Tiny Free House Wall Framing Plan

Now that I have a trailer it’s time to refine the design to fit the final dimensions. Below is a drawing that illustrates how I’m thinking of building walls from pallet wood. The two main problems with pallet wood are the short boards (36″ to 40″) and that no board is the same size. So as you can imagine building anything from this stuff would be a challenge.

I’ve been noodling over these problems for a few weeks. I think I’ve come up with an unconventional, yet not unheard of, building method that should make strong walls that are relatively light weight, air tight, and attractive. Just click on the image to see the full size version.

In a nutshell, I’m thinking that the best way to build the walls is to make a bunch of 36″ by 40″ panels out of the 2×4 material from pallets, and then cover the exterior, and eventually interior, with 18″ wide trimmed pallet boards. Everything would be sanded, sealed and then glued and screwed into place. The completed panels would then be glued and bolted together as the walls go up. Wiring, plumbing, and insulation would also be installed before the interior boards would be put in place.

This would give the exterior of the house a fairly interesting look. Below is a drawing that attempts to show you how what I’m imagining. As you can see the 18″ width and the lap joints are the only things the boards will have in common. The various thicknesses and heights would add visual interest. Kind of like making lemonade from lemons.

By laying the boards horizontally in 18″ wide columns and screwing the ends into the 2×4′s behind them the exterior should take on a consistent yet random natural texture. I’m hoping that the effect will end up giving the house a clean look. I’m pretty sure I’ll use some kind of sturdy natural finish on the exterior to let the wood’s natural color and grain show through. On the interior I’m planning on using a similar technique but I’m not sure what kind of finish I’ll use yet. I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Which leads me to point out one of the more unusual aspects of how I’m going about approaching this project. Unlike an architect I can’t exactly specify every detail in the plans. The plans will have to be flexible to accommodate the unusual material and the fact that all the parts need to be free (ideally). This is week I’m searching for windows because their size will determine the framing of the wall panels that will hold them. I can begin building the standard size wall panels any time but the panels that hold the windows and door need to be built to fit the stuff I find.

I’m still working on the best way to frame the floor and roof. One interesting aspect of the trailer I chose was that it’s a bit on the tall side. The tires are truck tires, about 30″ high. This means that if I build the house’s floor over the wheels it will be about three feet in the air. The roof can be no taller than 13 feet 6 inches in California. I’ve also seen 14 feet listed online as the maximum height but I think that requires a special permit so I’ll stick with keeping the house and trailer together under 13 feet six inches and work around the pitch issue.

What all this boils down to is the pitch of my roof is going to be flatter if I decide to build the house over the wheels is that I think I want to make the house detachable from the trailer. If the house has a flat bottom, sans wheel wells, it will look more like a house when it’s set up and the trailer has been pulled out from beneath it. The only thing that might give away the fact that the house is portable will its size and the jacks I’d need to put on the four corners of the house. These would be needed to lift the house off and on the trailer and for leveling.

I’m going to have to do a little more homework before I make the final decision to make the house detachable. I’ve not seen this done with other tiny houses and I’m sure there are some serious structural considerations to be thought through. For instance the floor would need to be extremely strong to take the flexing of the house and the weight and span between the corner jacks. It almost sounds like a steel frame might be the only way to go, which would add a lot of complexity to the project.

Once I figure out if I’m going with attached or detached I’ll finish up the floor and roof framing design. I don’t think this decision makes much of an impact on the wall panel design so I’ll barrel forward there. As I get some of the panels built I’ll post photos online so you can see how the siding treatment turns out.

12 thoughts on “Tiny Free House Wall Framing Plan

  1. Pingback: Tiny Free House Framing Plan & Trailer Update - Tiny House Design

  2. You may need to do something at where each 18″ board is butted up against its neighbor to the right and left. Think about as water drips down the side it’ll have a gap where it can get inside. The fix might be as simple as putting a strip of wood from the top to the bottom along that seam.

  3. Good point David. I was thinking that the glue (like liquid nails or comparable building adhesive) would do the trick but I probably shouldn’t rely on that since that mechanical connection will probably break down over time. Designing the system to work better with just the wood does make a lot of sense. Thanks!

  4. Consider staggering the exterior wall siding like shingles. That would solve the problem. It’s worked for centuries on millions of other homes.

  5. Shingles have the advantage of an overlap too. Hmmmm you might be onto something. Thanks!

  6. That would help. Thats for the suggestion.

    We’ve actually noticed a lot of sliding glass doors free on craigslist too… that might be an option. What do you think of that idea?

  7. I would suggest building a section or two of your walls soon before you collect more pallets to see if it come out like you want it.
    Don’t know how sliding doors do on a trailer.

  8. This weekend I’m planing on knocking together a few panels. I have a couple ideas on how to connect the pallet boards but you’re 100% right… I’ll only know if this is going to work once I try to make it work.

    I bet a sliding glass door would pop right off it’s track. I’m ditching that fleeting idea right now. Can you imagine driving behind my tiny house and get a 3×7 foot door in your wind shield?! Bad idea all around. Thanks for being a sounding board.

  9. Couple of things:

    I think I am seeing this right. Common size exterior wall frames makes for ease of assembly, but it also puts a uniform weakness at the mid horizontal line of each wall. No matter how it is fastened, a common joint line like that spells disaster structurally. Even staggering a longer on the top next to a longer on the bottom next to a longer on the top next to a longer on the bottom would break the weakness of that joint.

    Second: I do not know where you are and what is going to fall on the roof, but why does it need a pitch? Why not make the walls three panels high and make a flat roof. Cover it with sheet plastic and sod. Pitched roofs are for shedding snow and are much more complex to construct. Taller walls give you a bigger loft. Put a pygmy goat on the roof for a while ever day to keep it trimmed up.

  10. Great Comments Dave… Thanks! You’re absolutely right. That seam would weaken the whole thing. I’ve actually been really troubled with the whole sturdiness issue and know it can be solved with design and common sense. Thanks for the reality check. I’m actually reworking the framing and floor plan now that I have accurate dimensions for the trailer. So your comments came at the right time.

    Love the roof/goat ideas. Now that is out-of-the-box thinking!

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