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Designing a tiny house in SketchUp: tutorials & resources

Naj HausNow that I’ve survived the last few months of design crunch and the first building stint, I’m catching up on some technical posts. You may remember I was determined to design my house the old school way with graph paper, pencil and a triangular engineering ruler. Part of this was because I loved the tactile feeling of drawing and it seemed in keeping with the tiny house simplicity mindset, and part of it was that my earlier experience with SketchUp had been a little frustrating. I’m usually comfortable diving into a new software application and figuring it out as I go, but I quickly learned that SketchUp, while an amazing free 3D modeling tool, is not exactly intuitive. I was able to make some rudimentary conceptual designs but lines stuck together, moved in strange ways, and basically made me want to kick it.

Just as I was getting serious about my final designs, I stumbled across some online SketchUp tutorials and the lightbulb went on. Once you get a few key concepts, it starts to make a lot of sense. I invested a weekend learning it and then spent the next few weeks painstakingly building my virtual house stick by stick, pretty much like I would do during actual construction (it takes less time if you aren’t making a zillion design decisions and research tangents along the way).

So to share the SketchUp love, here are the tutorials and resources I found most helpful:


SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp, now owned by Trimble) has been revamped since I first got it. Now the free basic version is called SketchUp Make (from what I saw in forums a few months ago, I gather that what you download is actually the free trial of SketchUp Pro but if you don’t buy the license when the trial expires, you can keep using the minimal features, i.e., Make. It’s possible this is handled differently now.) If you are going to be using SketchUp commercially, you should buy SketchUp Pro to be legit.

SketchUp also has a Knowledge Center with a user guide. The Learn dropdown menu has various video tutorials and other guidance that is moderately useful.


The tutorials I found most helpful were by Matt Donley at MasterSketchup.com. His website has lots of good information and his MasterSketchup.com YouTube Channel has really exceptional tutorial videos. In particular, check out the For Beginners Parts 1 & 2 and the five-part Model a Shed series. This is where I had my “aha!” moment – for the first time I got the concept of groups, components, and how to use a lot of the tools and the Outliner window to stay organized. His videos are perfectly paced and super clear.

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