The basic definition of a tiny house is a dwelling with 400 sq. ft. or less floor space. That excludes loft or second stories, adding additional living space without violating the “tiny” rule. The extremely small dimensions of tiny houses require that residents make the most of every square inch of space with clever, space-saving solutions. Tiny house living appeals to those looking to downsize and simplify their lives, eliminate clutter, live more cheaply and help the environment.
The two main types of tiny houses are:
- Houses built on a foundation, or permanently fixed dwellings;
- Houses built on trailers, like RVs or mobile homes, can be moved from place to place.
Within those two categories, there are countless tiny house variations. They may come as DIY kits, like this modern shell from Amazon with an interior you can customize. Or you can buy a tiny house blueprint and start from scratch, as a DIY project or working with a builder. You can also buy a tiny ready-made house, like these high-end models from Wheelhaus, and have it delivered to your lot. Tiny houses can be made of recycled materials, shipping containers or old horse trailers. They may even float, like these tiny houseboats.
While tiny houses might be on-trend, they’re not welcomed everywhere. So before you order your floor plans or have that tiny house delivered, make sure you find a location where it’s legal to park or build a tiny house — probably not in the middle of a gated community of sprawling ranch homes. Rules vary from state to state and even county to county. The American Tiny House Association can guide zoning laws. Rural areas tend to be more tiny house friendly. And there are entire tiny house communities in locations around the country, which sell lots ready to welcome your tiny abode.
Suppose you already own a piece of land with an existing home on it or can arrange the long-term rental of a portion of someone else’s property. In that case, you can see about registering a tiny mobile house as an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) — a second, stand-alone dwelling on the same lot as a larger home.
12 Things to Consider Before Building a Tiny Home
So you’ve had enough of the big house, big yard and the responsibilities that come with that. You’ve got your mindset on downsizing in a big way. Before you jump into building a tiny home, there is plenty to consider outside of just picking the design you want and what you want to use to build it. You’ve got to consider the legality of a tiny home, how well the tires are going to hold up, plumbing and another waste disposal. Here’s a look at 12 things to consider before building a tiny home.
Know the Code on Where you can Stay in Your Tiny Home
Municipalities are still wrestling with developing code for tiny homes across the country. This site helps dispel some building code myths but don’t expect to just plop your tiny home anywhere. If you build your own tiny home, the path to calling your home an RV is fraught with difficulties. Check out these tips for new homeowners.
Also, consider the zoning ordinances in the community you want to live in before you get excited about learning how to build a mini home. You’re likely going to need some land to settle into your tiny home and if you plan on living on the land of a friend or family member, figure out the specifics. Some towns allow accessory dwelling units. For the most part, a tiny home is allowed to temporarily park places, but you must remain on the move every two weeks or so. It might be best to seek out tiny home communities where zoning laws allow. Whispering Aspen Village in Colorado is one tiny home community that sells lots for tiny homes.
Research What Others Have Done
Fortunately, there’s a shortage of information out there on how to build a tiny home — designs, issues that arise as you build, ideas on where to get the material, etc. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many step-by-step guides out there on how to build your own tiny home, but it’s worth finding a good one to follow rather than try to plan out each step in your mind because you’re bound to overlook something. But just to be sure, check out these common building code violations.
Check Your Tires
Tires are a serious concern (so check out our expert tire guide) with tiny homes, and if not properly addressed, they can leave a tiny homeowner in a lurch. Most tiny homeowners park their homes on planks of wood or cement blocks to avoid issues with tires.
Tires will deteriorate over time because they spend so much time in the sunlight. Slow down the aging process by getting them out of sunlight, filling them with inert gas or keep them filled to the recommended pressure level. Also, beware that if the wheels from a tiny home are removed, it’s no longer considered a recreational vehicle in some locations.
In addition to the tires, keep a close eye on the wheel bearings. Make sure they are properly lubricated, serviced and repacked. If a wheel bearing fails, you suddenly don’t have a home that rests safely.
Figure out Power Options
Many tiny homeowners opt to go green with their energy options, and the tiny home lends itself well to those ideas. Price out the cost of installing solar panels to understand how the conversion to usable energy works and so you know what to do on cloudy days.
Go for a Test Drive
With a tiny home, there is no other room to retreat to when partners have disputes and want to cool off. So give living in close quarters a few tests run to see how it feels. The test runs won’t cover every situation that might arise, but they will help couples envision what life in a tiny home looks like.
Get Ready to Get Rid of a lot of Possessions.
You simply won’t have the room to house all of your possessions in a tiny home, so getting rid of the unnecessary items (check out our clutter-busting strategies for every room) could present a challenge. So instead, find a home for those items and learn to live without. According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, the average household has 300,000 items.
Will You Start a Family in the Tiny Home?
Your tiny home might start with you and a partner but could expand to include children in the future. You’ll have to plan on how to accommodate another person in the tiny home, not to mention figuring out educational options. Depending on where you plan to place your tiny home, family resources to help with the care of a child might not be close. Check out these tips for starting a nursery on a budget.
Weight Restrictions for Car and Trailer
If you plan on putting your tiny home on a trailer, pay attention to how much weight the trailer is rated to handle. For example, a 10,000-pound weight rating for a trailer includes the weight of the trailer. So the weight of the home, the possessions inside the home and the trailer have to be monitored closely. You’ll also have to pay attention to how much your vehicle can pull behind it.
Reduced Cooking Space
A tiny house probably also means a smaller fridge (here’s our refrigerator buying guide) and even more attention paid to food consumption. Tiny house dwellers have to choose carefully what will go in their fridge because there won’t be the luxury of hanging on to as much food. That’s especially true for baking materials. The reduction of storage space means a reduction in items you can store like flour and sugar.
Then there’s the preparation of food. You might have to sacrifice burners in a tiny home, and that could increase cooking time.
Unless a tiny home is located on land the owner has purchased, there won’t be any additional value to the home. A tiny home isn’t necessarily going to increase in value because the neighbourhood suddenly becomes a hot market. But then again, ideally, a tiny home isn’t paying property taxes either.
According to realtor.com, the price per square foot for a tiny home (500 square feet or less) averages $201 a square foot, according to realtor.com. A home between 501 and 1,000 square feet averages $96 per square foot. The average cost of building your own tiny house is $25,000, according to The Tiny Life.
How to Ensure a Tiny Home
How do you ensure a tiny home? It’s a good question, especially if you’re building it on your own and it has wheels. RV insurance companies look for RVIA certification to ensure tiny homes. But, unfortunately, recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) certification is only given to manufacturers who have passed specific testing requirements.
If you plan on building your own tiny home on wheels, plan on documenting the whole process. Some insurance carriers require an on-site inspection or an inspection from an electrician. Think about ways to save on home insurance now as you think about a tiny home.
If you want to build a tiny home, you’re going to have to work with local planning and zoning officials in some capacity. It’s best to give them a heads up on your plans to build a tiny home if you’re going to put it on a chunk of land. You’ll need to submit architectural plans, and those should look professionally done. The tiny home is going to have to meet code. The problem with tiny homes is all buildings must meet state code as well.
If you want a tiny home on wheels, it will fall under RV requirements and need to be parked in mobile home zoned areas.
A Step By Step Guide To Build A Tiny House
Building a tiny house is not something that most people are willing to do, but if you want to build a tiny house yourself, you should expect to have a fair amount of time set aside. This step by step guide will help you through the planning.
Are you interested in becoming a part of the tiny house revolution? It’s a well-known fact that building a tiny house is usually the cheapest way to get the home you want. But, of course, most of us are not general contractors. So, how does the building process go?
Step 1: Planning Your Tiny House
The first thing you’re going to need to do is to figure out the logistics of your tiny home, which goes beyond just “mobile or stationary.” Building a home of any size requires a lot of planning. To make the most of your plans, we suggest you do the following:
- First, figure out what amenities you need as well as the size you need to remain comfortable. Living in a tiny home isn’t for everyone. Most people will feel cramped with under 500 square feet of space. Check out what amenities you can add and plan accordingly to make sure it’s comfortable (or tolerable) for you.
- Talk to architects and come up with a small floor plan. If you want to have a “stick-built” tiny home, you will need to talk to architects about the structure of your home and what it would cost to get a plan. This will give you a ballpark estimate of what you should expect.
- Figure out where you want to put the tiny house. Do you want to buy a plot of land? What are the zoning laws in the area nearby? Do you need to find a tiny home lot? Figuring out the placement can be one of the biggest struggles for new homeowners.
- Talk to fellow tiny house builders and homeowners. It’s hard to ignore how important it is to get a full picture of what living in a tiny home means—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Reaching out to other tiny house builders will help you understand.
- Get construction quotes. When we say construction quotes, we mean getting the materials for your home and learning about construction labour quotes. You might want to hire HVAC professionals to install your utilities, at the very least.
Budgeting And Financing Your Tiny Home
Before you start to make concrete plans, it’s a good idea to find out how much money you can afford to spend on this home. If you have the intention of building the home on land, you have some good news.
Most finance groups treat tiny homes as regular homes, which means that housing funding will be reasonably straightforward. You won’t have to worry about getting special paperwork pushed through for a foundation-built tiny home.
Purchasing Your Plans
Part of building your tiny home requires having home plans. You need to have construction plans to build a home. The most common way to get plans is through a firm that specializes in tiny homes. However, you can hire an architect for this endeavour as well.
Learning Construction Skills
Once you’re dead set on building your own home, you will need to ensure that you have the skills necessary. You may need to take classes to get the necessary skills and invest in some tools.
Step 2: Purchasing The Materials
Once you’ve got a full plan out, you’re going to have to purchase the materials and plans to make your tiny house. Here’s what you will have to take into consideration.
Choosing Your Plan
For the most part, it’s not a good idea to try to draw up your building plans if you are not a professional architect. This means that you will have to get your tiny home plans from a qualified architect that can do a little structural engineering work…or from a reputable tiny home plan seller.
Choosing Your Materials
There are several different ways you can go about choosing your materials.
- Some groups allow you to buy entire tiny home kits for under $50,000 in most cases. This would give you everything you need without the tools and foundation included.
- You may just choose to go to Home Depot to get the stuff you need. This may be a pricer option, so you might want to shop around from store to store to make sure you get a lower price.
- Some tiny houses come partially prefabricated and can be finished off with the amenities of your choice. It’s best to check a company’s information before you go this route.
Step 3: Building The Tiny House
We would love to give you a guide on how to build a tiny house step by step, but the truth is that’s not entirely possible. Each tiny home is going to be somewhat different. However, we can give you a brief idea of what will need to be done to get your tiny home built. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Prepare the foundation- This will be required regardless if you have a home plot. You will need to clear the area, pour a foundation, level the foundation, and build the basic foundation outline. If you have a tiny mobile home, you may also need to get different anchors.
- Add flooring- This includes a subfloor, insulation, and getting a vapour barrier in place. You may also need to take this time to install necessary plumbing fixtures like piping, as well as any basement you may choose to have.
- Add walls- This will include the wall framing, window frames, as well as sheer rock. Most construction crews will also advise you to do some sheetrock work at this point, along with portions of your bathroom that won’t be able to fit through the door of your tiny house later on—such as the shower stall.
- Test out and install sheathing- Your tiny home will need to have sheathing throughout its frame to ensure that you stay warm.
- Create rough openings for all doors and windows- This is also when you apply house wrap to help insulate the interior from moisture.
- Frame your tiny home’s roof- When you create your framing, make sure that it stays under 13.5 feet if it’s a mobile home. Otherwise, you won’t be able to go very far without serious clearance issues. Take this time to plan and install your roof’s sheathing, too.
- Add the doors- This will include adding the doorframe, getting the door test-fitted, installing it, and making sure it works. If you want to get locks, now is the time to do it.
- Install your siding- When installing your siding, make sure to paint both sides. Hang the siding as well as any outside trim that your home may need for stylistic purposes.
- After this, finish the roof- You will need to install the roofing per instructions from the manufacturer. This would also be the time to add a reflection barrier, ice and water shields, and gutters.
- From there, you’re going to have to install the rough portions of your utilities- This will include accounting for the electrical system in your home, the “P” pipes in your plumbing, planning out your drains and outlets, as well as getting the general gist of your electricity.
- Add your insulation- This is what will keep you warm during those cold winter nights in your home.
- Add your major appliances- This would include your oven and refrigerator, as well as other essential tiny house appliances you choose to have.
- Finish your flooring- Tiling and hardwood are both excellent options.
- Put in your kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom amenities- This would include installing your shower, getting your countertops, and all the lovely lighting fixtures you want to add. This is also the time to connect your toilet and get all the finishing touches on your loft bedroom.
- Finalize your HVAC- Once everything is connected, your home should be good to go in terms of comfort.
- Install any additional lighting and furniture- After this, take a nap in your new bedroom. You earned it.