Why did you decide to build a tiny home?
I wanted a home of my own, and this was the most financially viable option. The opportunity to both design it from scratch, and be a part of every stage of the build sold me. It was quite an undertaking, and I put everything I've got into it, but it was well worth it! There were so many aspects of the build I could write about here (i.e. solar issues + energy usage, proper cedar siding care, easy DIYs, permitting, insurance, etc), but there is already so much excellent information available online. These communities and resources were particularly helpful to me: Latch Collective (please purchase their resource "A Helpful Guide to Legally Living Tiny or Tiny Houses as ADUs, an introductory guidebook" - Latch was so helpful in the process and the best resource on the whole, by far!), The Tiny Life, American Tiny House Association, Tiny Home Insurance (not what I ended up using, but still helpful), RVIA Certification (or here).
Since I mentioned it and it opens up a can of worms: RV certification. BEFORE you begin the build, do this research! Every county has different ordinances to comply with (although they are changing rapidly!), and the further into the build you get, the more challenging it will become to alter anything that lives inside your walls (i.e. electrical, heating, cooling, pipes, etc). I decided to pay the extra $2k to have my home RV certified both for piece of mind and flexibility. Piece of mind because I worked with an independent builder (the certification process involved an inspection that ensured his work), and flexibility because when I began the build, I hadn't yet confirmed where my home would be located and I knew that RVs were more commonly accepted/legal.
However, I knew I was going to live in the Southern CA area, so I did my research accordingly and learned that on top of complying with NHTSA regs, the home needed to be built to ANSI and NFPA codes as well (i.e. Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses are not RVIA certified, but built to meet ANSI 119.5 and NFPA 1192). The screenshot to the right is from Latch Collectives "A Helpful Guide to Legally Living Tiny in Los Angeles." I took a bit of a risk going with an independent builder rather than an RVIA certified manufacturer, but the design/creative freedom was - again - well worth it. Not having the RV certification would put me in a legally-risky spot in LA (for instance, grey area with property taxes) and, if the home wasn't built to ANSI and NFPA standards, I'd also be putting anyone I approach for parking (on a residential property) in a precarious position. Being RV certified also makes it a bit easier to get the home insured.
My home was RV certified with Pacific West Associates and the trailer frame we used is from Iron Eagle Trailers (out of Portland, OR), which is engineered to be a tiny house foundation. The certification process involved a design review, a physical inspection, and - if passed - a physical placard for the house.
What was your design process?
I could write a book about this part! The truth is, everything happened a little backwards. Although the first phases of working with my builder went smoothly (I explained to him - in detail - what I wanted, he sent me renderings of the design to approve), he never actually provided me with a blueprint or specific measurements. This made things more challenging as we got further into the build. For instance: because I was planning on having swing chairs, my builder needed to ensure proper blocking in the ceiling before he closed it up (so that I could safely hang a chair without the ceiling collapsing). To do this, he needed to know exactly where to place the blocking. However, even though I knew the dimensions of the chairs, I couldn’t tell him where to place the blocking without a blueprint. So, after piecing together dimensions relayed in various emails, I made a blueprint on my own, and sent that to the builder to eliminate guess-work. I did this on Adobe illustrator, but you could use a number of other programs.. even powerpoint!:
I put together mood boards for each of the spaces in the tiny home before visiting Morocco - mostly because it was fun to visualize my future space, but also to make it easier to find things I needed to buy in the Medina. To see more on that trip, you can watch the highlight on instagram. Making a decision on my layout began with an understanding of what I wanted inside and the space those things would require. I knew I wanted a full-size kitchen, lots of light to make a small space feel larger, a large middle area that I could switch up depending on need, and a tub. Those were my priorities, but there were a number of other little things that I wanted to incorporate. For instance, I wanted to paint my own bathroom tiles and sink (view that process here), and I decided to make my own industrial pipe kitchen shelving (view that process here). I ended up making a table out of the same wood (hickory) as well because I couldn’t find one close enough to what I had envisioned (i.e. something wooden, but also height-adjustable with telescoping legs). I'm so glad I made my own. It was worth the tad bit of extra effort! I sanded/stained two square pieces of hickory for the top, and used translucent Everblocks for the legs so that I could adjust the table height when needed, and use one half as a coffee table. This really opens up the space, and adds to it’s versatility.
There were also a number of design choices that I came to learn were atypical for tiny homes. For instance, a flush white wall (rather than wooden paneling painted white). My builder was reluctant to do a mobile dry wall, especially one without the orange peel finish or popcorn texturing in the ceiling to hide any potential imperfections, but I’m so glad I pushed for it. I even made sure the ceilings were a slightly lighter shade of white (Benjamin Moore’s “White Dove”) than the walls (Sherwin Williams’ “Dover White). This is standard practice for a home, but typically not for a tiny home. Another example: Although the range hood isn’t incredibly useful (I decided to add it after-the-fact, so it’s a ductless range hood), it contributes to the overall feeling of a “real” kitchen, and - to me - that compensates for its lack of function.
Why did you decide to design your own?
I couldn’t find anything that was already built that had everything I knew I wanted. I came across a few models that were pretty close (i.e. three of my four priorities), but they were 2x my budget.
How did you find the land?
This was the most challenging part of the whole process. Although the home is certified as an RV, I didn’t want to live in an RV park; I wanted to be amidst serene surroundings with a bit more privacy. I knew that finding the perfect spot might be more difficult than building the actual house, so I began putting feelers out even before beginning the build (although I didn’t actually find the perfect spot until the build was well underway). I spoke with everyone I met in the area, went to local coffee shops and asked the baristas if they had any suggestions, and even reached out to Airbnb hosts in the area because the fact that they were listing on Airbnb already indicated they were 1) interested in earning passive income and 2) open to renting some portion of their property. My conversations with Airbnb hosts were certainly helpful, but not as fruitful as I had hoped. I then posted in local facebook groups from the heart (i.e. “I would love to be your neighbor and I promise I’ll make your life a little brighter if you allow me to be!”). Eventually, a truly wonderful woman reached out to me to discuss the prospect of either passive income for her or a bartering arrangement in exchange for putting my home on her property. I couldn't be more grateful to be where I ended up. Although I live in a fairly remote location, it makes all the difference to have such an incredibly warm and welcoming neighbor that I often have my morning coffee or dinner/drinks with before strolling back to my place a few steps away. It's such a dream.
Is there anything you'd do differently?
No loft! The loft is so inconvenient, and (to me) having to use the ladder when you’re exhausted in the evening or when you’re beginning the morning feels so unnecessary. Next time, I would build a first floor bedroom rather than the roof deck (which I originally opted for because I hadn’t yet secured a spot for the home, and I wanted to ensure a deck space).
There is so much in the works! I'll give you a hint: building is addicting.