Do you want to learn how to build your own tiny house? No matter your experience level, you can do it! Just know that it will likely be one of the most challenging and rewarding projects of your life.
Starting your own DIY tiny house build might be one of the toughest steps. In fact, it can be paralyzing. Once you have a better understanding of what’s involved, you’ll be empowered to move forward.
Preparing for building your own tiny house is perhaps the most involved step of the entire process. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind before it comes time to hammer your first nail.
Do you have a building site? Have you budgeted for absolutely everything? Also, have you taken any DIY building courses?
Importantly, you need to begin with a bit of soul searching before diving into construction in earnest. What do you need and most desire in your future tiny home?
Also, if you’re actually a maximalist with a lot of belongings, you need to ensure you’ll be able to live comfortably in a small amount of space. Downsizing is a necessity but varies significantly from person to person.
Once you’re sure it’s a journey you’re ready to embark upon, you’ll need to decide on a tiny house floor plan, as well. Then you’ll know what kind of materials you’ll need to begin construction in earnest.
Ready to learn how to build a tiny home? Let’s dig into top considerations, more planning advice, and critical phases of the process.
1) How much do you want to spend when building your own tiny house?
The cost to build your own tiny house varies considerably based on size, materials used, and level of customization. Of course, labor is also a significant factor. If you can do-it-yourself, you can save up to 30-50% of the overall cost.
A typical DIY tiny house build costs approximately $15,000-$50,000. In contrast, a professionally built THOW typically costs $45,000-$125,000.
Keep in mind, while the savings can be huge, building your own tiny house will require months, or even years, of your life to complete.
On the other hand, for many, building your own tiny home is incredibly fulfilling, both in the life learning experience and priceless satisfaction of living in a space built with your bare hands.
2) Research Building Standards and Certifications Before you Build Your Own Tiny House
Building standards dictate how a structure is built with safety being the top concern. A tiny house can be constructed to meet RV standards, residential code, or both.
You might be thinking; if I build my own tiny house, I don’t have to worry about building permits because it’s on wheels. While true, if you already know where you want to park your tiny house, you’ll need to find out about local building code requirements before you begin construction.
For example, Lake Dallas Tiny Home Village in Texas requires tiny houses on wheels to be built to the International Residential Code Appendix Q standards. To be placed in that tiny house community, the house must pass an inspection.
3) Find a place to build your own tiny home
Access to a build location, as well as tools, are necessities for any tiny house build. If you’re lucky, maybe a family member has an available driveway.
Or you may have to look for land for your DIY tiny home.
Make sure you discuss rules, like not hammering after 9 pm, to be respectful to the neighbors. You’ll also want to review any HOA regulations.
Kill two birds with one stone by building at a Makerspace. These often offer both building sites and access to a wide array of tools.
Even better? They also offer a sense of community, with free-flowing advice and moral support from other DIYers. Additionally, network with local tiny house Meetups for potential build sites and helping hands.
4) Plan your tiny house build
No one should ever take on the task of building their own tiny home without a plan. Always remember that proper planning leads to better outcomes. While a lack of it will lead to unanticipated costs and wasted time.
Here are a few things to consider if you want to build your own tiny home:
Decide on the size and overall layout
This affects all aspects of your DIY tiny house build, including the cost and materials needed.
Research & study. Consider signing up for eCourses and DIY tiny house building workshops
Consider the TinyHouseBuild.com Digital Workshop. It includes an in-depth look at how to build your own tiny home, geared for beginners, with 54 bite-sized and engaging episodes (which you can watch as many times as you want and at your leisure).
Create a realistic budget, including 10% extra for contingencies.
Invest in a set of trusted tiny house plans. This will provide a materials list to help you budget accordingly. You can always customize these to better suit your needs or accommodate fresh storage ideas—we did!
Consider purchasing a tiny house shell for your DIY tiny house build
Another great option to consider is purchasing a tiny house shell, like these ones from Tumbleweed. The exterior is completed, and the interior is mostly unfinished. Further, RV-certified shells are available with financing options, as well as completed plumbing and electrical.
A shell provides the best of both worlds, professional-quality where it counts and gratifying hands-on building to complete your tiny home.
Importantly, the price point is higher than a full DIY build but significantly lower than a professionally built house.
Tiny house kits are another great option for a semi DIY build. Check out these 5 Tiny house kits under $5,000!
5) Source materials for your DIY tiny house build
Once you know what you’re aiming for, it becomes much easier to implement your tiny house construction in earnest. Building your own tiny house goes from being an abstract problem to a tangible project.
It can be a lot of fun and very rewarding to build your own tiny house, once you get into the swing of it.
For specifics, refer to the material list from your tiny house plans. Generally speaking, you’ll need the following:
- Trailer for your tiny house
- Fasteners and hardware
- Lumber or steel framing
- Sheathing and house wrap
- Siding and trim
- Interior wall finishes (paneling, drywall, etc.)
- Windows and flashing
Once you know all of the building materials you’ll need, you can start to shop around for the best deals.
You don’t have to get everything brand new, straight from Lowes or Home Depot.
There’s all manner of ways to save on building materials, ranging from used building supply businesses to deconstructing vacant houses yourself or scoring free materials from Craigslist.
In our build, we used many salvaged and reclaimed materials—from an old farmhouse to discounted materials at the local Habitat ReStore.
Just remember, salvaged and reclaimed materials are much more labor-intensive but can result in significant savings.
6) Begin Construction on your DIY Tiny House
This is the point where you need to decide if you’ll be doing all the construction yourself or if you’ll be hiring an outside professional for specific aspects, like framing.
For instance, we hired help for hanging rafters in our DIY tiny house build, as well as electrical (we wanted this done as safely as possible).
Either way, you’ll want to begin with prepping your custom tiny house trailer.
Believe it or not, it took us three full days to insulate our trailer, then lay the subfloor. But it’s absolutely worth taking your time to make sure this is done right.
Importantly, this makes it more possible to secure your tiny house from the elements so you can work on the infrastructure in comfort, in case of bad weather. Of course, there are about three dozen small steps in between.
Here’s an overview of the primary tiny house building steps.
Thinking of a different kind of tiny house? You’ll need floor plans! Check out floor plans for a shipping container tiny house.
7) Know when to ask for help building your own tiny house
Doing a tiny house build yourself doesn’t mean doing it alone entirely. Besides asking friends or family for help, you might need to hire contractors to help out for some of the more complicated aspects of your tiny house build. Just remember, pro help will drive up your overall cost.
Electrical installation is the most common reason you’ll need a contractor if you want to build your own tiny house. You definitely want this done to code for your safety.
However, if you feel uneasy about major structural work, consider hiring a carpenter to complete difficult tasks, like framing, or even just for a consultation on your DIY tiny home.
Don’t forget the bathroom! Check out toilet options for an off-grid to a normal loo.
8) Expect that building your own tiny home will take a long time
A DIY tiny house build will always take longer than you think it will. Speaking from my personal experience, my boyfriend and I thought it would take three to four months to complete ours.
Ultimately, it took us nine months to build our own tiny house.
Also, almost every tiny house build will be delayed at some point. What if a supplier suddenly takes three weeks longer to deliver your custom lumber order? Or if lousy weather stops construction?
Make sure you have a contingency plan for delays when building your own tiny house. This includes a financial buffer of at least 10% of the overall build budget. You should also plan where you’ll live if the build date overruns, and your current apartment lease ends, etc.
If you’ve never built anything before, building your own tiny house will require much starting and stopping to look at YouTube how-to videos. We did this countless times in our build.
To be honest, you’ll have to redo many aspects after you mess up a cut or find your frame is out of square.
It is pretty understandable that build mistakes will happen, especially since most tiny house DIYers have no prior experience. That’s just a fact; not to worry! Most issues can be fixed, but again preparation is critical to avoid as many as possible from the start.
I highly recommend you take a DIY building workshop to help you have a more solid grasp of tiny house construction before you get started.
Again, during your build, don’t be afraid to ask for help—ideally from someone with more experience.
This FREE 7-day online course teaches you about codes, design, foundations, etc. Sign up now.
FREE COURSE: Learn to build your OWN tiny house!
This FREE 7-day online course teaches you about codes, design, foundations, etc. Sign up now.
For us, we were fortunate to have the mentorship of a carpenter friend. He would occasionally review our work, and when we got stuck on a particular step, he offered guidance on how to move forward.
Building your own tiny house isn’t as daunting as it might seem. It’s a series of small steps that all add up to a fully-functional home.
If you think through the DIY tiny house process carefully ahead of time and prepare accordingly, it can even be rather fun! And there is nothing quite so rewarding as building your own home, however big or small it might be.
Key takeaways from how to build your own tiny house
Learning how to build a tiny home for the first time can be daunting. There are tons of factors that you have to consider. Aside from giving up most of your material possessions, you are also taking a lifestyle risk.
Simply by leaving behind a conventional chapter in your life, you venture onto a road less traveled in the hopes of a big reward—a renewed sense of self and a just-right home.
With the right prep, you can build your own tiny house!
Other posts to check out!
Alexis and her partner, Christian are nomadic tiny house dwellers. Together they’ve been traveling for four years for their documentary and community education project, Tiny House Expedition—over 54,000 miles, across 38 states and 30+ tiny house communities. Their documentary work includes the educational series, Living Tiny Legally. Alexis serves on the board of the Tiny Home Industry Association and the American Tiny House Association.