Self-Financing Your Tiny House

In an age where new financing options abound, I still advocate of completing the build of your cabin, cottage, and tiny house "as time and budget allow." Here are some tips for building a quality home without going broke!

Design - This extended approach to finishing your home building leans heavily on having a concise vision and master plan. You could otherwise fall victim to allowing your house to sprawl or look to vary. Individuality is the spice of life, and eclectic homes are routinely swooned over in the tiny house world. Many in the Tiny House Movement eschew McMansion uniformity, and a unique house is... well... downright American! That said, a lack of unified look can leave your house looking like a back woods shanty. We're not judging... we're just sayin'! 

Building - The assembly of your home can happen in stages using the following model: 1) design, 2) shell, 3) wrap, 4) roofing, 5) windows, 6) doors, 7) siding, and 8) trim. This "outside in" approach protects your investment by addressing the most critical need first: moisture protection. Adherence to best practices in building science coupled with a healthy dose of finish gives you some can-do accomplishment that maintains your momentum. It's amazing how a little curb appeal gives you a good sense of "pride before the stall," the inevitable need to take a break from building if you go the DIY route. 

Personal Safety - Read Carefully! If you're building with SIPs, bear in mind that you'll have a fantastically air tight envelope, and low VOC materials and finishes should be used in concert with a properly installed HRV or ERV to manage your indoor air quality. Gasses can build up and open flames can suck up all the oxygen. People die from suffocation while sleeping in cargo trailers. Observe the need for egress, mind the use of gas/LP burning lamps and stoves, and consider keeping a window cracked until you have this properly handled. Now back to the fun stuff!

Basics - Having a domicile addresses three basic human needs: Eat, Sleep, and Go Potty! 99% of human existence was accomplished without electricity and running water, and clever solutions abound for provision of light, heat, water, washing, and toiletry in your cabin, cottage, or tiny house. If you have the luxury of building before moving in, by all means build your cute little crib while sleeping in a comfy bed. Otherwise, consider "camping out" in your tiny house or remote cabin, just be sure to: Be safe, Eat healthy, and Keep clean! Oh, and if you're composting your waste, tail an RV to a legit dump site 'cause otherwise... um... ew!

Conveniences - Movin' on up from camping out, means adding in core functions added to homes in the 20th century: Electricity, Water/Waste, HVAC, and Safety. Following residential building methodologies, these are best addressed during a "rough-in" phase. The little backwoods "outlaw shacks" can be cute and reminiscent of simpler times, but health and safety dictates these are best addressed long before anyone attempts to live under roof. If you're building by code or wanna do it right, handle this before the Basics. Nuff said!

Living Spaces - Small structures provide a flexibility that's not found in larger homes. This is due mainly to the lack of need for load bearing walls, interior posts, and other structural members found in larger homes. As such, spaces should be considered "multi-use" in that you combine table/office, couch/bed, closet/mechanical, loft/storage, and etc. Interior attributes of open spaces can be designed up front, defined over time, and/or refined in the future. While designing it all up front with a master plan is ideal, building over time provides a moment of pause to consider what works best for you.

Flooring - Lots of easy options here. You can start simply by painting your subfloor with a hearty though low VOC paint. Use rugged throw rugs as floor coverings to knock down noise and trap dirt (outdoor area rugs are great and can be used outside when you finish your flooring). Interlocking tiles of the type used as garage floors and weight rooms are quick and easy to install. Snap-lock floor strips are a good next step as they're reasonably inexpensive, long lasting, and easy to install as floating floors. Pre-finished tongue-and-groove flooring is another option, just keep weight in mind for THOWs and potential for early wear-n-tear.  

Furniture - Okay, built-ins are the bomb, but they can be highly inflexible. Unless you're a master woodworker or have the means to commission a turnkey build, you can significantly delay your move-in date, increase out-of-pocket costs, or stall your project. Consider using placeholder items for furniture. Cardboard boxes can be cut and taped to simulate walls, shelving, and cabinets. Back to basics, consider the camp out approach again, using simple items like folding chairs, sawhorse tables, camping cots, an inflatable mattress, and bin storage as a stop-gap to expensive items. You'll love the sense of progress realized by tackling the finishing touches as weekend projects. 

Sheathing - Wanna go full-on good ol' boy? Forget about it! Leave it nekkid! Okay, raw wood isn't for most folks, so let's think about a progressive approach. The cheapest way to go is paint right onto the SIPs. Covering OSB is easiest using a spray gun or heavy nap roller and thick primer. Finishing with paint and sponging effect could be cute for a while. A wainscot of faux beaded board covering the lower portion can be applied, adding finish quality base board with a utility grade cap over the top edge. Later, pull off the cap (brad nail without glue) and add an upper section of finish grade plywood like a hardwood lauan. Add chair rail over the seams, or build up with lattice strips and other elements for a mission style. Tiny house folks are clever and unconventional, so consider your options. 

Summary - If you "rubberneck" at old houses while driving, you'll see lots of examples of beautiful homes that were built over time. You'll also see some examples of terribly sprawling houses that lack in a well established vision and visually comforting sense of conformity. Take a lesson from our ancestors and consider building your unique home over time. Use best practices when building, and take your time. Find the balance between progress and perfection, erring to the side of quality over quantity in the equation. 

It's your house, and your choice. As they say before the rollercoaster rides, just "have fun, and enjoy yo' ride!"

Live Large -- Go Tiny! - Thom [>:-)