5 Tiny House Design Tips

Are you already planning roadtrips for your future tiny house? Well, listen up kids, because I have a few tiny house design ideas for you! Read on for 5 tips on how to design your tiny home for travel.

1). Think about your overall weight

Seriously, think about it. My tiny house weighs 10,100 pounds when fully loaded with fresh water and my belongings. That’s 4.5 tons! The average tiny house of my size weighs about 8,000 pounds, so my girl is a bit chunky. I won’t go into why she weighs so much (a girl has her reasons), but it’s impossible to put her on a diet now. My trailer axels are rated for 10,400 pounds, so I am cutting it close. That being said, 10-15% my tiny house weight rests on the hitch of my tow vehicle.

If you are building off of a set of reputable plans, be sure to follow the materials list. Or, if you like to live dangerously, at least consider the weight difference between your chosen materials and the materials typically used in tiny house construction. The lighter and smaller the tiny house, the easier and cheaper it will be to tow.

2). Think about your weight distribution

The overall weight of your tiny house design is important, but don’t ignore your weight distribution. Tiny houses tend to be tongue heavy. This is due to the fact that many designs have the loft and kitchen over the tongue. Make sure your tow vehicle can support the overall weight AND tongue weight of your trailer. This is very important. I purchased a weight distribution system, which I suggest doing regardless of your tongue weight. It has helped immensely with towing.

The sweet spot for tongue weight is between 10-15% of your total weight. My tiny house tongue weight is 1500 pounds. Again, cutting it close. For more towing gear, check out the “towing” section of our materials list.

3). Create a space that is easy to secure for travel

Who wants to spend more than 30 minutes setting up every time they park? Not me! I designed my interior to have shelves with ledges, hook & eyes, or bungie cords. All of my belongings can be secured in 30 minutes or less. Consider your light fixtures carefully – will they swing? Hanging plants, sports gear and musical instruments should have clamps or bumpers to prevent damage or spills.

It’s also a good idea to design your tiny house to be both off-grid and on-grid. This will increase your flexibility when finding parking options. For example, because my tiny house design can be off-grid, I parked on Crown Land in Canada and at BLM campsites in the USA.

4). Build within highway restrictions

Make sure your tiny house design does not exceed 13’6″ tall and 8’6″ wide, including fenders, solar panels and chimney pipes. As far as I know, there is no restriction for length. If you build wider or taller you will be forced to get a special permit to tow in many states. Also, you may end up with a convertible tiny house.

Even if you build within the parameters, you still need to keep an eye out for low bridges, wires and branches. I’ve also seen many tiny houses built on very low trailers to increase living space. While this is a great idea, it will make towing more difficult.

5). Attach outdoor lights for night driving

Aside from the standard lights required for towing, I suggest attaching a few mounted solar lights to your tiny house. Not only will this make your home look super cool on the road, it’s a safety factor.

A Simple DIY Option

This winter, I’m parking in northern Oregon, where the temperatures range between 20°-40°F. When it came time for me to create a Tiny House skirt, I considered several options, including: straw, snow, canvas and foam.

Straw bales are bulky, expensive and weather terribly. Snow is only a temporary skirting option; I used this method last year in Colorado. Canvas skirts are custom made, so they are expensive. Finally I decided the most best choice for my situation was to create a Tiny House skirt using rigid foam.

My Rigid Foam Tiny House Skirt

I was pleasantly surprised at how cheap and easy it was for me to make a rigid foam skirt for my Tiny House. The cost was $72, and total labor time was 6 hours. Below I’ve listed my materials and step by step process.

Materials List

My Tiny House is on a 20 foot trailer with about 16-22 inches of space between the trailer and the ground. A longer trailer, or one higher off the ground, will require more material.

  • 5: Sheets of 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′  Rigid Foam
  • 2: Cans of black spray paint
  • 1: 60 yard roll of black duct tape

Rigid foam is readily available at hardware stores and online. I was able to save money by purchasing some of my foam sheets at Habitat for Humanity. Sheets at Habitat were $1.50 compared to $12.95 at Home Depot. That’s big savings!

Make sure you purchase the rigid insulation. Floppy insulation cannot withstand a windstorm.

How to create this skirt: Step by Step

Step 1: Spray paint your foam boards. This is a personal preference, but I didn’t like the look of silver foam boards. I painted my boards black to match my trailer. Unfortunately, I didn’t do this before attaching them to my trailer. Do as I say, not as I do!

Step 2: Measure the space between your trailer and the ground. The measurements will vary, so continue to check before every cut. Cutting around the wheels is tricky work, so I decided to skip skirting my wheels because my climate isn’t that cold.

tep 3: Cut the board to size. It was easy to cut my 1/2″ boards using a utility knife and a straight edge. I made sure to cut around vents that need to be exposed.

Step 4: Attach the board to your trailer. Using black duct tape, I attached my boards to my trailer and to each other. I buried the bottom of the boards into the ground, or placed rocks in front of them to secure them in place. Sometimes I put a few nails through the foam into the wood trim around my trailer. Use your best judgement to attach the boards as sturdily as you can.

Optional: Add cedar lattice and trim

In order to improve the look, I added cedar lattice and trim in front of my foam skirt. Aside from aesthetics, the lattice does a great job of holding my foam boards in place. Similar to creating the foam skirt, this process entailed measuring and cutting the lattice to size. I used a hand saw and a finish nail gun to attach the lattice and trim around my trailer. As with the foam, I cut around vents and my wheel wells. This additional step cost another $64.