Space is the most important commodity when building a tiny house. Every nook and cranny has its purpose, and every bench, table, and chair doubles as something else. And when you’re looking for a huge amount of storage space in your home, where do you usually turn? The basement.
So is it possible to build a tiny house with a basement? Of course. Any kind of house can be built over a basement foundation, including tiny houses.
However, there are some important considerations about building your tiny house with a basement that can turn most tiny home owners away from the idea. These include costs, lack of mobility, building codes, and more.
Why Most Tiny Houses Don’t Have Basements
A basement might seem like an easy way to add plenty of extra space without increasing the area that a tiny house takes up, so why are they absent from most tiny houses? There are a few major reasons that turn away most tiny house owners from building with a basement.
1) Your Tiny House Will Have to Be Built on a Foundation
Most tiny houses are built on wheels, meaning it would be simply impossible to have a basement underneath the house. To have a basement with your tiny house, it would have to be built over a basement foundation in the ground. While tiny houses built over basement foundations are uncommon, they certainly can be found.
A tiny house homeowner will have to decide: are they willing to sacrifice the mobile lifestyle of a tiny house on wheels to have a basement? After all, for most owners, part of the appeal of a tiny house comes from the ability to move it around.
Here are a few more pros and cons of building a tiny house with a permanent foundation and building a tiny house with a trailer on wheels:
|Permanent Foundation||Trailer with Wheels|
|You can build over a basement foundation||You lose all mobility||You have the expected mobility of an RV||You cannot build the house over a basement|
|You can establish a home for permanent residence||You will need to follow building codes that RVs can ignore||Legally, your house will be an RV and you can camp anywhere||As an RV, your camping will always be temporary|
|You have more freedom for the design and space of your home, since it’s not on a trailer||You will be forced to abide by more safety standards when building a permanent house||There are more tiny house with wheels design ideas available, as it is the more popular option||You are limited in the space and design of your home to the limits on trailer sizes|
|Homes with permanent foundations have better chances of residential approval||You will have to buy the land you build it on, or risk being forced off it||This is the more affordable option and you can move any time you wish||There is more wear and tear on a mobile house than a permanent house|
2) You Might Double or Triple the Cost of Your Tiny House
One of the main draws of the tiny house movement is the affordability of the tiny house. Most people want to move away from the big bills associated with bigger houses, and find a place they can call home for a few thousand or ten thousand dollars.
A basement can double the cost of building a tiny home. While you can use inexpensive materials and building methods with the tiny house itself, a basement will always be a basement, and will require the same expenses to get it done right.
Here’s a cost breakdown for what you can expect from a concrete basement foundation:
|Expense||Range of Costs|
|Permits||$500 - $1500|
|Excavation||$500 - $8000|
|Concrete||$2000 - $4000|
|Finishing of walls and flooring||$1500 - $3000|
|Reinforcing the sides||$100 - $500|
|Final sealing||$500 - $5000|
|Required inspections||$50 - $800|
|Total Cost||$5150 - $22,800|
Other potential services that could further increase the cost of your basement include sub-rough plumbing, backfilling, waterproofing, window and window well installation, and other utility installations.
Simply put, most people who opt for the tiny house option aren’t very interested in doubling or tripling their house costs with a basement.
3) Building Codes for Basements Can Be a Headache for Tiny Houses
Since you have a permanent foundation instead of a set of wheels, your tiny house will be considered an actual permanent dwelling instead of an RV, meaning you have to deal with an entire set of building codes and regulations that you could easily avoid with a tiny house on wheels. For most tiny house enthusiasts, that alone is enough to convince them to stay away from permanent foundations.
And building your tiny house over a basement foundation requires that your basement also abides by its own required codes and regulations. When space is already so limited with a tiny house, these enforced rules could really put a dent in your floor plan.
While the specific building codes for your local area can vary, here are some general standards that might apply to your tiny house basement:
- Stairs: Stairs are one of the biggest issues. Building a staircase down to the basement that is straight-to-code will take up about 30 square feet from your tiny house (3ft x 10ft). In a house 400 square feet or smaller, that can be a big ask. (Fortunately, a spiral staircase is an easy get-around for this.)
- Windows: The basement must have windows with a minimum opening of 22 inches. There should also be an emergency escape window that can be used from inside the basement.
- Room Size: The basement should be no smaller than 70 square feet and no shorter than 7 feet along any path. All structural beams and electrical systems must have at least 6’6” of clearance.
Here are some other basement general guidelines that you will need to know for your possible tiny house basement.
Tiny House Basement Alternatives
It can be extremely difficult to find examples of tiny houses with actual basements, as many tiny house homeowners are simply unwilling to go through the cost and stress of building a basement (and building it right).
But if you are still looking for extra space for your tiny house, here are some awesome alternatives:
You don’t have to stick to the general tiny house mindset, especially if you’ve already decided to build a house on a permanent foundation instead of wheels. Check out this popular carriage house design – instead of building a basement, the owners built a two-story tiny house with a small annexed studio.
The “studio” is actually a garage, and the house itself consists of a downstairs living room and an upstairs bedroom.
If you just need slightly more space to store non-essential items, then you might be interested in incorporating a half-buried cellar into your home.
In this one tiny house from Tiny House Listings, the builder walks us through his travel-style tiny house, in which a small 2-step staircase separates the rest of the house from the master bedroom. The staircase itself is hollowed out and acts as a small extra cellar for storage.
Detachable Extra Trailer Tiny House
There are tons of great new ideas coming out with tiny house designers, and one trend that’s producing the most innovative new houses is detachable trailer homes. These are tiny houses built with a modular approach, in which several pieces of the home can be built on separate trailers, allowing the homeowners to transport them separately and attach them when they’ve found their spot.
Our favorite example is a tiny house called “The Elsa”, which has its own mini-greenhouse built on a trailer separate from the main tiny house trailer. The greenhouse trailer is attachable right along the side of the main trailer.
If you don’t want to tug around two or three separate trailers, then consider possibly buying a bigger-than-average trailer (24 feet or more) and partitioning the extra space off as another part of the house.
Wrapping It Up: Is a Tiny House Basement Worth It?
The best thing about the tiny house lifestyle is that you have all the freedom to do as you wish (as long as you follow local building codes). While it might seem difficult to build a tiny house basement, there are plenty of unexpected advantages, such as:
- More possibilities for sizes and shapes
- You get so much extra space
- In the right climate, it can be a perfect escape from the weather
- Getting a loan won’t be as difficult
- You don’t have to worry about the weight
So why not? Like everything in the tiny house community, all ideas are exciting. Build that awesome tiny house with a basement that people will be trying to recreate for years.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.