Why a tiny house and not an RV?

Tiny House in an RV park - photo by Tammy Strobel

Tiny House in an RV park – photo by Tammy Strobel

I received a question via email recently asking about our reasoning for choosing a tiny house design rather than a traditional recreational travel trailer. The reader asked:

“I’m a builder so I’m wondering about standard construction used in tiny houses and what kind of weight it adds up to? RV manufactures go to great lengths to minimize weight and tiny houses are a direct opposite of this practice. Just wondering if this is an issue for people who want to travel.

Tiny houses seem very attractive and cozy to me, but I am puzzled why people wouldn’t just opt for a travel trailer. This to me is the biggest mystery associated with the excitement that seems to be attached with tiny houses…”

Tammy and I get variations on this question quite often. To help other readers understand our decision I thought I’d post my response below:

Most tiny houses are built to the international building code. This building code is a robust and well established construction guide. Dee Williams describes this construction process very well in her ebook “Go House Go”. We have never weighed our home but we estimate based on the weights of other stick-built (wood framed) tiny houses that it weighs approximately 5,000 lbs. There are some manufacturers of tiny houses that have chosen lighter weight materials such as steel framing however the purpose behind these tiny houses differ from traditional RV applications. Tiny houses are usually built for permanent use throughout all four seasons. Thus they have greater insulation and are built with traditional materials to stand up to environmental exposure (sun and snow) and the needs of daily living. Further, tiny houses are usually parked in one place for a longer period of time and because the design aesthetic is typically not aerodynamic or lightweight, they are not intended to travel frequently. Although some RVs may also fit the above application of four season use, most are built for 3 season occasional use camping and are built with less robust materials designed to be efficient in gross-weight and aerodynamics for travel.

If a potential buyer were interested in frequent travel I would not recommend a tiny house. Tiny houses are basically smaller, more affordable versions of traditional homes with the added benefit of having the ability to move it.

17 thoughts on “Why a tiny house and not an RV?

  1. Logan:
    Great to know you are blogging. I have followed Tammy for a very long time and look forward to reading your blog too. You might have inspired me to join suit in the new year:)
    Warmest wishes,

    • Its taken me a long time to join the blogging world. Thanks for reading and I hope the inspiration pushes you to contribute too! :^)

  2. A question I have for both of you… Now that you have lived in your tiny house for a year or so, is there anything you would do differently if you were starting over? Would you design it to be bigger (or smaller) anywhere, or reconfigure it? Also, now that you have been living for a year w/out a traditional bathroom/shower in the house, would you change that aspect of it? Thanks!

    • Hi Janine, We are asked that question a lot. Although there are little things we’ve learned about our home and some small adaptations I think we’d still keep our original design and layout. A few ideas I’ve thought of to improve the design would be to make the built-in furniture more modular or moveable for different uses. For example, making the bookcase stackable so it could be removed and used for seating if you have a dinner party. We’ve also learned what we could do without and a shower is the biggest example.

  3. I am so excited to show your blog to my husband and the subject came about at the perfect time! So we are 24/7 365 days a yr Rv dwellers in a 4 season trailer with serious tiny house envy :D. We really would have preferred the tiny house in the first place but had no idea how to go about making it happen and probably wouldn’t have been able to have swung it anyway because they’re are a lot less financial options when buying a small house versus Rv. Here’s what I can tell you from first hand experiences, Rvs are cheaply made, they are not meant for everyday wear and tear, cost a fortune to haul around, and require the ownership/borrowing of a pretty good sized truck. We are probably a little harder on ours then the average person as we have a toddler, 4 dogs and a cat but a lot of the problems are not from that. We have been living in it since July and have so far had to take it to the dealership 2 times for repairs. A/c broke and the slide outs leaked well actually flooded. Standing water in the bedroom and living room. The edging on ceiling and on walls is falling off. We have had to rip out all the carpet because it fell apart and shower was not sealed properly so it will have to be torn out and replaced. We have found so many things craftsmanship wise that make us cringe because of the short cutting used in mass production. Even though its a 4 season trailer it is not insulated well at all. We made skirting which helped a lot but it still gets very cold with the Kansas winter wind. There is no actual wood other than the floor it’s all particle board laminate stuff. So our conclusion is we love our little house but don’t love the materials, craftsmanship, and looks of it. Our solution as it gets paid off and ultimately falls apart remake it to a house on wheels using the chaise and as much of the materials already here plus what we add to it. We plan to buy the plans from the tumble weed company so we have an idea of how to do it. We are excited about this as a future plan to turn what we have into what we want.

    • Hi Jen,

      Glad to have some solidarity! :^) Tiny houses are indeed difficult to afford. We had to save for a long time before we could afford to have one built. On the bright side the time gave us the chance to reflect on our needs, downsize our possessions and design the house of our dreams.

      The RV maintenance sounds like a nightmare. We haven’t had to do any major repairs on our home through the 14 months we’ve lived in it. Before you purchase plans from tumbleweed you may want to take a look at Dee Williams’ book “Go House Go” for tiny house construction details and instructions that go beyond simple blueprints. Have you seen Abel Zimmerman’s guest post on the tiny house blog regarding an RV teardown to the foundation to remake it into a tiny house?

      Cheers and good luck!

    • We love the RV park we are in, everyone is real nice and the park is very clean. Definitely don’t be afraid to check out all the parks in your area and listen to your instincts. Like anywhere else not all RV parks/ people are the ones you want to be around. Good luck :)

  4. I can fully comprehend the objective and subjective benefits of a tiny house, i.e. more homelike feeling and appearance, freedom of custom design, generally better quality of materials, and a feeling of being different. I believe some of the benefits of a tiny house vs. a camper are based more on emotion than objective facts. I will never assert that the typical camper is built to the quality of most tiny houses; however, some campers are well built, designed well and when purchased used result in significant reduction in initial cost. I have many friends who have lived full time in their rv or campers for decades with few maintenance issues. I also have a couple of friends who built their tiny house house from a wooden storage building (12*30) with the look of a cabin and they have custom designed the interior. It is not on wheels but can be moved if desirable. As most assert they don’t plan on moving often, I see little advantage of building on a trailer which diminishes the stability of the structure compared to buildings set up to provide stability with the ability to move the structure later by anyone who is set up to move storage buildings. Just a few thoughts to ponder.

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