Author Archives: Macy Miller

About Macy Miller

Macy Miller is a Rocky Mountain native and the creator of As a LEED accredited architectural designer she is a passionate promoter of good design, healthy living, and the tiny lifestyle. In 2011 she started construction on her 196 s.f. tiny house where she has been living with her partner, James, daughter, Hazel, and dog, Denver since June 2013. She and her home have been featured on Yahoo News, Time Magazine, Dwell Magazine, NPR, HGTV’s Extreme Homes and many others!

How To Design A Tiny House – Part 4 – Working in Plan

Lets talk about the general thoughts and considerations that go into defining your floor plan.  Something fun to get away from all those Style, Size , and Priorities stuff.

Once you know your priorities that can start to inform your design decisions.  You can map out the spaces you want and start to work with how they all fit together, in plan.  Is it important to you that the bathroom not be right next to the kitchen?  Let that set the boundary.  Do you want a bath tub or will a shower be ok?  Or maybe you want both.  Do you have pets that need their own space to lay down?

Setting a Scale:

I suggest starting out with some sort of general scale and start laying the pieces together.  Unless you have other reasons a good scale to start designing at is 1/2″=1′-0″.  On paper this would make an 8.5’x18′ house be about 4″x9″.

The best ways to apply a scale are:

  • The easiest way for me is some simple graph paper.  Rather than drawing, erasing, drawing, erasing (because it will happen a lot) I suggest making some scale drawings of your necessary items then cut them out.  That way you can just freely rearrange as needed.  If you want a head start on that here are some cutouts you can download to get you started
  • 3D model, SketchUp offers a free download and there are some great tutorials out there on YouTube.  I hear TinyNest has some great ones [affiliate].
  • Or there is always the option of a physical model.  This is usually the most time consuming and doesn’t let you quickly make decisions but for some people it is how their brain works through design.  This can be as simple as cutting up some old cereal boxes or it can involve some fine woodworking skills, the choice is yours, the most important thing is just to model things to scale.  This also tend to be a holistic approach, working in plan and elevation at once, which can be more daunting for some.

Some examples:

Here are a few examples of ways that a 16′, 20′ and 24′ trailer can be arranged.  These are just general space ideas.  Imagine that the yellow spaces are the bathroom, the green tones are the kitchen, the orange/browns are the living areas, red is a dedicated bed space and the light blues are loft orientation options that could be for each lower plan option.  (I will continue to use these as I go through these steps, getting into more detail over time, for now we are just looking at general plans)


As you can see the general spaces are the bathroom, the kitchen and the living area.  The living area may or may not combine the sleeping space and the sitting space.  You are never obligated to have a loft.  There are plenty of examples of sofa/sleepers (futon, pull-out couch, murphy bed, etc) to use one space for both.  Because the width and length are often limited more than the height many people choose to have a loft space.

…So lets look through some examples…

For the purposes of these examples:

  • A sleeping loft is full width and 8′ deep.
  • A storage loft is full width and 4′ deep..
  • Bathrooms are shades of yellow.
  • Kitchens are shades of green.
  • Living areas (with or without sleeping areas) are shades of orange/brown.
  • Dedicated bedrooms are red.
  • rooms of the same shade are identical in size throughout.

A 16′ Trailer:

The simplest example we can make is in the case of a short trailer, this is the 16′ general options.  (**Note the bigger a trailer gets the more options you have and the easier it is to get caught up in having too many options, and the fear of ‘picking wrong’).

General options you have the kitchen and the bathroom next to each other and the living area beside them (middle option).  Or you have to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom from the living room (right option).  You could just as easily have to walk through the bathroom to get to the kitchen but functionally that doesn’t work out well… if someone has to poop you may get trapped in (or out of) the kitchen…  Lastly, you could split the bathroom and the kitchen and separate them via the living area.


With each of these layouts you could choose to have no loft, a sleeping loft, a storage loft, two different storage lofts or a sleeping and storage loft.  I have seen some people try to do a whole second floor but because of the DOT height restrictions they are often hard to navigate, due to low height.

A 20′ Trailer:

So looking at the next size up you have some more flexibility, you could choose to increase a room or two in size and that complicates the variations available.  The color ranges signify the same type of space.   These are not the entire range of options but should give you some ideas.

For the extra 4′ it gains you the ability to have the same loft scenarios but in addition you can choose to have two sleeping lofts.  (Though in my design opinion it can get a little close).

A 24′ Trailer:

Extend things a few more feet and the options expand even further.  Because of this, often smaller trailers can be easier to plan, there are less options which makes it so much simpler!  However tiny houses have grown in size with the trend.   (**A word of note, I have heard of many tiny house dwellers who wish they had built smaller. Not many who wish for bigger.  Smaller spaces are easier to construct, take less material and less time, converting to more savings and a faster occupancy) 

In this instance you have the same options for a loft space.


This post is intended to get you thinking through your design in plan only. As we move through the Planning Tiny design posts we will work through elevation and ‘the whole space’.  In future posts we will go through weight distribution, room to room considerations in plan (horizontal), working in elevation (vertical), picking the right trailer – including different types of trailers.  I’ll cover some basic design rules and eventually we will get into material choices and limitations.





As always, this is a collaborative site, please, if you have something to add/correct leave a comment!

Each of these design posts play on each other, you can also find Part 1 – Style, Part 2 – Size , and Part 3 – Priorities.

Why Cost Per Square Foot Is A Bad Metric For Tiny Houses

Cost per square foot (s.f.) is a metric used by developers to more and to sell bigger, as the size goes up cost per s.f. goes down.  In that way a huge house may actually look like a better deal.  We seem to label that s.f. cost as the most important metric when shopping for a home.  I’d like to break down why it isn’t.

I am going to give hypotheticals here:

Houses have an overall cost per s.f. but if you break it down further each room does too.  I’m going to remove land costs because that can throw the whole thing off andd it’s not usually a factor in a tiny house anyway.  Let’s just start here, kitchens and baths have a lot to them, millwork, fixtures, plumbing, etc. they tend to be more costly than bare walls.  Let’s ‘hypothetically’ say:

  • Kitchen Costs – $250/s.f.
  • Bathroom Costs – $150/s.f.
  • Living Room Costs – $80/s.f.
  • Bedroom Costs – $80/s.f.
  • Hallway – $50/s.f.

In both of these cases I will not include land costs.

Lets say, in a standard three bedroom, two bathroom ‘small’ house you have about 10’x10′ kitchen (100 s.f. = $25,000), two 5’x10′ bathrooms (100 s.f. = $15,000), two ‘living rooms’ @15’x15′ (450 s.f. =$36,000) and three 10’x10′ bedrooms (300 s.f. = $24,000).  Maybe you have a hallway connecting rooms, say about 50′ of hall (50′ = $2,500).  Total cost of your 3 bedroom, two bath simple 1,000 s.f. house is sitting around $102,500.  In this case the standard house comes in right about $102.50/s.f.

Now lets look at a tiny house.  Most tiny houses are pretty close to half kitchen/bath half living/bed (say in the case of a loft style).  So, same square foot costs applied to a 200 s.f. tiny house lets say… 100 s.f. living area (100 s.f. = $8,000), the bedroom actually occupies the same area so you get to save a bit, let’s say its half the cost at $40/s.f. (you still have taller walls and windows to add in but save on the roof/floor/etc.) so (100 s.f. = $4,000). Then you have 60 s.f. for the kitchen, because the kitchens in tiny houses are usually a tad larger than the bathrooms (60 s.f. = $15,000) and 40 s.f. for a bathroom (40 s.f. – $6,000).  In theory the trailer would be included in all that cost just like the foundation would be included in the cost of the standard house.  That brings out tiny house cost to $33,000.  So the tiny house comes out to $165/s.f. using the same metrics.

That is saying apples to apples comparison of costs of rooms.  In reality tiny house folks generally up their finishes a little since it’s such a small amount of material needed, I think it would be more realistic to say tiny house kitchen finishes put that room into a higher range, maybe $300-350/s.f., similar in the bathrooms.  Because you are using space for multi purposes you’re able to decrease the cost overall in some areas.

A couple other points, often appliances in tiny homes are less common and therefore can be more costly than standard fixtures bringing that base cost up even more per s.f.  Additionally, in standard housing, when you add space to the house it is rarely in the form of extra ‘expensive rooms’, it’s more likely in the form of bigger living areas, more bedrooms, etc.  Adding more space in that way will actually decrease the overall square footage while potentially adding significant cost to the home. A graph of what this might look like is this:


This is why it is hard to make tiny houses ‘pencil out’ on a sheet of paper compared apples to apples next to more standard housing.  Many people get into tiny houses because of financial reasons only to find out ‘financially they don’t make sense’.  Only they do.  It’s just a different way to do the math…

In this example a tiny house is still performing the exact same functions at 1/3 the total cost.  $33,000 is easier to come up with and pay back than $100,000.  If time=money than you’ll need three times as many hours of your life to earn enough to pay for a standard small house and thats not including the increase in monthly utilities!

To me, it makes more sense to have everything I need, live tiny and use those hours for things that are more fun than paying for housing!  Because there IS more to life than finances.

Tiny House People January Recap

Top Posts

Our first Ask Me Anything with Vision Solar pertaining mostly to grid tied solar power

Monthly Poll, How did you finance your tiny house?

A great thread on the not always so positive side to adjusting to tiny home living.

Insured with State Farm (with loopholes)

Some favorite tiny house products listed by one of our members.

Frost on your tension ties?

Mold was another hot topic this month.

How you deal with unsupportive friends and family.

Attaching to the trailer.

DIY Builder Callouts!

We have so many great builders in group, sometimes we all need a little extra words of encouragement. Nice comments make all the difference in the world when pushing through those rough patches of the build!  If you have a moment check out these builders and leave a comment on their blogs or send some thoughts of encouragement!

  • Pamela has been a very active member of our tiny community and this month she officially kicked off her build!  You can find her and her pretty new triple axle foundation in our group and also on her builds facebook page HERE.  Leave her some comments and words of encouragement along the way!
  • Alicia and William Gates (<— Click that for some cool stairs!) are sprinting toward the finish line of their home.  Having done the work before I am amazed at how fast they are cooking! They have both asked great questions along their whole build, use the search bar for their name to follow some great dialogues!
  • Sean David BurkeBaylie Carlson [both long time members and big contributors in group] and the Tacks (Christopher and Malissa), have gotten together and started a tiny house community in Washington! (yet to be named) Sean has an under construction shipping container house, Baylie has a family of four in their second tiny house, and Christopher and Malissa have theirs FOR RENT on AirBNB… in case you’re looking to try on the lifestyle you could have a vacation, stay in one of the original ‘famous tiny houses’ AND probably have a cup of coffee with other tiny house savvy folks! It’s a pretty unique situation that I am excited to watch unfold!

Order Of Operations

So, you want a tiny house, you’re ready to do the research and figure out how to do each step… but in what order do you do those steps!?  Here is a general guideline.  You can deviate from this as needed, for instance maybe it’s raining and doing the roof is a hazard, maybe that day you move inside to work on electrical instead!  Take this for what it’s worth and adjust things as needed.  The important part is to just do a little bit every day, sometimes that is only research, that you can always fit in around the work!


  • Research, Research Research
    If you’re like me and much of this process is new to you then the actual construction is only a portion of the work, at least half of it takes place in the research phase, which goes alongside the construction.  It is not uncommon to have one work day spent online figuring out how you are going to do the physical work for the next day.  (and if you are blogging your build that is a whole other project that takes loads of time (worth it!)).  Even if you have done TONS of research up front in preparation you’ll most likely be doing more along each step.
  • Trailer Prep
    You build from the ground up, in this case the trailer frame up, making sure your trailer is ready for construction is likely your first step.  If you have purchased new trailer designed for tiny houses this will be pretty short.  If you are using a used trailer you may have some sand blasting and welding to do.  If you are using a new but not tiny house specific trailer you may be drilling holes for lag bolt connections, it’s best you do this before you start building on top.
  • Subfloor (may include plumbing)
    You have a couple choices when it comes to flooring, (#1) build on top of the trailer bed or (#2) built into the trailer frame.  Both options have pros and cons to them, either one is likely your first step after having a trailer that is ready to build! (as a part of this step you should weather-proof the undercarriage and insulate your floor as well)At this point it’s a good idea to think through your plumbing system too and decided if you will be running the supply and drainage lines inside the space, under a false floor (but indoors) or running it through your floor.  If it is the latter you will want to run those lines at this point too in order to save you some ‘deconstruction’ later.
  • Framing Walls
    Your foundation is set, you have a floor, next is the fun part, going vertical!  Framing your walls is one of the first ‘big moments’ and luckily one of the first parts in your build.

The next steps can vary depending on your needs.  Often times you can build indoors easily up to 12′ tall (if you have that space), it’s generally a little tougher to find a work space with a 14′ door.  If that is the case you can put the roof off a little longer in order to use the indoor space longer.  If that is the case just skip the roofing until after the windows and doors are in place.

  • Framing Roof
    Putting your rafters in place would be the next natural order after the walls.
  • Sheathing
    Once the skeleton of your house is in place (the framing) you can sheath the exterior (or interior if that is what the plans call for!).  This is going to make your whole house more stable and be yet another exciting part where you can start to get a real ‘feel’ for your home.  After sheathing you can take a saw and cut out the door and window openings as needed.
  • Building Wrap
    After the sheathing is on you will want to (without waiting too long) wrap your house with some sort of building wrap, this is your moisture protection layer and is key to protecting what you already have invested in your tiny house!
  • Roofing
    For the same reasons you will then want to roll right into the roofing and protecting your house from the top!  If you leave the structure unprotected it is likely to start to deteriorate from the weather and UV rays.  This can tend to happen a bit faster if you opt to use OSB sheathing instead of other systems, protecting it ASAP will mitigate a lot of damage.
  • Windows and Doors
    Once your frame is up, sheathed and protected you can fill in your holes with windows and doors.  This would be the third major milestone in my opinion and really makes your tiny house start to feel like home.  Relish in that feeling, what you are doing is amazing!  Make sure you flash and weatherproof each of the openings so that you won’t have water issues down the road!
  • Exterior Finish
    At this point you will probably be itching to get to work in the inside but try to finish out the exterior and put up your exterior finish.  This will insure you minimize all stresses on your structure and make sure you get a nicely ‘dried-in’ tiny house.

You’re now Dried In!!

Moving Inside… you can stagger this with some of the above work but I suggest trying to get to the dried in point ASAP because then you know your structure and it’s components are sound, safe and protected! 

  • Electrical/Plumbing
    You can work on these two together or separately (either can be first, I think electrical goes first often because it can help speed up the process by offering light and longer work days!) they are a great next step if you (like most but not all tiny housers) are putting these systems inside of the walls (some, like those building with SIPs, opt to run these systems in the interior of the space to have access or for ease of construction, if you are one of those do this after the wall finish and before the millwork).   They likely both go in prior to insulation because it is harder to drill the holes and run wires if insulation is in the way, particularly foam/spray in insulation.
  • Insulation
    After your systems are all run you can fit your insulation around them, you usually want to be sure to insulate the outside or the plumbing when it runs in the wall so there is less chance for freezing.  The insulation is usually in the floor as part of the floor construction, at this step you can finish the insulation in the walls and the roof.  Generally you want as much insulation as possible in both hot and cold climates (it’s not just protection against cool!).  Typically you want greater amounts of insulation in your floor and in your ceiling in a tiny house, the reason being that heat rises, a good portion of energy escapes out the roof so you can be more efficient if you contain that.  Secondly, people tend to be most comfortable when their extremities are comfortable, since the floor is the only surface that your extremities are in contact with you will notice much faster if it is chilly to the touch, having more insulation in your floor will give you the perception of a warmer space.
  • Interior Wall Finish
    After you are insulated you can finish out your walls.  This is yet another step that FEELS great along the tiny house journey, this is where your space starts to take on it’s personality!  There are a lot of options for interior finishes, get creative, this is one area that you can use to save some on your budget!
  • Paint
    If you have surfaces to paint this is often a good time, you can get real messy without taping a ton of stuff and worrying about messing up the floor etc.
  • Millwork
    You should now have a pretty ‘vanilla’ space that is starting to show your personality.  Adding the millwork (counters/cabinets/built-ins) will bring it all together.  You may or may not have a door or window large enough to move all of the pieces through.  If you don’t make sure you build that piece inside so you don’t have a hiccup to troubleshoot down the line!
  • Flooring
    The flooring brings it all together, it is really hard not to want to jump straight to the flooring, it really finishes off the space but try to push this one out as far as possible because you are likely to damage the flooring if you put it in to soon, even if it is taped off.
  • Doors, Trim, Fixtures
    The work seems to go so much faster at this point, all the finishing touches like window trims, floor trims, installing light fixtures etc polish the space.  You can paint what needs painted outside of the space, install it and then just touch it up after install, this can save a lot of taping and mess!
  • Touch-Ups
    Take a day and just admire your work, then take a roll of tape and look it over with a sharp eye, mark each flaw with a piece of tape so you know there is something to touch up there then take a day to do that touch up work, this is WAY easier if you do it before the house is filled with possessions!
  • Furniture
    Move in!!! Enjoy! 😉

For more tiny house logistics check out the PlanningTiny eCourses

Click HERE to browse other tiny house topics!

Tiny House Options Worksheet

Tiny Houses seem simple, right?  Until you really get into it, then it can be DAUNTING!  The good news is that even the most complicated tiny house is pretty darn basic in form and function, you don’t have to be a total expert plumber, electrician or framer, just take it one little piece at a time.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed break it down further and remember, the more research you can do up front the less re-dos you do later.  But at a point, jump!

I have put together a worksheet that goes through the basic decisions you’ll have to make along the way.  The idea being that you can keep track of the options you want and figure out the areas that you need to do a little more research in.  There are a LOT of right ways to build a tiny house.  If you want to download this file and print it out for your use click HERE.

All of these decisions are talked about in the PlanningTiny eCourses along with the pros and cons of each and special considerations!