The BIG guide to tiny homes

Big guide to tiny homes — tiny wood home in a backyard

Who wishes they had a place they could send their teenagers to? Or the in-laws who decided it was a good idea to move in during the lockdown? But it’s not like you can just send them to a hotel or kick them out—at least, not the teens. Well, there might be a way to kick them all out without having to kick them off of the property. All you need is a tiny home. Or two. Or, as one family decided, three.

What is a Tiny Home and How Soon Can I Send My Teenager to One?

A tiny home is, well, a tiny home. Picture your home—now shrink it down to a fourth the size, or smaller. A tiny home is a cozy living space perfect for one or two people (as long as they don’t mind being a little cramped together). Now, you might be thinking “isn’t that just an RV?” Nope. There are some beautiful RVs out there, tiny homes are more stationary and a bit more comfortable. There’s also a lot more you can do with them. And they aren’t as costly as you might imagine. An eighth-grader in Iowa build his own tiny home in his parents back yard for just $1500. Most of us have trouble putting together 6 years and older LEGO sets we only spent $20 on.

But when it comes to Hobbit-size homes, there’s a lot to consider. Do you want it on wheels, or fixed to the ground? Will it have fully functioning utilities? What about zoning, upkeep, neighbors, and the occasional visit from a dozen Dwarves looking for the thirteenth member for their quest? We’re going to take a massive look at these miniature homes, and there will be more size puns and Hobbit jokes along the way.

Big guide to tiny homes — blueprint and drawing of bohemian trailer

The Two Main Types of Tiny Homes

Before you start picking little skylight to look up at night at the massive gas giants in the sky, we’ll need to look at the foundation first. The big question: do you want your tiny home to hit the road with you, or are you staying where you are. In other words, do you want the tiny home to be fixed or mobile? Each has advantages and disadvantages, and there are some choices in the middle too. Let’s start with the most common type: fixed homes.

The Pros and Cons of Fixed Tiny Homes

When your tiny home is fixed, it isn’t going anywhere—especially when you consider some of the subcategories, like Granny Pods, house sheds, cabins, and underground homes (AKA Hobbit Holes). But when you have a concrete foundation, you have a lot more freedom with what you can do with your tiny home. If you dabble in a little architecture, you’ll have more freedom to get creative with how the tiny home looks and feels. A fixed tiny home is also a little safer and slightly less vulnerable to weather than a mobile tiny home. And you don’t have to worry about those pesky hills—in fact, many tiny homes, underground or not, use the landscape for both practical and aesthetic purposes.

The downside of a fixed tiny home is that its permanency. If the tiny home is going in your backyard, you’re essentially building a small guesthouse. When you go to sell your house, the bonus little house in the back might be a big draw…or a big turnoff. And any damage to the tiny home requires the same repair needs as a full-size home, whereas with a mobile home, you can drive it to a specialist.

Tiny home in back yard

The Pros and Cons of Mobile Tiny Homes

Adventurists will find the most use of a mobile tiny home. A mobile tiny home doesn’t have a to a typical mobile home, either. In fact, many of them are on trailers. Take the “Vardo,” for instance, which resembles an old west wagon—just now you have 120 horses pulling it. Or, if you do want a drivable house, you can convert a school bus into a tiny home. If anything, it gives your kids something to brag about: “Oh yeah, my family and I toured the United States in a luxury school bus, as you do.”

But there are a lot of problems with mobile tiny homes too. For instance, where to put it. Depending on local laws, you can’t exactly park it on the street or in the driveway. Mobile tiny homes are also more susceptible to weather conditions and high winds. Finding places to stay along your travels is also important. You can’t just stay in a Target parking lot, after all. And let’s not forget hills. Hills. Are. Hard.

Finding the Right Tiny Home for You

Whether it is fixed or mobile, your lifestyle and needs ultimate dictate the kind of tiny home you’ll build or buy. If you want something to help your family spread out a little more, a nice fixed mobile home will do just that. It can even give your older teenagers a sense of freedom, even if they are in the backyard. Or it can help when you have family visit over the holiday season. Want to win your father-in-law’s approval? Have him stay in your tiny guest home instead of sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the living room floor.

But if you are a traveler and you want to spend even more time than you already are with your kids, the mobile tiny home is perfect.

tiny home on wheels

To Build or To Buy—Not a Tiny Question

As we said above, an eighth-grade boy built his own tiny home for $1500. Well, some of us aren’t that skilled with a table saw…or even a knife, for that matter. This raises another point: Do you want to buy a ready-made tiny home, or build one (whether that means by yourself or hiring contractors)? There are really good reasons for both methods.

Buying a Tiny Home

How many times has this happened to you: You’re up late, browsing Amazon, and then two days later, an 8x16 Tiny Home shows up at your door? That might sound laughable, but there are a lot of tiny home options on Amazon, and all around the web, from Home Depot to Wayfair. Even Walmart, partnering with Allswell, has their own, customizable tiny home brand. And there are a lot of options, from a simple tiny home that costs about $4,000, to high-end luxury tiny homes that are over $100,000.

modern tiny home prefab sold on amazon

That’s not a tiny house. That’s a wooden space ship.

Finding the Right Tiny Home for You

Whether it is fixed or mobile, your lifestyle and needs ultimate dictate the kind of tiny home you’ll build or buy. If you want something to help your family spread out a little more, a nice fixed mobile home will do just that. It can even give your older teenagers a sense of freedom, even if they are in the backyard. Or it can help when you have family visit over the holiday season. Want to win your father-in-law’s approval? Have him stay in your tiny guest home instead of sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the living room floor.

But if you are a traveler and you want to spend even more time than you already are with your kids, the mobile tiny home is perfect.

Where To Begin Building Your Tiny Home

Once you determine your needs, you’ll need to pick the right place to build your tiny home. If you are looking for an addition to your own home, deciding where in your back yard is important—especially since you don’t want to disrupt your neighbors. If you are building a mobile tiny home, you’ll need a site to build it. Of course, if you own vacant property where a tiny home is suitable, then you have a lot more options.

Just like any project, however, you need to know your local laws. Right now, since tiny homes are a new phenomenon, there aren’t many laws regarding construction. Still, you want to be prepared. Take a look at this docuseries, Living Tiny Legally, for great information on legal issues with tiny homes.

Tiny home converted from a shed

Getting Started on Your Big Little Project

You did your research, you determined your needs, and now you’re ready to build. But don’t break out the toolbox just yet. First, you need to know what you’re building. As we said before, building your own tiny home gives you a lot more freedom than just buying one. However, there is a halfway point so you aren’t completely on your own. Instead of buying the house itself, you can buy the blueprints. Site such as Houseplans.com offer amazing blueprints, ranging from $250 to $2500. There most popular plan, creatively named “Plan924-3,” is $1000 for the blueprints, but based on the look, if you bought this pre-built, it would cost the same as the wooden spaceship above. If those are still too costly, The Small House Catalog has much lower prices and wonderful looking homes. They even have plans for three-bedroom tiny homes.

If you’re worried about cost, there’s another price option: free. All across the vast internet, you can find free plans, like this one from AnaWhite.com—sure, it isn’t as fancy, but it’s still a cute tiny home.

Inside of a bus turned into a tiny home

Designing Your Own Blueprints for a Tiny Home

We should stress, unless you are an architect, maybe just buy blueprints from a professional site. If you do want to create your own design, make sure you know what to include. You don’t want to be building the house and realize that you forgot to include doors. Or electricity and plumbing. Even worse, finding out that you didn’t leave enough room to stand up, or for a bed to actually fit in your bedroom.

For this, you can break out the pencils and rulers, or you can use a computer program. For most people, the programs will make it easier since they will help with scaling and keeping everything clean. When you finish designing your blueprints, consult with a contractor to make sure it is a safe and doable plan. You will probably need to hire a contractor at some point, so this is also a good time to find someone you’ll enjoy working with.

modern tiny home at night

Now, Let’s Build Your Tiny Home!

Once you know what you’re building, it’s time to actually build it. The steps for a fixed tiny home are nearly identical to a full-size house. For a tiny mobile home, you have a few more steps to complete. Looking to get an expert to build your tiny home? Reach out to our service providers.

1) Find your location

Where are you going to build? As we said before, make sure you aren’t violating any local laws.

2) Build the foundation

This is the most important part of any structure. For a fixed, tiny home, you should use a concrete foundation. For a mobile tiny home, you’ll need to weld anchors into the platform (whatever kind you decide to use).

3) Build the Floor

Now we’re going to start the climb up. Make sure your floor is level as you go. If something goes wrong with leveling, it’s better to find it as early as possible. Things shift—it happens.

4) Outer walls

Most single-story homes have eight-foot walls. But that depends on your plans and if you plan on having a loft area, as many tiny homes do.

5) Raise the Roof

For a tiny home, having the roof on will give you a better sense of space.

6) Doors and Windows

While you can build these spaces into the walls before they go up, waiting until the walls are up gives you the advantage of reassessing the placement of doors and windows. The only door you should have already decided is the entrance. It’s hard to build a house if you walled yourself out!

7) Electricity and Plumbing

For a fixed tiny home, it’s vital that you follow local laws. For mobile ones, though there are fewer laws involved, make sure you follow safety standards or hire a service provider to complete the task for you.

8) Interior Walls

Well building your walls, make sure you use high-quality R-value insulation. Insulation impacts your energy usage and comfortability. Get the good stuff. Need a hand? Ask a handyman!

9) The Loft

If you decided to include a loft, finish its construction. Did you leave room for the stairs? If your loft is going to be the bedroom, avoid using a ladder, as many people do. If you have an injury, you won’t be able to get to your bed!

10) Cabinets and Stairs

Have you built your stairs? Well, look underneath them…that’s a storage area. Storage is going to one of the biggest hurdles in your tiny home. You’ll need to find creative ways to include shelves and cabinets. For instance…what are you doing with the top of the walls? That looks like a good place for cabinets.

11) Paint and hang pictures.

Drywall’s up, cabinets, windows, shelves, and doors are all installed. It’s time to make it shiny. Choose your colors, paint the tiny house, and then put up any pictures.

12) Furnish

That video game lounge chair or loft hammock you had your eye on? Bring them in! Make sure, if it is possible, that you anchor furniture, especially if you decided on a mobile tiny home. Or, talk to an interior designer for a pro opinion!

Now…Enjoy!

A tiny home can make for a great escape on the road, a beautiful, private place for friends and family coming to visit, a way to get your teenager out of your hair during the pandemic, or even the ultimate she-shed or he-shed. And feel free to show it off. You might want to keep it a secret though, it’s sure to be a big hit with your friends and family.

Get started with a service provider.