Choosing a builder to design and construct your Tiny House is probably the most important step in the process, if you’re not going the DIY build route. If you are, more power to you!I want to share how we went about researching builders and how we selected the builder we are working with.
What to consider when choosing a builder:
Construction Expertise and Quality
This may seem obvious, but if someone is going to build you a house, they better know what they’re doing! Does the builder have specific certifications? Have they studied construction or just learned on the job? Will they contract out the build or have in-house staff working on it? How much previous building experience to they have? How many tiny houses have they built? Just because a builder has experience in typical home construction doesn’t mean they are ready to build a tiny house due to tiny house specific issues like weight distribution, building on a trailer, ventilation, and more. What types of materials do they use? Do they use hurricane straps or tie-downs inside to ensure road worthiness? What standard do they build to? Are they RVIA certified? Do you care whether they are RVIA certified (consider insurance, financing, and rv park requirements)? I have seen a lot of great builders out there, but even as someone without construction experience it seems that there are a few that are unreliable.
Everyone has a budget, and for most of us the sky is not the limit. Of course, experienced builders often cost more, as they should. But consider other factors such as the variation in labor and materials costs by location. High cost of living areas are likely to have higher build costs. More luxurious materials or choice of appliances can certainly impact the cost no matter what, but you want to think about choosing the best builder for your money.
Style, Layout, and Design
Do you want a very modern, contemporary design? Then you may not want to go with a builder that has only done very rustic style builds. It’s one thing to tweak a style to fit your ideal, but it’s another to ask them to build something that is a total departure from what they typically do. Perhaps they can make it work, but wouldn’t you rather work with a company that has shown they can create and aesthetic that works for you? The same goes for size. If you want a 32 foot large tiny house, and the company has only ever built 18 footers, really dig in to find out what changes they would plan for to accommodate a much bigger build. If you want a custom build, best not to go with a builder that tends to replicate the same models.
Some people may feel that if the builder is going to create a strong, well-built tiny house, that’s enough for them. I can’t really say the same. How are they in terms of responding to questions promptly? Can they lay out a clear process for working with them as far as how the design process works? Can they give you ballpark figures on cost? Can they lay out an approximate timeline for you? Are they friendly and knowledgeable?
Ability to Incorporate Desired Features
If you want a 28 foot trailer, and they only work up to 20 footers, it’s clearly not going to work. Do you want to be completely off-grid? Make sure they are able to build a roof that will work with a rain catchment system and set-up the electric to work on solar. Or perhaps you want stairs, but they’ve only done ladders. You better be asking how they would design and build those stairs to maximize square footage or storage. Maybe you have your heart set on a metal modern exterior, but they only work with shingle siding. Check to be sure that the things you really care about are things they are ready to incorporate.
Location and Delivery Cost
As I mentioned before, location can make a big difference in the final cost of a build. That being said, if you live in an expensive area and are looking at having a builder from another area, state, or even country do your build, make sure you ask about delivery costs and do the math. Sometimes it just isn’t going to save you that much after all. Also take into consideration that if you live in the U.S. and work with a Canadian builder, the exchange rate (at least at time of posting) will work in your favor. At this time it equals about a 25% discount before factoring in delivery costs!
Is your builder very popular? Or are they a super small scale operation? Both of these things could potentially slow down a build timeline. If you’re not in a rush and find a builder that otherwise meets your criteria, perhaps this doesn’t matter to you. However, if you’re on a tight timeline then make sure you ask how long the design and build process will take. From my experience, most builders seem to take 2-3 months once designed, but that can be a bit longer if they have a wait list or are working on several builds at a time. That being said, I’d always count on it taking longer than you expect.
Are you ready to take the plunge and select a builder?
Do your research. Read their website, ask questions by email or phone. Ask for references. Seek out people online (instagram, facebook, blogs) who have purchased from that builder and ask if they’re willing to share with you what their experience was like. Would they recommend that builder? Did they have any problems or challenges? Make sure you’re putting your trust and money with a reputable company. Of course, make sure you also have a contract in place that you have closely read and agree to.
Good luck! Next up on the blog- find out who we chose to do our build and why!
Fellow tiny housers- what factors were important to you in choosing a builder to work with? Anything you wish you would have payed attention to that you missed?