Our friends bought a bus. Have you heard of these people? They convert old buses to homes and drive around the country. Check them out over at Buslandia.
And we actually thought about it doing it too. We knew we wanted to move to Portland, but the cost of living is crazy high. We knew our friends were going to build a bus out for under $30,000 and thought it might be a great option for us as well. I had always loved the idea of a tiny house, but was under the impression that they all were $90,000 or more to build. The problem for us with a bus was that it was just another engine to deal with. We already use more vehicles than we want to, so adding another one to the collection seemed like a bad idea. I just didn't think that a tiny house was in our budget. But then I did a little research.
I came across this really beautiful Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) over at tinyhousebuild.com and they had plans to build it for $33,000. This was the first time we realized that building an awesome THOW was something you could do with a reasonable amount of money. Because of some important design features we wanted we decided to work with a contractor, BUT this resource is pretty amazing if you are interested in building a tiny home on your own. I highly recommend checking them out.
Before you commit to building a tiny house, there is a lot of research that you need to do.
1. BUDGET: What will it actually cost to build this house. If you do not buy plans from someone who has built a similar tiny house, then you need to sit out down and run the numbers multiple times. For us, we knew we could not do this without someone who had more experience in the building world. So we hired a contractor.
2. MORTGAGE: Where do you plan to get the financing for this home. Unless you are independently wealthy (I mean who isn't these days :), then you need to find your richest friend to give you a private loan. I am kidding, but only a little bit. The only two options I was offered by a bank were: Refinancing my house or a Personal Loan. My bank was offering a Personal Loan with 14% interest. Ummmm....no thanks! We were able to find someone who loaned us a portion of the money with a lot lower interest rate. Like I said before, find your richest friend. :)
3. LEGAL LIMITS: Building a THOW means that you can drive it down the road. But you can't just take anything on the road. Research what is allowed! We have found that a pretty standard number for legal road limits is 13'5" feet Tall and 8'5" Wide. We called the BMV and researched for days. You also need to consider overall weight and length of the trailer. This determines what vehicle you have to use to tow it. I found out to hire a driver to haul it from Indiana to Oregon would cost us at least $6,000. That is not in our budget. So make sure all the numbers add up. Tiny House Design has a GREAT post about this. I found it helpful to read through even the comments for different thoughts.
4. WHERE TO BUILD: We are building in the Midwest. We are surrounded by RV companies and farms with tractors. So we thought it would be simple to find a place to build indoors. WE WERE WRONG! We had so many people tell us we could use their space to build it in, but the garage doors were just not tall enough. If you think about it, you need a garage door that a semi can pull into. 14 FEET TALL! And IF someone has a space with a garage door that large, I promise you it is full with their farm equipment or RV storage. We were only able to find an outdoor gated space to use. They are running an extension cord out for out, and because it is locked we are able to leave things safely day to day. (We were able to use a friend's indoor location for about 3 weeks while we waterproofed the outside because it had to be dry for a few weeks. But this was not for the majority of the build, only for the outside finish and windows.)
5. ZONING: What is allowed? Every city has different rules. We knew we would be in Portland, OR so we called city commissioners. We called a few tiny house building companies in Oregon and asked their advice. We called the city commissioner in our Indiana town to make sure we could bring it back to Indiana if we ever wanted to. We got different answers from every single person. Some of the best advice we got was "Don't make your neighbors mad." Tiny Houses are a grey area almost everywhere. Rules have not been written for them and so no one knows what to do with them. Choosing a city like Portland, who like the idea of tiny houses, make it much easier, but if you find a place to park, then don't cause problems there. Also make sure you connect with the owner to make sure you have all the hookups you may need for the tiny house. Mini Motives and The Tiny House gives some great advice about how to search for places to park.
6. RV REGISTRATION? Again, we have seen a lot of conflicting advice on this topic. Half the places tell you to register as an RV at the BMV and for insurance purposes. But technically they are not RVs, so others tell you not to.
7. BUILDING CODE: We recommend making sure that you build it to code as much as possible. When the tiny house regulations do catch up with the times, you want to make sure yours will pass inspections. Take pictures of all the building process. Inside the walls, electrical boxes, so that you have records of everything you have done.
8. TRAILER: There are lots of companies that sell tiny house trailers. The thing you need to consider if you are designing your own is the total overall weight. You need to add up all the building materials you plan to have in your tiny house and make sure you get a trailer that gives you the weight you need to carry. There are also two main styles of trailers. Once with wheel wells sticking up and then the deck-over style. Our contractor found a local company that designed one for us because we needed extra weight and we needed the wheel wells to hit at a certain spot. Make sure you consider all these things before purchasing the trailer. This is the foundation of your home and one of the most expensive purchases. Take your time. One thing we forgot to consider in budgeting: the $700 taxes and registration fees we had to spend at the BMV. All those things add up!
The last thing you need to do is to make sure a THOW still makes sense for your finances and lifestyle. There is an element of risk involved with building a THOW. Because of the grey area in rules and road regulations, you honestly have to make your best guess on the 'right' way to do things sometimes.
We weighed all the information, got as many answers as we could, and realized it made sense for us. So now we have finished designs and the exciting parts begin! Let's get building.