Tiny House Tips: 14 Things to Consider Before Building

You’re considering building your own tiny house or structure. Congrats!

Many people ask me this question, and it’s a good one. Who wants to jump blindly into an alligator-infested pit full of danger when building or designing something for the first time (or fiftyth)? It is possible for so many things to go wrong. Not to mention the time and cost involved.

There is no simple answer to this. I want to please my wife and spend time with my children, but I also need to earn a living. I am unable to always provide a satisfactory answer. Here’s a little cheat sheet to get you ready. Rushing into a project before you have done enough planning, thinking, and daydreaming could prove to be one of your most costly mistakes. Take your time. Do it right. It’s not about winning.

Ready? This is a quick overview, without any special order.

Know the site. Be sure to understand any natural or legal restrictions that may apply. You can’t build close to wetlands. Do you have seasonal floods or washes? Where will the sun’s arc pass relative to where you plan to build? And where do you want to position your windows (or not) to take full advantage of it? The list goes on. . .

Start downsizing now. You’ll need to reduce your possessions if you plan to move into a tiny home full-time. Downsizing doesn’t happen overnight. You will need to be patient, personal and hard-working. It will take three times longer than you thought.

Collect materials. Start looking for salvaged materials and saving them. It will take time to find the ingredients you need. I can assure you that. Also, I’ll warn you that planning too far in advance and harvesting your crops too soon can lead to a lot of work when it comes to storing, maintaining, and tracking the goods. The old pile that has a tarp on it will not stay covered for very long. This will look terrible in your yard, and may even annoy neighbors.

Spread your message. Tell everyone who you think might be interested and supportive. You will be surprised by how many people want to lend you tools or materials for your new home.

Do your research. Read books, look at plans and absorb all the inspiration and ideas you can before you nail the first board. Take your time. Planning will allow you to achieve your goals with less wasted time and mistakes.

Try tiny. Visit or stay in tiny houses as part of your research. It’s impossible to know what will work or not unless you actually step inside a tiny home (especially if you aren’t very visually oriented). You can take your time to explore the entire house by renting a space for a few nights (through Airbnb for example). What is the flow of the space? What would you change about it? Is there enough space for you? You may need to take photos as well — your memory is not as good as it seems.

Determine what is essential. Determine the appliances you need and everything else. Knowing what to plug in and where will save time, money and hassle when you create an electrical plan or determine where to add outlets. It will also save you from the nightmare of having to run 8 feet of extension cable across the room just to plug in the toaster. This is not only unattractive but could also be dangerous.

Get to know trailers. Before you start a build on wheels, learn what you should look for. It’s the foundation for your home. This is where you will spend all your money and time. Be sure to choose the right one. Bring someone who is familiar with trailers and metalworking along to check it out. Check that it is safe and won’t cost you more in the future. You can find a lot of information on tiny house custom trailers in blog posts, online forums, and websites. Read as many as you possibly can. It is the most important thing you can do for your tiny home on wheels.

Take pictures. Capture everything that inspires you or could enhance your project. Photos can also help you communicate ideas to a contractor, a store employee or a board of zoning officials, depending on your situation. You’ll also be able to keep visual notes of what you like. You like a color scheme or a DIY railing. Or maybe you’re interested in the stairs, or the layout of the tiny house. Take a picture. If you don’t, you’re sure to forget.

Attend a tiny-house workshop. Although there are a lot of workshops, I recommend the ones where you can actually use tools and make something. (There are a limited number, including mine). It is impossible to learn faster, build relationships, or be more inspired than working alongside tiny house builders and designers. You can also work out any kinks in workshops, rather than making costly mistakes at home. They’re also a lot of snooty fun! Look for someone who has experience building not only large structures, but also small ones — it is a different game in many ways.

Use masking tape to create a map. Are you unsure how it would feel to navigate a house 8 feet by 24 feet? You can use masking tape to lay it out in a driveway, large hallway or other suitable space. Then, you can go one step further by taping out the interior walls, furniture and built-ins.

Build a house. You need to have some basic construction experience. Get a few essential tools (carpentry tools, circular saw, power drill-driver, etc.) and do a couple of small projects before diving into a full house project. It’s not rocket science to build a house, but you need a steady hand and some patience. You can help a friend with their home improvement, build an Adirondack Chair or even offer to assist someone else in building a tiny house. You will gain confidence by completing these smaller projects and increasing your odds of success for your larger project.

Asking for help Telling yourself, “It is okay to ask for assistance” right now. This isn’t the bragging-fest some make it seem. You don’t need to do everything yourself. Seeking help is perfectly fine, and it’s often safer. It won’t make you a failure, or less of a “official” tiny home scenester.

Add three times to your schedule. Expect everything to take about three-times as long as it should. Just the way things are. Materials run out, tools get lost, weather gets bad, help doesn’t show, you get sick . . . It all adds to a lot. It will take a while. Do not fool yourself.

You can do this. These are not just empty words. They aren’t just words.