Make a list, make a budget

When building something as complex as a house, it’s always a good idea to have a plan. That part was solidified over the holidays, and now I’ve begun making lists. Shopping lists, wish lists, comparison lists, lists of lists, and no project could be completed without a schedule, and a budget. The schedule we’ll get to in a future post. Let’s first talk some numbers. By the way, that’s Piggleston above, the Burke family piggy bank and future vacation fund. Say hello.

Making a budget would be a real challenge without prior construction experience. It’s sort of like a game of The Price is Right. Guess too low and you will be in for a surprise com build time, have aspirations that you cannot afford would be a real let down. On the other hand, guessing too high (really rare for most of us) would mean you may simplify your design so much that you are unhappy with the final result and perhaps unable to change your mind later. I wanted to put this together, because I have been challenged by a few nay sayers who don’t believe my budget to be real, or that a tiny house could be built for under $145 per square foot. Of course, I already know that some houses have been built for half my budget by relying on many reclaimed materials and/or sponsors. My new freind Macy Miller built her amazing modern tiny house on wheels with only $11,500 just two years ago.

I’ve done my best to make these numbers realistic – having researched heavily into several of the more costly areas so I could know what to maximize and where to reduce costs. For instance, I knew that I really wanted my design to have significantly more glass than the typical tiny house on wheels. To save money, and preserve the design intent – I will be fabricating my own window frames and sashes, and just having the insulated glass units made to order. I will be spending $35 per square foot on materials versus $65/SF for clad wood windows with all the bells and whistles. Sure, I could put in my labor, however I’m doing this (and building the house in the first place) because I know I will appreciate the experience. Tracking my labor, especially design time would be impossible. I dream about the design, think about it while commuting to work, and spent many a late night tossing out, sketching new and rediscovering old ideas.

Below is my materials budget, both current and with a couple of future projects that I plan to add later. I’ve organized it according to the Construction Specification Institute ( This is the most common way of describing materials used for building in the United States. I’ve removed divisions that have no relevance in residential construction.

I did add a section for tools and any labor I need to contract out – which I will try to minimize. I’ve already spend half that on some tools I wanted not just for this project, also for other unrelated projects. As a result, I have broken the tools and labor out so they don’t count toward my goal.

The BentoBox won’t have a hot tub (yet), however since someone else might, I left in the division 13 on Special Construction – ’cause if someone builds an ice rink or swimming poor on or in their tiny house, I want to see it!

As I get all my receipts organized, I will start showing how I’m tracking to the budget – and try to explain what unexpected items I’ve come across. Realizing that this framework is very specific to my choices, especially the decision to build around a shipping container, your mileage will vary.

Pencil Sharpening

Starting your own project soon? I suggest sharpening your pencils and getting to it. It’s not that hard. You can even download the attached Budget Template spreadsheet as your starting point. Good luck.

CSI Division Number CSI Division Name General contents Budgeted
Division 00 Procurement and Contracting Requirements Legal, Contracts, Fees, Permits, etc…


Division 01 General Requirements Tools, Rental, Construction Facilities, Temporary Construction, Cleaning and Waste Management, Labor


Division 02 Existing Conditions Shipping Container


Division 03 Concrete Slab on grade, foundation piers, etc..


Division 04 Masonry Concrete masonry units


Division 05 Metals Metal Studs, Fasteners, Hurricane clips, etc…


Division 06 Wood, Plastics, and Composites Wood Studs, Plywood, etc…


Division 07 Thermal and Moisture Protection Insulation, Siding, Roofing


Division 08 Openings Windows, Doors


Division 09 Finishes Gypsum Board, flooring, trim and moldings


Division 10 Specialties Bathroom accessories, fireplace and stove, cooking stove, fire extinguisher


Division 11 Equipment Refrigerator, washing machine, etc…


Division 12 Furnishings Art, Furniture, drapes, shades, cabinets and countertops


Division 13 Special Construction Hot tubs, ice rinks, swimming pools, vaults


Division 14 Conveying Equipment Hydraulic lifts, slide out mechanisms, etc…


Division 21 Fire Suppression Fire sprinkler system


Division 22 Plumbing Sinks, tub, faucets, water heater, etc


Division 23 Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning Heater, air conditioners, exhaust fans, dehumidifiers, etc…


Division 25 Integrated Automation Home automation, including learning thermostats, occupancy sensors,


Division 26 Electrical Switches, outlets, electrical system, lighting, storage batteries


Division 27 Communications Wifi, Telephone, network cable, routers and ports


Division 28 Electronic Safety and Security Video surveillance, electronic locks, smoke and CO2 detectors, gas leak detectors


Division 31 Earthwork Work to prepare your parking for the project


Division 32 Exterior Improvements Landscaping, paving, gravel, etc


Division 33 Utilities Water storage tanks, propane tanks, Any connections to utilities or items not permanently attached to the THoW


Division 34 Transportation Trailer, vehicles, etc…


Division 44 Pollution Control Equipment Water filters, air filters


Division 48 Electrical Power Generation Solar panels, wind turbines
Total Spend


Project Phase Total (minus tools)


Update, BentoBox design is now really close





Here’s a preview of my current design in progress – Bento Box, a one of a kind shipping container THoW. I spent the last hour annotating the floor plan to make it easier to explain the components. I’ll model the “garage” and other areas below the sleeping/living platform later this weekend and add this to my blog.

Comments and questions are most welcome. I’m so excited I got all the major layout issues worked out in the last two weeks.

I will miss the butterfly roof… it just doesn’t get me the headroom. The only way around that is to punch up past the allowable 14’ height for the west coast states’ DOT limit. I could do something with hydraulics, which while would be the most amazing tiny house ever, might just be beyond my capabilities.