Building your very own tiny home is an exciting and rewarding experience. When you start planning what your tiny house will look like, you will need to factor in the weight of the construction materials you will be using, especially if the design is for a tiny house on wheels (THOW). Lightweight building materials will keep your home secure and easy to tow around.
So what are the best building materials to keep your tiny house lightweight? Light structural timber like fir, spruce, or pine are good for your tiny home’s exterior while birch plywood or honeycomb wood panels work well on the interior. Vinyl flooring is one of the best options for tiny home floors and you choose between various alternatives for roofing and insulation, which we discuss further below.
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Checklist: Best Lightweight Tiny Home Building Materials
The materials you will end up choosing for your tiny house largely depends on what your goals are. The choices of someone going for an eco-conscious tiny house will be making different decisions from a person deciding purely from an economical standpoint.
Fortunately, there are many alternative materials available for each kind of tiny house build. In this checklist, we’ll tackle the best building materials for the structure of a lightweight tiny house:
|Steel studs||1.31 pounds per sq. ft.||$5 - $10 per sq. ft.|
|Lumber||2 - 3 pounds per board ft.||$1 - $5 per sq. ft.|
Best choice: Lumber
Suggested brand: West Fraser
If money is not a big concern for you, you can build your house with steel studs as this framing would be 25 times stronger and 30% lighter than wood alone. It is definitely more expensive to frame your house this way and more difficult to construct, however.
If you’re looking for a cost-effective method to frame your tiny home, lumber is the way to go.
Wood and sheet metal are traditionally used as framing materials, as they work well to protect the home from the elements and add slight insulation. You have to use new lumber because this wood will serve as the “bones” of the house so they must be very strong and sturdy.
Spruce, fir, and pine are good choices for framing your house as these are light, structural timber milled from softwood trees, which are sawn and machine-planed into standard dimensions for construction. They are lightweight, sturdy wood types. Cedar and cypress are two wood species commonly used for siding as well, because these are durable and water-resistant.
|Drywall||1.6 - 2.31 pounds per sq. ft.||$12 - $90 per panel|
|Birch plywood sheets||2.13 pounds per sq. ft.||$15 - $70 per 4x8 sheet|
|Honeycomb aluminum panels||3 - 4 pounds per sq. ft.||$20 - $100 per sq. ft.|
Best choice: Birch plywood sheets
Suggested brand: Plywood Company
Many tiny house owners love building a natural, woodsy interior for their tiny homes. Honeycomb panels with a hollow interior are structurally stable, insulated, and lightweight but are not-so-affordable and difficult to find. Drywall is a more common option but it won’t work for tiny houses on wheels as the drywall may crack.
Sheets of plywood are the most ideal choice to construct the interior walls, trim, siding, flooring, and shelving as these are easy to buy and transport from hardware stores. Birch plywood is especially pretty affordable, and lightweight. You can also paint the plywood in colors you prefer.
|Steel roofing panels||0.7 - 1.3 pounds per sq. ft.||$3.35 - $4.50 per sq. ft.|
|Asphalt shingles||2.5 - 4 pounds per sq. ft.||$1.50 - $5.50 per sq. ft.|
|Solar shingles||13 pounds per sq. ft.||$21 - $25 per sq. ft.|
Best choice: Steel roofing panels
Suggested brand: CertainTeed
There aren’t many alternatives for tiny house roofs because traditional materials work well already. You have to focus on structural roofing in order to protect your home from the elements and provide a stable structure.
Solar panel fittings and solar shingles are popular among eco-friend tiny home dwellers because you can harness energy with them. However, these materials can be heavy and expensive. Asphalt shingles offer moderate protection at a fair price but they are not suitable if you’re on a mobile tiny home because the wind will blow them off.
The best option is steel roofing panels -- galvanized to prevent corrosion. Steel roofing panels are lightweight but durable enough to withstand wind, water, fire, snow, mold, mildew, and bugs. They are available in various colors and are quick to install.
|Expanded polystyrene boards||2 - 3 pounds per sq. ft.||$0.75 - $1.45 per square foot|
|Spray foam||1/3 or 1/4 of a pound per sq. ft.||$0.45 - $1.50 per square foot|
|Structurally insulated panels||3 - 4 pounds per sq. ft.||$5 - $7 per sq. ft., depending on the thickness|
Best choice: Expanded polystyrene boards
Suggested brand: Styrofoam
Insulation for your tiny home is similar to the “lining” of a winter coat; it keeps your home warm in the colder seasons and keeps the heat out during the summer. The material you choose for additional heat is really a matter of personal choice.
While spray foam is light and works well for tight spaces, it can be dangerous to your health if applied incorrectly. Structurally insulated panels (SIPs) are easy to assemble and have a high energy efficiency but they are not the cheapest insulation product to have.
Expanded polystyrene boards are good because they provide a perfect amount of insulation and can be easily cut to fill small spaces. You can even install polystyrene boards into your flooring and roofing if it’s too cold in your area. Plus, they are cost-efficient and easy to purchase.
|Laminate flooring||1 - 1.5 pounds per sq. ft.||$0.68 - $2.59 per sq. ft., in sheets|
|Cork flooring||1.6 pounds per sq. ft.||$3 - $12 per sq. ft., depending on design|
|Vinyl flooring||1.5 pounds per sq. ft.||$0.50 - $2.00 per sq. ft., in sheets|
Best choice: Vinyl flooring
Suggested brand: Achim Home Furnishings
The interior flooring of your tiny home has more to do with personal style than other considerations. Hardwood, tile, concrete, marble, and slate are too bulky and heavy for a mobile tiny house. Laminate flooring would work well but it’s prone to water-damage while cork can be damaged easily by pets, sunlight, and furniture alike.
The best choice for your floor is vinyl because it’s fairly lightweight, water-resistant, and easy to clean. Vinyl flooring is durable and resilient, with a lifespan of around 10 - 20 years. Compared to laminate or cork, the average cost of vinyl flooring is inexpensive and vinyl is easy to maintain. The best thing about vinyl is that it can even mimic the look of hardwood or marble -- so it’s a win-win.
Tips For Finding Lightweight Materials On Budget
Your dream tiny home can be beautiful and lightweight as long as it’s built with quality materials. However, finding said materials might not come cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, some of these tips may help you track down affordable options for materials to build your tiny house with:
- Reach out to the tiny house community: Many tiny homeowners are welcoming and generous enough to publish what they know online. You can reach out to them to ask for where they sourced particular materials or if they have connections they can recommend who are selling materials at a low cost.
- Keep an eye on places that would have scrap materials: Ongoing construction projects, soon-to-be demolished homes, and even residential properties may be keeping “junk piles” around. As long as you ask for permission, many people are willing to give these materials to you in exchange for getting it off their hands. You may find cool materials for projects around your tiny home. Remember, part of tiny living is being eco-conscious so recycling construction materials is a good way to prevent additional deforestation and waste.
- Look at newspaper classifieds or Craigslist ads: When people renovate or demolish their homes, they tend to list a lot of gently used items for sale at a lower price. Look through the classifieds of your local newspaper or visit Craigslist to see if you can purchase hardwood floors, fixtures, cabinets, and even second-hand furnishings. Lumber auctions are also another way you can purchase good, usable materials for less. These auctions are usually announced in newspapers or online.
4 Design Ideas To Keep Your Tiny House Light
Since weight is such a huge factor to building a custom tiny home, there are a few ideas and strategies to keep in mind while designing your tiny house. Here are four things to take into your consideration as you carefully plan out your dream THOW:
|Location, location, location||The location of your tiny house will influence how it’s built and what materials you will use on it. Specifically, the weather is going to play a big role in your house’s design. If you’re living in an area that is prone to storms and flooding, your house should be built with sturdier and heavier materials. Living in a colder place will also require better insulation and accessories like heaters to keep everything toasty.|
|Keep it small||One obvious but practical tip to keep your tiny home light is to build it really tiny. Any extra square footage will ultimately add more weight to your tiny house. While the height and width of a tiny house is usually consistent, many tiny homeowners tend to extend the length of the structure for more space -- going beyond the standard 14 - 16 ft long. If you’re planning to build a house longer than 20 ft, remember to build around your trailer’s capacity and the local road limits, if any.|
|Respect building codes||Your state may have specific laws or zoning codes in the area you’re building your tiny house on. These regulations may have an influence on how your house should be designed and what materials can be used. For example, some states are strict in regulating mobile homes so they can be protected against strong winds, tornados, and fires. You may have to consult with an expert before designing your tiny home so you can make necessary adjustments to work within building codes.|
|Prepare your personal vision||As you envision your custom home, you should already have an idea of which materials can achieve what you want. It’s a good practice to break down the tiny house into its structural elements: walls, windows, flooring, insulation and the like. This allows you to ensure that the parts which need reinforcement are built with stronger materials, while added details can be kept light and compact.|
Build Your Tiny, Lightweight Dream House Today
It might not be easy to build a lightweight tiny house from scratch but it’s certainly worth it. You get to choose exactly what makes up your custom tiny home and ensure you and your family have a well-built abode to live in. Don’t be afraid of building a house that’s too extraordinary; your tiny house is perfect as long as it meets your needs.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.