For this week's Q&A series, @vanish418 asked our #DreamTeam how they decided on how big their tiny house would be?
One of the seemingly hard things about going tiny, or downsizing in general, is trying to estimate the size of your home based on future demands that you may or may not know at the time.
We often hear from community members who are struck with "analysis paralysis" from deciding on the length and size of their tiny house. "My husband wants this," "I want that," "but what if we have kids?" etc. It's a big decision, I agree, but it shouldn't delay your dreams of going tiny any further!
The main piece of advice from the Dream Team is to design for function and for your needs. Do you need space to sleep 4 people? Do you need space to entertain family and friends, maybe outside? Do you have a budget limit that you can't exceed?
Make a list of your needs and your non-negotiable wants—build the "bones" of your home, and let the details and finishing touches fall into place once you are living in your home and starting to realize what you really need.
Our house is 28’ x 8.5’, plus an extra 7.5’ platform (in length) over the gooseneck hitch. All told it’s about 300 square feet. At the same time, we made a lot of decisions that did not maximize square feet (no double loft, L-shaped loft over the bathroom, storage under the kitchen).
What matters most is perceptual space (how it’s going to look and feel) and how you will actually use the home. Our L-shaped loft is smaller, but it gives Escher more privacy and a little play space in front of her bed. We don’t have two lofts, but this keeps our home from feeling like a studio. For a family in a tiny house, it was important that our home gave everyone the option of privacy.
The biggest factors in determining the size of our house was figuring out how long we needed to make it to have a bedroom on the main floor, and what we could afford.
We ended up going with a 31’ x 8.5’ trailer, giving us about 380 sq. ft. of room including our loft. This allowed us to put a small master bedroom on the main floor with plenty of clothing storage underneath the bed. Another big factor was that we wanted a full kitchen with normal-sized appliances (except no dishwasher). This required a considerable amount of length. Lastly, we really wanted an L-shaped couch that would face both the TV/front door and the kitchen, which we felt would help create a comfortable space for relaxing and entertaining.
The size of my tiny home was 100% based on weight. My vision for living tiny was all about being transportable and flexible in where I could live. I wanted to be completely independent in being able to move it myself so I had to keep the weight of the house under 3500 kgs (7715lbs) which is the maximum towing weight of my vehicle.
My house is 5.4m long, 2.5m wide and 4.15m high (17.72’ x 8.2’ x 13.6’). It is very compact compared to many of the tiny homes I have followed.
I am extremely thankful for all of the calculations my builder made in predicting the weight of the home before it was built. He recorded every building material he was using and weighed it and then put it all in a big spreadsheet to try and accurately estimate how much the house was going to weigh. It came in at under 2800 kgs (6173lbs) at the completion of the build.
My tiny house is small, but very comfortable. There is plenty of space for all of my things and I was able to get all of the things I need in there. The best thing about it though is that I can connect it to my car and go anywhere I like, whenever I like!
Fun fact—I designed my whole house around my bathtub. When I started playing around with the idea of designing and building my own tiny house, I started by sketching the layout of a kitchenette and staircase, with a small living space, based roughly on the photo of a house I had seen online and liked. Overall, I wanted to use every square foot as efficiently as I could.
When I got to the bathroom though, I consulted some inspiration photos and said to myself “Well, I can get by with one of those small shower stalls.” I started sketching it but stopped almost immediately. I had always dreamed of living in a house with a clawfoot tub. And I was designing my own house. There was absolutely no reason I needed to ‘get by’ with anything! If I wanted a clawfoot tub, the only person who could say no would be me.
I threw out my first sketch and started again, this time, making room for a 5-foot-long clawfoot tub in the bathroom.
The rest of my design easily fell into place after that, and I decided that my house would be 8 feet by 20 feet, on wheels, with the highest side of the slightly pitched shed roof would reach about 13 feet and 4 inches. At those measurements, I don’t need to get any special permits to move my house on standard roadways.
I sacrificed some living room space by deciding to have a larger bathroom, but I still have a nice living area with seating at the end of the extended kitchen counter for meals. With the added space for the tub, the lofted area above the bathroom is the perfect size for a roomy bedroom. Roomy is a relative term when your whole house only amounts to about 160 square feet, but I have enough room for my full-size mattress, which I can easily sit up in without coming close to hitting my head on the ceiling.
My kitchen consists of about seven feet of counter space, with a full-size sink and a vintage propane three burner stove and oven, cabinets below, and open shelving above. Across from the stove, I will eventually have a staircase built that my fridge will fit into, and will provide lots of additional storage along with easy access to the loft.
Before I finalized everything, I booked a vacation weekend on Airbnb to spend a few days in a tiny house of the same size as the one I had designed. I found that the house was the perfect size—not cramped or claustrophobic at all!
I took note of anything I didn’t love about the design and made sure that I had mitigated those issues in my own design. I highly recommend doing the same thing if you are on the fence about how much space you need! There is no better way to figure out potential issues than to give it a try for a few days.
Figuring out how big our house would be wasn’t an exact science. We knew the layout we wanted, which helped; and we had stayed in other tiny homes before, which also helped.
Ultimately, it was a bit of a guessing game. The foundation home we lived in just before going tiny was approximately 1,000 sq ft. and we really only used half of it. We figured if we wanted to do this tiny thing properly, we could stand to live in half, of the half, that we were using. Ha! Overall, we guessed pretty well! With both our lofts, our tiny house is just under 300 sq ft. To be honest, we probably could have gone a bit smaller, but the extra loft and breathing room is nice to spread out and use in the winter when we’re all cooped up!
Deciding how big our tiny house should be was based on achieving our goal of a traveling home. We knew we needed something small and light enough to be suitable for frequent moves. After a bit of research, we settled on a 20’ bumper-pull trailer for max maneuverability. After deciding on the overall size, the challenge was then to fit all our needs inside that extra-tiny space. There’s nothing like limitations to spur creativity!
In the end, our tiny house is 130 sqft and 10,000 lbs. While built on a 20’ trailer, there is only 17.5’ feet of house and the rest porch. It’s built inside the wheel wells, 8’ exterior width. The benefit of a narrow house is that when towing, we can see down the entire length to make sure it’s staying within the lanes.
When we were first exposed to tiny houses, they just seemed way too small to be practical. Then we came across the documentary “TINY, a story of living small” and we noticed there were people we could relate to living in much larger tiny houses and that’s when it clicked—we can do this!
So we decided on 28ft long with a 8ft 6in wide buildable deck based purely on it being the largest tiny house out there at the time. We then designed our frame and had it built custom for our tiny house. From there we built everything around that 28’ x 8.5’ area. (interior width of 7ft 11in). The second item we decided on was the Accordion window—originally we wanted it to be 10ft long and have it extend into the kitchen as well, but it just seemed impractical with our wall framing and where the master loft would be positioned, so we “settled” on 8’ in length.
From there we knew the kitchen would be on the opposite side of the bathroom (ya know, to keep the scents separate!). With the kitchen being on the larger side for a tiny house, we would use that whole area above as our master loft.
Although our tiny house is built on a 28’ Tiny House Trailer, the overall length of the house is 32’ with the two cantilevers we have on both ends. We decided to do the cantilevers for the main reason of breaking up the box shape of our tiny house since it was going to have a more modern shed style roof for maximum interior headroom.
We were inspired to do the cantilevers by the only tiny house that had it prior, Alek Lifeskis’ Tiny-Project. We doubled them and built them on both ends to gain even more interior space and bring that final square footage up to a whopping 374! :)
The 28’ Tiny House Trailer still reigns as the most popular size for a tiny house to this day—over 65% of all the 450+ Tiny House Trailers we build each year are 28’ in length, quickly followed by the 32’ trailers and lately over the past few years the 10’ wide versions of all these sizes have become very popular as well.
Whatever size you decide is best for you and your family, just be realistic with your needs and design around them. We have found that many people are just like us, they do not travel with their tiny houses, they travel because of them and the freedom they create!
So there you have it! Ultimately, the size and length of your tiny house comes down to your individual and/or family needs.
Don't start at the length and try to work backwards to squeeze everything you can into that length—instead, write down all of your non-negotiable's, like Annie's bathtub or Ashlee's towing capacity, and build your needs from the ground up. Couple that with a bit of compromise, and you'll be well on your way to arriving at an ideal size for your tiny house!
If you'd like to submit a question for next week's Q&A series, be sure to tune in to our Instagram Stories every Thursday night to ask away!