Alek’s Tiny House Project

My name is Alek Lisefski. I’ll be starting to build my tiny house within the next month and hope to complete it by this summer. I designed it myself and will do as much of the construction as I can to save money and because I believe it’s an invaluable skill that everyone should have. I’ve set up a blog for my project here: http://tiny-project.com/

While I haven’t started to build yet, I’ve done a lot of designing and planning. Attached are some of the models I’ve created. A few things have changed, but they are fairly accurate to what I will be building. What looks like glass walls around the bathroom is just so I can see through them in my model. They will not actually be glass.

exterior plan

I plan to build on an 8×20 foot trailer. My house will feature many windows (including several large, south-facing windows, for passive solar gain). The house will have fold-down overhangs to shade windows from mid-day summer sun, and will also include a fold-down deck.

I’m currently looking to form connections, get advice, and hopefully convince a few companies to sponsor me to help make this dream a possibility for me.

alek and his girlfriend

The main aspect of the Tiny Project is to build a tiny house. Inhabiting such a small space will force me to live in a simpler, more organized, and efficient way. Without room to hoard things and hide away from the world, I’ll be forced to spend more time outdoors, in nature and engaging with my community. This will foster better health and healthy relationships. With no more rent to pay, I’ll save money, allowing for a less hectic work life and more time and funds for health, leisure and travel. I won’t be able to keep closets full of clothes or store 5 year old trinkets in a house so small. But I also couldn’t possibly spend $100/month to heat the place, like I do with my apartment now. It has it’s trade-offs, but one thing is certain: While living in a such a small house, my space, and in turn each area of my life, will be simpler, less chaotic, and free from all but what is essential. That sounds really great to me!

interior plan

50 Comments Alek’s Tiny House Project

  1. Anna B

    I like the concept of a fold-down overhang from the roof – I’ve been contemplating the same thing to get an aestetic look on my own tiny house trailer without exceeding the traffic width limit!

    Is that a heater on the sleeping loft? Seems like a really bad idea. The sleeping loft will be sauna hot before the lower level gets heated up to a comfortable temperature. I would prefer it the other way around – warm downstairs and cool where you sleep (but then you still have to fight the thermodynamical tendency for all heat to rise…).

    Reply
    1. Alek

      What you see in the loft is a place for a portable AC unit, if I need one. Definitely will be putting the heater on the lower level. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
      1. Anna B

        OK – an AC unit upstairs makes more sense! I live in Sweden, I guess that’s why I associated easier to a heater rather than a “cooler” ;).

        Reply
  2. Bryan

    A design so nice the Sketchup lady stopped by to check it out.

    I like the roofing details. Shade the windows while visually breaking up the tall sides. Nice design.

    Reply
  3. paula

    Hi Alek! This is such a beautiful plan! I have a “tiny” aesthetic suggestion to throw out there. I love the way you have oriented the panelling horizontally. Just like with clothes, horizontal lines make things seem wider and shorter – your tiny house has plenty of height to it, so that’s not an issue, and horizontal lines will help give the illusion it has more square footage than it does. And in the living area, with its tall ceiling, it will really help make the proportions feel more right by making the room seem wider and not as towering. The one place it may work against you would be inside the bed loft. There you have plenty of width but a really short ceiling. Horizontal panelling will exacerbate that effect. If you want to give the illusion of more headroom and make it seem more spacious than it is, you might consider orienting the panelling vertically *just in the loft space*. Again, it helps “fix” the proportions by making the height seem more in keeping with the width. Horizontal panels in that room may contribute to a feeling of the ceiling being cramped and the room being very wide and short. Vertical lines will have an effect of “pushing” the ceiling up, and help give the illusion that the room is more similar in proportion to the rest of the beautiful house.

    In any case, your plan is just lovely! Good luck to you! :D

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Good idea. Thanks for the advice! I’m still playing around with many different ideas for interior walls. I may end up painting it white. Not sure if it will be real wood, grooved plywood to mimic wood, or just plain plywood.

      Reply
      1. NeiallsWheel

        love it mate i have a few other thoughts for you: 1>you have the possiblity of utilising part of your roof as a green roof (grow your own herbs)
        2> the skylight could easily be raised, and really could open to allow some of the heat to escape
        3> you could have a ”boxed” roof blind on the front of your hinged roof (something like a camper van has)which could double as a projector screen for the long hot summers that are approaching.

        Reply
  4. Carol

    Love the sketches. Just a thought for those of us that can’t climb ladders, you could run a staircase on the one side and tuck the bathroom and storage under it.

    Reply
  5. alice h

    Beautiful design, looks really good. I especially like the extra loft privacy. One thing you might want to think about is opening up the kitchen more to the living area. That way you kind of “share” the perceived volume of space and longer lines of sight that help avoid feeling cramped in your living area. Changing from a door in the short end wall to one on the deck side makes for more usable interior space that isn’t lined up on either side of an aisle like a travel trailer and improves deck access. I can see where you might want to be able to get in and out without folding down the deck though.

    Reply
  6. Jonathan

    I like the aesthetic of your roof lines but there is a flaw: the tiny roof over the deck will dump rain/snow onto the porch/deck. You might consider extending this roofline out past the porch/deck.

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Good point! I’ll have to see how I can make that happen. With the deck folding up, and the overhang folding down, They both need to be sized to fit in that 7ft. vertical wall space. So not sure how they can be the same size, unless the deck is incredibly small (too small for a table). Maybe I’ll have to create the overhang out of a flexible material so that it occupies less space when folded down. Any ideas?

      Reply
      1. Hank

        Love this. I’m in the beginning stages of wanting to do a Tiny house. Buying books, downloading Sketchup,constant web searching, and much daydreaming. Yours is the first I’ve seen sharing my idea of a fold down deck on the side. My plan has the deck folding up and the roof then folding down overlapping the deck. Not sure of the practicality as I have not gotten past the cutting up a shoe box to make a model stage yet. The back up plan is a couple of retractable awnings an 8’x6′ is $165 at Amazon. Looking forward to following your progress. Good luck. Hopefully I wont be far behind you, just have to get my ducks in a row.

        Reply
      2. Viktor

        I think you should use a solar canvas instead of the fold-down in this way, you can not only give shade inthe summer, but generate some energy. Also if you make the roofglass openable, you can create an up-down wind tunnel during hot nights, so imo an AC won’t be necessary(maybe a portable fan). I also think you should use one of the terrace-windows as a door leaving more wall open for interior design options.

        Reply
  7. Bill

    Some nice work on the design Alek. Having built my tiny solar house, I know there is a lot of work ahead for you. All the planning you do now will help shorten the actual build time. Space is at a premium, so plan out as much storage as you can. Make the seating comfy, as you will be surprised how much time you spend sitting inside. And if you are building it on a trailer, make sure you have a sturdy trailer, as this will weigh a lot if you use 2×4 construction. You will also need a good truck to move it when it comes time.

    One more thing to consider is where you will put the trailer when finished. Will you have access to electricity and water? Unless you have your own place, you will have to pay rent and for the utilities. It looks like you have a washing machine in your drawing. That will require a lot of power and water, more than you will be able to produce with a solar set up and your water tanks. The air conditioner will require lots of power as well.

    Good luck and I am looking forward to reading how it goes.

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Hi Bill.

      Thanks for the input. I’ll have a 10,000lbs GVWR trailer and just got an F250 super-duty to tow it.

      As far as power goes, though my design uses passive solar elements, it’s not designed to be entire solar powered and off-grid just yet. That may come later down the road. At this time, I’m happy to pay someone for water and electrical hookup and will try to find a backyard to live in.

      Reply
  8. Heidi

    I have some experiencial input… I notice lovely skylight over the bed. It is pretty but impractical… unless it is a levered window to exhaust heat and has a insulated shade… it will cook you out of bed. A smaller solar tube or bubble makes nice light without the bake-out factor.

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Ooh, great point! I really just wanted the loft to feel as light and open as possible but didn’t think about the heat factor. I was thinking to get a black-out shade for the skylight, but never thought of an insulated shade. At any rate, I may drop it altogether to keep costs down and make the roofing installation easier.

      Reply
  9. Charis

    Think about leaving the bathroom walls glass. If you put good tinting on the inside no one will see in during the day and you can have curtains for night time. It will open up the enclosed space and give you something to look at if you end up spending alot of time in the room. I’ve been to several resorts that had glass in the bathroom and it was awesome. Almost like showering outside!

    Reply
  10. Chris

    Alex. This is awesome! We have very similar tastes. I am currently designing mine that is similar in shape and size and also incorporates a fold down deck! I was inspired by a container home I saw with a fold down deck and thought I can’t believe no one has put one of these full length on a tiny home yet! It makes that south facing wall the focus of the home, versus the traditional entry way, and really opens up your unit. You will beat me to it. :) Your over-all design blows mine out of the water. You roof design is incredibly unique. I look forward to following this build and hopefully, since we have similar projects, I can learn from yours!

    I have a few questions and a recommendation… (1) Is there a reason you went with south facing windows vs. a south facing sliding glass door that would allow deck access from the living areas? (2) In your sketch, is your kitchen area shared with your bathroom area? (3) Where are you located/where will you be building? (4) What is the planned/proposed height for your design?

    As for my recommendation: I saw above where someone pointed out that the short roof would dump the elements onto your porch. In my current design I have a retractable awning above my fold down deck and they fold into each other (the awning will either retract and/or will fold down and then the porch will fold up). You could look into something similar. It would allow you the full deck space in addition to more shade space if you wanted it! Best of luck to ya bud!

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Thanks for the comment.

      1) trailer wheel wells will be in the way of a sliding glass door on the south side. Had to go with windows there and less direct deck access.

      2) There will be a wall and a pocket door between the kitchen and bathroom. In the sketch this is not shown just so you can see through it and view more.

      3) I’ll be building in Iowa, but will not be living there. Most likely moving to the bay area at this point, but could be anywhere.

      4) Trying to keep the overall height (including trailer) to 13.5 as that is the max in most states to keep it road legal. I’m getting a trailer with a drop-axel to lower the starting height by a few inches, so I have have just a bit more headroom inside.

      Reply
      1. Peter

        Pocket door – great idea. I have one of those in my design also. I shall have to look at a trailer with a drop axle also. I have no idea yet what it is but if it shaves a few inches off the road height, it is worth looking into.

        Reply
      2. Lisa

        Great design and ideas. You might want to keep in mind with a pocket door the wall will need to be framed out thicker than a standard wall and you will not be able to run electric, etc. in that area. Also, you may not be able to do things like hang shelves that need to be attached to studs in the wall area where the door pockets. I love pocket doors, but they are kind of a pain to design with from a construction stand point. :)

        Reply
  11. bashmaki

    Your design is very good; I like the lines. A word of caution from an older guy that has built many things in his lifetime. I see this so many times when someone inexperienced starts on a project. Don’t think this thing to death. Research is good; using good products is good; using green products is good. However, you cannot use the best of everything. You simply don’t need the best of everything in a small dwelling like this. For one; they are very easy to heat and air condition. Concentrate your best efforts and money insulating the ceiling. That wool insulation or regular batting will be enough for the walls. I would shy away from using spray foam insulation on a dwelling that small except in the ceiling; not enough airflow in a smaller dwelling. Just my take!!

    Reply
    1. Peter

      I hear what you are saying but I am afraid I must respectfully disagree with one comment. I think, with a project like this, it is important to always use the best of everything. This will be a small home and considering the low overall initial cost compared to a standard, oversized home, the extra costs involved with having the very best of everything will not amount to a great deal of money. For example, the crown molding in my small house design will cost about $40. I think that is a small price to pay to improve the look of the living areas immensely. The best available, most efficient on-demand water heater is about $100 more than an average, less efficient heater. In many cases, buying the best eventually saves money because of superior design, increased efficiency or increased lifespan. I think we should always reward ourselves by using only the very best we can afford at all times.

      I would like to ask you to expand a little more though on the insulation aspect of the design. I am afraid my knowledge of insulation types is somewhat lacking. Any clarification would be most helpful. Would spray foam not be suitable for this application? Rock-wool or blown insulation is better? How is air-flow an issue with spray-foam? I was considering spray-foam for my design but depending on your reply, I may have to reconsider. Thanks muchly.

      Reply
      1. Alek

        I agree about using the best unless it’s outrageously priced. I’m certainly picking my battles, but in most cases will use what I really want, not the cheaper alternative.

        I am too an curious about others experience with different types of insulation. I see no reason why spray foam is not a great option, especially in a more extreme climate where the R-value per inch will really pay off. quite a good percentage of the tiny homes I’ve seen or that are currently being built are using spray foam. More thoughts on my blog here: http://tiny-project.com/tiny-house-insulation-efficiency-vs-health/

        Reply
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  13. Peter

    I think the design is awesome. Many of the suggestions are very worthwhile also. It looks quite stunning and I completely agree with your reasoning behind building it. I tend to collect stuff and I am sure many of my clothes are so old they will soon be back in style. That, however is a lifestyle I want to change. Much like yourself, I want a simpler, less obstructed lifestyle. To that end, I am also considering building a small home on a 20×8 trailer. The house design is finished but I am still trying to design a water system, a sewage system and an electrical system that works in such a small space. One of my other concerns is driving a 1/2 ton truck or u-haul truck with this thing attached. My biggest worry is the height (13 feet). I imagine speed will be severely limited so getting anywhere will take a long time but I am mostly concerned with overpasses and wind damage to the structure itself. Has anyone ever openly discussed these things in a blog anywhere or does anyone have any advice?

    Again, nice job on the design.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      By the way, I want solar electricity with 8, six volt batteries connected series-parallel to provide a 12 volt system with some serious capacity. I will use 2 inverters for converting the 12v to 115v. One inverter will be a modified sine-wave inverter for things like a toaster, toaster oven and anything with it’s own power adapter, like a laptop. The other inverter will be a pure sine-wave (more expensive) to run a tv set, a small stereo and anything else that is sensitive to ‘noise’ on the ac power lines. Of course, that means the electrical system will be more complicated but it will provide the correct type of power for the intended purpose, it will consume less power overall thus conserving the batteries and the system will have some built-in redundancy. I already own the two inverters so finding a way to incorporate them saves me some money too. Any comments or suggestions?

      Alek, do you have an electrical, plumbing and sewage design sorted out yet? If so, can you post any sketches you may have? Any ideas will help immensely. Thanks mate.

      Reply
      1. GaRay~

        GREAT plan with the inverters. I do use my LCD TV, and PC on a modified sine-wave inverter however ther is some acceptable hum. If you need design assistance with solar cells, batteries, 12 vdc and 120 vac lighting or power design let me know. clearled.biz No charge for tiny home questions!

        Reply
        1. Peter

          You are very kind to offer, GaRay, but I think I have got the electrical sorted now. It just took a little time and organizing. By the way, I checked your website – very nice indeed. Everyone should have a good look.

          My next part of the project to tackle is the plumbing layout. I want to have a way to temporarily store waste water onboard like in a sailboat but also allow an external hookup like a trailer park would use. I just need to see what bits and pieces exist out there so I can design a system. Of course, living in Alberta, Canada, I need to keep everything inside the building envelope so it doesn’t freeze.

          Thanks again for your offer on the electrical design.

          Reply
    2. Alek

      I’ll be towing with an F250 super-duty. Don’t have too many fears about towing. As long as siding and roofing is laid back to front, so the overlaps don’t catch in the wind, it should be safe during travel. My fold-up deck will also help protect the large southern windows. If it’s framed well, it will hold up even with some serious wind shear. Can’t think of links off the top of my head, but there are several blog posts where people discuss moving. Everyone I know has had few to no problems.

      Reply
  14. DeWhit

    What will be the overall height when the trailer is figured in ?

    Will this height allow bridge clearance and stability when transported ?

    The side door and window seem redundant and create a weak frame there it seems.

    Consider a flat roof that is hinged that can be tilted after setup and solid panels with fan panels or glass panels for cross ventilation.
    That would keep the roof free of access points.

    Have you built any structures before or will this be your initial build ?

    It is good to take your plan public and work out bugs and consider alternatives. smart man.

    Reply
    1. Alek

      Hi. Thanks for commenting. This will be my first real constriction project. I will be building in Southeast Iowa (Fairfield). The total height including trailer should be limited to 13.5 feet to meet DOT regulations in most stated. I’m trying my hardest to keep it that low.

      At first this house will not be solar powered. I included south facing roof area for this reason, but to keep costs lower to start I will be hooking it up to the grid. At a later time, I plan to make it 100% solar powered. So not terribly concerned with solar power technicalities at this point. It will be AC for now.

      Reply
  15. GaRay~

    If you are building you first home, no matter what the size, consider this project to be a steeping stone to your dream home. You may always sell you first tiny home and then build another and another until the process is refined to “attempt” to build your Dream Home. Speaking from my own and many others experiences here.

    Reply
    1. Alek

      It will definitely be a work in progress, and a massive learning experience, but I am trying to do as much planning as possible so I get it mostly right the first time. Eventually I’d like to be involved in the planning and construction of other tiny houses and tiny house communities, so I certainly hope I can build more in the future!

      Reply
      1. Peter

        Like you, Alek, I would like to design and build tiny homes for those less able to do it themselves. The biggest hurdle encountered so far is the lack of enthusiasm from the city and county planning and permit departments. They just will not budge on the building codes. They won’t even agree that tiny homes make sense. Of course, smaller homes mean smaller tax bills. They just can’t get beyond the ‘need’ for 8 foot ceilings and minimum square footage requirements. One inspector told me that “a bunch of those shacks will end up becoming an eyesore – a shanty-town of tar-paper shacks”.

        I tried to explain that these tiny homes can be a solution to homelessness. He said “Who wants a bunch of homeless people living next door to them?” I guess he didn’t realize that once they live in a tiny home, they are no longer homeless. His comments also spoke volumes about the unwillingness of city officials to embrace change even though they drone on and on about the need for it when they seek election. Sorry, I am just a bit frustrated at the reception I received when I asked how I would go about changing some of the city ordinances to allow the accommodation of tiny homes. Perhaps I was a little too naive. Still, I think many can benefit from this form of housing and I will go on undeterred. Good luck with your design and your plan to build for others.

        Reply
  16. Kenise

    Nice design. Mine will be dictated by whatever I can get free or cheap. Have fun this summer and will follow your blog

    Reply
  17. Lyz

    Just a thought… I noticed. It looks like the table in the livingroom folds up from the wall. I just love this idea . . .

    http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2010/01/diy-folding-table-saves-space-doubles-as-picture-frame/

    And

    http://www.studiodror.com/html/work/product-design/pick-chair/

    Both could probably be made with spare cuts from the build and I love the functional art aspect. You could make them to match any decor! I live on a very small boat aandI hope to use this someday in a houseboat I dream of building. Good luck!

    Reply
  18. Paul

    Will you be releasing the plans for sale? I’d love to build one of these, Are you planning to go ‘Off the Grid’?

    Reply
  19. Angora

    It looks really good but I feel that you will be spending a lot of time in your living area so why not make it as large as possible.

    I would tend to put the kitchen and bathroom side by side along the 8′ wall. A long room with the WC at the end and the shower in the middle as floor space, after all you do not live in there.

    That would leave you a bit of wall space to house the ladder. The way it is now you are going to be falling over the ladder all the time.This way the kitchen is open plan to the lounge and you can use an open central counter to double as a desk/kitchen cupboard space.

    This way you can get 2 coaches in an L-shape. Never know when someone will visit. I would also put in large windows in the bathroom and then maybe a corner window in the lounge along the long side and the back, maybe even have another deck fold down at the back so it goeas around. This would give an illusion of much more space and that way you could utilise the large dead ceiling space over the lounge maybe as a small storage area (which you WILL need) or a small office. Why waste so much space?
    Like the roof ideas.

    Reply
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  21. Aidy Madd

    Hi there Alek, when I first looked at your ideas I have to say my first thoughts were that it was over designed. Then I read the words and studied it more closely and the idea of the fold out awnings and decking is a great idea. I myself have done nearly 100 Sketchup models some of which can be seen in the Warehouse under the name AidyMadd. Have you thought of making the roof flat or part of it flat to have high patio or similar. Perhaps even a area for planting of grass or veggies that would provide both food, leisure and insulation. Just an idea anyways. Good luck from the UK mate. Aidy x

    Reply

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