Thomas J. Story/Sunset Publishing

You’ve seen them in print (in Dwell and Time); on TV (“Tiny House Hunters,” “Tiny House Nation"); and even in the movies (Small Is Beautiful, Tiny: The Movie).

It’s true—tiny houses are everywhere.

And who wouldn’t want to live in a tiny house? They’re adorable, portable, economically and ecologically friendly…

But how, exactly, do you build one?

Curious, we tapped Catherine “Cat” Zola Allen for advice. Cat, an astrologer, designed and built her own 272-square foot tiny house, where she lives with her husband and two cats, in Sebastopol, CA. Here, Cat’s top 10 tips for building a tiny house.

Tip #1: Figure out if you can really live with less stuff.

You’ve seen the drool-worthy Instagram photos, and you want in. But first, you need to think about whether you can live with less. True, you could have offsite storage, but it would be easiest if you can pare down your belongings so they’ll fit into 200 square feet.


Tip #2: Devise your tiny floor plan.

Cat suggests making a map that “charts your movements throughout your existing home.” You'll learn how much space you use—and how much you don't—and you can design around those needs. For more ideas, visit other tiny houses and see which floor plans you like.


Tip #3: Start with a strong foundation.

Cat warns against building on top of an Airstream or travel trailer, as these trailers aren't designed to support much weight. Instead, she recommends using a steel trailer with very strong axles. If you don't choose a strong base, you could “wind up with a trailer that’s gonna fall apart on the freeway.”


Tip #4: Make a preliminary budget.

Based on the materials you plan to use (and the amount of scrounging you're willing to do), the price for a tiny house can range wildly, from nearly nothing to $70,000. Know what you expect to spend before you start—that way, you can plan accordingly.


Tip #5: Build your tiny house indoors.

While you could build your house outside, at your desired location, Cat notes that “it’s much easier [to build] on a flat cement floor that's covered from the elements.” Even if the weather’s fine, you will still need a sheltered place to keep your tools and building materials.


Tip #6: Never build alone.

Although it is possible to build a house by yourself—as the indomitable Dick Proenneke proved—it’s not ideal. Often, “you need somebody to hold one end” while you work on the other end of the structure. Building is easier—and faster—with a little help from your friends.


Tip #7: Shop around for cheap building materials.

Habitat for Humanity runs ReStores—nonprofit home improvement stores that sell building materials. While building, Cat “got [her] bay window, French doors, kitchen cabinets, shelving material, and outdoor cabinets” from the ReStores. The total cost? $600. For deeper discounts, head to your local dump. Cat scored a chandelier at the dump for $12.


Tip #8: Plan for the hazards of the open road.

As you’re building, remember that your tiny house will be moving down the freeway at least once in its life, so it will need to withstand 60 mph winds. That means that “everything on the house has to be ‘tied down' with storm braces.” If things aren't attached properly, "your roof could blow off on the freeway!”


Tip #9: When in doubt, YouTube it.

In Cat's words, "I couldn’t have built this house before YouTube." She studied online videos to learn how to install a window and how to tile her shower.


Tip #10: Don't worry—be flexible!

At the end of the day, take it easy! Cat notes that “there are a million ways to do things,” and there is no one right way to build a tiny house.


Happy building!




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