Introduction: Tiny House Playhouse on Stilts

About: I have been taking things apart ever since I could hold a screwdriver. I rarely put things back together; if I do, they either don't work or they do something else and look worse for the wear. My favorite cost…

While this is not a step by step instructable, I wanted to show you my experience building a tiny house on stilts for my children with details about successes and failures. I started with plans from Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) with initial inspiration from a magazine photo built with the plans. We purchased the plans "Rising High Playhouse" produced by Meredith Corporation in 2000 from BHG. The plans included three 18" x 24" sheets of paper depicting the floor plan, side elevations and materials lists. While this was a good starting point, I will say there was much measuring, debating and further planning that went into the process by the whole family. We also wanted to include recycled materials into the process.

We went with plans thinking this would be easier, but there was still much thinking involved. This was the second tiny house I built. The first was a 288 sq.ft cabin I built and lived in for over two years. Although I love building things with my own hands, each project is a new challenge to my abilities (or inabilities).

Step 1: Tools You Will Need

To build a tiny house playhouse you will need the following tools:

  • Hammer
  • Square (L-shaped 18" or a triangle "Speed Square"
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Hand Saw
  • Optional Circular Saw (if you don't want to spend too much time hand sawing)
  • Saw horses, either home built or folding purchased ones
  • Power or cordless drill
  • Cheap plastic tub for mixing concrete
  • Shovel
  • Paint brushes
  • 2 foot level
  • hack saw and metal file
  • Wrench to tighten bolts
  • Screwdriver, straight and phillips
  • Time

Step 2: Materials

If you are starting with plans, follow the material list in the plans. If you are building from scratch, you need to plan out the size of what you are building. Your drawings should reflect the quantity of boards, type, length and species. Here are some tips:

  • Purchase more than you need! I would go with 15 to 20% more.
  • Purchase pressure treated boards for anything that will either have ground contact or act as decking boards.(more on that later)
  • For trim boards, purchase CEDAR lumber. I cannot stress this point enough. Cedar holds up beautifully, takes paint or stain well and LASTS. We used western red cedar.
  • Purchase your lumber from a local lumber yard, not a big-box store. You will can have the materials delivered and they are hand-picked by a professional.

The lumber order for this project included:

  • sheets of 1/2" plywood
  • 2 x 8 pressure treated lumber
  • 2 x 6 pressure treated lumber
  • 2 x 4 pressure treated lumber
  • 1 x 6 pressure treated lumber
  • 4 x 4 pressure treated lumber
  • 2 x 6 pine
  • 2 x 4 pine
  • 1 x 4 cedar
  • 1 x 6 cedar
  • 15 pound roofing felt
  • roofing shingles
  • hinges for the door and windows
  • Exterior nails, screws, and carriage bolts (used for the X bracing)
  • Paint. We used Sherwin Williams Exterior Gloss Oil, but any good quality exterior paint suited for your environment would work fine. Go to a paint store and talk to a professional about your needs.

While I do have the receipt for the lumber order, there were other house projects on the same order, so exact quantities are not identifiable.

The door and windows were recycled. The door was purchased from a salvage yard and the windows came from a neighbor who was having her windows replaced.

Step 3: Planning

Get all of your ideas together in one place with lots of coffee or comfort food/drink of your choice. If you are working with a team/family, be ready for lots of debate. We had one family member be in charge of the color choices, while the kids contributed to the design ideas. Have your drawings ready, and expect things to change along the way.

Do you have graph paper? Graph paper will aid in making scale drawings where you can assign one square on the paper to equal say, 1/4" in the real world. What ever works for you. This allows you the ability to draw to scale, that is, to fit the paper, but keep the proportions correct for the parts you are drawing. The more you can plan out in advance, the better.

Since we started with plans, there were many dimensions provided already, but we had to make adjustments for the door and windows. For instance, the door in the plan was not very tall so we wanted to maximize that for our family. We also wanted to have a door that would have two halves, so that the top would open independently if desired. We also had to decide if the windows would swing in or outward. We decided on both, but that changed how the hinges and the size of the sashes would work, since the sill of the window slopes down to the outside.

How big should the rough openings be for the door and windows? This depended on the size of the door and window sashes we had. We measured the windows and then on graph paper drew out the scale size of the window, added a little for a gap so it would swing, then added the frame. This gave us the rough-opening size we would need to have to lay out the studs.

We also wanted the house not to be able to blow off of the deck, so we changed the plans so that the back 4x4 treated posts went all the way up into the walls to the roof. We also attached the roof with "hurricane" straps to tie the roof to the walls. There were ideas that emerged in the planning phase and influenced other decisions.

Step 4: Construction - Posts, Decking and Walls

I have few photos of the early part of construction but here were the steps:

  1. Mark out the footprint of the posts on the ground and put stakes and strings in the ground so that the strings marked a box the size of the outside corners of the posts.
  2. Dig holes deep enough to get below the frost-line in your area. For the central East Coast of America, we wanted to get at least 24" deep. We dug a little deeper and about 12" wide holes, one for each of the four posts.
  3. Set the posts in the holes and use cross bracing to stabilize. Our drawing called for x style bracing anyway. Rather than install the x bracing in its final configuration, we used temporary boards to do the same thing.
  4. Level and square up the posts. We did this using a 2' level and a lot of trial and error to get it right. I wish I had a video of this! Once the posts are in place mix and pour concrete around the posts, keeping the top level just below the intended grade of the ground.
  5. Let the concrete set for a day or more.
  6. Remove the temporary bracing. We left the tops of the posts "Wild", that is, longer than needed, to be cut off later. For the front posts, the tops would end up as the tops of the railing posts. for the back, the wall height.
  7. Add the frame band around the outside of the posts. These are the frames that will support the deck. We primed and painted these and used non-pressure treated pine lumber. BIG mistake. All the effort of priming and painting, cutting and installing was spoiled a few years later with our old foe: ROT. Use pressure treated. (More later)
  8. Add the floor joists and deck boards, cutting around the posts. We used metal joist hangers purchased at our local big-box store. We had to cut a little notch in the bottom of the joists to ensure that once in the hangers, the tops of all the joists were level. (Tip: Have the deck slope gently AWAY from the building front.)
  9. Lay out the studs for each wall, one at a time on the deck, cutting and fitting each stud as needed in your plans. Nail the studs together checking with the square periodically. Label the wall stud assembly so you know were each wall goes and WHICH WAY is inside or out. Double-check measurements as you go, especially for the door and window openings.
  10. Before attaching plywood to the walls, add an additional 2x4 diagonally across the outside of the wall section to keep it from "racking" or skewing as you move it about.
  11. Stand the wall sections up in place and test the fitting. Use clamps if you have them, or long nails, securing the sections in place so you can study how to attach the plywood. Don't drive the nails in all the way, so that you can remove the walls again. You can see how your building is going to look!
  12. Take a moment and drink coffee or treat of choice as you marvel at how wonderfully (or not) things are going. It is much easier to make adjustments now BEFORE you cut and attach plywood. For instance, you may find that you have to cut plywood sheets in a creative manner to have more than one sheet cover a wall AND have the seams land on a stud for support.
  13. This is a good time to install the final X-bracing from post to post, under the deck. Take your time with this. These will be the longest boards you have and you don't want to make a mistake on how they are cut. Where the X's cross, drill and install 4 galvanized bolts with their heads on the outside, washers and nuts on the inside. Use a hack saw to cut off the bold ends and file them smooth. No trips to the emergency room here. (we strung a hammock under the deck and the kids loved it.)
  14. Once satisfied, remove the walls from their locations and lay them flat and plan and cut the plywood to go on the outside surface (you will have to remove your temporary diagonal 2x4 for this.) We primed both sides of the plywood before attaching to the studs.
  15. Once skinned with plywood, re-assemble the walls into place and secure. (We installed a sill membrane under the walls to prevent moisture from wicking up from the deck.

Step 5: Construction - Roof

Constructing a roof with different roof planes was a real challenge. For our plans, the roof was a single "open gable" which means a single ridge-line high in the middle, with the roof sloping down in the back and the front AND an added open gable on the front roof at 90 degrees to the back gable, creating two gables that meet in the center. Try as I might to lay this out on the ground, I found it best to build it in place starting with a ridge beam at the center, simple rafters down the back and at the two front corners and then building a ridge-line out to the front from the middle of the back ridge-line.

Well, not only is that a crazy complication of a roof, there were overhangs for each wall where the roof goes past the plane of the wall and ends in open space. Capping the outside surface of the roof is plywood on the top and fascia boards of cedar with decorative scallop cut outs.

What was I thinking?

Many cups of coffee later (and a few frosty beverages, I'm sure) I was able to work out how all of these planes, rafters and fascia would work together, to make the completed roof. I will say that the BHG plans left all of this detail out! Buyer beware! Those pre-built sheds at Lowes were looking pretty sweet right about now.

At any rate, I kept at it and manged to construct the roof rafters so that they pretty much matched at the correct places and angles, even though the compound cuts in the valleys of the roof were too difficult to pull off for me without varied sloppiness and many re-tries. The plywood and fascia were a piece of cake comparatively.

Step 6: Construction - Details

Everything was primed and painted as completed. The trim boards were primed on all sides prior to installation.

The railing was fun to work out, as was the trim around the corners, door and windows and other small touches. For each step I found myself following the same process:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Believe you know what the solution is
  3. Sketch your idea
  4. Verify the sketch on graph paper or by testing with scrap material
  5. Drink some coffee and let the project gel for a while in my brain
  6. Return to the problem and build it.

For this project, there were details like, how many steps on the stairs? How steep? How do I divide the number of steps so they are an even height for each step? How big does the footer for the steps need to be? How do I attach the steps to the footer so that it will last?

How do the railings around the deck attach to the posts? How do I add and secure a post to the deck and structure below for the unsupported railing post (to the left of the stairs)?

Take a look at the weather vane on the top. Also note the metal awning pieces made from curtain rods, Tiki torches and awning support brackets.

The details for each place two materials come together DOES require time and effort, especially if you are new to this.

Step 7: Failure!

After a few years there was a major failure with this project, hinted at previously: The deck boards made of pine, lovingly primed and painted with oil paint started to fail due to ROT. This failure was exhibited in the band boards going around the structure as well. After much kicking myself, the only solution was to cut away the decking where it met the front wall and replace it, and the band, with pressure treated lumber. This meant adding in a some new supports as well as I decided to leaf the existing decking inside the building. The raw ends of the existing deck-boards were covered with roofing membrane to protect them form further rot. A new floor joist was added to support the other new joists.

Tip: Take a look around the neighborhood at similar projects to see how well they are holding up before investing time, materials and energy into an IDEA. Or, test your own idea if you cannot give it up.

Weather and time will take their toll on materials. Choose material that work for other installations in your area.

Step 8: Conclusion

Was it worth it? A resounding YES! This was a rewarding experience that has been the envy of the neighborhood. I see families walking past, pointing and talking. I had one neighbor who offered to buy it outright.

My take-aways for this project are:

  • Get started before your kids grow up!
  • If you are unsure of a design, google for inspiration
  • See if you can get plans
  • Purchase materials from professionals
  • Get some help from friends or family members
  • Be prepared for setbacks and try to plan your way around them
  • Be prepared to change directions
  • Be proud of building something with your own hands! You can do it!
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