Tag Archives: Tiny House

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.

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 (SketchUp.com 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 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


What To Look For In A Used Trailer

There are two schools of thought on tiny house trailers.  The first is that it is the most important part of your build, buy new, don’t take any risks, get exactly what you need for the tiny house you want.  The second is that it’s the most important part of your build, it might be the most expensive piece as well if bought new but MAYBE you can save a significant amount of money on your build by finding a QUALITY used trailer.

Here are some things you should look for in a used trailer:

        • Title and VIN!

This is not a given!  You can find a lot of ‘free’ trailers which have been abandoned and someone just wants it moved.  These are HARD to get titled and its a headache you probably don’t want.  There is always the possibility that it’s stolen or that you may actually be ‘stealing’ it yourself in the eyes of the law.  Any trailer you consider should have a VIN number and a title so that its legal and good to go.

  • Gauge of steel on frame

This is sort of intuitive since you probably won’t be able to tell exactly what gage the steel is but it should be sturdy, not flimsy.  A lot of RV’s are made to carry much less weight than a tiny house and may (probably) aren’t heavy duty enough to build on.  IF you are going to reclaim an RV the ones built before 1982 tend to have thicker steel since it was prior to ultra light RV designs.  Still, be aware.

  • Axle weight limits

There is a stamp often on the axle itself with its weight limit.  Sometimes this stamp gets obscured by dirt and grime, check with a professional to verify if there is any question.  Many trailer shops can tell by taking a picture in.  

  • Rust

It is ok if the trailer has a little rust but you will need to grind it down and seal it so that it stops.  It shouldn’t be coated in rust and have been deteriorating for years.  Rust is a natural process in steel but it literally breaks it down, if it’s been rusting for years it’s probably one to pass on.  If you do get a trailer  that has rust take a grinder to it until all of the rust is gone and coat it with a rust proofer/primer designed for metal.  Pay particularly close attention to welds, they should have been protected from rust, if they weren’t then pass on it.

  • Welds

Check the welds, they should be uniform and continuous.  As mentioned previously they should be protected from rust.  Check for hairline fractures or any breaks.  If the metal is good rust is repairable but if welds are not continuous you can either weld it yourself or find a welder to give you a quote on their time to reinforce it.  This price may vary quite a bit based on your region and time of year.  It’s good to get that quote prior to purchase if possible.

  • Decking

If you’re going to build on the deck you will want it to be a decent quality.  If you are building into the frame you will want a solid perimeter of sturdy steel to fasten your walls to (or be able to add these).

  • Outriggers

Outriggers, if you have them will likely be supporting your entire tiny house, you want them close enough together to do so and of sturdy enough steel.  If your outriggers are spaced too far apart you will want to weld additional ones on.  I would also suggests adding steel along the perimeter to attach wall sill plates to.

  • Brakes

You’ll want an auto braking axle.  This is so that if the trailer ever comes detached from the pull vehicle that it will automatically brake itself instead of continuing down the road until it smashes into something.  

  • Lights

Your local codes will govern what lights you need to have on your trailer, it is a good idea to make sure any used trailers have working lights.  In the event that they don’t there are temporary lights you can purchase for short moves.  If you need these be sure to factor those temporary lights into the cost of the trailer.

  • Tow Type

There are bumper pulls and gooseneck/5th wheel hitches.  The hitch is different on each and may require a specialized tow vehicle.  A bumper pull is the easiest to move because it is the most common hitch.  The weight in your tiny house must be distributed so that only 10-12% of the total weight bears down on the hitch (so it is fairly balanced over it’s own axles (this plays into your design a lot!).  A gooseneck and a 5th wheel hitch are different in their connection to the tow vehicle (goosenecks use a ball and 5th wheels use a pin, like a semi trailer), both types connect over the rear axle of the tow vehicle.  Since they are centered over the axle these types of trailers allow up to 33% of the weight to bear on the tow vehicle.  This is important to help inform your design and evenly distribute the weight in your tiny home.

  • Wheels and tires

The wheels and tires on a used trailer are likely going to need to be updated/replaced, consider this cost and account for it when deciding if buying used is really a money saver.

Time is money as well.  In the example of the MiniMotives tiny house, a used trailer was purchased for $500.  There was approximately $900 dollars spent to reinforce steel, replace tires, prep the trailer along with about 2 months of time.  That brings the total cost to about $1,400 and a good chunk of a timeline for a trailer that would be anywhere from $5,500-$6,500 new.  In that situation it seems worth it.  A lot of situations it isn’t though, be selective!

The best places to look for quality used trailers:

        • Craigslist
        • Local Auctions
        • Local Trailer Shops

Did you/will you start with a used trailer?  Was it worth it?