7 Steps to Design Your Own Tiny Home

One of the many beauties those of us involved in the tiny house movement enjoy is that we have the opportunity to design our own home from start to finish. If you’re ready to start drawing up plans of your own little home, then check out these seven steps to get started, along with some great free design tools at the bottom.

1. Get your mind on your money and your money on your mind.


What’s your budget? This factor, more than any other, will determine what kind of house you can live in. If you know you’re going to need financing assistance for your project, now is the time to ascertain what kind of a loan you can qualify for, and how much it can be. I know it isn’t fun to think about the limitations that might be placed on you, but trust me, there’s no use in daydreaming about all the wonderful things that could be if they’re always going to remain pie in the sky. Don’t be afraid to have a chat with a banker – they’ll be friendly, and give you the real scoop on your overall financial picture and what kind of scope you can worth with as you begin making your plans.

2. Use your imagination.


Before you pull out the pencil and paper, or a fancy design software application, take some time, LOTS of time, to ponder what kind of lifestyle you are hoping to have in your new home, and what features will best enhance that lifestyle for you. The more you front-load your project with careful thought and attention to detail, the easier the process will be for you, and the more satisfied you will be in the end, when all is said and done. If you get started and feel a little lost, that’s all the more reason to really do some soul-searching here. You’ll know you’re onto something superb when you’re having fun, and you feel some butterflies fluttering in your stomach when you think about the prospect of living in your dream home.

3. Visit a tiny house like the one you want to live in.


Owners of small homes live all over the world, and there’s bound to someone near you who happens to live in a shipping container home just like the one you want to build, or something like that tiny house on wheels you’ve always dreamed of. But dreams and realities aren’t often the same, so before you get carried away with the design plans, it’s a good precaution to visit a few tiny homes in person to get a sense, in person and in the flesh, of what 100 square feet REALLY feels like. If you’d like to check out more than a dozen tiny homes all in one place, then consider visiting the village where I live.  From earthen homes with living rooves to sleek, uber-efficient modern tiny houses, we’ve got it all for you to check out for yourself.

4. Pull out your camera, or do some image searching online.


Once you have a clear idea of what you want, you can begin heading in a specific direction by grabbing some pictures of what you want to emulate. This is helpful for two reasons: first, it will keep you on track with a demonstrable vision and second, seeing what others have done will help you to more accurately define what you want in your own home. Little by little, you will distill the project into a coherent vision of an end-goal, from the method you want to use for your framing to the color scheme for your couch and contrasting pillows.

5. Find your ideal location.


Any way you slice it, the location of your home is going to have a strong influence on the specific form that your house takes. Where should the windows be for the best views? How much sun are you going to get on the southern face of the home – too much, not enough? Can you take advantage of a natural ridge or a hill to give your new home the ideal vantage point? What about your neighbors and their access rites, viewing corridors and other considerations? Are there trees on your land that you want to preserve, and need to work around? Where does water flow? You get the idea…

6. Consult with a qualified builder.

I know it can be tempting to think that you can build your own house, especially if you had fun putting together a few wooden benches or something, but I’m here to tell you that, unless you’re already a contractor, you have no business building your own home. You won’t save money. You won’t enjoy yourself. And most importantly, you won’t have quality, long-lasting results that are safe to inhabit when you’re finished, (let alone get insurance for, or sell to someone else, when the time comes).

A professional builder will already know how to meet construction code standards, how to line up the necessary inspections, where to get the right materials at the best price, and how to coordinate the whole project so that it comes together on schedule. But you don’t want to simply hire the first jack-of-all-trades that comes along telling a story about how he can swing a hammer. Check out this helpful article on how to find the right builder for your dream project.  When you find the right person for you, spill you guts and tell them about everything you want. Show them your pictures. Give them each and every detail you can think of, because the more information they have, the better a job they can do for you.

7. Put your plan together.

Sooner or later, your builder is going to come back to you with some solid plans. Make sure to spend some time reviewing them – this is the point where you go back into your mind’s eye and envision yourself living in the home. Hopefully, your contractor listened to everything you said you wanted, and found a way to include everything in the design, along with the nitty gritty necessities like ventilation ducts and an insulative layer between the concrete slab foundation and the bottom-plate for the wall framing. When you’re ready to give it the green light, you can move on to the next step: moving in!

Bonus: Free tools to help you get started on your tiny house adventure.

1. Construction Loan Calculator: If financing is your best bet for realizing your tiny house dreams, it can be helpful to clearly understand how much you can expect to shoot for, as well as how much you’ll pay in interest in the coming years.

2. Google Earth: I know you’ve already heard of Google Earth, but I want to point out to you how you can use it to your advantage when deciding on which piece of land you want to buy for your new little house. Punch in your prospective address or coordinates, zoom all the way in, and enjoy an electronic rendition of the topography you’ll be working with. Obviously you’ll want to visit your site in person before you sign anything, but this will help you narrow things down without spending the next two tears of your life hiking around in the weeds.

3. Autodesk Homestyler: This nifty little online application will allow you to lay some plans down, when you’re ready for that stage in your process. It has a bit of a learning curve to learn how to really avail yourself of all the bells and whistles it offers, but it doesn’t cost anything, and when you do become familiar with the interface, you’ll be so glad you have a fluid and flexible way to draft your blueprints.


By the way, have you ever thought about living in a tiny house community? Give the idea some thought, because it could be ideal for you. Take my village for instance. We have our own bed and breakfast, which offers a happy hour everyday from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, along with the best homemade pizza anywhere around on Thursdays. We have more than a dozen tiny homes of different styles within a short walk of each other, and we even offer tours on the second and fourth Saturdays of the months April through October.

We have half a dozen skilled builders living here, each with loads of experience in construction, from straw bales and earthen plaster to nanotechnology and cutting edge scientific materials. Best of all, we have a real sense of community – we know all of our neighbors, our kids can play on some 280 acres of land without worrying, we can swim in the pond, garden, attend yoga classes, and all the other things we want, while helping to build a more ecological world for the future. If you like that sort of thing, make sure to check out our website, and maybe schedule a visit sometime soon. We’d love to show you around.


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