Where NOT To Cut Corners in Your Tiny House

 
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There are a lot of tiny house DIY projects available to swoon over on the internet and if you are hoping to start your own one day, here are a few tip on where NOT to cut corners on your build.

These tips are especially important if you plan on parking your house in cold or damp parts of the world, as tiny houses are extremely susceptible to humidity and mold growth which can compromise the integrity of the structure and damage your investment.

While it is possible to build a tiny house on a small budget, the following building materials should be purchased new. Attempting to save a buck upfront could cost you thousands of dollars in repairs down the line!

 New trailer gets framed out

New trailer gets framed out

Trailer

You wouldn’t build a traditional house on a weak foundation, would you? Sourcing the trailer for your tiny house is no different. Especially if you plan on taking your house on the road, your trailer should be brand new and built to safely and legally hold your house’s load.

Need a trailer for your build in New England? Here are two great sources for new, custom tiny house trailers:

Granite State Trailers
Tiny Foundations Northeast

Be prepared for new, tiny house trailers to cost between $4k and $6k.

Here’s a fun anecdote for why we only use new trailers…

In 2012, we decided to haul our very first tiny house to Oacoma, South Dakota. Our trailer had been sourced through Craigslist - it was an old lobstering trailer that we thought we were getting a brilliant steal on! Except that it was so salt rotted, we ended up hiring a welder to rebuild the weakened parts and to make it strong enough to hold the house. Being newbies at the whole tiny-house-on-wheels thing, we thought we were doing just fine - and saving money in the meantime!

All was well and good with our journey until one of the axles fell off the chassis in the middle of Indiana! One tire fell off entirely and one tire was popped. We ended up being stranded for five days while the repair man we had luckily located scrambled to find new wheel bearings for the rig - it turns out the trailer had already been Frankensteined once before we got our hands on it and had four different kinds of wheel bearings!

We were fortunate that our trailer was able to be repaired. However, we came pretty close to being unable to fix the problem. What would we have done, in the middle of Indiana, if the trailer guy had told us he couldn’t fix our trailer? I shudder to think!

Remember, the foundation of your tiny house should be strong - you can never replace it!! If you are investing in a tiny house, the investment starts with a trailer.

 Bob installs a new, red vinyl Jeld-Wen window in the  8x18 Whirly House

Bob installs a new, red vinyl Jeld-Wen window in the 8x18 Whirly House

Windows

Nearly everyone I talk to who is thinking of building their own tiny house informs me they plan on saving money by sourcing their windows from Craigslist. However, if you are located in New England or other cold climates, new, double (or even triple!) pane and efficient windows should be at the top of your priority list!

Why are new, double pane windows are worth your investment? 

Energy savings: tiny houses are already easy to heat due to their small size, but new windows also have less air leakage, which means you are heating your house more efficiently. Worn materials on old windows, such as poor seals, rusty hinges, or rotted wood, can also lead to air and water leakage problems as well as unwanted drafts.

More natural light: who doesn’t want a tiny house with as much natural light as possible, right? This may be a reason why collecting lots of old, cheap windows seems like a great shortcut to get the tiny house aesthetic of your dreams. However, lots of old, drafty windows can lead to unwanted heating or cooling. New windows are designed and made from materials that reduce these fluctuations and allow your house to heat and cool efficiently.

Reduced replacement costs: new windows are ready to go, right from the store. They are pre-hung and ready to fit directly into your framed rough opening. This reduces any additional materials you might need to buy to hang your windows or replace broken and shoddy parts. With any luck, new windows will last for the duration of your investment and never need replacing or touching up.

You will find that new windows really aren't all that expensive for the important role they play keeping your house bright and dry.

Some window manufacturers can even help you order custom windows to best suit your tiny house project, including fancy colored vinyl or hard to find dimensions.

 Closed-cell insulation reduces drafts and thermal bridging

Closed-cell insulation reduces drafts and thermal bridging

Insulation

True story: one time we removed the wall cladding in a tiny house to find the extruded fiberglass insulation was completely soaked through and the stud bays were filled with mold - and this tiny house was less than a year old!

Where did this excess moisture come from? Not from rain or snow melt outside the tiny house, but from condensation inside the tiny house! A winter’s worth of hot showers, wet winter gear, and a family of four had created lots of steam and humidity that was soaked up by the sponge-like consistency of extruded insulation.

The solution? Spray foam! Sure, the upfront costs of spray foam insulation can be daunting, but the benefits will quickly catch up in your wallet.

Spray foam insulation creates an air barrier to help stop unwanted drafts from sneaking into the house. This will help you efficiently heat and cool your house.

Spray foam is resistant to absorbing moisture, which means that, unlike extruded insulation types, it won’t act like a sponge, hold moisture, and lead to mold growth. Remember that mold growth, while definitely a scourge for soft pine framing members, is also detrimental to your health.

Learn more about the importance of spray foam in our Winter Utility Guide, Part 3: Insulation, Condensation, Humidity, Mold, and Wood Stoves

Another added bonus? You don’t have to install the insulation yourself! This is great for those who get itchy just looking at insulation, and in my opinion, is worth the upcharge in labor.

Need a reliable outfit to spray foam your tiny house in New England? Try Vermont Foam Insulation, Inc.

 ERV ready to be plugged into its dedicated outlet box

ERV ready to be plugged into its dedicated outlet box

Proper Venting

The last key to building a tiny house that is worth your initial investment is to make sure you have proper venting in all the right places. Proper venting will help you dispel moisture and humidity before it can become a long-term problem in your tiny house.

Some important, humid places to vent include the bathroom, the kitchen, and near the ceiling.

We highly recommend the use of an Energy Recovery Ventilator (like this model) in one of your house’s gable ends. This device exchanges the stale, humid air that rises to the ceiling with fresh air from outside. The magic lies in the ERV's ceramic core that heats even cold, winter air to room temperature before introducing it into the house, which solves a critical moisture issue and saves energy!

Don’t forget that propane heaters, water heaters, and refrigerators will likely need their own dedicated vents as well. Propane combustion uses oxygen and creates carbon dioxide and water vapor that can build up if improperly vented.

Learn more tips about using your venting your tiny house in our Winter Utility Guide, Part 1: Maintenance, Propane, and Electricity.

Make sure that your tiny house design has all the proper venting you will need, especially in conjunction with other air sealing measures like new windows and spray foam insulation. Your tiny house needs a way to exhale humid air and inhale fresh air that you and your propane appliances will eat up when the house is closed up for the cold winter months.


Do you still have your heart set on a DIY build with all the character and quirks that come from upcycled and creatively used materials? No problem! There are loads of places to introduce reclaimed materials such as the siding, interior wall, floor, and ceiling materials, the kitchen, and any other aesthetic element your house needs to make it truly yours. The opportunities are endless!

Paired with the new materials mentioned above, all your hard work and investments in time and materials will be sturdy and prepared to withstand the test of time. 

Need help navigating the murky waters of your upcoming DIY build? Let Tiny House Crafters help! We offer Research and Design services that will set your build up for success! Contact us for more information!