
The surprise: The first, not-so-unexpected surprise was that he needed a new vehicle to handle towing his new home. So he bought a truck. But that wasn’t the only surprise.
Because of his interior floor plan, Bronson discovered that his home was heavier on one side and in the tail, meaning it wasn’t as stable for towing. Also, he says it was impossible to get insurance for his tiny home. So, for peace of mind, Bronson bought a special $300 hitch with sway control and weight distribution.
Tiny house tip: If you’re planning to tow your tiny house regularly or for long distances, give some thought to the weight distribution of your floor plan. A row of appliances on one side, or in the back, might not be the best choice. A little thought now could save you a lot of stress and money down the road.
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