When Matt and I started out on our tiny house journey we didn’t have any real experience building a house. We had done various home improvement projects over the years but it wasn’t the same thing. We added a porch to a home we owned in Michigan but we had contractors do the work. We fixed a deck at a home we owned in Atlanta but we also hired contractors to do that. Building a tiny house was going to be a brave new adventure, and very meaningful.
So much of the tiny house movement is centered on individuals looking to build homes for themselves. Even though new tiny house construction companies are popping up all over to offer an alternative to the self-built house, many dreamers want the hands on experience of building. So how do you get started?
Since getting started was very much a part of our own adventure I thought I would take a stab at the question. Here are a few ways you can kick things off if you’re a complete beginner when it comes to building.
- Evaluate. The most important thing you can do before every picking up a hammer is understand your motivations. The reasons for building a tiny house are going to be very different for every single person interested. For Matt it was a lifelong dream of building his own home. His father, who passed away when Matt was only 7 years old, had just acquired his builder’s license. He never imagined that it was too late to follow his own dreams. Matt understood this at a very young age and didn’t want to wait forever. For me, it was about having the freedom to do the things I wanted to do. It gave me courage to pay off my debts and know that I wouldn’t have a high cost of living. It allowed me to feel comfortable quitting a good job with good pay that I didn’t really like and try something completely unknown. Even though our motivations were different, a tiny house fit both of our needs. There is a lot of romanticism when it comes to tiny spaces so do some real soul searching before you decide if this is right for you.
- Research. Once you know that building a tiny house is your ultimate goal it is time to break out the books and internet browsers and do some old fashioned research. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books we read on the subject of building. At the time we started there weren’t a lot of books on the market specifically about building a tiny house. We read as many as we could find and supplemented it with books about general construction. Look into resources like Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Khan and Tiny House Design and Construction Guide by Dan Louche. Dan also has a series of videos available on his website that are very helpful for learning construction techniques. We also read books by Rob Roy, a pioneer in alternative building techniques. John Carroll’s Working Alone was also a good resource. Getting started now rather than 10 years ago gives you access to a lot more tools than most of us had, so take advantage of them.
- Build. This third step is probably the most important. You can think and research all you want but until you pick up a hammer you can’t say you’re building a tiny house. We started with a small side project to get the hang of things. Since we hadn’t built much before the tiny house we wanted to work out our kinks on something that wasn’t as important. We built a small 6X6 deck that became an outdoor shower platform for us while we were working and for friends who camped on our land. I will be perfectly honest: the deck is hideous. It is nowhere near square and our cuts are horrible. But this allowed us to learn what we were doing wrong and fix them before we made the same mistakes on the house. Building the house wasn’t easy. We certainly made our share of mistakes along the way but with each one we corrected it, learned from it, and moved on. Now we have a 120 square foot, solid home that we built with our own hands. It feels really good. Since that time we have also done a few other construction projects with more in the works. We built an outdoor table/kitchen and a 12×12 deck behind the tiny house. Yes, the deck is larger than our home. We were bit by the building bug and are always looking for more things to work on.
Workshop attendees learning to build a tiny house at workshop held in McMinnville, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Portland Alternative Dwellings.
I won’t say that these three things are the only steps to building a tiny house. There are always other things to consider such as money, land, and the feelings of other people. However, focusing on these three steps can move you from a complete beginner to someone with a little practical experience under their belt.
What are your biggest obstacles to building your tiny house?
Laura is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and she walks the walk. She lives in a 120 square foot cabin in Asheville, NC that she and her partner Matt built themselves. You can learn more about Laura and Matt at their website 120squarefeet.com.
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