So here we are, the first step in a fun and exciting journey. You’ve thought it through, considered the pros and cons, and are ready to take that leap into building your own tiny house. Or maybe you are looking to build a granny pod or she-shed? Whatever you want to call your ADU (accessory dwelling unit), this article has you covered!
It may seem overwhelming at first, there are a lot of decisions to be made and factors to be considered. That is why it’s essential to look at the road ahead of you and plan accordingly. Tackling each step will keep you on track, and before you know it, your tiny home will be complete!
For clarification, a tiny house is often defined as an 80 to 400 square feet building built on a traditional foundation or a trailer bed.
Follow our steps below to learn how to build the tiny house of your dreams.
Location, Location, Location
Location will play a significant factor in the design and enjoyment of your tiny home. While your options will be limited by the amount of space you have in your backyard, there are still some important factors to consider. First, use a sun calculator to determine the position and angle of the sun as it moves over your backyard. This will help you plan the windows, roof pitch, and solar panel location.
You will also want to consider privacy, both yours and your neighbors. From your larger house, do you want to look out into your backyard and directly into the windows of your tiny home? Do you want your two-story tiny home to overlook your neighbor’s yard, and do they? Building under trees will give you shade and reduce rainfall, but you will also have to deal with fallen leaves, branches, and blocked solar panels.
For these reasons and many others, your tiny home's location, angle, and direction will play a significant role in the day-day experience.
Rules and Regulations
While a uniform set of building standards has been developed, not all municipalities follow them. In some areas, you may not even need a building permit, depending on the size of the tiny house and its location.
You can do the research yourself or hire a contractor familiar with tiny home construction and its applicable building codes. A professional contractor is an invaluable resource and will be able to provide you with plenty of advice and guidance if you decide to do everything yourself.
Zoning laws and building codes vary from state to state and even county to county, so it’s essential to do your research before you begin. Depending on the location, it may also be in your best interest to check in with your neighbors, especially if they might lose some privacy. With all the construction going on, it’s good to keep the peace and inform them of your exciting new project.
Planning and Designing Your Tiny Home
Now that you have decided on the location and the parameters of your zoning laws and budling codes, the fun starts!Foundation or Wheels?
If you are building a tiny home that you plan to move to later, you can build this on wheels or a semi-permanent foundation. However, if you have no intention of moving your tiny house once it's built, it's best to construct it atop a permanent foundation.Building On a Trailer
A tiny home on a trailer, or THOW, is what most people imagine when they think of a tiny home. While this is a great option when you plan to move your tiny home around, or if you are building it in one location to move to another, there are also some obvious limitations.
When it comes to dimensions, you are constrained by the size of the trailer, not only in length and width but also in height. You are forced to build a rectangular tiny home, whereas if you were to build on a foundation, you could choose whichever size and shape you want.
If you choose to build your tiny home on a trailer in your backyard, make sure that there will be enough space to move it out when the time comes. Also, consider the space you made need to rotate it if it is not built in a direct line with the exit. Finally, even if you build a THOW, it is a good idea to have some sort of foundation for it to rest on, this way the wheels won’t sink into the soft earth during rainy seasons.
One of the biggest perks to building on a trailer, other than the mobility, is that you won’t be subject to the same building codes as you would by building on a foundation.Building on a Foundation
Building your tiny home on a foundation will give you a larger footprint than on a trailer and allow you to make it any size and shape you want. You can also create access points under the home to run utilities and storage crawl spaces depending on your foundation.
The first decision you will make is whether to use a permanent or semi-permanent foundation.
A slab foundation is the easiest to construct. First, you build a wood frame that is the size of the foundation you want to pour. Then you fill this with concrete to form a slab. You can also lay in a rebar (steel bars used to reinforce concrete) or wire mesh to reinforce the pad, but this is often unnecessary. A slab foundation is the least expensive option and the easiest to do for a DIY build.
Vented and Sealed Crawl Spaces
A crawl space is an area between the ground and the first floor. This is usually unfinished and used for storage and easier access to plumbing, gas hookups, and wiring.
A vented crawl space is made by creating short walls on which you build your tiny home. This will require you to build steps up to the front door and give you easy access to wiring and plumbing. The vents allow moisture to escape, but it will be dark and dirty, unlike a sealed crawlspace.
A sealed crawlspace is more like a small basement and keeps bugs, dirt, and moisture out better than a vented crawlspace. Often built using the same walls surrounding the outside, you can access all your wires and plumbing and use this as storage. It is more expensive to build than a vented crawl space, but it does offer better perks.
Skids or Runners
These are made by placing large timbers on the bottom of your tiny house that will act as runners to drag the home if you ever choose to move it. While they give you some flexibility for changing your tiny home location, they can be hard to access and, depending on zoning laws, may not be a code-friendly option.
Piers or Tubes
This foundation is based on building a grid pattern into the ground with a bracket on top. The bracket connects to the underframe of your tiny home, securing it. These are a good option when the slope presents a challenge.
Kit vs Custom
There are three ways to build a tiny home: Buying a kit, designing it yourself, and hiring someone to work with you. Each has its perks, so figure out which makes the most sense for you.The Kit
In a nutshell, buying a kit will be the quickest route, but it will not offer the creativity flexibility, or structural integrity that the other options will. Designing your tiny home yourself will save you the money of paying a contractor to work with you, but it will cost you time and research. The solution that falls between these would be hiring someone familiar with tiny home construction to help you.
There are two types of kits you can buy, modular and prefab. While all modular buildings are prefabs, not all prefabs are modular. A prefab kit will include components manufactured in a factory before being mailed to you. Things like flooring and subflooring, walls with window and door spaces cut out, etc. A modular kit involves finished self-contained units, such as entire rooms, that are connected like building blocks.
Regardless of which you choose, a tiny house kit will include all the materials you need to construct your tiny home. It is essentially a shell structure that you mail order, and all the parts, including lumber, glass, nails, and screws, are delivered right to your home. From there, it’s up to you to put it together.
This is an excellent way to start the project, and many people will add to this to make it a unique home. However, the problem with many tiny house kits is that they are truly the “bare bones” way to build. While you can have a tiny home “finished” in 3 or 4 days, it will be a very simple shell. This means that it will be up to you to reinforce the walls, add insulation, paint, stain, seal cracks, etc.
These also don’t include designated spots for hookups, wiring, and plumbing components. A tiny home kit would be adequate if you wanted to build a shed or a backyard studio, but for full-time living, these will not be able to compete with a custom-designed tiny home.Custom
Building a custom tiny home is an adventure in creative control and dialing in precisely what you want and where you want it. It may be more expensive than going the kit route, but the structural integrity, personalization, and knowing where everything is and how it was built will save you in the long run.
There are premade floor plans that you can purchase, which will give you the specifics on what to buy and how to build. Then, when you see fit, you can venture off of these plans and use them as a jumping-off point for your tiny house construction.
Starting from scratch, either by designing the floor plan yourself or sitting down with an architect, will make this tiny home feel like yours.
Plumbing and Electrical
Getting power and water to your tiny home is a must, regardless of whether it's on a trailer or a foundation. In a sunny area, installing solar panels will be an excellent investment. Not only will this power your home, but it’s entirely possible that they can take some of the electrical load from your larger home as well. You will also be able to collect tax breaks for using solar panels, and the investment will quickly pay for itself.
Tiny Home on Wheels
If you are building a THOW, you will need to invest in multiple water tanks. These will be for black water (sewage), gray water (household wastewater), and freshwater and will need to be filled and emptied regularly. You will also need to invest in water pumps, water heaters, and possibly even compost toilets.
For electricity, you can use solar panels, an electric generator or plug it into your larger home's electrical box.
Tiny House on Foundation
Tying right into your municipal water and electrical supply is one of the biggest perks of building on a foundation. Grid-connected tiny homes will follow the same standard plumbing and electrical techniques as a traditional home.
Fortunately, a great time-saving feature of building a tiny home is the lack of complex schematics when drafting the plumbing and electrical. Because it is so small, you won’t need long runs of piping to get water to all the required places. For this reason, planning and installing the plumbing in a tiny home is a relatively simple job. The same can be said of running the wiring, and because you are designing this home yourself, your switches and light fixtures can be installed exactly where you need them.
As you can see, building a tiny home is not a complex and exhausting process. There are many great resources to help you along the way and people with years of experience you can reach out to if needed. Remember, the more prepared you are before you hammer that first nail, the easier your tiny home-building experience will be.