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THOW Myths

This tiny home on wheels was custom built outside of St. Louis, MO by Mini Mansions.  The cabinets and staircase was later designed and added by Jesse Hornbeak. The tiny home was about the size of a semi truck trailer, totally 365 sq ft. including the lofts. Our family of four believed in tiny homes so much, we wanted to prove that not only is it a comfortable, affordable, beautiful solution - even an active family of four can live in one!


We purchased this tiny home on wheels for $55,000 and spent $5,000 on custom cabinets.


We were very surprised by the efficiency of power the home provided.  Our electric bill was very little at $1-1.50 per day!  If there is anything to know about tiny homes, it is the ability to conserve precious power resources and provide a comfortable living space for those on a tight budget - without investing in solar.  The neighbors beside us lived in a 2,000 sq foot old home on a limited budget. They struggled to pay their utility bills in the winter due to the drafty nature.  As a result many families like our neighbors find no other option but to be cold. 

Power and water is quite easy to solve with tiny homes. However, many find the largest challenge with sewer hookups.  With the limitation of tiny homes being pushed out into the county, the inability to hook up to city sewer becomes a costly endeavor.  Many result to compromising with composting toilets and draining grey water in gardens.  I personally prefer a flushing toilet which requires an expensive septic tank on rural property.  This reason among many makes me urgent to educate city planners and those over zoning. I am eager to educate on the benefits of tiny home living.  It is an absolutely vital solution to those most vulnerable.


The home did not have a dish washer. Two large sinks were installed for immediate washing and drying located directly in the sink.  Due to the small size, we washed items right away and I do not recall be inconvenienced by the routine.  The tiny home included a 50 gallon hot water tank located below the washer/dryer combo.  This allowed 15 minute hot showers for each of us and adequate hot water for washing clothes and dishes.  The water hookup is similar to a traditional RV.  The unit provided a washer and dryer combo.  The machine washed clothes then immediately dried the clothes.  This combo was incredibly small. Although the convenience of washing and drying in one was helpful, the machine could only handle a small load at once making it a challenge to wash items like bedding.  We threw in a load in the morning and it was dry and ready a few hours later.  Very loud during the spin cycle when at home!


The fridge is a mid-size unit with a freezer.  Dry food was stored nearby in large cabinets under the stairs.  The location of the tiny home was walking distance to a small grocery.  The propane stove and oven used a tank (and one backup) typically used for a grill, installed on the outside of the home.  Depending on the amount of cooking, these tanks are replaced 1-3 times per year at about $50 per tank.  This type of setup is useful for those who enjoy cooking but isn't a commercial setup by any means.  The market interested in tiny homes are often those who are working much of the day and either take their meals and/or eat out.  These statistics prove tiny home dwellers will likely consistently invest in  surrounding local restaurants.


Although tiny homes are so popular, with multiple shows featuring them, many cities have not adopted them due to false understandings. 

Mobile homes?

Tiny homes on wheels are often compared to manufactured homes.
"Mobile homes" like Clayton Homes have become a huge financial success in many areas of the United States.  Warren Buffet, has gained a huge advantage in his portfolio due to the long-term popularity and accessibility.  Although manufactured homes are affordable, they are one of the worst investments.  It is incredibly difficult to heat and cool them due to inefficiencies with insulation and they are very expensive to maintain.  Some are built in just a matter of 3 days and lack the craftsmanship a traditional home builder would sign off on resulting in numerous repairs.  Not only is the build quality quite different than #thow, they are often mobile one time only.  The weight and lack of mobility leaves many owners the option of staying in their original location or spending thousands of dollars to move it.  Unfortunately, many mobile home parks who rent the land to the homeowners increase rent, knowing these homeowners will have no other option but to stay due to the cost of hiring a semi to remove it.  Due to the financial constraints these homes take, many are left as an eye sore in neighborhoods leaving homeowners unliked by local governments and without better options of lifestyle.  If anything the concept of manufactured homes being "mobile homes" is anything but mobile and preys on those less fortunate.

Tiny homes like this one are built by home builders with experience building foundation homes. The quality of materials and time put into building the home is robust giving homeowners a structure that will last a few lifetimes.

It's just a trend.

The need for small homes has been around for centuries.  The first European American settlers lived in log "tiny homes" making them not so new after all. Native Americans also lived in dwellings much smaller per person than we have today. 


Today, the average square foot home is over 2,400 square feet.  So how did we get here?  Why are we all eager to have so much space?  One reason are the demands of construction companies focused on home building. During the boom of roads and interstates during the Eisenhower administration, communities began spreading to rural areas.  Cars were more normalized and roads were reliable. Farmland was purchased and split into lots giving way to the suburb neighborhood.  Unlike what many believe, home builders' margins are quite low.  In order for crews to be sustainable, the pressure to build larger increases profits.  Slowly, little by little, the typical 1,200 sq foot average home in the 60's became twice the size. 

In seasons of life, a small home as little as 250 sq feet is perfectly comfortable for a single retired individual or a recent graduate.  Today, the reality of an individual graduating, building a home and living in it for the rest of their lifetime is unlikely due to the trend in career and location changes.  The ability to invest in a home that is moveable with those transitions could be a wonderful resource for the current and future generations. 

It's too small for me.

One reason why we decided to invest in a tiny home is to prove that good design can solve limited space issues.  Every piece of furniture was built for the space.  It's easy to look at pictures and be like, "nope, no one should do this."  But I challenge skeptics to step in at least one or two actual tiny homes built with strong design.  Many who visited the home commented, "wow, this feels way bigger than I thought it would."  I had one friend who said, "You guys aren't as crazy as I thought!"  The height of the home at the front door was higher than many traditional on foundation homes so the openness was immediately embraced.  For those who love extra clean spaces, I timed myself cleaning the entire house one afternoon.  I did tasks only a cleaning service would do (not including laundry but including dishes) and the time equalled under 20 minutes!

One advantage to building small is the affordability of materials.  Many tiny home owners use pricey materials like marble in their bathrooms and rare granite in the kitchen.  Why not, when you are only installing a few square feet!  The ability to invest in details makes the experience of homeownership more enjoyable.  While those in larger 2,400 homes are spending $10,000 replacing an HVAC unit, tiny home dwellers are spending the same on things that matter.  Like what about a nice vacation, education, charity, a genuine leather sofa or a massage once a month?  Yes, please!

Step One: Land

Two main reasons why tiny homes are uninvited by local government: zoning and building codes.


All tiny homes need land to sit on.  Just because you own the land, doesn't mean you are allowed to build or place anything you want on it.  Especially in city limits, there are strict zoning laws as well as possible neighborhood association policies. Although some zoning restrictions are put in place to keep poorer communities from thriving.  For example, there are compatibility rules - placing smaller homes in with larger is generally not allowed.  There are also minimum square footage requirements which have increased dramatically since the 50's and suburb developments. However, most zoning restrictions are put in place to protect neighborhoods and schools from having unpleasant structures built nearby.  For example, no one wants a water treatment plant built next door. So no matter how much money a company has, city governments will stop a construction project they determine as being unhealthy for the community it wants to place itself in.  

These restrictions are difficult to push through.  Therefore, many tiny home owners have resolved to placing them in rural areas with less restrictions and many have placed them in areas that are hidden away and cannot be seen from a public road.  If neighbors do not complain, there is little risk.  Many zoning and building departments in these areas do not have the staff to enforce restrictions.  In our experience, many county officials believe Americans who live in these areas should feel free to do what they want as long as it isn't hurting anyone.  For example, no one knew how many tiny homes on wheels existed in rural California until the wildfires started pushing them out.  There were days every other car on the interstate heading east was pulling a tiny home!  

For those interested in placing a home within the city limits, I have found a few things help push things along.  If you are in a small town, you may want to weigh your risks with placing a tiny home on your property without asking permission.  For some this may feel unethical, so go with your gut on this one.  In many cases, the worst case scenario involves moving it and paying a small fine (if any).  Keep in mind utility development cost loss in your budget if it has to be moved. 

If you need official permission from the city, here are a few tips that have worked for us.  Get to know those who make the decisions with city planning and zoning as well as the building department.  If you have an influential friend in office, that helps as well. Most of these officials just want to prevent anything bad happening to a neighborhood in the next 100 years.  Many have been burned by manufactured homes, so leaving the word "wheels" out of your conversations initially will help. Many city governments are eager to revitalize a rough neighborhood, a run-down campground or mobile home park.  Some cities own land because property taxes were not paid and they are eager for someone to take it over to avoid the maintenance.  Many city planners work with a few trusted contractors.  Find out who those contractors are and consider working alongside them on a project so they can ask for the zoning changes on your behalf.  Many cities have adopted a compromise called "ADUs".  This stands for Accessory Dwelling Units.  It's a code which allows "mother-in-law" suites to be detached in a backyard.  This law may provide a way to allow your tiny home to be placed on a rented property with another home. 

These conversations and process can take months to years, so budget your time accordingly and don't give up.  The more education and conversations we have about this safe, well-built, long-lasting, efficient, affordable solution called "tiny homes", the better we can progress forward.

Step Two: Utilities

Placing a tiny home has never made me so thankful for local utilities!  Access to treated, running water, electricity and especially city sewer is a privilege!  The first hook-up I suggest is sewage.  It is the most difficult part of the process and will determine where the tiny home is placed.  If you do not have city sewage access, you'll have to create your own.  This is called a septic tank.  It's basically a large hole with a tank in it.  In order to be approved for a septic tank, you'll need a perk test.  All tanks will purposely leak into the soil fertilizing the ground and keeping the tank drained.  In order for waste from a toilet or sink to soak into the ground properly, the soil needs to be tested. Some tiny home owners work around this costly process with composting toilets and grey water solutions.  There are two types of sewage: black and grey.  Black are all the things that go in your toilet.  Grey is water drained from places like your kitchen sink or washer. Many have directed grey water outside into planters.  Composting toilets require upkeep to keep smells down as well as a location to dump the waste.  Natural grey water requires home owners to eliminate all chemicals such as dishwashing powder, objects like Tide pods and replace it with natural products like Castille soap.

The next step is electricity.  If the property does not have enough Amperage or wattage, it cannot provide enough power for a tiny home.  Many tiny homes use the same amount of power as an RV (30-50).  Solar is the future, but today, it can still cost $10,000 to install enough to power a tiny home. Some tiny homes use a little of everything.  Keep in mind all items that use heat or cool, uses the most power.  So having a gas stove with a propone tank you use for a grill (what we did) helps.  You may want to run the tiny home on solar but hook up the heat/ac unit to another source. If you have a dryer, keep in mind it uses a lot of power.  Fridges use a lot too.  Even with our family of four taking hot showers, using the dyer, and hunkering in 10 degree weather, the tiny home used only $2 in power a day max!  

The next utility is water.  This is normally the easiest to hook up.  If there is a water line nearby, the cost will occur with how far away you have to run it, the frost line, and if you need to purchase a pump for better pressure.  

The final step for most is internet.  Many rural areas do not have great internet access, but after many government projects placed during and after the pandemic, it has been easier to access.  For those in extreme rural areas, Satelitte solutions such as StarLink is a possible option as well.

Outside of utilities, consider what is directly under the tiny home and potential natural disasters.  The location should be flat and dry.  Placing gravel or pavers for the wheels to sit on is ideal.  Many tiny homes may need "skirting" to keep the floors from feeling ice cold during cold months. Cold air and wind will cool the floors from underneath like a hammock which can be good in hotter climates. We had issues with condensation, so consider allowing plenty of air to circulate in the home as well. 

All tiny homes in areas with frequent tornados should have a shelter nearby. Tiny Homes can be secured with cables or helical piles (really big screws), but are not safe during a tornado or hurricane.  All tiny homes in areas with frequent wildfires should be at least 30 feet away from a group of trees.  Just because it is movable, doesn't mean it can move that quickly.

Step 3: Choose your tiny home and have it delivered!

These investments and process can take months to years, so budget your time accordingly and don't give up.  The more effort toward this safe, well-built, long-lasting, efficient, affordable solution called "tiny homes", the better equipped we are with building equity on a modest income during an unaffordable market. 

Learn more about the benefits of

Van Life and Tiny Homes

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