As more and more people fall in love with the tiny house movement, many are people are asking – how do I get one?
There are 3 ways you can get yourself a tiny house – buy from a builder, buy used, or build your own.
1) Get Your Tiny House Professionally Made
The easiest way to short circuit legal hassle is to have a tiny house built for you by professionals who are able to certify it under 1 of 4 building codes. Each of these building codes has pros and cons, and you need to know which code best suites you based on how you want to use your tiny home. I will write a dedicated blog post on this topic later (scroll down to subscribe) or you can join me at an in person workshop at multiple locations across Canada for the full in depth education on this.
While a professional, and their potential certifying capabilities, opens up legal avenues for you, not every “pro” out there though deserves the name… you need to be an informed consumer or you could pay the price! In Canada alone there is 3 examples of professional certified manufacturing facilities who fell under legal attack and have gone under for producing tiny homes that failed their owners. How do you prevent this from happening to you?
Information! If you choose to use a professional you want to know which reputable companies to choose from, need to know what you actually need, and need to ask the right questions to choose your builder and hold them accountable.
If you walk into a relationship with a professional builder as an informed client they will either love you or hate you. They will love you because you will know exactly what you want. And not a “wishy-washy” knowing what you want, but hard specifics! This saves them countless hours in consultation, client education, and helps them make a tiny house that you will love.
Some builders will hate you for being informed because it will force them not to cut corners, not to use toxic chemicals, not to use poorly reviewed and/or cheap products, and they wont be able to talk you into compromises you wouldn’t otherwise make. At the end of the day, you deserve a good house. If you know what that means, you will get it from your builder or you will find another builder who will deliver.
2) Buy A Used Tiny House
A used tiny house is often a SCORE, price wise! Used tiny homes scale in price similar to vehicles. But before you buy, know that there are many possible red flags.
Just as mentioned with professional built tiny houses, legal certification is the #1 hot topic! Was the used tiny house you are looking at built to any given standard? If not, you may not be allowed to legally live in it. Some people are okay taking that risk, or living on the grey side of the law, but many people are not.
Beyond legalities, is there any guarantee that the tiny house was built to be structurally safe, that the plumbing and electrical was done correctly, that the trailer is rated for the house? These are just a few of the bigger questions!
This may scare you away from buying a used tiny house but just like buying a used car, not all of them are lemons! Buying a used tiny house is often the quickest and cheapest way to get a tiny house. You just have to be a discerning and knowledgeable buyer.
If you can tick the boxes for how the house was built, and the price point is right for you, there is still one last VERY important variable… The #1 reason people try tiny and quit is because their tiny house wasn’t a match for their lifestyle. To use the car analogy again, if you aren’t clear on what you need when you go car shopping, you might get a farm truck, a race car, or a minivan. Do you know YOUR needs? Are you buying this tiny house from someone who made this mistake and you are about to repeat it?
Know what you need and want and you will love your house – whether it’s brand new or used.
3) Build Your Own Tiny House
This third option is the most exciting but it also has the most pitfalls. It’s liberating to build your own house – you pick up skills, identity, and pride, much the same as parents do from raising kids. But, just like parenting, this is not for the faint of heart… there are many cons with all those pros.
One of the biggest pros of building your own tiny house is that you can pay yourself and save significant money. Usually half the cost of a professional tiny house is labour. This means you are paying yourself $30-60K to get your hands dirty, to rally your skilled friends and family, and be your own general contractor and work with trades people.
Before you get rosy ideas of you smiling holding a hammer, know that this is a labour of love and stress. There is serious research time required to do good work, the time to build is real (double or triple what you think), and mistakes will happen. Personally, it took us 8 months to research and design our house, then it took is 8 months to build, and despite all our best efforts and consulting professionals, we still made mistakes that cost us an additional $9000 by the end of the project. (I also had to drop down to 1/2 work to be able to keep up with our tiny house timelines, so I made less income during this time.)
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Did I truly know what I was getting into when I started? Hell no.
The biggest con with building a tiny house yourself is legalities… the majority of DIY built tiny homes to this day are not legally recognized. Most of the people who proceed anyways know this and still built it with due diligence to be structurally strong and safe to live in… even if in the eyes of the law they are technically a pile of sticks on a trailer or a “temporary structure.”
There are work arounds, exceptions, and loopholes to still DIY build and be legally recognized. There are ways to get the same certifications that professional builders apply for, there are ways to DIY build to RV standards, and there are ways to fit, get exceptions, or change local building codes and bylaws.
So What Now?
As you might have been picking up all along the way in this post, there is A LOT to know. As a teacher of sustainable living who built my own off-grid, hyper-efficient tiny house, I realized I could help others grapple with this sea of information and speed track their tiny house dreams. What I have done is condensed what took us 8 month of designing, 8 months of building, and 2 years of living in one to learn, and I crammed it into a 2.5 day workshop, which is available across Canada.
- Insight and options in the legal landscape – know whats legal and whats not. Learn some of the loopholes that exist and which professionals in the industry I can personally recommend. I even have scored $500 in free upgrades for my graduates with two professional builders who love that I train up informed clients!
- How to clarify your goals and priorities so you buy, design, and/or build a tiny house you wont regret.
- How to build a tiny house from the ground up! This includes utility options for off and on-grid tiny homes, including product reviews, and how to make sure its efficient as shelter suitable for Canada and not some glorified shed on wheels that might work in the US climate.
Having consulted with and worked alongside all the trades and numerous professional tiny house builders, I can confidently say I can not think of a better way to jump into the tiny house movement – regardless whether you are considering buying a professionally made tiny house, buying a used tiny house, or are looking to build your own.
But don’t take my word for it! I have trained over 300 tiny house graduates, here are what a few of them had to say:
Want to read more articles like this & be notified about future course options? My newsletter invite should pop up on your window (click refresh it you closed that annoying little bugger). You can also find my list of tiny house workshops across Canada right here on the “workshops” tab.
Happy tiny housing!
(Kenton is a passionate educator for sustainable living who lives in an off grid tiny house in northern Alberta. Kenton runs a wide array of workshops to create sustainable homes, edible landscapes, and resilient communities.)