Tiny House – Where Do I Even Start?

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You’re not completely happy with your living situation and you think ‘tiny’ might be for you?  Now where to begin!?!

Tiny living is for anybody but it’s not for every body. I get the question very often ‘where do I possibly begin with this tiny house idea?’ There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming. Here is my suggested order of operations and some links to (what I feel are) important resources:

Step 1 – Get Realistic

Decide if you could do it, actually LIVE in that small of a space.  If you have a lot of things, imagine what you would get rid of and if you could handle that? Some more tactile folks find it helpful to draw out a space in your current house, use masking tape on the floor (or in the driveway), see if you can fit what you want to fit. You could also download a free 3D software, like SketchUp, and make a model if you’re digitally minded, or do scale cutouts if that helps, here is a free download of some you can use. I think the first hurdle is seeing if it could physically work for you. I think most people would surprised at how well they, and their important things, could fit if they got right down to it.

My dear friend Alek, getting ready to start his build!

Step 2 – Figure Out Your ‘Why’

Organize your thoughts on ‘why’ you want to minimize. Is it financial? Ecological? Job related? For clarity? Maybe it’s just a stepping stone? Or a long term plan to chase your passion? Perhaps you want to be closer to family, or further away… Or something else all together, or even ‘just for fun’.

When we step out of the ‘main stream’ we often get gentle nudges trying to get us back in. Be ready to answer other people’s questions about it, you will likely get a few. I find the best way to be ready for this is to focus on the positives. Focus more on what tiny will enable rather than ‘take away’. You can look at this post for ideas. There is also a great post written on the top ten most asked tiny house questions which you can find here just to prepare for those. It’s easier to respond when you’re ready for the questions. Remember, every person asking a question is generally responding (negatively or positively) out of concern for you. If you are confident they will be confident. Try not to take offense and make it a learning process for both of you.

Step 3 – Build A Support System

Find your helpers (emotionally, if not physically) and supporters.  Find the people who believe in you and hang out with them more!  (there is a great group of these supporters on Facebook HERE).  You will need those people as you go along to remind you why you’re getting into this, building a house is a long process that tests your patience. Helpers are worth their weight in gold.

Step 4 – Figure out ‘Needs’ (and Wants)

Physically make a top ten (or more) list of priorities you MUST have in your tiny house. Do not limit yourself. Write them down, order them in level of priority.  Mine had things like ‘oversized shower with unlimited hot water’, ‘Room for a Great Dane to comfortably live and move around’, ‘Room for my creative outlets (painting, sewing, sculpting)’, ‘Comfortable for 2 adults’, ‘double kitchen sink’, ‘king sized bed’, etc. You will most likely be able to accommodate things with a little creativity.

Step 5 – Get Inspired

Look at pretty pictures! Get books. Look at blogs. Google search the attributes on your list to figure out how to make it happen ‘double basin sink in tiny house’.

Start an idea board. Either digitally, or on a physical poster or even just save those pictures in a file or on Pinterest etc., however works best for you.  THIS book is one of the best resources out there for how to go about figuring out and making the decisions you’ll want to consider, Ethan did a great job on it! He also had a great Podcast where you can hear from folks who live tiny if audio is more your style: What they like, what they hate, why they do it, etc.

Step 6 – Pick a Path

Decide if you are going to do it yourself, hire it done, or buy used.  

DIY

  • Do you have more time than money?
  • Do you have a place to build that is free/reasonably priced?
  • Do you have (or can you get) tools? [Buying used and selling when done is a great tip to get decent tools, low/no cost]

My advocacy will always encourage you to build your own house. I think the process of building is as valuable as any other aspect of the tiny lifestyle. When it comes right down to it, nothing in a tiny house needs to be complicated. It is all the most basic methods of every trade. If you are willing, you CAN learn all of the things needed to build successfully!

When you can build your own structure, you are empowered to take on any other aspect of life. It’s the most satisfying accomplishment of my life to date. It also takes a lot of patience and persistence.

Hire the Build

  • Do you have something that takes too much of your time to start a side project like building a house?
  • Do you have physical limitations that would make building difficult?
  • Do you need to finance your tiny house?

Tiny Home Builders didn’t really exist 10 years ago. There is now an ever growing (and shrinking) list of Tiny Home Builders. You can also find builders close to you by looking HERE.

My words of caution here is to check references. There are some fantastic builders out there but there are plenty of surprising and shady stories as well. It’s a ‘new’ concept and as such not regulated much.

If you need financing you will want to go through an RVIA certified manufacturer which will add a layer of accountability to the integrity of the builder.

Buy Used

  • Do you have an urgent need for change?
  • Do you not care quite so much that your home suits you perfectly?
  • Do you have limited funds and time?

This is an appealing option, it’s usually cost effective and requires a lot less physical labor. Tiny homes are finding a good foothold in the resell market which is good news!

The risks in buying used include no financing options, potentially poor quality construction, and all the concerns you would have buying a second hand vehicle from another individual.

There are oodles of websites and Facebook groups out there where you can list a second hand tiny house. Buyer beware, often these are homebuilt by inexperiences individuals. That doesn’t mean they are bad, just do your homework and get comfortable knowing what to look for.

Step 7 – Educate Yourself

No matter which option you go forward on, I recommend you educate yourself about how a simple structure goes together. You’ll need to know this if you are building yourself; you’ll want to know this to confidently advocate for yourself with builders; and you’ll want to know this if you are buying used so that you know what to look for.

*My only sales pitch, promise* This is what I help people do! I compiled a set of four e-courses with all of the information you will need to build, hire or buy your tiny house.

Part one
This one covers basic code issues, parking options and selecting your trailer/foundation.
Part two
Covers the basics of each type of construction and why you may (or may not) choose it.
Part three
Goes through the utilities and systems you may use and the pros and cons of each in a small space.
Part four
About the overall design and covers materials choices with pros/cons and overall structure design to make it pleasing and comfortable for both you and the neighbors where you may choose to live.

A great starting point by Andrew and Gabriella who built the cover house.

You of course can also learn the skills you need from YouTube, that’s how I did it! Search ‘advanced framing techniques’, ‘how to drywall’, ‘how to do simple plumbing’, ‘simple electrical’.  There are also great books and resources to learn skills needed if that’s how your brain works, here’s a short list of my recommendations.

You might just find, as you learn more, that you feel more capable of giving it a try. Either way, no matter your path forward, it’s in your best interest to inform yourself with some basics about building, you’ll end up with a better home for you.

This is another awesome starting point by Alexis and Christian, long time tiny house dwellers!

Step 8 – Get Your Ducks in a Row

DIY

Figure out your floor plan and generally what you want the house to look like from outside. You can either design it yourself or springboard from other people’s plans if they suit you. (For what you can expect to get in a set of plans click HERE). It’s fairly simple to modify plans if they aren’t 100% right for you.

Figure out where you can build at, often this happens in a driveway, back yard, or a family friend’s house. You can even rent shop space.

Start sourcing materials and your trailer. There is a LOT of opportunity to save money when sourcing your own materials. It usually takes time to save money. Here are some of my tips to finding great deals. I bet you have some great ideas of your own, too.

Hire the Build

Figure out your floor plan. Your builder may have a few to choose from or you can bring your own. For that you can either design it yourself or springboard from other people’s plans if they suit you. (For what you can expect to get in a set of plans click HERE). It’s fairly simple to modify plans if they aren’t 100% right for you and builders are usually willing and able to work through changes with you.

Research builders. Make a list of important questions to ask, here is a place to start. The great thing about movable tiny homes is that they are mobile. You are not limited to local builders only. Most tiny home builders deliver a home for fairly reasonable fee. It’s important to feel like you trust your builder and have a good relationship with them. It can be handy to visit the site during the build but it’s possible to have virtual walk through’s as well.

Buy Used

Start scouring the websites and market groups. Know roughly what you’d like to have in a floor-plan and a general aesthetic but stay flexible.

Do not feel pressured into making a decision fast, the right house will come at the right time.

Have a list of questions to ask to figure out how well the house was built. Ask for any pictures of the process they have. Ask for dimensions and permitting requirements to move the house. Ask things like the type of framing used, insulation used and R-value, ask if there are Simpson tie-downs and hurricane straps used.

None of the answers have to be deal breakers but will give you an idea of the quality and care put into the construction.

Step 9 – Take Off!

START!  No matter which way you are going the process can be broken down small into small steps. You can plan for a whole lifetime but there will always be surprises to work around. At some point you have to make the big leap forward into ‘commitment’. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as things progress, break it down to even smaller parts and do one tiny thing, every day. They will add up over time. Stay flexible, let things change and adapt as you go forward, but GO FORWARD!

It’s worth it, I promise!

If you have any specific questions I would love to answer them in the comments below!

To join my newsletter where I try to offer insights and encouragement for those on their path to tiny click HERE.

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