Building a Small House Starts With Planning

Zack Griffin Tiny House


We watched the pre­mier of Tiny House Nation on the FYI chan­nel the other night (FYI was for­merly the Bio channel).

The show focused on help­ing a young mar­ried cou­ple with a tod­dler build a tiny house.

When the crew arrived, which included tiny house builder Zack Griffin, the couple’s local builder in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee told them he didn’t have any expe­ri­ence with build­ing such a small space.

With a bud­get of $30,000, the team got to work, designed the inside and by the end of the show, the cou­ple had a com­fort­able, beau­ti­fully designed tiny house.

One has to won­der, though, what would have hap­pened if the show did not bring a design team in since the cou­ple and their builder seemed a bit puz­zled over how to fit every­thing the cou­ple needed – includ­ing where to split the rooms – in the space that was already framed in.

It didn’t seem like the design of the inte­rior was thought out by the cou­ple or builder at all.

I began think­ing back to our own build and remem­bered how the small things in a tiny space can make the biggest of difference.

For instance, although we had a rel­a­tive with con­struc­tion and design expe­ri­ence lay our house out in a com­puter pro­gram and our builder had small house con­struc­tion expe­ri­ence, the sheet rock peo­ple we hired nailed, rather than screwed the sheetrock in, which added just enough of padding that our appli­ances, cab­i­nets and bath­room van­ity were off.

Here are 5 rec­om­men­da­tions I’ve given on the blog before and the show rein­forced last night about plan­ning your move to a small home:

  1. If pos­si­ble, rent some small spaces to see dif­fer­ent floor plans and find out if it is some­thing you can truly do. Make a note of what you like and don’t like about the space. (Hint: win­dows and tall ceil­ings always make a place feel big­ger and not so confined).
  2. When you decide on a size, mark it off with string in your yard and imag­ine your­self and fam­ily liv­ing in that space full time (I actu­ally remem­bered doing this when I saw it on the show).
  3. Investigate codes in the area you plan to live. Some munic­i­pal­i­ties do not allow houses on trail­ers, oth­ers do not allow small homes to be built in yards and some require per­ma­nent sewer, water and elec­tric hook up.
  4. Find a builder who is expe­ri­enced in tiny or small house con­struc­tion or if you plan to do it your­self, study small home con­struc­tion, as fit­ting in appli­ances, plumb­ing and other things is tricky in a con­fined space. There is no room for error.
  5. Know what you can really part with and what you can’t. If there is a piece of fur­ni­ture or some­thing that’s been in your fam­ily for 5 gen­er­a­tions and you sim­ply can­not bear to part with it, try to incor­po­rate it into your plan. For every­thing else, “A place for every­thing and every­thing in its place.”

The show was good for those begin­ning their tiny or small house adven­ture, but I’m hop­ing as it goes for­ward, it will focus on dec­o­rat­ing and other small house challenges.

I also read that HGTV will be air­ing a show called Tiny House Builders.

Did you watch the show? What did you think?

11 Responses to “Building a Small House Starts With Planning”

  1. Julie says:

    Plan, mea­sure, plan and mea­sure again!

    There are things I will not give up. I want a few things in my small home that I've yet to see shown in others.

    Like a wash­ing machine. So I've been research­ing European style small front load wash­ers. Not the washer dryer combo… That would require too much energy and the sun is free and drys clothes great :) oh but one of those swim­ming suit dry­ers like at the gym would be cool.

    Then there's heat… Wooddtove ? Yes I can chop wood did it as a kid every­day. But will I be able too later in life?

    So I've also have been look­ing into the Mitsubishi heat and air units as I live in the south and humid­ity will be an issue.

    I want a bath­tub too… Yes I'm going all out!

    And it all has to be wind or solar power… Yeah it's a stretch :)

    And then I think to myself how long will I be liv­ing in this small space? Will I be able to climb into a loft if I get ill or break a hip?

    So I've recently been look­ing at con­struc­tion for a lift type bed. Not a Murphy bed. But a full size bed that would basi­cally be in the loft area but would hand crank down onto the liv­ing space.

    There is slot to think about, so I'd say don't rush.

    Plan and gather all the infor­ma­tion you can.

    And know your­self, be hon­est with what you can really live with­out, not just for awhile but for the long haul.

    I'm plan­ning now… And I know it will be an awe­some invest­ment of time now that will save me when I'm ready.

    • Kerri says:

      The smartest thing you can do in the world is to plan for small space liv­ing. And yes, you need to think about sus­tain­abil­ity and not just for the planet, for your­self. You do need to ask your­self, "Will this house work for me for the rest of my life?"

  2. Minette says:

    My hus­band and I have a 6.5 foot slide-in truck camper with a pop-up roof. It fits in the bed of a short-bed; extended cab F250. The inside foot­print is about 12' x 7' so 84 square feet or about half the foot­print of the Tennessee fam­ily. My hus­band isn't quite as big as the Tennessee Husband but my hus­band could stand to lose some weight.

    The extended cab of our pickup truck affords us about 44 cubic feet of stor­age out­side of the camper. We can also lash con­tainer­ized stuff to the roof. We have air con­di­tion­ing, heat, water, water heater, elec­tric­ity, shower, toi­let, and gas stove. We also have all man­ner of enter­tain­ment devices (radio, CD, tele­vi­sion, etc.). We go to a Laundromat once a week rather than hand crank­ing our laun­dry every day (…Jeesh!).

    The pickup truck has 4x4 so we have car­ried that 'sucker' off road into the back coun­try where most angels would have feared to tread (…let alone spend the night).

    Cost new??? Much less than $20,000. And we could live in it indef­i­nitely. I think the longest we've been out in it so far is about 45 nights straight (but then we've had jobs and a 'life', too).

  3. Minette says:

    I just saw bits and snatches of the “Tiny House Tennessee” so I will not have an appre­ci­a­tion of the back­ground story for this fam­ily until I can watch the show again after a later recording.

    I ‘get’ tiny houses but I would say most of the exam­ples I’ve seen are usu­ally intended for _one_ per­son in a place where land costs a lot per square foot. From what I’ve seen, the tiny house made no sense for this cou­ple. I just don’t get it. Then, they were coerced into get­ting rid of all but 20 cubic feet of their “stuff”??? I mean, really, for a few hun­dred bucks go to the box store and get a lit­tle plas­tic stor­age shed to stick behind the tiny house. What sense does it make to buy a new win­ter coat every year??? Re-using stuff (which means stor­ing it until you need it) will save one a fortune!

    Then, there were bone-headed fram­ing and lay­out errors — - Jeesh! An archi­tect and pro­fes­sional builder can’t get a 172 square foot foot­print right from the draw­ing stage??? And where is the waste water going? I guar­an­tee that it is allowed to run off out­side and that is a vio­la­tion of vir­tu­ally every water use code in the coun­try. I’m not impressed by a tiny build­ing that doesn’t meet build­ing codes!

    Finally, ….$30,000 bucks went into that POS?!?!? H-E-L-L-O! Why are they rein­vent­ing the wheel?!? The builder is from Tennessee and has never heard of an “RV”??? Do you real­ize how much RV you can buy for $30,000??? And besides being up to the build­ing codes, an RV would have been a heck of a lot bet­ter appointed and equipped!

    When you think about how far out in left field this move­ment is, I have to come to the con­clu­sion that it has to be a scam to employ archi­tects and home builders!

    • Kerri says:

      My hus­band also brought up the same exact issues as you, Minette. I try not to cri­tique the choices made by peo­ple going small, but I do agree there were a lot of con­struc­tion mis­takes and I don't know if that was because a builder inex­pe­ri­enced in small home con­struc­tion began the project. My hus­band also said he would have just went with an RV and had ques­tions about where they're get­ting their run­ning water and about where the waste water is going. I also don't think this home is sus­tain­able for this fam­ily — that lit­tle girl is going to grow fast and that teeny tiny space will not be enough for her to even sleep in at some point.

  4. Katie says:

    Loved the show. Best to know what final plan is before start­ing. Wish show went back later to get com­ments on changes the cou­ple wish they had made.

    • Kerri says:

      I would like to see that too, Katie. I just don't see how that fam­ily is going to be able to sus­tain that space as the lit­tle girl grows.

  5. We watched the show with inter­est. Thought it was quite inter­est­ing. Also thought 172 sq. ft. would be a bit extreme for us. This week I posted our Tiny House Dream on my blog. It weighs in at 528 sq. ft. — slightly smaller than our cur­rent 750 ft. space. Down-sizing is a chal­lenge, for sure, but so worth it.

    • Kerri says:

      Nice blog, Ellen! We stayed at a resort cabin in TN when we vaca­tioned there a cou­ple of years ago. The cabin had an open, high ceil­ing floor plan with 600 sq. ft. Oh, how I wish we had dis­cov­ered that one before build­ing 11 years ago! I think the chal­lenge for us small spac­ers is find­ing a square footage that is sus­tain­able, one that allows us just enough room to live in for the rest of our lives. I love our cabin, but wish we had gone just a bit big­ger. I would love to have my small china cab­i­net in here and I wish we had done the high ceil­ings to add depth. It gets a bit con­fin­ing in long stretches of winter.

  6. Didn't see the show but sounds like they did a fairly good job of illus­trat­ing the par­tic­u­lar issues of small house design. My hus­band and I often dis­cuss what we will do and where we'll choose to live when we can no longer care for the acreage and large house that we cur­rently have. Our yard is over two acres and it takes a lot of mow­ing, and the house is two sto­ries and has a lot of square footage to clean, which I'm not sure I'll be up for at eighty years old. We don't know for sure if a "tiny" house is in our future, but we will def­i­nitely be down­siz­ing to some­thing smaller and eas­ier to care for, when we get older.

    • Kerri says:

      As much as you love the out­doors and your horses, i think a small space would suit you fine, maybe not "tiny," but cer­tainly some­thing you didn't have to spend a lot of time main­tain­ing. The time I am sav­ing from clean­ing and the time Dale is not spend­ing on a yard or main­tain­ing the out­side is time we can use to actu­ally enjoy life, the lake and what we truly like to do.