Custom plans, drafting + Design


Small is Subjective: 10 Rules for the Small House Builder

Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOG
Small is a subjective.

Small is a subjective.

1. Small is subjective. Build what makes sense.

2. Be frugal. Being frugal means being modest not a cheapskate. Stay away from subpar materials. Be willing to pay for quality and save money by limiting your demands. 

3. Reuse the right stuff. Salvaged materials can be great or utter garbage. Reuse materials that will enjoy and deserve a useful, long life. Don't use materials just because they're repurposed or inexpensive. Example: You're not doing anyone a favor by installing old, leaky windows and doors.

4. The construction industry has an embarrassing history of approving and subsequently banning products eventually shown to be toxic or grossly subpar. Most prefabricated goods are loaded with glues and other chemicals and in general won't last as long as the traditional materials they're intended to replace. They also often require intensive energy to manufacture and ship. Not all prefabricated products are equal. Some are worthy, most are not. Investigate your materials and know what you're putting into your house - and ultimately your body.

5. When possible use local materials if they're of good quality.

6. When needed hire local contractors if they do good work.

7. Create beauty! Design is one of the most important factors when it comes to sustainability. People are more likely to care for and preserve a house built with care and attention to detail.

8. Build efficiently and build to perform efficiently. If possible, have your work tested to be sure you're achieving your goals. Verification, which tests actual performance, beats any certified checklist. Keep in mind that many certification programs, including the much touted LEED, don't even test performance! Invest potential certification money directly into your project and do good work.

9. Use the least (and as few) toxic materials as possible. 

10. Reject much of what passes for quality construction and design.

Shawn A. DehnerTHE small HOUSE CATALOG


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!