Micro Living

40 Innovative Tiny Houses Equipped for Full-Time Living, in 400 Square Feet or Less


By Derek Diedricksen

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For everyone who’s ever dreamed of simplifying their life and downsizing their home, Micro Living offers an insider’s look at what tiny house living is really like.

Best-selling author and tiny house enthusiast Derek “Deek” Diedricksen profiles 40 tiny — but practical — houses that are equipped for full-time living, all in 400 square feet or less. Detailed photography and a floor plan for each structure highlight inventive space-saving design features along with the nuts-and-bolts details of heating, cooling, electric, and plumbing systems. The real-life stories of residents impart the pleasures, as well as the challenges, of day-to-day living. With tips on what to consider before you build, along with framing plans for a prototype small cabin, Micro Living is the perfect starter handbook for both dreamers and doers.




Big Tinies (Over 250 Square Feet)

The Luna Loft

Victoria's Salvage Haven

The Quarky Turnip Houseboat

Bedsole's Lookout

The Willow Tree House

The Apple Blossom Cottage

The Kasita

The Engberg Tiny House

The Inside Story: It Isn't for Everyone by Andrew Odom

Small Tinies (150 - 250 Square Feet)

Jess and Dan's Homestead on Wheels

Brittany's Bayside Bungalow

The Wind River Airstream

The Alpha Tiny House

The Puckett House Bus

The Alberta Modern Tiny House

Bear's Tiny House

Dragonfly Tiny House

The Bottlerock House

The Farallon

The Shangri-Little

IQ Container

Ovida Tiny House

Jewel's Tiny House

The Empty Nest

The Inside Story: Real-World Tips for Tiny Kitchen Survival by Michelle Boyle

Kyle's Vermont Cabin

The Bunkaboose

ATL Shipping Container Home

The Maiden Mansion

The Inside Story: Minimalism: Getting It, and Getting There by Ryan Nicodemus

Teeny Tinies (Under 150 Square Feet)

The Cheer Stand

The Pallet House

Eddie's Lego Lair

Andrew's Vardo

The Wall of Windows Tree House

The Silver Bullet Tiny House

The "Reuse" Box Truck

The Turtleback

The XS

The Carl Ultralight

The Kenney Camper (1966 DuPage Cloud Coach)

Funky East Austin Tiny House

The CAFAM Cabin

The Inside Story: Before You Build by Derek "Deek" Diedricksen

BONUS! The CAFAM Cabin Framing Plans

A Word (or a thousand) of Thanks

Metric Conversions

Build (on) Your Dreams with More Books from Storey


Share Your Experience!


So I suppose it's an addiction gone right — an obsession, at least, that's not too detrimental to my health. Then again, it's all in how you look at it. Right now, as I type this, I'm aboard a flight returning from Reykjavik, Iceland, with an Iron Maiden shirt stuffed behind my back to stifle my chronic building-related back pain. But I can't complain: I was just in Iceland, looking for hidden urban tree houses while digging for daring and funky design ideas.

The obsession I'm talking about is tiny houses — designing them and building them. While my last book, Microshelters, included all manner of small structures, this time around we're focusing mainly (with a couple of exceptions) on the "true tinies," as some call them. Not so much forts, tree houses, day-use hobby huts, or bizarre shelters, but bona fide tiny houses. Nonetheless, you'll find an eclectic mix here, and perhaps some will be right up your alley.

I'm not here to judge, although (open mouth, insert foot) you'll see that I have tacked on a "Deek's Takeaways" section for each featured structure. Here I'll offer some words of praise, and possibly some constructive criticism, for the home at hand. As I've told my workshop students, there is much to learn from each and every design, from the good, the bad, and even the incredibly ugly. In addition, I've asked the builder of each tiny home to honestly divulge what, in retrospect, they'd do differently. Some might come off as more honest than others, but many a brave soul has dropped you little tidbits of insight about things that really didn't work out in the long run.

Whether you're leafing through this collection in a bookstore, or settling in for a long read by the light of a fire with a good snifter of who-knows-what, or casually flipping through it on your ... er ... throne, I hope you will find ideas and inspiration on these pages. Perhaps you'll pick up a random time- and money-saving method, or maybe you're new to this stuff and will see something that totally changes your world. Heck, this could be your first crack at tiny houses, so I hope you pull something positive from it, whether you intend to try out this lifestyle or just find the notion absolutely absurd yet worth a curious peek.

But wait, there's more! If you do feel inclined to take a crack at a bare-bones tiny structure (one that you could customize and outfit to serve your own needs), flip to the back of the book, where you'll find construction drawings for just such a structure.

Finally, I'd like to state my opinion that tiny living is not for everyone, and I never push the idea. In fact, you can read Andrew Odom's story about how he came to the same conclusion. You might ask, "Deek, why are you sabotaging the magic and romance of the scene?" I'm not; I'm just being honest. After all, the point here is more about striving toward simplicity than "going small." My hope is that the idea of scaling back, even just a bit, might turn out to be something you actually want to do, whether you end up with a real tiny house or not.

But What Makes a Tiny House "Tiny"?

Go into any tiny house Facebook group or any discussion forum, or even just talk to anyone about tiny houses, and I guarantee this will be one of the first questions you're asked (besides where you go to the bathroom) — and rightfully so. See, we as people just love to classify and categorize. This isn't all bad, as it does help to clear things up. So let me quickly summarize what I mean when I talk about tiny houses. It's pretty darn simple.

For the sake of this collection, my personal standards (with a handful of exceptions) are as follows:

  1. 1. The dwelling has to be for full-time use, or at least have the potential for it. A few structures in this book are borderline, depending on the climate, or because they lack some amenities, but who's counting? They were too cool and original to leave out. Other featured builds might be rentals or seasonal cabins but have the potential to become full-time homes. Don't cover your eyes and plug your ears because one particular cabin might not have insulation or perhaps a shower worthy of the Ritz Carlton. Look beyond to what else it might offer for inspiration.
  2. 2. I'll just come out and say it: poop. There has to be a way for it to go somewhere. Granted, much of the world still uses outhouses, but we'll stick mainly to indoor bathrooms that are part of the home's design. That said, there are some exceptions in which the solution sits in a separate unit from the home or cabin, or where a bathroom could simply be added to the existing space. In addition, a space to bathe is another facet most people require in a bathroom, and most of these structures have it.
  3. 3. It's gotta be small. The maximum square footage of a "tiny" house is often (and sometimes annoyingly) debated, but for the most part we're going with 400 square feet and under. I don't feel that this is the end-all definition, but 400 square feet is indeed tiny.
  4. 4. Usable, comfortable sleeping space is a must. I would have loved to include more of the mind-blowing sheds, backyard studios, forts, tree houses, and writing retreats that I've toured, seen, built, or photographed, but we already hit upon those in Microshelters, so the new ones I've discovered since will have to wait until another time.
  5. 5. It should have some kind of kitchen. Sure, many homes around the world (especially in hotter climates) have kitchens in structures that are separate from the home, but for this book I was looking for homes with kitchens that were part and parcel of the design. I stretched this one a hair for a few structures that offered so much to enjoy, inspire, or learn from that I couldn't leave them out.
  6. 6. And it needs means for heating/cooling (depending on the local climate). Burrito-derived methane doesn't count.
  7. 7. Sometimes I break my own rules. But if I chose to include it, it has some interesting design approach, look, creative use of materials, or budget strategy that I thought was worth highlighting.

I've traveled all around the United States and beyond to feature what you're about to see. The houses and shelters I've picked are ones that I found particularly inspiring, innovative, unique, fun, or just plain beautiful. There are about a hundred more I would have liked to feature, but I ultimately feared lawsuits for the back pain caused by lugging around such an enormous book. So 40 it is. Enjoy, and may you drink deeply from the well of photos, stories, ideas, mistakes, and triumphs of others that lies in your hands.

— Derek "Deek" Diedricksen

NOTE: There are images of diagrams throughout the ebook. Double-tap the image to open to fill the screen. Use the two-finger pinch-out method to zoom in. (These features are available on most e-readers.)

Big Tinies

The Luna Loft

flintstone, georgia

Design: Hannah & Enoch Elwell, Andrew Alms, Jason Ennis (Cogent Studio), and Charles Greenwood (Greenwood Engineering)

I present to you the treetop rental dwelling of designers Andrew Alms and Enoch Elwell. This full-fledged tiny house is also one of the more impressive tree houses you may ever lay eyes on. Their design was inspired by the Living Building Challenge, which requires a building to be zero-impact in terms of water and net-positive in energy production. The Alms/Elwell team wasn't able to build the house to meet all the specifications, but it's a goal they aspire to.

The pair made stylish use of reclaimed materials. From the 1860s barn siding and the mesmerizingly cool front door to the enormous support beams salvaged from an old schoolhouse and the array of reused factory windows, this build is full of nods to the past and stories of what was. My brother, Dustin, and I, along with our friend Steven Harrell, spent two nights here on a road trip through nearby Tennessee, and it just wasn't enough time.

While some might think that staying in a tree house would be a childish affair devoid of the real needs of everyday life, this couldn't be further from the truth. The Luna Loft is not only heated and well insulated (with SIPs, structural insulated panels), it also has a full bathroom (with composting toilet), a lounging area with a couch, a fridge, a kitchenette, and a beautiful open loft with a queen-size bed.

Inspiration: "Childhood memories and the potential to play in the trees again. We looked at many tree houses in preparation and ended up basing it off the Hama Hama design by Pete Nelson — but a little wider, higher, and in a two-tree system."

Pennies and foreign coins make for intricate and interesting tile work in the bathroom, and a whiskey-barrel shower stall adds a bit of ingenious whimsy.

These salvaged factory windows are 17 feet tall!

Deek's Takeaways

There's a lot to see in the Luna Loft and plenty of ideas to glean from it. I love the use of thick mesh panels (or "hog panels") for safety railings on the 90-square-foot deck (which is perched 17 feet above the ground). The interior wall paneling is reclaimed 2×6s (which admittedly run the risk of being overly heavy for a tree house). Their diagonal orientation is pleasing to the eye, and this age-old barn-bracing and cladding technique also provides additional strength and rigidity to the structure.

The Luna Loft Stats

Dimensions: 24' long × 10' wide × 17' tall (at its peak)

Square Footage: Main area: 250; loft: 100

Budget: Approximately $75,000 (including $34,000 via Kickstarter, $15,000 worth of sponsored materials, and $10,000 from corporate sponsors)

Heating/Cooling: 15,000 Btu Mitsubishi mini split

Bathroom: Sun-Mar composting toilet; shower

Power: Grid-tied (buried from street to site)

Hot Water: 25-gallon mini tank-style electric water heater

In Retrospect: "I wish we had started earlier. It's not that people don't help you or that they mean to hinder you, but inevitably, things like engineering take more time than you have planned. Put an extra 20 percent on your timeline and an extra 30 percent on your cost estimates."

Victoria's Salvage Haven

Argyle, New York

Design: Victoria Cantwell and friends

On a recent tiny-house-hunting trip, I found myself on a last-minute jaunt with my kids to the quaint little town of Argyle, New York, to stay in a charming and rustic tree house. We had needed little convincing to pack our bags and hit the road with our fishing poles, s'mores ingredients, and bug spray. What I didn't know then was that the tree house would end up taking a backseat to another one of the three structures that Vicky rents on her 5-acre organic homestead. On top of that, I was about to discover Vicky's love for roadside salvage and all things odd, vintage, and downright fabulous. Which brings me to what I've dubbed "Victoria's Salvage Haven."

The Haven is a tiny house that was not professionally built or even built with a definite plan. It was built with materials from a shed that previously stood on the same site and clearly adorned with an afterthought or two (or ten). Nothing seems to be what I call KCT (kitchen cabinet tight). But that's the absolute charm of the place! From the worn floorboards to the salvage finds oozing with character (the Gothic church window, for one), it all makes for a very relaxing, scaled-back, no-frills retreat where I instantly felt at ease.

Inspiration: "I am inspired by my love of collecting unique salvaged pieces as well as antique/vintage finds, and creating spaces that blend in with the beauty of the natural surroundings. I love to recycle and bring new life and purpose to what others have thrown away. I wanted to create a place where guests can quiet their minds and experience life unplugged in a quaint, small space that feeds the soul."

This gorgeous Gothic church window brings interest, color, and light to the room.

Deek's Takeaways

What this cabin lacks in square footage is made up for with the extended lines of sight provided by large windows all around. And the addition of a few skylights means you'll never feel close to cramped. As for the decor, it complements and enhances the space — an art not easily mastered. Make no mistake, decor (and finding it cheaply) is a huge part of tiny house building. After all, what makes a cozy dwelling if not the perfect balance of space, light, and color?

The fact that the bathroom is an attached outhouse (not accessible from inside the cabin) means that many in the tiny house scene will refuse to call it a real "tiny house," but these arrangements do work for many people. Yes, the outhouse would be cold in the winter, but it could be insulated, and a slight alteration would make it accessible from the inside. The outdoor cook space, accessed through a back door, is also unconventional, yet it's what I loved most about Victoria's haven. Perhaps staying here could be considered "tiny-house-ish glamping." I really don't care, though, because it's a gorgeous space loaded with tiny hidden details. Don't let the outhouse scare you.

In Retrospect: "I do regret completely leveling the original shed structure. There is a slight slope to the site, too, and that made for a few challenges when installing windows, doors, and floorboards. A more solid base would have been ideal. I would also have put in some floor insulation — that's probably my biggest regret."

Victoria's Salvage Haven Stats

Dimensions: First section: 10' long × 11' wide × 712–9' feet tall (sloped ceiling); second section: 14' long × 10' wide × 612–8' feet tall (sloped ceiling); overall dimensions: approximately 20' long × 15' wide, including outdoor kitchen and attached outhouse

Square Footage: 340

Budget: $7,000

Heating/Cooling: Woodstove in winter, many open windows in summer

Bathroom: Attached outhouse

Power: Buried electrical service to a breaker box

Hot Water: Water stored in a 5-gallon vintage water cooler and heated on a stove (a three-burner, vintage, repurposed RV propane cooktop)

The Quarky Turnip Houseboat

Seattle, Washington

Design: Original builder/designer unknown

While on a speaking tour for my book Microshelters, I stayed in almost a dozen tiny houses — a different one each night of the trip. All were pretty amazing, but I was blown away by the craft and class of the Quarky Turnip, a relatively luxurious houseboat bobbing on the surface of Seattle's Lake Union. Add the fact that it had city views and was docked next to other great houseboats and you have the makings of something truly memorable.

While there are downsides of urban houseboat living — namely, exorbitant docking fees and, well, the possibility of motion sickness — there are quite a few pros, including their mobility. What I love about the Quarky Turnip is not only its color scheme and rounded windows and doorways (reminiscent of gypsy wagons), but also its open layout. The little deck is great, as is the rooftop lounge. When constructing such small dwellings, it really is important to think about each plane, surface, and cubic foot. Ask yourself, "How can I maximize this space, and when and where should I just leave it alone?"

Inspiration: "Freedom from land, and the ability to roam."

Deek's Takeaways

One rule of thumb for floating homes is to make the height of your cabin no higher than the berth (width) of your vessel. Otherwise, you could end up with a tippy, unsafe structure. Because of this guideline, narrow — and correspondingly short — houseboats result in less headroom, so for taller people (or, in some cases, most anyone) these boats can be "head slammers." The canal-boat-style floating homes (long and narrow) often have inward-slanted walls to help compensate for this problem, focusing the weight toward the middle. The downsides of this design are that, as with A-frames, there's less room to maneuver side to side, and most furniture, which is designed for vertical walls, doesn't fit well. Also, remember that in a floating home, you have to secure just about everything because your house bobs up and down with the wakes of passing boats, the current, and changing tides.

The only thing about the Quarky Turnip that didn't impress me was the "pit shower" sunk into the bedroom floor, which offered little privacy and made things a bit wet. Showering without walls a mere 12 inches from the side of one's bed, while surrounded by uncovered windows, is a bit of an odd experience. I was able to get clean, though, while waving at the passing neighbors in my birthday suit.

The view from the back deck

In Retrospect: "Houseboats, while the romantic dream of many, can be very expensive to moor and maintain. Furnishing such uniquely shaped (and moving) structures requires a little patience as well."

The Quarky Turnip Houseboat Stats

Dimensions: 37' long × 12' wide × 7'6" tall

Square Footage: 346

Budget: Original cost to build unknown

Heating/Cooling: Electric radiant wall heaters

Bathroom: Standard flush toilet to central marina septic; pit shower in bedroom

Power: Hookup from the mainland marina to a breaker panel

Hot Water:


  • “The question of how creativity thrives when it’s bound by space morphs into a fascinating tour of varied personalities. … A crisply organized portfolio of floor plans, tips, and color photos offer[s] a practical overview. … Intentionality resounds, as does a sense of fun … Micro Living perplexes and charms, revealing a lifestyle that challenges the mainstream.” — Foreword Reviews

    “We’re used to one-dimensional glimpses of small spaces; the look, the design, or the dynamic people inside. This book brings those all together with a truly robust examination of truly livable small spaces.” — Andrew Odom, Founder, Tiny r(E)volution

    “There’s something here for everyone, from the casually interested coffee table reader to the full-on tiny house hopeful.” — Ethan Waldman, TheTinyHouse.net

    “Packed with engaging illustrations, gorgeous photographs, precise blueprints, and pragmatic advice for anyone working on their tiny-home dream.” — The Minimalists

    “Deek has an incredible talent for finding the most innovative micro living spaces in the world. His big personality illuminates these tiny dwellings and will inspire you to downsize.” — Jenna Spesard, TinyHouseGiantJourney.com

On Sale
Oct 30, 2018
Page Count
256 pages


Derek Diedricksen

About the Author

Derek “Deek” Diedricksen is the author of Micro Living and Microshelters. He hosts the YouTube channel RelaxshacksDOTcom and has hosted, built, and designed for the HGTV series Extreme Small Spaces and Tiny House Builders, as well as for the DIY Network. His work has been featured in numerous places in print and online, including NPR, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, Make magazine, Yahoo.com, and Apartment Therapy. Diedricksen lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author