Why Cost Per Square Foot Is A Bad Metric For Tiny Houses
Cost per square foot (s.f.) is a metric used by developers to more and to sell bigger. As the size goes up cost per s.f. goes down. In that way a huge house may actually look like a better deal. We seem to label that s.f. cost as the most important metric when shopping for a home. I’d like to break down why it isn’t.
I am going to give hypotheticals here:
Houses have an overall cost per s.f. but if you break it down further each room does too. I’m going to remove land costs because that can throw the whole thing off. It’s not usually a factor in a tiny house anyway. Let’s just start here. Kitchens and baths have a lot to them: millwork, fixtures, plumbing, etc. They tend to be more costly than bare walls. Let’s ‘hypothetically’ say:
- Kitchen Costs – $250/s.f.
- Bathroom Costs – $150/s.f.
- Living Room Costs – $80/s.f.
- Bedroom Costs – $80/s.f.
- Hallway – $50/s.f.
In both of these cases I will not include land costs.
Lets say, in a standard three bedroom, two bathroom ‘small’ house you have about 10’x10′ kitchen (100 s.f. = $25,000), two 5’x10′ bathrooms (100 s.f. = $15,000), two ‘living rooms’ @15’x15′ (450 s.f. =$36,000) and three 10’x10′ bedrooms (300 s.f. = $24,000). Maybe you have a hallway connecting rooms, say about 50′ of hall (50′ = $2,500). Total cost of your 3 bedroom, two bath simple 1,000 s.f. house is sitting around $102,500. In this case the standard house comes in right about $102.50/s.f.
Now lets look at a tiny house.
Most tiny houses are pretty close to half kitchen/bath half living/bed (say in the case of a loft style). So, same square foot costs applied to a 200 s.f. tiny house lets say… 100 s.f. living area (100 s.f. = $8,000), the bedroom actually occupies the same area. You get to save a bit, let’s say its half the cost at $40/s.f. (you still have taller walls and windows to add in but save on the roof/floor/etc.) so (100 s.f. = $4,000). Then you have 60 s.f. for the kitchen, because the kitchens in tiny houses are usually a tad larger than the bathrooms (60 s.f. = $15,000) and 40 s.f. for a bathroom (40 s.f. – $6,000).
In theory the trailer would be included in all that cost just like the foundation would be included in the cost of the standard house. That brings out tiny house cost to $33,000. So the tiny house comes out to $165/s.f. using the same metrics.
That is saying apples to apples comparison of costs of rooms. In reality tiny house folks generally up their finishes a little since it’s such a small amount of material needed, I think it would be more realistic to say tiny house kitchen finishes put that room into a higher range, maybe $300-350/s.f., similar in the bathrooms. Because you are using space for multi purposes you’re able to decrease the cost overall in some areas.
A couple other points, often appliances in tiny homes are less common and therefore can be more costly than standard fixtures bringing that base cost up even more per s.f. Additionally, in standard housing, when you add space to the house it is rarely in the form of extra ‘expensive rooms’, it’s more likely in the form of bigger living areas, more bedrooms, etc. Adding more space in that way will actually decrease the overall square footage while potentially adding significant cost to the home. A graph of what this might look like is this:
It Doesn’t Pencil Out
This is why it is hard to make tiny houses ‘pencil out’ on a sheet of paper compared apples to apples next to more standard housing. Many people get into tiny houses because of financial reasons only to find out ‘financially they don’t make sense’. Only they do. It’s just a different way to do the math…
In this example a tiny house is still performing the exact same functions at 1/3 the total cost. $33,000 is easier to come up with and pay back than $100,000. If time=money than you’ll need three times as many hours of your life to earn enough to pay for a standard small house and thats not including the increase in monthly utilities!
To me, it makes more sense to have everything I need, live tiny and use those hours for things that are more fun than paying for housing! Because there IS more to life than finances.