Tiny house living has some obvious pros and cons: money savings, fewer amenities, mobility, minimal storage, smaller footprint, more red tape. But what’s less obvious is that the trade-offs are as varied as the tiny house community itself, each unique to the individual dweller, and they are fluid. What’s a pro today might be a con tomorrow. In just six months of living in 250 square feet on wheels, we quickly discovered our 12 big pros and cons, some expected, some unexpected, and all open to change in the next six months.
Pro: Our tiny house combines the best of a house and camper.
When we decided to take our careers on the road for the ultimate blend of work and full-time travel, we researched various fifth wheels and travel trailers but couldn’t strike the right balance of space and amenities—I will happily admit that certain creature comforts of home are a must for me, including heat and AC, a washer and dryer, a functional space for me to work, and a style that doesn’t scream 90s beach motel. Once we discovered tiny homes, that became our perfect solution, and we chose our builder, Titan Tiny Homes out of Chicago, for their building options that allowed us the comforts of home with all the mobility and functionality of an RV.
Con: Tiny houses fall in a legal gray area in most of the country.
As I write this, Allen and I are looking for a new temporary parking spot for our TH. After our episode of Tiny House Nation aired, county zoning officials got word and told us to leave our spot on a private lot within the next few weeks. To the county, we’re classified as an RV (appropriately so), so we’ll have to find an RV park. It’s not a big deal at the moment as that’s what we were planning to do anyway once traveling full-time, and there’s a cute campground literally across the street. What’s more challenging, however, is that we won’t always be classified as an RV as different municipalities’ codes are all different. Even some RV parks don’t consider tiny houses RVs. If we ever decide to stop traveling and stay somewhere permanently, we’ll face various zoning code black holes and red tape pretty much anywhere.
Pro: Less space means less to clean.
It makes sense that less space means less to clean. It takes us about 20-30 minutes to organize, fold and put away laundry, sweep and do dishes, compared to two or so hours to complete the same tasks in our previous homes. A deep clean takes two-three hours, a good portion of which includes completely sanitizing the composting toilet. Minus the composting toilet factor, a deep clean in our previous homes would take an entire afternoon.
Con: We have to clean more often.
Just a little disorganization in a tiny house can cause a big hassle when it comes to livability. Whereas each cleaning “session” takes a lot less time than it did in an 1800 sq. ft. house, we have to clean up a lot more often in a TH. We’re not particularly messy people (although Allen might say otherwise about me,) but we’re not especially neat either. Just a little disorganization quickly makes 250 sq. ft. feel like a disaster. That means we spend about an hour and a half a week total tidying up and a few hours every other week on deep cleans. Once you add all that time up, we’re not actually spending any more or less time cleaning overall.
Pro: We can pick up and go whenever, wherever.
We worked closely with our builders, Titan Tiny Homes, and the crew of Tiny House Nation to make sure our home was designed to travel above all else. Titan works with steel beams and siding, both of which are lighter and stronger than wood, making them perfect for towing down a highway. We also opted for a custom roof line primarily for aesthetic reasons, but in a happy coincidence, it also makes our TH more aerodynamic than if it were to have the standard shed-style roof. We also decided to keep our model at 24’ instead of the 28’ option, sacrificing space for more efficiency on the road and in cooling and heating.
Con: We need a huge truck to tow it.
There’s no getting around needing a big truck to tow a tiny house. We purchased a 2006 Ford F-350 that gets 18 mpg around town, much less when we’ve got the TH behind us. Because there’s no decent way (yet) to move a tiny house with little to no emissions, we purchase carbon credits to offset our footprint. We like Lifestraw’s Carbon for Water program and TerraPass.
Pro: We’ll save a lot of money.
Previously monthly home expenses: $900 rent + $200 utilities = $1100
New monthly budget with a tiny house: $500 campground spot + $40 utilities = $540
When comparing rent and utilities in our previous rental home to the equivalent expenses in a tiny house, we cut our costs more than in half.
However, we’ll also factor in monthly expenses we wouldn’t be paying if we hadn’t bought a tiny house: $622 tiny house payment + $410 truck payment + $75 insurance = $1,107
When you consider these, we pay $547 more per month than we did when just renting. However, we will pay off the truck and tiny house in less than three years, and when we hit the road full-time, we’ll volunteer as workampers (work-camping) in exchange for free spots and utilities. At that point, our only remaining TH expense will be $75/month for insurance. Seventy. Five. Dollars. And since we now own instead of rent, we’ll be able to sell the truck and tiny house (or rent it out) for a decent value whenever we decide to move on to the next chapter of our adventure.
Con: There’s no con to saving money!
Pro: Less space means less consumption
Having just 250 square feet to hold all of our belongings and groceries forces us to consume—and spend—less. We were pretty (not perfectly) conscious of our purchases before going tiny, especially when it came to how much waste we produce. But now that we literally cannot fit things in our cupboards, fridge or elsewhere, we have no choice but to choose fewer and smaller items to bring home. Particularly when it comes to groceries, we spend and waste significantly less than we did with a full-sized kitchen. Sometimes this also means perpetually paring down, and thankfully we can almost always give something away or donate it, rather than toss it in the trash, like clothes and cookware.
Con: Less space means more unsustainable packaging.
On the other side of this coin, buying smaller often means more packaging per ounce/item. Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce wasteful packaging, but that’s not an option when you have no place to store bulk items. For us, this problem is also compounded by our location on an island 30 miles offshore with minimal access to sustainable products. To combat this, we buy unpackaged produce we can store on our counter, Allen gets fresh seafood from the local markets, and we search for as much recyclable packaging as possible for the items we have to buy that come packaged.
Pro: Fresh ingredients means healthier cooking.
On the plus side of the previous con, purchasing unpackaged foods (fruits, vegetables and seafood) forces us to make healthy food choices and avoid preservatives—not that we need a lot of extra motivation in this area, it’s just a bonus.
Con: We can’t prep many meals ahead with minimal food storage.
Cooking our own meals is the best way to eat healthy, but because we have a small refrigerator with little room to store leftovers, we can’t prep meals ahead for the week. Instead, we have to cook almost every day, which takes a lot more propane and time out of our week. We (especially I) also eat out rather often partly for this reason and partly because we just enjoy going out to restaurants. It’s part of our life balance. Even when eating out, however, we have to be mindful of leftovers. Normally I turn every entrée into two or three meals to save money and calories, but there’s not always room in the fridge to bring stuff home.
Pro: Small space to heat and cool means built in energy efficiency.
For the most part, our Haier window unit cools our house sufficiently. As the only window that could hold an AC unit is our kitchen window, we could only fit the one-room model rated for 150 sq. ft. Most days, this is good enough for downstairs, and a strategically placed fan sends the cool air into the loft at night. For heating, we didn’t need to use it much by the time we moved in in March, but on the few occasions we did, the furnace system running on propane got the whole place nice and toasty without draining our tanks.
Con: Our small window unit AC can’t compete with humid NC summer afternoons.
The little Haier can’t keep up on 90o plus days with the afternoon sun shining into our living room windows and the salty air of Hatteras Island in a perpetual state of uncomfortable humidity. We stuck it out for this summer, but we’re already researching better cooling options for next year. If you have any recommendations, let us know!
Pro: We can easily go solar.
The team at Titan built solar-readiness into our unit, so our first big upgrade will likely be to get a high-capacity battery and some mobile solar panels.
Con: There are no cons to going solar!
The upfront investment is more than worth the return.
Pro: We don’t need to tie into septic systems.
We opted for a composting toilet so we don’t have to worry about needing a septic hookup when we travel and want to park outside of a campground. Titan did, however, outfit our unit with a blackwater tank and RV toilet capabilities, so we can switch to a flush unit if we decide to in the future.
Con: We have to manually empty a composting toilet.
I can’t complain much because I haven’t done anything with it other than empty the urine tank—Allen takes care of emptying out the compost and scrubbing down the whole unit. In his words, “You have to deal with a lot of shit in life, and sometime’s it’s actual shit.” Eloquent. More seriously, he adds, “Emptying the toilet is of course not something I look forward to doing. I empty it every 6 weeks or so.” We chose a Nature’s Head composting toilet because of its reputation and reviews, but in retrospect I would probably had preferred one like the Separette now that I know what it’s like to live with one.
Pro: We have a surprising amount of storage.
Between our second loft, kitchen cabinets, couch and ottoman storage, and space under the stairs, we actually have space left over. However…
Con: It’s not as accessible or functional as it could be.
Much of the storage is out of easy reach, such as the tops of the kitchen cabinets and the back of the second loft. (That’s partly due to our custom roof line, which is worth the trade-off.) What is easily accessible and used on a daily basis isn’t as functional as it could be. We love the beer brewing cart that fits perfectly under the stairs that Zach made for us on Tiny House Nation. It does pose a challenge, though, in storing other necessities in that relatively large space. We nested the brewing equipment in itself so it takes up a third of what it did when it took up the whole cart, and now we have a modified closet system with one milk crate, two baskets and a few hooks for hangers to store all of our regular-use clothes. Still, there’s a total of 24 cubic feet under our stairs, only 5-10 of which is needed for the brew kit. And that’s not including the actual steps, where there’s an additional 4.5 cubic feet we can’t (yet) access. One of our next projects will be to modify the stairs to make better use of this space with drawers and cabinets for things like shoes, linens, kitchen wares, and other small items.
Pro: We have a combo washer/dryer.
We did not want to have to stop at a laundromat or use campground facilities to do laundry when we travel, especially with the amount of workout gear we go through in a week. So, we got the washer/dryer hookup upgrade from Titan and purchased an Edgestar ventless washer/dryer combo. It washes small loads quickly and well, but…
Con: …It doesn’t really dry.
“Dryer” is a misnomer when it comes to these ventless combos. Because they don’t have a vent, they don’t dry with hot air, they spin the clothes to wring them out. That means “dry” is really wet but not dripping, so we have to hang our clothes to fully dry on a rack behind our front door. If we time it right and hang our laundry up at night, it will be wearable by the morning as the rack is a few feet from the AC. That in itself isn’t too much to deal with, but the cost of the upgrade and washer/dryer itself was a big expense to not get truly dry clothes.
Pro: We travel with cats!
To me this is a pro. I’ve had my cats since I was 12, so I love that I can now take them all over the country with me in the remaining years we have left together.
Con: We travel with cats.
To Allen, this is a con. He’ll always complain about the cats (though I have dozens of pictures of him snuggling with both,) mostly because of the litter box. To be fair, that’s a legit complaint. Like many RVers, we keep the litter box in the shower, which in most cases would be contained enough to be tolerable. In our case, however, we have one cat who’s particularly aggressive at burying her treasures, so we have to sweep out our shower and bathroom several times a day. Add to that the shedding, hairballs, etc. cats—and really pets in general—make for a lot of extra cleaning.