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Building a Tiny House Yourself: Do You Have DIY Blood?

By Laura LaVoie

Before building a tiny house, the most home improvement work I had ever done was painting. But that was the draw of doing something that I had never done before. There were two of us, which made the process easier, but that doesn’t stop most tiny house builders from moving forward.

Our motivation was to build something by ourselves with our own hands. Since it took us so long to build our tiny house, each week would be a new and interesting project. We would spent time throughout the week learning how to build whatever was next. Was it post and pier foundations? Was it framing? Was it roofing? Was it insulation? Flooring? Siding? Windows? The list goes on and on.
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I believe that the Do It Yourself spirit lives within most tiny house builders. 

DIY Tiny House Construction Project

Photo Credit Collin and Joanna

I encourage you to read the rest of this article below:

Macy Miller, who writes to blog Mini Motives, is a prime example of the DIY spirit. She not only designed her tiny house but has done the majority of the building on her own, even if that didn’t always work out the way she intended.

Laura from the Tiny House Ontario blog, with whom I share a strikingly large amount of things in common including family ties in the same small Canadian town, has been building her small space making changes and improvements along the way. When you read her blog you can tell she loves to tinker.

Andrew Odom began his process as a way to have financial independence for himself and his family. Not only has he designed and built his own tiny house, but he has begun a virtual tiny house empire at the Tiny r(E)volution website. I had the pleasure of joining Andrew for one of his podcasts recently and very much enjoyed speaking with him about what tiny living really means to both of us.

The DIY nature of tiny homes goes beyond the building for me. In our tiny life there are a lot of aspects that seem more do it yourself than a traditional living situation. We gather our water. We create our own entertainment. We are constantly fiddling and making changes along the way. We can’t stop for very long without wanting to work on the next project. DIY is in our blood and our bones.

Certainly, there are tiny house dwellers that have purchased their homes but the vast majority of stories you read are about individuals, couples, or families who do all the work themselves. For hundreds of years humans have built and lived in their own small structures and it feels as though we are simply reclaiming that tradition, with a bit of a modern twist. What is the draw of DIY that makes people want to build small? Is it because we have the freedom to build small that we have the confidence to do it in the first place? Why are you interested in the tiny house movement?

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • September 25, 2012, 5:05 pm

    Hi Project Twin!
    I am interested in living in and working on my tiny house (tinyhouseontario.wordpress.com) because it allows me the freedom to work at my own pace, to avoid debt, to always have a project, to have a place where I can live (for next to nothing) if things get bad as they often do.
    It feels like money in the bank to have a Tiny House.
    A Tiny House also feels like a HUGE back up plan as well as a manageable goal in the short term.
    My Tiny House is just this little corner of the world that is mine and outside of weather or natural disaster, I can manage it all on my own and with very little.
    The only thing I need from others is the occasional shower at a friend’s home… a jug of water, a bag of rice and a few friends to stop by and chat me up!
    Life is just plain good.
    xo Laura

    • September 27, 2012, 4:27 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing Laura!! 🙂

  • kiki
    September 27, 2012, 3:16 pm

    How does one with no construction experience gain the knowledge to take on a project like this? I am extremely interested in building my own tiny house, but lack the confidence in my abilities to take on a project that I may not be able to complete. Do you have any advice?

    • September 27, 2012, 4:25 pm

      Hi Kiki,

      There have been people, including women, who have done it with no prior construction experience. The biggest factor is “how bad do you want to do it?”

      Along with how much time do you have for the project. Even though it’s a tiny house, it’s a big project with several challenges to face in order to finish.

    • Michael
      September 28, 2012, 11:11 pm

      For someone who doesn’t have any construction experience… I would highly recommend a tiny house workshop. For example, Jay Shaffer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company holds tiny house build workshops across the country. I also recommend purchasing a tiny house construction book. There are several of them out there and are very helpful with step-by-step build process from preping the trailer to framing, insulation, roofing, and some advice is given on plumbing and electric. Sinse I’ve already have several years construction experience in the past helping my dad build houses (McMansions)and other various remodeling jobs, I have purchased Jay Shaffer’s book on tiny houses and some other down loadable tiny house building books which have been very helpful to me since these tiny houses are not on foundations; they are on trailers. There are things about this I had needed to learn about building tiny houses on trailers before I had started building my tiny house… by the way, I’ve just completed the loft framing and flooring. Now, I have a profesional plumber coming in to teach me plumbing by instructing me as I do the work. I have some “basic” knowlege about plumbing, but not enough experience in this area to take it on on my own. My wife found this plumber for me as she was traveling on an airliner one day. He’s a retired Vietnam Vet who wants to help me as a charitable help to another Vet (myself). My wife told him about my tiny house project and that I was transitioning out of the Active Duty Army to the Tiny House business. He became interested in this concept of tiny houses on wheels and wanted to see my project in person. He came to my work sight and was amazed in what I’ve done thus far. He happened to be not just a professional plumber; but a carpenter and electrician as well. I asked him to “grade” my framing. He said my work looked very professional looking and noticed I’ve not cut any corners and I have applied all the “rules” to propper house framing. I explained to him the additional things done because of wind loads and bumping up and down motions that will be done due to road travel. Again, he was amazed. Next week, he said he will meet back up with me and go over rough plumbing with me and agreed to let me do the work as he instructs me and supervises me as I do the work. This is how I will learn what I need to know about proper plumbing. Hope this helps. The greatest resourses you have in learning to build tiny houses on wheels is from those who are doing it… properly!

      • Holly
        July 16, 2013, 8:20 pm

        Hi, Is it better to go to a vocational college for a year to learn carpentry so that I can build a house? . Workshops will be too expensive for me. I never build before but I can easily learn new things.

        • jerryd
          July 16, 2013, 8:48 pm

          Holly, other ways are finding someone doing it and help them learning as you go. Or as I do when I want to learn something, get hired as a helper if you can and make money while learning.

          Help at Habitat For Humanity or other volunteer home building, repair that along with some good construction books can help.

          But tiny homes can be built other than stick build as most homes are. They can be made like boats and many other ways.

          Some of the best are made with found materials put together the best you can.

          Or start small like a Tear Drop trailer. Remember the difference between a pro and someone learning is most the time to get it done. So read up, chose a design or better, make your own as TH’s need to be specific to the owner, and just start building. It’ll just grow from there and you’ll find other will help when you need it in most places.

          And we are here to help if you need it.

        • Holly
          July 16, 2013, 11:03 pm

          Awesome. Thanks!. I had no idea that people can volunteer to build house. I’m glad that habitat for humanity is in my area. I hope that they don’t mind that i’m very underweight :P. I also want to overcome many of my phobias too by working there :).

        • jerryd
          July 17, 2013, 7:23 am

          Holly, When you go especially at HforH and there are various volunteer women building, repair groups too in many areas, just go to the jobsite leader and let them know you want to learn how so you can build your own.

          There is little better for gaining weight, strength and generally feeling better both body and soul than working, learning with other kind people things like learning to and especially building your own home.

          Remember we are here for you too.

  • jerryd
    September 29, 2012, 1:28 pm

    Just how much space can one person use at a time? You really only need a seat/bed per person plus a 2.5’x3′ shower/toilet and a 2×4′ kitchen. Any more than that is modtly wasted most of the time.

    An amature building, if they take time to learn only differs by how much time it takes to build it.

    A good method to learn is help someone else do theirs. Just make sure you help, not hold up progress.

    On new boatbuilders I say build a dinghy first and the same can apply to tiny homes.

  • Cody
    February 22, 2015, 12:19 am

    Where it the best place to get a book on how to build a tiny house.

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