Category Archives: Design

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.

SketchUp Tiny House Components

In the same vein as the last post, I have put together some basic tiny house SketchUp components you can download and use to 3D model your own tiny house design.  This file has all the appliances, to scale, that I have in my MiniMotives tiny house.  There are a fair amount of components available in the SketchUp Component Library for your use but I had a hard time finding tiny house specific sized appliances and what not so I thought I would put together a file for your use, if that is something that would save you time in planning your own custom tiny house.


Designing your own home should not HAVE to entail learning all there is to know about a piece of software on top of all the things you’re already learning in order to accomplish your tiny home.  If having these components would be useful for you please feel free to download them and use them at will HERE!

If you have any other helpful SketchUp tools, resources, tutorials, classes, plug-ins that you have found for helping you navigate your way through the design process we would love to have you share in the comments below!  

For other helpful tiny house resources put together for please visit our resource page.  If you find the information helpful please consider chipping in, even a dollar to help PlanningTiny continue to provide assistance and resources for those on their path to a tiny house, check back for more often!


Tiny House Cut-Outs

A great place to start when considering it a tiny house could be a good solution for you and your situation is to wrap your head around what it is you need/want and see if realistically it can all fit together in a way that seems workable.   One of the easiest and fastest ways to do this is, once you have your list of ‘must haves’ is to take some graph paper and make some paper cut-outs that are to a scale.  You can cut out all the components you want/need and quickly rearrange and reorganize them until you find an arrangement that makes sense for you.

I have taken a little time and put together some of the more common tiny house fixtures and necessities on some graph paper which you can use if it makes things easier for you. If you’d like to, feel free to download them HERE.  There are some blank sheets for you to draw your own custom objects as well.

After you have a good idea of a layout, it’s always a good idea to either build a physical model (legos can be fun! or foam core, bass wood or even cardboard) and/or a digital model ( is free and simple to learn).  The cutouts are great for helping you work things out in plan but you need to consider window locations, ceiling heights and roof styles in elevation too!



Some things to consider when designing:

  • Think of ways that space can be used more than once, i.e.
    • A pull out bed beneath a kitchen/bathroom/living space bed-rochester-retreat
    • A loft space above a kitchen/bathroom/living space                51bd1e2adbd0cb1e9300181a._w.540_s.fit_
  • An office/living/craft room in one                               06-tinyhouse-greatrm
  • Lesser used furniture that folds/hides away when not in use mirror-table-designrulz-cover-copy
  •  Raised or alternative beds                                                        ceiling-hammock-sleeping-loft-for-tiny-houses
  • Hidden storage space                                            beautiful-tiny-house-3
  • Storage up high (this can make a space feel smaller if not done well) fy_nyth_grande

For more design help see Design Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

How To Design A Tiny House – Part 3


What is important? (for you)

Tiny houses are not about sacrifice, it is hard sometimes to think of it that way when you are used to much more space.   To successfully live tiny for any amount of time though your house HAS to fit you.  There are no limitations to a tiny house too great… well unless you require a bowling alley in your home, that would be tough to do in a tiny.  When thinking about your design though it is best not to have to start with a blank slate, give yourself some parameters to work with.  Make a list of at least ten things that you require for your home, ten things you won’t live without.

For most people they struggle to think of ten, for others they can list 20 before they take a breath, at a minimum shoot for ten of the very most important things to you at this point in your life.  It is easy to try to plan your retirement but live in the present, what is important now and in the next 5 years or so?  Things can always change and adjust over time but your house has to function now.

Here is a sample list of things that may be on that list:

  • I must have an oven for baking
  • I must have stairs so that my cat can get into bed
  • I must have a wall to display my family photos
  • I must have a king sized bed
  • I must have a bath tub
  • I must have at least 3 burners on the stove
  • I must have a place for books
  • I must have lots of light/windows
  • I must have a spare bed for guests
  • I must have room for two adults to sit comfortably
  • I must have a place to quilt and store all of my quilting supplies
  • I must build with clean/healthy materials
  • I must have a double basin kitchen sink
  • I must have storage for all of my shoes and a place to hang my winter coat
  • I must have a sleeping space for each of my pets
  • I must incorporate my great grandmas vase that was handed down
  • etc.

Your list will be completely unique but spend some time thinking about the most valuable parts of your day and the things that make you smile and make your home, home.  Once you have your list of important items write it down, think of how you can incorporate those.  Some might not be apparent, some might take special/extra considerations.  If you need to store a kayak is there a way you can do that?  A separate out building, a over the wheels trailer with a locking skirted undercarriage?  Once you have your list of priorities you can start to problem solve and use those to help you make decisions along the way.  Do not compromise on those items, you can design them all in, I promise!  

What are the driving forces? (for you)

Everyone has different priorities and there are infinite ways and reasons to make decisions.  There is not ‘one point’ to a tiny house, there is your point.  Define your main considerations in order of importance and use those considerations when making each decision.   Here are some of the common considerations when thinking about tiny houses:

  • Budget – what are you working with, this can be high or low, for some people this is less of a concern and much more flexible.
  • Weight – the fact of the matter is if you are building on a trailer you have a limitation of weight, each trailer has a limit, are you easily going to fit in that specific limit or do you have to be a little more careful and deliberate about material choices and building styles because of your weight limit and house size?
  • Environment – Are you sensitive to chemicals?  Perhaps you are ok spending a little more in order to get materials that are processed in an environmentally friendly way?
  • Timeline – Maybe you have a five year plan, maybe a two year plan, maybe you need to be in your tiny house in three months, this factor could definitely impact your decisions along the way.
  • Aesthetics – Are you willing to pay more and wait longer to get the thing that is ‘just right’ for your vision of home?

Everyone has different priorities and different considerations, if you know your considerations in order of priority you can meet each decision with a set of standards to measure it against.  If budget over rules timeline maybe you choose to forgo hiring a plumber and opt to save some money by taking the time to learn to do the task yourself.  If environmental concerns outweigh budget maybe you spend a little extra on a ‘legit’ composting toilet to divert waste from the reclamation site.  If you want a ‘really cool looking’ wood stove maybe you place that importance above the budget.  Every decision will require it’s own analysis but defining priorities should clarify the process.

The big decisions you’ll need to answer eventually:

The big questions along the design process you’ll eventually need to answer (you can start to answer these by which fit in your budget, weight limitations, timeline, environmental concerns and views of ‘pretty’):

  • What type of trailer do I need?  New, used, bumper pull, goose-neck, above deck, drop axle, etc.
  • What roof line will give me the best functioning tiny house?
  • What is the best layout for my lifestyle?  How big is it?
  • Do I want a loft?  For storage? Sleeping? Guest/kid area?
  • What do I want in my kitchen?  What appliances are important? How much storage do I need for food?
  • What do I want in my bathroom?  Is a bath necessary, a sink? should it be far away from the kitchen?
  • What is required in the living area? A desk/work space, a full couch, a fire place?
  • Is there a separate bed area? ground floor?  Loft? Stairs/ladder?
  • How many windows do I want?  Where are they most important to be located?  Do I want a view from my couch? My bed?  My bathroom?
  • Where is the best location for the door?  Do I want two doors?  A sliding door?
  • How pretty is the outside of your house?  (this one is often an afterthought but can be very important in being able to find a location to park)
  • Where will I park (I leave this last because it is often the last thing worked out and not always apparent until the end)

Do you have any thoughts you’d like to add?  What are your driving forces?

You can also read Designing A Tiny House – Part 1,and Designing A  Tiny House – Part 2

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

How To Design A Tiny House – Part 2

Choose Size

The most common sizes tend to be 16′, 20′ and 24′.  There are of course variations but these sizes are also very convenient because most sheet goods (plywood, OSB, drywall, etc.) generally come in 4’x8′ increments.  Working in a 4′ increment decreases your labor and cutting, especially on those critical structural portions of the build.

Choose Style

Get a feel for the type of style of house you like best.  You can read more on that in Part 1.  My suggestion for this is the fun stuff, look at other tiny houses!  Pinterest, Google, Bing, get a book, whatever you like best, check things out, you will gravitate to a certain style.  Even if it is only that for you, form follows function, you’ll find things that would function well for you.

Choose Roof

It’s not all about style, a big component of a tiny house is the roof!  It defines a style but also can provide a lot of function.



Gable Roof

The classic gable roof provides a pitched roof, the actual pitch can vary in slope from a very slight angle to a steeper angle.  This can provide a high head area for a loft, vertical storage to sling a bike above head, and a feeling of spaciousness.  It can run either direction, when running the longer direction it can help with aerodynamics if planning on driving often.  The side that is not sloped is called the rake (ie ‘the rake end’)



Hip Roof

I hip is the same as a gable roof but all ends are pitched as well, there is no rake wall.  This gives it a more horizontal feel from the exterior and may take away from interior storage space, depending on the layout.

Seattle TH

Shed Roof

A shed roof makes for easy construction and a simple structure.  It too can run either direction, if sloping up from the hitch end it can reduce drag making it easier and more economical to pull.  This can generally be at any slope, large or small (check with your roofing material specs, many require at least a 2:12 (2″ rise for every 12″ run) slope or more for warranty).  This is also a simple way to take advantage of rain harvesting as it can be collected in one location easier than being split on opposite sides of the home.




This can also go either direction and offers a unique roof line which can enhance your space and also offer opportunities for upper windows to let light in the space and views from a loft (and ventilation!).  This is a great way to be able to incorporate some overhangs and passive design strategies if that is what you’re after.




A flat roof is a great way to maximize space.  You do need to have a little bit of a slope to a planned location so that rainwater doesn’t sit on top (at least 1/4″ for every 1′).  This can be a great way to collect rainwater as well.  It will take some structural calculations to account for any snow loads so your roof doesn’t crash down on you.  This is a much complained about style of roof, if not done correctly it has a tendency to leak and fail over time, if you go this route make certain you follow all rules and do a great job!



The classic barn style roof, this is a great option that offers all the benefits of the gable roof but bumps the sides out to offer more headroom and without the drawbacks you can find with a fully flat roof.  This has a unique ‘look’ to it as well!



Dormers are not a roof style persay but an additional component to any roof style.  They can take on the appearance of any of the styles above but are a miniature ‘bump-out’ in the roof structure that allow you to give more space to a targeted area.  These are often seen in the loft areas but there is no limit to where they can be located and how they can look.  They area a bit more complex when it comes to framing but are certainly simple enough to do!




The vardo style roof is more organic and often takes on a curved form based on its origin of draping cloth over curved wooden frames.  These can be more complicated to build and insulate but create unique and beautiful forms.




There are no limits to the combinations of roofs you can make, this may not seem like a big deal but your roof style gives a LOT of character and style to your tiny house, that style is the only part that most people see.  Interior is important but so is the exterior!  At this point the more beautiful your home is the more flexible you can be with parking options.  Since parking is such a collaborative component of tiny living at this point you can become dependant on your aesthetics to find parking.




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

You can also read Designing A Tiny House-Part 1,and Designing A Tiny House – Part 3