In the summer of 2019, we decided to take a step that would change our lives: we decided to purchase a tiny house shell. There was a lot of thought that went into the process of choosing to go tiny and also choosing to purchase a shell instead of a fully finished tiny home. However, after two years of living in our tiny house, we are incredibly happy with our decision. Now I want to share with the world how we turned our tiny house shell into a home and give some tips to those who would like to do the same.
Why We Decided To Go Tiny
For us, going tiny was the answer to so many of our questions. I’ve always wanted to travel as much as possible, and there is no point in buying a huge house if you aren’t going to be around to take care of it. However, we were sick of paying rent. Rent is just money down the drain that you could be investing into home equity, and while tiny houses aren’t exactly recognized by the world as real home equity, we would still be putting our money toward something that we would OWN in the end.
Another reason why we decided that a tiny house was right for us was simply seeing so much waste in our own house. At the time, we were renting a 3 bedroom house that we mostly didn’t use. We used our bedroom, the living, one of the two bathrooms, and the kitchen. That was it! We had two bedrooms and a bathroom that were really never used. We realized that most of the house was just storing stuff! In fact, we actually had boxes of stuff that we had moved into the house, and after a year of living there, had never even unpacked. I was overwhelmed by all of the rooms I had to clean and the stuff that we had accumulated. It was too much, and I wanted less.
A tiny house would easily provide us with less. We no longer had rooms full of useless stuff because we really only have two rooms. We can’t really have a lot of useless stuff anymore because there is simply no room. I definitely still have too many clothes, but minimalism isn’t exactly my strong point. However, going tiny has opened our eyes to what we really don’t need.
Why We Chose To Get A Tiny House Shell
When we decided that a tiny home shell was right for us, we initially planned on having our tiny house builder complete the entire thing. After working with them on the design of our home, they gave us a final quote and we were sticker shocked! It was SO incredibly expensive to go tiny. The price per square foot is significantly higher on a tiny house because every single square foot has to be utilized for multiple things. There aren’t empty floor tiles like in a “normal” house. Every square foot has storage, cabinets, appliances, or something useful. This is why the cost per square foot is higher.
When we saw the price, it was still way cheaper for us than buying a “real” house, but there is another problem that comes into play when going tiny: you can’t get a mortgage for a tiny house. Because tiny houses aren’t seen as real houses, banks won’t give you a mortgage for them because they believe that the tiny house is not collateral. This means that tiny houses have to be self-financed. Because of this, buying our dream tiny completely finished was not in our budget.
However, our amazing builder offered us another option: they would build the tiny house shell, and we would finish the entire interior ourselves.
This seemed like the perfect option for us. Eric already did woodworking as a hobby and had an engineering brain to match, and I had designed our tiny house so I knew exactly what was needed. We saw this as an opportunity to save money and build our forever home with our own bare hands.
Buying a shell was also a great option for us because our tiny house design required a custom trailer. Our builder could easily source this and knew of a reputable company to work with. The entire process of working with a builder was relatively simple and when our tiny house trailer arrived, we were ecstatic.
How Long It Took Us To Finish Our Tiny House Shell
Our tiny house shell took about 5 months for the builder to complete. We had our tiny house delivered during the first week of December in 2019. It ended up taking us a little over 3 months to complete the interior. We were able to move in the first week of March in 2020, immediately before the mass shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
When our tiny house shell arrived, it was essentially a half-built structure. The entire outside was completed, weatherproofed, and painted. The exterior walls were completely finished. The inside, however, had the rough-plumbing and electrical and spray foam insulation done, but that was it. This meant that Eric and I had a massive project on our hands.
At the time, we both worked full-time jobs. Our tiny house shell was parked on a friend’s property about 45 minutes away. We would both get off work around 5, get to the tiny house by 6pm, and work from 6pm to close to midnight every single weekday for 3 months. On the weekends, we would get there are early as we could and work until nighttime. We put in hundreds of man-hours and had help from our family and a few awesome friends. There were many hard parts to the build, but overall our tiny house plan was a success, and we were able to complete it.
By the end of our build we had built our own interior walls, ceilings, floors, tiling, and cabinets. We had installed our own appliances and finished the electric connections. We had sanded everything and painted it all. We had a huge list of building accomplishments that we had completed to turn our tiny house shell into a tiny home.
What Our House Is Like Now
Since moving in, we have made a lot of upgrades. For one, we added a deck on the side of our house that gives us an amazing outdoor area where we can work and hang out. Since we don’t have a table inside, it’s really nice to have a picnic table outside on our deck that we can use for games and entertaining.
We have also added interior shelving to the sides of our cabinets that make for a really nice decor holder. Most of what we have added to our house since moving in have been unique storage ideas to make our lives easier. It’s not easy moving into a tiny house, and I feel like we are still purging items daily.
After all is said and done, we love our little house, and we have no regrets.
What We’ve Learned
Moving in and immediately being quarantined and stuck at home was definitely a learning curve for living in our tiny house. We went from living in a 3 bedroom house and being able to go to work and go out with friends, to living in under 400 square feet and not being able to leave home. It was definitely a make-or-break time for us and our tiny home, and we ended up loving it. Tiny life has been something really awesome for us.
Building our tiny house from the shell up was definitely a learning curve. I went from having no building experience or knowledge to knowing how to use every saw in the arsenal and being able to make cuts myself. Eric learned how to tile which was new for him. Together, we became stronger as a couple because we had to make something together.
We were also incredibly lucky to have included a small home office in our tiny house design. This came in handy when Eric and I were both working from home.
We’ve also learned that even after getting rid of a ton of stuff, we still have way too much stuff.
Was It Worth It?
There are some things that I miss about living in a “normal” house. I especially miss having a standing-height closet. Our closet is in our loft area so we have to crawl in and out to get to our clothes which can be annoying. I also wish we had a dedicated space for laundry and for a laundry basket. Other than that, I really have no complaints about our tiny house.
We have no regrets about the time we took to build our tiny house shell because it saved us so much money. At this point, our tiny house loan will be paid in full in less than two more years. I will be mortgage-free before I’m 30 which is a complete dream for me. With no mortgage, I am free to spend that money pursuing my travel dreams.
We absolutely think that building our tiny house was worth it. Whether you decide to build a tiny house from scratch, buy a tiny house shell and finish it yourself, or have a builder do it all for you, owning our own tiny home is such an amazing thing. I highly recommend it.
Advice For Those Who Want To Buy A Tiny House Shell
If you are reading this because you are thinking of buying a tiny house shell and completing it yourself, I have some advice for you:
- You will need a little bit of woodworking knowledge ahead of time, or you will have a huge learning curve. You need to have at least a basic comfort level with tools before starting on your build.
- You will need a TON of tools. It is definitely worth it to see what you can borrow from friends to save money on buying or renting tools.
- Hire people to help you with the things that you feel uncomfortable doing. Eric and I hired a guy to help us with the tile in the bathroom since it wasn’t something that Eric had experience with. We also hired a plumber at the end to check our connections for us.
- Estimate the time you will need to complete the project, and then double it. Construction is not easy, and it will definitely take you longer than you expect to finish it.
- Make sure that you have a place to put your tiny house shell while you are working on it. Eric and I were insanely lucky to have such an awesome friend who would let us use his land. Keep in mind that 99% of HOAs won’t allow you to park a tiny house on your land.
- Be careful buying tiny home kits, they may not be what you expect.
- Make sure that you use high-quality materials as that will ensure that your tiny house will sustain the test of time.
- Material costs can be high, make sure that you budget accordingly so that you can afford all of the needed materials.
- Interior finishes can also be expensive, plan for that in advance.
- Make sure to choose a reputable tiny house builder for your build. It will give you peace of mind that your house was started the right way and is up to proper building codes.
- Many tiny house builders offer a design consultation during the design process of your shell. It is important to have a solid plan going into these conversations of exactly what you want and need in your tiny house. Knowing your specific needs will help ensure that you have the best tiny house for your needs. The design team will work with you to make your dreams a reality.
- The tiny house movement is growing, make sure to find an awesome community to live in once your tiny house is completed.
- One Year Later: The Good and Bad of Our Tiny House Experience
- Moving into a Travel Trailer To Travel Full-Time
- Questions to Ask Yourself When Designing Your Tiny Home
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I’m so glad that you found this helpful! Thanks for the awesome response.