I was watching a show on Tiny Homes and started thinking wondering about a practical minimal house plan. How small can we go?
I think just about everyone when they’re young dreams of a loft apartment – small is fine, as long as it’s located when the action is. A bed over by the hotplate and we’re happy. But as we age, needs change – from little things like lower light switches and bathroom bars – to big things, like convenience to health centers and extra room for help or visitors.
However, I think a compromise can be made – so here’s my suggestion for a not-so tiny home, suitable for a couple or maybe a small family, and ultra low cost:
- Square floor plan, 24 by 24. At 576 square feet it’s definitely small, but as I’ll explain, it’s got all we need.
- A square plan makes best use of materials, since it maximizes interior square footage while minimizing perimeter (exterior) length. After all, walls cost.
- 24 is a multiple of 8, a common measure for 2x4s, plywood sheets, and so on, saving on trimming and wastage.
- Rooms can be small, but they have to exist: Lofts are for kids, and adults sometimes want (or need) a closed door. So let’s provide 2 work/hobby/spare bedrooms and one master bedroom.
- Same for bathrooms. If you’ve ever waited for your turn for a single bathroom, this is a no-brainer. And not a half-bath: Either two bathrooms with tubs, or one with tub, one with shower.
- Low cost construction. Vinyl siding, metal roof (higher initial cost but low overall cost), and as much of local material as possible. If wood siding is available locally for less, that’s a winner over vinyl.
- No halls. Hallways in most apartments are huge space killers. I once lived in a two bedroom apartment with about 750 square feet that felt roomy – the key was a very small central area all rooms opened into – less than 50-60 square feet wasted. To do this, the plan would have to have a room replace the hall for connecting, like a long living room.
- Built ins. Rather than framing and gyproc on interior walls,why not builtins for some areas? Obviously the bathroom and kitchen need walls (actually, the kitchen just needs one common wall with the bathroom), but why not separate the smaller rooms with full height cabinets, desks, and closets? While initially more expensive, the fact that you can build them over time (and even defer building them for a while) is a big plus for keeping initial costs down.
- More benefits for bultins: No framing or gyprocing awkward features like closets, and depending on your local building codes, you may not need as much electrical wiring since it is not a house wall, but a furniture unit.
- Take space from where you don’t need it. Which is better, one big guest bedroom or two smaller ones? If you and your significant other want to have hobbies, or work from home, separate small non-bedrooms make more sense. And if you are thinking wall units, you could even design one that drops a bed and moves to one side so the two rooms can become one for visitors.
- Future planning. For example, if one entrance is near a back corner, then adding an addition there means no hallway needed to connect to it. Same with placing windows: Put them on the sides you never expect to expand on and you reduce effort (and cost) later.
- Owner built trusses. You can build roof trusses with 2x4s and save. Look for plans all over the Internet.
- Limit ‘exotic’ features. A deck or full garage sounds good at first, but owning your house outright versus a mortgage will sound better.
- And of course, do as much as you can yourself – framing, plumbing, electrical.
How to lay it out? Think of it as 8×8 cubes – one a bedroom, one a kitchen, etc – and you get 9 ‘cubes’ in this design: 1 master bedroom, 2 offices, 2 bathrooms, leaving 4 cubes for kitchen/living room/dining room (do we even need a dining room?) If you envision a tic-tac-toe board, then the top row could be office/bath/master bedroom (with sole access to the bath), and the bottom row could be office/bath/kitchen, leaving the center row for a long living room/dining room, and front/back door at both ends.
The master bedroom and bathrooms are framed in, and the kitchen shares one bathroom wall. The rest can stay open until time and money permits finishing. Floor to ceiling wall units can provide storage space and closet space, and can adapt to whatever you need. Planning to buy a bookshelf? Why not make it 8′ high and turn it into a room divider? Or add a place for a Murphy bed. Or make a section wider for closet storage or a work desk. Building your own furniture as well as a ‘wall’ can be more economical in the long run than doing both, especially if you do the work yourself.
And while the cube idea is simple, it can be expanded. Want a bigger master bedroom? Move the adjoining wall a foot and have a smaller bathroom. Or living room. The plan is deliberately minimalist, and designed to be improved upon. So feel free to tweak the idea yourself.
Whether a house like this would feel roomy enough is subjective, but I believe it would. We’ve gotten used to large rooms and the ‘dream’ of lofts; but as people age, those open cold spaces aren’t as inviting, and small and cozy (and cheap to heat) become far more enticing. Start imagining how little space YOU need – you might be surprised at the tiny home you come up with!