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Tips for Designing and Building a Tiny House

Kitchen of a tiny house

There are many reasons why tiny home living has become a hot topic of conversation in recent years. Some people embrace the possibility of a more eco-friendly, downsized lifestyle. Others seek affordable living arrangements to replace high rents or sizable mortgages.

However, turning this dream into a reality takes more effort than it appears on hot YouTube channels and DIY television shows. What is actually involved in the process of designing, building and placing a tiny house? 

Here are five tips for designing and building a tiny house.

1. Consider the Finances

Tiny homes cost less than conventional models – so why is it so much harder to get financing? Much of the reason stems from how mortgagors make their money. Many mortgage lenders have minimum loan requirements. Square footage is another issue, as banks don’t want to gamble that the property may lose value. While land never depreciates, many fear smaller structures won’t attract future buyers.

However, options exist for financing a new tiny house. Some people might be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage if they go for a luxury model. However, their price point won’t vary much from a traditional home. Most borrowers will likely need to apply for an RV loan, requiring a credit score of 620 or higher. 

Ultimately, while tiny homes are usually less expensive than traditional homes, they still require applications and financing if buyers don’t have tens of thousands of dollars in cash saved up.

2. Select Your Foundation

Tiny homes come in two standard types: site-built and tiny homes on wheels (THOWs). Those opting for THOWs often do so for the freedom component. Most overnight campsites offer low rates. Alternatively, travelers can join groups like Harvest Hosts that let them park their THOWs at various farms and wineries across the nation.

The problem with a THOW is finding a place to park when you’re not traveling. This issue won’t create much stress for those who already own real estate. Otherwise, owners may need to investigate space for rent, which can add hundreds to the monthly cost of living.

 Living room of a tiny house

3. Source Your Materials

There’s good news and bad for the DIY builder set. While prices have dropped since their record highs in March 2021, they’re still 135% higher than at the beginning of 2020. This inflation has pushed the average house cost up by $18,000.

Most people use wood to build the frame, but it isn’t the only option. For example, steel framing offers pest-free security with unparalleled durability. It typically costs more and isn’t suitable for most THOWs because of its weight.

Another option is to purchase prefabricated frames. Some retailers sell tiny home kits, or you can find models designed by custom builders. Still other folks purchase sheds from home improvement stores and insulate, wire, and plumb them into the perfect tiny living space.

Site-built homes provide more flexibility because there’s no worry about the torque weight on the transporting vehicle’s tow hitch. Builders can look to alternative materials regardless of how much they weigh. It doesn’t take much savviness to build a cordwood cabin. Hempcrete is tough to find but it’s sustainable, fire-retardant, and easy enough for novices to mix.

4. Get Space-Savvy

Space comes at a premium in tiny homes. Therefore, you need to get clever and use every corner. If you go with a loft model, install your sink or a small closet under the stairs and fit each riser with a drawer. A second loft above your living area creates a place for items you need less often – a ladder gives sufficient access.

Tiny home aficionados need to get smart about their appliances. Line-dried clothes smell much better than tumble-dried ones – or skip the washer and dryer and use a laundromat. Has it been ages since a Thanksgiving turkey graced the family oven? Forgo that space-grabber in favor of a smaller countertop convection model and reap the reward of extra cabinet space.

5. Prioritize Sustainability

One of the best perks of tiny living is shrinking your carbon footprint. Go even further by prioritizing sustainability during your build.

For example, save money on materials by reusing components and fixtures wherever appropriate. Bathtubs rarely go bad and are sometimes available for free at your local dump.

How will the home get power? If you’re going with a THOW, a solar backup is necessary. Why not fuel the appliances through rooftop panels, relying on the generator only in emergencies? 

Those with site-built homes can take advantage of passive solar by placing their largest windows facing south to take full advantage of the sun’s rays. Install solar panels or connect to an energy cooperative to get renewable power while remaining on the grid.

Tips for Designing and Building a Tiny House

Tiny homes are all the rage. Many people like the small size, lower cost, and utility bills. Follow these tips when designing and building a tiny house. While it’s not as easy as it looks on television, you can create the home of your dreams.

Author: Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work focuses on interior and architectural design and has been published by Build Magazine, the National Association of REALTORS and other online publications.