Building your own house takes a TON of construction skills and I started this year at level 0. The most complex project I worked on prior was making stage props for my high school drama club. Here's how I started from nothing to being reasonably confident I could build a house – without paying a fortune.
1. Binge watch videos
You have to start somewhere and I kicked off construction by couch-building tiny homes. I figured if I saw people build it, then I'll feel like I could do it too. Here were my favorites:
- SHED Tiny House Timelapse: mesmerizing time lapses of a tiny house being built before your eyes at hyper speeds. Did I learn a ton? Not really, but it was highly entertaining to watch.
- Ana White Tiny House Series: documents every step of building a tiny house. Ana is great at explaining how to do things and I love her design too, so beautiful and spacious!
- Living Big in a Tiny House: interviews of people who live in tiny houses. I appreciated hearing how people started and what they liked or disliked about their homes.
- Try it Tiny: bite-sized and practical videos on how to build tiny houses. If you're curious about how specific things are done, this is a great resource.
- About Van Life Series: videos of building out a livable van. Not technically a tiny houses but I loved watching it as the extreme case of how small you could go.
2. Try it out
Watching videos was fun but would I actually enjoy building a house? I needed to try it out. So my husband, Mark, and I signed up to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. You don't need any experience, just show up ready to work for a day. The experienced staff will teach you everything you need to know.
Verdict: construction is awesome! It was so satisfying to see a house become a livable home over a couple months, and to know that I had a part in it. We also helped families live in affordable homes, so giving up a few weekends was worth it.
3. Take some classes
Next I wanted get concentrated time to learn all the basics. The problem was that I live in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US. Even a day class for simple furniture costed hundreds of dollars.
Solution: community college classes! Mark and I signed up for Intro to Construction at the City College of San Francisco. San Francisco offers free tuition for residents so the total cost was $29 for the registration fee. Even if we weren't exempt, it would have been under $500, well worth the cost.
There were a ton of practical learnings: using power tools, reading architectural plans, and basic wiring/plumbing. For our final project we created a detailed tiny house plan and got great feedback from the teacher and our classmates.
4. Read about it
Along the way I found some great written resources...
- Idiot's Guide to Tiny House Designing, Building, & Living by Andrew Morrison and Gabriella Morrison: great intro book to get started, identifies the challenges and options for how you might build a tiny house.
- Tiny House Floor Plans by Michael Jazen: filled with nothing but tiny house floor plans! I appreciate that it's separated into chapters by size from 8 x 12 all the way up to 12 x 24.
- Tiny House Design and Construction Guide by Dan Louche: detailed step-by-step of how a tiny house is constructed. I love all the photos plus practical building advice.
- Building Construction Illustrated by Francis Ching: a detailed textbook of how construction works with diagrams explaining the structure and physics of building structures.
- Compact Houses: 50 Creative Floor Plans for Well-Designed Small Homes by Gerald Rowan: bigger floor plans than your typical tiny houses, still very helpful because it dives into advice for designing small spaces.
There is still a ton to be learned. Mark and I have split off into different streams of work. Mark is focused on residential wiring, plumbing and engineering, while I am diving into woodworking and interior design. We'll be updating this blog as we go.
If you have thoughts or advice on how to hack construction skills, please leave a comment!