Custom plans, drafting + Design

building codes

Book Toolbox for the Beginning Builder

Reviews, Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOGComment

There are some fantastic free resources for small and tiny houses right online, including THE small HOUSE CATALOG! There's the stellar design software SketchUp along with sites like Fine Homebuilding Magazine, The Tiny House Blog and Tiny House Living that all offer complimentary articles. There are also blogs and small and tiny house enthusiasts galore.

But let me tell you the library is still the best resource of all. Pretty much everything you need to begin learning how to build a functional, long-lasting, beautiful little house is available right from the local library - for free. If you want to learn how to build, I suggest getting a pile of books and simply start reading. If you like to shop online that's fine but you absolutely do not have to spend money on DVD's, online courses, expensive plans, inspirational seminars, or any of the other trendy marketing gimmicks cropping up all over the place to SELL you a tiny house or DIY building experience. 

Books are old-fashioned, hands-on, and from the library, 100% free. And best of all - if you put in the time to learn - they work. 

My two cents.

Now, I do recommend investing in a basic book toolbox after you've thoroughly explored the library and are ready to actually begin preparing to design and build a house. A couple that I keep at hand at all times are:

1. The current International Residential Code, which I use for draftwork. It's the most useful reference I have and is used ubiquitously. 

2. Building Construction Illustrated by Chen illustrates various code specific residential building practices and is  useful reference during the design process.

3. Practical Carpentry by Goodheart-Willcox. This is a gem! It's an old tome I picked up for a buck at a used library book sale in Port Townsend, Washington and it's the best book I've ever found on traditional carpentry techniques, like balloon framing, stair sub-construction, et al.

Here's a peek at some of my extended personal library of house building books:

Investing in good books is like investing in good hand tools. It fact it is investing in good hand tools. Books will help you continue learning over the long term. This is a frugal approach to your future as an owner-builder because you're going to need to know the skills to build and maintain a house. With books so it is with tools: research your options and invest in the best you can afford. 

When it comes to design there's a vast supply of books available for all kinds of architectural styles: craftsman, bungalows, mid-century modern, vernacular, contemporary, post-modern, and others. For a veritable hands on approach, Shelter Publications has some really interesting modern design classics (and don't forget to check the library first).

Eventually you'll intrepidly move on to other aspects of construction like insulating, ventilating, plumbing and wiring, cabinet making, stairs, and more. Just keep your house modest and you'll be well equipped to build an efficient and beautiful house to last generations.

Don't just sit there - that is until you've got that stack of books from the local library!


Place: You can't live without it.

Shawn A. DehnerComment

(From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Emily Fox of Michigan Radio reporting).

This four minute radio segment is about a couple who built a tiny cabin in the woods of a northern Michigan town named Cedar. It's perhaps slightly bigger than a typical "big" tiny house. Both the health department and zoning officials say their home is too small and deem it uninhabitable. The story expands my caveat from two posts ago about not only having a place to build, which is so important, but also comprehending the legalities of your place.

At its very best a house successfully joins a place; at its worst it ruins it. Whether it's a traditional house or a tiny house on wheels, a house designed to not be a part of any place risks being a mistake. Plan carefully because there are many legal obstacles. On a good note, however, some places are beginning to open up to new ideas, so don't be gloomy - be realistic. Know your situation. And remember: place is vastly important; place is the starting point. Don't go (building a) home without it.

Sounds Like an Oxymoron: Building Codes & Sustainable Building

Shawn A. DehnerComment

Musing about sustainable building codes, Meyers writes that it:This is a quick plug for a great blog. Feel free to read our short recommendation below or go to Tom Meyers’ Sustainable Building Codes now.

sounds like an oxymoron…this blog is intended to provide a little insight on green and sustainable building practices from a building official’s perspective. I tend to be a little more “liberatarian” than my counterparts. I am actively working to see that innovative housing is not inhibited by excess regulation and overzealous attempts to dictate “individual safety”.

Mr. Meyers is actually a building code regulator and active in the revision of modern building codes. He comments that he’s “concerned about the effect regulation has on the production of affordable and sustainable residential construction in the US.”

According to his bio, he is the building official for the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon (2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011) and sits as the Chairman of the International Code Council’s International Residential Code B/E Committee.

He also serves as one of the co-chairman of the Colorado Chapter of ICC Code Change and Code Development Committee.

More personally, he comments that he’s married with two cats and lives in a 1250sf house built in 1922 that has been modified for energy efficiency. He plans to (someday) build a “straw bale house…or maybe an earth bag, or rammed earth, or cob, or cordwood, or adobe, or earthship,” house. He’s an interesting blogger…check his ideas out at Tom Meyers’ Sustainable Building Codes…read about “Rural Sensibility,” tiny house musings and more.

We encourage small house and other alternative building enthusiasts to keep forward thinking people like Tom Meyers writing about these issues.