In this post I’ll describe how I managed to build my tiny house from scratch in 6 weeks. Admittedly, the 6-week period didn’t include the internal fitting out, so you can call me a cheat if you like! Even so, starting from a bare piece of land and having the shell of a house, roof and all, in 6-weeks (mostly on my own) is pretty good going.
If you have ever tackled a major DIY project, you might have found that it took longer and cost more than you thought it would. There are lots of reasons why this can happen, such as:
- underestimating the time needed for certain tasks
- inefficient organisation of work
- running out of materials
- having to buy unforeseen items.
These are the sorts of problems that can be avoided by effective project management. If you have a large building project, I would recommend learning some project management techniques (buy a good book) and getting some software to help create and manage the project plan. I have used Microsoft Project (many years ago!) and it was excellent, though it isn’t free. More recently I have used the free software Ganttproject which is quite basic but works ok. No doubt there are other software tools available.
My tiny house project wasn’t very big. I didn’t have other contractors to manage (just a carpenter friend who would give me a hand). From experience, I knew the correct sequence of work. As I was doing the work myself, my ‘plan’ was more of a to-do list. However, I still had to be sure all the tasks on the list could be completed in six weeks.
Here are some pointers on how I managed to achieve that.
I had to make sure I had enough materials and that they were on site at the right time. There’s no way I could stop work while waiting for a delivery. The project would be sunk.
The biggest item that had to be planned in advance was the timber. I used a local sawmill that had been recommended to me. I didn’t quibble over the price (which I knew was reasonable anyway) and sent them a deposit when they asked for one. Having established a good relationship, I got good service in return. To be sure I had enough timber, I added roughly 10% to the all of the quantities. That way I didn’t have to worry about wastage or the occasional cutting mistake.
It was a similar story for the driveway materials and digger hire. These were ordered several weeks before work started and were ready when I needed them.
A top tip, for any building project, is to try to establish a good relationship with the local builders’ merchant. They can supply a range of materials, will likely have good stocks and can deliver for a reasonable price. In my case, I found a local merchant who was able to supply the lime and hemp (by special order) as well as the sand, cement, gravel, roof tiles, breathable membrane and OSB. This was supplied in one big delivery and saved a lot of time and hassle.
I almost came unstuck with the windows. I had assumed (wrongly) that the standard, off the shelf items that I wanted would be in stock. That wasn’t the case and I had to order them. Luckily, they arrived fairly quickly and I was able to have them fitted with time to spare.
It’s also worth making sure you gather together the tools you need in advance as well as the bits of hardware like brackets and screws. I bought my joist hangers, joist hanger twist nails, heavy duty angle brackets and various screws in the UK and brought them with me. This was to avoid running to the shops mid-build only to find they didn’t sell what I needed or that they didn’t have enough in stock.
Simplicity of design
With my ‘garden shed’ design, I wouldn’t be winning any architectural awards. But it was simple and that was important to keep the build time down.
I knew that the lime and hemp insulation would be time consuming in itself and so I couldn’t afford to complicate things further.
Avoiding construction mistakes
I have some building experience but I’m not confident about everything. To reduce the chances of making costly and time consuming mistakes, I employed a friend of mine who is a first rate carpenter and general builder to help out for one day per week. He was able to direct the construction of the frame and the roof (something I was unsure of) and the installation of the windows and doors. He also gave advice on other parts of the build.
I am very glad I got outside expertise to ‘plug the gaps’ in my own knowledge. It was crucial to getting the project finished on time and well worth the extra expense.
Most of the tasks were sequential i.e. foundations – floor – walls – roof etc. So it was quite easy to add up the estimated time for each task to check the total estimated time for the build. This came to less than six weeks but not by much. From memory, I think I had 4 or 5 days ‘slack’.
With more complicated projects (and with more people involved) it is likely that some tasks could be done ‘in parallel’ i.e. one person is working on task A, another on task B and both tasks need to be completed before task C can begin. In this case the shortest time for project completion (the “critical path”) is not so obvious but can be calculated with the help of the project planning software.
Choice of construction methods
This sounds obvious, but I did need to think in advance about how I was going to complete each phase of the build. Not necessarily every tiny detail, but I had to have a good idea of how things would be made. Clearly, this was necessary in order to know which materials to buy and in what quantities. It was also desirable so that I wouldn’t waste too much time on site trying to figure out how to build the next bit.
For the build I lived on site in a tent. I could get up, have some breakfast (while it was still nice and cool!), get a quick wash and start work. Being away from home, without the usual distractions, I was able to be highly focused on the job in hand. This might not be possible for everyone but in my case it was a positive factor in getting the house finished on time.
The six week build period coincided with a French heatwave. Working in 35-40 degrees centigrade was a real challenge but I was very lucky that it only rained 3 or 4 times during the whole period. Had it rained for longer it would have certainly been much more difficult to complete the build. Not allowing for bad weather was an oversight on my part, but thankfully I got away with it!