Tell us, Ben, how did you arrive at the idea of building a tiny home?
I had been watching a lot of YouTube videos about tiny homes, but it wasn’t until my partner and I stayed at a tiny home Airbnb that I considered building one. We stayed in the place for a few days and it felt nice; it was winter and the place was easy to heat up without using too much energy and required minimal lighting and cleaning.
It seemed like a good alternative to living in an apartment with no neighbours next door while also living in nature. This was in 2019 when I was renting in a share house and didn’t want to commit to buying a house yet. I started doing some research and looking at regulations and limits on the dimensions. Then COVID hit and, since I’d just quit my previous engineering job, it seemed like the perfect time to start building and the tiny house became my COVID project.
What kind of layout does your tiny home have?
It’s quite compact even by tiny house standards and is ideal for one person living in it full time. What I have now is about 4.9 metres long by 2.4 metres wide. It has a sleeping loft on one side with the kitchen and toilet underneath the loft. There is also a lounge seating area on the other half with a custom-built foldout couch. It’s very compact and I like that I was able to get rid of a lot of extra clothing and possessions so most of my stuff could fit inside.
Can you talk us through the building process?
I relied heavily on online videos and joined a couple of local Australian Facebook groups. Through there, I found one guy who is local to Melbourne and had been building tiny homes for a few years. I contacted him and went around to help him put together the frame for the tiny home he was building at the time. He suggested I start with a caravan trailer. So, I found an old caravan that had been crushed by a tree. It leaked and the inside was a mess. I stripped it back to the trailer frame and had someone weld on an extension. I knew that if I was building the tiny home light enough, it couldn’t be much heavier than a regular caravan. I also used as much of the scrap from the caravan as I could in the build.
I used lightweight steel framing, Colorbond cladding on the outside and thin plywood for the internal cladding. I got help from an electrician for the electrical works but everything else I managed to do myself, including all the joinery and upholstery.
Have you finished the build?
The home still isn’t fully functional. It’s mostly finished but I haven’t connected all the pipes in the kitchen so there is no running water. It has electricity though and a tiny wood heater that they make specifically for tiny houses. I’m still trying to figure out the best option for cooling the space on hot summer days.
How did you decide where to put your tiny home?
My plans changed when my partner and I decided to buy a home and put the tiny home on the property. We were looking at the Dandenong Ranges and areas a bit closer to Melbourne like Knox and Boronia. Knox City Council was pretty strict about the kind of permits you need because it’s more suburban, but Yarra Ranges Council was more open to the idea as long as I was dealing with waste and amenity services and the neighbours weren’t bothered by it.
What would you do differently if you started the build now with all your accumulated knowledge?
There are a few practical design elements I would do differently. I used black Colorbond cladding which looks nice but heats up very quickly. In terms of wall thickness and insulation, I think I would go a bit thicker on the external walls to better regulate the temperature.
What’s a good starting point for people interested in building or living in their own tiny home?
I would definitely recommend staying in a tiny home for a few nights. That will give you an idea of what you might like to do in terms of size and layout. I would also suggest visiting a few tiny home expos for inspiration.
Any final reflections?
This was a fun project and, for someone who didn’t have many handy skills going in, building a tiny home gave me plenty of experience to apply to renovating my full-size home!
You can read more about Ratio’s expertise advising on tiny homes here.