The beginning (October 2014)
The finished, very livable (and comfortable), tiny house (May 2015):
To skip the steps of reading how we built our tiny house, check out our short video of all of our pictures and steps to building!
A Step By Step Guide To How We Built Our Tiny House
Step One: Decide how you want to build your framework. Do you want to build a custom frame? Use a boxed frame such as a utility trailer? Or convert a van? We chose to use a utility trailer because it was feasible to build it ourselves. Not having any carpenter experience, we didn’t trust ourselves to build a custom frame, like other tiny houses you may have seen. We decided to opt out of the van life because we wanted separation from our home. If we decided to camp out somewhere awesome for a week, we wanted the option to park our home and just take the truck.
Step Two: Rough layout. This is essential so that when you’re thinking through things like the windows, you don’t accidentally put a window where the bed folds up, or it’s covered by the shower.
Step Three: If you buy a utility trailer, you’re going to want windows. Which means if you’re rookies like us, you need to not only figure out what kind of windows you want, you also have to figure out how to install them. Just a heads up…RV windows are stupidly expensive. So when yours finally arrive, you’re excitement will probably look like:
And when you successfully figure out how to install them, you’ll feel pretty awesome.
Step Four: Electricity. Not joking, this took us a good month to figure out. We talked to friends with boats, consulted family members who knew way more about electricity than we did, and googled a ton of information. Ultimately, we decided we didn’t want to deal with wires and circuits. We wanted to go more “green.” We invested (and it was definitely an investment $$) on a Goal Zero Yeti so that our home could run off of solar power.
Step Five: Insulation. Putting up the insulation was pretty easy. First we stripped the trailer down by taking off all the interior wood walls.
We cut the insulation to fit in between all of the metal framing and insulated the walls and the ceiling.
After all of the insulation was up, we had to reinstall the wood walls.
Step Six: Installing the floor and putting up ceiling. First we laid down an insulation that would help with padding, moisture and insulation. We then laid the flooring…it was way easier than either of us thought it would be!
Putting up the ceiling was only tricky in terms of balancing it while we screwed it to the metal beams, but relatively an easy process.
Step Seven: Framing in the shower and kitchen counter.
The first step was to establish where exactly the shower was going and it’s orientation. We also had to decide where the fridge was going so we could build the counter top frame accordingly.
Putting in the shower support beams was easy. We just had to make sure that we were screwing the “L bracket” from the wood into the metal beam so it had some stability. Nothing like slipping on some soap and going through the shower wall…or hitting a frost heave and there go the walls.
As for the kitchen counter, (it’s spacious I know) we started by building a lop-sided square frame (since our trailer is curved in the front) out of 2×4’s, and then screwed a flat board on top of the frame so that the fridge could sit flat. From there we put the upright beams in and then screwed in a top flat board, which would then serve as the support for a countertop.
In this picture you may notice the fancy walls…We meant to buy cheap wood ($14 per panel) with the plan to just paint over it. Home Depot accidentally had birch wood sitting in place of the where the $14 panels of underlayment were. When we checked out it was around $150 more than we anticipated, so we looked a bit closer at the pricing and realized what happened. Home Depot honored their mistake and sold us birch wood (originally priced at $29 per panel) for $14 per panel!!! Home Depot rocks our socks.
Step 8: We realized that the essential next step after the shower and counter was framed in, was to make sure all of the walls had the birch wood up so when we were building things out from the wall we didn’t have to later finagle birch behind whatever we built.
Don’t get too excited…the picture was taken with a wide-angle phone lens, so the trailer appears longer than it really is, but you get the idea of what the fancy wood looks like!
Step 9: Next came the desk. This was important because as we delve into the world of blogging, we need to be able to comfortably edit film and write.
We cut the desk with a bit of an indent with the idea that we could still have enough desk space to have the computer, keyboard and room to work, without it impeding the “hallway” behind the chair.
Next we sanded the edges of the desk so that it was silky smooth and sliver-free.
Step 10: Putting up the trim on the ceiling.
This was the night where Curtiss learned that liquid nails and gravity don’t go well together. I was in the house working and he calls my cell phone – which means I instantly thought he’d lost a finger or something tragic happened with the jigsaw. However, he calmly stated, “I need you to bring me a roll of paper towel and some water.” It all worked out in the end…and the bonus was Curtiss got a wicked arm workout in the process of doing this pose for quite some time…
After his frustration with the liquid nails versus gravity debacle, he gave it 24 hours to sit, and then with fresh eyes in the morning realized it didn’t look so bad. He was pumped.
Step 11: Interior shower walls. Pinterest is full of really rustic, yet refreshing images of showers made of corrugated metal. We liked the look and that it was one less wall that would need waterproofing.
Cutting the metal was insanely loud. We prepared our ears and eyes.
Despite it being ear-piercingly loud, cutting the metal was easy. To install it we just screwed it into the wood beams inside the shower.
As for the big interior wooden wall of the shower…in hindsight we should have put that up BEFORE we put the shower beams in…
However, with a little pull and a little push we managed to sneak it in…but it was touch and go for a while!
Step 12: Kitchen countertop & sink. We decided our best option for a counter was to build our own by gluing strips of wood together, so we could then sand it down and make it all fancy. Thankfully, before we made it far into this process Curtiss talked to his Mom, who is a genius at anything DIY and furniture related, and she told him we can’t use pine (the cheap wood we bought) because it was too porous. She suggested maple, so off he went to the lumber yard!
He cut the strips, sanded them down, and then glued them together. With the help of some clamps, he also glued the outer trim on the counter top.
Next was cutting in the sink:
Unfortunately after Curtiss traced the sink I asked him to move it because he didn’t give me any elbow room. As a lefty, it originally would have limited the use of my strong hand (insert Scary Movie creepy man voice). It’s a right-handed world out there…stay strong lefties.
Here is the counter area, ready for cabinets:
Step 13: Bed. We got our inspiration for the bed from the blog I am S.A.M the Van via this sofa bed we saw on Pinterest. We modified it a bit so it was exactly what we needed. The first step was to build the frame:
Next, we had to figure out how to build the top part so that it would transform from a bench seat to a pull-out queen size bed. The hardest part was finding wood that wasn’t warped in the slightest bit…and considering we live in a temperate rainforest, that was darn near impossible. With the help of Curtiss’s favorite substance, liquid nails, and some extra screws we made it pretty level…
Step 14: Drawers.
The first round of building our drawers we used 1/4 in wood, and cheap drawer slides, that were installed incorrectly (my bad!). We were always concerned with weight when building, so we thought we’d use the thinnest wood…this was problematic for screwing where the screws didn’t poke through. Overall they were flimsy. They lasted the road trip from AK->MI and then we re-built them using 3/4 in. wood. Initially we stained the bedframe:
When we were in Michigan and rebuilt the drawers using the thicker wood and spent the money on better drawer slides that were the heavy duty ball-bearing drawer slides (about $25/per drawer). We also opted to paint the bed so it added more color.
In addition to fixing the drawers, we also fixed the mattress. Originally we went the cheap route and bought some foam from Fred Meyer and then ripped up our old duvet cover because I loved the pattern, and made our own cushions:
This was problematic because 1) the foam fell apart quickly; and 2) I am not a seamstress, so even with help from my Mom, who is way more skilled with sewing, we just couldn’t get the fabric to fit right around the foam.
After two months of sleeping on the foam, Curtiss and I opted to get an actual mattress. We found a memory foam mattress on Amazon for around $150. We also opted to just buy an actual fitted sheet. We ended up buying a fitted sheet from Target, and it turned out to be AMAZING because it has this extra piece of elastic on all of the corners. This helps to make sure with all the sliding of the bed when we move it from “couch mode” to “bed mode” the sheets don’t come off!
We also added a clip on each side of the bed frame so that when the bed is “up” it can’t slide out when we are traveling. The drawers each have an eye & hook set up so that they, too, cannot slide while we are traveling.
Here is the bed when it is up, and when it is pulled out:
Step 15: Kitchen cabinets! The face of these were pretty basic…just a few simple cuts, a sander and wood glue.
Step 16: Overhead cabinets
We used 1/4 in. wood and 1 x 1 frame supports to build these. We feared if we used heavier wood, our walls couldn’t support them. We drilled them into the wall of the trailer, which had about 1 1/4″ thick of wood, and then where we could, we drilled them into the metal beams for added support.
Once we hit the road, we realized holding these up and trying to get in them was a pain. Curtiss had the idea to use strong magnets. We put two round magnets on each cabinet via superglue and then glued one round cabinet to the ceiling so when they were opened they would stick like so:
Step 17: Finishing Shower
As for the shower, we used a shower pan we bought from Home Depot. We used a stain on all of the walls, but the two metal walls. This was to help waterproof the wood. We also cauked everything so that water couldn’t leak out. When we left Juneau we didn’t have a hole cut for the drain. It wasn’t until we got to Michigan and Curtiss’s Dad was able to help us out. Here is the shower:
Inside, we don’t have running water, as a water tank and pressure system would take up space and energy. Instead, we opted for this:
It’s a Nemo Helio pressure shower. It actually has pretty good water pressure and a 7′ foot hose.
Other than the fact that getting it warm is a challenge…as in not really do-able unless we leave it in the sun.
Step 18: Toilet
We bought our toilet from a couple who bought it for their boat, but never used it. (It was still in the box). It was only $60. It’s very basic with just a fresh water tank to “flush” and a holding tank, which of course holds the waste. So far we only use it for #1. It’s not the most wonderful thing to take care of, but cleaning it usually just consists of dumping it down an RV dump station drain and then rinsing it with soap and adding an RV toilet solution.
It has a lever where after we do our business we pull it, which releases the urine into the holding tank. We then flush the toilet part by pushing a button.
Step 19: Finishing Touches
Here is where we tuck away our sleeping bags. Initially we thought we’d want actual bedding, but the sleeping bags are so much more versatile and they are really easy to wipe dog hair off. We also own a Rumpl, which is an awesome blanket for dirt and dog hair. Nothing sticks to it!
One of our favorite space savers has been this idea we got from Pinterest to store shoes. It’s awesome because it keeps our shoes off the floor!
Once we officially moved in, we realized we needed more organization. Hooks, hooks, hooks and more hooks have been a life saver.
- We also have added reinforcing clips to all of our cupboards
- We added hooks under our sink to hang our pots and pans
- We used bungees to secure our Goal Zero from sliding, as well as all of our sleeping bags
- We added a portable AC unit, that when in use sits in the “kitchen” and when not in use gets tucked under the desk.
- In the bathroom area we also added simple things like a toilet paper holder and another basket to hold toiletries
- In the kitchen we also added a paper towel dispenser
Living in such a tiny space we’ve learned clutter adds up quickly, which means EVERYTHING needs to have a home.
We officially hit the road May 31st…here are few pictures of us enjoying the first few weeks!