How To Build A Tiny House With No Experience

If you’re wondering how to build a tiny house with no experience in building, you may feel daunted by the amount of work you need to do. It’s understandable – a tiny house may be smaller than a traditional house, but it still takes a lot of time and effort to build.

But never fear! You don’t need to have construction experience to build your own home. In fact here at DIYGazette, we’ve already covered a story where American illustrator Michael Talley figured out how to build a tiny house with no experience, all on his own.

It’s possible to do, you just need the right knowledge and resources to make it happen. Keep reading and we’ll share the basics of what you need to kickstart your tiny house dream.

What Kind Of Tiny House Do You Want?

tiny house in a field

First things first, you need to figure out what kind of house you want to build and live in. There isn’t one single type of tiny house that everyone lives in – there isn’t even a best type of tiny house. Just like traditional housing, there are dozens if not hundreds of types to choose from!

And you can’t start planning until you know which one you want. Here are the most common variations of a tiny house to consider:

  • Tiny house on wheels – a tiny house built on a trailer, that can be moved from place to place as needed.
  • Container home – A tiny house that is built using one or more shipping containers for the shell of the home.
  • Bus conversion – a home on wheels! While unorthodox, many people are using cheap old buses as the foundations for a tiny portable home.
  • A-Frame cabin – a triangle-shaped tiny home, normally with the loft or living space at the top of the triangle.
  • Cob homes – earthen tiny homes built out of a mixture of clay, sand, and straw.

These are just a few examples, but there are many more. Make sure you do your research so you can choose the right kind of home to fit your needs.

From-Scratch vs Shell Vs Kit

When you’re thinking of how to build a tiny house with no experience, you probably believe that you only have three options: building the house from scratch, paying a builder to do it for you, or simply buying a pre-built tiny home. But this is far from the truth. You can also consider buying a shell or kit set for your tiny house build.

Building from scratch, building with a shell, or building with a kit set are three other options you have when it comes to a DIY tiny house. Your choice will depend on which one best suits your needs.

Building From Scratch

Building a tiny house from scratch can be a great option. You get the satisfaction of knowing you have planned, designed, and constructed your entire home. Not to mention you learn an enormous amount about the building process, which can be helpful if you want to take on similar projects in the future.

But building a tiny house from scratch can be difficult if you have no experience and don’t have the assistance of an experienced builder.

Tiny House Shell

A tiny house shell is a pre-built exterior, constructed by a professional builder. Pre-built tiny house shells usually include bare walls, floors, and a roof already built on a trailer. Buying a shell is a great option if you’re not feeling confident in your building abilities. Though you do have less control over the overall design, there is still a lot of space for creativity and customization.

Tiny House Kit

Tiny house kits are another way of making your tiny house journey much smoother and easier. Thought kit sets will vary considerably from company to company, most include a set of plans and blueprints that guide you through the building process step-by-step and a list of materials and exact quantities you will need to buy.

Some come with pre-cut wood and other materials (not unlike a meal kit that comes with prepared ingredients!), and some can be customized depending on your needs.

Planning And Logistics

tiny house in the desert

If you are not using a tiny house kit, then you’re going to need to plan your tiny house. If you’re buying a shell, then you only need to design the interior. There are great 3D modeling programs such as SketchUp that you can use to design floor plans and blueprints for your home.

However, if you want your house to be fully customized to suit your needs rather than a more traditional and straightforward design, you should consider working with a builder or designer to bring your plans to life in a realistic way. Your plans need to include exact measurements for materials, and should also accommodate any utilities that need to be installed.

Once you have a mockup of your building plans, you need to figure out where you’re going to put your house. This is important because some places have building and zoning laws that restrict where and how you can build your tiny house.

If you’ve already got a piece of land and have verified that you can build legally on it, then you’re ready to go! But if not, you are going to need to check the laws in your area or contact your local council so you know if building a tiny house is an option for you.

Building and zoning laws are a good reason why many choose to build tiny houses on trailers (or in converted buses and RVs). This gives you the option of transporting your tiny home quickly and easily if you are having trouble finding a permanent residence for your new home.

Ask Your Friends And Family To Help

This should be a given if you’re thinking about how to build a tiny house with no experience. Building a tiny home on your own may seem like a romantic idea, but it’s only going to make the process longer and more difficult

Ask your friends and family if they can lend a hand, regardless of their building experience. An extra hand can always be helpful even on the smallest construction site. And if you know someone with professional experience in building and construction then ask them for help! They will be the greatest asset and will make the process faster, and help you to avoid many of the obvious beginner mistakes.

Start Building!

collection of building tools

Before construction starts, make sure you’ve sourced all of the building materials you need. You can buy directly from home depot or other home renovation stores. Or you can salvage material and ask for donations if you’re building on a budget.

This is where your friends and family come in, particularly if you’ve chosen to build with a kit you need several people to assemble them.

You should already have a detailed idea of what you need to do and how you’ll do it. Make sure you have a checklist of steps that need to be completed as the build progresses. These are the steps it should include:

  1. Set the foundation for your home if you aren’t using a trailer

2. Build the floor, then sheathe with plywood or OSB (oriented-strand board). If you are building on a trailer, make sure the floor is fastened securely to the trailer.

3. Start building the shape and structure of your home by framing the walls. Don’t forget to use as much metal bracing as you need to keep the frames in place. You won’t see them once the house is finished.

4. Time to add the roof! This is one of the trickiest parts of building a tiny house, and you’re going to need as much help as you can get. A simple roof design is the best idea for a rookie builder.

5. Use waterproof house wrap to keep your interiors dry and protected from harsh weather.

6. Now you need to install doors and windows. This is one of those jobs where you will benefit from hiring a professional to help with installation.

7. Finish the exterior with plywood or concrete board cladding, and then you can paint your home whichever color you choose. Don’t forget to seal any gaps with caulking.

8. Install any plumbing, pipes, and electric components that you need to add to your home.

9. Insulate your home using low-VOC (volatile compound board) foam insulation.

10. Finish your interior sheathing with either wood or drywall.

11. If you haven’t finished your flooring, now is the time to lay any floorboards, tiles, or vinyl.

12. And now comes the best part! Once construction is complete it’s time to move in your furniture and start decorating. This is likely going to be the most fun and the most creative aspect of the build. Try to take your time and enjoy the process, you deserve it!

Top Tips For Building A Tiny House With No Experience

Here are some of the most useful tips we’ve gathered on how to build a tiny house with no experience as a builder.

1. Research, Research, Research

This is the basis of doing anything without prior experience. If you want to build your tiny house, you’re going to research everything related to building tiny houses. And everything includes:

  • Zoning laws and building regulations in your area 
  • What your budget will be 
  • Where you’re able to build or keep your tiny house (if it’s on wheels)
  • Your options for home insurance
  • The size and layout of your future tiny home
  • Tools and materials you will need
  • And more…

Not all of these things will be relatable to the actual building of the house, but you still need to know them before you plan to build. And getting some of the logistics out of the way will make it easier to start planning construction.

But of course, none of this covers how you will build. It’s up to you to figure out every step of the building process – whether that’s brushing up on construction 101, getting in contact with people who have built tiny houses, or reading and watching videos about the step-by-step process. Without thorough research and meticulous planning, you likely won’t end up with a tiny house.

2. Ask Your Experienced Friends and Family to Help

Believe it or not, you don’t have to build a tiny house alone, as much as you might like to. This is why we strongly recommend recruiting some of your loved ones to help you through the construction process. This is especially true if any of them have prior building experience – having a familiar and skilled friend or family member guiding or assisting you through is invaluable.

Even if you don’t think you know anyone who does, it always pays to ask around. You may find out an uncle used to work in construction in his younger years, or a family friend builds for a hobby.

Even if you don’t have access to someone with experience, you should still ask your friends and family for help. When you have minimal to no building experience, a few extra hands will mean the world.

3. Hire Skilled and Qualified Labor

If you don’t have any friends or family with building experience – don’t worry, you don’t have to go without informed guidance and expertise. You can also hire a general contractor to help with the build.

Not only building, but planning a tiny house build can be exhaustive and time-consuming, and if you don’t do it right the build could easily descend into chaos. A general contractor can help you with planning, scheduling, budgeting, and vetting any other potential help or resource suppliers. They can also keep you up to date on building codes, insurance coverage, and workplace safety. These are just some of the many things they are qualified to help you with, outside of simply helping you build the actual tiny house.

contractors on construction site

While a general contractor will make your build far easier, you do have to keep costs in mind. Costs will depend on a host of factors, including pricing models and the construction companies available to you. But it likely won’t be a small fee, so take this into account when making plans for your future tiny home.

4. Order a Tiny House Kit Set

There are people who consider tiny house kits to be a cop-out, but don’t listen! For some of us, building from scratch isn’t an option as we may not have the time and access to materials. And in general, building a tiny house with no experience can be an overwhelming process.

Tiny house kits come with all your essential materials already cut to size, as well as detailed building plans and blueprints for you to follow. It cuts out some of the most daunting steps of planning a tiny house build, meaning you mainly have to focus on putting the home together. And don’t be mistaken – using a tiny house kit is still a lot of work, and you will still learn an incredible amount about the construction process.

For examples of what you can find on the market, and what you can expect from top-range tiny house kits, check out The Spruce’s list of some of the best tiny house kits on offer in North America as of 2021.

5. Build a Shipping Container Home

Tiny houses built out of shipping containers are becoming a wildly popular alternative to more traditional house building and for good reason. They are a convenient option for people who want to make the building process a lot easier, which is priceless for those of us who don’t have much (or any) building experience. 

A shipping container gives you the basic frame of your house, without having to design and construct the frame yourself. All you need to do is build onto it from there, and you can customize it as you see fit. 

Containers are also fairly affordable, depending on the size and condition you buy them in. A 20 ft standard cube shipping container costs anywhere between $2000 to $5000 brand new, and $1,400 to $3,000 used. A 40 footer will set you back around $4,200 to $7,000 new and $1,700 to $2,500 used. 

Check out this couple in Washington state, who built a gorgeous container tiny home with zero construction experience!

6. Join Local Classes

This won’t apply to everyone, but be sure to scour your local classes and courses, as some places do offer rudimentary construction classes or even specific courses for tiny house building! These will usually run for a few weeks or months and cost a reasonable fee, and they are well worth doing. These courses are typically beginner-friendly and even offer some degree of practical training.

Check out your local community colleges or community event pages to see if there is anything on offer. Though they won’t teach you everything you need to know, they should give you a sturdier foundation to start with.

7. Volunteer on a Build

There’s nothing like hands-on practice to get you feeling comfortable building on-site. This is why we suggest volunteering on another build before you start on your own. It’s an easy way to tackle the issue of building a tiny house with no experience because you’ll gain a ton of experience very quickly.

Organizations like Habitats For Humanity build affordable homes around the world for those in need, and they are always looking for volunteers to help build these houses. With on-site experts to guide you, you get practical experience and plenty of insight into the building process. Volunteering on a build with licensed professionals is sure to give you the confidence you need to start a project of your own.

house during construction

And if you can’t find housing NGOs to volunteer for, ask around your friend circle or community groups. You are bound to come across someone in your area who is embarking on their own build and would be grateful for an extra pair of hands.

8. Remember That It Can Be Done

When considering taking on a project like building your own tiny house, it can be very daunting. This is 10 times truer if you’ve never so much as built a basic shelf or used a table saw. In fact, it probably seems impossible.

That’s where you’d be wrong. Building a tiny house with no experience is very doable, you just need to go about it the right way. There are always options that can make your project easier and more convenient, it just takes research, clear planning, and determination. There are thousands of people around the world who have built their own homes (both tiny and otherwise) with no building experience of their own. And you can be one of them.

Sure, it’ll be harder to build your own tiny house without prior experience, but that’s to be expected! Instead of thinking about the difficulties ahead of you, you should think about the valuable skills and insight you are going to gain while you build your new tiny home. The journey will be invaluable, and just think – if someone you know starts building a tiny house with no experience, you’ll be the first person they come to for help!

So if you were wondering how to build a tiny house with no experience, now you know!
The important things are to make sure that you know what you want, that you have everything you need, and that you have a few extra pairs of hands to help. Building a tiny house can be a complex process but it isn’t out of your reach.

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