10 suggestions for designing a Tiny House

Recently the Tiny House Blog did a contest for designing an 8×12 tiny house.  They had tons of submissions.  I, too started to design to see just what would fit into an 8×12 box.  The answer, by the way is ‘Not Much’.  That really is tiny and as far as actually living in that small of a place permanently, I couldn’t do it.  For a hunting/fishing cabin where you stay for days or weeks each year, it would be doable. But I tried to make it a real full-Time living area.  I will show it to you soon, but for now I just want to give some advise to those new designers out there. These are some practical, hopefully cost savings ideas for those on a real budget (the $12k – $40k kind, not the $80k – $400K kind).

1.). 2 x 6 walls really are not needed even if your real house has them.  You can get up to a out R15 or more insulation value in 2 x 4 walls, so why lose those precious square inches all around your house.

2.). Interior room dividers can be as small as 1/2 to 3/4″ thick,  sure at the floor and ceiling there will be some additional bracing, but there is no reason to use 2x4s for partition walls unless there is a specific need, (like plumbing or electrical).  But the wall between a closet and the bathroom where water is not in the wall, just use a sheet of plywood to save those valuable inches.

3.). Toilet & Shower Space:  If you weigh more than 150 lbs, 24″ is NOT enough space (width-wise) for a toilet (or a shower for that matter)!  30″ is really tight for a toilet and 36″ is much easier on larger people.  I’ve also seen some 24″ wide showers in some tiny homes.  Do yourself a favor, never use less than 30″ in width for the shower or the toilet spaces.  For Showers, use 36″ in one direction and no less than 30″ in the other.  Do a test.  Put your hands on your head, like you are washing your hair – or have been pulled over by the cops.  Have a friend measure the distance between your out-spread elbows and add at least 6″. This should be your absolute narrowest shower dimension while facing the shower head.  Also, always carry a measuring tape with you as you go about your life.  The next time you are in a public restroom that has tight quarters, you know, the ones that are hard to get into the space to turn around and shut the door… Now measure this space.  Don’t make yours this small, you’ll thank me later for this one!

4.). Now think about your walls.  Many people use tongue and groove boards.  Some use drywall.  Drywall cracks easily ifs you drive your house around a lot.  But most wood is pretty thick.  Consider using a 1/4″ thick material, could be wood and stainable or paintable, but it is thin.  This saves you 1/2″ of space inside your house.  If you build with SIPS (structured insulated panels) these assemble quickly, already have insulation as well as channels for electrical to be run through the walls, as well they have plywood on both sides, so the inside could easily just be painted and ready to go without another layer of material.

5.). Kitchen Sinks:  Tiny round sinks in the kitchen are horrible! Use a real kitchen sink, not a bar sink.  You need to do more than rinse a coffee cup if you are LIVING in the TH!  Think about it, there are potlucks at your church or with your family on holidays.  You still need to cook real size food, so when it comes to cleaning up, you need a bigger sink.  I’m going to suggest 24″ in width as a minimum for a sink.  You can always put a cutting board OVER the sink for more counter space.

6.). Cooking.  Do you really use more than 2 burners at a time?  If not, just get a 2 burner. If you ever need more than 2, go get a single induction burner for those times, it can be stowed when not in use.  These are super cool inventions!

7.). For Pete’s sake, plan for storage of clothes and other stuff.  If everything you wear can be wadded up under your couch, fine, but for the 99% of us who need to be ironed and relatively wrinkle free most days, plan for a hanging closet! You may need to stow out of season things under the sofa, but the truly in-season clothes need to be readily accessible or else you won’t keep your place tidy.  Your tiny house will have clothes consistently lying about in desperate need of ironing. (BTW: I’ve never seen an ironing board in any tiny house,  hmmmm.)

8.). Water storage space.  This is in theory only, so feel free to let me know the down sides to this topic.  I see lots of tiny houses with space under couches or cabinets for water storage tanks (gray, black and fresh water).  If you aren’t moving often, couldn’t these tanks go UNDER your tiny house on wheels, even if you do move often, these can be emptied and stowed inside the house while traveling, then reset them up once you reach your new destination.  Sure you may need to fill up your fresh water storage tank, but why put these things inside your tiny house where every square inch needs to be accounted for? You could even put these water storage containers on a rolling cart (such as the roley things mechanics use to get under your car to do repairs).  You can roll them under your tiny house for use and roll them back out again when it’s time to empty or fill them. Roll them up on a trailer for easy transport to dump or re-fill.

8.)  DRAWING SCALE MATTERS.  When drawing a tiny house, make sure you use the same scale on everything and also check to make sure you KNOW how big things are.  You can google practically anything these days to get their dimensions.  Round up to the nearest inch in every case.  Just because a bed is 60″x75″, have you considered the headboard, the legs or the frame around the bed? A fridge may be 24″ wide, but is often deeper than the cabinets.  Did you allow for the door to open? I looked up the dimensions of an Apartment sized fridge (11.7 cubic feet) and discovered that it was 24″ wide and 28.2″ deep including the handle.  It was 59.8″ high and when open it was just over 50″ deep.  These are important numbers to know. Make sure the door will open fully or else the drawers may not open at all.

9.)  WALKWAYS  24″ May work, and if that’s all you got, you gotta go with it, but this is not easy to pass another person in the same space.  Make sure to consider how many people will be living in the house before deciding on a 2′ hallway. Try for 36″ as a minimum.

10.)  My OCD self would not let me stop with only 9 items in this list, so here’s #10.  POP-OUTS.  Leave the pop outs for RV’s.  They are drafty, they often leak with rain, these are only intended for temporary use, not full-time living.  Besides that, they are pricy.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can use them all day, every day in a full time tiny living situation.  They are extremely costly and need to be light weight.  This means non-conventional construction.  Not for new builders or DIY projects.  In theory they are great.  In reality, a nightmare! Just say no to the thought of cheating Physics.

Well those are my tiny house thoughts for the day.  I’d love to consider your thoughts on these.

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