Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Five Things To Do Before You Build Your Tiny House

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It’s the final countdown, folks.

I’ve made the executive decision to begin building my tiny house in the spring of 2017.

While that decision is exciting, I realize that I need to get my butt in gear and accomplish a whole slew of tasks before I’m ready to buy a trailer. Today I’m sharing my to do list with you, and I hope it can help you prepare for your build too – whether you’re starting next week or next year. This is part one of a two-part post – so stay tuned!

Step Zero: Be Sure It’s What You Want

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Me, on the porch of Jay Shafer’s original tiny house, wearing unflattering pants.

This seems like a given, but there’s more at work here. If you want a tiny house because you think they’re cute, you might need to do a little more soul searching. If you want a tiny house because it’s the logical next step in creating a more intentional way of living, well…now we’re getting somewhere.

How do I know a tiny house is right for me? Well…

  • I’ve wanted to build my own house since I was eight years old.
  • I love small, cozy, confined spaces.
  • I’ve always been passionate about good design and creating homes full of personality.
  • I want to learn new things, because it improves my life and makes me a better person.
  • I want to feel the pride that comes with tackling a big project.
  • I care about my impact on the environment.
  • It does not make sense for me to buy a traditional home because I don’t know where I’ll end up settling down someday.
  • I’m a tiny person (5’2″) with very little stuff and few worldly needs.

Your reasons might be different. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut! You know yourself and your own motivations.

Tips:

  • If you are going into a tiny house build with your partner or family, agree going in that if anyone decides they’re done with the tiny house life, that you’ll both/all find another living solution. Not feeling trapped will work wonders when it comes to living peacefully together in a tiny house.
  • If you’re on the fence, there are other ways to live smaller without building a tiny house. Even just downsizing to a small house or apartment can dramatically change your outlook.
  • At the end of the day, a tiny house is just an object, and objects don’t change your life for the better. Only you have the power to do that.

Step One: Connect with Tiny House People

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Tiny house people love nothing more than sharing pizza and beer.

Even with the wealth of information available online, you’ll still have questions that can only be answered by people who have gone through the building process. Also, tiny house people are just plain cool and interesting and definitely worth knowing!

I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful members of the tiny house movement through my work, but to get here, I had to seek them out myself. As an introvert, this is much easier said than done. In the beginning, I had to do a lot of hunting to find other people who were just as excited about tiny houses as I was.

Tips:

  • Meetup.com is a goldmine. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, chances are high that there is a tiny house enthusiasts meetup nearby. If there isn’t one already, why not start a group yourself?
  • If there isn’t a tiny house meetup group, search for related groups about minimalism, gardening and permaculture, or prepping, and you’re bound to meet other people who are interested in tiny houses!
  • Tiny house events are popping up all over the country, and they’re a great way to meet cool folks. If you’re pretty convinced you’d like to live tiny, the Tiny House Conference is a great place to make friends and ask people your questions.
  • Don’t just hound people on the Internet, begging them for a tour of their tiny house. Form strong give-and-take friendships with tiny house folks just like you would with anyone else.

Step Two: Pare Down Belongings

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I once owned over 300 books. I now own 30.

Paring down your stuff is a huge part of living the tiny life. Last summer, I moved to Charlotte from Boston, and I took the move as an opportunity to bring only the things that could fit in the back of my Honda CRV. I got rid of two thirds of my clothing and 90% of my books – something I thought I could never do – along with decades’ worth of accumulated crap from my school years. It was surprisingly easy to distinguish trash from treasure once I got in to a rhythm. Driving down the highway to my new home, with a trunk full of my most precious possessions, was a liberating feeling.

Tips:

  • “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
  • For analytical minds: try the box method. Empty the contents of a drawer, closet, etc. into a big cardboard box. Each time you use an item from the box, it can return to the drawer. Whatever remains in the box after three months is something you don’t need in your daily life and you can safely donate it.
  • For intuitive minds: If you have more of an emotional attachment to objects like I do, I highly recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It has gone viral for a reason, and I couldn’t have decluttered without it. That book is worth its own blog post, which I will write soon.
  • Budget enough time for this crucial step. One tiny house family I know took a whole year to declutter.

Step Three: Assess Needs

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Dee Williams’s petite vardo at the 2015 Tiny House Conference.

This is what Dee Williams from Portland Alternative Dwellings calls “playing anthropologist.” A lot of what we think we need in a home is marketed to us through building trends and realtors. A tiny house is a chance to shed the excess and create a home that fits you like a glove. For this step, I wrote a big list to brainstorm all my weird quirks and how they affect my interaction with my living space.

For instance, I noticed that I never use more than two stove burners at a time, but I do use my oven very frequently (roasting vegetables is the most reliable way to trick myself into eating them). For me, an oven would be a necessity.

I find that I spend most of my leisure time lounging around in bed rather than on the couch. Aside from sleeping, I do all my reading, drawing, writing, and music-listening in bed. I’ll probably forgo a lounge space in favor of a dining area, and design a luxurious sleeping loft that will double as my creative haven.

I also dye my hair monthly, so an open shower stall won’t work for me unless I want to flood my whole house as I rinse out the dye. I think a stock tank bathtub would work well for me.

Tips:

  • Try the Post-It Note Method: Stick a Post-It Note next to each doorway in your home. Every time you leave a room, write down what it is that you’re doing in each room. After a month or so, get a glimpse into how you actually use your space.
  • Design for the life you have, not the one you want. This is the equivalent of keeping “skinny pants” in your wardrobe. You want to feel comfortable in your home, not guilty.
  • If you have hobbies or accoutrements that require a lot of space, consider outbuildings or off-site storage, or outsourcing that hobby to a different location (e.g. an artist’s studio).
  • Remember: our needs are surprisingly few and easily met.

Step Four: Figure Out a Floor Plan

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My latest tiny house layout, which I have already overhauled completely.

Right now, I have a folder on my desktop with 39 scanned, hand-drawn floor plans. To be fair, I’m a big nerd and I’ve been drawing these for four straight years. But whether it’s digital or on paper, it’s important to translate your design ideas into a visual medium.

There are lots of great ready-made tiny house floor plans on the market. We’ve reviewed our favorite plans to help you pick the one that’s right for you – click here to check it out. But because everyone’s needs are different, don’t be afraid to modify an existing plan to better suit your lifestyle.

Tips:

  • Carry a measuring tape with you wherever you go. Measure chair heights, counter widths, the rises and runs of stair steps – it’s important to know common dimensions of different elements so you can accurately plan for them.
  • Measure yourself! Know how much space you need to feel comfortable. My needs as a 5’2″, 130 lb. woman will differ from the needs of a 6’3″ 275 lb. man.
  • Don’t forget to design space for your clothes hamper, kitchen trash can, recycling and compost bins, suitcases, bulk paper goods storage, brooms, and other cleaning implements.
  • Include empty storage space in your design. Because you’re alive, you’ll probably still acquire new things after you move into your tiny house. Give yourself some wiggle room.
  • Strive for an excellent design, not a perfect one. If you stress too much about getting things absolutely perfect, you’ll never get off the ground.

Step Four-and-a-Half: Work with an Expert

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Great ideas always begin on a napkin.

Optional, but highly worth it. Even if you have a pretty strong grasp on what you’re doing in terms of your design, it never hurts to have an expert offer their advice. At the Tiny House Conference after party, I hungrily listened to Lina Menard and Ethan Waldman as they gave me feedback on my tiny house design, which I drew on a napkin in pink pen. I’m currently collaborating with a professional plan designer and draftsman to hash out a solid layout and set of building plans, which is terribly exciting!

Tips:

  • Try to find experts who have experience building tiny houses. It’s important for folks to have the skill of translating theoretical designs into tangible structures.
  • If you can’t afford a consultation, buy or borrow a copy of A Pattern Language. It’s a great manual for learning the psychology of vernacular architecture (a.k.a. how to build a house you feel good in).

Step Five: Create a Budget

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Ideally, if you’re ready to build within a year, you should have enough funds saved up to at least get started. If you’re not careful, a tiny house can become a money pit if you don’t budget and track your expenditures.

My plan is to build in stages. I’ll first finish the exterior, so that the unfinished inside is safe from the elements. I can then take my time finishing the interior and saving up for some nicer appliances. Since I live in Charlotte and it’s pretty warm here, I might even move in early and live in the house while I’m still working on it to pour even more money into the build. I’m planning for the build to take a long time, but I know I’ll have a more rewarding learning experience that way.

In terms of saving money, it’s important to have a savings account just for your tiny house so that your funds don’t get mixed up and accidentally spent. I know that I’m the kind of person that will spend all my savings if they’re accessible and unallocated. I use SmartyPig.com to keep my tiny house savings separate, which is free and easy to use and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tips:

  • Keep your house as small and simple as possible.
  • Always budget 10% – 15% more for materials.
  • Anything custom will cost you a bundle – especially windows and doors.
  • The exception to this rule is trailers. Instead of buying a tiny house trailer, order a custom trailer direct from a manufacturer, and hire a welder to add any extra details. You will save thousands of dollars.
  • Compact appliances often cost as much or more than conventional appliances, so budget accordingly!

 

So what are the next steps as I move toward building my tiny house? Tune in next time for part two of this topic!

Your Turn!

  • Which step will be the easiest for you?
  • Which step will be more challenging?

Introducing our Tiny House Plans Guide

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Today, we’re officially unveiling a new feature of The Tiny Life that we’re super excited about. If you listen to our podcast, Tiny House Chat, you’ve probably heard our latest episode about our new tiny house plans review page. It’s high time for us to write a blog post about this new resource, and we’re eager to share it with you.

If you’re going to build a tiny house, one of the most important steps happens way before you ever wield a chop saw: choosing a house plan. There are hundreds of tiny house plans on the market, and they’re scattered all over the Internet, and you can’t know for certain what you’re going to get for your money. Ryan and I wanted to help put an end to all the confusion.

We rounded up our favorite tried-and-true tiny house plans and gathered them in one place to help you find the plan that’s best for you. The houses come in all shapes and sizes, but we they all have these two criteria in common:

  1. The house has to be on wheels.
  2. The house has to have been built and lived in before.

The second point above is how we know a plan can succeed as a safe and comfortable home. You can create conceptual 3D tiny house models all day long, but until they exist and function as both a solid structure and a full-time home in the real world, there’s no way to know how well a design will actually work.

We then collected the plans and pored over them for hours, inspecting all the details that a newbie builder would need to consider – and all the ones that you wouldn’t have thought about either!

Here’s what you can find on the tiny house plans page:

  • Sixteen main criteria to help you know what to look for in tiny house plans
  • A detailed at-a-glance comparison grid to quickly compare all seven tiny house plans
  • Our recommendations for different plans based on your needs
  • A free “How to Read House Plans” guide
  • Thorough reviews of every house plan
  • Photos and screenshots of the plans so you know what to expect when you buy
  • A “new builder friendly” ranking for each plan
  • In-depth interviews with the plan designers to gain more insight into each design

We hope that this resource will simplify and streamline the process of choosing a house plan for your own future tiny home. The tiny house plans we picked to review are the cream of the crop for what is available for sale, so we feel confident recommending them to you.

To see the full tiny house plans page, click here or click the “Plans” tab in the menu at the top of the page. Happy hunting!

Hosting A Party In A Tiny House

IMG_2383Life has been very busy as of late with lots of new things coming down the pipeline for us here at The Tiny Life, but when I saw how nice it was going to be this past weekend I knew I had to close the laptop.

It takes work to break yourself away and make time for relaxation with friends. In a world as fast paced as ours, we need to keep sight of what’s important. The work will never be done, but time with friends and family is a precious commodity. This past weekend I decided to take advantage of the perfect weather by having a cookout and campfire.

They say the best way to clean your house is to throw a party…it’s so true! But in a tiny house, that takes me all of 15 minutes of work! It was going to be a small group, but still bigger than I could seat in my tiny house. So when the invite went out I said BYOB and BYOC (bring your own chair). We had a mix of meat eaters and vegetarians, so we had burgers and hotdogs for the meat eaters and veggie patties and veggie kabobs for my vegetarian friends.

Because of the number of folks, I decided to host it entirely outdoors. I had my grill all set up, plus I brought out a folding table that I’m able to keep tucked away most of the time and bring out when I need some more working room. With the table setup, I laid out everything we would need to keep folks outside the house. I left the door to the tiny house propped open, as people inevitably want to check it out.

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Amy and my friends Caroline, JR, Jared, and Lauren came over for food and to hang out. Amy brought the veggie kabobs and tried her hand at grilling for the first time; we all got together, chatted and grilled. Once we filled our plates we moved over to the fire.

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After eating and chatting, Lauren broke out supplies for s’mores, but instead of marshmallows, she brought Peeps. So we roasted the poor marshmallow chicks over the fire and ate s’mores. All in all it was a great time, grilling and sitting by the fire and enjoying the stars after dark.

Your Turn!

  • What type of tiny house party are you going to throw first?

 

2016 Tiny House Conference Recap

What a blur! We are finally recovering from an amazing weekend at the Tiny House Conference in Asheville, NC. The event went off without a hitch, and we had such a great time hanging out with tiny house enthusiasts from near and far. Check out some of our behind-the-scenes photos from the event!

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In the days leading up to the conference, we had a lot of details to square away at Tiny HQ. We stuffed, alphabetized, and bagged all the name tags in preparation for the event.

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On the Thursday beforehand, we made the trip from Charlotte to Asheville. Tiny houses started to arrive, including this little beauty from Wishbone Tiny Homes.avl

The speakers also began to arrive on Thursday evening. We ventured into the funky West Asheville neighborhood on Thursday night to get dinner at Buffalo Nickel, and enjoy a few drinks and a whole lot of laughs.

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Friday morning was the kickoff for our first ever Tool School! Hosted at A-B Tech, attendees got a chance to learn how to safely use power tools under the watchful eye of professional woodworkers. In previous years, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks who wanted some hands-on training at the Tiny House Conference, and we’re happy to say that Tool School was a hit.

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The Friday night social mixer was also a big success. This photo was taken before a lot of people arrived – there were at least 150 people there!

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The conference begins! We had a full house, with over 350 people in attendance. We had an all-star lineup of presenters for the weekend. In the photo above, Lina Menard of Niche Consulting discusses design and layout for small spaces.

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The tiny house tours are my favorite part of the Tiny House Conference. We had 14 houses in total this year, and they came in all shapes and sizes. We had everything from Driftwood Homes USA and Hummingbird Housing and their high-spec, luxurious tiny houses, all the way down to Elissha’s ultra-tiny 24-square foot home.

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Open Space is definitely one of the highlights of the Tiny House Conference. People gather into groups with other attendees to ask questions and lend their expertise on different topics, as well as to connect with one another. Watch this video to learn more about Open Space and how it works.

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All good things must come to an end, but after the close of the conference on Sunday, it was time to celebrate! A trip to Barley’s Taproom for pizza and beer was in order.

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On Monday, it was time for us to return to Charlotte, but not before a final visit to White Duck Taco. Thanks for the good vibes, Asheville – it was a blast!

Ryan and I are already busy planning for next year’s Tiny House Conference. It will take place in Portland, Oregon on April 8th and 9th. We hope to see a lot of familiar faces there, and if you weren’t able to join is this year, we hope to meet you at the next one! See more behind-the-scenes posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching the hashtag #tinyhouseconference. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get all the updates on next year’s conference. Thanks everyone, for helping make this such a great event!

Your Turn!

  • Did you go to the 2016 Tiny House Conference? What was your favorite part?

Don’t Miss the 2016 Tiny House Conference!

TinyHouseConferenceRegistration

Before I started building my tiny house back in 2012, I had a ton of questions:

Where do I even start?
What do I need to know to build a tiny house?
Which options are right for me?
What if I mess up because I don’t know something?!

Building a tiny house is a huge undertaking and it can be scary at times. I know from my own tiny house building experience that it can sometimes feel like you’re lost. You’ll have lots of questions, and you might encounter some doubts along the way. When I was in this situation, I soon realized I wasn’t alone. There were ton of people facing the same challenges and the tiny house movement needed an event where folks could gather as a community.

That was back in 2009. Fast forward to today.

The Tiny House Conference is entering its third year and we couldn’t be more excited. We’ve built this community into something great, something I wish all tiny house folks could experience. It’s a place that lets us connect with others like you, to learn from each other and be part of a community. I want to invite you to be part of that community.

Tour tiny houses, meet the experts, and be a part of the tiny house movement, all in one amazing weekend.

Registration for the Tiny House Conference closes at midnight on March 27. Don’t miss out on this great event!

Click Here to Register

 

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