With the popularity of television shows about the improved freedom and lifestyle of a tiny house, it is no wonder that a lot of people are considering this move. But before you jump, there are some important things to consider. This list will help you think it all through and make the best decision.
1. How Small and How Long?
The first and most obvious consideration is whether you want a tiny house as your primary living place or are you hoping to use it as an entertaining, office, or guest space while you still retain your traditional house?
If you answered "primary home," you need to address exactly what your goals are. Are you looking to ditch the traditional life and take it on the open road or do you need a tiny house that is permanently placed?
2. Legal and Zoning Issues
You will need to do research about permitting in your state and community before you move forward. Considerations will be if you plan to add plumbing and a permanent foundation. These are important factors to discuss with your local zoning department to see what is allowed.
For permanent tiny homes, if you are placing this structure on your property, you will need to contact the zoning department to be sure that you are allowed a second living structure on your property and discover the requirements for building on your land regarding minimum square footage as well as foundation, plumbing, and utility requirements. You do not want to design the perfect house and then find out it is 25 square feet too small to be legal!
The mobile tiny house builder will need to check and see if construction is legally allowable on your property or if you will need to find a commercial space where you can complete construction. Getting your build site shut down would be a major headache!
3. How Small Can You Go?
All three build options (mobile home, permanent home, or ancillary structure) will now have to consider the space they need to have to make the project successful. This is completely subjective and varies widely from project to project. You are limited by the amount of space you have available, the legal limits of width and height for mobile structures and, of course, your budget.
Grab you tape measure and check out the space you live in now. Don't just measure the dimensions of the rooms but really think about how you use the room. Can you live without that space? For example, do you sit down at a table to eat or could you use a convertible space or even a fold down table? How much bedroom do you need to be comfortable?
This is one of the most important things to consider so you can build a structure that you can enjoy and love when you are done and not have regrets.
This is the part that most people find either fun or overwhelming!
When I say "design," I am talking about starting with the basics. Do you want a loft? If so, stairs or ladder access? Are you looking at a more open plan with convertible spaces? How much light to do want?
When you close your eyes, what do envision your space looking like? Take your time at this point because when you have a clear idea of what you want, you can make smarter decisions to get you there without wasting time or money by needing to make modifications later.
If you are building with others, please take my advice and communicate a lot. Do not assume you are thinking the same things!
5. The Foundation
Your next consideration needs to be foundation. How permanent do you want this structure, and do you want plumbing in the foundation? Think about the eventual resale of your property. Is this a structure you will be leaving behind?
If you are building mobile, you will now know the legal limits as well as the general square footage so you will be able to begin to source a trailer to build your structure. Don't forget to consider weight in your decisions the heavier your build the lower the gas mileage!
This is when you should take some time to search online at other people's finished designs and see what you like (and even more importantly, what you don't like).
Consider whether you are hoping for a cottage feel, something industrial, or maybe something that feels more like a barn or farmhouse. Every look can be achieved if you take your time and decide what really speaks to you.
Personally, we were drawn to a more modern industrial feel and loved the designs that used a glass garage door to bring the outside in but we also really loved the "real house" feel that came with a cottage design. Seriously, take your time at this point and imagine yourself living in the space and make sure it will work for how you live your life.
7. Roof Type
This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the design style you chose but you also need to consider the materials for your roof for cost, appearance, durability, and practical use. If you will be driving down the road with your house, you do not want shingles or tiles falling off. You probably don't want to top an industrial look with shingles. I suggest considering maintenance requirements for each roof material you are considering as well as its insulation factor, depending on your climate.
8. Interior Spaces
Your project is really starting to take shape in size, design, style, and roofing. So let's talk about the inside. Now is the time to take those ideas you had from the earlier steps and begin to draw in those spaces and rooms (please don't forget storage!) into the basic floor plan.
One tip I use at this point is to get that tape measure back out and some masking tape and build our house floor plan in the yard, or room big enough, and see how it works. Compared to lines on a page, real spaces can feel bigger, or more often smaller, in reality.
9. Furniture and Multi-Functional Features
This can be a lot of fun and really bring out your creative side. The most important things you need to consider are the multi-purpose functionality of as many things as possible and utilizing vertical space.
The vertical space is a life-saver for storage. In your traditional house, you probably have closets and shelves, but in a tiny home, you need to use hidden spaces (like the spot under the stairs) for pull-out storage. I saw a cool plan that used storage boxes on a pulley system that could be lowered when you needed them and then moved back up to the ceiling when you didn't, and the bottom created a cool art design for the ceiling.
This is the time for outside-the-box thinking. Consider your bed: do you want storage under it, do you want a murphy bed to pull down or can it slide under an elevated floor, or might it convert to sofa space?
Play around with furniture placement. Try measuring pieces you own and making brown paper cutouts so you can move things around. If this will be a mobile house, be sure to consider securing the items so they don't topple as you roll down the road.
10. Plumbing, Electricity, and Other Pragmatics
The last major consideration is the plumbing and utilities. Not as much fun to design, but essential to a successful project!
If you are living in this structure, you will probably need at least a toilet, shower, and kitchen sink and will probably want some electricity as well, but you could go bare bones and take your mobile house on the road and park in RV parks or camp grounds that will have toilet and showering facilities.
If you want to be more self-contained, you will need to consider the plumbing. You can be off grid and use a composting toilet, set up RV style for your waste, or tap into your property plumbing.
When it comes to electricity, you can again tap into your property if that is an option, create a RV style plug-in, or go off grid and use solar. There are a lot of great products on the market for this and new things being added all the time.
These are just the basic considerations but hopefully it gives you a good foundation and starting point to bring your own dreams into a successful project. Shed designs and tiny houses are an amazing way to achieve a wide variety of goals and I hope you enjoy your project.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Marie Veca on May 19, 2019:
Do you have a catalog showing all.these beautiful.homes?
Coach Kevin (author) from Denver on March 24, 2017:
If you want to find great plans to use and even a free plan download check out the link this link at http://tinyurl.com/kyq75vl