Start Your Project with the Right Small House Plans

From tiny house plans to cabin plans, understand what to look for and how to organize your process.

The internet is riddled with options for small house plans and blueprints. With so many paths to wander, it can be overwhelming when considering where to start. All you really need, though, is some time alone in the woods and a qualified friend to lead you in the right direction.

Readily available plans range from Pinterest images, free download options, and architectural plans on Etsy, to even more robust and full feature building plans and guides from reputable experts and companies.

Here, we aim to cut a trail through that clutter and help you find your true path.

If you’re still in the exploratory phase of building a tiny house or cabin, focus on the first few bullet points below. If you’re more serious about breaking ground on a small house, make your way to some of the more advanced sections at the bottom of the list below.

How to choose the right small house plans:

  1. Determine the right sized house for what you want.
  2. Choose a style that you like best.
  3. Find a plan that contains all the necessary components.
  4. Understand the International Residential Code.
  5. Know who you’ll need to approve your selected plans.
  6. If you need financing from a bank, make sure your plans are appropriate.
  7. Know the cost to build your plans, upfront. No hidden surprises!

While these are the basics for what you’ll need to know when selecting a small house plan, our goal is to help you understand what your ideal solution is, for whatever stage of building you’re in right now.

Are you serious about breaking ground soon? Are you looking to peruse different approaches before you settle on your chosen one? Or, are you simply looking for inspiration in hopes that one day you might get back to nature?

Whatever the answer may be will help you determine where to start with all of the tiny house plans currently on the market.

Below we’ll equip you with the full scope of knowledge on what’s important to consider in blueprints and plans, where to begin, and logistically how you can get to the best outcome with the least amount of resistance.

Determining the Size of Your Small House

The most basic measurement for the size of a house is square footage. Simply put, how large or small the indoor space you’ll have to live inside of. This is a good basis for thinking about size, but don’t discount the fact that the floorplan might have a bigger impact on how you use your space, rather than square footage alone.

Thinking about how you plan to use the space is a better determination of the size you need.

How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want a separate dining and living space? Or, are you simply using your tiny house or cabin as a yoga studio or office?

Think about the uses for your space and then consider square footage needed.

Also consider your budget, the future use of the space, and your building footprint on the land.

Den plans are designed to fit within the national average budget of $249 per square foot. We approach designing all our cabins to balance features, square footage, and cost. Nothing is truly custom in our cabins. All the windows and doors are available as standard catalog items from major manufacturers. All the cabinetry is designed to make use of readily available catalog items from big retailers like Ikea. We designed this purposefully to enable you to achieve a beautiful, modern outcome, without breaking the bank and without the headaches of ordering custom components. Take note of details like this when reviewing your options.

So, Basic Questions to Ask Yourself When Sizing Your Small House:

  1. How do you plan to use the space?
  2. How many rooms do you need and what are their uses?
  3. What is your budget and how many square feet can you afford?
  4. Does this size accommodate any future plans you have for the space?
  5. Am I being as respectful as possible to the land on which I plan to build?
  6. Does this size conform to what's permitted to be built in accordance with local zoning requirements?
  7. Does the neighborhood, property and additional costs like well, septic, and driveway support the size house you're choosing, from an investment perspective?

Perhaps most importantly, as custodians of the land ourselves, we feel inclined to urge the importance of considering your impact on the land on which you build.

When it comes to the size and footprint of a small house, be as respectful to the land as you can, while choosing a house that feels like it ties well into its surroundings. That’s not to say that a smaller build always translates to less impact, but be mindful that size can be a factor.

Make sure you’re properly building for your plot and neighborhood. Spending too much, or too little, based on the value of the property and the overall cost of building and utilities can lead to overbuilding or underbuilding respectively.

If the cost to prepare your lot includes a high purchase price for the land itself, and putting in expensive utilities, then you don’t want to put an off grid tiny house on that parcel. It's more worth your time and resources to build larger, relative to the money that you’ve already spent.

You’ll also need to look into local laws and regulations before purchasing a property. Look out for key phrases like “minimum build size,” regulations on “tiny homes,” and limitations on “off-grid” living.

Further, think about the cost of properties in your area. If most homes go on the market for something like $300,000, you don’t want to put a $1.2 Million home down in that neighborhood. Be a smart builder, and an even smarter investor, when it comes to sizing your home.

Choosing an Architectural Style for Your Building Plans

When choosing an architectural style for your small house plans, know that your home is a reflection of who you are. The style should speak to you. In short, pick what you like!

If you’re naturally drawn to clean spaces and minimal clutter, you might be drawn to a more contemporary style. If you are most relaxed by small rooms and warm hues, a more rustic log cabin might be for you. Do you like open spaces that flow or prefer well defined, walled-in areas?

Popular architectural styles to consider include:

  • Contemporary A-Frame
  • Scandinavian
  • Modern Farmhouse
  • Cape Cod
  • Classic Log Cabin
  • Bungalow
  • Coastal Beach House

Keeping in mind that architecture should inspire and be a reflection of who you are, take a moment to ask yourself this: What design elements feel personal to your taste and identity?

The answer to that question informs how you select a style for your home.

What a Proper Building Plan Should Contain

The more comprehensive the building plans, the better.

That said, not all building plans are created equally.

We tend to take the “more is more” approach with Den plans because the last thing a novice builder wants is to run into a question they can’t easily find the answer to. No one wants to be holding a live wire and not know exactly what to do with it.

To set you up for the smoothest build process your plans should include, at a minimum, these components:

  • Readiness for Permitting Approval
  • This means the plans have been thoughtfully and carefully engineered and meets all-to-most local and international building code standards.

Den cabins can be built on the face of a mountain and withhold sheer wind force and snow load, as well as sit on a sandy soil lot on the Jersey Shore. We designed and engineered them to be completely permit approval ready.

Detailed Construction Drawings

The keyword here is detailed. A simple blueprint of your plans won’t give you the necessary knowledge you need to purchase your materials, build, and end up with a beautiful house.

We base our plans at Den on the following components, which is a good baseline for any plan you’re considering.

Detailed construction drawings should include

  • Foundation
  • Framing
  • Floor plan
  • Roof plan
  • Building sections
  • Exterior elevations
  • Electrical drawings
  • Description of Recommended Cabinetry, Fixtures, and Appliances

You don’t have to use the exact recommendations for cabinetry, fixtures, and appliances in any small house plans. That said, it’s a helpful detail that you can bring to any Lowes, Home Depot, or IKEA to get a good sense of what your other options might be.

For example, Den cabins make use of standard IKEA cabinets, so you can get a high-end kitchen at an affordable price.

Description of Recommended Windows and Doors

Don’t discount the process of selecting windows and doors. If plans aren’t designed to conform to standard manufacturers, you’re looking at custom cut glass and frames which will cost a pretty penny.

Our plans at Den are all designed to conform to these standards, so you never have to worry about surprise costs there.

This is a major draw to our specific plans because it allows for such ease as picking up a Marvin or Andersen catalog and selecting readily available window SKUs to match directly to your Den cabin.

No one else makes it that easy.

Structural Materials and IRC (International Residential Code) Guidelines

These guidelines are based on public safety, health, and wellbeing. It’s another extremely important aspect to getting your plans approved for building by all involved parties.

Construction Notes

Construction notes help you during your build and give you detailed explanations of how your materials need to be put together.

Again, the more detailed here, the better.

(BONUS) Materials List

We’re counting this as a “bonus” offering because it is not standard across most building plans.

A comprehensive materials list is an invaluable asset to save you time and effort in figuring out what you’ll need to buy to build your small house.

At Den, we’ve put together such a list to bring to any hardware store and lumber yard and easily purchase everything at once.

This convenience gives you a sense of what’s involved and the cost of the materials. You can also use this to check contractors on their own materials estimates if you’re hiring a team, which we encourage.

Understanding the International Residential Code

The latest International Residential Code (IRC) is The 2018 International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings. With an updated version slated for release in 2021. it is available for purchase at most places books are sold and includes all the latest requirements for building, electric, mechanical, plumbing, and fuel gas for one and two-family dwellings.

IRC is the rulebook that informs all international, state, and local building code. If your plan isn't IRC compatible, it might not get approved and at the very least a buyer should be dubious about its design and engineering.

Be versed in these requirements before you begin building something yourself and, ideally, your building plans are pre-qualified within these codes and requirements.

If you aren’t going to spend the time to read the IRC yourself, make sure you have complete trust in the professionals providing you with the building plans that fit these codes and requirements accurately.

Always consult a local engineer if you have questions, and as you’re about to begin building.

Who Needs to Approve Building Plans

If your local building laws allow you to build a small structure without official permitting, have at it. If not, you’ll need your building plans approved by a few key players before you begin the project. Typically, this is an engineer or architect who is licensed to practice in your area.

Without these approvals, you run the risk of losing access to your dwelling and being forced to take it down. That would mean a huge waste of time, effort, and resources.

Depending on the location of your plot of land the permitting requirements will vary, but these are the general approvals you will need in order to begin your build.

The Town for Permitting

Generally speaking, there will be an application and submission requirements you’ll need to fill out and send back to your town clerk. Those applications will likely ask for things like a site plan, building plans, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical details, and the contact information for the team you plan to use.

Your Bank for Financing

Keep in mind that not all plans are financeable. If you plan to ask for a construction loan to begin your build, you’ll need to submit your plans to the bank you are asking for financing from. Look for plans with standard legal sized bedrooms, and standard bathrooms.

The American Society of Home Inspectors recognizes that, generally, a bedroom should be at least 70 to 80 square feet, or that it should be at least 7 feet in any horizontal direction.

If you’re planning to self finance, this won’t be a necessary step.

A Contractor for Build Costing

To understand how much your build will cost when using a contractor, they will need to see your plans to accurately price out your project.

Keep in mind, all contractors price things out differently so it’s advisable to get quotes from a few different teams before deciding on who to hire. Of course, if you plan to use your own two hands to build your small house yourself, this won’t apply to you.

Getting Your Small House Plans Approved for Bank Financing

For most of us, financing a build is the most realistic way to get from point A to point B. Point A being, finding an inspiring and gorgeous small house building plan. Point B being, sitting inside of that beautifully built dwelling at the end of the project.

When you’re building from the ground up, the type of financing you’ll generally need is a construction loan. Not all banks provide these types of loans, the requirements can vary, and there is typically a sizable down payment needed.

To be approved by your bank for a construction loan you will need to demonstrate the following in your application process:

  • Qualified building team
  • Detailed and legally standard building plans
  • Appraisal of your property value Downpayment of 20-25%, generally speaking

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Small House?

As a basic measure of cost to build a small house, the national average is $249 per square foot including labor cost.

There is a simple equation you can calculate to determine a price range for how much it will cost to build a small house. Multiply 249 by how many square feet you would like, and that’s your overall cost.

249 x SqFt = Average Cost to Build

This isn’t to say that number reflects the cost to build any small house plan, though it’s a helpful baseline to understand the average cost you’re looking at.

We get this question a lot at Den. It’s our advice that when estimating how much your cabin will cost, use this average budget so you have a general idea of what you’re getting into when you begin to plan your build. But, keep in mind that certain design features, like large pieces of glass, can increase your cost per square foot fairly quickly.

Den House Plans Bring the Outdoors In

As builders ourselves, we know all too well just how useful superior building plans are which is why we created this guide to be a resource for novice builders everywhere.

You likely understand by now that not all building plans are created equal and, depending on your level of knowledge, it’s best to select plans that will most effectively result in your ideal outcome: a beautiful dwelling.

These fundamental concepts are the basis of how we create all of our building plans at Den. Removing complexity and helping people recognize their dreams are the guiding principles behind each small house and cabin plan that we release.

What sets our plans apart? We check ALL of the boxes we’ve deemed necessary in this detailed guide on selecting house plans.

You won’t find many modern-day companies that can say the same, and we do it all while designing architecturally sound and aesthetically pleasing dwellings at an affordable price point.

While any building plans won’t directly replace an architect, our plans are designed to get you all the way there with an accessible design. Think about plans from an architect as a custom tailored suit. Den plans are like buying a high end outfit off the rack at your favorite store. Either route will impress your inlaws or boss.

What’s more, is that we’ve removed the barriers you would typically run into when looking to build a small house of this caliber: those barriers being cost, the need for an architect, high design, accessible materials, and experience to build.

Our motto at Den is to bring the outdoors in, and that’s what our building plans will help you do.

We can’t wait to see your build. Have fun making your Den!