#14 How Much Does it Cost To Build A Tiny House?

I spent a total of $38,458 on renovating this tiny barn. The total cost since I decided to convert the barn into a dwelling is $31,070. By adding A/C to this barn, the square footage can officially count towards part of the house for resale value (conservatively about $60,000; $150 / sqft). Here are the details of the expenses:

  • Demo & framing $9,471: garage door, 2nd floor, adding frame support, including $4,700 materials
  • Plumbing $9,950: adding a separate sewer line, concrete work, bathroom, toilet, kitchen sink, hot water heater
  • New roof: $4,000
  • Siding: $3,388
  • Furnishing $3,023: Kitchen cabinets, countertop, microwave, fridge, couch, table, chairs, backsplash, internet extender, smart lock, electric stove, bowls & silverware, coffee mugs, water boiler, shower curtain, curtains.
  • Electricity $1,800: digging an electricity line, wiring the entire barn, installing a fan, various can lights, outside light.
  • Miscellaneous construction $1,853: trim, railing, ladder, concrete leveler, insulation batting, windows
  • Insulation $1,497: wall insulation batting (R-13), roof insulation open cell foam (R-39)
  • Flooring $1,230: Luxury Vinyl Plank for about 400 square feet (about $3 a sqft after taxes)
  • Mini Split $1,198: Pioneer + smart device + installation fee (we hired a professional AC guy to vacuum-seal it $270)
  • Renting a dumpster $445
  • Paint $528: Benjamin Moore, totally worth it.
  • Permit $275 ($200 refundable)

Things I could have saved:

  1. I probably could have saved more on furnishing the place if I was patient enough to wait through Facebook Marketplace and am willing to pick up bulky items. Even though most of the items around my area seem very mid-west and outdated on Facebook, once in a while, someone who has similar minimalist taste posts a piece of furniture on Facebook. I got my mirror through Facebook for $25 which was well worth it. 
  2. Paint: I went with Benjamin Moore paint and it costed a lot more than if I had gone with Behr. I was priming and painting white onto drywall (as opposed to painting over a previous, darker color), so in retrospect, a cheaper paint probably would have been the same. But I absolutely loved the experience painting in Ben Moore. The paint doesn’t smell horrible, and two coats are more than enough. The paint cured wonderfully against the primer. It is hard to go back to Behr products again… I thought maybe it was just because I paid more money and felt the satisfaction but I found on reddit others have had similar experiences with a mid-range-priced paint. So I could have saved some money for it, but if I were to do it all over again, I’d probably still go with the more expensive paint.

Things I may have to pay for in order to build another tiny house:

  1. concrete slab – this was existing so I didn’t have to pay for it.
  2. barn structure – even though I practically redid the structure, it may have cost me a couple thousand more if I have to build the structure from scratch.

Overall, my budget was about at the start of the project $25,000 and I spent $31,000. I have underestimated how much furnishing would cost. All those $100 trips to Home Depot and Walmart adds up!

I am planning on duplicating this process sometime in the near future (after the price of lumber & other construction materials come down a bit). 

 

#13 Ten Things I Learned from Building This Tiny House

After a year of planning, renovation, sweat, and tears, this barn is finally complete! We put it on Airbnb and it’s available for booking now. 

Ten things I learned about building this tiny house almost from scratch:

  1. Have a detailed plan: Plan ahead with a specific layout. I made a 3D model of what it should look like at the beginning of the project to explain to the city inspector what I am trying to achieve.  also helped the contractors to quote me for what needs to be done. If I were to do it again, I would also sketch out where the outlets and lights should be to save time communicating to contractors what needs to be done.
  2. Always interview at least 3 contractors for the same job. Ask them to quote you with line-by-line detail. If they can’t tell you the details, explain what materials to use, or how long it would take, I would not use them no matter how cheap they are.
  3. Don’t cheap out and hire unprofessional contractors. I had a bad experience with a contractor who quoted me very low on an insulation foam spray. I waited for 6 weeks and followed up 20+ times and ended up going with someone else. The second person who charged a reasonable amount was fast, professional, and cleaned up after himself. I should have gone with him in the first place and not cheap out.
  4. Know that there will be hiccups if it is your first time. Everything is solvable under the sun. Someone would have encountered it one way or another. Keep looking, keep asking, keep learning. Don’t give up.
  5. Ask yourself if you really need some of these decorations. Does it have ROI (return on investment)? Can I do without it? Can I make it for cheaper? Ultimately, it is a business, and the numbers ($$$) have to make sense.
  6. Keep track of everything you spent and what you spent so you can estimate better next time.
  7. Ask for help and bring people on the journey. They love to be part of something and feel the achievement. I have a friend who’s helped me out many times when I needed tools or his truck to transport something. Those people are the fairy-god-mothers of my life 🙂 Thank you, Robby!
  8. Having the right tool is VERY important. I am frugal to a fault sometimes. I tried to mix concrete with a power tool + a paint mixer because I didn’t want to purchase another tool to only mix concrete and never use it again. Needless to say, that didn’t go very well. I ended up borrowing my friend’s concrete mixing tool and finished pouring the concrete. 
  9. Be creative and try new things.  I searched up and down Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram on how to install railings, and I never got a good answer from it. Most of what I found were railings for decks, or they are made of metal, or professionally installed (with no details how it was installed). I eventually made a version of the railing first and found it unstable, and then I tried another version that worked better. 
  10. Find friends who have similar hobbies! Finding local friends who have similar hobbies and swap stories and experiences. I didn’t meet friends that are passionate about renovations until towards the end of my renovation. And I am so glad I did because there are so many small tips they gave me that were helpful. Just knowing I am not alone was a big encouragement for me to carry on and finish the tiny house!

Cheers to another project under the belt! 

#12 Why We Decided to Redo The Loft Railing

After our first attempt at the loft railing, we realized that it was slightly unstable despite the fact that I screwed in many 6-inch deck screws from the railing into the subfloor. So we went back to the drawing board again to think of a different and more stable design. Let’s revisit.

This was my first design of the loft railing. I originally wanted to do some macrame braiding in between the 2x4s, but the far-right (and far left) corner wasn’t attached to anything. The whole railing’s weight is supported by a couple of 6-inch deck screws and I can easily see it may be a safety hazard. It took some convincing and help from Mr. CodeJunkie, and I took this first version back down.

Here is a first sketch of what it should look like, how much lumber we needed to buy, and how long these pieces needed to be cut at Home Depot. We ended up buying about 5 pieces of 2x6x144 ($~100) and some decking screws. Home Depot trips are expensive these days. I guess everyone is doing home improvements since we are all locked down due to COVID.

Going to Home Depot is always stressful for me. I don’t particularly enjoy crowds and it is plain intimidating that I don’t know half of the stuff they have here. It is like a Lego’s game on hard mode. Fortunately this time I got help from Mr. Codejunkie. This was hands down the fastest time I got out of Home Depot.

The first thing I did after coming back from Home Depot was sanding. It was very therapeutic for a while until I got tired of sitting on the floor. I busted out my Makita sander and quickly finished sanding all the wood pieces (with 220 grid).

Making frame by yourself can be hard sometime when you need an extra arm you don’t have. This is when the legs come in handy.

I re-made the basic frame again, but this time with two support columns, and completely with 2x6s instead of 2x4s. They feel instantly sturdier. A lot less nerve wracking than my railing version 1!

We added these support columns on the outside of the railing frame. They needed to be countersinked & pre-drilled before we put them up.

These support columns are also 2x6s and they will eventually be attached to the frame itself to ensure the load is transferred to the sub-flooring.

During my week of working in the barn, I had a slight accident. I was trying to fix this window that acts as a guillotine every time you open it. And I dropped it on my window frame and made a huge dent on it (AND my heart…). But it’s nothing a little pink spackle can’t fix! 

Here you have it, our second attempt at making this railing safe and pretty! 

Want to keep browsing our building projects and renovations? This archive is completely dedicated to them. We also now have an Instagram account! Check us out @thetinybarn! We will be putting some short stories on there as we build in the barn. 

#11 How to Paint the Front Door & My Favorite Paint Brand

My newest update is the freshly painted door for the barn. The color is Benjamin Moore Tranquility (AF490). They are a lot calmer than I thought they were from Younghouselove’s doors. After I experienced Benjamin Moore paint, I don’t think I could ever go back to Home Depot paints. Of course, Ben Moore is a lot more expensive but literally, I’ve put on two coats of this and it looks AMAZING meanwhile I’ve put on like 7 coats of white on my house’s front door and it still looks vaguely brown. 

Here’s the door before I painted it. It didn’t look bad in the photo but you can tell it’s a door that hasn’t been painted. It was primed white from the store. Based on Sherry from Younghouselove’s guide to painting front doors, the first step is to paint the recessed areas.

This is actually not as easy as it looks because I keep seeing globs of paint around the pivot points of the recessed areas. I finally gave up on being a perfectionist about them, and you can’t tell the difference after the paint is dried.

The next area I painted is the raised panels. Then it’s the large cross sections of the door. Overall this paint is really easy to control and I absolutely love the color. I am doing the outside of this door after our rainy Spring in Arkansas come to a pause. 

Here is the finished look.

Want to keep browsing our building projects and painting endeavors? This archive is completely dedicated to them. 

#10 How to DIY Loft Guardrail (Macrame Railing) – Part 1

I added some railing to the loft this weekend.

First I made a frame by measuring the length of the loft floor. I made the railing about 3ft tall, so I measured the length of the top of the railing as well. I found these lumber from the Home Depot discount section (there’s a section right next to the cutting station that’s all 75% off because the wood has some damage or split. So I salvaged the parts that are still usable. I also sanded all of these with 220 grid sandpaper before assembly. 

I wanted to make some macrame netting to make the railing a little less harsh and more welcoming, so I added these hook eyes to be able to braid macrame ropes. 

I pre-drilled holes (in the depth of the hook eyes – see above drill bit taped with painters tape to mark the depth). 

This is what the railing looks like with the hook eyes installed. 

If you have trouble screwing the hook eyes into the pre-drilled hole, here’s a trick I learned. You can take a screwdriver (or any metal tool, sometimes I use this nail set that’s laying around) to put through the hook eye, and then use that as leverage to turn it. These tools save your hand! Unless you are Captain America, in that case, please contact me, Cap 😉

Here’s what the railing looks like halfway through. 

Here’s what it looks like once the bottom is fixed to the subfloor. But the sides touching the wall are still a little wobbly. So in part 2, I will figure out how to fix that, and then braid the macrame netting.

Here’s my first attempt at macrame-style curtain. It turned out pretty nice! This was inspired by the youtube video here. I am trying to design my own macrame net railing braiding so I decided to try and make a curtain first.

If you’d like to read more about my tiny barn building process, here are all the other articles. Happy building!

#9 New Rental Property – Which Countertop Should I Use?

I guess this is a big give-away of what we picked…

We’ve made some big progress in January including unboxing this butcher-block countertop. After careful consideration, I bought this 6 ft butcher block countertop from Lowes (shipped to our house). 

Here’s the deal:

Ultimately the purpose of rental property is going to be valued on it’s return on investment. So I started by listing out all types of countertops and their prices. 

The common countertop types are engineered quartz, granite, marble, butcher block (wood), laminate, stainless steel, concrete, tile. 

Consider the price for a 6ft long countertop for this project:

  • High: tile ($500 – with installation labor), granite ($625), quartz ($875),
  • Medium:  concrete ($562), marble ($500),
  • Low: laminate ($99), butcher block ($169), 

I would have to hire out for almost every single type of countertops except for butcher block. For stainless steel, surprisingly I found a slab of 6ft stainless steel for only $122 but I don’t think I can cut this and put a sink in it. Rather, it may have to be custom made. If you are installing a countertop that doesn’t require cutting, this might be a cheaper option.

I considered laminate but it’s hard for me to imagine it in the barn without it screaming ‘CHEAP!’ So ultimately we went with a butcher block. It seems to be the easiest and cheapest option for short-term rental properties.

If we are doing the main kitchen in our house, we would have outsourced this job and chose engineered quartz since they can virtually be any color you like and be maintenance-free. You never have to worry about spilling red wine on a white countertop again.  

Tali supervising the installation

Mr. Code Junkie clamped the countertop to the cabinets and screwed them in from the bottom up in the four corners of the countertop plus a few other spots in the middle. I’ll admit, it’s probably a pretty hacky way of securing the countertop and I’d definitely leave it to the professionals next time (if it’s something bigger). It would’ve been nice if we fully leveled the top of the cabinets with another set of shims/wood pieces before putting the countertop on, and wood glue all the places that come into contact with the cabinets.

Our local plumber who’s installing the sink cut the sinkhole for us (a 22″ x 25″ sink) as we do not have a circular saw to cut wood this thick.  He said it took quite a bit of struggle since he doesn’t usually do that. I then found a piece of bent jigsaw blade in the trash pile the next day. I guess he indeed had a hard time wrestling with the 3-inch solid wood countertop!

Here I am putting on a couple of layers of wipe-on mineral oil that I had laying around. Hopefully, there will be little to no prep-work at all on this countertop, so I am not concerned about the mineral oil being food-grade. But there is food-grade mineral oil for that purpose as well for people who use butcher block in their day-to-day kitchen. 


New Bathroom Vanity from Wayfair

Here’s the before/after bathroom install

Another update we have is this lovely Matsumoto 30″ bathroom vanity I found on Wayfair for $280. Since the barn bathroom doesn’t have a lot of natural light, I chose white and can add small colorful items later on. The blue and green colors of the vanity both look really sleek as well.

For some reason, Wayfair is now selling this 30″ vanity at $419.99 which is a LOT more expensive than when I purchased it. I’ve noticed this on Wayfair for a couple of items I bookmarked that the prices actually fluctuate quite a lot (a few hundred dollars). I kept a spreadsheet of all the items I intended to buy and their prices while waiting for the construction to be done which worked out well. I came upon a similar website with camelcamelcamel for Amazon; it is called zeporter for Wayfair to track prices of an item to make sure you buy at the cheapest time. You may want to track the prices for a month or two before pulling the trigger if it’s a big ticket item.

If you are not crunching for time, I would wait to see if they have “open-box” items on Wayfair which is usually $50 cheaper. See the example below.


Installing Floor and Door Trims

Before/After adding trim

My first attempt putting door trim on. I watched some youtube videos (here, here, and here) before starting on this endeavor. A couple of things I learned from watching these videos:

  1. Put door trim on before the floor trim.
  2. Leave about a 1/4 inch distance between the door jam and actual door trim.
  3. You can shave/chisel the drywall to make sure it’s flush with the door jam before nailing the trim.
  4. It’s easiest to do the trim AFTER flooring is done.

Getting the trim home was a bit of a journey. Since Home Depot sells trims in 12 feet lengths, there is no way it could fit in my tiny little Volkswagen hatchback even hanging out of the sunroof. I had to wait for a sunny day and my friend who has a truck to go and pick it up.

We started doing the trim around the entire room but haven’t finished yet. I borrowed my friend’s nailgun and this starts to come together quickly.

Pro tip: if you don’t have a luxurious friend who has a truck, Home Depot usually have 1-2 trucks they let you rent by the hour, and it’s about $25 for 2 hours. You can also get a truck from U-haul for about the same price. You will just have to go to U-haul to pick it up first then drive to Home Depot/Lowes.

Want to keep browsing our building projects and furniture upgrades? This archive is completely dedicated to them. 

#8 A Winter Wonderland and How to Winterize Your House

We had one of the biggest snowstorms in Arkansas and it is going to be -12 F (-24 C) tonight! The groundhog 2021 prediction did say it is another 4-6 weeks of winter, so I guess he’s right! We got a call from Mr. Code Junkie’s dad with step by step instructions on how to shut off the water/winterize to prepare for the cold. I imagine every dad in America is out there calling their kids today, “make sure you shut your water off or keep it dripping so the pipe doesn’t freeze!” 

This is when good insulation pays off. We set the temperature in the barn at 62 degrees with a mini-split running, but it feels warmer than the house where the thermostat is set at 66.

We have a spigot outside and a water shutoff that the plumber installed.  You can barely tell where the water shutoff is with all the snow. I was quite excited to have a legitimate excuse to go outside. Even though it’s FREEZING, the air seems fresh and crisp. The little paw prints were left by Tali (our princess-greyhound) who really doesn’t like cold. She would run outside, pee, then dash back in and act like it was such laborious work.

The water shutoff usually has a black plastic top with a little hole for you to turn and lift the cover to open. Thank god this cover isn’t frozen shut when we tried to open it.

This is what it looks like inside. My reflection coupled with the trees makes this look a lot deeper and sinister but it’s about a foot deep in the ground where you can reach your arm in and turn the white handle from perpendicular to the pipe (on) to a 90-degree (off). I have no idea how I first learned about this but I guess it comes with homeownership!

Once the water is shut off, you turn on the spigot to drain the remaining water from the pipes to prevent them from freezing then damage the pipe.

Our house and cars are covered in snow, as well as the little free library! My friends from Houston said their utility companies started a rolling blackout to shut off their power every 2 hours for 30 minutes to save energy for the hospitals. It is indeed an insane winter! We turned down the heat to 62 to conserve energy. We also found some thick blankets to stuff to the bottom of our doors to prevent draft cold air from coming into the house. 

What are some ways you winterize your house?

#7 Our First Attempt of Installing Lowe’s Diamond Now Arcadia Cabinets

After a few weekends of rest from our exciting Colorado white Christmas, we are back at the barn again. Last week, I laid the floor up to the point where it’s close to the cabinets, and Mr. Code Junkie and I worked on installing base cabinets. 

I know this picture above just looks like we put the cabinets next to each other and against the wall but there’s way more involved than I had first anticipated!

First, I did some shopping around the local stores for cheap cabinets but they are all quite expensive for quality cabinets. The only thing cheaper we saw looked like it was made with paper and I might accidentally punch a hole in it by just touching. So we went back to the big box store – Home Depot and Lowes. 

I personally would not recommend shopping at Lowe’s ever again because their customer service was pretty horrendous. One of the cabinets came a little damaged and getting them replaced was a nightmare. Next time, I would drive 4 hours to an Ikea to get the cabinets I really want (SEKTION). Ikea cabinets would’ve been a total of $512 after tax (30 inches $153, 24 inches $172, and 18 inches $143) plus renting a truck and drive 8 hours round trip.

Here are the three cabinets we got from Lowes, from left to right they are 30 inches, 24 inches, and 18 inches. The total trip to Lowes was $601 which is more expensive than Ikea. Since I’ve never had Ikea cabinets so I can’t compare them but I would’ve liked the smooth finish of the Ikea cabinets better.

These Cabinets from Lowe’s are called Diamond Now Acadia cabinets. They are made of particleboard but covered up nicely. Although because it is made with particleboard, it’s very easy to break. We almost damaged a drawer moving these cabinets. They are fairly cheaply made but they are the most economical and ok-looking cabinets I can get my hands on, so they will do for this project.

We also bought a new stud-finder since our last one was from Home Depot and it was not accurate. When I was trying to find the stud for installing the A/C mini-split, the plumber happened to be here to help me find the stud and he just used a super strong magnet to find the nails that were in the stud. At first, I thought this method was like trying to find a needle in the haystack, but after he let me try to find the stud with his magnet and I found it, I felt pretty good about this new method instead of the beeping machine I used to have.

Because of the way the cabinets are, we had to add a piece of wood in between to cover the gap and screw it to the wall. 

We also screwed the cabinets to each other using these screws below. These came with a little flat (almost washer-like) collar that prevents the screw going into the particle board – another trick I learned from watching this youtube guy

Overall, this whole experience was a bit stressful because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing in terms of leveling the cabinets and screwing them in. The first cabinet is the hardest and they gradually got easier as we went along. There was no turning corners or upper cabinets to install which I am very thankful for!

I also had a hard time cutting the shims after leveled the cabinets. I saw online people used a multi-tool to cut the excess but since we don’t have that, we leveled the cabinets first, then carefully mark the shims, take them out by tilting the cabinets (and not moving it). We then cut the shims with a miter saw and put the shims back. This required me to check the levels, again and again, each time the cabinets were moved which was tedious but we got the job done in the end. 

Alas, let’s enjoy these lovely leveled cabinets one more time before I get back to laying the rest of the floor.

#6 Update on the Barn: Drywall

Lots of debris and tools!

We finally got some big progress on the barn – DRYWALL! Our handyman came all last week and put up all the drywall around the barn and mud the first coat for the drywall seam. 

For the drywall in the bathroom, we used this green mold-resistant drywall. The seams will be mudded twice and then it’ll be ready for prime & paint!

It was really hard to take photos while the scaffolding is up. We just need a few more days and another coat of the mudding and we shall have an almost-finished barn!

For reference, this is what the barn looked like without drywalls. It took us a lot of time and efforts to put in the wall insulation and find the right contractor for the roof insulation but we can totally tell the difference now when we are inside (see our post here)! Last week, for a few days the weather was in the upper 90s outside, while the barn still remained relatively cool. It really paid off that we put in R-39 on the roof! 

It’s fascinating that a few drywall pieces can make this much difference. What used to be just a structure with studs now looks almost livable! 

You can catch up on the entire tiny house renovation here. From when we bought it, to exterior fixes, window installations, plumbing, and concrete leveling.

#3 Getting on-grid: Connecting Plumbing and Electricity

After we finished the plumbing inside the barn, it was another couple of weeks of waiting until the plumber came back to connect this plumbing to the front of the house (to the city water, sewer, and electricity). Originally, I looked into being off-grid, but it was a lot of day-to-day hassle to deal with composting toilet and rainwater shower/water tower, so I decided to hook it up to the city’s sewer.

Plumber Austin trying to connect the sewer after the rain. I definitely have more respect for these guys after seeing what they go through in order to get the sewer line to work.

The electricians also needed to lay their wires in a similar route but after they inquired with the city inspector, the city inspector asked them to dig two separate trenches (which was SO UNNECESSARY!). Our electrician (and we) tried to explain to the inspector that there isn’t any space to dig two separate trenches 2 feet apart, but the inspector insisted on us digging twice. Sometimes the city rules don’t make sense in practicality, but we know the inspector wasn’t nitpicking on us as we befriended him early on in our project. It is always key to befriend your local city inspectors and meet them in person to explain your project prior to starting your project. 

We complied with the city requirements and as a bonus to this extra step, I got to ride on my electricians’ tractor for a glorified minute, dug one single scoop of dirt while Mr. B took a photo!

The yard, on the other hand, having been torn up twice in two months, was left with a yellow sandy scar throughout the summer. Tali seems to be enjoying the sandy soft ground quite a lot.

If you want to read more about our tiny barn progress, here’s ALL the articles