When it comes to the modern move toward downsizing, you have a lot of options to choose from.
The tiny house community is filled with options from tiny houses to park models to cabins and sheds.
If you want to dig deep into the differences before you make a decision, here is everything you need to know about tiny houses, park models, sheds, and cabins.
Legal Differences Between Tiny Houses, Park Models, Sheds, and Cabins
Tiny houses can be viewed differently depending on what area of the country you live in. Some counties and cities are very tiny-home friendly while others are not.
If you live in an area where a tiny home is considered a viable living structure, chances are that it is not categorized the same as a single-family home.
Because most tiny homes are built on wheels, they are frequently viewed as RVs. This means that you are not typically permitted to live in them full-time. Some people skirt these rules by skipping from town to town, traveling the world without ever having to sacrifice the comforts of home.
However, some tiny houses are constructed on permanent foundations. When this is the case, local building codes often view them as modular homes or stick-built homes. They must adhere to all of the local codes and ordinances.
In some areas, that means that they may be required to have minimum square footage.
Be sure to check with your local municipalities and zoning regulations before you draw up the plans for your tiny house.
You will be held to a higher standard when building your house this way, but it is actually for the best. Your home will be held to greater safety standards than the more mobile tiny houses that have very little oversight or regulation.
There is a lot of confusion about park models versus tiny houses. They look almost identical and both are built on wheels. However, the major difference comes in how they are designed to be used. A tiny house is frequently seen as a permanent living structure while a park model is only designed to be lived in temporarily.
Instead of putting your home on a permanent plot of land or building it in the middle of a housing community, park models are designed to be placed in RV parks or out in the woods.
You can live in them for a portion of the year but never the whole thing.
Consider a park model if you are someone who just wants to get away from your day-to-day life for a season instead of embracing the entire tiny house lifestyle.
While there is a lot of debate over whether a tiny house is considered a temporary structure or a permanent one, cabins are a bit more clear-cut. The primary difference between a tiny house and a cabin is the foundation. Tiny houses are typically built with wheels so that they can be moved from place to place. A cabin is built on a permanent foundation.
This single change makes a huge difference in how the house is viewed legally. Instead of being held to the standards of an RV, building a cabin goes through your local building department.
You will be required to have plans for your essentials including electricity, water, and sewer.
Living off-grid is acceptable, but you must have a plan for these hookups. Waste removal, in particular, is likely to be mandated by the county.
If you are thinking about making a move to a smaller dwelling, a shed is not the way to go.
A shed is more like an outbuilding than a home. They are designed for storage space and do not have the necessary items required for habitation. In fact, a shed may not even have power hooked up to it.
Sheds lack the necessities that everyone requires to live comfortably. They do not have insulation, power, bedrooms, kitchens, or bathrooms.
The zoning regulations in your town are not likely to permit you to reside in a shed, even if you have access to a kitchen and bathroom elsewhere. You should look more into building what is known as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU).
These are secondary homes that can be built on the property of a single-family residence that still has the bare minimum of what you might need to live comfortably.
Long-Term Cost Differences
When you want to build a smaller home, it pays to know whether you will get your money back out of your initial investment.
A lot of people plan to live in their tiny houses for the long haul, but others fall out of love with this lifestyle fairly quickly. It helps to know whether you can sell your property and for how much.
Unfortunately, tiny houses and parked models are both built on wheels. Wheeled vehicles can decrease in value by up to fifty percent after the first year alone. They are not designed to be lived in for the long-term. You might be happy there for many years, but chances are that you will have to invest in a new tiny house eventually.
On the other hand, cabins can hold their value and potentially even increase depending on the market. A cabin is considered a residential home, and an increase in value after the first year is not uncommon for this type of investment.
As you might imagine, there is practically no resale value on a shed. It is not something that you can comfortably inhabit because it has no bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen. A shed is designed solely for storage space.
While it can be a nice companion for your tiny house if you have items like bicycles or kayaks that need a home, it is not something you can live in.
Can You Convert a Shed into a Tiny House?
You can convert your shed into a tiny house where you can live comfortably.
Before you begin, make sure that you will be permitted to live in your new tiny house by checking the guidelines and building codes for your unique area.
There are a lot of benefits to living in a shed that converts to a tiny house. They can be inexpensive to build, and it takes less time than creating a completely custom tiny house.
Unfortunately, there are disadvantages as well. You do give up a certain degree of customization to use the shell of a pre-built shed. It also will not travel as well as a tiny house that was constructed on a trailer.
How to Get Started:
Depending on your personal preferences, there are several ways you can get started with this endeavor.
Many people choose to purchase the shell of a shed or a prefabricated unit to make their lives simpler. It is a little more expensive to do this, but it does make the process much easier.
Keep in mind that to live in your shed, they must be placed on the property with another single-family home. This way, they can be categorized as accessory dwelling units when the process is finished.
Finding an area where you can legally live in your shed might be difficult, so remember that there is always a risk associated with this type of project. You may be evicted from your shed or face financial consequences for living in an unapproved home.
Is it Cheaper to Build a Cabin than a Tiny House?
When it comes to the overall cost of building your home, you need to know what you can anticipate. While tiny houses are definitely cheaper than the predesigned homes that many people are currently living in, they are still a hefty investment.
Of course, the amount that you pay directly corresponds to the degree of customization you intend to put into your new home. If you purchase your tiny house from a dealer who specializes in custom home building, you will likely see homes that range from $60,000 to $100,000.
This can seem like a steep price tag, but keep in mind that these units come fully furnished and are made to be one-of-a-kind based on your unique needs. Builders will have had to draw up plans, secure materials, and work night and day on your project alone.
The same price range goes for park models. Park models are essentially just tiny homes that are meant to be lived in for just a part of the year. The cost for building these will be almost identical to tiny home living in general.
Cabins and Price
While sheds are cheapest to build, because they have no insulation, no electricity, no water, and no sewer, cabins are a little different.
You can build a cabin for less money, with some prices coming in around $20,000 to $30,000. With a cabin, you do not have to purchase the trailer that tiny homes and park models are bound to.
Some cabins are also not insulated because people prefer to see the log walls in the way that the unit was designed, but you can always insulate one if you want to.
If you need to save money, consider buying a shed instead. Otherwise, a cabin may be your next best investment price!
No matter what option you end up going with, you have a lot to consider.
Be sure to check with your local building codes to determine what is allowed in your area.
This can help you to make the right decision for your future.
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Maria is the founder of GoDownsize. While studying architecture in Denmark she became fascinated with designing living spaces for boats, tiny houses, RVs, and other small spaces.
She mainly writes about space optimization, interior design, and downsizing. She’s also in charge of our YouTube channel. Read more about Maria here.