With the swelling interest in tiny homes as a way to live more sustainably and simply, we know that many of you are keen to try building one yourself.
The good news is that there are hundreds of tiny home plans you can buy to get you started.
I was lucky enough to speak Gabriella Morrison, who together with her husband Andrew, started TinyHousePlans.com, one of the best known places to buy plans. Here’s what she told me.
How Tiny House Plans began
Why did you start Tiny House Plans?
The idea of starting TinyHousePlans.com was born from all the time that my husband Andrew and myself spent meeting thousands of people while presenting at dozens of tiny house festivals/jamborees. One overwhelming sentiment we often heard was how hard it was to find high quality and safe plans to build a tiny house from.
At the time, we were selling our 28′ home plans on our sister site www.TinyHouseBuild.com and those plans were flying off the shelves (we’ve sold over 2,000 sets since launch in 2014). Clearly there was a need for plans, especially for the DIY builder, which is our target audience. We were also seeing quite a lot of scarily unsafe and/or incomplete plans being sold to beginner builders who then ended up feeling like they had gotten ripped off or worse, built tiny houses which were unsuited for being towed.
Andrew has been a professional builder for over 20 years and in that time, has learned a ton about architectural plans (what separates a good from poor quality set, what components make one more DIY friendly, etc). We’ve also devoted the last 6 years of our lives towards coming up with resources helping the DIY builder learn how to build their own tiny house from the ground up.
We have a step-by-step, 6 hour video series showing how to build a tiny house from trailer all the way up, have taught a couple dozen in person workshops at cities throughout the US, Canada, and even Germany, and now have a digital workshop which was filmed at an in person workshop.
All this to say that empowering the DIY builder to use their own hands to create their own home is really our passion! Offering high quality tiny house construction plans is a piece of a builder’s need. We have a great time playing matchmaker; facilitating a person falling in love with their dream tiny home is a blast!
When did you start it and how has it been evolving?
We launched TInyHousePlans.com May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 2018 and in that time have made incredible strides in business growth. Our goal was to hit #1 for search term “tiny house plans” within the year but we hit it within less than 5 months! We aimed to have a collection of 12 high quality plans within the year, instead we have over 20 with several more in the pipelines.
One of the big shifts we have started seeing is designers reaching out to us first (rather than us needing to approach them). So the word is getting out there and more and more people want to join the team, which is truly wonderful! We absolutely love and admire our amazing designers and it’s been an absolute joy working with each of them.
We feel proud that we are creating a marketplace (the first of its kind because up until TinyHousePlans.com, there was no other website dedicated to just tiny house plans) for all of these talented designers and architects to showcase what they created. We take care of everything for them, including customer service questions and fulfillment. We are committed to making this as pleasant and easy for each of our designers.
Living The Tiny Lifestyle
What do you think is the key ingredient to living tiny?
Having an open and adventurous mindset! Living tiny is an adventure and can sometimes be challenging. Most of us have grown up pretty conditioned to live with more square footage than needed and with amenities which aren’t always available to the person living tiny. But with a healthy mindset, a person can deal with just about any challenge.
The other ingredient I find helps is healthy communication. If you’re planning on living tiny with others, be prepared for hidden and sometimes unhealthy patterns to creep up. It’s just sort of inevitable! But if you approach those times with open and kind communication, you can get through anything at all. Trust me…not only have I lived tiny with my husband Andrew for nearly 9 years, but we’ve also raised our now adult children in a tiny house setting for many of those years. All four of us share that living the tiny house and intentional/mindful lifestyle has been the thing which has brought us closest together.
Diversity in Plans & Approaches
How diverse are the plans?
TinyHousePlans.com offers plans for a wide variety of tastes! Our smallest is the Don Vardo tiny house (11’4″ x 6’8″)…the cutest of them all and designed by our dear friend Dee Williams from Pad Tiny Houses. Our largest is the Terraform One (32′ x 8’6″) by the talented Richard Ward.
In between we have everything from modern, to whimsical, to charming. We have SIPs houses (a super energy efficient panelized construction system) and our first container home (the Model One by Modern Dwellings).
Some of our offered tiny houses have been in DWELL magazine, TIME magazine, Diane Sawyer World News, the Today Show, and many other major news outlets. Many of them have received architectural awards from non-tiny house based organizations. It’s an exciting mix!
Are you seeing many shipping container home requests?
We are! More and more! The great appeal to most is seeing that if you go with a container option, your foundation, walls, and roof are already in place. This saves the DIY builder literally months of potential work. They’re also drawn to the fact that container homes are nearly indestructible.
Container homes just make sense in so many ways and it’s certainly the option we are personally the most excited about (perhaps we need to build a container home on our little hOMe tiny house compound!)
Where are people submitting plans from?
Initially we contacted all of our closest tiny house friends who were already offering high quality plans for sale. Then we started reaching out to people we hadn’t personally met but whose plans we really loved. Now we have professional architects and design companies reaching out to us and asking to list on TinyHousePlans.com. Pretty neat!
Permitting Your Building
What is your experience with planning and permits?
Of all the things we have done during our involvement with the tiny house movement, the one we are most proud of is co-authoring Tiny House Appendix Q. For those who don’t know, because of our incredible team (and hundreds of donations from the amazing tiny house movement), a national building code now exists for tiny houses.
The approval process was intense (imagine having to present and then aggressively defend this new code proposal at a hearing in front of hundreds of grumpy IRC code officials with a lot of strong opinions about tiny houses), complete with villains and real-life heroes, and then having to wait for months while building officials all around the country voted on the proposal as well.
That said, there’s still work to be done. Not every state and building jurisdiction has adopted it yet (code changes move slower than molasses). So in the meantime, we must keep moving forward with educating code and zoning officials about tiny houses and advocating for our right to live in a home which is affordable, has a low carbon footprint, and tiny.
What advice do you give to people about contracting the right people to build?
I’m very sad to say that over the years we have personally met dozens of people who were taken advantage of by employing shady builders. There are some crooks out there and when the tiny house movement really started getting popular, they kind of gravitated towards this ‘opportunity’.
We actually have a whole lesson in our Digital Tiny House Workshop (which is one of the $200 of FREE bonuses which comes with ANY purchase of our plans) about how to stay safe and not get ripped off during your tiny house construction process.
The BIG thing we tell everyone is that a good contract needs to be in place before anything. It may seem obvious, but of those people we know who were taken advantage of, about 10 of them had no contract in place with the builder at all. That meant that they have literally zero legal recourse. In the end they each lost at least $10,000, which was financially catastrophic for them.
The other big piece is getting referrals. Again, this may seem straight forward, but we have to mention it because it’s easy to get swept away in the excitement of building a tiny house as soon as possible, and people miss doing their due diligence. Look for their rating on the Better Business Bureau. Google their names and be on the watch for anything that seems fishy.
Join the Facebook group run by one of designers, Macy Miller who designed the amazing MiniMotives plans): Tiny House People. There are over 40,000 members in there and we always recommend people run their potential builder’s name to those folks.
Getting More Help
Can you explain what you cover in the online course you offer?
We offer a free 7 Day Tiny House E-Course. In it we give a pretty comprehensive primer about tiny houses covering everything from trailers/foundations, framing, electrical & plumbing, finishing, roofing, making the move to tiny, and codes & zoning. This e-course is perfect for somebody just dipping their toes into the water.
There’s really a ton of content in it and we highly recommend people sign up for it! We also offer this e-course on our TinyHouseBuild.com and since launch, it’s been viewed by over 90,000 readers…it’s great stuff!
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