Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Lessons Learned From Building My First Tiny House

Today we have a great guest post by our friend at the Austin Tiny House, Louis Burns at www.austintinyhouse.com.  Louis has some great hands on experience, so feel free to pick his brain in the comments!

Have Flexible Expectations

Before I started, my biggest question was how long it would take to complete. I had initially planned to have a friend work with me but then he landed his dream job and was completely unavailable.  I read somewhere that a guy had built a tiny house in 12 days. After the first 12 days, I was still working on framing. I suspect 12 days may be possible for a professional crew but it was just me. It took me 500 hours to build it over 9 months.
I’d spoken to another friend about storing all my materials in a shed on the property. I’d gotten the okay but the day before delivery, she “forgot” our prior discussion and said I couldn’t use it. I ended up putting all the supplies under an open shelter with plastic sheets covering them.
In the planning process, I’d added up everything I thought I would use and had those two friends look it over too. We were estimating $4000 in building supplies including the trailer. No such luck. By the end I’d had to spend around $8000. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The only expectation I started with that I came out the other end with was that I could finish the project.
Quite a few days – especially during the Texas summer – I had major motivation issues. The heat aside, I found that if I was approaching a step that I didn’t know how to complete like framing the roof or wiring, my work pace would slow to a crawl too. I had to keep in mind that as long as I kept working on it, it would eventually get done.
I noticed that I worked better when I knew how the next step would work before I got to it. It’s like having your next book to read ready. Regardless of what I’m reading, I usually have a next book in mind. It helps me stay motivated to finish what I’m currently on.
Sometimes I would get so frustrated that the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I’d already sunk a good chunk of money into the project and that my wife was proud of my efforts. I can’t imagine trying to do it with an unsupportive spouse.
More times than I can recall, I reached a place where I thought I was stuck. The last two instances I recall were that the storm door was the wrong size and that the plank in the porch I wanted to replace had a screw in it that was under the door frame. When that would happen, I’d take a break and see if a solution would come to me.
With the storm door I talked to the manufacturer’s customer service and then realized I could build onto the framing with the remaining lumber I still had. With the porch board I sawed as much off as I could reach with the reciprocating saw. Then I took my biggest drill bit and drilled all around those two screws. I used a chisel to get the wood pieces out and then sawed off the ends of the protruding screws. The new plank is as secure as the others.
Often times, the solution that presented itself was better than what I’d planned originally. I hadn’t known enough about vinyl siding to order undersill and it hadn’t been suggested by the salesperson. When I got to the top of the siding installation, I ended up tucking it under the roof trim and hiding it with finish trim. It looks better than if I would have tried to use undersill.  Of course I didn’t try to wing anything. I probably bought 5 books on building and checked out 10+ more from the library. I did check with a former electrician before I started but the rest I learned as I went. I think that’s where a lot of folks start so I’m proof it’s possible.
If I were doing it again, I’d definitely make sure I had a dedicated (preferably inside) space to build, store supplies and all the right tools. Trips back and forth looking for something that’s been borrowed, going to the home improvement store or waiting for the weather to cooperate can really slow you down.
Besides that, working your plan is what gets it done. Even if you can only manage a few hours a week, it will eventually work out.

Louis

Building a tiny house…

4 Comments
  1. I would love to see the inside! Great job under adverse circumstances.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I find this type of post very motivational and helps to keep me on track. Even though I’m only collecting materials, it helps to be able to see the finished product to remember why I started making a pile of scraps that look like junk to everyone else.

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