What is a Tiny House?

A tiny house is technically a small residence between 150 and 350 square feet. It can be mobile, built on a trailer frame and conforming to highway limits of 8’-6” wide by 13’-6” high by less than 40’ long, or it can be stationary, built on a conventional foundation. Different building codes apply based on the type of foundation. Tiny houses are intended to be full time, 4 season residences and they usually house 1-3 people.

The biggest challenge for the prospective tiny house owner is parking. Communities all across the country have established planning/zoning laws based on a history of NIMBYism (exclusionary practices based on the belief that lower cost/value homes and property will somehow lower the values of surrounding property). These beliefs originated mid-last-century as a response to the dust bowl and post-war migrations of low income people into established suburban neighborhoods. These laws need to be confronted and changed.

The current trend of interest in Tiny Houses is completely different from the mid-century origins of squatters and trailer camps, as they represent a much more intentional, and main stream contingent of the middle class, such as firefighters, teachers, and nurses. These professions often attract free-thinkers and require mobility as well as affordable housing. The purchase and rental of affordable housing in our established communities has become prohibitively expensive for many in these middle-class professions. Tiny houses offer one alternative to comfortable, affordable housing.

What is Tiny Living?

Tiny Living is a conscious choice to step off of the treadmill of expectations common to the upwardly mobile middle class. With the ever increasing cost of housing outpacing the stagnant offering of wages, more and more individuals and families are realizing that a life centered around excessive, underpaid full time work required to support a house, family and mortgage, is no longer a rewarding goal.

As the counter-culture of the 70s becomes the baby boomers of the 2010s, more and more individuals are choosing to step off the treadmill of cultural expectations that having and possessing more stuff is a valid indicator of greater personal value. Conventional housing is often little more than a parking place for the stuff accumulated to establish self-worth. Once this trend is recognized for what it is, the challenge becomes how to break the long-established habit of acquisition-as-entertainment. Choosing to live tiny is choosing to step off the treadmill. There simply is not space in a tiny house for the accumulation of things.

Choosing a new lifestyle not based on full time work, not based on storing a pile of stuff, not based on reacting to the expectations of others, not based on limited personal time, is in fact, a completely new phenomenon. Tiny house folks begin with challenging old beliefs and they go on to challenge almost everything else. Home schooling, organic gardening, alternative health and body work, community participation and reward, environmentally sensitive, ecologically attuned, these newly sophisticated advocates of the new counter-culture are changing everything, but not lowering property values. Sensitive to neighborhood dynamics, engaged in local politics and education, openly inclusive and responsive, they are improving the appearance and value of community institutions.


One of the common traits of this community is an eager desire to learn and experience the value and savings from the hand-on connection with creating one’s own living environment. While direct experience has always been eye-opening, an unusual element of naivete has impacted these enthusiasts. Having the internet as an always-available source of teaching through YouTube and other on line sources, a common trait among tiny house newbees is called the Dunning Kruger Effect, or “not knowing what you don’t know”.

As an experienced designer, builder and architect, I felt touched to read the questions of the newbees and motivated to lend a hand. I started a blog on Facebook called Tiny House Solutions and I have posted responses to questions there with the hope that my answers will help some avoid the financial and emotional losses of rebuilding to code or moving due to zoning violations. I must admit that this feels like the comment “herding cats”, but I am compelled to stand and point to “magic thinking” with regard to a self-built project’s time and costs.

Portfolio of Tiny Houses Designs

Tiny House Resources



Steps in the self-build tiny house creation process.

  1. Find parking. You’ll need legal parking that will allow you to have full hookups and live in your tiny house.  Having a destination will help you contact specific government agencies, planners and Building Officials and ask specific questions about legality.  You’ll need water and sewer, in ground pipe connections to septic or city sewer, and possibly power. Composting toilets are not legal in many places. Solar is not allowed as your only source of power in some locations. Don’t assume anything or rely on here say. Go directly to the local planning and building departments and have a face to face conversation. If leasing land, have your agreement in writing. 
  2. Create or purchase a plan.
    More than a sketch. You’ll need a scaled and dimensioned Floor Plan, Exterior Elevations with all openings sized, materials, Sections through the building, Interior Elevations of each wall, Electrical layout with panel, switches, lights and outlets. Heating and plumbing locations and equipment selected. All appliances selected. Never use OSB in your build. Sealed marine ply best for floor.
  3. Have your plan checked by an architect and/or engineer to verify code compliance and strength.
  4. Purchase your trailer to meet the requirements of your design.
    Consider wheels or foundation as alternatives based on local regulations. Trailer can be designed to be convertible between both foundation/support options.
  5. Find a place to build.
    Shelter? Power? Noise? Security? Access?
  6. Hire an inspection /certification service to verify your build and issue a VIN. Example: Pacific West Associates in Wyoming.
  7. Secure financing if required.
  8. Set aside a year if you plan to self-build.
  9. Dive in!

Good luck!