Tiny House Q + A: What should a beginner know before building a Tiny House?

Thinking about building a tiny house?

This Q & A is based on questions we receive from readers all the time, and so we decided to take some time to answer the beginner tiny house Q's we get!

 

Question:

I'm still in college but I'm really attracted to the idea of a tiny house. The only problem is, I don't have any experience building or anything of the sort. How hard was it to learn all the technical stuff?

Answer:

Find a friend or "mentor" that you can learn building basics from. There are also groups that are always doing group builds/barn raising type style stuff.

Look and see if someone in your area is building a tiny house and ask if you can help (look at the tiny house blogs and search your city, or post on craigslist). Or you can take a tiny house building workshop. Yestermorrow Design/Build School's 3 week Tiny House Design/Build class is AWESOME, you build a tiny house start to finish.

"Technical" stuff like electrical and plumbing is a little more complex. My advice is to look at youtube videos. Dan Louche of tinyhomebuilders.com has an awesome, very technical book and video series. Electricity is like water and plumbing IS water so it’s very relatable. Tiny Houses can be set up very simply, which is an advantage we have!

 

Question:

How do building permits and things like that work, is it the same as for a normal house?

Answer:

Check with your local government, it all depends on their rules and the building inspector’s office. If you're building on a foundation you'll need to go through that stuff, if you're building on a trailer you'll need to figure out how to navigate the city you live in. This is such a hard question to answer because these codes are different everywhere. It's all depends. 

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Question:

What's the most difficult part of taking a house completely off the grid?

Answer:

Going off-grid is a process. Deciding on fuel choices is a tough one - will you use wood, propane, something else? For me navigating rainwater collection, filtration, and storage was the most difficult, because being mobile and having 100 sq. ft. of surface area (your roof) poses new, special challenges to going off-grid. You don’t have as much surface area to collect water, you can’t store rainwater in a giant tank because you’re mobile and don’t have the room to store large amounts of collected water, and you don’t have a homestead to build the proper infrastructure. For filtering rainwater the best resource I’ve found are the Berkey and Aquarain filters, which are small enough for a counter top. There isn't really a hardest part, it's all just figuring out what works for you. There a million and one ways to go off-grid, and varying levels of modern comfort and work associated with them.

 

Question:

Any other tips for beginners?

Answer:

Stop thinking and start doing. It is the only way. Even if you have no idea where to start, DO more than you read or think. START NOW!! Timing will never be perfect, and at some point you gotta pick up the hammer. Scary, but true.

And my other "tip for beginners" is that you can do 90% of what it means to live in a tiny house without the tiny house.

Don't get hung up on the object. Get rid of your stuff, minimize your expenses, and start thinking simple now. Living in a tiny space doesn't make your life different, you have to do that. And you can do almost all of it without the actual house in place, so start now.

 

Question:

I plan on gluing and screwing rather than using nails, do you know of any other building techniques that should be incorporated into a tiny home? I'm thinking for the added load of road travel.

Answer:

I recommend gluing and screwing. You're on the right track. You might want to put in some diagonal studs in between studs supporting the walls with windows too. You want to do everything so that the house doesn't rack when going down the road - so think about stiffening up all the walls.

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Question:

Have you heard of anyone using steel stud framing on a tiny home? I recall reading a blog post once about it but haven’t been able to find it since. I believe the guy was tack welding instead of using taper screws.

Answer:

I have heard of metal studs and maybe have seen that same blog post, but then I vaguely remember those builders saying that metal studs were not holding up well and that they were reconsidering. I would not use metal studs for this application.

 

Question:

This question relates to holding tanks for water/waste. I'm thinking about the option of holding tanks, and I’m thinking I'd need 3. One for potable water, grey water and one for black/waste water. Can you give any advice on this? I thought it would be nice to have a flat holding tank underneath the trailer, but that's just an idea right now.

Answer:

I don't advocate for any type of holding tanks, because it means you either have to tow your house to a dump station every week or lug around portable tanks full of shit/sewage in your car then dump it. It's also wasteful, because with a little planning you can compost humanure and recycle greywater. I would recommend a waterless composting toilet set up and a simple greywater system that empties out of your house either into a bucket that you can dump safely, or if you're in one place you could build a simple greywater filtration rock garden under your house. If you are set on having black and grey tanks you can get them at RV suppliers.