The tiny home movement is founded on minimalist values. Less can be more—more rewarding, more financially freeing, more reflective of the things that matter most. It can also mean more cost per square foot. Why is that? We get this question pretty frequently, so let’s talk about it!
First, we’re living in the COVID era where things are rapidly changing. Supply chain volatility is ricocheting throughout the construction industry, regardless of the platform. As you research costs, always check the date of the article. This blog is being published in September of 2022.
Let’s make sure we’re not comparing apples to oranges. Tiny homes are a different breed of housing from site-built construction. Be careful when drawing comparisons between the two when it comes to price per square foot (PPSF). PPSF is a forefront metric in the sale of any site-built home, but its real value as a tool is embedded in comparisons within the immediate neighborhood. While the current (remember, current) national average is right around $120/sf, you might see this as low as $24 in Detroit, or as high as $800+ in San Francisco. (Realtor.com)
Tiny Homes on Wheels
The average PPSF for a Wind River Tiny Home in 2022 is in the high $300s. Compared to building in San Francisco, we’re doing pretty good. But still, it’s more than double the current national average, and the explanation is simple.
Not all square footage in your home is created equal. The highest value square footage is in the kitchen and bathroom where there are expensive fixtures, appliances, systems, cabinetry, plumbing, etc. Open square footage in living and bedroom areas helps to lower the cost per square foot because these spaces cost the manufacturer less to build. As you know, tiny homes don’t have a lot of open space. You still have all the same home systems, appliances, and cabinetry, but you’re downsizing the cheaper square footage of sleeping and living areas.
Also, lofts don’t “technically” get included in PPSF: Square footage normally only includes standing-height space which excludes most lofts. You’ll probably never see a lofted kitchen or bathroom, so we’re talking about not being able to average in the cheaper square footage of a lofted sleeping or living area.
Steel. Yes, lumber cost is high, but steel cost has risen even faster and continues to do so. Our tiny homes are built directly on a steel chassis, welded by hand here at Wind River. From an engineering standpoint, the wooden joist system of a traditional home pales in comparison to the tube steel floor joists spanning all Wind River homes. We are not ready to compromise on this feature. We also use high-grade axles rated for 7K pounds each, and our trailers are equipped with lights and breakaway systems. This build platform is a significant portion of the total build cost and contributes to the square footage price.
Building standards and materials. Think about some of the site-built homes in your area and imagine them traveling down the highway at 60 mph. Tiny homes are engineered to withstand hurricane-level winds. We certify all of our homes as Park Model Recreational Vehicles per ANSI code 119.5 while also incorporating aspects of traditional residential construction. At Wind River, we use high-grade materials at every stage, brand-name appliances, custom trailers, and hand-crafted interiors. Our base model pricing includes a home that is built to perform in harsh weather conditions and includes a one-year limited warranty for workmanship. Our homes are also built-to-order and customized to your desired look and feel. We know you want the most bang for your buck, so one of our mantras is, “Build the right thing, and build the thing right!”
Some Key Takeaways
Price per square foot is an important metric that can help you make comparisons to other similar types of construction. For example, as you’re researching tiny home builders, you will see a wide range of PPSF. If you feel like you need some guidance interpreting those variations, make sure to check out our other blog post on How Much Should My Tiny Home Cost.