By Dee Williams
It’s hard to choose a tiny house builder. Tiny houses on wheels aren’t just miniature versions of normal houses. They shouldn’t be built like a shed, barn, or a “normal house”, they need to be able to handle their specialized circumstances. So even someone who has worked in construction for the past 30 years may not know how to build a tiny house properly. Over the years, we at PAD have heard some unfortunate stories of people pouring their life savings into their dream tiny house, only to discover a multitude of structural failures, mold problems, flaky electrical systems or leaky pipes. Don’t let that happen to you!
There are a lot of building contractors out there who may offer to build your tiny house, and many of them could likely do a good job, but not if they don’t understand the unique challenges of building tiny. As anyone who’s ever been to a car mechanic might know, it’s intimidating to screen professionals who know more than you about the subject at hand. They’re the experts, right? So how do you know when they know what they’re talking about, and whether you can trust them to help you with your little house? You need to find someone who has experience with the following tiny house challenges.
Handling The Highway
High wind, vibration and massive bumps caused by moving the house. Essentially, your little house has to be built to withstand hurricane force winds and earthquake tremors. At PAD, we recommend a certain kind of trailer and a specific system of tension ties and bolts, hurricane clips, shear panels, screws, glue and other systems. Go House Go offers an overview of these mechanisms.
Ask your contractor about how he or she plans to engineer the trailer, floor, walls and roof to be structurally sound when you’re driving down the road.
The house has to be built as lean and light as possible, so you’re not overloading the trailer or spending a fortune dragging a 10-ton brick down the road. Using advanced wall framing techniques minimizes the lumber that goes into the walls and roof, which is super helpful in a little house. We also recommend light-weight exterior and interior finishes (roofing, siding, wallboard, etc).
Ask your contractor if he or she knows advanced wall framing techniques, and how to finish things out to be as light as possible.
Drips Are A Drag
Your house may be subjected to wind-driven rain and road splash, and may sit in an area where the underlying soil (your parking spot) may get wet. We recommend a sturdy undercarriage and rain screen walls. We also recommend that the entire package is properly sealed by following the local building code for residential construction in your climate. Go House Go offers further suggestions for flashing, vapor barriers, moisture barriers, venting the roof, and installing fans in kitchens and bathrooms.
Ask your contractor how he or she plans to address moisture problems in your particular climate, and for a very small, mobile house.
Along with moisture control, making your house more energy efficient can help save your walls or roof from molding. It’s not just about losing heat in the winter or keeping things cool in the summer. Your little house will need proper insulation around wheel wells and between the trailer and the floor joists – two extremely vulnerable spots in tiny houses. You’ll also need to properly insulate the walls and roof to minimize condensation problems, and to help your house stay warm or cold.
Ask your contractor how he or she plans to properly seal up and insulate a tiny house on a trailer.
Water, Sewer, Gas and Electrical Systems
Tiny house appliances and systems are often constructed from a mix of what’s used on RVs and normal residences. Your contractor needs to know the code for both, so the systems are properly installed. Some of the challenges we’ve seen: pipes vibrating lose, improper vents, poor installation of electrical or plumbing systems, inadequate caulking, and failed systems caused by vibration or wall movement.
Ask your contractor how he or she will properly install all appliances and systems!
Homework Now, Not Heartache Later
If your potential contractor can’t answer these questions, we recommend you keep looking for someone with experience, or at least someone who has at least done their homework. Ask your contractor for examples of past jobs, for references from happy clients, and to see if they’re bonded in any way. Work on a sound contract that holds them to a firm bottom line – to your expectation to get a well-built, safely-constructed tiny house.
Do your own homework, as well. Go House Go, our manual for tiny houses on wheels, is a recognized resource for tiny house builders across the country, and will give you a quick overview on what’s special about building a tiny house. For the full scoop on tiny home construction, try our Tiny House Basics Workshop. And check out the PAD Preferred Partners, our growing roster of professionals we trust to build you a solid little house. Doing thorough research and asking good questions before you hire will help you find experienced help for the little home of your dreams.