Like any new home project, a tiny home requires just as much (if not more) planning as there are other factors to consider such as spacial awareness, if it is to be a mobile home or set on a plot, and how to optimise the exterior and windows so you can make the most of the sun from any viewpoint and in whatever situation if you are traveling. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ten most important essentials when starting out from scratch.
1. Consider You Current Situation
What is your current lifestyle? Take yourself through your existing home, and think about how each area would fit into your ideal tiny home? For instance, look at how you sleep, as a king size four-poster bed as well as the matching side tables (even the bed on its own) will struggle to be accommodated in such a small space, so think about the sacrifice you will have to make. Think about the number of bedrooms, your wardrobe, the dining room, office space, your lounge furniture, the kitchen and all its appliances, as well as the accessories, tools, or equipment needed for any hobbies you may have. Do you have a collection of paintings, books, or vinyl records to house? Do you like to have guests stay over every now and then, or love throwing intimate parties for friends? And of course, you can’t forget any pets you may have as they need to be included into the equation as well. Put all these things down on a list so you can work through them as to what’s essential, what you may need, and what you definitely don’t. This puts your ‘needs’ first and foremost, and sorts out what and how you can work around the rest.
However, if this is your first home and you don’t have a lot of possessions, then you can dream big in your tiny home. Do think about possible pets in the future, and any hobbies or office space you may need if you work from home.
This planning will dictate and make clearer how many rooms you will need, whether you have a fold down lounge wall which turns into an entertaining patio, a roof-top garden, one or two levels, and the ultimate size you will need overall.
2. Visit or Stay
Pack a suitcase and stay in as many tiny homes of different sizes and layouts as you can. There are plenty of tiny house holiday lets online that are already furnished, so you get an idea of how much stuff can be accommodated. Make sure you go through all cupboards or storage spaces, and take photos and notes as to how you could adapt the space to make it your own. At the end, you will have a far better practical knowledge of how to live in a tiny house, and what to expect. You will also have a good idea of what floor plans will work for you.
You may already know of family, friends or acquaintances that have a tiny home, so ask them if you could look at theirs to get ideas. There are also a number of tiny home builders that have examples of what they build and their costings, so make sure to visit them as well, even if you are thinking of building one yourself.
3. Research & Analyse Existing Floorplans
It’s a good idea to look at some existing plans either online or from local tiny house builders to get inspiration and reference for your own plans. You can get their plans altered to your specifications as most builders are only too happy to discuss these things further with you for a fee of course. This could be a good idea if you haven’t any knowledge in drafting or building, or prefer to err on the side of caution. But if you want something that screams bespoke and personality, then take existing plans purely as a guide to your own wondrous tiny home palace.
4. Sketch it Out
It’s time to bring all your ideas together and decide how you want to live your tiny home lifestyle. You should have a rough idea of how much space you need. so start by drawing up a rough floorplan of how you want the home to flow. Include measurements if you can, otherwise just get an idea so you can mock up a floorplan next. If you don’t have room in your current dwelling, buy a large enough tarpaulin or other material that will fold or roll up, and some masking tape (and a measuring tape if you don’t have one). Lay the tarpaulin out either outside or in the garage if you don’t have space in your current home, plot the outer perimeters and divide up the space into rooms. You may need another piece of material for any additional levels or areas where you fold down a wall into a deck or other use. Masking tape is great as you can pull it up and reapply as you require. Although, you could get some offcuts of wood and cut – or get them cut down to wall lengths and room dividers that you can move around. Whichever way you choose to do this, it’s important to map out your plan and then walk around the space. Think about doorways and passageways, and try to include more detailed divisions such as kitchen units, shower stall and toilet, stairs, possible seating and beds. Once you’ve got a good idea of how your tiny home will start taking shape, you can start to visualise how much clear room you will need if you have fold down or pull out furniture to move about.
Once you have an ideal floorplan, do the same for the walls. Use masking tape or something sturdy to stick up a wall plan. Use your floorplan to guide you where doorways will occur along the wall, and mark the height of your doors and/or passageways on each wall plan. Windows are an extremely important aspect of this process, so getting an idea of where and how big you want them in relation to benchtops, seating, and even taking into account the environment you will be living (if permanent or otherwise) is crucial. You can put your dining furniture against the wall plan and sit down in a dining chair to see how high or low and how wide you want the windows to be. Do the same with lounge furniture.
Take your time, it’s not a race to get it solved in one sitting – it’s not an exam. Go back to your plans time and again over a few weeks to get a real feel for what you’re about to commit yourself to. Get a fresh perspective from others you trust to see if they see things you hadn’t thought of. It’s also a good time to see what furniture is around that is suited to a tiny home, or whether you will have something made to fit the space. Look at appliances, toilets, and if you’re going off-grid, then storage batteries for solar power, composting toilets, and water tanks as well. It’s important that you think hard and get this right as once it’s built, you will be tied to those decisions unless you want to spend more money changing it around.
5. 3D Model
I imagine you will be thrilled to have a three dimensional model of your new place to move about and look at from different angles. This not only allows you to start seeing your new tiny home in its actual form, but to see how it relates to what you imagined and how each surface works with another.
There are various 3D model rendering programs online you can use, but I have used SketchUp Free and have found the instruction that comes with it is easy to follow and work with. There is a paid version with extra functionality, but the free version is pretty good on its own. You can also start to add colour or pattern to your home, and even put in window surrounds and furniture, and actual people you can pick from a list to place inside and/or out to get an idea of scale.
6. Connect with Like-Minded Tiny Home Owners
There are a multitude of online tiny house communities on social media platforms or groups in your area you can meet with to show and discuss your own plans, and if they have any ideas to solve something you haven’t been able to, or to offer alternative options to storage and much, much more.
You need to start planning your build, and although it seems obvious to begin with, there are usually a few other things to consider along the way. Talk to a builder, or go online and look up step-by-step how to build your tiny home. Chat with others who have been through the whole process in online community groups or face to face with people who live in the same area. Talking to those in the local area will help immensely, especially when it comes to local laws and organising council utilities or anything else to do with your locale.
8. List All Materials & Get Quotes
Start by listing the obvious materials such as a trailer (if mobile), windows, wood or support frames, flooring, plasterboard, exterior siding, roofing, and guttering if required. Also think about toilets, showers, sinks, basins, and countertops. List down all other appliances and furniture if you know what you’re getting, and don’t forget about lighting. If you are looking into using recycled or reclaimed materials, start now! Search online or at local second-hand or scarp yards, or yard/garage sales to find what you’re after. You may find odd-shaped bespoke pieces that add character or pizazz to your design such as an antique lead-light window or retro-style dining setting that you want to incorporate.
Items that are made especially for your home will require time to make and transport to you, so make sure to factor timelines before starting your build. You want everything to arrive when it’s needed, so it’s essential to get a schedule down in writing on a home-made wall calendar large enough to see exactly what is arriving and when.
9. Setting Up
Okay. So once you have sorted out your design and planned out your build, and know when you will start, you now need to think about the behind-the-scenes stuff.
You will need to think about where all the materials will be stored safely and out from the changes in weather. You will also need to think about where you will store all tools, safety gear, personal protection equipment, and accessories needed to build so they are locked up when you’re not on site, yet available as you need them. You will need to think about hiring a port-a-loo, a mini-skip bin or other large rubbish container onsite, and having enough water to wash hands or for drinking, as well as enough chairs to sit down for lunch. Is there power to the site, or will you need to provide a portable power generator? Can heavy large vehicles access your plot for deliveries (if you have a remote block of land)?
If you’re going to build a mobile tiny home, do you have a barn or shed large enough to build one in to keep it sheltered from the weather while you work on it, and once it’s built, will you be able to hook it up to your vehicle and drive it out without touching the entryway. Think about height here, as you need to add your trailer into the equation.
There are probably other things to consider, but this will start you off.
10. Time to Build
You now need to make a decision about how much time you intend to put into the build, whether it will be full time, on weekends, week day evenings, or a mix of all of these. If you are looking at full-time, you need to take a realistic look at how long you need to take off work. This also needs to be considered if you have extra builders or tradespeople working for you. Again, chat to other people who have been through this situation, and discuss timelines and even council approval times if they are required. This can set back a build by weeks or even months.
Once you start to realise what’s involved, you can begin to assess if this is really for you and if you would get a huge satisfaction from doing the build yourself, or if you want to go down the road of either buying a new build or getting a professional in to do the job.