After last months 46 square meter design (which, whilst small compared to most houses, it was pretty big in the world of tiny homes), I thought I should pare things down for this month. So this time, I've designed a true tiny house (over 3x smaller than last months!). To be more specific, a tiny house on wheels based on a 14ft long trailer.
Speaking of which, I wish I had done my homework before getting stuck in with the designs, as my early designs were based on standard flatbed trailers. Turns out that these are not particularly suited to the weight of tiny houses, or more specifically, the high centre of gravity. If you built a tiny house on a standard flatbed trailer, you'd not want to go fast, and certainly wouldn't want to risk it on a motorway or whilst driving in high cross winds! Tiny house trailers mostly seem to be based around the largest permissible width of trailer (8ft), whereas typical flatbeds are only 6.5ft wide. Long story short, it was 4 designs (and the associated days lost) before I realised I needed to rethink my designs.
Anyway, before we take a look at the final design, what's all the fuss about tiny houses on wheels (THOWs)?...
What is a THOW?
A THOW (Tiny House on Wheels) is pretty much what it says on the tin - a tiny version of a house on a trailer. Surely this is just a mobile home I hear you asking.... or a caravan.... right? Nope! A THOW is more than that because it utilises the same quality construction of wooden-framed houses; unlike mobile homes and caravans which use lightweight and thin materials that offer very little insulation or soundproofing. I'm sure that (given a lot of money) you could get fairly decent mobile homes, but in my eyes nothing compares to a tiny house. A THOW is more manoeuvrable than a mobile home, and can be towed with a half-decent pick-up truck or similar; rather than a having to have your home professionally moved via a low loader!
THOWs come in many shapes and sizes. Whilst you can get some smaller examples, a minimum of 12ft long is recommended. With this design coming in at 14ft, it's not much longer than your average pickup truck. In fact, without the short section from the trailer hook to the spare tyre, it would be the same length! Of course, on the other end of the scale, you can get some absolute monsters; I've seen a few examples of 32ft, 3 axle, gooseneck trailers. I certainly wouldn't want to tow anything near this length! In any case, the most common sizes seem to be between 20ft and 24ft, but to work out what size is best for you would involve (at the very least) building a mock-up out of cardboard... and speaking of which:
As you can see, even 14ft doesn't give you much room to work with, but as you can see, it is possible to go down to 12ft x 6.5ft (see middle photo above). The table is of a concertina design - which can fold out to a max size of 900mm x 1000m - plenty big enough for 2 people at least! With such tiny sizes, it really is all about the furniture design being multi-purpose, and also being able to make the most of every inch of space.
In any case, something which I was extremely keen to do was make the THOW relatively aerodynamic compared to most existing designs. As such, the front face of the trailer not only has a bump-out with sloping roof, but is connected to the main roof in the form of a hipped roof. Even better would be if the 2 gables were pitched roofs, but this would severely limit (the already tiny) headroom in the sleeping loft.
Why Build a Tiny House?
Whilst the tiny house movement is still very much in its infancy here in the UK, in America it constitutes a growing market. Where there used to be only a handful of tiny house builders only 10 years ago, there are now hundreds; possibly even thousands! Depending on what state you live in, the restrictions are often much more lax in the US than in the UK; with states like Texas having whole tiny house communities and even hotels! Back here in the UK, you'll be lucky to ever see a tiny house... but I feel with the high cost of living and excruciatingly expensive housing market, tiny houses could well be one alternative worth exploring - particularly for young adults like myself.
It's also an obvious choice for people wanting to pare down their materialistic life and reduce their impact on the environment. In fact there are absolutely tons of reasons why I'd want to build a tiny house. I won't get through every reason, but let's explore a few...
Lower housing costs
Firstly, living small means that you can obviously reduce the amount spent on housing. And if you are willing and able to build your own tiny house, then you save on thousands of pounds worth on labour. Of course this does mean you will have to do virtually everything by yourself, which in turns lengthens the time taken to build the house. It also means that you will either have to spend weekends and evenings building it, whilst still having a full-time job... or you will have to save up enough beforehand, and take half a year off to build it.
Needless to say, if you don't want to build your own, their are companies that can build all of it for you, or at least vital components such as the basic shell and the trailer itself. This would involve a higher cost, but it would be peace of mind, and still considerably cheaper than buying a "normal" sized house! As an example, the NestHouse (built by Tiny House Scotland) has prices starting from £40k, and varies between 3.6 and 7.2m long (weighing between 5-10 tons). This can be ordered as either a shell, or complete build. Plus, you can additional modules to expand your tiny home. These are pretty substantial buildings, and are heavy compared to your usual THOW. But it gives a good indication of pricing for ready-built structures.
Your very own hand-built dream home!
Another reason I love THOWs is that it's much easier to leave your own mark, and given some knowledge of carpentry, it's possible to build your own home - something which would normally take a lot of money (if you were able to at all!). There are even kits out there which you can tailor to your own needs if you aren't comfortable building it yourself.
Cleaning TAKES MINUTES; not hours!
With such a small floor area, it really cuts down on the amount of time spent cleaning the house. Everything is within easy reach, and the fitted furniture means you no longer have to move chairs and sofas to clean the floor underneath them. With such a small space, this also means there are fewer possessions; which in turn means there is less to put away/move/tidy. Living in a tiny house soon turn you into a tidy person, even if you weren't to begin with! As anyone who has lived in one will tell you, everything you buy has to replace something you already own; and anything that doesn't get used much will soon be gotten rid of because you can't afford to waste space hiding it in a cupboard! If you ask me, that's a pretty good way of living life.
A book I will recommend you read if you're interested in the thought process behind living tiny, and how to prepare yourself for doing so is "Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less than 400 Square Feet" by Ryan Mitchell. I'm sure there are other books around, and I really should investigate these as well, but the above book is a good starting point for anyone even remotely interested in tiny living.
Reducing debt and risk!
Given the huge reduction in costs associated with living tiny (not just with regards to the actual construction/purchase of the house, but also the lower cost of day-to-day running), there is naturally less risk associated with it. With people spending an average of 25 years trying to pay off a mortgage (although that figure is creeping up to nearer 40 years!), it's no wonder people are looking for alternatives. A study from June 2017 found that the average cost of a first house is £207 693, and the average deposit on a house for a first-time buyer would be around £33k. Bearing in mind that the median household disposable income was £26k for 2016... and it doesn't take much to see the absolute failure that the housing market is!
The freedom of having your own place that you can call home would usually be a pipe-dream for people like me, but tiny houses allow just that. The fact you could even move your house with you whenever you fancy a change of scene is a bonus, and the only other way to do this would be to live in a caravan or motorhome; and these aren't exactly designed for full-time living, no matter how modern they are. They also (like van-living) have a stigma around them (and even mobile homes do, too.). With tiny houses, any initial scepticism is immediately abandoned once someone steps foot in one! Even for the critics, there's something charming about tiny houses; perhaps it's down to childhood memories of dollhouses and treehouses that invokes the inner child in people. Either way, tiny houses offer something amazing for those people willing to compromise on space and materialistic items.
The Pitfalls of Living Tiny
It's a radical approach!
As I mentioned earlier, it just wouldn't be life if you didn't have to make compromises, and tiny living (especially in a THOW) is no exception. The most obvious challenge facing those who may chose this way of life is that... well... it is a way of life. By that I mean you will be living, sleeping, working, and relaxing all in one small space; this one tiny home will be virtually your whole way of life. Even for introverts like me who avoid socialising, that could well prove too much; and you'd probably end up spending time away from your tiny house for a day just to escape. Tiny house living is a radical approach, and as such it's not something to do off the cuff!
Every item in the house must be multi-purpose or necesarry!
And since we're on the subject of small spaces; everything you put into your house must be efficient, and if possible multi-use. For most (as I mentioned earlier), the tiny house movement is almost entirely about paring down your materialistic items and living a more sustainable lifestyle. You can't just move into a tiny home and bring all your possessions with you from your old home, and nor would you want to - it just wouldn't work. Instead, most tiny homes (especially the really small ones like this one) aim to have custom built furniture to make the best use of the space. We'll explore these more in detail during the house tour.
Finding a place to call home
And so aside from the obvious pitfalls of living tiny, what else should you be aware of? Well, one big one is finding somewhere to not only build your tiny house, but somewhere to park it. Whilst a THOW may be portable, unless you plan on travelling across country with it, I doubt you'll be moving it often. One reason people build a THOW rather than a normal tiny house is the building regulations and zoning laws are more lax. So whilst you may think a THOW means a more nomadic lifestyle (and in some cases, this is true), in actual fact, the wheels are often used to get around loopholes in the law. So actually many THOWs are stationary on a plot of land or a driveway for years at a time. Even then, there are still restrictions to what you can build, and where.
low to non-existent resale value
Something to also think about is that should you ever decide to sell your tiny house, the resale value will not be great. I doubt (unless it was a really high quality build) that you'd recoup your costs incurred from building the house. This may or may not change as the tiny house market becomes more accepted; it's hard to say. But at the end of the day, the tiny house movement is more about reducing monetary risk (i.e. no mortgages or lending) than a way to make money. Although... I'm 100% sure you could make a business from building tiny houses!
As you can probably imagine from such a small space, the interior is mostly open plan. As is common with my designs, I'm adverse to chopping up an already small space into 2 or 3 smaller spaces! Privacy is still mostly maintained in the key areas; for example, the sleeping loft is not easily visible from most angles, and the wet room itself is completely enclosed. Although to be honest, this tiny house would only really be used by one or two people, so I can't imagine privacy is much of a concern.
Whilst I'm not going to give a detailed description,(I'm no architect or engineer!) here are some basic thoughts on the construction side of things. So, starting at the base, the 14ft trailer is custom built, but based around the maximum width allowed on UK roads (2.55 metres) (once the exterior cladding is applied that is). The wheel wells protrude above the deck, thus allowing the tiny house to sit between 200-300mm lower than it would do if it was on a standard flatbed trailer; hence making it more stable. In the end I went with a tandem-axle trailer to help improve stabilisation, and reduce the weight per axle ratio.
On top of the trailer sits a floor frame of 2x4s, which are then filled with insulation batts. This is then topped off with OSB sheets as a sub-floor. On top of that, the wall frames (again made of 2x4s) are nailed in place, but also bolted right through into the trailer itself. Remember - this is a mobile structure, so strength is extremely important. Insulation is then added between all the studs, before a vapor barrier is installed on the exterior side. Cladding can then be installed as per normal (the method of which would depend on what cladding you went for). This basic assembly is repeated for the roof framing. You'll note that in places there are multiple studs together, these are in key areas where additional strength is required - such as the corners, and under the edges of the dormer roof. The wiring and plumbing is probably best done before the insulation batts are installed. As per usual, I've gone with tongue and groove cladding for the interior spaces; to help make the space feel bigger than it really is.
The Kitchen Area
The kitchen is pretty standard of my designs, but this time we have added storage. The kickboards under the units themselves are actually all shallow drawers for those awkward items (i.e. clingfilm rolls and baking trays). As seen in the Norwegian Tiny House that I designed, the under-cupboard drop-down cutlery tray has made a return, since there is no room for a drawer in the kitchen. Another useful space saver is the chopping board that sits perfectly in the sink; giving you more worktop space. Above the sink are 2 rows of wall mounted mug racks, with a dish rack located above the breakfast bar. Oh, and by the way, these are 500mm deep units, rather than the more common 600mm ones - with tiny houses, every bit of space is crucial; so chopping off 100mm is a huge saver, hence why the walls are also only 100mm thick compared to the more standard 150mm.
The same microwave oven from the converted signal box is present here, as well as an electric induction hob. A (large) mini-fridge sits under the counter which should be big enough for one, perhaps 2 people. Unusually for me, I've actually remembered to include a washing machine in this months design - this sits on a plinth on the other side of the kitchen, on the far side of the wetroom. The reason for this plinth will be revealed once we get to the next area. Under the stairs can be seen additional shelving for laundry and towels, along with space for boots and shoes.
As can be seen, LED can lights are embedded into the ceiling; the switches for which are on the left as you enter the house. In order to provide fresh air and ventilate the kitchen area from steam whilst cooking, not only do both windows open, but there is an extractor hood fitted under the middle wall cabinet.
The wetroom is a particularly small space, even for me! That said, it does have one nifty feature; the composting toilet actually sits on a sliding tray (which can be removed for thorough cleaning). This can be pulled out for use, then pushed back into the wall for when you wish to use the sink and shower. The plinth that the washing machine sits on is actually a hollow box that the composting toilet slides into.
This means that we get a tiny bathroom (although still much bigger than those found in caravans/campervans) that is still practical. A small ceramic sink with wooden top and a chrome tap compliments the worktop in the kitchen, whilst the large chrome shower head ensures an enjoyable shower. A wooden framed mirror compliments the window surround, and a small curved cupboard sits above the sink for toiletries.
The Living Area
The living area is the hub of the house, where relaxation, working, and even socialising can occur. The breakfast bar area features a custom built swivelling bar stool, and would be a nice place to sit and watch the world go by. You could perhaps even work here on a laptop, although the dinette style seating may prove more comfy for longer periods. Speaking of the dinette, it features a pretty typical gas-lift table, which lowers to form a guest bed (once a cushion is put in place, of course!) The table top unfolds to form a surface twice its original size when in the low position - this allows for a standard width single bed. What is unusual for my designs is that the seating nearest the loft ladder features a hidden TV/monitor that can be raised when needed. If this was a swivel stand, it could even then be tilted once the guest bed is in place so that you could watch movies comfortably whilst in this bed. This set up would also be fantastic when you need to work in the tiny house, and the bonus is that it would only take a minute or so to hide it all away for when guests come round.
In-built storage in the dinette seating allows for tons of space for storing seasonal clothes and lesser-used objects, or even office supplies if you planned on using it as a part-time home office. Once feature I particularly love in the living area is the bump-out window seat which sits over the trailer tongue. This comfy little space would make for a great place to sit and read, and cladding this nook in plywood makes it really pop out compared to the rest of the downstairs. A final feature worthy of note is the high ceiling and Velux rooflight; having this room open to the rafters really opens up the space; making for a bright and airy living room.
The Sleeping Loft
And onto the final area of the tiny house! What the sleeping loft loses in ceiling height, it makes up for in comfyness! A large queen-sized bed fills up a large portion of the space, with storage shelves in the far section underneath the rafters. The spiral alternate tread ladder makes for a space-saving and convenient way of accessing the sleeping loft. This is a much better method of access than ladders, and takes up just as much space. If I went for a longer trailer, I'd probably go for a standard set of stairs, albeit with storage underneath, but this curved ladder is good enough for most people.
Anyway, behind the bed sits a custom-built bedside table (made from thin layers of bent plywood), with plenty of room for books and such. Above this sits a switch for a wall-mounted light which sits on the king post of the rafters. 3 sets of windows on both sides allow for great views of the outside, and with 4 of them openable, a cross-breeze can ventilate the sleeping loft. All this makes for a rather nice place to not only sleep, but thoroughly relax with a good book during rainy days!
All in all, this rather cute tiny house on wheels has pretty much everything that I set out to achieve. It may have taken 2 weeks, 5 failed attempts, a 1:24 scale mock-up and much frustration, but the end result was worth it. I haven't really put much consideration into the utility side of the design, although I suppose that if you weren't able to hook-up to water and power supplies, you could turn this into an off-grid tiny house. A washing machine may be out of the question though! On the electric side of things, a solar panel could potentially be fitted on the roof, although there is very little space, and you'd be much better off having solar panels you could set up on a frame away from the house slightly. The storage spaces under the dinettes could be converted to fit water tanks for fresh and waste water respectively, although a larger trailer might not be a bad idea for off-grid living just to give you extra space for these tanks and solar panels.
So that's about it for this months' blog entry. I'm undecided what next months' will be, but I'm leaning towards the idea of a floating house... time will tell! As always, if you have any suggestions or thoughts on this design, or a design for the future, let me know in the comments below. These blog entries take a hell of a lot of time to produce, so any ideas are greatly received so I can take less time thinking, and more time doing!
'Till next time,
Whilst I am now trying to produce as much as I can on my own, creating everything from scratch takes a lot of time. I am trying to produce more and more models, whilst uploading them to the Sketchup Warehouse for other people to use; so expect to see a lot of the similar components appearing in my models. Where I need unique models, I will of course try and make my own; I wouldn't want people to get bored of seeing the same things over and over again. Either way, some things are better done by others, and as always I will credit them.
Alternate Tread Stairs - Andre (altered and re-textured)
Composting Toilet - Jack J.
Cushions - MeasuredMove
Folded Clothes - Lliana Elizabeth
Folded Towels - DouglasWayne
LCD TV - btharris781
Marram Grass (for the outside scene) - digger
Trailer - Timber T.
Queen Mattress (w/ pillows and blanket) - jorgejbello
Velux Rooflight - Paolo F.
Washing Machine - pedro