Building a tiny home can be an affordable way to get your foot on the property ladder, but there are plenty of pitfalls if you don’t know what you’re doing. We spoke to two New Zealand Certified Builders who specialise in building compact homes.

NZCB Member Gavin Barr, of Ecospace in Auckland, says the first thing you need to think about is where you’re going to build your new tiny house. Are you going to purchase a bit of land? Land-share? Locate at the back of your family’s property? You’ll need to answer this before planning the rest.

“Knowing where your home will be located will help you decide whether to be on or off-grid, on-trailer or off-trailer,” he says.

It’s important to research consents, checking your local council’s stances on tiny homes or tiny homes on wheels, and planning accordingly, so you have the peace of mind that what you’re doing isn’t going to cause any problems or stress down the road. “Sometimes the costs of going through consent vs being in a trailer and off-grid can even out to be pretty similar so it’s worth weighing up all options first,” Gavin says.

Then there’s the finance side of things. “At the moment, a lot of banks won’t lend on tiny homes that don’t have to have a code compliance certificate, so that’s an important part when deciding what kind of tiny home to build,” Gavin says.

“There are specialist lenders, like Squirrel Finance, that lend to clients up to $80,000 to build tiny homes on wheels, so that option is available for the off grid-side, too.”

Gavin says whether you are going off-grid or on-grid with wastewater will also determine if you need consent or not. “These, along with power connection, are important factors you need to consider at the start of the project.”

So once you’ve decided what kind of tiny home to build, the next big question is how tiny is too tiny?

NZCB Member Nigel Gattsche, of Onoke Kopuha Tiny Homes in Wellington, says there is definitely such a thing as too tiny. “I believe you need to make a differentiation between a building that you’re going to live in and a facility that is used for short periods, such as in a caravan or motorhome. To that end, I design to ensure that the bathrooms, in particular, are fully functional so the shower is separate and not over the toilet etc. The kitchen, although not large, should also be enjoyable to use and functional,” he says.

Gavin agrees that layout is absolutely key with tiny homes. “You need to think about functionality in your tiny home. If you’re living full-time in a tiny house, you’re adjusting to a smaller living space and minimalistic living, so the way you design your layout is important to the flow of living inside your tiny home,” he says.

Nigel advises to carefully consider your needs versus wants. “This is always a key part of understanding the client’s requirements in any home, but far more so for a tiny home,” he says.

“Space will always be at a premium so getting clear guidance of needs is very important. Clients have to understand that getting rid of stuff is critical.”

Gavin also recommends maximising storage spaces and any part of the tiny house that you can, so that it has multiple uses, e.g storage stairs, storage couch, fold-out Murphy beds, sofa couches, dining tables turned into offices, to name a few. “Storage is important, you’re downsizing your life into one-quarter the size, or less, so this needs to be considered.”

When it comes to layout, Nigel says moveable storage media, like boxes or baskets are key. “Human beings are natural hoarders and collectors, so moveable storage is a good option as they can be re-arranged or removed as needed.”

He says that while building storage into stair treads and multi-use furniture can work better for some, you should remember that it often ends up being very expensive to build, so be certain it’s what you need before you ask for it.

Nigel is also mindful that loft sleeping areas and ladder stairs are great when you are younger but not for the more mature. “As such I have a single-storey one bed design, also with a small footprint, but maximising the Universal Design principles and guidelines.”

If part of your reason for going tiny is driven by environmental issues, Nigel has simple advice on that front. “Adoption of sustainable building principles is always at the top of my list. To that end, minimise your use of concrete and maximise use of materials such as plantation pine and engineered timber.”

And Gavin’s final piece of advice is simple – look for inspiration online. “There is a massive movement for tiny houses worldwide now, so a simple search for ideas on Google, Pinterest or Instagram is a great way to gather ideas. Use that and personalise it to suit your lifestyle, wants, and needs,” he says.

“If you do this properly, the benefits of tiny house living can be very beneficial – lower living costs, easier mortgage freedom, living a more sustainable lifestyle and reducing your impact on the environment. You can have freedom financially and the ability to just pack the tiny house up and go to your next destination. It’s low maintenance and you’ll be living a simpler life.”

If you’re looking to build a tiny home, for any purpose, check out your local NZCB builders here.