Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

The Planning Stage Of Building A Tiny House

So I thought I would tell a little bit about my planning process before I even picked up a hammer.  This is a very important step in building your home and shouldn’t be overlooked.

thumb-whatstheplanBefore you even think about what your Tiny House is going to look like, how you are going to organize things, colors, etc.  You should sit down and list everything you do in your home right now.  Think about what you do in your home every day and those things that happen every now and again.  Take this list and order it in terms of priority and then start to think about what you will need to achieve those things.  From this line of thought the form of your house will emerge.

At that point start sketching various floor plans until you come up with something you like.  Once you have something that seems reasonably close to what you want, grab some masking tape and map out the entire floor plan to scale on the floor.  From there act out an entire day of your life and see how things work out.  Consider things like where your trash or dirty laundry goes, clearances for doors, how wide doors and passage ways need to be for you to pass through them comfortably.

It is at this point that you will discover things that don’t work and need to be changed, make them and start the process over again.  After you have worked out a solid plan, set them aside for a while and then after a few days, revisit them.  It will be surprising what things jump out at you that you were blind to before.  You can even enlist friends to get feedback from them on the design; sometimes a fresh pair of eyes will be useful.

sketch-quickAt this point I would take a look around at some of the plans that are out there and see if one of them is close to what you have come up with.  It might be worth purchasing plans if you are new to building if it matches your needs and budgets.  If you opt to come up with plans yourself then be prepared to do a lot of research and work to come up with a solid plan.  I would strongly suggest learning Sketchup which is free and pretty easy to learn.  Once your plans are drawn up consult with other Tiny House builders to get feedback on your plans, they will also be able to advise you on certain aspects that even experienced home builders will not have experience with because they are unique to Tiny Houses.  Finally draft a parts list of everything you will need.

Pros-Orange_thumb_w_580Once the plans are pretty firm and you have had them reviewed by someone who has experience in building, set a few hours aside to mentally work through how you will build the house.  Think about the process of building, envision it, where do you start, then what is after that and after that?  You will inevitably find some things that need to be rethought or given some thought when you discover the order will impact other parts.

From there consider work flow and your building site, where will you build?  Where are your tools stored?  Where will the materials be stored?  Is there power on the site, if not how will you get it there?  How will you handle trash?  Where will you setup your work station?  How will you get the trailer in and more importantly think about how you will get it out if you do have to move it?  If you need to get materials brought to the site in the back of a truck or a delivery vehicle, can they get close enough to where you need them to be? There are a million things to think about, but take the time to work it all out.

Next consider where you are going to source your materials.  The big ones are your windows, trailer, roofing, dimensional lumber, siding and any specialty items.  Windows, trailer and roofing often take a few weeks to get delivered if you are special ordering them, so consider the time line on things.  I would take your parts list to the store where you plan to purchase the bulk of your stuff and get prices and lead times on it all.  If you are trying to use reclaimed materials then hit craigs list, restores and other sources for the parts.

So that is quite a bit to chew on, if you are about to begin building your own home and want guidance feel free to contact me through the “contact us” page here

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  1. Ryan, I have been reading the information you have here on this website. Although my tiny house will be a bit bigger than most, it still needs the same information, so thanks!
    I plan to use a storage shed for my “shell” and finish it off inside, placed on a concrete pad with footers. It will be permanent, not on a trailer. (I have a 16 foot camper for traveling purposes.)
    I plan to purchase “Cracking the Codes” because I didn’t think building codes would apply to a storage shed. Any help I can get will make the process easier in the end.
    Thanks for doing all the research for me!

    • what is a footer? I thought of doing the same, using a storage shed.

      • A footer is a structural element that keeps the concrete pad from tilting or rotating due to the weight of the structure. It is similar to a base for furniture. Essentially, without a footer (like many non-load bearing concrete slabs) the foundation for your tiny house will shift, destroying the house itself. Not very expensive to install, very expensive to ignore.

    • I thought of using a shed too but I don’t think it will be high enough. and then I want a 24′ long house so I would still have to piece something together on the sides.

      • You can run two 10×12 foot sheds together. You must remember sheds are built for storage and will not meet most building codes where materials are concerned. Most are made of cheaper and smaller material than what a house would be made. Lumber, for example, may be 2×3’s of inferior grade and roofing may be thinner than code required sheathing. Most sheds do not include flooring, so you would need to build or pour a foundation to meet code. Electrical codes may also be difficult to comply with since shed walls are usually nothing more than thick paneling unsuited to living structure. Some codes require minimum square and or cubic footage, so check that first.

        Remodeling a shed to live in may take more time and money than building from scratch. Many areas, like in Florida, require certified architectural drawings and engineering plans and must be reviewed and approved by the city or county. Don’t forget zoning requirements, also.

        You may find some counties and/or municipalities that have no codes. Goliad County, Texas is one that I know of which has no zoning or building codes. So, depending on your choice of where you would live, research is important. Whatever you do, good luck and good life.

        A lawyer who specializes in construction law may be a good consultant, as would some of the local building departments.

    • I built my tiny home using EasyContainer.info – I’m currently living in it writing this post! I’m so thankful I discovered that website! There are SO many benefits to tiny homes. They are affordable, designed well, strong, environmentally friendly, and unique. I was able to build mine so fast! If you are looking to get started with a container home, I can say with confidence; EasyContainer.info is the best resource ever! You’ll find a lot of 3D designs and easy to follow instructions. I was going about the construction process entirely the wrong way and the tips on that website saved me so much money… not to mention time! It’s easy to make your tiny home dream a reality!

  2. Hi…I am planning to move to Ecuador. I love the idea of having my own Tiny House on coastal property there. Do you know if it would be possible to build a Tiny House over seas? I am a single retired woman so I would need help.
    Any advice?

    • I was planning an international move also. I would love any information about this subject.
      Thank you!

    • I am planing to move to Ecuador and build a structure in the mountain area. I have seen it possible to build a home of at least 600- 800 square feet build out of Adobe for under $30,000. This is what you m looking at doing as soon as my property sells. I was a lifc need general contractor in the USA.

    • Hi nancy,
      I am an expat living in Ecaudor. We are renting a house now, but would like to build. Building materials are cheap here. Labor is cheap. $15 to $25 per day for construction. Many homes here are tiny already. You can obtain residency if you buy property valued at $25,000 or more.

      • Hi,
        I am a builder and developer here in Panama and I am currently building a new casita design at my project. I am happy to share any info with interested parties. My casita is larger than most but I offer it at $25k with appliances.
        You can see my main project at villadavina.com then contact me thru the website. I am curious to hear from others too who have moved into tiny homes.

  3. Thank you for all your thoughts. I especially appreciated the BOM list of windows from Jeld-wen. Your comment about 1M things to think about may be a bit of an exaggeration but not by much! I picked up my trailer yesterday, learned about brake controllers, and brought an RV friend for the ride. He reminded me of the 250 things that I hadn’t yet decided upon or considered. I’m excited, but nervous. I have only one question: do you know anywhere there is a discussion about total height of the TH and why one should consider something LESS than 13.5′.

    • I also like the Jeldwin windows. On Home Depot’s web site they won’t ship them to Florida, codes perhaps? It was a good thing thought. We found a bunch of awning style windows we really liked made by Tafco.

    • Hi Cy, if you plan to move your tiny house, you’ll need a clearance of 13’5″ to clear the overpasses. But some of them are a tad lower than they should be, so it’s better to go a few inches shorter just to be safe. I have a good friend who used to drive a truck long distance and he ran into several that were really only a 13′ 3″ clearance.

      I know I’ve read more on this specific to tiny houses but can’t remember whose blog talked about it. I saw one online recently that has a very low ceiling in the loft but it set up so that a portion of the loft ceiling can be raised up to allow extra headroom and fresh air when the weather’s nice.

  4. For you folks wanting to build a tiny house out of a storage shed I have some things for you to consider. When they build these, the flooring frame is built then the sheeting is installed. The wall framing is then built on top of that sheeting. So, if you want to remove the sheeting for insulating, it’s a booger. Otherwise, you’ll have to lift the building and insulate from underneath and apply the flashing. I’m a farm girl and this flashing is a must for pests and critters even if it’s not going to be on wheels. Otherwise, have one custom made and insulated before they install the walls. Just a suggestion….

    • Just wanted to say Thanks for this viewpoint! It makes an enormous amount of sense. I’m old enough to know that NOT having to make EVERY mistake that’s possible to make is a tremendous relief!

  5. Hi Ryan, thank you for creating this site. Your articles are very helpful. I am about to start my framing, and every time you post something about mistakes or unforeseeable issues that came up, it has helped me to avoid learning the hard way. I think the guidelines and questions to ponder that you provided here are a great resource. Keep up the fine blogging!

  6. This is so helpful! Thank you so much for this post. The masking tape idea was the best thing I have heard in all of my research! If you dont have the space inside, you could also chalk an area outside:)

  7. I am so glad I found this. My husband and I are looking forward to building our own. Ours will be slightly different because it will be a bit larger because we do have 5 kids. I will keep you updated on teh progress.

    • Erin- you the first person I’ve seen to mention children in building a tiny home! We have only one child and a medium-sized dog but I see most designs are meant for 1-2 people. I’d love to hear how you come up with a design- good luck!

  8. Almost all of the plans I see for tiny houses are built on trailers. Why are tiny houses built on trailers? I would think a simple foundation would be easier and cheaper. Are there zoning requirements we are trying to avoid?

    Thank you,

  9. I’m trying to figure out where to find plans for myself and my adult son with disabilities. Need accessible bathroom and one bedroom on the main floor. Also stairs to the loft as I am no spring chicken! any ideas would be welcome:) thank you

    • Cheryl,

      There are quite a few tiny houses out there that have stairs up to the loft and/or a bdrm on the main floor. I think it was one of the tumbleweed plans that has that. You could also google it. I’m sure you could find something. You could get things modified a bit to make a larger bathroom entrance? I just found this. Check out this site, maybe this will help you out. It’s a great website.


  10. Love love this! Thanks so much for all of this great info, and feedback! I have a question about how to mask out the floor plan. I’ve tried something similar but I’m not sure how to exactly get things to scale. How the heck do you do that? That is one of my biggest problems to figure out right now. Yes, I’m going to build a tiny home even though I can’t figure out floor plan scale lol. I would love any info!
    Thanks so much in advance!


    • Your post is almost a year old, so maybe you have already figured this out. Download Google Sketchup (free) and learn to use it. Sketchup has good built in tutorials, and there are a wealth of resources available on Al Gore’s amazing internet.

      One of the advantages of modeling in Sketchup is that everything is automatically to scale. If this advice is too late, sorry.

  11. Hi! I’m trying to build a tiny house on the cheap, so I found a 20′ trailer on craigslist – used to be an old RV. How can I tell if it’ll hold the weight of a tiny house? I don’t intend to have a washer or dryer, and I’ll have a compost toilet, so my house won’t be as heavy. Also, I’ll attempt to use lightweight materials to keep the weight low. Hope someone can answer my question – thanks!

    • Old Camp Trailers are a go idea, you need to look t ho the frame is constructed. Most camp trailers use a 36″ spacing for their floor cross members, that may not support structure your building, unless you plan to build a floor frame on top of that. I modified mine to build between the rails, that saves me 5 inches. Also most trailers have a tag on the axle for weight, and if it is a 20 foot trailer which when measured your trailer is only like 18.5 feet. Also you will need to calculate where the axle really needs to be located, most older travel trailers are designed to be rear heavy. this means you will have either too light of weight distribution on the tongue or way too much. When I modified my old camp trailer, I had to move the axles forward about 8 inches to maintain the tongue weight limit of the vehicle I was intending to pull it with. Also I have a old travel trailer that was manufactured for coachman, but this manufacturer made this trailer for 9 different camper makers, my trailer was with proper tires, only rated for 6200 lbs. Remember rule of thumb for a tiny house is about 400 lbs per linear feet. I purchased new 5200 lbs springs and 8 bolt hubs for my Dexter axles. Now my trailer has been rerated for 10,000lbs. (also had help determining what to do from a local trailer manufacturer) Because I did the modifications myself (it also is good to have a friend that is a certified welder)I have less than $1000 and 3 cases of beer, into my foundation of my tiny house.

  12. I am a professional architect and amateur carpenter and furniture builder. I have been working on a modular tiny house concept that I will gladly share for free with anyone who wants to collaborate on building a prototype.

    Any interest?

    • I own land in SW Virginia (near Blueridge Parkway) and interest if you are anywhere near there. I’m looking at older travel trailers, too, so happy to be convinced to go this TH route. Likely be next summer before I could move on this. If you have some sketches, love to see and consider them. Looking for 300-500 sq ft. getaway, not for FT living.

      • Your time frame is perfect. Geography not ideal (I’m near Baltimore) but perhaps workable. I’m not sure how to send you the sketches.

        Webmaster: Is it OK for me to give LL my email in a post?

    • Where are you located? I am interested in building a tiny house in Pittsburgh. I need space for 4 people. I want to downsize but on a budget. There must be a way to make tiny homes cheaper. Would love to discuss ideas.

  13. I built my tiny home using EasyContainer.info – I’m currently living in it writing this post! I’m so thankful I discovered that website! There are SO many benefits to tiny homes. They are affordable, designed well, strong, environmentally friendly, and unique. I was able to build mine so fast! If you are looking to get started with a container home, I can say with confidence; EasyContainer.info is the best resource ever! You’ll find a lot of 3D designs and easy to follow instructions. I was going about the construction process entirely the wrong way and the tips on that website saved me so much money… not to mention time! It’s easy to make your tiny home dream a reality!

  14. Anyone in Northern California building a tiny house? I am very interested in getting my own TH as a single woman approaching retirement. Everyone seems to be located in the east or Midwest. I appreciate all the information here and other sites.

  15. I’m planning on building a small house, not tiny, on some sort of a platform in Canada. I’m on the prairies, so it’s going to be hard as the winters get very cold here. I’m thinking between 500-600sq ft max, with a bedroom for my soon to be 8 year old son. Any advice on what to build my house on? I’m building it on family farm land, so I don’t need to worry about transporting the house anywhere.
    Also, do I need to put the cistern and septic in before my platform? Or can I do it later?

    • What is your carpentry skill level? What is the availability of building materials where you want to build? A concrete slab is probably the simplest platform, but if you are in a remote location this may not be feasible. Or economical.

      If you want to have “indoor” plumbing, the well and septic should probably be installed as part of your platform construction.

      I am working on a tiny house modular concept that might work for you. I would love the opportunity to work with someone on a prototype actual project. My concepts are more related to off-the-grid living rather than portability. The modules are 8′ x 16′ (128 sf) and fit together kinda like Duplo blocks, and they can be stacked. A four module two story house might do the trick, just over 500 sf, but you might need a fifth module to give your son his own little space.

      Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll send you some pics.

  16. I love this concept
    I would love to get you too Iceland and build my tine house.
    I am a house builder and would love to go into a project like this.
    Hope to make you interested at least queries about it ?

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