What defines a Tiny Home and how much does it cost? - Architecture NZ
What defines a Tiny Home and how much does it cost?

What defines a Tiny Home and how much does it cost?

The Tiny House movement is seen by many as an affordable way to own a beautifully designed home, but what exactly defines a tiny home and how affordable is it?

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

There’s a romanticism that underlies the Tiny House movement. The ideal of living an unencumbered life in your own perfectly proportioned home; living the simple life, where everything has a specific purpose and as a result you tread more lightly on the earth.

For many it’s the perfect solution to their housing needs, says Ahna Brownlee, director of Podlife, a tiny home build company.

“[People] want to do something within a budget or off-grid... There are so many wonderful options.”

Tiny homes are no longer seen as only a temporary solution, she says.

“There’s been a huge shift in how people approach tiny homes. They open up a whole world of options for people. When a traditional home is out of reach, a tiny home means they can actually own their own home—it’s life-changing!”

Barry Connor Design, Skylark Cabin

Why tiny houses?

Younger people looking to get into their first home, older people looking to downsize, second-lifers moving on from a finished relationship, or older parents needing a granny flat or Airbnb all have similar needs:

1. Affordability

2. Efficiency

3. Eco-friendliness

4. Simplicity

It’s no surprise the most enticing factor of tiny living is the economical aspect.

They’re cheaper to build because they’re smaller,and they use fewer materials, however the square metre cost may be higher than for a conventional build because expensive things like kitchens, bathrooms, roof and windows are spread across a smaller footprint. That’s countered a bit by the bathrooms and kitchens being smaller, and there are fewer windows in 1178a smaller house.

INLINE Design & Build, Vogeltown Home

What is the standard size of a tiny house?

Kyron from NZ Tiny House Association says a standard tiny house is considered to be 7.2m long x 3.1m wide x 4.25m high (or 22 square metres), sometimes with an additional loft bedroom or two.

That’s not much larger than the size of most bedrooms, so Kyron advises you think about “useability”. That means choosing the most important thing about how you want to live and making that the dominant feature of your home.

“Understand the way you live,” says Kyron. “I used to be a chef, so ours is built around the kitchen, but if you want to spend time in the bedroom, that’s the focus.”

Minimal Design, TITLE Tiny House Competition

Key things to know about building a tiny house

If you connect a tiny house to council supplied services, it is considered a ‘house’. This means it will still have to meet all Building Code compliance and consent requirements.

Tiny houses with wheels are a grey area. Experts like Ahna can help you through that: “A ‘road legal trailer’ changes the legal classification of a building to a caravan, but things have kept changing over the past few years, so there’s a need to keep up with compliance.

“It’s important to note that a home on wheels connected to council services still needs building compliance (we can manage this—especially as it can vary from council to council).”

Kyron Gosse, from the NZ Tiny House Association, agrees. “From the Association’s perspective, tiny houses are primarily built with wheels so they don’t require a building consent—though we call them a ‘gentrified caravan’ to differentiate them from a holiday-style caravan or mobile home,” he says.

Adding wheels has other important considerations.

“This means you need to design your home as a ‘vehicle’ and there are design elements to consider that make living in them and moving them better.

“For instance, you don’t want windows on the windward (front) side of the house because of the wind from driving along the road. Monopitch roofs are becoming more common to add height to loft bedrooms, but make sure the lower side of the roof is on the inner/footpath side, because that’s where you’ll encounter trees hanging over the side of the road as you’re moving your house,” he says.

Waka Kotāhi (NZ Transport Agency) defines a light trailer as one that is a maximum of 12.5m long x 4.3 m high (measured from ground, so including wheels), and 2.55m wide, though they can go to a maximum of 3.1m wide as a “wide load” (but there are then additional requirements around their transportation and they sometimes need a pilot vehicle), with a maximum loaded weight of 3.5 tonnes.

CoolSpaces, The Mountain Refuge

How much does the average tiny home cost?

As always, budget is key. Are you building your own, or getting a builder or professional tiny house building company? Whatever path you choose, just like with building a regular house, do your research before choosing your builder.

Base your choice on how many tiny homes they’ve built, and then look at the designs. Tiny house builders are often booked out due to high demand, so understand their timeframes and payment schedules.

It’s possible to build a DIY tiny home for around $35,000-$80,000, depending on the level of specification, says Kyron.

“We have a tiled bathroom, engineered stone bench in our kitchen—we’re definitely not a standard caravan,” laughs Kyron.

Kyron goes on to say that if you’re buying from a “mass” tiny home builder or regular builder, then you’re probably looking at $50,000-$90,000 and custom builds can go up to $100,000-$150,000. “We’ve seen prices for plans at $175,000-$195,000, but the homes are well specced.”

Key elements to include

“If you’re building it yourself, understand how you’re going to connect the house to the trailer,” says Kyron. “It seems like an obvious thing, but you’re likely to need a subfloor so that the trailer doesn’t rust.”

If your tiny home is built as a mobile home and you want to move it around, you’re going to need to get a Warrant of Fitness and a Warrant of Electrical Fitness, too.

Consider what size electricity connection you want to install. Camping grounds in New Zealand generally have a 16 amp supply, but if you’re putting your home into a more permanent location, or running espresso machines and electric heaters, you may want 32 amps.

Condon Scott Architects, Kirimoko Tiny House, Wanaka

Smart design goes hand in hand with tiny homes

Kyron suggests having a landing in the loft, so you have space to move around, and cupboards can be built hanging below, for clever storage. Every nook and cranny becomes a storage option.

“Look at existing tiny house floor plans, look at YouTube videos, think about how you live,” says Kyron.

“The outdoor area becomes really important, which is actually something we love, and our kitchen has bifold windows to open out to our deck. But a quick note—our deck is not actually attached to our ‘gentrified caravan’,” says Kyron, “because that would make it a house and then it gets complicated all over again!”

So, understand what rules and regulations apply to you. Research designs, research your chosen builder, and research your desired lifestyle. And then go for it.

“We love it,” says Kyron. “We’re not likely to go back.”

Banner image project courtesy of Red + Black Construction, Nook Tiny House

Recommended reading