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Choosing a tiny house builder

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Deciding to live in a tiny house is a big step for anyone. It can be very difficult to find a tiny house builder in your area. Many traditional home builders do not have plans for tiny homes and they are not interested in building one because of the low income stream. If you are handy or adventurous you could build one yourself, but there are plenty of situations where a competent carpenter should be consulted.

Tiny houses on wheels

If your tiny house is going to be built on a trailer frame, you need to consult an expert. While you could do this yourself, it is more than just building the home. Tiny homes on wheels have to meet DOT specifications for height, width, and weight. You will need to have the weight load of all cabinets, appliances, furniture, and fixtures balanced evenly throughout the home.

The trailer for your tiny house on wheels will need to be strong enough to hold the weight of the finished home. Special tie-downs are required to keep the home from shifting and lifting while traveling and during storms. Tiny house trailers are normally custom built to accommodate the footprint of the home. Depending on the size of the trailer, you may be required to obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL) in order to tow your home.

Towing the home is another challenge. It is similar to driving with a large RV. Knowing the towing capacity of your vehicle is important. Most trucks cannot tow a 10,000 plus pound trailer without special hitches and towing packages. This is not something the family van can pull.

Square footage is another issue with traveling tiny houses. The maximum length of the trailer is usually 30 feet and 8.5 feet wide. This gives your traveling home a maximum square footage of 255 square feet. You can expand the living area with lofts. However, if you want a larger tiny house, you will have to forego the wheels.

Building a tiny house

Look for a builder who has experience building homes that are 500 square feet or less. It is important to interview several builders. Building a tiny house is different than a larger home. Every thing is compact. There is no room to “fudge” plumbing and electrical issues. Each living area must be laid out in advance and the dimensions are usually set in stone. Measuring for appliances and other large fixtures is critical. No one wants to replace a bathroom door with a shower curtain because the tub blocks the door.

A typical bathroom in a tiny house is 5 feet by six feet. In that space, a toilet, sink, and shower have to be installed. Using RV fixtures makes sense but they are expensive. Ask the builder if they have contacts with RV suppliers or manufacturers of appliances for small spaces.

Custom work

All tiny houses require custom woodworking. Stairs to the loft may need to have storage space included along the sides or a loft ladder needs to have an area to hang when not in use. Tables or counter tops, in particular, may need to fold out to accommodate large get-togethers. Cabinetry should include spaces to hide mixers or coffee pot when not in use. Closet space is minimal. Every inch of space must be used for storage when possible. Ask the builder if they work with the proper trade people. Have them show you custom work they have performed.

Background checks

Yes, check out your builder before you sign a contract. Call your state attorney general and find out if there are complaints. Ask the builder for references and call them. Go and see completed projects and talk to the owners. Were they happy with the final result? What about delays and mistakes—were they handled properly or was it a fight to get things right. Was the project completed on time and within budget?

Love your tiny house builder? Let your friends and family know. Nothing is better than a personal reference.

Lynda Altman lives with her husband, two college age kids, and a teenager in a small home on a fifth of an acre. She is turning the tiny lot into a homestead that will produce most of the family’s food. Her goal is to build a tiny home on a lot she owns in a nearby town. You can read about her homesteading adventures at The City Chick goes Country blog.

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