John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin of 'Tiny House Nation' | Home Front

Zack Giffin and John Weisbarth
Apr 28, 2016

FYI’s “Tiny House Nation” host John Weisbarth and co-host Zack Giffin help guide people through the process of becoming tiny home owners.

Weisbarth has more than a decade of live television experience and has won six regional Emmy Awards. On the show, he helps participants on their journey towards immersion in the tiny home culture.

Giffin, a professional skier and contractor, has lived in a tiny ski house for years. Each winter he moves his tiny home to powdery slopes across the country. On the show, he manages each project and designs a special build tailored to the homeowner’s need.

Curious about the appeal of a tiny home? Or building one yourself? Weisbarth and Giffin are here to help.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

My guests today are FYI’s “Tiny House Nation” host John Weisbarth and co-host Zack Giffin, who help guide people through the process of becoming tiny home owners. Weisbarth, who has more than a decade of live television experience, helps participants on their journey towards immersion in the tiny home culture. Giffin, a professional skier and contractor, has lived in a tiny ski house for years. Each winter he moves his tiny home to powdery slopes across the country. On the show, he manages each project and designs a special build tailored to the homeowner’s need. If you have always dreamed of going small, here's your change to ask the important questions.

Hey Guys, Sorry I'm late! We seem to have a tiny wifi signal up here in Utah! But it's on now!


Hey guys, sorry I'm late to the conversation. Zack and I are on location in Salt Lake City.

The code for today


I love the show. I love the movement. I have written and even presented at college on the topic. So, know I love what you are doing. Here is what I don't understand. I see some of the builds in your show and others for sale soon after. I know what I am seeing isn't true reality but something close to it. It is staged and I guess if I knew more about TV I would understand why. So, what happens after the show that makes these people sell? Thanks and I am buying the current season soon! Eric

The short answer is that most cities have rules against living in anything that has wheels. In my opinion, the rules that govern our city's planning policies, building codes, and zoning restrictions do not reflect the needs of our modern world. Many people learn about the restrictions too late and choose to sell instead of move.

As an older adult I need a walk in tub, can one be fitted into a tiny home?

Absolutely! If it is a priority you can make anything fit!

how do you pick who will be on your show? have you ever considered doing a tiny house for a retiree? would you come to Texas to help build a tiny house?

Truth is our production company picks who we build for so if you want Zack and I to come help you with your tiny house, you have to go through them. The email is

The answer to your other question is, absolutely we build for retirees, and in fact built a really nice 500 sq ft home in Vermont for a husband and wife who were both retired.

I love the show and every time I watch it, my kids joke, another bag is sent to the curb or Goodwill. ; ) I wonder though, why so many people who build tiny homes, seem unaware of the zoning restrictions. I hope they start to change, but you will read later how they couldn't find land or a place to park home....wouldn't you check that out ahead of time? I feel it gives a bad name to the tiny house movement when it is just bad planning.

It's true. People need to check out the rules in their area and unfortunately almost every city has rules that prevent Tiny Homes on wheels... If you are like me and try to live outside of town it becomes easier!

We have lived in our home in Vienna near Tysons Corner for 32 years. It’s time to start thinking about selling and downsizing (although I'm not sure a tiny house is in our future) or going elsewhere. We know there are some projects that have to be done i.e., a new master bath, but husband and I disagree on others. I’d love to find an “expert” who could come to the house and advise on which “big” projects would give the most bang for the buck and put them on a timeline. Because we are 2 years away we think a realtor would be focused on getting the listing. We want to spend wisely and anything we do want to recoup the cost in the sale price.

I am definitely not a realtor and I have never appraised property but I have always heard that bathrooms and kitchens are what sell houses. Smart money says to start there.

I am a youthful senior with a grown daughter who has many health challenges. We would like to either get on the Nation show to build two tiny homes and purchase property to put them on in LA/OC, or SD county,ca....Or, be advised about where/how to start!!! I own a home in Whittier that has been appraised at $500,000. want to sell!

If you want to be on the show the best way is to write to

Most tiny houses on the show have lofts with ladders. If my husband and I want a tiny retirement house, we I'll want one story living. Where can we find builders and floor plans and what square footage would you suggest?

Any builder who can build a tiny house can build one without a loft. A bed in general is the largest consumer of space and it's only used once a day. So a loft really helps get the bed out of the way. You may want to consider a layout that uses a murphy bed or trundle style bed solution to open up the space when your not sleeping.

Hi Zack. How do you go about finding land for your house while it's on the move? I imagine you can't just put it anywhere. Oh, if you're ever in Alaska, my brother lives in Valdez and I'm sure he'd be happy to host you (and your house) and take you skiing!

When you are on the move, living in your house is no problem! The restrictions really start to be an issue when you want to stay in one place for more than 30 days. Just keep moving and your all good! 

why tiny? new American houses are often ridiculously large for the number of people who live there, but tiny seems impractical for most. Why not a happy medium, as in a relatively small house that is well designed to use space?

I agree, going "tiny" is an aggressive step and definitely not for everyone. For me, going tiny is not about how small you live, but how you live. I believe in minimizing clutter, responsible use of natural resources and living within your means. I own a home that is about 1300 sq ft, not tiny for sure, but not aggressively large for the 3 of us. My dream is to get down to between 800-1000 sq ft of well designed space.

What's the TINIEST house you've ever built? How many square feet???

My House is on a 16 foot trailer.  It's 120 sq. feet.  I think that is the smallest I've done.  But keep in mind, I'm single with no children and I travel most of the year. Those factors really determine a persons need for space.

I enjoy the show, as -- if nothing else -- it helps us appreciate the benefits that came from downsizing from 3,400' to 1,400' during the recent depression. But I have a question: it seems as though, for the money, one could buy a pretty nice towable trailer or even an older RV with a lot more amenities and comparable space. Of course, that wouldn't make for a very interesting TV show, but still.

I've lived in an RV. It sucked. My tiny house is luxury in comparison and it really changed my ability to have a girl friend. That is a major quality of life issue.

How does a tiny house compare to a motor home or trailer?

The simple answer is that a tiny home feels like a home, and an RV feels like an RV. For me an RV feels temporary while a tiny house feels like a home.

In your builds one of the issues seems to be loft space. Have you thought about designing a vertical slide? A roof that could expand if parked, yet contract for transporting? This could give the extra headroom most buyers would likely long for. By the way, absolutely love your designs and ingenuity. You are both so considerate to people in general. That makes for a great foundation to listen and build what the clients are trying to achieve. How lucky are they to have you both on their side? Love watching the show. Best of luck to you both in all you do. 

This is a great question! I've been wanting to do pop ups and pop outs since day one. In reality we are building houses for real people and I need the home owners to ask for that type of build, want to pay for it and be willing to risk the liability. I can't wait to do it though and I know that our show needs to do this!

First off, thank you for the kind words! As far as a pop-up loft goes, Zack has been trying to do that since day 1, but the directives come from the homeowner and we have yet to have had that opportunity. Maybe someday soon thought :-)

so if I could find an area where the issue of a house on wheels wouldn't be an issue then I wouldn't need to worry about having to sell. im actually interested in a home not on wheels but I have recently learned that if its 399 sq ft or less and on wheels then I don't have to pay property tax. I actually would rather have a home that is shaped wider than the trailers are. I did however go to Austin to check out the home you built for the young couple with the winery recently!! it was Awesome

I can't speak to the issue of whether or not you have to pay property tax based on the square footage of your tiny house, but if you don't plan on moving the tiny house often, you can go wider then 8 ft. You would need to have a CDL or pay someone to move it, but again that's not a big deal if you're not moving it often. Our you could do a two trailer build like we did in Austin...I loved that house!

Hi Jura - With the current white wall trend, would homeowners paint both the walls and baseboards with the same paint? Or the same color with different finishes? And if you have any advice for painting walls that have started to get the crocodile texture (I'm in a Craftsman home with many layers over plaster), I would sincerely appreciate it!

I called designer Erin Paige Pitts for some professional advice here. She says, "If I do a white wall, I usually do the trim  a shade differently because I like the trim to pop a little more. If you did do the walls and trim the same white, then amplify the gloss on the trim using a high gloss there vs. just a semi-gloss. On the walls, I would do an eggshell or flat. Use the sheen to separate them. As for the crocodile walls, you will have to do some sort of skim layer to get rid of that. You can't  paint over the wall in this condition as it will happen again."

I love the show, but have often wondered how you connect the utilities. I know there are special connections, like on RV's, that would allow you to hook up at RV parks, but what if you just want to put your house on some land (that may or may not have utilities available. What are the options for waste water and potable water? I know that you can set up solar panels on the roof, but how much power does that really provide? Enough for a fridge, computer, lights, etc? Thanks!

Many Tiny Houses are set up exactly like and an RV with two holding tanks one for black and one for grey water. If you want to be off the grid the best options are digging your own septic system or using a composting toilet. Also utilizing solar for your power and gas or wood for your heat. Their are solar systems that absolutely can generate more than the needs of a tiny house especially if some of your appliances such as the range, water heater or refrigerator can be run off of propane. For a fully solar powered house it requires a combination of a large generator/battery system as well as efficient appliances in combination with an adjusted life style that limits your demands.

I love the show and am intrigued about the concept, but I'm not sure whether living in such a small space would work for me. I don't want to spend the money and find that I don't like it. Is there a way to "test" living in a tiny home before you make a commitment to buy or build one?

That's a great question (and one I get a lot), and the answer is, kind of. There are places were you can rent a tiny house for the weekend or websites like VRBO where you can rent a tiny house for longer. Spending a few nights in a tiny house is a great way to get a taste of tiny living, but it's only  taste. Living tiny full time is a lot different then spending a weekend in 300 sq ft.

when I build my tiny house I was thinking around 300-400 sq feet plus a screened in porch, that seems big enough for an actual bedroom with still enough space for a full size kitchen (at least appliances) and some living area. it will just be me and my small dog and cat. is that reasonable??

I am actually a proponent of something called right sized living. Putting people in spaces that are too small for their needs is not something I am interested in.  That being said, in my perspective 300-400 for one person is absolutely possible with very little sacrifice. 100-200 is going to be a much bigger challenge and likely wont work for most people. Too me it's not about how small, its about a personal exploration of trying limit my demands on the planet and my wallet, by being realistic about my needs for happiness.

i keep forgetting to mention how much i LOVE your show... but i am wondering if i go for a single story (no loft) home how would i get enough storage. i have seen what Zack does with the stairs in the tiny houses and cant imagine where we could add storage since there would be no stairs

Have you thought about utilizing more space? Maybe a shed, or another building. I think people limit their mindset unnecessarily to one unit.  My personal home will be a combination of solutions and if my need for space grows then my home will grow with it.

is it uber expensive to get the beetle kill wood for the tiny houses? i am hoping to have some in my tiny house.

No! Beetle killed pine is actually really affordable in many places. They call it "Blue Pine".

Have you ever considered doing a show with a retiree and helping to build a home for them?

Yes. John and I have very little influence of who gets to be on the show but I do believe their are major demographics that are very interested in tiny houses, that haven't been involved.

Hi, I am an Architectural Drawing and Design teacher at a local High School in Washington D.C./Virginia area. I am trying to encourage my students to design tiny despite their experiences with larger homes. What are some of your suggestions to how I can accomplish this?

To me, the coolest thing about tiny homes is how creative you have to be within the space. In larger homes you don't have to be as efficient with the space, but in tiny homes you cannot waste a single square foot of space. I would play up what I call the "James Bond" factor of tiny home design and encourage your students to get creative with hidden space and maximizing the area you have to work in.

What's the difference between a tiny house vs. a manufactured home built on-site?

There is no single definition of a tiny house but in my opinion their is a necessary level of customization to qualify as a tiny house. The movement's spirit is about minimalism, quality over quantity, limiting our demands on the planet and living within ones means.  As long as the spirit of the owner is in line with the movements objectives, I believe it qualifies but their is no one definition. 

In your experience, how many of the people on the show are making this choice for "voluntary" economic/lifestyle reasons vs. "having" to go tiny? We did a similar, less extreme, downsizing a while back (not entirely our choice) and it has worked out well for us financially.

I don't have any hard numbers to support my answer, but I would say a vast majority of the people we work with are making the choice to go tiny, as apposed to being "forced" into it. That said, I've found a large number of people are going tiny for economic reasons, and you could make the case that economic reasons lie somewhere in between "force" and "choice" Regardless, going tiny is a powerful tool that can help you concentrate on living the type of life you really enjoy if used correctly.

I just love the Blue Pine. It is soooo lovely and adds such an exquisite soft blue to the home. I love it. I am so enamored with everything you do on your show. I am so unsure of what I want after watching your shows. I think its going to have to be an eclectic combination!!

I'm with you, I think the blue pine is gorgeous! Whatever type of finishes you end up with will be great, because you choose them. If eclectic is what you want, go for it! If you want a cleaner look, then go in that direction. The coolest part about building a custom tiny home is that you get to make it what you want. Good luck!

People featured don't ask as many questions about how the composting toilet works or how to remove waste water. Earlier shows seemed to have more focus on those kind of things. Are people getting more knowledgable and comfortable with it? Or do the producers cut that from the show? Always love to see how Zack handles a design challenge!

I wish we spent more time on the details of the utilities and basic construction concerns. But, that is not the show format... Composting toilets work by separating the liquid and solid waist. The liquid is evaporated and vented to the outside. Once the solid waist is dried out, most of the smell goes with it and the size is greatly reduced. Their are a variety of composting toilet options and my favorite ones are a two part system that actually stores and composts the waist outside of the house. Meaning you deal with it every few months, instead of every week or so.  Also you are never in a position of removing the compost by carrying it through your house!

I'm planning to re-decorate the bedroom of a young teen who wants it to look like the ocean (not beach, but an underwater feel). It's a sunny corner room and has beige trim (which I do not want to re-paint). I started with Farrow & Ball for color inspiration and found St. Giles Blue. What are your thoughts? Would you go any darker than this? Any other ideas to consider?

I am not a color specialist but I spend a lot of time in the ocean surfing. If it was me, I would consider painting the room in a gradient style...lighter on top and darker on the bottom. It will take a little more time, but if it's just one room it might be worth it. At the end of the day it's just paint, you can always redo. I say go for it!

Thanks to Zack and John and sorry we had some technical issues in the beginning. We got to some great questions. Next week, Rachel Dougan of ViVi Interiors will join us to talk small spaces and we will be featuring a beautiful one-bedroom co-op she designed in the River Park complex in Southwest Washington.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
John Weisbarth
John Weisbarth is the host of “Tiny House Nation," where he helps participants on their journey towards immersion in the tiny home culture.
Zack Giffin
Zack Giffin is a professional skier and contractor who is co-host of "Tiny House Nation."
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