In the wake of the minimalism movement and Konmari books, people are starting to live with less, downsizing all areas of their lives. When they have fewer possessions, they also start to think about having less space. Tiny homes have started to become more popular for both permanent living spaces and as streams of additional income, like renting them out as Air B&Bs.
What is a tiny house?
Tiny houses can be as versatile as any other large house. But the characteristics that define a tiny house are:
- Less than 400 square feet. If you are looking for something a little bit bigger, small houses are classified as anything between 400 and 1,000 square feet.
- Mobile (set on wheels) or fixed to a permanent foundation
- Less expensive than average sized houses (around $10,000-$40,000, but luxury options abound)
- More energy efficient. Of course it costs less to heat and cool and smaller space, but some also have solar panels and other “off the grid” options to be truly self-sufficient.
Even if they are not lived in exclusively, tiny homes are easy to add to a property as an independent home for a young adult, mother-in-law suite, office space or rental apartment.
Tiny home design features
Tiny homes can be as unique as their owners. While they take up much less space, the creative design that makes these houses function so well with so much less is wide ranging. Some common features found in tiny homes include:
- Lots of windows to make the space open and airy
- Open concept plans
- Multipurpose rooms
- High ceilings
- Outdoor living space like a deck, patio or rooftop garden
- Unique storage solutions like utilizing the space under the stairs
- Small appliances
хOne of the first decisions that will need to be made about the construction of a tiny home is if it will be permanent or mobile](https://learn.trades.org/trade-pro/293-What-is-the-Difference-Between-Mobile-Homes-and-Permanent-Tiny-Houses). If it will never be moved, it can be attached to a foundation. However, the homeowner may decide they want to travel and take their entire home with them. In this case, the home can be built on top of a trailer, usually referred to as a THOW (tiny house on wheels).
To make living small more practical, some companies make tiny home kits. These kits eliminate the need to create blue prints, measure door frames, cut each piece of lumber and more. The kits usually come with precut materials, all screws and nails and exterior features. Some have the interiors as well. Each will come with a materials list so you know what still needs to be purchased to assembled the home.
What is included with the kits varies depending on the company and the price, but the kit makes the DIY tiny home possible. Customers who purchase a kit may still need a professional to help with some of the technical construction such as:
- HVAC system
- Gas plumbing
- Site preparation
Prefabricated tiny homes
A simple solution for those who want a tiny home, but want to let a professional do the design work is a prefabricated tiny home. These homes will be delivered to the building site in large portions and just need to be assembled. Everything the home requires to be stable and secure is included in the module. They will be manufactured and assembled like other prefabricated home, but with smaller or fewer modules. While some ambitious homeowner may assemble these themselves, others will look for help from a professional.
For those who are purchasing a prefabricated home, they may seek out the help of a trade pro for these services:
- Site preparation
- Utility connections
- Interior design/ decorating
Professional skills for tiny home construction
Even if a customer plans to purchase a kit home or build most of the home themselves, a professional will be needed for some parts of construction. These are the skilled professions that a tiny home builder may be in search of:
- Designer or architect- A homeowner may purchase a set of blueprints that already has everything measured correctly. However, if they are designing their own home or want to make alterations to an existing plan, they should consult with a designer or architect. Most people fail to think about the direction doors open, what way the home faces, where the outlets and faucets will be and other details that will make the home more livable. An architect is practiced in designing a home that is both beautiful and functional. And an architect that specializes in tiny homes will have a lot of creative solutions for storage, design and how to make the most of a small space.
- Foundation contractor- If the home is being built in a permanent location, it will need a foundation. Common choices for tiny home foundations are concrete slab because they are inexpensive and quick. However, tiny homes can have crawl spaces and even full basements to add square footage to the home.
- Plumber- Depending on the location, the home may use city water or a well. For waste water, this could also be a public utility or a private septic system. Some tiny homes also utilize composting toilets. For tiny homes that are attached to trailers, they often use a system of tanks that hold fresh water, grey water and black water, since each has to be dealt with separately. Plumbing will go to the kitchen, bathroom, laundry area, hot water tank and possibly an outdoor spigot. If the home is on a slab foundation or a trailer, the water pipes will need to be insulated to prevent freezing in the winter since they will be exposed to the elements.
- Electrician- A tiny home can be connected to the electric grid like a regular house or it can be supplied with solar energy. Some tiny homes also use generators to supply their power needs. Tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) can run on a temporary connection through a 50 amp plug like a mobile home. However, if the house is in its permanent location and built on a foundation, you’ll want a more permanent connection. Think about the places that the occupant will need electricity. Wires and extension cords are going to make navigating a small space even more difficult. Make sure there are switches and outlets everywhere you need them, including outside the house, and appropriate wiring to support them.
- Gas plumber- A tiny home could use natural gas or propane for the water tank, cooking and HVAC system. Propane is inexpensive and easy to store. This is a great solution for those who wish to be off the grid. They would not be connected to any public utilities and their homes will still be mobile. Even homes that plan to rely primarily on solar power should consider using propane to supplement their needs. A gas plumber will safely connect the propane tanks to the utilities that use it.
- HVAC professional- Mini split systems can run on electricity and take up little space as a simple way to heat and cool the house. More than one can be installed if necessary. Full HVAC systems can be installed as well. If there is not space for a regular system and the ductwork required, there are systems built for mobile homes that use smaller ductwork and furnaces approved to be compatible with that system.
- Roofer- Since there is such a small surface area a a tiny home roof, some homeowners may decide to tackle this part of construction themselves. A leaking roof can quickly ruin any other work that has been done to the home. As a professional roofer, you offer homeowners the assurance that the roof will be installed and insulated correctly and will last for a long time.
- Driveway contractor- A way to get to and from the home is required. The home may be on the existing lot of another structure or on its own land, but the homeowners will need access to the property by car. If the tiny home will be moved, the driveway will need to be wide enough to accommodate the vehicle towing it and the house.
Shipping container buildings
Another tiny home option that has become increasingly popular due to its environmental implications and affordability is using a shipping container as the base of the home. Generally, shipping containers are used once to transport goods. It is not economical for businesses to return the empty containers for reuse so they become scrap. Using these containers for housing is an environmentally conscious way to create new housing solutions. They can be treated as pre-made modules, using one or multiple containers.
While shipping containers are strong and essentially blank canvasses for you to design as best fits the homeowner, they require a lot of work to become a comfortable living space. They have no insulation and are not set up for utility connections. They will provide a basic structure for the home, but will require welding, a foundation, doors, windows, walls, utilities and more. They generally come in two sizes- 20’x8’ or 40’x8’.
Shipping containers can be delivered just as they are used on a ship and the owner will design and build every part of their new home or they can be used as modules that are fabricated in a factory and delivered to the building site. For the latter option, all the typical work for a modular home will have to be completed on site.
Most cities have regulations about where you can build and the size of a structure. If a tiny home will remain on wheels, it is classified as an RV and not subject to the same regulations as a permanent structure. Homes built on foundations and connected to public utilities or with well and septic service need to meet the legal requirements of the area in which they reside. Regulations can include testing, paperwork and permits such as the following:
- Soil testing- If the home will have a traditional foundation, soil testing will tell if the ground can support the weight of a structure.
- Perc test- If the home will have a septic system installed, the property will need to pass a perc test to determine that it is safe to install a septic system.
- Building permits- Building a permanent structure will require local building permits.
- Zoning- These regulations can vary drastically from city to city. Zoning laws often regulate if another building can be on the same property as a home. In some areas there are also minimum square footage requirements, and a tiny house may not fall into the permitted size.
- Fire codes- For safety, all homes are required to have both a primary and secondary exit. Each bedroom is also required to have direct access to the outside.
- Bathrooms- There must be at least one bathroom, and it has to be completed blocked from the rest of the house.
Where to find more information and training
With the rise in popularity of tiny homes, organizations have sprung up to help builders and residents learn more about tiny home construction and regulation. These organizations offer everything from zoning training to suggestions about quality products for tiny homes. If you plan to include tiny home construction to your niche of building services, consider becoming a member of these nationally recognized organizations:
- American Tiny House Association- This organizations is looking to bring together all the parties involved in tiny home living including private industry, consumers and government bodies. They evaluate the safety and integrity of prefabricated and kit homes and gather and disseminate information about the value of tiny living.
- NOAH (National Organization of Alternative Housing)- They offer trainings, inspections and certifications for builders of alternative housing structures. This includes tiny houses on foundations, movable homes, manufactured homes and RVs. There are certifications available for DIY’ers as well as professionals who plan to build multiple homes.
- RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association)- THOWs are usually classified as recreational vehicles, which changes the construction methods and the regulations they must adhere to. RVIA requires builders and manufacturers to pass on-going testing. This certification can be pricy, but is the most widely recognized for RV construction.
With the demand for tiny homes on the rise, contractors, builders and other trade professionals who have experience with tiny homes will find additional opportunities. Understanding this unique market and the skills that are necessary to make a tiny home efficient and comfortable will help you find more customers and grow your reputation as an expert in the market.
At trades.org we can help you find your niche, market your business to the perfect audience and hone your online reputation. Be known as the go-to professional for tiny homes in your area with service tailored to your business needs.