ADUs vs Tiny Homes vs Homes

beautiful tiny home

There are many living options out there when you start looking for them, rather than sticking with the same old choices of the past. Explore the differences between ADUs vs tiny homes vs homes, and start to think seriously about all your living options and what they mean for you.

Exploring ADUs vs Tiny Homes vs Homes

All three of these options (ADUs, tiny homes, homes) are places to live. They all have a space to sleep, a space to bathe, a space to prepare food, and a space to sit and relax.

But within these parameters, these options are vastly different. The amount of money you put into each option, both upfront and over time, varies greatly.

Take a closer look at each of these three options to know whether an AUD, tiny home, or home is the right living option for you. You may decide that you've been living in the wrong situation all this time.

What Is an ADU?

tiny home kitchen

An ADU, accessory dwelling unit, is a secondary dwelling that is located on the same property as a main dwelling. This broad definition can apply to lots and lots of different living spaces.

The list of possibilities for an ADU goes on and on. An ADU can be an existing structure on the property or an existing space within the home that has been converted into an apartment-like living area, or it can be a brand-new structure built on the property for the purpose of being an accessory dwelling unit.

For example, a garage converted into a small studio apartment is an ADU. A basement or an attic turned into a living space is an ADU.

The space can be attached to the main house, or it can be completely detached. Either way, the requirements for ADUs are the same.

In order to be a true accessory dwelling unit, an ADU must have areas for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation, which means that it must have bathroom facilities. However, these need not be completely separate or sectioned-off spaces.

Also, a half bath containing a sink and toilet is not quite enough. People need a shower or bathtub in order to bathe for this to be a proper living space.

When a space meets these requirements, and sometimes a few more other requirements (depending on the state where you live), it is legally an ADU.

The average cost to build an AUD, nationwide in the U.S., is $160,000. Converting an existing structure or space into an ADU typically costs less, around $100,000.

What Is a Tiny Home?

tiny home with modern style

Most everyone has heard about the tiny house movement by now. Many people have learned that by living in a tiny space, they can save a truckload of money.

It's much less expensive to live in a tiny home than a large one, naturally. Tiny houses are easier to climate control, and they require a lot less energy to heat and cool.

A tiny house is typically under 600 square feet in total. They are just as well-built as any standard house and can provide living for decades, which makes them ideal for people who are looking for a long-term living situation where having a lot of storage space is not a concern.

Tiny house living also provides the simple life, something that many people find attractive about this particular home movement. Space is quite limited, so you learn to live with only the essentials, and you find that there is very little room for clutter.

All the things that accumulate in a regular home, all the stuff in the closets and the drawers you haven’t seen for years, really don’t last long in a tiny home where every inch of space matters, and everything you keep takes up more of it.

The mortgage is lower, the bills are lower, the lawn maintenance and home maintenance costs are lower when you’re tiny living.

You can see why this is such an attractive option for people.

tiny home in snowy woods

However, tiny living is not for everyone because it can cause a sense of closeness or claustrophobia, and there isn't a lot of room for a bunch of extra stuff, so you are required to live a rather minimalist lifestyle in a tiny home. Where some find this to be an asset, others miss the keepsakes and the clutter that is associated with living in a more standard size home.

One distinction of tiny homes is that they are easy to move. In fact, they are often designed to be mobile and have wheels for the sake of easy transportation.

This mobility makes tiny house living rather exciting, as it is possible to go anywhere. However, some people choose to build a stationary tiny home on a piece of property they own.

The average cost to build a tiny home in the U.S. is $90,000, though the price can vary from $15,000 to over $100,000, depending on the materials used to build the home and the different appliances and features selected.

What Is a Home?

beautiful small home with tile roof

A home is any permanent residence. Anything can be a home, from an apartment to a condo to a van on wheels, but a single-family home is generally considered to be a house.

A house is a structure built to stand in one place and serve as a permanent dwelling for one or more persons. Homes have changed to display all kinds of different architectural styles over the centuries, so the look of a house can be anything from gothic and Victorian to a simple box to a log cabin, or indeed, anything you might imagine.

A home typically has separate spaces for sleeping, cooking, and bathing, and may have additional living, sleeping, eating, and sanitation areas in addition to this.

Though not a given, a home often has a front and back lawn, a driveway, and laundry facilities. It may also have extra storage spaces, such as a basement or attic, and may also have a detached or attached garage for the purpose of storing a vehicle.

The biggest feature of the home is space. Bathtubs are standard, kitchens with full-sized refrigerators and stoves are expected, and bedrooms a typically roomy enough for a large bed and multiple pieces of furniture.

You can also expect to have closets in bedrooms, bathrooms, and sometimes, elsewhere in the home.

The average cost of building a home using a contractor is $343,600 in the U.S.

ADUs vs Tiny Homes vs Homes

modern round tiny house

On the face of it, ADUs and tiny homes and homes have a lot in common. They are all self-contained dwellings, places where people can live and function with, at the very least, all the basic comforts they need.

All of these options have spaces to sleep, to sanitize, and to prepare food for eating. They have a separate entrance into the dwelling and they fulfill all basic living needs.

One of the main differences is in the ADU, which is an accessory dwelling to a main house. There is no additional mortgage for an accessory dwelling unit and the AUD is connected to the existing water supply, sewer drainage lines, and electricity that is already in place for the main house.

Unlike tiny homes and homes, which are autonomous, ADUs are dependent upon the main house with which they share a property. Sometimes, ADUs do not even have their own road access and must share a driveway with the main house.

Often, ADUs are used as rental properties to generate extra income, or they are used as separate living spaces for a family member. An ADU makes a good residence for an elderly grandparent or for a young adult that has not quite left home.

It’s all in the name: accessory dwelling unit. An ADU does not stand alone, but requires a main property in order to function and exist.
Think of it this way: if the people living in the main house move away and stop paying the bills, the ADU will also cease to have basic utilities because the electricity and water are connected to the main house.

Tiny homes are different because they can be easily moved, and they are entirely independent. ADUs and homes are both designed to be permanent structures on top of foundations, while tiny homes need and sometimes have no such foundation.

Rather, tiny homes are meant to be moved easily and never need to be tied to a piece of property unless the owner of the tiny home so choose, which is an option that some people pick. However, there is a difference between a tiny home, a mobile home, and a recreational vehicle (RV).

Homes are larger than ADUs and tiny homes. They have more storage space and larger living spaces than both other options, which directly translates into more cleanup time, more maintenance time, and a generally higher cost of daily living expenses.

Homes require more energy and larger units to heat and cool, which directly translates into bigger utility bills.

Which type of living is right for you? Think about the space you need, the stuff you have, and the money you can spend on living expenses, and you can start to make a much better buying decision.

When it comes to the debate between ADUs vs tiny homes vs homes, it’s a decision that many homeowners must weigh carefully. Which will suit you and your living needs best?

Sometimes, you may choose to live in an ADU or a tiny home on a temporary basis while you work on having a larger home built or work on realizing some other life goal. The option to free up a lot of money by choosing a tiny home is something that appeals to many people who want to pursue owning a business or succeeding at some other endeavor.

small beautiful home

ADU and Tiny Home FAQ

How much does it cost to live in a tiny home?

According to multiple estimates, it costs an average of $500 to $1,000 per month to live in a tiny house and cover basic living expenses such as a mortgage, utilities, insurance, and all regular home expenses. Compare this to the cost of living in a house, which is more than twice as much for most people.

This cost does not factor in groceries and entertainment, but you get the idea. You stand to spend half as much, or less, on regular living expenses when you choose a tiny home over a standard-size home.

How long does it take to build an ADU?

On average, it takes from 8 to 12 months to build an ADU, depending on how much work needs to be done. Ordering special materials can make the project take longer.

Converting an existing structure or space into an ADU can actually take just as much time, because the permit requirements are typically the same, and there may even be extra requirements when you’re working with an existing structure.

When building an ADU or converting a space into an ADU, do not forget to contact your neighborhood association, if present, to make sure you’re meeting all the requirements for this dwelling space. Little details like this can add extra time to your project.

What's the average cost of a mortgage on a home in the U.S.?

Per the Census Bureau, the median cost of owning a home in the U.S. is $1,609 per month. This is about average for a mortgage, but the price can be lower or higher depending on the location and size of the home.

Mortgages are determined by the overall size of the home and property, by property taxes, and by several other factors, including interest rates. Tiny homes, which are much smaller, typically have much smaller mortgages.

Further Reading

8 Things Nobody Tells You About Tiny Houses

9 Tiny Houses You Can Buy on Amazon

10 Easy DIY Tricks to Upgrade Your Rental Property

Building a Rental House

Four Things to Know Before Starting Your Shedquarters Project

RV vs Tiny Home