Revised Floor Plan – Just Throwing It Out There

When Julia and I first got married we lived in a small cabin in Mendocino County in northern California. It was 450 square feet and was plenty big for me by myself. She didn’t have much stuff but when she moved in we learned one of the most common lessons of any small house dweller knows all too well; the more stuff you have the less space you have.

When I showed her the plan for the tiny free house, and the challenge of the shorter roof, she pointed out how much bigger it would feel it the loft were just big enough for our daughter Katie and the larger bed were on the main level. We also realized that designing a tiny house is more like designing a piece of furniture since every cubic inch must be considered. This opened us up to some out of the box thinking and we came up with a couple ideas I wanted to share with you.

Bed/Bench

One of her ideas was a bench that could open into a bed. She drew it on a napkin and I’ve redrawn it here. It basically has a hinged top that flips over doubling the width and giving you a flat surface for a mattress. In this tiny space all that would fit is a twin mattress. I might be able to find a way to fit a full size mattress but first let me describe the second idea.

Flip Down Bunk

A taller ceiling definitely makes a room feel bigger. What if a bed were hinged from the wall ad lifted and latched to the sloped ceiling when not in use?

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.

Detailed Design Drawing Of The Tiny Free House

I was thinking through a suggestion from Kithera on one of my other blogs, Tiny House Design, about using a proper shower instead of a wet bath and decided to do a quick drawing to figure out if there was enough room for a proper shower. If I leave the width at six feet and use a standard sized free toilet a proper shower takes up a bit too much space.

A wet bath, or one that could withstand the spray from a shower, is more doable in terms of size but would definitely be harder to build due to the need to waterproof everything. It also eats up space that could be used to store towels and other bathroom items. I’ll keep noodling over this for now and be on the lookout for discarded shower stuff (like an old fiberglass shower unit), toilet, etc. Having the actual bathroom elements will be essential for finalizing the design. I will remove the sink as Kithera suggested, she’s right who needs a sink in a bathroom when there is a perfectly good kitchen sink within arms reach.

Also shown in the drawing is how I’m thinking of framing the house with pallet wood. You’ll notice that there seem to be way too many studs, and that’s because I suspect the only way to build with short (approx 3 feet) pallet 2x4s I’ll need to build up multiple 2x4s. I’m pretty sure glueing and bolting them together is the best way to do it since nails would eventually fail. As soon as I can I’ll knock toghter a few to see how well that approach will work.

I’ve also considered building panels or even using pallets in their original shape but I’m worried those approaches might be too structurally unsound. If anyone has any ideas on a way to do it using less material please post a comment. A more frugal use of 2×4 material would yield a lighter and more insulated house.