Design, Small Housing

Creating an Energy Efficient, Tiny House Floor Plan

I remember fondly that East-facing dorm room at University, when the sun woke me up early, cooked the room during the day, and was dark and cold in the evening when I got home from class. This turns out to be a design flaw in many houses today, in which the orientation of the sun is not considered at all.

A well-thought out space (especially in tiny homes) will not only ensure the fridge door doesn’t hit a cabinet when halfway open, but also consider if the south-facing sun is being wasted on low-traffic spaces like the bedroom.

To design my small space, I first started out with the Tiny Life’s Floor Plan Kit, which provides printable, to-scale empty floor plans for common tiny home sizes as well as various furniture blocks and walls that I cut out moved around in a chaotic manner like a failing jigsaw puzzle.

It was fun and refreshing, using scissor skills I honed back in Grade 4 to cut out the walls and doors and sinks. I enjoyed it so much that it took a surprisingly long time to realize it was the 21st century. “Wait, there has to be an app for this.”

For a brief moment I thought this was my glorious opportunity to learn how to code, build a great floor plan app, sell it to the masses, then retire in Hawaii. Sadly that dream was shattered when I found AutoDesk Homestyler, a free online app that stole my idea and made it even better. It’s crazy-easy to use, and within 15 minutes I had put together my to-scale floor plan with all the accessories.

Here’s what I made for my little garage suite:

North is up. Main floor (left), upper bedroom loft (right). The kitchen is south facing as it is the most-used space, and the bathroom and bedroom are north-facing as they are used the least during the day. This makes for ideal sleeping conditions as well.

And wait…there’s even a 3D view function!

This has proven much easier and faster to use than trying to move a sofa around in Google Sketchup.

So what exactly do you need to keep in mind when making your floor plan?

A smart design needs to take in to account many factors. For example:

  • Is the floor plan as simple as possible to reduce the home’s surface area exposed to the outside? Complicated shapes means more corners and walls that lead to increased heat loss.
  • Are hot water systems (shower, dishwasher, washing machine) as close as possible to each other? The longer the pipes the more heat loss.
  • Are high-traffic spaces like the kitchen in the southern and eastern sides of the house?*
  • Are low-traffic spaces like the bathroom and utilities on the north sides?
  • Are sleeping areas on the north and west sides to minimize disruption from the sun?**
  • Are appliances away from sun-exposure and away from each other? A sun-baked fridge has to work much harder, as does one beside a stove.

*Reverse the direction of these orientations if you live in the southern hemisphere
**Some of these don’t apply to Tiny Houses on a trailer, as you can simply flip the trailer to whichever ideal orientation you prefer.

I guarantee that the extra time put in to create an effective, simple, and well thought out floor plan layout will make a huge improvement to comfort and energy efficiency.

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