Type the search phrase ‘how to build a tiny house’ into your favorite search engine and you’ll find no less than 9 blog posts with that direct phrase. You’ll then see somewhere around 37 with similar wording. How To Build A Tiny House. What a vague question. Wait! Is it even a question? What a very vague plea / request / solicitation / shot in the dark, etc. Building a tiny house is somewhat like posing the thought ‘how to play the mandolyn’. Is the question really about strumming or playing chords or reading music or playing by ear? Building a tiny house is not to be underestimated. Depending on the type of tiny house (on a trailer, on pontoons, on a foundation, out of canvas, out of a restored tug boat, etc) the method is vastly different.
The project starts out innocently enough with perhaps a sketch on a napkin, an idea shared aloud, or even a SketchUp plan. But before the first nail is pulled (or hammered in) or the first coat of paint is laid on, plans have to be made. A method of attack is necessary along with a few other elements. But if you prepare and plan and organize, no matter how tough this new labor of love becomes, it holds the potential to becoming the most gratifying experience in life.
A good plan has two parts; the mental planning and the material planning. The mental planning involves some serious soul searching and some thought about need -vs- want. How much space do you need? How do you want your house to look? How adept are you at building. How much experience do you have? What is your budget? The material planning involves sketches, drawing, schematics, material lists, cut lists, timelines, and budgets. If you are serving as contractor and are going to need some help building your tiny house you will also want to plan out subcontractors, a schedule of payments and inspections, as well as any necessary permitting according to local codes.
Remember, since you are building the house yourself many of the tasks associated above will be completed by yourself so organization is essential.
In the past we have offered an eCourse entitled “SMALL HOME. BIG LIFE.” In that course we begin by explaining and assigning an inspiration notebook. It is called such because it begins innocently enough as just a gathering spot for inspiration – a scrapbook, if you will – but evolves as the build does keeping up with notes, sketches, samples, receipts, printouts, quotes, etc. I ask that it be color coded or sectioned complete with sheet protectors and pockets. I encourage detail as the more detail you allow yourself the more likely you’ll find solutions to problems in your design. I also insist that a section be designated to receipts and budget worksheets. Once building begins a section may lend itself to contracts, warranties, and agreements. And while it may seem counterintuitive to weigh your project down with a large, 3-ring binder the digital world has made it possible to do almost the entire same thing via Apps like Evernote.
Building a tiny house may be a small undertaking in terms of square feet but it is like any other home build. You need to do your homework beginning with the land upon which you are going to build. Because tiny houses are often built on trailers you need to check with your municipality about such a project. Can you have a trailer in your yard? Can you build a house on your property? Are there noise or visual ordinances? Then think about where the house will reside. Will it be completely mobile or just rest on the assurance that it can be mobile if need be? You need to think about site orientation, water tables, and even surface composition. One of the first things you should also check regarding where your new home will rest is if the municipality has a size restriction requiring homes to be a certain minimum size. Begin by going online and searching for city zoning ordinance.
It is also important to do your homework regarding building materials. There are so many choices in todays market ranging from natural products to engineered ones. Check to see what is available in your area, what the costs associated are, life expectancy, and maintenance required. With a tiny house you have some advantages that don’t exist with large homes. You can use more sustainable products without exploding your budget. You can use higher grade windows, perhaps a metal roof, and some sustainable resources that in a larger home might not be as affordable.
KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
As paradoxical as it sounds, building a tiny house is a BIG JOB. There may be some aspects that are simply beyond your skill level, interest level, or budget parameters. You need to know what you can handle and what you can’t. And while we are on the subject, it is important to note though that the more outside help that is hired, the more the overall project will cost. Plan for those expenses upfront to save frustration, time, and even rework.
No matter what stage in building a tiny house you are in you should never hesitate asking how to do something. During the course of our build we asked more questions than minutes in the day. This is a great time to be joining the movement as there are hundreds of blogs, published books, online courses, DVDs, workshops, etc. Information is everywhere and easier than ever to tap into. And once you learn to do something don’t be afraid to share it. Start your own How-To if you feel that confident.
Just remember. Asking how to build a tiny house is indeed opening up a can of worms that has a number of species and kinds. Be prepared for all sorts of answers (qualified and un-) and learn that accountability and planning are key to every successful tiny house!