Issue 16: How To Design & Build a Home

Posted March 1st, 2010 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 16: How To Design & Build a Home
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Tiny house design and construction is my favorite topic. In this issue we’ll discuss how to approach this somewhat challenging task. I’m also very happy to tell you that we have our first guest submission by Jay Shafer from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and a second contribution from Ryan Mitchell at TheTinyLife.com. Thanks again Jay and Ryan! If you’d like to contribute to our journal learn more about Guest Submissions.

There are four articles in Issue 16: How To Design & Build a Home:

My article is late because I’ve been working feverishly on my entry to the FreeGreen design contest. I’ll have my post up in a few days. It will focus on how I use Google SketchUp to design the house designs I post on TinyHouseDesign.com.

Building the Mobile Hermitage Small House

It was late spring of 2003 when I began assisting Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company with the construction of my tiny house, The Mobile Hermitage. It amazed me that just two people, over a few months, could build a house.

At that time, I’d not heard of such a thing being done before. I’d had no prior building or carpentry experience (other than a wood shop class in high school), but found the process quite easy and fun.

The basic stages of constructing the house were actually quite simple. The smallness the house helped to constrain us a bit with the design. Being a basic 10′ x 7′ floor plan, and wanting the home to be road ready, there wasn’t much wiggle room for bay windows, overhangs, or outcroppings.

The simplicity of the house actually made the construction process much easier, less time consuming, and less costly. By necessity, we would build a simple structure of four walls and a roof.

The construction process from start to finish involved the following stages:

  1. Foundation. We purchased a high quality strong flat-bed trailer to build the home on. The trailer needed to be rated to handle the weight of the home. On top of the metal trailer frame, we constructed the basic foundation of the home out of wood framing and insulation. A wood foundation offers many benefits. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of having a home on a slab of cement to take advantage of geothermal benefits (gaining coolness or storing heat from the sun). However, it’s also nice having a home suspended a few feet off the ground (up on jacks). One benefit is a reduction in bugs. Another benefit is a reduction in wood or structural damage from water. The foundation layers were metal (to protect from water), plywood, 2×4 framing, foam board insulation, plywood, and then very nice interlocking wood flooring strips. Everything was screwed and glued for rigidity and an airtight seal. Expanding foam insulation (from a can) was used in any gaps and cracks.
  2. Walls. The walls went up fairly quickly and easily. You can see a little of the framing in the photo above. The tricky part, which required Jay’s expertise and experience, was to make sure the walls were straight and also structurally sound enough to support the loft and roofing. Jay installed numerous reinforcing mechanisms including metal bracing. As with the floor, solid foam board insulation was cut to fit into all spaces and any gaps were sealed with expanding foam insulation from a can. The layers of the walls from outside to inside were solid Cedar wood siding, plywood, foam board insulation, and then solid pine interlocking paneling inside. Everything was screwed, glued, and sealed up with expanding foam.
  3. Loft. Building the loft on top of the basic 10×7 foot cube structure was like putting a flat roof on the house. Because the ceiling for the downstairs would also be the floor of the upstairs, the same high quality wood interlocking floor boards were used as had been used in the floor downstairs. This made for a very attractive ceiling downstairs and floor upstairs with very little expenditure on materials. Jay constructed storage area on either side of the passageway between the downstairs and the loft. Instead of having stairs, a collapsible ladder was ultimately used as the way to access the loft.
  4. Roof. Because the loft area would serve as a bedroom, the roof would not have any interior support beams. So, the roof would be supported structurally at the ends. This was more than sufficient because of the short distance (10 feet) that the roof would span. Like the walls and floor, the roof had framing and solid foam board insulation along with expanding foam to fill all cracks and gaps.
  5. Furniture and Cabinets. To minimize wasted space, all furniture (other than folding chairs) was built-in, including bookshelves, tables, and clothes storage.

In the photo to the right, the basic structure of the home is complete with a space for the door and windows. This photo was taken at the beginning of stage #3 explained above.

Initially the home seemed a bit small, before having the finishing touches put on the outside and inside.

Surprisingly, after Jay added more to the inside of the house, it seemed more spacious!

The trick to designing small livable spaces seems to be in making them feel cozy and making the inside of the home to scale so that visually it has the look and feel of a normal home. Jay seems to have mastered the complexities of this challenge.

Something I really appreciate about the house is that it has a very tight building envelope. So, any airflow through the house is completely controlled and efficient. In this way, fresh air can be efficiently brought in as needed. Because of this, the heating and cooling are very efficient.

I’ve been living in my tiny home now for over five years and have really enjoyed it. The home is currently for sale, because my Fiancée and I plan to move into a slightly larger space.

Below is a photo of the home as it is today. The angle of the home in this photo is similar to how it is shown during the construction process in the photo above.