As with any house, your tiny home will need a skeleton called the ‘frame’, which supports and gives the entire structure shape. Incorrectly framing your tiny home may compromise its strength and cause a lot of damages.
So what are the basics of framing a tiny home? The two areas to focus on are the framing style and construction materials. You would have a choice among conventional, advanced, or factory-built framing which we will discuss later on. You would also have options on what building materials to use for the frame such as lumber, metal, or structurally insulated panels.
What Makes Framing a Tiny House Different?
When you frame a tiny house instead of a regular house, you have more choices on how you want the structure to be built. You can try a style that reduces the weight of the frame or how much materials are to be used, which are crucial if you want to have a tiny house on wheels (THOW).
The three basic ways to frame a tiny home include:
Conventional or traditional framing is a quick and cheap way to build walls and houses. It is a flexible method that can be utilized and adjusted for a variety of structures, including tiny homes. Conventional framing is based on a standardized set of dimensions that are compatible with most building products.
While conventional methods have been used to construct houses since the 1920s, it has several drawbacks. It’s not easy to seal and insulate a conventionally-framed house, which makes it energy inefficient. The method also produces a lot of job site waste, which can add to cleanup and disposal fees for the home builders.
Advanced framing is a technique which is also called Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) for its smart way of adjusting the way walls are framed, meaning you utilize fewer materials during the process.
Instead of placing the studs at the traditional 16 inches on center of the wall, you placed them 24 inches on center. With this system, you can make the build faster and more cost-effective. The structure will still be as strong as conventionally-framed buildings but consumes 5 - 10% less lumber and provides more space for insulation.
Tiny homeowners are advised to consider advanced framing because the goals are similar: you want to use a smaller amount of lumber to frame the building. The method is far more sustainable compared to the traditional way.
|The Elements of Traditional and Advanced Framing|
|Traditional or Conventional Framing||Advanced or OVE Framing|
|2 x 4 studs are usedStuds are placed at 16” on centerCripple board under the windowCorners include four studsDouble top plateDouble-up at windowsHeaders created with two boardsUninsulated headers||2 x 6 studs are used Studs are placed at 24” on centerNo cripple studs used for windowsCorners only include two studsSingle top plateSingle stud for rough openingHeader hangersInsulated headers|
The last framing method to consider is factory-built framing. The tiny home builders share the specifications they want for their project to a factory. The factory will create a plan by inputting these details into their software, which will design the wall panels accordingly. Manufacturers will cut, screw, and nail units together with high-quality lumber.
Once the parts are built, they will be shipped to the job site where the builder will simply follow the installation instructions provided by the factory. The resulting walls would be more dimensionally-accurate and precise with higher strength and insulation. Of course, this service will come at a much higher cost as well.
4 Tiny House Framing Material Options
For traditional and tiny houses alike, the building materials for framing are generally the same. Lumber, steel, and structurally insulated panels are commonly used but you can also combine materials for a hybrid construction.
Among all metals, steel is the one most commonly used for tiny house construction. It is becoming the norm to have steel for larger builds as it is 30% - 60% lighter than wood. Steel is also the strongest framing material available. It is fire-resistant and can remain completely straight, whereas wood can warp so your build will look consistent. An added bonus for steel is that it is infinitely recyclable -- perfect for an eco-conscious tiny home dweller.
Of course, steel being a strong metal comes with its downsides as well. It can be hard to drill through so you may find attaching the cladding a wearisome task. It’s also difficult to change anything about the layout once the steel frames are in place. Aside from being a bit expensive in some cases, you would also have to spend a lot more on installing insulation and thermal breaks.
Lumber framing might not be your first choice for a tiny house. Although it is durable, strong, and far easier to work with compared to steel, lumber is heavy. If you’re going to be a THOW, you would need to be lightweight and mobile. On the other hand, lumber is still a good choice for tiny homes built on a foundation as the requirements would be close to your local building codes.
The best reason to utilize lumber for your tiny house build is if you’re still a little bit indecisive about your layout. It’s simple to adjust the wood framing or change it in case of a mistake. The entire process will involve a lot of measuring and cutting but the overall results and savings could be worth it.
Constructing a tiny home as a hybrid means making the structural shell from a combination of materials. Usually, hybrid tiny homes combine the strength and lightness of steel with the warmth of wood. You get the best of both worlds.
Hybrid construction can begin by building the frame in steel with columns to support the roof then stabilized by adding lumber walls in between. You can easily screw cladding on the steel portions and have flexibility with the design of the frame. Not only can hybrid construction help keep everything cost-efficient, but you can also save extra weight instead of going with full steel.
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are sheets of polystyrene sandwiched between two layers of cladding, usually made from plywood or sheet metal. Tiny house builders have begun to recognize how SIPs can be efficient for their builds as it combines insulation and framing at once, which can save a lot of space and weight for each tiny home.
Trying to construct with SIPs requires a lot of detailed planning. Panels are measured and cut by the manufacturers so you need to order them well in advance. Wiring for electricity and plumbing should be taken into account as it is inconvenient to install them without wall cavities.
Aside from these basic problems, tiny home builders are not comfortable with using them as they have a negative environmental impact. Having large quantities of polystyrene in your house’s walls may also pose potential health risks so you should carefully consider all factors before investing in SIPs.
Key Considerations When Deciding on Your Tiny House Framing
When you’re planning to start constructing the frame of your tiny home, it can be overwhelming to decide on which building materials to use or what style of framing you can do. Here are five key considerations to think about for the frame of your tiny home:
Weight: Will the frame be lightweight enough?
If you are a tiny house on wheels, you definitely need to think about the weight because there may be road limits or zoning permits needed where you live. The weight of your tiny home largely depends on the materials you choose. For example, tiny homeowners interested in a lightweight structure would prefer SIPs or steel over a full lumber frame as those materials are much lighter to use.
Time: Should the structure be built quickly?
How quickly the frame of your tiny home will be built depends entirely on your situation. If you’re in a big rush and want the structure done immediately, SIPs are your best choice. SIPs are really easy to install and can be finished quickly as there is no cladding or insulation work that needs to be conducted.
Labor: Would you need professional installation?
One important thing to note is that when you have finalized your plan, it should not be changed anymore as none of the framing options can be easily modified once work has begun. This means that if you’re going DIY, you should go for the easiest build which is wood or hybrid to prevent major construction difficulties.
However, if you’ve decided to hire a professional to help you with the framing, they can easily get the steel or SIPs ready in a few days and the work will be completed smoothly.
Cost: Are you on a tight budget? Do you have non-negotiable considerations you’re willing to spend more on?
Many people opt to construct a tiny home over a traditional one specifically for the additional savings it proves. If cost is your primary concern, you would have to source affordable building materials and maybe DIY the frame’s construction. In this case, a straight lumber frame is your best option. On the other hand, you may need to hire an engineer to help install some parts if you want to make your structure lighter by going hybrid.
Sustainability: Do you want a structure that is eco-friendly?
The tiny house movement wants to promote a sustainable lifestyle as much as possible. What is sustainable and eco-friendly is usually something that already exists because you won’t need to harvest resources or use energy to manufacture them. Among the available options, steel is the best one because it lasts the longest and can be repurposed infinitely.
Wood is a natural, biodegradable choice as well although treated lumber could negatively affect your home and surroundings. The least eco-friendly choice are SIPs as they are composed of non-biodegradable, toxic materials.
Give Your Tiny Home a Strong Structure
Your tiny house’s structure depends on how you design and construct its frame. There is no one way to build the frame because every homeowner will have their own needs and preferences to consider. With ample time, effort, and research, you can build a strong and safe frame for your tiny house.
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.