This a whole new type of construction. There is no actual code base yet, but there are a lot of people working on that. That being said, there are all kinds of different ways to do the construction. A THOW is a Tiny House on Wheels and when you Do It Yourself, there are some guidelines to follow that ensure the bumps and potholes of your adventures don’t shatter your dream home along the way.
There are builders who are taking this extremely serious and others who may not be doing enough. The ways we will be covering here are based on methods used by Sam “Woody” Underwood and his wife Lynsi at the Small Dwelling Company near the DFW Metroplex. Their philosophy is simple: It’s very important for the home to be extremely strong. The construction should be built to Hurricane Coastal Codes, a home built right that when strapped to the ground will survive anything. A home built to last a lifetime.
There is a National Tiny House Appendix that has been approved and made available for every state. It is up to the states and so far, only Idaho has adopted it. Oregon, Georgia and Maine are looking to do the same on Jan 1, 2018. Massachusetts and New Mexico also have it in motion within their legislatures. Although this appendix does not include THOWs, it is a step in the direction of gaining approval for small dwellings.
One of the first things to mention is that correctly building a conventional home on a modular metal frame can be just as strong as any other conventional home. An obvious advantage is that termites just cannot gnaw into a metal foundation and that value cannot be understated. Also though, because it is metal, it can get really cold. Thermal bridging of this cold into the floor can be minimized by using high density spray foam beneath the floor.
To strengthen the structure, using oversized hurricane rafter and floor ties will give the build a rigid frame far stronger than using wood and nails alone. Speaking of fasteners, Sam also mentioned that Grade 8 bolts are far superior (2-3x stronger) to plain galvanized bolts. The largest concern revolves around an idea called Continuous Load Path and maintaining this is critical to the overall integrity of the structure.
These strengthening ideas cost a little extra dough, but the peace of mind is priceless. On the outside of the framing, before the structure is sheathed, diagonals of coiled wall strapping will stiffen the structure just like you’d think straps of metal would. Using CDX plywood for sheathing also will give you superior results over using OSB, or oriented strand boards. The plywood is stronger and holds fasteners better.
The extra cost of these materials for a tiny home is actually tiny too, simply because a smaller home requires far less material to complete. On this same topic, having less house to finish out allows the homebuilder more flexibility to invest in higher quality and more ecofriendly materials such as high-quality flooring and sustainably sourced hardwoods.
If cost is an issue, a sad truth is that the construction industry throws a lot into dumpster. Reclaimed material is especially convenient for tiny homes because each home requires fewer square footage materials and so small quantities that may not be enough for a traditionally sized home are plenty for a THOW project. Just remember, when approaching jobsite foreman about collecting their useful waste, to frame it as saving them on disposal fees. For instance, say “I can save you on waste and disposal fees by allowing me to bring insured people out to the jobsite weekly and taking usable material that would otherwise be discarded.”
Another aspect that Sam pointed out is Quality Control. It is particularly crucial with tiny homes because every detail tends to be visible, nowhere to hide so to speak. On a good note, it is also much easier to strive for perfection on a smaller build for just that reason: it’s smaller. Construction has changed through the years and a lot of times faster construction processes can compromise quality. The most important thing to remember is take your time and use the resources available online and in your community.
In a lot of ways, the DIY tiny home movement is a step back in time. More people used to build their own homes and now more people are building their homes again. The most exciting part about the movement are the opportunities to come together and help others, similar to how our not so distant ancestors would have house raisings.
Around here, we have the DFW Tiny House Enthusiasts and there are many other social groups and meet ups in a growing number of communities around the country. There are likely occasional gatherings or workshops near all metropolitan areas so do a little research and reach out to those people around you!
Sam’s final thoughts had to do with some of the deeper feelings behind the growing movement. A lot of people are downsizing and smaller dwellings don’t have to mean a THOW or even a tiny house. The trend for some time has been bigger homes, but as homes have gotten bigger doesn’t it feel like families have gotten smaller? Most of our ancestors lived in much smaller spaces and were probably as comfortable as their hearts would allow. When you drive through more recently developed neighborhoods today it seems like every house looks the same, with more house on the lot than lawn. A DIY tiny home is an opportunity to express yourself, minimize your baggage, narrow your focus and get out of the house!