Jul 8, 2016 · 5 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

When deciding to move to a tiny house, there’s a lot to consider: what kind of tiny house will you live in — one on wheels, a garage conversion, a tiny cottage or apartment? Will you own or rent? Where will your house be? Will you build it yourself or work with a builder? Buy already built or custom build it?

In our first installment of Shrinking House, I answered the first question and talked about our decision to go with a tiny house on wheels instead of a garage conversion. Practically, this means we’ll be downsizing from a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 975-square-foot condo to a 2-loft, 1-bath 280-square-foot (including the lofts) tiny house. That’s a decrease of almost 700 square feet in space, or about the size of my childhood home that I shared with my parents and two brothers.

That just blows my mind. There’s no way I could get five people living in the condo I have now. That’s a testament to the design and intelligent use of space in my childhood home. In my current home, there’s a lot of space and even a good amount of storage, but it’s not laid out well enough to allow that many people to live here comfortably. In fact, in helping me settle on a layout, my parents have been joking about demolishing their house, a 1,200-square-foot typical suburban California ranch house, and setting up a tiny house on wheels instead. The floor plan would be more useful, they say.

Going custom

Of course, they won’t, but the idea is that design matters, and 280 well-designed square feet can be more useful than almost 1,000 wasted square feet. That’s also why many people choose to build custom tiny homes – the houses are small enough and you can keep costs low enough that you can tailor the layout and functionality to what you actually use in your real life. Don’t throw large, formal dinner parties? Great, because there’s no room for a large, formal dining room. Love to cook? Dedicate more of the space to the kitchen and delete some from another area in the house.

After checking out some pre-built tiny homes on wheels, my daughter and I decided that a custom home would better suit our needs. As she is 10 and I’m expecting another baby later this year, we had some specific needs. For instance, I want her to be able to get away from a crying baby by being able to close a door to her loft. Most pre-built tiny homes don’t have walled-off lofts. I also wanted to be able to get to the baby without going up and down a ladder to a high loft. That means a lower loft and a special gooseneck trailer. These aren’t unheard of, but they’re also not very common. Add to that the fact that there just aren’t that many tiny homes for sale in our area, and custom became the way to go.

But before spending any money, we still had a few decisions to make. Asking yourself these three questions before you begin can save you time, money and heartache.

Know thyself

These questions require some reflection and some knowledge of who you are, what you like and what you’re willing to do. “And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest.” (Ah, The Princess Bride. Supplying appropriate quotes for every situation.)

1. What is most important to you to have in your house? That is, what are you willing to sacrifice and what are you not willing to sacrifice?

This is where knowing yourself comes in really handy. You don’t want to think that you can sacrifice space for your art if you’re an artist, or space for your computer if you work from home, or anything else that’s integral to your life. Try to think what you would regret not having if you didn’t put it in. Be honest, too. This isn’t an excuse to load up the the house with expensive bells and whistles, but it’s also not the time to play the martyr.

2. Will you buy plans or design it yourself?

When it comes to design, if you don’t have special requests, you can always start with plans you can purchase from a tiny home design company. These are great and can save money, especially if you only need to tweak them a little bit.

If you want to start from scratch, know that the process will take a little longer, and be sure to have someone look them over so you don’t get started on your build and realize you forgot to include a spot for a refrigerator.

3. Will you build the house yourself or work with a builder?

Also be honest about whether you have the time, skill, and desire to build it yourself. You can always acquire skill, but time and desire can be difficult to drum up. Building yourself can also take much longer than having a professional do it, but it can save you a considerable amount of money.

We decided to go with a builder. I know that I don’t have the time, and with a newborn, I’ll barely have the time to move into the house. I know I don’t have the skill, nor do I have the patience to acquire it; and let’s face it. I just don’t want to do all that work. Will it cost me a little more? Sure, but I’ve been saving up for this, my budget is realistic, and I know I’ll get a quality product when I’m done, which is more than I can say for myself if I built it.

After all, this place is going to be home. Each choice has positives and negatives, and only you can determine what makes the most sense for your life.

Now that we’ve determined what makes the most sense for the life we want to live, I’m taking a deep breath and heading over the hill and through the woods (literally), to the builder’s place today to drop off my contract and the check for half the cost of our build.

Here goes!

Would you build your own tiny house or work with a builder?


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.