manic monday – modern living in 128 sf

The Tiny House movement is BOOMING. It’s all over the news, blogs, the web…it’s everywhere. And in searching through so many of the “tiny home” blogs and websites, an interesting trend emerges that I wanted to talk about: They all look almost exactly the same. There is a decidedly “traditional” style to the majority of tiny homes out there on the market and I am wondering why this is. Is there just a tiny home “style” that naturally takes shape because of functional concerns or is it just an aesthetic choice? I propose that it’s mostly aesthetic. Let me explain.

If you take a typical Tiny Home design, what do you see? You see a typical rectangular plan with a steep gable roof that accommodates a loft space. There are obvious height and area concerns here because most tiny homes, in order to be permitted need to be attached to a trailer frame to be classified as a mobile structure. This is the only way to get around building and zoning code requirements for living spaces (which are really stupid and arbitrary by the way).

Image courtesy of tiny house blog

So, above is a picture of your typical tiny home. Most designs will take cues from this theme – a simple framed gable structure on a 8′ x 16′ trailer. The roof is typically a steep 45 degree pitch in order to accommodate the loft with enough head room to use the space underneath. Now, I ask, is this really the most efficient way to design a roof structure when square footage is a premium?

Answer – not really.

This isn’t to say that the above design isn’t functional or even efficient, but like any thing else in life there is room for improvement. Let me also say that I doubt I’m the first guy to think of this either. I’m clever, but not THAT clever.

Solution – a dome roof.

example of domed roof on tiny home trailer without loft

I know…simple, right? Well, after pouring through page after page of google images it seems it’s not so simple. I did come across a few examples of tiny homes that had domed roof profiles, but these were few and far between. What’s so special about a dome roof on a tiny home, you might ask? Well, when your goal is to maximize the usable space while minimizing the overall height of the structure, a dome is the way to go. If you think back to geometry class, if you draw a diamond shape (half of the diamond would be our gable) and then draw a circle with a diameter equal to the diagonal of the diamond (half of which would be our dome) then you easily see the square footage that you’re gaining in this type of roof.

square (gable) within a circle (dome)

So, again, I’m not the first guy to think of this. But I wonder, why aren’t there more popular Tiny Home designs that take advantage of this simple design aesthetic? I’m hoping a few tiny home enthusiasts will see this and offer their own 2 cents to the discussion. Tiny homes aren’t for everyone, much as container homes are also not for your average homeowner, but they do offer unique and interesting solutions for those looking for the ultimate in “downsized” living and I hope to see much more of this alternative architectural style in the future.

18 thoughts on “manic monday – modern living in 128 sf

  1. My first question I had you answered – square footage requirements from zoning regs. It at least one county here in Atlanta you have to have at least 1600 SF in a single family home, which is arbitrary, and is more than has been in single family homes historically. So, you are stuck with them being “mobile homes” which causes more regulatory hassles.

    The second question I have about tiny houses is how does one change a lifestyle to live without so much junk? I have a garage full of crap, a walk in closet full of clothes I never wear, and furniture in the living room that’s used to set stuff on top of. I actually would love to convert over to that lifestyle. Never mind…

    • George, man, 1600 sf is a bit steep for a “minimum”. Are you sure that’s right? I know there have to be homes in Atlanta from the “good ole days” at 1200 sf or less, right?
      I believe here in Florida the minimum sf for a dwelling is 650 sf, or thereabouts. Most trailer structures, from what I’ve read, actually make it easier to permit these homes because of the minimal requirements for RVs and camper trailers.
      And I certainly agree with you that a “smaller” lifestyle would be a welcome relief. Though with two small kids at home “smaller” is relative. 😉

  2. straight is cheaper than curved. I wouldn’t call the example roof “domed” as it is not even tall enough for a loft. Also, putting shingles (one of the cheapest roofs available) on a curved surface is not acceptable because they are practially flat at the peak, so you end up having to go with a curved metal roof panels (very expensive for small homes).

    In the end, again, it comes down to money. Most people are getting tiny homes for economy (not just financial but also impact).

    • Dan, thanks for your comments. And I do agree that a domed roof is going to be more costly, even just to fabricate the curve with a wood/composite joist, not to mention standing seam versus shingles. But when you’re building a structure that is the size of a wood shed (or smaller) is the cost difference really that great considering the increased utility and comfort you would get in a “loftier” loft space? Forgive the play on words. It’s monday. 😉

      • Yeah, it would be. The setup cost for those curved elements (roof panels, glulam beams, etc.) is the same if you’re running one panel or one thousand. Honestly, since they are so small, you could spend as much on just the roof as you do for all the other finishes combined…

  3. I’ve seen these many times and it’s a cool concept. However, it’s a leap for most of us to go from where we’re at to 128 sf. I thought my house was “small” at 2,200 sf. I was upset I couldn’t get it under 2,000.

    • I can’t honestly imagine what I would do with 2200 sf of house. i’d probably lose my kids in the first 12 hours…then there would be a search party and police, helicopters…not cool.
      Seriously though. I know you have your office in your home, so if you got rid of that I’m sure you could be down to, what, at least 1500 or less right? I haven’t actually lived in a house/apartment larger than 1200 sf since I was in high school. And even then my house was only 1600-ish sf.
      Bottom line, smaller living is not necessarily for everyone. There is a huge mental shift that has to take place and then followed by a huge lifestyle shift. Most people will never get there. I probably won’t either. But I also think there are very valuable lessons to be learned as well from this type of design as it applies to “standard” residential design. Each square foot we design should be treated as a premium. It should serve not just one purpose but several. Utility coupled with beauty at all times.

      • We started our marriage in a 1,000 sf house. Yes my office takes up some space too. I suppose if it were a single story, it would shrink (stairs, hallways, etc. take up space).

      • I imagine your home functions very well and does not waste space. If you say 2200 was the magic number, I believe you and I’m confident you thought everything out before building.
        But imagine, for just a moment, if you were forced to reduce your homes size by half but keep the same function. Could you do it? I think you could. Like you said, vertical circulation takes up space. But what about bedrooms? Ask yourself how large they are, and then ask how small could they really be and still perform the function of “bedroom”. Designing a home for a container is much the same process. It’s a deductive process.

      • This is a fascinating conversation. I’ve pursued this since 1991 trying to design a three bedroom house as small as possible without being freakish or unreasonable. With two stories and a master bedroom suite independent (cozy even), it is hard to beat 2,000 sf. Compromises could be made, but then the marketability comes into question. I was really upset at myself that I couldn’t get my house smaller.

      • And I think you hit the mark right there – compromise. There is a balance that has to be reached in how much you are willing to compromise for a smaller, more compact home. Truth by told, my dream is not to live in a flashy modern container home (though I will have a flashy off-grid container cabin in the mountains one day soon), rather I plan to purchase and renovate a nice big old home with too many bedrooms and bathrooms to hide in that my entire family can share and enjoy. But then, I’m a huge history buff and it’s more about the process of renovating and preserving a piece of history than living in a big house.
        Ok. That’s way off topic. I need more coffee.
        As architects, whether the client is someone else or our own family, we design for comfort and utility. Space for the sake of space should not be in our vocabulary. And I think we can agree there is certainly no wasted space in a Tiny Home. 🙂

  4. I see another difficulty with the dome design. I do like the look of it very much, but it would be not only more expensive to design, engineer and build, but would require a greater overall knowledge, skill and experience than a DIY’er would be able to deal with. I feel I’m capable of the design process, but when it comes to the truly technical stuff, I’d really need the help of a pro, and this style of structure isn’t something that the average builder has had enough experience creating. Plus, like many folks who are deeply interested in the subject, part of the plan is to put a solar panel up there to help out with LED lighting at night and to power that all important first cuppa in the morning, not to mention the far more important task of collecting rainwater. How would the dynamics of the roof cope with these priorities?

    There are positives and negatives about nearly every aspect of a tiny home, and each one deserves serious contemplation before adding them to your own personal “gotta have it” list. While the addition of what would be a truly huge amount (relatively speaking) of space, especially at 3 am when you’ve got to take that hike down the ladder, I’m not sure how it would impact the rest of the dwelling. Would the benefits outweigh the time, money and losses you’d need to make on the rest of the design in order to cope with the added bonus space? How, for example, would you insulate? Would you need to have special tools and knowledge to create the curved “spine” to support the roof structurally? Would this add time to the project? Understanding the Euclidean principles involved, and more importantly, being able to translate that correctly to the structure would be an interesting exercise, but is it practical? Can your average Tiny builder cope with the technical demands required by this type of design change?

    I’m interested in your responses.

    • Wow, thanks for the comments. And you bring up some great points. First to the issue of “special skills”. I would argue that it would take no more special skill than a typical framed gable, and perhaps even less as these curved joists would be prefabricated, which means no cutting, no ridge beam. All you would need do is set them in place, install your straps/anchors and cut blocking/bridging for the installation of sheathing. The sheathing may be a little challenging as it’s a curved surface, but if you cut them into smaller widths it’s much more manageable.

      A metal roof is one of the easiest to install in my opinion because it simply clips into place. It’s almost fool proof. Also, installing a PV panel would be no different than on a gable roof. And would even be easier as most PV companies make a clip system that works in conjunction with standing seam roofs.

      Water collection also is no different. Install gutters and down spouts as you normally would.

      Ultimately, any construction project comes down to careful planning. Hopefully, as a DIY-er, you would at the least consult with trained professionals in order to arm yourself with the best knowledge and plan accordingly. While cost is certainly an issue, we’re talking about a very small space of roof. As long as standard “off the rack” sizes and systems are used, you might be looking at an additional 20-30% cost over conventional roofing. But the performance of the roof and the comfort on the interior space is going to be well worth the extra cost. At least, in my opinion. 🙂

      Thanks again! Cheers.

  5. I imagine joists for a curved roof would need to be done with some sort of glulam or thick enough ply and cut with a jig-saw using a template (maybe the first joist cut). For cold climates, I’m wondering about snow loads and the ability of the roof to shed those. The only sensible roofing material has got to be metal of some sort – how would you get the curve into the sheets? I think an easier way to create more space in the loft area, and indeed to give a better impression of space in the whole house is to go the shed roof route. A lot of tiny house builders seem to run the loft walls up higher, have a flatter roof angle and put windows in that loft area to make it lighter.

    • Ian, I would say to refer to my diagram above of the square within a circle. The construction of the dome rafters could be done a number of ways. Glue lam would be the most reliable as they would be fabricated from designed drawings and would also be consistent.

      A shed roof is the simplest roof form (think back to the original post and beam structures of our very distant forefathers) as it’s meant to only shed water. The more shallow the slope the slower that water will shed. Same goes for snow. If you have a domed roof, snow will never be a problem. A shed roof will need a steep enough slope to let the snow slide off. This means usually at least 4 or 5 and 12 pitch. Either that or you have to get up there with a broom and sweep it off.

      Lastly, with a dome roof you don’t have to run those walls up as high because you gain more interior volume with the curved roof. Is it more expensive? Sure. But let’s be honest, with such a small footprint, what is an extra few bucks per square foot? Metal roof panels can be curved, also. This is standard.

      Thanks for your comments!

  6. We chose to build a lower pitched roof over the loft giving us much more space in the loft as well as the ability to add windows on the side. What we found out was that the roof became much more complicated. We had to figure out how to join the different pitches together and cap off the ends. It took longer. So I am thinking the simpler roof is used more often because it is easier to do. Jay Shafer makes some good points in his tiny house book about proportions and architecture and I am sure that has influenced tiny house builders.

    As far as downsizing, a step down approach seems to work. I started in a 3000 square foot home, went to a 2400 one then down to a 1000 square foot apartment ridding myself of stuff every step of the way. Next stop, tiny house when it is finished!

    • Terra, thanks for your comments!

      Yes, a simple roof is always best. Even large McMansions will go with the most efficient roof profile (though you’d never be able to tell by looking at one). With a tiny home on a trailer there would be no reason to have more than one roof slope, be it domed or shed. There just isn’t enough building to justify it.

      Good luck in your downsizing! I’d love to see photos of your project!


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