Buildings under 200 sf

Started by jraabe, July 10, 2005, 10:07:46 AM

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QuoteSome places, at least, the 200 sf is footprint.

While you're playing with that idea, get Mike Oehler's $25 and up Underground House book.

He's not real fond of purely underground rooms but he does have an inexpensive way to build underground.

I've read the $50 and Up Underground House Book -- that's what I plan to use when it's time for me to build a home for my daughter and myself.  The purely underground rooms I mentioned when talking about the 200 s.f. structures would be storage, root cellar, out-of-the-weather 'hallways', and so on, not living space.  



QuoteKathleen, if you are thinking of joining the troglodyte way of life, you may want to look at Mike Oehler's book, The $50 and Up Underground House.  It could give you some ideas for your underground structures as far as framing member sizes go.  

John has talked about a pressure treated wood basement type plan also.  I can't remember if there is anything posted here or not.  Possibly a search will turn up something.

When we lived in Alaska for a while after my husband (now ex) got out of the Air Force, we were going to use a treated wood basement.  We ended up moving, for a job, and selling that place, so didn't get any farther than the footings, but I am familiar with the concept.

I read Mike Oehler's book sometime back, probably the first edition.  One of these days I'm going to buy a copy, as that's how I plan to build when (or if) we return to Alaska (where I grew up).  It would be much easier to heat in a climate where winter temperatures can go to minus seventy, and most of the available firewood is spruce.  (I'm talking about the Interior of Alaska, not near the coast, where temperatures are milder but damper.)



I am considering building, for back of a better word, a clubhouse/garage for my daughter to play her music, practice dance, etc.  Basically, I need a structure around 200 square feet that has heat and air conditioning in it and won't get blown away by strong wind or small tornadoes.  I could even put a loft in it to give her "hanging out" space.  I do not need plumbing, but I need to do this as CHEAP as possible.  Does anyone have any ideas where I can start? I am handy with tools, but I have never conquered this type of project before. Thanks!



We are getting ready to build a playhouse for our girls. couple of things you should probably consider:

1. You can use John's little house plans (very cheap) as a "guide" to design your studio. Since most cities require a permit for structures over 120 square feet, you may need this to obtain the permit.
2. Check with local public "servants" about any special setback requirements.
3. Do you have to worry about HOA covenants?



No, I don't have to worry about HOA covenants, as far as I know.  I do have to get a permit, especially since I want to run electricity, and I have to follow certain guidelines of the city - building so many feet away from the property line, etc.  

I saw the plans for the little house, and they look about right, since all i really need is an open floor plan and possibly a loft.  I am just a little confused about the electricity part (what comes first - building or electricity) and how this building stays tied down.  I have looked at garage building kits from home centers, but they just don't look very sturdy.  

Thanks for any info you give.  This will be quite a feat if my daughter and i can actually build this.  If it works, I may have to build a studio for myself, too.



Where are you located?

We are in McKinney, TX.  To keep it portable for our eventual move to Colorado, we decided to do a skid foundation and use hurricane tie downs to help keep the playhouse from slamming into the house.  If you are looking for something more permanent, then you probably looking at a pier/post/beam foundation as it is the simplest.

You might want to get an electrician to get an estimate. Electrician wont be "cheap," but it may be the only thing will have to sub out. They will probably be able to tell you when the best time is to run wires from your panel. Your electrician might let you be his/her helper for wiring outlets, etc. This will save on some cost. Just depends on who you get...

Do you have any details about your site you can share, ie how much property you have to work with?

You will be surprised what you can do - and this board is a great source for info as well as occasional humor.



The Little House plans are good for a structure 14' wide, but length can be modified. John's Victoria's Cottage Plans is for a structure 16' wide - the plans has a bonus drawing for a 16' studio.

Please see John's disclaimer in the following post:


Thanks.  I live in Huntsville, Alabama.  I want a more permanent structure.  We won't be moving it anywhere.  In fact, I had thought about having a sunroom built instead, but it was too costly.  I haven't accurately measured the area, but our lot is 180 x 50 approximately.  Our house is only 1100 square feet on that lot.  So, we don't have a lot of area, but it is enough to put a garage.  The land is flat (We're at the base of a mountain). I haven't checked into how this will be insured.  Since it will be a detached building and my daughter will have her electric piano and electric guitar, air hockey game, etc. in there, that will be an important aspect.  I assume I have to lay concrete, etc., but I suppose I just need a step-by-step instruction guide of what I have to do first, get permits, etc.  I have been told that some plans (and the Little House plan may be this way) utilizing full pieces of lumber so that you don't have excess, i.e., partial sheets of plywood and 2 x 4's etc.    A garage kit was $10,000 at the home center here, and we just don't have that at the moment.  Have you built a playhouse or similar structure before?


Nope - first build!!!   ::)

Here's a picture of our lot:

If you get a free account on, you can post pictures here as well.

John includes pier examples in his plans.  Also, there are several examples in the gallery and forum. For example, "Carol's Little House" in the gallery has a link to a section with details how she did her pier foundation.

The book section on the site is something which you may want to look into as well.

I have found John Wagner's "House Framing" to be really good for beginners and own it for reference. You could probably find a concrete book at the library.


P.S.- John's "Big Enchilada" plans includes bonus items, including how to do sunrooms/skylights.



Here is the link to a post regarding the bonus studio in the Victoria Cottage plans:

Maybe you could make a studio for each of you in this one structure?

Just a though....


Best time for electricity is after the roof and walls are up, windows and doors are on, but before the interior wall covering - sheetrock - paneling -etc is on.

You could do this with wood floor and treated wood foundation piers, and skip the concrete, if you like.

Welcome to the forum, Lyz.


A friend and I were given a tour of Huntsville by one of her cousins a couple of years ago.  Burritt mansion and the Art museum were the highlights.  Seemed like a good place to live, although he lived up in Tennessee and commuted.

I'm "only" about 80 miles from you.

Welcome to the forum.


This is an interesting topic that I have enjoyed reading.  I just built a 14X16 "storage shed" cabin in Douglas county.  "Douglas County requires a building permit for structures over 200 sq. ft. This is floor space. Extended rooflines are counted as well (porch cover, carport, etc.). Any structure that does not meet the requirements of a residence is considered a storage shed. All covers over an RV require a permit regardless of size."  The interpretation of this seems to be interior main floor space which I am right at the edge.  Lofts apparently are not included.  This was my first real building project although I have some experience.  My father in law and I built the trusses at home and the walls on site.  We used 2X4's 24" on center although we ended up adding a bunch for seams in the siding etc..  I used almost all scrounged materials so my total cost was around $500.  It turned out really nice and the ceiling in the center of the cabin is over 11' which makes it seem spacious inside.  We built it on pier blocks which was pretty easy.  To get it dried in took us around 5 days with two people.  We would be much faster on the next one.  We also added a front deck 8' wide across the 14' front of the cabin.  I have plans for the next one to include either a loft or second floor as there seems to be room and adding a 4' pony wall wouldn't adversly affect the cosmetics with the steep roof.  I did a floor plan with punch home design but I can't seem to get it posted.  If anybody can help I would be glad to share.  I plan on putting a tiny bath with a shower and toilet on the back wall as well as an 8'counter/kitchen.  All lighting will be dc run to golf cart batteries with a dc refrigerator and an inverter to run any small ac appliances and a generator for the big ones and charging the batts.  I plan to use a composting toilet and run the shower drain onto the ground.  There will be a propane water heater outside and a propane fireplace inside for heat.  No well so I will be using a water tank.  This is just a cabin but is a fun project!  I plan on building a couple more as bedroom units to create my own camping "village" and love the idea I don't have to deal with the building permit quagmire.  Glad to have any suggestions!  JOE


I've got Punch! as well - what seems to be the problem?


Welcome to the forum, Joe.  Sounds like a great project.

There is a section on posting pictures in the forum news.  Output it to a jpeg then attach it with the browse button on the compose message box or copy the pix on your screen with Gadwin printscreen (free- google or see forum news picture article).  You can also post it to Photobucket and link the IMG tag in your message here to display it.


Here is the first draft of floorplan.  Thanks for the tip on Gadwin!


Looks like a great start!  :)

I would say just beware of the county's land use code. My county's limit is 120 square feet for an "Accessory Structure", but they stuck in definition language which makes it tricky:

Accessory Dwelling. A dwelling unit for use as a complete independent living facility on the same parcel as a permitted principal use. Accessory dwellings do not include dwellings which this Code specifically designates as being part of an allowed principal use and therefore allowed as a use by right.

Accessory Outside Storage. The outside placement, for a period of more than twenty-four 24 hours, of items which are customary and incidental to the principal use of the property.

Accessory Structure. A subordinate structure located on the same lot as the principal structure, the use of which is incidental and accessory to the principal use. Unless otherwise specified in this Code, any accessory structure is subject to the minimum requirements of the zoning district in which it is located.

Accessory Use. An Accessory Use must be a use customarily incidental to and on the same parcel as the principal use. Except as provided in this Code, an Accessory Use must comply with all regulations applicable to the principal use.


Wow, Thanks everyone.  I had to go out of town, so I've been off the forum for a while.  I will look at the websites and pictures and info everyone has mentioned.  The more I think about this clubhouse/studio, the more I'd like to incorporate my art work and easels, as well, and a place to store my tools, bikes, etc.  Of course, now I'm getting carried away. I am lucky that the ground is relatively flat.  HOwever, since we are within a mile of the base of the mountain, it may be rock or at the very least hard clay underneath the grass.  I probably really won't start this until this summer.  First I am removing popcorn ceilings from the house and screening in a porch.  Amanda - Huntsville is a pretty place with the mountains.  It's a good place for families, and of course, engineers.  I don't like the climate though.  Snow is a rarity and it is always humid, it seems.  Whenever everyone else has snow, we have rain.  Where do you live?  

Thanks again for all the input!


I live in Tennessee not too far from Florence.


Just a couple of links that maybe have already been put in this thread, but anyway:

John Raabe

Looks like there might be a typo on measurements in one of the projects. This from Pam:

"I think there's an error in the metrics for Jonsey's house, which
came in #3.  According to the first drawing the bathroom (and kitchen) is
1.200m long, but that converts to only 3.94 ft - hardly possible.

Based on the full length of the house 5.4m (which converts to 17.75'), I'm
guessing that in reality the bathroom is about 2.44m long (or approximately
8' long.)"

8' is about right for a full size not-too-big bathroom. 5x8 is a very standard tub, toilet, vanity bathroom.
None of us are as smart as all of us.


No, not a typo, just the way my drawing program chooses to apply the measurements. :)
The 1.200 is the distance of the inset on each side. The bathroom/kitchen is actually 3 meters overall (about 9.84 feet). Where the gap between the distance marks is too small the drawing program places the measurement outside. It occurs in other places on the drawing as well.
I've got nothing on today. This is not to say I'm naked. I'm just sans........ Plans.

John Raabe

Thanks Jonsey.

I am always fighting my CAD program as well. I still do my final drawings with hand drafting because you can make things pop out better and have total control of dimensioning, callouts and such.
None of us are as smart as all of us.