The Best Software For Designing A Tiny House

An improved floor plan with a good size office area and then a small toilet/bathroom area to the right: but only accessible via a separate passageway.

So you are sold on the tiny house dream, and you want to get started by building your awesome new tiny home? We wish you all the best with your build, but before you run done Home Depot and spend a small fortune, we suggest that you take a step back and spend a little time designing your tiny house. You might have a rough idea of what you want it to look like, but we have found that seeing it in-front of you on a computer screen is always best.

Whilst there are 16+ programs you can use to design a tiny house, the top 3 pieces of software we recommend (with some caveats) are Floorplanner, SketchUp and Punch Home. Some other programs are too complex, too expensive or not suited to tiny houses.

This is why we have grouped the software lists in this article into two main headings: ones which are user friendly, and ones which are more detailed (i.e. difficult to use!). This is because it depends on what you want to achieve: if you are mocking up a range of tiny house layouts to try and see what will work best for you and your family, more user friendly software would be best. But once you have settled on a layout, it might be worth learning how to use some more in-depth software – especially if you will be giving the plans to a third party (such as a builder or planning official).

We discuss this in more detail throughout this article, although before we go into the specific software programs you can use for designing your dream tiny house, we wanted to briefly discuss why (and even whether) you need ‘tiny house’ software.

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Why (or Whether) You Need ‘Tiny House’ Design Software

It is worth pointing out up-front that some people do not think that you should use software at all to plan out your tiny house build, arguing that a tiny house is different to a standard house and many software-generated plans will ignore key things a loft (with ladder access), extra space for composting toilets and water tanks and heaters under the sink. Instead some people propose to just stick to pencil and paper. We can definitely appreciate this point of view, however the software we cover (and recommend) in this article is tiny house friendly.

Whilst you certainly can get away without using software, we would suggest giving it a shot because it is a big benefit to have a clear, visual view of the small space details of your tiny houses’ interior and exterior. It will help you when building your tiny house, and it will help your family to really imagine life inside a tiny house. This is crucial because it can lead to key adjustments being suggested before you start building your tiny house.

User Friendly (Easier to Use)

1. Floorplanner – 8/10

  • Software: Floorplanner
  • OS: n/a (Online software)
  • Price: $0.00

 A very easy to use piece of online software for basic tiny house layouts/designs.

The website sums up their online based software best when they say “Floorplanner is the easiest and best-looking way to create and share interactive floorplans online”. We have definitely found this to be true: when designing a basic layout for your tiny house, Floorplanner is very easy to use. If you already have a rough idea of what your tiny home will look like, you can very quickly design it in Floorplanner. And if you are unsure, you can trial various designs with ease before settling in your favorite general design.

We created the following backyard office with a toilet floor plan in a few minutes, having not used Floorplanner previously:

It is designed for more basic layouts and designs (instead of being used for very detailed interiors and exteriors) – which is both an advantage and disadvantage – so on that basis we give Floorplanner a 8/10 rating.

An improved floor plan with a good size office area and then a small toilet/bathroom area to the right: but only accessible via a separate passageway.

2. The Sims 4 (… honestly) – 7/10

  • Software: The Sims 4
  • OS: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 98, Windows 7, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows 95, Windows 10 (Compatibility mode)
  • Price: $Low

 A left-field choice for ‘tiny house’ software design, but the strong Sims 4 Tiny House community proves that this is actually a good, fun approach for visualizing your tiny house.

Suggesting The Sims 4 – a house and person simulator aimed more at children – in a tiny house design article might see strange, however there is a thriving tiny house community on The Sims 4 which designs all manner of tiny houses via this fun game.

The breadth of exterior and interior design options within The Sims 4 is fairly large, and building up your house is surprisingly easy (The Sims is a game, not a professional piece of software, after all), meaning that using it to design a tiny house makes sense. Of course, you cannot ‘print off’ your final design and give it to a builder or planning official, but you can get a great idea about what your tiny house will look like and how people can live in it.

Because of its ease of use, we give this slightly weird choice a 7/10. Especially if you already own the game, you might be surprised at just how easy The Sims 4 is to design your dream house.

3. SketchUp – 9/10

  • Software: SketchUp
  • OS: n/a (Online software)
  • Price: $0-299

 A versatile and powerful piece of software which has an initial learning curve, but is well worth getting used to. There are free and paid for plans with different levels of features.

SketchUp starts out as a free, online-only piece of software which then offers $199 and $299 plans which include a downloadable desktop version of the software. SketchUp used to be owned by Google but it is now a standalone piece of software.

SketchUp is a powerful piece of software which is even used by some architects and builders due to the features it offers. Of course, this comes at a ‘cost’: it is not the most intuitive piece of software to use, and you will have to spend a little time up-front learning how to use the software.

Despite this, though, we thoroughly recommend it: if you read tiny house blogs and the sub-reddit, SketchUp is usually the first software recommended and with good reason. We would suggest you spend a little time to get to grips with the software, and then you will see why we rate it a 9/10.

4. Sweet Home 3D – 6/10

  • Software: Sweet Home 3D
  • OS: Windows, macOS (iOS), Linux
  • Price: $0.00

 A nifty, easy-to-use piece of design software which is free – but we question whether using Floorplanner then SketchUp is a better approach overall.

Sweet Home 3D is an interesting piece of software for tiny house designing: it is aimed mainly at interior design. Whilst you can (and do) design via floor plans, it is more focused on the 3D view (as its name would suggest). It has a wide range of furniture and interior design options, and you can customize things quite a bit.

It is also easier to use than SketchUp, so it sort of hits a sweet spot between Floorplanner (which is mainly floor plan focused) and SketchUp (which is plan and design focused, but with a higher learning curve): although in our experience, we would actually prefer to use Floorplanner first for basic planning, and then move up to SketchUp for a more detailed design (inside and out).

Hence we would rate Sweet Home 3D at 6/10, although we point out that some people disagree and this is their ‘go to’ piece of software.

5. Planner 5d – 6/10

  • Software: Planner 5d
  • OS: Online, Apple phone, Android phone, macOS (iOS)
  • Price: $0.00

 An easy to use piece of software which also has a mobile app, and it can be used in both 2d and 3d mode. Not a bad option at all for general tiny house design.

Planner 5d is another potentially useful tiny house design program: it is online based, but it can also be used on the mobile. This tells you that it is fairly easy to use (after all, designing something like a house on a mobile phone is not always easy: the fact that Planner 5d have accomplished this with a 4.3 rating on the app store shows that the software is not too tricky to use).

Planner 5d is named as such because you can switch from 2d floor plan-type design to 3d exterior/interior design (as with SketchUp), and this feature works well. However SketchUp is generally more powerful, so for an ‘all in one’ piece of software, we would recommend this over Planner 5d.

However if you are out and about without access to a computer, download this app on your phone and see how you get on. Whilst you might not be able to build an inch-perfect tiny house, it should be good enough to give you a general idea of what your tiny home would end up like.

6. HomeByMe – 6/10

  • Software: HomeByMe
  • OS: n/a (Online software)
  • Price: $0.00

 An easy to use piece of online software, which allows for 3 projects (to be downloaded) before you have to pay to ‘buy more’.

HomeByMe is another handy online (browser based) piece of software which allows for easy drawing of floor plans in 2d mode, before switching to a 3d mode for furniture placing. The 3d mode is not quite as good, meaning that HomeByMe is a good but not great option for designing a tiny house (which, after all, will have some non-unique design features).

It is also not a completely free piece of software: after your first 3 projects, you have to buy ‘packs’ of further projects (with a project averaging around $2-$2.50 each). Naturally HomeByMe have to make money and it is a good piece of software, but we personally do not recommend it as the main (or sole) program you use to build your dream tiny home.

7. Dream Plan Home Design Software – 6/10

 A desktop-based software which has both 2d and 3d design modes, but slightly limited 3d designs which limit its usefulness for tiny houses.

Dream Plan’s home design software is similar to Planner 5d, really, in that it has both 2d and 3d design modes – but the 3d mode is slightly limited in terms of what furniture you can place, and where you can place them. The limited number of objects you can place mean that this is not the best of programs to use for your tiny house: which is a pitty because Dream Plan has produced an intuitive and easy-to-use program.

8. Energy 3D – 5/10

  • Software: Energy 3D
  • OS: Windows, macOS (iOS), Linux
  • Price: $0.00

 A fun piece of software which is worth playing around with if you are interested in a building’s heat/thermal properties, but this cannot be used as your only piece of home planning software.

This versatile application is used as a simulation for the energy use (and heat/thermal properties) of a building, which might not seem useful to you – but you can see exactly how heat from the sun will effect your planned build. After all, the direction that your building faces is important – and Energy3D will help you clearly see this.

Developing a 3D model of a house’s exterior is fairly straightforward, so this can be useful if you want to get an idea of how your tiny house will cope with the sun in your planned location, and how well the insulation you are planning will work.

More In-Depth (Harder to Use)

9. Chief Architect – 5/10

 A very powerful piece of design software which is purely aimed at professionals. If you have a tiny house building company, consider getting this. Otherwise, check out an alternative!

Chief Architect is – as its name would suggest – aimed at architects and other professionals in the housing industry. Their website says their software is “the best residential home design software for architects, home builders, and remodeling professionals” and they are probably right (or at least, it is one of the best). However it is very expensive so unless you own a tiny house company, we cannot recommend this to you.

10. Punch Home – 8/10

  • Software: Punch Home
  • OS: Windows, macOS (iOS)
  • Price: $49.99

 A powerful piece of software which we think could be perfect for you to take your free tiny house design to the next level, for example when you need to give plans to builders or planners.

Punch Home is a paid-for piece of software, starting at $49.99 and running on Windows or Mac. It is a comprehensive piece of design software which is arguably the perfect next step after using something like Floorplanner. You can use it to produce some very detailed 2D and 3D designs. You can also use it to produce simpler 2D and 3D designs, however, which is a big plus in our book’s: you can start out with easier to create designs, and only move onto more complex (professional level) designs if you really need. This gives the best of both worlds.

11. AutoCad – 6/10

  • Software: AutoCad
  • OS: Windows, macOS (iOS)
  • Price: $1,610.00

 A computer aided design (CAD) based program which allows professionals in the housing industry to produce very detailed details. Great for professionals, not recommended for quick ‘at home’ designs.

This computer aided design (CAD) software suite is aimed at professionals in the housing industry who need to produce very detailed designs. If you have an interest in CAD, this could be ideal for you – but (due to the cost) not if you just want to design a single tiny house project and nothing else. There are cheaper options for you in this case.

12. Autodesk 3ds Max – 6/10

 A Windows-only application which is designed for the creation of highly detailed 3D models, be it for 3D printing or handing over to other professionals. Hard to use, but worth it if you need it.

Our summary points out that this software is hard to use, but worth it if you need it. This is because most people will not need to create highly detailed 3D models of their tiny house (inside or out), but if you have enough of an interest in 3D design to stump up the $1,545 yearly price, you will not find a better piece of software to design highly specific parts of your tiny house.

13. Draftsight – 7/10

  • Software: Draftsight
  • OS: Windows, macOS (beta), Linux (beta)
  • Price: $300.00

 A more reasonably priced piece of professional software which offers a good range of 2D and 3D design options.

Draftsight 2019 is free in its current beta forms for Mac and Linux, but unless you are happy using potentially unstable beta software, you will need to pay the $300+ fee for the Windows-only stable software.

Draftsight is, however, a very good piece of software aimed at more professional house designers. It is a powerful piece of software, giving you a wide range of features once you get over the initial learning curve. We would prefer Punch Homes for tiny house design, but this is a close second in the ‘hard to use’ software range!

14. Fusion 360 – 5/10

  • Software: Fusion 360
  • OS: n/a (Online software)
  • Price: $495.00

 Some professionals will love this piece of software which aims to bring design, manufacturing and engineering into one software application: but it will be rare that this is the ‘perfect’ bit of tiny house software for you.

Fusion 360 costs $495 per year for its browser-based software and it is mainly aimed at engineers and machinists working in the more general manufacturing (and design) fields. It is therefore rare that this will be the perfect tiny house software for you, but we would not be surprised if some tiny house builders use this in their own companies.

15. Librecad – 7/10

  • Software: Librecad
  • OS: Windows, macOS, Unix, Linux
  • Price: $0.00

 An interesting option: this completely free piece of software is another CAD based program, but it can be used to create very detailed (and hence very useful) floor plans for your tiny house.

Libre CAD is completely free and runs on all main operating systems (including Linux) and it can be used to create detailed floor plans for a building:

This is not the easiest piece of software to use, but if you need to produce highly detailed plans which some of our cheaper ‘easy to use’ software programs cannot create, then this might be the perfect option for you.

16. Mitek Sapphire Build – 6/10

 An expensive bit of software which you cannot easily pay for and download, but which gives enormous power to quickly design a wide range of buildings.

As you will see from Mitek’s website, there is no ‘Buy Now’ button. There is instead a consultation option. This usually means a hard-to-use piece of software which is aimed squarely at builders.

The reason we include this option here is that we know of at least one tiny house builder that uses Mitek in their building company, and it is a piece of software which can allow you to design a tiny house in mere minutes (once you know what you are doing with the software, of course!). So whilst we cannot recommend this option for home users, if you are a professional tiny house builder who offers bespoke designs, this might just be the option for you.

Summary: Our Specific Recommendation(s)

This article has covered 16 different software projects you can use to design your dream tiny house. We have specifically grouped this into two sections (the easy and hard to use software) and you will notice that the price of the software is much higher in the latter section!

This makes sense, of course. If you just want to play around with designing a tiny house (or multiple tiny houses, to see what design might work best for you), you do not need an expensive option. But for professionals, you will almost certainly want a more expensive (and harder to use) program which offers a lot more power.

Summing in, however, our advise is to start mocking up some designs in Floorplanner. Get an idea of exactly what sort of size and shape you want from your tiny house, and then you can produce more detailed designs with SketchUp as needed. Sometimes you can get away with just Floorplanner, sometimes not: it depends on how complex your design is, and whether you need to hire a builder in.

In the case where SketchUp is also not powerful/detailed enough, however, Punch Home is the perfect option for a really powerful bit of home design software without the really expensive price tag!