I’ve written here about how well my tiny house is working out — I converted my detached 1.5-car garage to a little “accessory dwelling unit” and have mostly rented it out to my mother in law since then, though it’s occasionally served as an office, guest house, party house, knitting book photoshoot headquarters, and kid’s sleepover palace. It’s very flexible and useful having a 2nd dwelling on your property, as even the dog recognized:
That picture was taken back when the place was new. Now it’s been in use for 5 years, and though I think the project was a great decision, with the benefit of hindsight there are a few design choices I wish I had gone a different way on. If you want to read about all the features of the place that are working, see this post or the site with all the details.
Storage space. My project was a garage conversion, so we consumed the storage space we had available in the garage. Though we didn’t need to store a car, we still needed some space to store our bikes and yard tools. Currently they are scattered in sheltered places around the main house, with some of the more valuable things like bikes in the basement of the main house, but it’s really not ideal. In a better world, I would probably have sacrificed a little interior space to use part of the footprint of the garage to create a storage closet accessible from OUTSIDE.
The uninsulated concrete floor. I think this is my biggest regret. Concrete was definitely the right material for the floor. In little houses materials need to be very durable and you don’t want a lot of rugs and stuff to trip on. Concrete takes abuse, looks good (see the picture of the dog, above), and is really easy to clean up. However, we just layed our concrete right over the original concrete floor of the garage, which was in direct contact with the ground. That makes the floor pleasantly cool in summer, but unpleasantly cool in other seasons. The rest of the place is very well insulated, so it’s not too bad, but it keeps the comfort on the ground floor from being absolutely perfect. At the time we built the place, insulating under concrete was considered rather exotic, and I had a lot of other stuff to worry about, so I didn’t get in to it, but I really should have. Kol Peterson’s ADU has an insulated concrete floor and I’m jealous.
Skylight size, type, and placement. Skylights can do so many things in small spaces, and in this 440-sf house we used three: two 3×3 foot skylights in the main area and loft (shown below), and one 2×2 one in the bathroom.
The skylights provide natural light without compromising privacy, add nice ventilation (a sense of air moving in the house in most seasons), and also give a bit more headroom in the loft. In fact one of the best small-house modification tricks I can think of is using a skylight to provide extra headroom when coming to the top of the stairs. When the skylight is placed perfectly, you can get that extra 6 or 10 inches you really need for your head, without adding a whole dormer. I wasn’t really aware of this trick when we built the place, so the top-of-stair skylight isn’t placed quite perfectly. In hindsight I would have used even bigger skylights: perhaps 4×4 models, to increase the headroom effect. I also would have gotten at least one “roof window” type of skylight, which actually open big enough to serve as an emergency exit, and can have exterior shades– which serve as a really effective way of reducing heat in the summer.
All in all, this is pretty much all I can think of. 3 regrets out of five years of use — I’d say that’s pretty good. Hope these tips helps you with your own project!