How Much Does It Cost to Build a Floating Home? Expenses You Need to Know About

By Emma Diehl · March 06, 2023 · 7 minute read

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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Floating Home? Expenses You Need to Know About

Some buyers may be, well, buoyed by the thought of living on the water full time. Living in a floating house is unique, and building one may be a more ambitious undertaking than building a houseboat.

What’s the cost of building a floating house? Read on to learn about the expenses, benefits, and considerations associated with these aquatic abodes.

Average Cost of Building a Floating Home

The cost to build a floating house will vary based on the size, features, labor, and materials, but a 1,200-square-foot model starts at over six figures, a Dutch architect and advocate says.

These are not houseboats, which are self-propelled and free to move about. Nor are they usually tiny house tiny, though some are. They’re often twice as big as a houseboat.

An alternative to building a floating home is to buy an existing one. A quick look shows listings ranging from under $100,000 to over $1 million on the West Coast, and a home floating in the Florida sun for a few hundred thousand. Buying or renting a slip will add to the cost.

In comparison, the cost to build a house of 1,200 square feet could be about $165,600, based on $138 per square foot, not including the land.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


Factors That Affect the Cost of Building a Floating Home

There are at least two foundational considerations when building a floating home: constructing the platform the home will rest on, and finding a slip at a moorage for rent or purchase.

The cost of building a floating house could ebb and flow depending on who’s doing the building — is this a DIY project or do you need to find contractors? — and the following factors.

The Foundation

Traditionally, floating homes rested on giant logs, but over time logs begin to sag and sink, requiring pressure-filled barrels under them to shore up the whole shebang.

Nowadays, these homes stay afloat using concrete floats. One type of concrete float is filled with foam, which creates buoyancy. The other concrete float is empty, and like a bowl placed upside down in water, the space and pressure keep the home floating.

Size of the House

Generally, the bigger the home, the more expensive the build. And the larger the home, the more floats it will require, further adding to the cost.

Floating homes are limited by the size of the moorage, meaning buyers have to work within specific parameters. That means building up, but only as much as the floats allow.

Design and Materials

The more custom or high-end designs integrated into the home, the more the build could cost. From custom cabinets in the kitchen to nonstandard windows, these add-ons carry a higher price tag.

Alternatively, floating homes can be prefabricated, using a standard design to lower the cost. Similarly, some companies are now using decommissioned shipping containers as building materials, which could cut down on the total cost to build a floating house.

Another cost to keep in mind is the siding material. Float houses are on the water and subject to the elements, which means the exterior materials must be resilient.

Interior Finishes

As with a traditional home, the choice of interior finishes can drive the cost of a floating house up or down. Opting for a prefabricated floating house may lower the spend on the interior.

Other Expenses of a Floating Home

Mooring and Insurance

Floating-home owners pay a monthly moorage fee or a homeowners association fee. The cost will vary by moorage but could be $1,000 a month.

There could be a transfer fee to assume a rental slip. Insurance may be hard to find and expensive. Marinas may require liability coverage.

Utilities

Floating homes are permanently affixed to the moorage and hooked up to local utilities, including water, sewage, and electric or gas.

If a floating house is designed with efficiency in mind, the monthly cost of utilities will likely be similar to traditional homes in the area. But a lack of shade could mean higher bills for cooling.

Some floating homes rely on a plumbing pump to carry sewage out of the home. It could create a higher electric bill.

Furniture

The average cost to furnish a home is $16,000, but since a floating home resides dockside, it’s harder to transport large items to the property. That could mean hiring extra labor or larger delivery fees.

Additionally, floating homeowners may be constrained by the dimensions of a smaller space, meaning custom or specialty furniture that fits in with and into the home.

Financing Your Floating Home

In some states, a floating home is considered personal property, so it cannot be built or purchased with a traditional home mortgage loan. A local bank or credit union may offer a floating home loan with at least 20% down and at a higher rate than a usual home loan. An inspection, at your expense, will likely be required to see if the home is in adequate shape to qualify.

Another option is a personal loan, which provides fast cash but usually has a higher rate than a secured loan.

Options for homeowners who have built sufficient home equity and are dreaming of a floating home include a home equity line of credit (HELOC), home equity loan, and cash-out refinance.

How Long Do Floating Homes Last?

With regular upkeep and maintenance, owners of floating homes can expect their property to last 50 to 60 years before requiring rebuilding or refurbishment.

Pros and Cons of Living on a Floating Home

If you hear the siren call of the floating-house lifestyle, it’s a good idea to weigh the good vs. the not-so-great before taking the plunge.

Pros

Some of the benefits floating-home owners can expect include:

•   Tight-knit community. Dock living means living close to neighbors. A floating community could be a great fit if that’s your thing.

•   Good choice if downsizing: Minimalists, retirees, and others with an affinity for the water may find a floating home a chance to downsize.

•   Doesn’t require an engine. Floating homes are permanently docked, so buyers or builders don’t need to factor in the costs of a motor. Greener still, one DIY floating-home builder crafted a home on a lake in British Columbia that has a pellet stove, solar power, a composting toilet, and an evaporation gray water system.

•   Water views all the time. If you prioritize proximity to nature, you can’t beat living on the water. A cup of coffee or glass of wine is always accompanied by a pretty vista.

•   May be less expensive housing. You may be able to build a floating home for less than a single-family home, especially in some of the hot spots for floating homes.

•   Potential for tax breaks. In some states, floating homes are considered personal property, not “real property.” Those owners will not pay annual property taxes but will pay personal property tax. Also, interest paid on a loan for a floating home as a first or second home can be included in the mortgage interest deduction if you itemize.

Cons

Now the potential downers:

•   Costs go beyond the build: Moorage or HOA fees can range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 a month. Insurance can be pricey.

•   Limited locations. Floating-home communities are uncommon, meaning vacancies are even less frequent. It could be hard to find a dock community to take a floating home to, or it could mean waiting for a spot.

•   Weather damage. Constant exposure to saltwater or freshwater can take a toll on a floating home. That can translate into more frequent repairs and replacements, adding to the cost of upkeep.

•   Financing challenges. It can be hard to secure financing to construct or buy a floating home.

The Takeaway

Build your own floating home? A few do take on that challenge, which can pay off in terms of cost and self-satisfaction. Others will look into buying a floating house that’s already berthed, as moorage can be a challenge.

Whether you’re interested in building or buying a floating home, a HELOC brokered by SoFi could be the answer.

Access up to 95%, or $500,000, of your home equity, and borrow what you need, when you need it.

Tap your home equity to tether your floating-home vision to reality.

FAQ

Can you live permanently in a floating home?

Yes, floating homes can be permanent residences.

Do you have to pay property tax on a floating home?

Floating-home owners don’t have to pay property taxes in some states or cities. It varies by location.

Where can you get a loan to build a floating home?

Floating homes don’t qualify for traditional mortgages. Options include a floating-home loan from a small pool of lenders, a personal loan, a home equity line of credit, a home equity loan, and a cash-out refinance.


Photo credit: iStock/Roman_Makedonsky

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