A Tiny House Size Quandary

OK, so you want to Live Tiny.  That’s awesome.  What can you do without?  What do you really want to have?  And how about that claustrophobia?

I jest, in part, about claustrophobia.  However, I have heard people say they love the idea of a tiny house, but don’t think they could live in such a small place.  That’s an interesting point, yet to me, the engineer inside starts working on how to solve that problem.  Do you really have to settle?  Or are there things that can make it work?

The discussion of Tiny as a way to live excites a great many people.  Even if it’s just the thought process and awareness of what fills the spaces where we now live.  To some it’s fantasy, and to others it’s a marvelous reality.  As we consider options, it’s good to look beyond the box, of course, as well to look at the past for inspiration.  Things were not always so big as today.

But, how Tiny is Tiny?  Or, maybe more important, How Big is Tiny?

The Size of Tiny

Most Tiny homes focus on a trailer foundation that fits the typical DOT limit of 8.5′ width (102″).  Note, that’s the platform width, or total outside width.  Inside space is less because of the thickness of the walls.  This works for many, yet to others, living in that size feels really cramped / claustrophobic.  Let’s consider options for making it “feel” bigger, then ramifications of increasing width. — Visually wider, or maybe Actually wider?

A Tiny House trailer deck measuring 20′ length by 8.5″ wide gives a 170 square foot footprint to start with.  You can get more by going longer — say 28′ length by 8.5′ wide — which gives 238 square feet.  Compared to the 2000 – 3000 square feet of a typical American home, yes, that’s tiny.

True, longer does give more living space, but often it doesn’t make things feel less ‘cramped’.  So, how do we change the “feeling” of how we live tiny?

Live Tiny, Visually Bigger

Four important techniques to make things “feel bigger”.  This list is in order of effect per cost.

  1. Lighten things up.  One of the cheapest and easiest ways of “feeling” less cramped is with color — particularly light and bright colors.  Wood walls look cool, but they can also contribute to that “too small” feel.  Paint and bright colors in fabric can make a big difference.
  2. Enlightening!  Use more light, and the right tones of light.  LED sunlight frequencies are generally a good choice — not as bright spots, but as total illumination.  It uses more power overall, but lots of light, particularly indirect light that fills the room, will bring a larger “feel”.  Use dimmers or multiple circuits so you can tone it down when you want.
  3. Mirror Walls for Visual SpaceMirrors reflect everything, including light.  The house isn’t actually bigger, but it sure has a bigger visual effect when large mirrors are present.  Yes, it can feel like dropping back to the 1970’s, but decorating with mirrors doesn’t have to include the cork.  And, a curtain to block all or part of the mirror can make the house feel cozy again when you want.
  4. Large windows will visually enlarge a room because there’s nothing like seeing out to feel bigger.  Windows Make Tiny Living PleasantDepending on the location, tiny living can be a full outdoor experience with big windows.  The caveats are:  1) They have to be supported right or they’ll break when your trailer is on the road;  2) You’ll need good window coverings for times when you don’t want to share your inside with the outside;  3) You’ll need to structure walls and headers to accommodate roof and wind loads;  4) Thermally, windows are not very efficient.

Explore other sources too.  There are always more good ideas if you look.

What If Tiny Isn’t Big Enough?

In our example above, a 20′ length by 8.5″ wide gives a 170 square foot footprint.
And the larger example, 28′ length by 8.5′ wide gives a 238 square foot footprint.

What if we change the paradigm and physically go wider?  A 20′ length by 10′ wide gives 200 square feet.  And, 28′ long by 10′ wide makes a 280 square foot starting footprint.  More importantly, it makes the living space ~20% wider — which makes it “feel” oodles bigger.  From the outside it doesn’t seem much bigger, but on the inside, the extra 1.5′ width is a big difference.

Now what about going to 12′ wide?  20′ x 12′ = 240 square feet; and 28′ x 12′ = 336 square feet.  Again, it’s not all about square feet because the feel on the inside makes the difference feel like much more.  And that can be just the ticket to live tiny in a house with a little more elbow room.

Live Tiny Bigger In A Wider Tiny House

Why did we choose these 2 widths?  That’s where the DOT (Department of Transportation) rules generally change.  Each state is different, so figure out the rules where you plan to travel.  More on this topic below.

Live The Big Tiny

So, what are the ramifications of building a wider Tiny House?

First, and perhaps most important, it takes a special trailer to support it.  For tiny homes, the trailer is the foundation.  In our society, the classic “Tiny House” fits in a category that’s not a permanent structure, it’s not a mobile home, but it’s also not an RV.  To fit that, and to have the associated privileges, the house must be movable and self sustaining (though all of this depends on local laws).  Anyway, usually that means on a trailer.  So, if you want a wider than normal tiny house, you need a wider than normal trailer.

Second, permits are required on public roads.  While 8.5′ outside is the widest you can go without a permit, you can get permits to transport wider trailers.  That might mean adding flags or lights, or it might mean more.  See the section on Wide Loads below.  The extras can be trivial if you don’t move it much.

The practical side comes down to how often you expect to move the house.  A lot?  Then going wide is a lot of hassle.  On the other hand, if you have a place where the house to stay all it’s life, then why limit yourself to 8.5′?

I’ve always had the philosophy of building to the maximum use.  You can see that in this article about Which Trailer Plans Should I Buy?  In essence, make your choices based on how you will use it most.  If you will only move the house once (from the point of build to the spot of living), then build it for living at that spot.  If you plan to move it around, then build it to accommodate moving around.

Bigger Tiny House Trailer Plans

Does the idea of bigger tiny living excite you?  Let us know, and we’ll design it up.  We believe you should build the trailer you need for the house you want.  We did one such 10′ wide Tiny House Trailer as a special custom design, and that’s what really got us thinking.  Adding width makes a lot of sense if you will live tiny in one place.

This is an option to really consider as you plan to live tiny.  Certainly, your tiny house must meet your needs, or you won’t be happy in it.

We have 3 sizes of Tiny House Trailer Plans (available in a 20′ length, and a 24′ length and the 30′-32′ version).  These all fit the 8.5′ width standard requirements.

Live Tiny Update:

Now available — Wide and Wider Trailer Plans for your Tiny House Foundation.

Wide Load Requirements

8.5′ width is the widest you can go without a permit.  Larger sizes require special permits, which vary by state and sometimes by your route (which roads you want to use).  A 10′ width typically has the least added restrictions.  Up to 12′ width usually has more, but still reasonable restrictions.  Over 12′, things can get really complicated.

Live Tiny Wide Load

Here’s another example on the road.  This is from Heavy Haulers that specialize in moving big things.

Please Note:  I am not an expert on requirements, and the rules vary, so please ask your local authorities.  Start by contacting the state Department of Transportation and they will direct you to the right people.

Requirements for hauling something wider than 8.5′ might include any mix of the following:

  • Markings such as corner flags, extra lights, “Wide Load” or “Oversize Load” banners.
  • Leading or following escort vehicles — with appropriate lights and/or signs.
  • Route restrictions — meaning you may only travel on certain highways that accommodate the width or height.
  • Sometimes certain driving license requirements and restrictions on time in the drivers seat.
  • Timing restrictions like daylight times or weekdays or not on holidays, etc.
  • In rare cases, depending on the route and the size, sometimes road closures or police escorts.

These are just some things to seek more information about.  This article about wide load restrictions goes into a lot more detail on the above.

Summary – Live Tiny Bigger

We’ve touched on a lot of different areas in this article with the view of living bigger in a tiny house.  If the appeal of the tiny house is hampered by the size, there are ways to make it feel bigger, because the idea of a bigger tiny is very possible.

Whatever you choose in your transition to live tiny, make it the way you want it.  Don’t just settle because other people do it.  Pick a solution that works for you.

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