The Hurdles of Tiny Houses

tiny house

In case you missed it, Tiny Houses have grown immensely popular over the past few years. Between multiple television shows and what is soon to be code adoption on a national level in the 2018 International Residential Code, it appears that Tiny Homes are here to stay. We recently worked on a Tiny House on Wheels project here in the Front Range and found it to be a great learning experience with many hurdles. So, let’s jump into it:

Design

We can’t stress enough the importance of taking the time to think through every detail of a project and having a complete set of drawings before starting. Many folks are attracted to Tiny Homes because of the lure of mortgage-free living that can be built cheaply. Paying someone to do design work or taking the time to do the design yourself sounds like an unnecessary cost or use of limited time. It is in our experience though that with a solid, thought-out design, your project will be built faster, come in on budget, you’ll deal with less complications, and you’ll take full advantage of your limited square footage.

Salvaged Materials

With resources like Craigslist and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, it is easier than ever to find second-hand building materials. We love to use second-hand materials but find that in some cases they can really add up in labor cost overruns. If you are doing most of the work yourself and have time then this is not a big deal. However, if you are contracting a Tiny House you must really think about the reusability of materials and how much time it may take to install something. We have a few tips for reusing salvaged materials.

  • Only use materials of the same size and have enough. For example, old exterior clapboards should all be the same width and thickness, and make sure you have at least 10% if not 15% extra for waste.
  • Minimize processing. For example, planing down those exterior clapboards to get rid of the weathered look will take quite a bit of time to both plane and remove all nails.
  • Find everything first. It is ideal to find your materials first and design around them. While you are in the design phase you can continue to search for materials you need but don’t begin your project until you have all salvaged materials and a finished design.

Earthquake Probability is High, really High.

Most Tiny homes are built on wheels (trailers) and you are likely to have to move it at some point, if not often. Pulling a Tiny House across a field or down a bumpy road is essentially testing its earthquake resiliency. With that mind, you should really consider movement in your design. What kind of materials you use for your plumbing system or wall coverings are examples of areas you should really consider. Copper pipes are fairly rigid while PEX tubing can handle more movement. Tile in a bathroom can be done but takes special consideration.

Using appropriate fasteners is also paramount. Using a combination of nails, screws, bolts, and metal connectors will keep your Tiny Home together and on your trailer.

Going off-grid? Think Efficiency!

The amount of wall insulation and ceiling insulation is typically restricted in a tiny home. This makes it all the more important to create a very tight “envelope.” The building envelope is a barrier between your interior space and exterior space that prevents hot air from escaping and cold air from sneaking in, as is the case in a cold climate.  A tight envelope means lower heating / cooling costs and if you are using propane, less time spent switching out and refilling bottles.

With a tighter envelope though, ventilation becomes more important so as to exhaust stale air and bring in fresh, clean air. This is best achieved using a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). HRVs warm up incoming fresh air using the hot exhaust air so that your heating system doesn’t have to work twice as hard.

Tiny Houses are an important piece of the solution to affordable housing and increased urban density. As they continue to grow in popularity it is our hope to see more standardized detailing and a growing community of high-performance tiny home builders.