The Devil in the Details of Tiny House Construction

Local beaver “Dennis Messner.” Photo via The Onion.

By Dee Williams

A friend recently sent me an article from The Onion about a beaver who shifted his dam project from that of house and home to esoteric art project. She added a little note that said, “For some reason this made me think of you.”

I read the article and not surprisingly, my friend was right.  While I was building my house, I took time to line all of the screws up on the exterior siding, so they were in line vertically and horizontally.  I did the same thing on the roofing screws. To my credit, I didn’t take time to make sure the little criss-crosses on the screw heads were all in alignment… I wasn’t THAT crazy!

Look closely…see all the roof screws in neat little lines?

I know it sounds ridiculous, but at some point the way I worked on my tiny house shifted – instead of treating it like a regular structure, I started treating it like more of a sculpture. I chose each stick of wood, sanded and routered, added little squirrels above the front door, and painted the flashing around the windows so the shiny metal wouldn’t distract from the windows themselves. I had the luxury of focusing on these details because early on, I made hard decisions about utilities (minimal), construction (light and green), and overall aesthetic. I wanted something simple, kind and beautiful… a cabin in the woods.


Halfway through my project, a friend asked me about the size of my house.  It was built on a 14-foot trailer, and he was concerned this was about 8-feet too small.  “There’s no room to take a shower,” he said, “and by the way, where the heck is the water?”  It made me re-think my decisions and question my choices.  What if I was going to be miserable? What if I felt boxed in?

Those questions scared me, but I decided to lean into not knowing.  After all, I could build on a 40-foot trailer and still feel boxed in; people feel unhappy in 10,000 square foot houses.  So I put my doubts aside and focused on the details of my small house.

tiny house construction details

Eleven years later, the house still fits.  I still occasionally fixate on some detail: the way the door knob is weathering after 10,000 turns, and how the heat shield I made out of an old license plate is still protecting the exhaust stack from my heater.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the design phase as you try to find a perfect solution for cramming everything you want (or have) into a tiny house.  It’s easy to get lost in the options for form: a curved roof or a gable roof?  Modern or rustic?  It’s easy to get lost in your options for functionality: wood stove, outdoor shower, compost toilet, solar electricity… The list goes on and on.

That’s why I recommend taking a good workshop, like the one we’re offering on November 7th and 8th in Portland.  That’s why we teach these workshops in the first place. We can help point you in the right direction, so you can make good decisions early on about the basics, then focus on turning your tiny house into a dream home.

Cheers to fixating on what’s important with a modicum of sanity and balance, so you actually finish your project and move on to the next great thing.  As The Onion offered in this beaver piece:  “Get to work. Get to work. Chew-chew-chew. Need a mate. Build a dam.”

Having fun at a PAD Tiny House Workshop
A recent PAD workshop crew celebrating their freedom from detail overload!

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