Living Small Means Living Debt Free

Designing Your Tiny House

Design And Build Your House

Small Country HouseSo you’ve made the decision live in an efficient, ecologically friendly tiny house, and since the pre-fabricated tiny houses you’ve seen online just seem so … pre-fabricated to you, you’ve chosen to draw up your own tiny house floor plans. After all, you could build anything out of Lego when you were a kid – how much different could it be? Well, there are a few things you should consider before you start sourcing building materials.

Everything Takes Space

Unless you plan on using paper for your walls (we can’t recommend strongly enough that you not do this), the walls on your blueprint need to have thickness. It might only be a few inches, but they add up quickly. You’re going to have a very small living space, and you need to know exactly how big it’ll be before you start filling it up with furniture. Most walls are made with standard two-by-fours (or four-by-twos for you Brits), with a half-inch of drywall on the interior. That’s 4½”. Every wall you draw should be that same width. On an interior wall, you might have drywall on both faces, for a total width of 5”. Be meticulous with your measurements.

Doors take up more space than they really do on a blueprint. That’s because they need space to move. Placing a toilet in the path of a door’s swing will render that door useless. Architects represent doors on their blueprints with a 90° arc fan-shape to make it easy to remember that the space needs to remain clear. And that required arc is bigger the wider the door. Normally doors are 3’ wide, but that might be too wide for your very small house. They make doors as narrow as 2’6” – exactly how wide you need is up to you. If you absolutely can’t afford the space for a door to swing, a “pocket door” is an option. That’s a door that slides into the wall. But using one will in turn affect your wiring and plumbing options.

Don’t forget about space for you. That’s easy to do when designing very small houses. When you place a toilet on your diagram, you’ll want at least 15” from the center of the toilet to a wall on either side … and even that will feel cramped to most people. You’ll need 21” of clear space in front of the toilet as well. Keep in mind, using these minimum distances will leave your bathroom feeling like the lavatory on an airplane. When designing your kitchen area, remember that you’ll need between three and four feet in front of your counters: big enough for someone to maneuver around you to get to the bathroom while you’re busy chopping onions for dinner.

Carefully measure any furniture you plan to use. Don’t assume that heavy, cushy armchair takes the same amount of space as a small kitchen chair. (Hint: it doesn’t.) When measuring kitchen counters, keep in mind that standard floor cabinets you buy at a home improvement store measure 24” deep, and the counter will overhang that an inch and a half. Upper cabinets are only 12” deep, so they don’t necessarily need to appear on your floor plan, unless there’s nothing beneath them. How wide cabinets are is up to you. They come in a variety of widths, usually in 3” increments.

Other Things To Think About

When designing your own house, you won’t need to worry about building codes, because very small houses are exempt. But that means your design could end up being unsafe. For instance: when placing windows, avoid putting them right in the corners. If you can, leave at least a couple feet between the window and the corner. This will increase the strength of the walls and the overall stability of your tiny house. There are a lot of things like this to consider, and you should think about doing some serious research to make sure the design of your tiny house is completely safe.

There are a few companies that help you with the design and building process
– from learning about these types of houses to hands-on workshops.
You can learn about two of the best companies here.

Getting Started

Once you’re ready to start drawing up your tiny house floor plans, you need to decide how you want to do it. The easiest place to start is with some graph paper. (Or, as we non-architects sometimes call it, “that paper with all the squares on it.) Assign each grid block to represent a 3” square, and then, using the power of math, figure out how many blocks represents the size of your tiny house. Then you’ll have a scale to base your floor plan on.

If you’re more high-tech, you can also use amateur 3D architecture software like SketchUp. It’ll keep things to scale for you, automatically.

Have fun with it! It’ll be challenging, but once your tiny house floor plans are complete you’ll have completed the first major step in building your very own tiny house.

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