Do’s and Don’ts of Tiny House Building


Now that we have been “living tiny” for nearly 18 months, I wanted to share some of our “lessons learned” and advice to future homebuilders!


…Prioritize preparation and prevention. Thinking “I’ll be careful” will nearly guarantee disaster! When painting, for example, take the time to put on paint clothes and tape/cover anything you don’t want to mess up.

…Measure your car’s capacity. We spent 20 minutes, in the rain, trying to cram a shower unit into our car in the Home Depot parking lot.  In the end we had to have it delivered.  If your house has a smaller-than-average door, take that into account too when getting furniture and appliances.IMG_1745

…Invest in quality where it counts.  Prioritize safety and solid bones for your home. You can always upgrade interior elements like flooring and cabinets later.

If you’re considering using premium or super energy-efficient materials (like spray foam insulation or triple-pane windows), doing a cost-benefit analysis can determine whether the steep purchase price will actually pay off in a reasonable timeframe.

…Take time off in bad weather.  It’s awful trying to build in -6 degree windchill.  I know from experience (and soon realized that making brownies was a much better use of my time).  We worked through the New England winter because progress feels good. But you know what also feels good?  Not getting frostbite. Fighting the cold and misery was often counterproductive, so in extreme weather I’d recommend working on other aspects of your build such as researching and ordering materials (unless you can heat the interior)!


…Shop ‘til you drop.  During several of our shopping trips for materials, we had only a vague idea of what we needed which made for a stressful experience.  Research exactly what you need beforehand, be sure the items are in stock, and try not to overwhelm yourself with too many goals for one trip.FullSizeRender-1

…Neglect other areas of your life.  Manage your energy and mood throughout your build. It’s not worth sacrificing your health, career, or relationships for the sake of building a house.

…Hesitate to seek help.  While you should try to expand your capabilities, at the same time be realistic.  If you’re busy or new to construction, I highly recommend seeking an experienced helper/mentor.  For us, hiring a carpenter 1-2 times per month not only made our progress go faster, but we also felt more confident and happier working on difficult tasks.  Most of our build required at least 2 people at a time.

…Obsess over perfection.  For the aesthetic aspects of the home, our mantra became, “done is better than perfect!”  You can always change appearances and you probably won’t even notice slight imperfections once you’re done.

Despite the many challenges of homebuilding, the rewards are sweet: you will have gained practical skills, learned a lot about yourself, and made a special place to call your own.  Feel free to connect with us if you have other questions or curiosities about our experience!

* This post was originally written for and shared via Miranda’s Hearth Blog *





How Much Does It Cost to Build a Tiny House?

“How much does it cost to build a tiny house?”  I hear this question a lot.  Perhaps you’ve seen news headlines about people who have built tiny houses for next-to-nothing and thought, “if they can do it for cheap then so can I.”  I sure thought that.

I have to announce a reality check: only in rare circumstances can a tiny house be built for under 10k.  Maybe if you’re skilled in construction or have free help with the labor; maybe if you get multiple sponsorships or free materials; you spend lots of time searching for and fixing up secondhand 12483170865_ef9728baa3materials; if your house is really really small; if you choose all super cheap materials (not necessarily bad for some things, but there are risks).  Remember, the general rule is “pick two”: good quality, fast completion, or inexpensive materials.

If you’re building yourself, the basic materials for an average-sized, mid-quality tiny house on wheels will probably cost $18-25k.  And this doesn’t include if you hire out plumbing, electrical, spray foam insulation, etc.  If you’re new to building and can’t get free help regularly, I would recommend leaving room in your budget to hire some things out and/or buying a pre-made shell, especially if you don’t want to take forever to finish.

A trailer alone can be 20% of your budget – our brand new giant 28′ trailer was $6k!  Windows and doors were our next biggest expense at nearly $4k (if we had bought these used we could’ve saved more).

This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone but to provide a realistic expectation about the level of financial commitment required (in general) to build a safe, fully functioning, good-looking house within a reasonable deadline.  Finding that “sweet spot” between quality, cost, and construction time is part of the challenge, but also it’s what makes every tiny house amazingly unique.


Houses and Happiness: Does Size Matter?

For many people, home ownership represents success and a stepping stone into adulthood.  But for those who find it difficult to finance a conventional home, being part of a culture that praises, romanticizes, and even expects home ownership can cause feelings of inadequacy and isolation.home

Despite the potential downsides of society’s infatuation with “bigger-is-better” houses, I think it is a reason for the success of tiny houses, which provide an affordable path to the benefits of home ownership and being in control of one’s living space.

And yet, our society discriminates against and sometimes forbids people from living in unconventional dwellings such as RVs/campers, shipping containers, yurts, and the like.  Ironically, these homes are not that different from how people have lived for centuries: small, simple, sufficient.  In fact, bigger is not necessarily better: one recent study (Foye, 2016) found that moving to a bigger house only temporarily increases housing satisfaction (and actually might lead to later declines in happiness).  Importantly, “upsizing” had no effect on people’s overall ratings of their contentment with life.  The results mean that if your current home is adequate, then a bigger one won’t make you any happier in the long run.

If you’re feeling pressured by the cultural compulsion to have a big fancy home, remember that happiness doesn’t depend on house size!

Accessory Dwelling Units: A Pathway to Legal Tiny Houses?

I’d like to call your attention to some recent happenings regarding tiny house legality!  As you may know, tiny houses are not exactly legal in many places, especially if they’re on wheels.  But one way that tiny houses could become legal (and advantageous) additions to communities is by treating them as accessory dwelling units, where each tiny house shares a lot with a regular single-family house.

What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)?
An accessory dwelling unit is a small, self-contained secondary house on the same property as a main residence.  They are also called accessory apartments, in-law apartments, or guest cottages.

What good are ADUs for municipalities?
– Increases tax revenue
– Minimizes subsidies required for affordable units
– Maximizes use of existing infrastructure & town services
– Keeps growing and aging families together!
– Preserves existing housing/historic structures

Who benefits from ADUs?
• Homeowners  – gain passive income from renting out an ADU; provide housing for elderly family members or young adult children who are saving up for their own home.  Busy homeowners may benefit from the unique skills or services of a tenant who lives on-site but independently (e.g., pet care, yard care)
• Middle-income tenants – provides greater diversity of housing options
• Local businesses – employee housing
• Real estate firms – rental stock
• Residential contractors – remodeling
• Lending institutions – home improvement loans

Who typically chooses to live in ADUs?
•  “Empty nesters” who no longer need a large home but want to keep living on the same property (they can live in the small easier-to-maintain ADU and rent out the main house).
• Younger singles/couples who want an affordable, high quality alternative to renting without committing to buying a home.  An ADU provides integration with the neighborhood that apartment complexes typically do not.
• People who travel often or who want to live in a particular town but do not need a large home.

How are ADUs built?
– Build an addition onto an existing home
– Convert a garage or barn into a free-standing cottage
– Design an ADU into new construction

More information here:…/smart_growth_toolk…/pages/mod-adu.html

EXCITING NEWS!  Three towns in Massachusetts – including Northampton (urban) and Pelham (rural), are undergoing case studies for ADUs!  Basically, these communities are allowing ADUs to see if this model for zoning bylaws should be adopted in other towns across Massachusetts.

Here is the urban case study for Northampton:…/smart_g…/pages/CS-adu-northampton.html

Here is the rural case study for Pelham:…/smart_growth…/pages/CS-adu-pelham.html

Whether the tiny house ADUs are allowed to be on wheels or foundations-only is up to town zoning boards.  As we learned in our meeting with a local building inspector, it seems that foundation-built tiny houses are the easiest to make legal because towns want to have a stable tax base and it is easier to regulate permanent structures.


LASTLY: my friend Sarah and I created an infographic summarizing the benefits of tiny house ADUs as part of our involvement with the Millennial Housing Lab.  If you are involved in tiny house activism or if you want to talk with your local officials about allowing tiny houses, feel free to share the infographic!  It highlights the key info in this post but in an awesomer format  🙂

Let’s hope that through these initial test cases, people see the reality of what it means to have tiny house ADUs.  In the abstract, some people have concerns or misconceptions about the consequences of allowing tiny houses in their community.  I’ve heard things like, “tiny houses are like chicken coops – one might be ok but I don’t want my neighborhood to turn into a trailer park!”  (Stereotyping tiny houses as being inferior-quality or low-income/student housing is a huge generalization and mostly inaccurate by the way!)  If done properly, it seems that tiny houses can be very valuable, beautiful, and – if you wish – discreet assets to the community!

How could you personally benefit from living in a town that allowed tiny house ADUs?  We would love to hear in the comments!



Cat Hacks for Frugal Felines


We’ve had our fluffball Zuko for almost 2 months now!  Truth be told he thinks his name is “Floofer” since that’s what we call him due to his fluffiness …

Anyways, I wanted to share some ‘cat hacks’ for anyone who is considering going tiny with their feline family!

Save money by making your own toys.  We learned that cats appreciate novelty over quality, but it’s not necessary to FullSizeRenderspend a fortune on new toys.  For instance you can cut up cardboard toilet paper rolls to form a ball and put catnip or a bell inside.  Paper bags, string, wild bird feathers…anything can be a plaything.  Sylvester’s favorite toy is the laser pointer while Zuko loves plastic springs (they bounce around and make noise rolling on the floor!).  We rotate the toys daily and put them in a dedicated drawer after playtime.  You can see Sylvester testing our homemade sisal rope scratching post, which is so much cheaper and stronger than a store-bought one.

Choose the right flooring.  If you have pets, invest in durable flooring from the start.  We have cork in our loft that is very scratched up from kitten claws, unfortunately.  I imagine that vinyl, hardwood, or ceramic would be good for pets.IMG_1446

Outside time.  It didn’t take long for Zuko to learn to love his harness!  A small investment for the peace-of-mind of supervised excursions outside.

Unscented litter.  To me, scented litters are more noxious than the smells they’re trying to cover up.  Keep the box scooped and you won’t need perfumy-litter anyways.  Even in a tiny house 🙂

Pet bed?  Zuko has a comfy fleece cat bed, but the majority of the time he sleeps zukosinkon the couch, in the closet, on top of the cabinets, or in the bathroom sink… at least while he’s small enough!

Quality food.  Good nutrition saves money on health in the long run.  After a lot of research, I jumped on the raw feeding bandwagon and learned how to “make” cat food!  I say “make” because I simply add egg yolks, fish oil, and vitamins to chubs of raw meat/bone that I buy frozen at the pet store.

Homemade vs. canned food – he has good taste!

The bone is essential for calcium and very finely ground.  He gets regular canned food too, but he definitely prefers the raw stuff.  Best of all, it’s surprisingly economical and eco-friendly (no cans or kibble bags to dispose of).  If you’ve ever bought cans of cat food, you’ve noticed that most varieties, especially the grain-free ones, are at least $1.30 per 5.5oz can.  For homemade, it’s 90 cents for the same amount!  I mix up a big batch, freeze each day’s portion in individual plastic containers, and put one in the fridge every night so it defrosts in time for breakfast.  Even with a tiny freezer I can store 10-15 lbs of cat food in addition to our human food.

One of the best ways to save money on pet food is through variety, so you can buy whatever’s on sale.  It is also better for the pet’s health to rotate between different foods than to eat the same thing all the time.  I’ve noticed that benefits of the mostly-raw diet include almost zero shedding, good appetite and weight, and small odorless poop (yes really!)

In the end, having a cat in a tiny house isn’t much different than having a cat in any other house.  Cheers to our Floofer, who really puts the “home” in “Rose Home”  🙂



The Top 10 Myths About Tiny House Living

After living in our house for nearly 8 months, we’ve learned that expectations about the tiny life are often not equal to the reality.  Take our first-hand experience: here’s our countdown of Myths & Facts About Tiny House Life!

Myth 10: “A door that is mostly glass basically functions as an extra window, right?”

FACT: Yes, this is true but with one downside: at night the glass attracts moths and bugs, which fly in whenever you open the door!  And since it’s a tiny house…well, once a bug is inside you’ll know it’s there.  With a screened window or opaque door you rarely will have this problem.

Myth 9: “I’m worried about keeping the house warm, so I should splurge on insulation and a powerful heater.”

FACT: Keeping a tiny house warm is easy.  Although many people choose spray foam or SIP panels, unless you’re in climate zones 6 or above you don’t need high-performance insulation.  It might be cheaper, even in the long run, to go with a mid-performance toweldryinginsulation.  I actually recommend slightly undersizing your heater – you don’t want to cook yourself out of your loft every time your oversized heater turns on!  On those rare extra-cold days you can always add supplemental warmth.  Remember that cooking, electronics, solar gain, and even body heat all add up.

Myth 8: “When building your house, it’s ok to move in during construction once it’s livable.”

FACT:  Personally we recommend waiting as long as possible to move in, at least until after everything you deem essential has been completed.  If you wouldn’t live in the house forever without “x”, then don’t move in before “x” is finished.  Because the longer you live in the house, the less and less likely you’ll make progress on it, at least not very quickly.  This leads to the next Myth…

Myth 7: “You can always upgrade/finish it later!”

FACT: Yes you can, but will you?  We learned that the smaller the project (like installing one piece of trim or touching up some paint), the longer it will take to actually do.  Once you move in, finishing the last 10% of the house will probably take as long as the first 90%.  We still have plenty of little improvements left to do.

Myth #6: “In the bathroom, you don’t need a fan as long as you have a window.

FACT: I cannot stress it enough, if you have an indoor shower then you need mechanical ventilation in the bathroom to get rid of the steam.  Even with a window open, air circulation in a tiny bathroom is poor.

Myth 5: “I will change my habits once I ‘go tiny’.”

FACT: You’re the same person no matter where you live.  If you’ve always been messy or had a habit of collecting stuff, chances are a tiny house won’t change that.  If you like to entertain, you’ll still host get-togethers at your tiny house.  If you’re happy in your marriage, you’ll probably stay happy.  On the flip side, remember that a house cannot fix what is wrong with our lives or our relationships.

Myth 4: “I’m going to travel around a lot with my tiny house!”

FACT: While it is possible to tow a tiny house to new locations, moving something that big is difficult, slow, costly, and somewhat risky for the structure and other drivers.  A handful of people do travel frequently with their tiny homes, but usually they have lots of towing experience, a heavy-duty truck, and/or their house is very tiny.  Honestly, an airstream or RV is the best bet if you plan to move regularly.  Even though our house is on wheels, we hope to move it not more than once and will definitely hire a professional.

Myth #3: “Painting trim and wall paneling once it’s inside and nailed up is easiest.”

FACT: Paint and stain things OUTSIDE.  Painting things once they are in place is risky.  Tiny splatters get everywhere no matter how careful you are or how many drop cloths you put down (tried it).  Plan on lots of painters tape and clean up drips immediately.   The benefit of painting inside is that you don’t have to worry about debris or rain messing up the paint while it dries.  We learned that bugs like checking out wet paint so be watchful of this.

Myth #2: “It doesn’t really matter what primer you use.  You only need one coat anyways.”

FACT:  Even though you’ll never see primer in your finished project, it is important.  If painting knotty pine, be sure to apply several coats of BIN shellac primer to seal up the knots.  Especially on light colored paint, the resins from knots will bleed through eventually – even when using 2 coats of high quality paint.  We skimped on the BIN for some boards and had knots bleed through our white paint.  Boy is it ugly.  For regular priming (wood with few knots) we like Kilz or Ben Moore.  We tried a cheap generic primer and the coverage was not good, so you get what you pay for.

….And the #1 Biggest Myth of All….

“A tiny house is so much easier to clean than a regular house!”

FACT:  While it is true that there is less physical area to clean, things get dirty way faster than in a regular house (especially with our new kitten).  Dust and messes get concentrated in a small space instead of diffused around, so you’ll need to clean more often but in shorter bursts.  Bedding also seems to get dirty/gritty faster – maybe because the bed is on the floor or it’s easier to track in stuff?  Due to the tendency for higher humidity, you also have to be vigilant about noticing if mold is forming anywhere.  Living tiny makes you stay on top of picking up.  We can’t delay taking out the trash or leaving dirty dishes because the house will start to smell.

Cleaning a little bit every single day is the key.  For example, we sweep every day, wash bedding once a week, and dust all surfaces about twice a month.  A swiffer or small vaccum is helpful for getting fine dust and hairs that escape regular sweeping.

Hopefully this post gives you some insight about the rewards and realities of living tiny!


Our New Kitten!

Meet Zuko!


He’s a 4 month old Siberian kitten.  Siberians are large semi-longhair cats known for their doglike personalities.  They love being near people and are inquisitive.  Best of all they are low-allergen, which is good for me since living in a tiny house would only exacerbate my cat allergies!
IMG_1278.JPGI was worried that the tiny house might be too cramped for an active kitten, but he seems perfectly happy.  He loves simple toys like paper bags, drinking straws, and feathers.  The litter box fits perfectly between the fridge and the wall so it is unnoticeable.

Zuko is already a pro at navigating the stairs and loves hanging out on the edge of the loft.  When we’re in the kitchen he enjoys watching us from the “catwalk” atop our cabinets.  There are so many things to climb on and toys to chase around that he gets plenty of exercise, and every evening we have a vigorous play session.  He likes hunting moths and mosquitos that get inside, which is good except when it happens at 1 AM!

Zuko is slowly getting to know the resident kitty, Sylvester, who lives with Nate’s momFullSizeRender-1.  Sylvester was unsure about the baby at first but every day seems more comfortable.  The kitten is totally unphased and tries to invite Sylvester to play, so hopefully they will be buddies in no time  🙂