I had a plan! Then I built it in 3D... and realized I needed to change my plan. Previously I wrote about designing floor plans for tiny houses. In this article I'll cover how I tested my designs by building it virtually, uncovering serious issues along the way. In a later article I will walk through how I bought the tiny house into virtual reality.
Picking the right software
I knew I needed professional software that could easily create 3D models and allow me to export them to VR. Most architects use AutoCAD but that costs over $1500 per year and takes months to learn. No thanks. Instead I picked SketchUp Pro. It's easy to learn and costs $99 per year. You can get a cheaper educational license or use SketchUp Free, which isn't as powerful but has all the basic features. The thing that sold me was the community of people already creating their tiny houses in SketchUp:
- Ana White's Quartz tiny house, and a video of the final build
- Macy Miller's house
- Andrew and Gabriella Morrison's hOme plans and video tour
I recommend watching these videos to get started:
- Sketchup's Getting Started videos
- Playlist of intro videos
- Tiny Nest's Cider Box video
- Jack Strait's speed build video
It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the features, especially if you've never used 3D software before. I consider these the essential tools that account for 90% of my SketchUp use:
- Orbit, zoom, and pan to view exactly what you want
- Line, rectangle, and circle create basic shapes
- Select, move, rotate, and scale positions and resizes items once you make them
- Extrude pushes and fills geometry, makes surfaces 3D if they are flat
- Tape measure tool measures exact distance, keep things parallel, and to plan lines
- Paint bucket applies textures
- With group you can group similar items and move or show/hide them together
Once I figured out how to use SketchUp, this was my process:
- Start with a floor plan sketch. It's much faster figuring things out on paper first!
- Build floor and walls, cutting out windows if needed
- Add interior walls and structural pieces like loft and joists
- Download free pre-made assets like appliances and doors from the 3D Warehouse website. Create other furniture and pieces as needed.
- Export file to .obj format to bring into VR to test
- Create new floor plan sketch with improvements and restart process, recycling content as needed
I love that 3D forces you to consider how something is put together. As I've pinned down the design, I've also added construction details to help with planning of the build with the help of these books: Building Construction Illustrated, Residential Interior Design, and Tiny House Design & Construction Guide.
Since I started using Sketchup this year, I've made over 20 different virtual houses. Here are 5 major versions and what I learned from making them:
I learned so much from modeling these houses in 3D! It's a good thing virtual houses don't cost anything. In my currently revisions, not much has drastically changed. It's more about slight adjustments and layering in more construction details. This is my most current virtual house.
I hope I've saved you a bit of struggle by sharing my process and mistakes. My next article will be about how I brought the model into virtual reality. It's actually easy to do and definitely very helpful in my design process.