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How to Choose the Right Siding for Your Tiny House

In this post I’m going to show you how to pick the right siding for your tiny house because when most people think about tiny houses they focus almost entirely on the interior finish of the house.

It’s easy to think of all the ways you would decorate your tiny house. I had many plans for the inside of our home before we even put up the first wall. In spite of that, I believe that the exterior of your tiny home is as important as what you put indoors. Now I’m really glad we put so much thought into how our siding would look. I’ll explain why below..

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Click below to read more about our house and other siding solutions.

Choosing the Right Siding for your Tiny House

Exterior siding is about both aesthetics and function. Do you want something modern, traditional, or rustic? Will it be on a foundation or will it travel on a trailer? There are many possible options to consider.

  • Cedar shingles. This classic material will give your house an adorable cottage look. Naturally resistant to rot and insect damage, cedar is a hardy material that stands the test of time.
  • Metal. A more industrial feel can be achieved with corrugated metal. Done properly this can be maintenance free as long as you like the look of weathered metal.
  • Clapboard. This style is an iconic look for many tiny homes. It is a good balance between labor and cost.
  • Board and batten. This traditional country style is made using vertical boards where the joints are covered by smaller battens. Some builders replicate this technique by siding the home with stained plywood and covering the seams with 1x2s.
  • Reclaimed materials. Another possibility is to look at reclaimed wood or other materials to side your house. Barn wood is a common alternative. Also, imagine a tiny house covered in old license plates!
Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Matt and I chose to replicate board and batten out of plywood for our tiny home. We selected this because we wanted our house to fit in with other buildings in our part of the Appalachian Mountains and several homes visible from the road all around us are finished in this style.

It was also important to us that the house blend with elements already on our land, like our barn. We chose a dark brown stain, which mimicked the weathered barn wood, and a similar gray metal roof. We also selected the colors; brown, gray, and green, to reflect the colors of the mountains around us.

The exterior of your tiny home is the first thing people will see. Many of the houses we look at online are solely outdoor shots. What do you want your tiny house to look like? What image should it reflect?  

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Charlie May 13, 2013, 5:56 pm

    Looks nice but traditional board and batten is usually no wider than 1×12 planks. This could be easily remedied by adding additional battens between the ones already there and then it would be less obvious that you used plywood. But that’s just me. I have long considered doing this if I ever build that cabin on my mountain property, so your bird in the hand is worth two in my bush.

    • Avatar Laura M. LaVoie May 13, 2013, 6:17 pm

      You’re absolutely right. After we covered the seams on the plywood we went back and forth about additional battens. We decided to leave it like this for a while. We can always go back and add more but it would be difficult to remove them if we didn’t like them.

      • Avatar jerryd October 17, 2013, 9:37 pm

        Hi Laura, Was going to do the same batten every foot but it looked so good with every 2′ I left it there too in my 12’x12′ studio.

      • Avatar Heather Duncan July 16, 2015, 8:09 am

        What kind of plywood did you use? I love the look of your exterior! It reminds me of my dad’s old cabin.

    • Avatar Laura LaVoie May 14, 2013, 7:42 am

      You’re absolutely right. After we covered the seams we decided to live with it like this for the time being. We knew we could always add more battens but it would be hard to take them down if we didn’t like them.

  • Avatar Erik Markus May 13, 2013, 7:44 pm

    Great article, Laura.
    I chose a combination of cedar lap siding, with all cedar trim, and some vynil triple-3 siding.
    The cedar is used for all the trim and for accent areas. The vynil is used to cover the bulk areas. I couldn’t afford to go with all cedar.
    I sealed the cedar with a clear, oil based material.

    The other thing to consider is make sure that the material you chose is in scale to the house, which is a rule one should follow regardless of the type of house , or size, your building.

    I used triple 3 vynil, as apposed to double -4 (or 5), although it is a special order item most times. It looks so much better and is in keeping with the scale.
    The cedar also should not be exposed more than 3″ to 3 1/2″ to keep the scale. This means looking for cedar siding that is 5″ wide as apposed to more commonly available 8″ or 10″. So many times on these tiny projects I’ve seen people use 8″ cedar with a 6″ to 7″ exposure and it just looks so awkward and it makes the home look small.

    As for the vertical siding, that’s an awesome look as well. Using vertical plywood, as you have, is great because there are few seams. This is good for shedding water and resisting air into the wall. There are so many things one can do with that surface. You mentioned some creative ideas. Painting is also an easy option. More battons too. One can also do murals and other free-style artwork that will really give a home a unique look. Also, if a person is on a tight budget, plywood that is painted FOR NOW, can always be covered later with a different type of siding.

    Metal siding can be installed horizontal or vertical. It can be galvanized or painted. It can be the entire wall, or perhaps just a portion. 3′ wide metal building panels with a ridge every 12″ can be installed diagonally and then takes on the profile of lap siding.
    Covering an entire home in metal siding and roofing would be easy perhaps, but would appear rather sterile and generic. Be sure and add some “soft” natural materials to contrast that metal siding if only at the corners and as trim.

    Is our wonderful author related to the Awesomely talented Chris LaVoie from the ever popular Stephanie Miller Show?

    If one is going for a portable home, remember weight and durability should be a factor in your consideration. Bricks, mortar, tiles, veneer bricks, plaster, or stucco really wouldn’t be practical in this instance.

    • Avatar Teri May 13, 2013, 10:52 pm

      Eric, can you provide a link so we can see what your siding looks like?

      • Avatar Teri May 13, 2013, 10:53 pm

        Whoops, Erik… sorry!

  • Avatar alice h May 13, 2013, 9:40 pm

    I’m doing plywood board and batten too, with extra battens. It will be sheathing and siding both, then as I get more money later on it will become the underlayer for a rainscreen system using horizontal siding with the battens acting as furring strips. Or that’s the plan so far. I’m using medium browns, natural cedar trim and a dark green metal roof, kind of blending in with the trees, probably adding some brightly painted dipsy doodles on the door and here and there. My wash house has T-111 plywood siding with a sort of “old barn red” solid stain, trimmed with transparent cedar tone stained pine and has held up well for the last 6 years in a relatively shady area in a very soggy Pacific Northwest coastal climate. I just need to wash off a bit of green slime here and there every spring, comes off easily with plain soap and water (usually just leftover hair or clothes washing water) and a deck scrubbing brush (don’t scrub too roughly, just enough to get the stuff off!) All the outer edges of the T-111 were well painted before installation and caulked before battens were installed.

    • Avatar Cynthia May 16, 2013, 5:10 am

      Alice, I would add a little bleach to the water. Maybe even spray the water/bleach on the siding and let it sit a few min. The deck brush will bring it all off a little quicker, and the mold may not grow back as rapidly. Just a thought…..

      • Avatar alice h May 16, 2013, 10:41 am

        No need for bleach, it comes off quickly with soapy water and brush. It isn’t mold, it’s algae and usually only a few blobs here and there. Even plain water will do the job, mostly you’re just physically moving the algae and rinsing it off. It will always come back every rainy season, just one of those spring chores. My fibreglass trailer needs a good wash every spring as well, and the deck, and any other thing that sits still too long in the shade. If you don’t wash it off then masses of spores start sticking to it and moss takes hold. After a few years in the bush around here things get very green and fuzzy, make for some interesting unintentional artwork.

      • Avatar Erik Markus May 17, 2013, 1:01 am

        Bleach would not be advised in a situation like this because it is toxic and can kill near by plants and possibly damage surfaces it may drip onto.
        If bleach is washed off a surface, it won’t continue to sterilize after the surface is dry.

  • Avatar mary May 19, 2013, 6:06 pm

    Since I bought a portable park model cabin, it came sided with plywood and batton. I wish it had log-look siding. I also came into a house-worth of reclaimed cedar lap siding for free, so I have some decisions to make.

    Landscaping will come first for me, though. The right landscaping can expand the look of the house, too, and once I decide on some of the landscaping I’ll know more what I want in siding. Your comments about the scale of the siding have added something new for me to consider. I never thought of scale, but realized immediately when reading how right you are. Thanks!

  • Avatar George M. Hill November 22, 2013, 1:33 pm

    It appears…that a good trailer, and what is put inside (stoves, compost commodes, etc., etc.) is what determines the cost scale of the tiny house, more so than exteriors. Exteriors can be whipped up rather economically.

  • Avatar 63dayswithSarah August 23, 2016, 9:38 pm

    Thank you for this article. Although it did help, it did not eliminate all options available (to me, I live in New Hampshire.) I have seen people use so many different things for siding (the hope is to increase the home’s energy efficiency (or, keep us warm/keep us cool.) There seems to be a lot more use of some sort of waterproof, manufactured type wood that has the color already mixed into the “wood” that is suppose to be great for climates like mine… anyone know what this is called? Smart siding?

  • Avatar Richard Wheatley August 13, 2017, 1:13 pm

    Great article. One thing that I think has been overlooked here is the weight factor. If you have a “larger” tiny house, i.e. say 28′ to 32′ in length, wood or composite siding can easily add over 1,000 lbs to the overall weight of the THOW. If your THOW is going to be relatively stationary over it’s lifetime then this isn’t an issue, but I’ve had clients who wanted to live the dream as seen on the cable shows and pull theirs around the continent. Once I showed them the gas and engine/transmission repair bills that others have had to endure throughout their THOW journeys they became bigger fans of the less attractive but tow-friendly board and batten or triple 3 vinyl siding. Just something to keep in mind 🙂

    • Avatar Mary Janke August 16, 2017, 3:16 am

      Hi Richard, I wpnder if flat galv iron sheets would be less weighty for sheathing the side and adding a batten every so often to make it look like board and batten? Planning on building a smaller (12ft) tiny house that would be suitable for towing by a peugeot 370, according to some sites this vehicle can pull up to 1500 kgs but don’t want to overtax my station wagon

      • Avatar Richard Wheatley August 16, 2017, 9:31 am

        Hi Mary: metal siding is actually my preferred cladding material. Not only is it relatively light when compared to wood etc on a per square foot basis but it also adds structural integrity for transverse and shear forces when the THOW is being towed. You may also wish to consider using metal studs for further weight saving. Spraying closed cell foam between the studs also further enhances the structural rigidity of the THOW exterior walls and is lightweight. Weight is of critical importance with these tiny buildings who’s importance is often overlooked. I’m guessing you are from Europe given you are driving a Peugeot (my family had an old 504 back in the day here in Canada – loved it) so you’ll definitely benefit from every weight saving measure you can implement.

  • Avatar logan March 10, 2019, 10:12 pm

    I like the look of your plywood batten siding. Is it fine to just use the structural plywood sheathing for this with battens covering the seams and sealed well, with no house wrap layer or membrane? I would like to do this to save weight from adding a whole extra layer of siding like most do.

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