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do it yourself

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The two most common questions I hear from readers are, how can I build a tiny house and how much does a tiny house cost. Both of these questions are tied together and I’ll answer both in this post.

The following is an overview of what you’d need to do to build a tiny house for yourself. To do this topic justice I’d have to write hundreds of pages, but I think this outline should give you a good idea of what’s involved. I think you’ll also see that it is a project within reach of many do-it-yourselfers.

Above: Working on my Tiny Free House.

1. Design your tiny house

Keep the design simple if you are planning on building on a tight budget or have limited experience. Avoid things like dormer windows and complex roof lines. Avoid complex walls, wide window and door openings, porches, and excessive ornamental features. Each tiny complexity in the design can add many hours of work and hundreds of dollars in materials.

You can buy plans or come up with your own design. I offer several free tiny house plans and a selection of low-cost tiny house plans.

If you choose to design your own tiny house I recommend using SketchUp to help turn your ideas into measured drawings you can build from. Once you have your design in hand, it’s time to make a materials list and go shopping for building materials.

Next Page >

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Last night I put the finishing touches on a 65 page house plan ebook. It’s called Tiny Prefab, A Do-It-Yourself Prefab Building System and contains the plans and instructions for creating tiny prefab structures that are easy to build from common building materials. The book is a bit of a hybrid between a set of plans and instructions for building and assembling a panelized prefab tiny house. A wide variety of sizes of buildings can be built but the roof plans in the ebook are designed for an 8-foot deep tiny house. The smallest size building is 8’ by 8’.  If more space is desired it’s length can be increased by increments of 4 feet so if you want a structure that us 8′ by 20′ this DIY prefab system will work fine. Below are small screen shots of all the pages in the ebook so you can get a good idea of what is included before you buy. Just click the thumbnails to see more.

tiny prefab ebook janzen

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After posting the latest design variation for Nine Tiny Feet I got a few requests to make the house more lightweight. This seems like a pretty good idea since that project is really about getting the most value from the least amount of space. Initially I was thinking this only meant square footage but it seems perfectly logical to make it lightweight too. If I could find a way to make it super lightweight nine tiny feet could even be pulled by a bicycle.

But I digress…

These recent reader comments got my brain cooking up ways of building inexpensive ultra-lightweight panel walls. Then on Sunday night a very simple approach to making panels occurred to me. The design below is not for a nine square foot house, although I’m considering something like this for Nine Tiny Feet too. This design is 49 square feet and could be built for about $1200 in new materials, (less if you’re resourceful and scavenge a little).


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picture-11The latest issue of the bi-weekly webzine on the small home movement is now online. This issue is focused on Do-It-Youself Projects. My contribution is a video that shows how I draw the 3D drawings you see here on Tiny House Design using Google SketchUp. The video is a little rough but shows you how easy it is to draw a quick tiny house illustration. I hope to refine my video tutorial skills and post more tiny house design tutorials in the future.

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Kent Griswold (from tinyhouseblog.com) and I finally connected by phone yesterday. It was really nice chatting with a kindred spirt (blogger and tiny house enthusiast). I’ll have to make the two hour drive over to Sonoma County one of these weekends to visit. Seems like Sonoma is becoming the center of the tiny house world. Kent lives there, as well as Jay Shafer and Bill Kastrinos.

One of the tiny houses we talked about was Bill Kastrinos’s Tortoise Shell Homes. Bill has been in the home building business for quite some time but recently started up a business building tiny houses. While their detail is not as refined as Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, they are really high quality and the perfect base for the do-it-yourselfer… and it seems that Bill might be onto this because now he’s offering a tiny house for do-it-yourselfers.

The Naked Galapagos is a steel framed tiny house on a trailer ready for your finishing touches. If you’ve been taken with the detailed design of the Tumbleweed houses but are considering a Tortoise shell because of the lower cost you might consider buying a Naked Galapagos and decking it out with what you learn at on of Jay Shafer’s workshops. In fact maybe Bill and Jay should get together and collaborate and do it for us (hint hint). Imagine Jay’s design and attention to detail on top of Bill’s practical and affordable approach to tiny house building. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Maybe even a design licensing opportunity for Jay and a marketing engine for Bill.

But I digress… for more details on the Naked Galapagos check out tinyhouseblog.com. Kent has the full scoop directly from Bill. Photo credit to Bill via Kent.