While “tiny house” may still be a phrase with a lot of buzz about it, the movement toward smaller and even mobile homes is anything but a fad. People all over the world are opting to minimize their footprint on the world and reduce their housing costs by building their own tiny houses.
It’s easy to see why tiny houses are becoming more popular. While the significant savings in the cost of the home is certainly one appealing aspect, a tiny house is something you can realistically build yourself, customize easily to your liking, and, depending on how it’s built, move from location to location rather easily.
People build all kinds of tiny houses, from 500 square foot bungalows on permanent foundations to 100 square foot homes that can be built and moved around on a trailer to 50 square foot mobile homes made out of repurposed vans or trucks. The options are endless!
We’re going to go over step by step how to build an off-grid, semi-permanent tiny house, but the principles we’ll discuss will apply to any tiny house build. It may seem like an enormous endeavor, but once the process is broken down you’ll see how manageable it can be to build a tiny house for yourself. Let’s get started!
Table Of Contents
- Choosing A Build Location
- Tiny House Building Materials
- Tools Needed
- Raw Materials
- Exterior Build
- Setting Posts & Beams
- Laying & Framing The Floor
- Exterior Walls
- Frame Walls
- Attach Walls
- Install A Double Top Plate
- Protect Walls From Outside Elements
- Install Plywood/OSB Layer
- Install House Wrap
- Install WIndows
- Install Doors
- Install Siding
- Install A Pony Wall
- Create & Install Rafters
- Install Fascia
- Install Roof Decking & Roofing Paper
- Install Drip Edge Flashing
- Install Roofing
- Exterior Finishes
- Interior Build
- Electric Roughing
- Choose & Install Solar Panels
- Install Insulation
- Install Drywall
- Tape & Spackle
- Install Flooring
- Interior Customization
- Install Water Pump
- Install Water Supply Lines
- Install A Water Heating System
- Install A Grey Water System
- Tiny House Bathroom
- Choose & Install A Toilet
- Install Your Shower
- Tiny House Kitchen
- Decide On A Layout
- Choose Your Stove
- Choose Your Fridge
- Tiny House Bedroom
- Convertible Bed Info
- Loft Bed Info
- Heating & Cooling
- Electric Baseboard Info
- Space Heater Info
- Wood Burning Stove Info
- Mini Ductless System Info
Choosing A Tiny House Location
Choosing where to build your tiny house is probably more involved than you think because it requires planning and may also require permitting. To build a semi-permanent tiny house like we’ll be describing you’ll want to begin construction in a flat, cleared area that’s at least somewhat easily accessible; remember, you’ll be hauling all of your materials to the job site, so the less you have to fumble through the weeds and sticks and mud the easier your job will be.
While choosing a location for your tiny house is largely up to your personal preference, you’ll want to check with your local municipality to see if you need building permits. Every building department is different, and while some may require nothing at all, others may need you to file permits and apply for inspections for all construction that will be completed. Before you build, get with a local planner or your building department to make sure what you’re doing is legal.
Tiny House Building Materials
Getting together a material list before you begin construction on your tiny house is critical to save time. Part of the appeal of building your own house is the freedom and customization, so everyone’s material list will be different. However, there are some general materials that everyone will need.
- Circular saw
- Reciprocating saw
- Framing nailer and framing nails
- Level (ideally one that is several feet long)
- Speed square
- Tape measure
- Hammer tacker/stapler and staples
- Utility knife
- Electric drill and drywall screws
- Spackle knife and drywall mud pan
- Paint rollers and brushes
- Large hole saw or jig saw
- Floor trowel
- Synthetic paint brush
- Concrete piers and post bases for foundation
- 6×6 beams for foundation frame
- 2×6 boards for flooring and roofing
- 2×4 boards for framing
- Pressure-treated plywood or OSB for exterior walls and roofing
- House wrap
- House wrap tape
- Window sealant
- Vinyl siding or T1-11
- Roofing paper
- Roofing tape
- Drip edge flashing
- Asphalt or metal roof shingles
- Plastic electrical boxes
- Light switches and fixtures
- Outlets and outlet covers
- Electrical wiring
- Solar panel kit
- Sheet rock
- Drywall tape and spackle
- Interior paint
- Water pump and plumbing lines
- Tankless propane water heater
- Water collection tank for grey water
- Composting toilet
- Durarock or other moisture-resistant drywall
- Shower drain
- Tar paper
- Steel mesh
- Floor mud
- Moisture barrier, thin-set mortar, and ceramic tiles for shower walls
- Kitchen cabinets, drawers, and cabinet doors
- Kitchen sink and faucet
- Kitchen appliances
- Heating option
Again, your material list will vary based on the layout and size of your tiny house build. We strongly recommend you get some detailed tiny house plans to take the guesswork out of the equation and save you many trips to your local home improvement store. Now that we have at least an idea of the materials we’ll need, let’s get building!
Exterior Build Of Tiny House
When building a tiny house your first goal will be to get the shell of a structure together to protect the interior from the elements. We’ll walk through the process of building the initial structure first, and then we’ll move onto the interior.
Build A Tiny House Foundation
Choosing a foundation for your tiny house is the first step, and rightfully one of the most important. Here is where you’ll need to decide if you’re going to build a mobile tiny house or one that is fixed in place.
There are a few different options here, the most popular of which are slab foundations and post-and-beam foundations. If you lay a slab and begin construction on top, your tiny house will be permanently affixed to the ground. Additionally, while slab foundations offer more stability, laying a slab is far more involved, costly, and time consuming. Check out this article on the pros, cons, and details of each.
For this build we’ll be moving forward with a post-and-beam foundation. This foundation is quick to set up and easy to install and level, it keeps your tiny house elevated off the ground which helps avoid water intrusion (especially important in flood zones), and it offers the ability to relocate your house later if desired.
Set Your Posts And Beams
Your first step here will be to locate where on the ground the posts will be placed, and you’ll want to consult your tiny house plans carefully for proper placement. While you can place your posts directly on soil, laying down a layer of gravel will help with the leveling process.
Image courtesy of Wilkerdos.com
Once the posts are in place, take some time to ensure that each is perfectly level and that they’re all level to each other. Skipping this step or rushing through the leveling process can lead to stability issues later. Using posts like the ones pictured above makes the process simple, because the portion that will hold the floor joists is easily adjustable and can make leveling your beams a breeze.
How To Lay And Frame A Tiny House Floor
Once your posts are perfectly level you can lay your main floor beams. The beams can simply be placed into the brackets on the posts, but once placed you’ll want to ensure once again that the beams are level, level to each other, and perfectly square (this can be done by measuring the diagonals and ensuring they are equal).
Now that your beams are in place, you can begin construction of your floor framing. Consider reading through this floor framing guide for reference. Our floor framing will be constructed with 2x6s placed 16” apart on center, and you’ll use your framing nailer and speed square to ensure your joists are square. Make sure the framing is centered over the floor beams, and use your nailer to attach the framing to the beams.
Image courtesy of Contractortalk.com
You’ll now want to install your subfloor, and we recommend using pressure-treated plywood for this step. Stagger the seams of the plywood to limit weaknesses in the flooring later. Your subfloor can simply be nailed to the framing once cut to size and laid in place. At this point, step back and check out your foundation! This will soon be the site of your custom tiny house.
How To Build Exterior Walls
Now that your foundation is in place it’s time to get some walls up. We’ll begin this step like every other step: by consulting your tiny house plans. When constructing your exterior walls you want to check and double check every measurement and layout; mistakes here can be costly and frustrating, so remember the cardinal rule of construction – measure twice, cut once.
Frame Tiny House Walls
Framing a wall is much like framing the floor, but you’ll be using 2x4s in this step and will need to use basic framing knowledge to account for doors and windows. To learn about framing basics or brush up on your skills, consult this in-depth guide. Your studs should be 16” apart on center, and you’ll need additional support for your windows and doors. If you’re unfamiliar with framing, follow your tiny house plans to ensure a sturdy construction. Remember to use your speed square when framing to ensure that all studs are square and parallel.
Image courtesy of Finehomebuilding.com
Attach Your Walls
Your four wall frames can be constructed beside your foundation, and once finished you can get the help of a few friends to attach them to your floor frame. Begin by standing your rear wall up in place on top of your floor. It’s common practice to use temporary 45 degree braces to hold your wall in place while you attach to the foundation. We recommend using braces like you can see below even if you have some helping hands.
Image courtesy of Berstanhomes.com.au
Repeat the process above for all four walls and remove the braces as needed.
Install A Double Top Plate
A double top plate is an additional layer of horizontal 2x4s that serves to connect the four walls to each other and keep them level and square. You can see in the illustration below how the double top plate serves to keep the exterior walls from shifting in either direction and keeps them plumb and square. Lay your double top plate and attach to the top plate of the framing using your nailer.
Image courtesy of Boulderlibrary.net
How To Insulate Tiny House Walls For Protection
Now that your walls are in place, your next step will be to begin sealing them from the outside elements. To do this you’ll be installing three layers of protection.
Layer 1 – Plywood/OSB
Your first layer of protection will be plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). The differences are plentiful, so read this article by master craftsman, Bob Vila, to help you decide which is best. Be sure to account for doors and windows carefully. Measure your plywood or OSB to fit over your exterior walls, and attach to the framing using your nailer.
Layer 2 – House Wrap
The next layer of defense is house wrap. House wrap looks like a large roll of wrapping paper, but it’s made of synthetic polyethylene fibers. It’s highly water-resistant which makes it one of the most important layers of protection on your tiny house. House wrap should be carefully placed on all exterior walls and can be stapled to the plywood/OSB layer.
To install over doors, begin from the top of the openings and cut the house wrap in an “X” shape. This will leave extra material that you will then wrap around the top and sides of the openings for any doors and staple to the studs.
Image courtesy of Nihb.com
To wrap windows most effectively you’ll begin by cutting the house wrap in the shape of an uppercase “I,” then fold the side flaps around the studs, and staple in place. Once this is done, cut small diagonals from the top corners of the window opening about 2 inches long and fold this flap up. This will be important later when installing windows.
Image courtesy of Constructionprotips.com
Once your house wrap is in place, seal all seams in the wrap using house wrap tape. Before we move onto the third layer of protection from the elements, we’ll install the windows and doors.
How To Install Windows In Tiny House
Installation of windows is fairly simple, but getting the process correct is critically important to ensure your tiny house doesn’t suffer from water intrusion. Although this guide begins with a finished wall, much of the advice will be of great value to you here.
First apply sealant to both sides and the top of the window. We’ll leave the bottom of the window without sealant to allow for drainage in case a small amount of water does get in.
Next, place the window inside the window opening, center and level the window, and nail through the window flanges directly into the studs to hold the window in place. Seal the sides of the window with more house wrap tape.
Fold that top flap of the house wrap down over the window flange and apply house wrap. This will allow for any moisture that does get in to drain down the sides of the window.
How To Install Doors In Tiny House
Now that your windows are installed we can move onto the doors, and this process will be even easier than the one for the windows. You’ll simply need to set your door frame in place in the properly framed out areas and attach the door frame to your studs. If you’re placing a hung door you can then install the door in the frame, and if you’re introducing a slider your job is already complete once you attach to the studs. Apply additional house wrap tape over any seams.
Layer 3 – Siding
Now it’s time to install that third layer of defense we mentioned earlier and get your exterior walls fully protected.
Siding a tiny house is a simple process that really just requires proper measuring. You’ll first want to choose a siding material for your tiny house, and the most popular options are vinyl and a tongue-and-groove wooden material called T1-11. Some great information that can inform your decision on which to choose can be found here.
For this step you can simply measure and install your siding material on all four sides of your tiny house.
Image courtesy of Wilkerdos.com
How To Install Roofing In Tiny House
The last piece of the exterior shell of your tiny house is the roof, and this part is, for obvious reasons, critically important. There are several options for roof design, the most popular of which are gable roofs, lean-to style roofs, bonnet roofs, and flat roofs.
**Suggest illustration of roofing styles**
Each of these styles has its own pros and cons, but one thing that is important for proper drainage is pitch. The pitch of a roof is the angle at which it sits, and this angle allows rain and other material to run off the top of your house. For the ease of installation we’ll be talking about a lean-to style roof here.
Install A Pony Wall
Your first step to building your lean-to roof is to install a pony wall on your front exterior wall. A pony wall is the small elevated wall on one side of your house that will create the necessary pitch of your roof.
Image courtesy of Dorothyainsworth.com
The pony wall is another simple process: measure the short studs that will extend above your double top plate, install using a framing nailer, and then install a horizontal beam over the vertical pony wall studs and attach with your nailer.
How To Create And Install Rafters
Your next step is to create rafters out of 2×6 boards. Rafters serve to move the force from the weight of the roof down through the vertical walls, so they’re vital to your tiny house’s stability.
Once the rafters are cut to length according to your tiny house plans you’ll need to use your circular saw and reciprocating saw to make notches in each of the rafters, called birdsmouth notches (read more about these and their importance for stability here). These notches will allow the rafters to sit against the exterior wall opposite the pony wall while you attach them to the double top plate. The illustration below will help visualize what we’re talking about here.
Image courtesy of DIYdoctor.org.uk
When cutting your rafters remember to cut them long to allow for an overhang over your pony wall.
Once your rafters are properly spaced and in place perpendicular to each other, attach them to the exterior walls (one of which will be your pony wall).
A fascia is a faceplate for your roofing, and you’ll want to install these faceplates on all four sides of your roofing.
Begin by attaching a 2×6 board to the front and rear of your lean-to roof with your framing nailer, and make sure the fascia boards extend beyond the span of your rafters on both sides (consult your tiny house plans when in doubt!). You’ll then install side braces which will act as fascia on the two sides of your roof that are perpendicular to your pony wall.
Install Roof Decking And Roofing Paper
Once you have your roof framed with rafters and fascia you can begin installing your roof decking. Much like the exterior walls, we’ll install multiple layers of defense against the elements.
Your roof decking can be made from plywood or OSB just like your subfloor, and you’ll again want to stagger the seams of your decking to create the sturdiest base for your roof possible.
Your second layer of protection for your roof is similar to house wrap in how it’s applied, but instead you’ll be using roofing paper. The roofing paper will be stapled to the decking, and it’s important to begin on the lowest part of your roof and overlap each layer as you go to ensure water doesn’t seep under a strip of roofing paper as it runs down the roof. On all edges of the roof you should tuck some of the roofing paper underneath the lip and staple in place.
Image courtesy of Iko.com
Once your roofing paper is down, tape the seams with roofing paper tape to ensure everything stays in place and protects your roof decking as best as possible.
Install Drip Edge Flashing
Drip edge flashing is a lightweight, thin metal flashing bent at a 90 degree angle along the length. This simply gets nailed to the edges of your roof deck to protect your roof decking even further. As you can probably imagine, your roof is one of the easiest places for water damage to occur, so take every precaution possible and make sure all layers of protection are in place properly before moving on.
How To Install Tiny House Roofing
There are a few different kinds of roofing you can use, the most common of which are asphalt roofs and metal roofs. For information on these categories and their sub-categories, consult this article from Home Advisor. For simplicity of installation and lightweight nature of the steel used to make metal roofing, we suggest going with a corrugated metal roof for your tiny house build.
Corrugated metal roofing comes in sheets that you can easily apply to your roof decking. Once cut to size the sheets can simply be nailed to your roof deck using roofing nails. Use an overlapping method similar to the one you used for the roofing paper.
Finish Your Pony Wall And Install Trim And Soffits
Since you built your pony wall after the first round of siding, your next step is to finish it using the same 3-layer method you used for all other exterior walls.
Ready to finish up the exterior of your tiny house? The last things you’ll need to do before getting cozy inside is to install exterior trim and soffits. Trim serves both to improve the exterior aesthetic and to cover the seams in the siding to help prevent water intrusion.
Your last step will be to install soffits on the underside of your roof overhang. This can be done simply by nailing wood planks over the roof rafters. These planks can be covered with vinyl soffit coverings if you’ve installed vinyl siding. The soffits will help prevent squirrels, birds, and other animals from climbing up into your home.
Now it’s time to step back again and look at what you’ve just accomplished! You now have a fully enclosed, weather-proof shell that will soon serve as your tiny home. Congrats!
Now that the shell of your home is fully constructed you can begin working on the interior without worrying about the elements interfering or damaging your work. While you’ve accomplished quite a bit so far, there’s still a long way to go before your tiny house is livable, so let’s get inside and get working!
Whether you choose to build a solar powered tiny house like we’re describing here or one that is hooked up to the grid, you’ll need to wire your entire home before installing insulation and drywall. We have to emphasize here that installing electric yourself is not only illegal in some municipalities, but it can also be highly dangerous. More than any other step in this tiny house build, if you’re uncomfortable or unqualified to install your own wiring and electrical work, be sure to hire a professional to do it for you.
Your first step here, as usual, is to consult your tiny house building plans to see where outlets, switches, and light fixtures will be placed. We suggest marking each out on your studs before placing anything and double checking that you’ve gotten everything correct based on your plans.
You can begin by installing the plastic outlet and switch housing units by nailing them to the sides of your studs.
Image courtesy of Buildmyowncabin.com
Your light fixture installation will vary depending on what kind of fixtures you’ve chosen, but most involve spanning the studs in your wall or rafters in your roof with adjustable braces.
Once your boxes are installed, drill holes through the centers of your studs so you can run wiring directly through the studs or rafters. Once you’ve mapped out and created pathways for your wiring you can run the main wiring throughout your walls and ceiling. Your tiny house plans should have a comprehensive plan for mapping out electrical wiring.
Choose And Install Solar Panels
Building a fully off-grid tiny house means we’ll be installing solar panels to supply the electricity. Solar panel systems vary greatly, but all systems will consist of a few main parts:
-Panels to receive the solar energy
-Solar batteries to store power
-A converter to charge the batteries
-An inverter to move from DC to AC
-Housing for batteries, converter, and inverter
This can sound a bit overwhelming, so check out this great beginner’s guide to DIY solar. After you choose your solar panel system you’ll want to build a housing on the exterior of your tiny house to hold and protect your batteries, converter, and inverter. The installation process for your solar panels and wiring will depend on the system chosen, and this should all be done carefully according to your system’s instructions.
Since the roof of your tiny house will be much smaller than normal, you may want to consider ground-mounted solar panels.
How To Install Insulation
Your next step in the building process is to install insulation in your tiny house. The popular options for insulation are fiberglass rolls or batts, spray foam insulation, and foam board insulation.
Fiberglass insulation comes in rolls or pieces called “batts,” and it’s lightweight and easy to install. The sheets of fiberglass insulation will need to be split through the middle in places where you have wiring running, as you’ll want to allow the wiring to pass through the center of your insulation.
Image courtesy of Thespruce.com
Spray foam insulation is a latex or polyurethane foam that gets sprayed in place and expands slightly as it sets. While it can be used as the main insulation for your tiny house, it’s commonly used in the small spaces around doors and windows even when fiberglass insulation is used between studs and rafters.
Foam board insulation comes in rigid boards that can simply be stapled into place over your studs. Installation of foam board is fairly simple as well but requires more accurate measuring and cutting due to the rigidity of the boards.
If you’re still unsure of which insulation you should install, read through this comprehensive guide on the pros and cons of these types of insulation and more.
How To Install Drywall
Now that everything designed to be hidden by walls is installed, you can get to hiding it!
Sheet rock installation is pretty straightforward: you want to measure pieces to be affixed to the studs and rafters, cut carefully using a sheet rock knife, and install the pieces using sheet rock screws. Start with the ceiling first so that walls can butt up against the ceiling.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you should try to avoid using standard sheet rock in your bathroom space, as drywall can hold a lot of moisture. Instead, install moisture resistant drywall in your bathroom. Consider installing this everywhere throughout your interior, as tiny houses can be prone to moisture build up.
Tape And Spackle
Here’s another fairly straightforward process…in theory. The goal here is to take the installed drywall with its seams and screw holes and make everything as flat and smooth as possible.
To cover the screws you’ll apply a small amount of spackle to each screw hole and smooth it out with your drywall trowel. For seams you can use strips of drywall mesh to make your job a little easier. Apply a small amount of spackle to seams, place the mesh over the length of the seam, and then apply additional spackle and smooth out. You can also opt for drywall tape instead of the mesh.
Image courtesy of Talklocal.com
Once your spackle dries completely, use a drywall sanding block to sand all areas smooth. During this process, make sure you wear a respirator and proper eye protection, as the dust particles can cause irritation.
Before moving onto the next step you may also want to paint the walls. The benefit of painting before putting down flooring is that you’ll avoid getting paint splatter on your brand new floors. However, painting now may mean touching up later, as you may scuff the paint or dirty the walls during construction going forward.
How To Install Tiny House Flooring
As with all parts of your custom tiny house build, you have options for flooring. Common options include carpet, tile, hardwood, and laminate, and we’ll go through some of the pros and cons of each and let you make the best choice for your tiny house.
Carpet is extremely lightweight, comfortable, and the most affordable. However, it’s more difficult to clean, difficult to dry if it gets wet, and it tends to be far less durable than other options.
Ceramic tile and vinyl tile are easier to clean than carpet, but each comes with its own downsides. Ceramic tile doesn’t have the ability to flex at all, so as your house settles you may find yourself with cracked tiles. They’re also very heavy and will add a lot of weight which is a concern if you plan on relocating your home. Vinyl tile weighs less and can flex to allow for settling, but it often wears much more quickly.
Hardwood is a good option provided you install thin strips to keep weight down. However, thin strips tend to bow and flex more easily than thick strips of hardwood, so they may need to be vacuum sealed on a piece of plywood before installation, and this can be rather costly.
Laminate flooring may be your best option, and it’s the one we recommend. It’s often lighter than hardwood, it’s very durable and holds up extremely well even under heavy foot traffic, it’s a breeze to install, and it’s easy to clean!
This amazing article on flooring for tiny homes can offer some more great information to help make your choice easier. Your installation will of course vary greatly based on the type you choose, so follow the instructions for installing your floor carefully.
At this point in the build you should have a nearly functioning shell of a tiny house, and you can now focus on some finer points of the tiny house construction including building out your kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping area. We’ll discuss some options and suggestions below, but always remember to consult your tiny house building plans and do as much research as possible to get things right the first time.
How To Install Plumbing In A Tiny House
Choose Your Water Source
While it may seem like a pretty concrete part of your build out, plumbing is highly customizable. There are a few main parts you need to consider when choosing what plumbing system is right for your tiny house, and your water source is the most important…you can’t live without water!
Regardless of what kind of plumbing you choose, you’ll need something to supply water for daily use. If you’re building a permanent tiny house that will be hooked up to a well or public water, you’ll need systems in place to receive water to your home. For public water this usually involves having a certified plumber from your water authority come in, install a meter, and hook your house up to public water supply lines. Hooking up to a well system will very likely require the help of a professional as well.
Since our tiny house build is a fully off-grid home, we’ll be installing a water tank to hold water for use. The size of the tank you use is one of the most important decisions you’ll make if you’re constructing an off-grid tiny house. We recommend a tank that’s at least 50 gallons, as refilling your water supply tank will be time consuming. Placing this tank outside or under your kitchen cabinets are both good options.
Image courtesy of Gnomadhome.com
Install Water Pump
If you’re using a water tank for an off-grid build you’ll need a water pump to provide pressure. Place your water pump as close to your faucets and water source as possible.
Your water pump may also need a converter installed close by, as many pumps are designed for RVs and use DC power. A dedicated converter installed alongside the pump will do the trick.
Install Water Supply Lines
Once you have your water source and pump in place, you’ll need to connect your pump to your faucets. Carefully connect your kitchen sink faucet, bathroom sink faucet, and shower head to your water pump.
Install A Water Heating System
Next up you’ll need to consider how you’ll be heating your water for use. Depending on the climate in your area and your personal preference, you can opt to skip this step, but washing dishes in hot water and taking warm showers are pretty important.
If you plan to be hooked up to public water, you may also consider getting your tiny house hooked up to a natural gas source if gas is available in your area. This again will require professionals from your gas provider to complete the hook up since natural gas is highly flammable.
Luckily for us, we’re talking about an off-grid tiny house, so all we need to do is install our own system. For an off-grid tiny house, a propane tankless system is a great option. This system involves a propane tank which is easily refillable, and a propane-fired tankless heater. The heater will use propane as the source of fuel, and since it’s tankless it will produce an unlimited amount of hot water for your tiny house.
Image courtesy of Tinyhousegiantjourney.com
Installing a hot water system is as easy as hooking up your propane tank outside of your tiny house, running a supply line through the exterior wall (this can be drilled and grommeted after the exterior build), installing your tankless heater, and connecting the heater to your propane source.
Solar water heaters are another option, but they’re much less efficient. The benefit of using a propane heater is that you can also fuel your stove with propane if you desire.
Install A Grey Water System
Your last thing to consider in terms of plumbing will be a way to collect grey water. “Grey water” is a term used to describe waste water that doesn’t come from a toilet (waste water from a toilet is called “black water”). Grey water includes waste water from sinks, showers, laundry machines, and dishwashers.
If you’re building a permanent structure close to public waste lines, you can opt to have a certified plumber tie in your waste lines to the sewage system. Since this is a guide on an off-grid tiny house build, we’ll simply be routing waste lines to a storage tank to collect grey water. For some more information and other options, consult this guide on dealing with grey water.
Installing waste lines is as simple as running PVC piping from your drains in your sinks and shower through the flooring and subflooring in your tiny house to a grey water tank outside. As you use your sinks and shower, your waste water will collect in the tank under or behind your home, and it will simply need to be emptied every so often. Investing in a tank on wheels is a great option to make emptying your grey water tank as convenient as possible.
Setting Up A Tiny House Bathroom
At this point you have your tiny house built and all of your utilities set up and functioning. Now comes the fun part: designing and installing your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom! Here is where customization really comes alive and you can let your creativity shine. First off we’ll be discussing options for your tiny house bathroom, and we’ll also go over how to install the main components.
Choose And Install A Toilet
Probably the least glamorous but most important part of your tiny house bathroom will be the toilet. While you do have the option to install a toilet linked to a public sewage system if you’re building where that’s a possibility, regardless of your situation we recommend a composting toilet with a urine diverter. A composting toilet may sound a bit gross, but really it’s an excellent option for all tiny house builds.
Image courtesy of Jamaicacottageshop.com
A composting toilet is a standalone piece that can be easily mounted to the floor of your tiny house bathroom. It usually consists of two different tanks: one for urine, and one for fecal matter. The small tank that collects urine has a seal on the top, so when it’s not being used, it closes itself to prevent odors from escaping into your home. When the tank gets close to being filled you’ll need to remove it and empty it.
The second tank is one to collect fecal matter, and you’ll be adding peat moss or a coconut fiber mixture to this tank. These mixtures are often sold in lightweight bricks and contain the necessary ingredients to promote composting, so the bacteria in the composting material will feed on the contents of the toilet and convert it to compost. These toilets also normally come with a small fan to divert stagnant air from the tank to the exterior of your tiny house just to be safe.
This second tank will need to be emptied every so often as well, and since the contents are eco-friendly, they can be dumped anywhere safely.
There are other options for toilets as well, so do your research on the type that’s best for you.
Installing A Shower In A Tiny House
Begin by framing out your shower area and installing Durarock or a similar moisture resistant sheet rock option. You’ll likely want to build in a shower curb, which is a lip surrounding the bottom of your shower to keep water in. This can be built out of stacked 2x4s or framed as well.
Next you’ll want to drill a hole through your subfloor for a drain. Once the drain hole is cut, install a sheet of tar paper which will act as a moisture barrier and will help the floor mud set properly.
Your next step is to cut and lay down steel mesh over the floor of the shower. You can use wire cutters to cut the mesh to size and to cut out the hole for the drain pipe. You’ll now mix and pour your floor mud over the steel mesh.
When spreading the floor mud you need to keep in mind that water will sit stagnant on any flat surface, so about a 2 percent grade sloping downward toward your drain pipe from all directions is your goal when spreading and smoothing out the floor mud. Once your floor is dry and properly set, install your drain which can be purchased as a standalone piece.
Image courtesy of Buildmyowncabin.com
You’ll next need to apply a thin layer of moisture barrier to your walls and ceiling to prevent water damage behind your shower walls.
Lastly you’ll be installing your shower tile. Begin by applying a layer of thin-set mortar. You should apply only to a small area where you’ll immediately begin placing tiles, as this can begin to set fairly quickly. It’s often a good idea to lay out your tiling pattern on the floor, apply thin-set mortar to a small area of the wall, and then immediately begin adhering the tiles you’ve laid out. Continue this process on the walls and ceiling until all surfaces are covered. For more help with pictures, check out this guide from DIY Network.
With that, you’ll just need to choose a sink and a vanity (or a wall-mounted sink) and install and connect to your water and waste lines. Congrats! You now have a functioning tiny house bathroom! Time to move onto what most people see as the most exciting part of your custom build: the kitchen.
How To Build A Tiny House Kitchen
Much like in a full-sized home, the kitchen is often the place where customization options are most abundant. We’ll review the basics here, but we highly recommend you find some tiny house building plans that suit your needs. Planning your creative options for storage and aesthetics beforehand will make your tiny house kitchen build so much more enjoyable.
Decide On A Layout
The layout of your tiny kitchen should be something you put a lot of thought into even if you are constructing it based on tiny house building plans. Pre-made plans are great, but remember that they can be altered to your liking, especially if you have specific plans for parts of your kitchen.
The most important things to consider when planning out your kitchen design include having ample counter and work space, efficiency of space, and how you’ll be able to move around the kitchen when you’re actually using it. Let’s dive into these three key factors.
First you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of counter space. You may think during the planning stage that you can get by with shallow counters or just a small area for counters, but this is one area of your tiny house kitchen you don’t want to skimp on. Regardless of the type of home you’re building, you’re going to be preparing and cooking food, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having to work in cramped spaces.
Image courtesy of HomeStratosphere.com
A few things you can do to add some instant counter space is to install an under-counter fridge so that your fridge doesn’t interrupt your counter, create a lay-in for your sink so it can be converted to counter space instantly, and optimize storage in your tiny kitchen. Consider things like building a wall-mounted spice or storage rack, installing a knife magnet on the wall, and building floor to ceiling cabinets to utilize as much space as possible.
Next you should research ways to save space and use space as efficiently as possible in your tiny kitchen. There are a lot of unique ideas out there for doing this that include dish drying racks that sit over the sink, hanging storage for the insides of cabinet doors, fold-away tables for seating once cooking is completed, and much, much more.
Lastly you’ll want to make sure you set up your kitchen for efficiency. This may be somewhat difficult to do in such a small space, but consider what experts call the “kitchen efficiency triangle.” Basically you’ll want to design your kitchen so that your fridge, your stove, and your sink form a triangle. This of course really only applies if you’re able to install a galley kitchen, but you can consider how you’ll be moving around your kitchen regardless of your set up, and it’s something you’ll want to think about, as you’ll be doing it often!
Choose Your Stove Option
There are many stove options for your tiny house kitchen, and the final decision will be based on personal preference and your kitchen layout design. Your first set of options will come when deciding how it will be fueled. Your basic options are natural gas (not suitable for an off-grid tiny house), propane, electric (not advisable for an off-grid build due to energy draw), and wood. Your decision for fuel is really based on personal preference and of course the options you have available on your build site. Read more about the pros and cons of each here.
Once you decide the fuel for your stove you’ll need to decide what size stove you need or want. It’s worth it to note that you can install a full-sized stove depending on the space you have to work with. If you’re someone who does a lot of cooking or baking and you know you’d enjoy having a full stove and oven, go for it! Just make sure you get a proper electric hookup and venting if needed.
A much smaller option would be a 2-burner stove. A stovetop with 2 burners will of course have a much smaller oven as well, and so these stoves would offer less space but would be perfect for you if you cook casually or for one or two people at a time.
Image courtesy of Earthporm.com
Another great option depending on your specific build is a wood-fired oven and stovetop. These are made specifically for mobile homes and tiny houses, and they consist of a compartment for burning wood, a compartment for baking, and the stove top. The baking compartment and stove top are heated by the lowest compartment, so it may take some getting used to. These types of stoves can also be used to heat your tiny home, so if you’re building a very small house you can save more space by combining heating and cooking!
Choose Your Fridge Option
Of course, no kitchen is complete without a way to store food, so deciding on your fridge option is another important step. Believe it or not there are refrigerators that run on propane, so you’ll still have to decide on propane or electric (read more about each option and more here).
Again, it is feasible depending on your space to install a full-sized fridge. These of course take up a lot of space but can save time running to and from a store to restock. If it’s just you or you and a partner living in your tiny house, you may want to opt for a small fridge to save space.
An under-counter fridge is an excellent option for tiny kitchens because it leaves quite a bit of extra space for countertop and upper cabinets. Of course the trade off is that you have less storage space for food inside and usually a significantly smaller freezer.
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Now that tiny houses are becoming more and more popular there are companies creating refrigerators specifically for those who want to live tiny. We’ve seen under-counter fridges that only use drawers to save lateral space, small refrigerators that resemble coolers with the door on top, and much more. Do your research and find what will suit your space best.
With that, the major parts of your tiny kitchen are complete! Now that you’ve done all this work it’s time to take some well-deserved rest in your…
Tiny House Bedroom
While you could get away with a minimalistic kitchen and bathroom, this is one area we don’t recommend skimping on. You need sleep, and trying to snooze in a tight, cramped, and uncomfortable bed won’t fly for very long. Let’s talk about how to get the most out of your sleep in your tiny house bedroom. You have two main options.
Your first option for your tiny house bedroom is a bed that converts to other things like a couch, desk, or table when you’re not sleeping. This likely means that your bed space will be in the middle of your home.
The upside to having a bed like this is that you conserve a whole lot of space. If you don’t need a dedicated area for your sleeping quarters, you have more space for your kitchen, living room, work area, or bathroom.
The downsides are plentiful, though, and while this may be a great option for a mobile home, we don’t recommend it if you can spare the additional space. First, you’ll have extra work to do to convert your bed to a bed every single night, and you’ll have to take that time in the mornings to break it down as well.
If at all possible, we would recommend you install a loft bed instead. A loft bed is one that’s situated high up off the floor of your tiny house and sits completely out of the way. Many people opt to put their loft beds above their kitchens, but really it can go anywhere you’d like where there’s vertical space.
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The upsides to a loft bed are that they’re fully out of the way and still don’t take up much space, you have a dedicated and private place to sleep, going to bed and waking up won’t require any additional work to be done, and your bedding can actually be comfortable since it doesn’t need to be rolled up.
Of course there are downsides too. Because a loft bed is situated above your living area, this often means that it will be close to the ceiling of your tiny house, so there won’t be much vertical space above your bedding. Additionally, loft beds require a ladder or stairs for access, so if you ever get up to use the bathroom, you’ll need to climb down and back up the ladder or stairs.
Installing Tiny House Heating And Cooling
The last set of choices you’ll need to make when completing your tiny house build will be how your space is heated and cooled. Most climates demand the need for heating or cooling and usually both, so this is yet another important decision you’ll need to make. Again there are a few options to consider.
Electric baseboards are a great option if you don’t think you’ll need cooling. They’re small, easy to install, and they can be purchased in a multitude of lengths, so it’s pretty easy to place them throughout your tiny house without taking up much space. They do drain quite a bit of electricity in cold weather, so depending on your climate these may not be the best option.
Space heaters are similar to electric baseboards, but they’re smaller, usually produce less heat, and can be moved around as needed. These shouldn’t be considered a standalone heating option unless you live in a generally warm area and won’t need much heating in your tiny house.
Wood Burning Stove
Remember before how we mentioned a wood burning oven and stove top could double as a heating source? Wood burning stoves obviously use wood as their fuel source, and these can pump out a surprising amount of heat. These do take up some precious floor space, as they’ll need to be placed a good distance away from any other walls or objects, and you’ll need to install a heat shield on the walls behind the wood burning stove. Another thing to consider here is that they need to be fed wood constantly, so this may require you to get up in the middle of the night to add more wood.
Image courtesy of Tinywoodstove.com
Mini Ductless System
Ductless heating systems are our recommendation for a number of reasons. Installation is fairly easy, the units are generally wall or ceiling mounted, so you save on floor space, they run on a low amount of electricity, and probably most important is that many of them have heating and cooling capabilities. Having a cooling system in place in your tiny house is more than just for comfort; tiny houses are prone to moisture build up, and being able to cool the interior will drastically reduce moisture issues.
With that, our tiny house build is complete. Construction of a house is often something people take for granted, so the idea of building one’s own home can easily seem like an impossibility. Now that you have the basics down the process may not seem easy, but it’s at least fairly simple and doable.
The fun part is deciding which of the many, many options above are best for you. Remember to consider how you’ll be using your tiny home, the things you use the most in your current living situation, and where you can afford to allocate more space and time based on your lifestyle and preferences. Thinking about how you’ll interact with your living space on a daily basis will give you some great insight into what your tiny house will look like.
While we may not know what your layout will be, what kind of kitchen you’ll install, or what bathroom options you’ll choose, we do know that building your own tiny house will be an amazingly rewarding experience.