How to Know What Size Tiny House You Really Need

How to Know What Size Tiny House You Really Need

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different sizes of tiny house
Photo by Nanda Sluijsmans via Flickr

The first question you need to answer before building or buying a tiny house is– how large should it be? Getting an idea of the size of your dwelling can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.  

Tiny houses can have a floor area between 70 square feet and close to 500 square feet. There are tons of factors to consider when deciding what size of tiny home you need. However, the primary consideration is the number of occupants. 

An average person requires 100 to 400 square feet of livable space to feel “comfortable.” However, each person has different needs and comfort levels. Hence, you need to decide how much space should be allocated for each tiny house member.

Using the same metrics, we can easily see why tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) can only accommodate up to four persons at a time. 

In this post, we looked into the process of knowing the size of a tiny house where every occupant can be happy and comfortable. 

Size Limitations of a Mobile Tiny House

Most tiny homeowners register their dwelling as an RV so they wouldn’t have to comply with strict building codes and zoning laws. However, they are also required to submit a certification from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

Aside from the floor area limitation, tiny houses also have other restrictions in terms of its measurement. For it to be road-worthy, its width should not exceed 8.5-feet. Additionally, it can only be up to 40-feet long and 13.5-feet high. 

Because of these limitations, it’s quite rare to see a tiny home on wheels (THOWs) with a floor area that exceeds 500 square feet. 

Hence, if you plan to live in a mobile tiny home for more than a month, you should take note of this size limitation. Also, it is illegal to permanently live in a mobile home, especially once you registered it as an RV. 

tiny house small
Photo by Mark McClure via Flickr

Size Limitations of a Stationary Tiny Home

Once you settle your tiny house over a foundation, you can significantly increase its living space through different methods. The common practice is to register your small home as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).

Different states have varying laws regarding ADUs. The state of Oregon, for example, only allows an ADU to be 800 feet square or smaller. It also requires a tiny home with 500 square feet of impenetrable surface to have a stormwater treatment facility. 

Settling in a private property or a tiny home community is the preferred setup of the most tiny home owners. Very few drives around on their small mobile home and live there for more than a couple of weeks. 

Thus, if you plan to live in a stationary tiny home, you need to abide by the zoning laws and building codes of the state. With that said, you may need to renovate your tiny house to comply with these regulations.

Things That Will Take Space in Your Tiny Home

One truth about living in a tiny home is that there is only so much space to go around. However, there are numerous techniques to save as much space as possible. 

Every square foot that you could save can make your home feel a bit roomier. For this reason, the first thing you need to consider before buying a tiny house is– what are you going to put inside it?

Aside from people, other things consume space inside a tiny home. Such as:

  • Furniture such as sofas, tables and cabinets
  • Walls and small decorations
  • Appliances such as refrigerator and TV
  • Closets and other compartments
  • Beds and loft
  • Staircase, if you have a second floor

These parts of the house can quickly eat up more than half of the available space in your tiny home. If you currently live in a traditional home or apartment, you can measure these things.

tiny house windows

Factors to Consider When Determining the Size of Your Tiny House

Aside from the legal limitations, there are also other factors that you need to consider when designing a tiny home. For the most part, you have to deal with the building codes and zoning laws in your state.

These are the other things you need to think about before drawing a house plan:

1. Personal Preferences

We all have different personal liking when it comes to our home. Some prefer a large living room, while others prefer big comfortable bedrooms. These peeves can significantly affect the design of your tiny home unit. 

The number of adults and kids living in a tiny house can also affect its size. If you are a couple with a toddler, you may all stay in one bed. However, if you have a teenager, he or she may need a separate room or sleeping area. 

2. Size of the Lot

If you plan to settle your tiny home over a foundation, you also need to consider the available lot from the property. Also, check first with your jurisdiction, if it’s allowed to build a tiny home in your private property as not all states permit it. 

3. Your Towing Vehicle

Wouldn’t it be nice if you don’t have to call a hauling company to transport your tiny home? Well, if you have an SUV or pickup truck with ample towing power, then it can solve your problem. Check with your car’s user manual if it can tow more than 5,000 pounds which is what the smallest tiny home weighs. 

4. Semi-trailer Dimensions

Another thing you should be wary of is what type of trailer should you use for your tiny home. There are many kinds of trailers, and each has its pros and cons. They also have different lengths which directly affects the available floor area for your unit. 

tiny house for sale
Photo by Jon Callas via Flickr

Estimating the Amount of Space You Need

Once you get how much space is consumed by the items listed above, the next step is to visualize if they could fit in a tiny home. You can use a piece of blank paper, a pencil or a ballpoint pen, and a ruler to draw the floor space of your small home.

If you know how to do it on a computer, you may do so as well. There are also numerous programs specifically for designing floor plans which you can download. Most engineers, for example, use AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Solidworks and the like.   

Here are the steps to sketching your floor plan:

1. Use Proper Scaling

For easier scaling, you can assume that an inch is equal to 10 feet. If you plan a bigger floor plan, you need something bigger than a bond paper to sketch your idea. Or you can also rescale to say an inch equals 20 feet.

2. List Down What Goes Inside

Next, decide what necessities and amenities that the tiny home should have. For example, do you need a separate living room and bedroom or can they function as one? Which takes priority– a wash area or a pantry?

3. Know the Dimension of Each Part of the House

Once you get a list of what you want to put in your tiny home, next is to know the dimensions of each item. For example, you can use a ruling tape and measure your bed’s width, length and area. Do the same thing to your sink, refrigerator, couch and other amenities you have in mind. 

4. Design Each Room As Simple as Possible

Next, design your bathroom, dining room, bedroom and living room as simple as possible. Place each of the items you have listed in each room and estimate the amount of floor space they need. Remember to add 20 to 40-percent of this space for the house’s walkway. 

5. Add Up All the Figures You Obtained

Next, add up all the figures for the areas of the rooms you need. This figure is roughly the total amount of space you need for your dream tiny house.

Once you have a rough estimate of the floor area you need, the next step is to choose the type of trailer where you could place it.

70 square feet tiny house
Photo by Bill Smith via Flickr

Which Trailer Should You Use for Your Tiny House?

If you plan to build a tiny home on wheels, you should also look into the different trailers you can use. Tiny house trailers usually vary based on their length and number of wheels or axles, but most of them are almost 7-feet wide. 

Moreover, trailers also have different load capacity from 4,000 pounds to more than 15,000 pounds. The load rating tells you how much weight it could carry. When building a tiny home, you should also compute the weight of the structure and everything you will put in it.

Below are some of the most popular trailer options for tiny house owners:

1. Dovetail

This trailer has an angled rear section that leans to the ground like a dove’s tail; hence its name. If you’ve seen huge trailers that haul trucks, cars, and other vehicles, it’s similar to those. With a dovetail trailer, it’s much easier to load things inside your tiny home.

Because of its unique design, tiny homes built on dovetails usually have a storage area on the rear. It can also be just an open area, where you can temporarily store your bike or motorcycle. However, the awkward layout usually calls for modifications to make it viable for a tiny house structure. 

2. Deck-Between Trailer

As the name hints, the deck of this trailer is in between its two wheels. Hence, the flatbed is located just below the summit of the wheel’s reach. 

Deck-between trailers can’t have a bed that’s wider than the distance between the two wheels. As such, you have less room to work with. However, it’s easier to build a tiny home in this trailer because it sits lower to the ground.

3. Deck-Over Trailer

With this trailer, the flatbed is located above the wheel wells without them getting in the way. For this reason, this type of trailer can be as wide as eight feet; still legal for road use. 

Because of the extra space from its wide-body, this is one of the most preferred trailers for mobile tiny homes. However, their high ground clearance means that it would be harder for you to expand vertically. If you use this trailer, you may have to stick to a one-storey tiny home. 

4. Gooseneck

Goosenecks can either be deck-over or deck-between trailers. However, they use a ball hitch to haul the unit. Pickup trucks are the preferred towing vehicles for this type of trailer. The gooseneck, or an extended portion of the trailer, usually reaches over the pickup’s tailgate. 

The gooseneck is also a great trailer to build a tiny home that has a floor area of more than 350 square feet. The additional space just above the hitch or tow bar can be used as an additional room or storage. Thus, giving you extra space while keeping to the legal road length of the trailer and towing vehicle.

Visualizing the Tiny Home of Your Dreams

Tiny home manufacturers have a technique to visualize how the finished unit would look like. Aside from creating sketches, they also draw life-size floor plans of the tiny home. They also integrate the floor plan into the best-matched trailer type.

If you plan to build your own tiny home, you can also do this visualization method. Here is how:

1. Measure everything that you want to be included in your small home such as the rooms, furniture, appliances and walkway. If you can have a floor plan sketch, then do so.

2. Go to an empty area such as your garage, your lawn, or a vacant piece of land. Next, using tapes plot the floor plan. Using the dimensions, you obtained you can mark the amount of space used by a room or object.

3. After an hour or two, you will now have several rectangles on the floor. It’s the actual scale of the house of the tiny home you are planning to build.

4. If you notice that a part of the house is off, you can move it around like a jigsaw piece. You may also need to adjust the placement of your furniture or appliances if it obstructs or narrows your walkways.

This visualization can give you all sorts of ideas if you should give the floor plan you have in mind a go. For better results, we recommend you consult a professional house planner or tiny home builder for the project.

Purchasing a Tiny Home Blueprint

If you don’t want to go through all the troubles of designing your tiny home, there are always other alternatives. Numerous tiny home manufacturers or builders sell building plans. 

What’s great about this option is you can proceed to build the tiny home if you like the design. But before you begin your project, make sure first to consult a structural engineer to make sure the house is safe to live in. 

You can even browse online to find free tiny home blueprints by some of the most renowned designers in the business. You can use these plans to draw out inspiration for your tiny home or use them directly. 

The best thing about these free blueprints is that they are Do-It-Yourself friendly projects. However, you may still need the advice from a professional, especially when you want to put these structures over a trailer. 

Nonetheless, these plans could save you a bit of money and fast-track building your tiny home. 

tiny house models for sale
Photo by Mark Crawley via Flickr

Conclusion

Tiny homes come in different shapes and sizes, much like your traditional houses. Getting an idea about its size and total floor area can help you better plan the design of your humble dwelling.

Related Questions

Which is larger– a tiny home or an RV?

Generally speaking, both RVs and tiny homes have almost the same size given that they also follow the same limitations previously mentioned. In some cases, though, tiny homes can be a bit larger because they can expand vertically.

On the other hand, RVs has an average 10-feet, and its roof isn’t considered livable spaces. In contrast, tiny homes can be as tall as 13.5 feet and have a second floor.

Can a tiny house be 10-feet wide?

Yes, it can exceed the 8.5 feet limit for road use. However, once you exceed this measurement, you can’t transport your tiny home elsewhere. For this reason, you only want a 10-feet wide tiny home if it’s built over a foundation. 

How thick are the walls inside a tiny house?

The minimum thickness for a tiny home’s wall is about 4.5-inches. This kind of wall is enough to accommodate your wall framing with insulation, slidings and sheathing.   

All About Tiny Houses is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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