Lightweight Tiny House Concept

One of my regular readers, Grant, sent me this design challenge. I have a lot of personal interest in it because I’ve been day dreaming of building a small lightweight tiny house for taking my family (Julia, Katie, and me) on short road trips. It would also make visits to the family farm more comfortable. Here’s what Grant asked for:

I want a structure that will be comfortable for one, contain all amenities (shower, toilet, cooking area with stove and small fridge), be comfortable year round, and here is the real kicker, small and light enough to be towed by a Toyota Corolla (1500lbs capacity). I wonder what kind of creative solutions we could get for something like this.

Initially I’m picturing some sort of pop up, with a foot print of 10 x 6, to allow for a 6×3 bath in the rear, and a 6×7 main room. The main room will be dominated by a table which takes up half the area lengthwise. The bed sits on the table for sleeping, but gets lifted to the roof for storage, revealing a cooking surface. Parts of the table can lift up for under counter storage.

I’m not sure a popup is really doable and might have issues with being weather tight. So I decided to start by investigating what a small traditionally framed house would weigh and quickly discovered that even a house of this size would be much more than 1,5000 pounds. Here’s the simple design and snap shot of the incomplete spreadsheet I started. I stopped doing the math calculations when I realized it was going to weigh much more than 1,500 pounds when you factor in the trailer.

At the moment I think looking into lightweight honeycomb panels, like those used in some variations of the Sonoma Shanty, will be the best way to go.

Another way to go might be to finish out the interior of an enclosed utility trailer. This would make a fairly industrial looking tiny house but it could be a much more aerodynamic and lightweight solution.  I don’t really like the utility trailer option because it looses all the positive aesthetic qualities of a tiny house and the retrofit work could theoretically push it way past the weight constraint.

I still think there must be a way to build do-it-yourself lightweight panels from common building materials. So I’ll continue to noodle over this. If you have any suggestions please share them. As spring approaches I bet there are a lot of us that would love to find a simple, low-cost, lightweight way to build our own little tiny house on a trailer.

Thanks for sending me this challenge Grant! I hope we can come up with a solution.

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