Tiny House vs Camping Trailer

tiny house vs rv trailer side by side

Photo credit to Evan and Gabby

Camping trailers are a common sight – mobile tiny houses are still a bit of a novelty. Some of the aesthetic differences are immediately recognizable but then the similarities begin to blur. Below is a quick run down of how these two housing choices compare & contrast.

Camping Trailers

  • Construction: Manufactured to RV industry standards in a factory setting. Typically built with a thin shell of metal, wood, and composites. The base trailer is usually custom engineered for the home it supports.
  • Plumbing: Built with standard RV toilets, plumbing, water, and waste tanks.
  • Electricity: Typically built to connect to grid power with standardized plugs & outlets and use on-board backup generators. Can also be built with off-grid systems.
  • Weight & Portability: Relatively lightweight and easy to tow.
  • Size: Camping trailers are often shorter (in height) than tiny houses. The maximum road height for most (if not all) U.S. States is 13 1/2 feet (without special permits).  You may find some 5th wheel trailers coming close to this height, but not your average trailer. This makes camping trailers easier to pull into gas stations and other tight places.
  • Insurance: Relatively easy to insure.
  • Financing: Lenders understand RVs well and many financing options are available.
  • Warranty: Like many manufactured products warranties are often available.
  • Taxes: Generally recognized as a second home (but check with a tax advisor).
  • Immediacy: The moment you take possession of a camping trailer it’s usually fully functional and ready roll – the benefit of buying a turn-key manufactured product.
  • Cost: Used camping trailers can be found on craigslist, curbsides, and through dealers – often for very little money. In fact in terms of bang for your buck, used (and even some new) camping trailers can be a good deal.
  • Fit & Finish: The interiors of manufactured homes are typically finished off tastefully and carefully. But like most manufactured products long term reliability and longevity will vary.
  • Year-Round Living: Lighter weight frames and siding also mean that trailer homes will cost more to heat and cool.

Tiny Houses

  • Construction: Handmade, typically by owner-builders in backyards and driveways. Built like a normal framed house on a heavy duty flatbed trailer.
  • Plumbing: Can be built with RV plumbing but owners often choose to install composting toilets, gray water outlets, and garden hose inputs. From time to time you’ll even see some rain water collection systems being used.
  • Electricity: Can be built to connect to grid power or built with an independent off-grid system.
  • Weight & Portability: Typically heavier than camping trailers making it more costly and difficult to tow.
  • Size: While the side walls of a tiny house are shorter than most normalhomes, a 12/12 pitched roof can easily cause the total height of the house to come to just under 13 1/2 feet. The side eaves also often extend the house to a full width just under 8 1/2 feet (the road limit for trailers). So while tiny houses are tiny for houses – they are in fact very large trailers (watch those overhangs).
  • Insurance: Sometimes easy to insure – depending on your local insurance agent and their ability to imagine how tiny houses fit into existing definitions.
  • Financing: Rarely financed and somewhat difficult to finance because lenders are typically unfamiliar with tiny houses – making them difficult to underwrite.
  • Warranty: When you build something yourself – you are the warranty.
  • Taxes: Generally not recognized as a second home (but check with a tax advisor).
  • Immediacy: Months after buying your flatbed trailer you might have a habitable home if you’ve worked hard long days or had lots of help. Building your own home often comes with the cost of investing real sweat equity. The smaller the project the faster it goes but tiny houses take time to build.
  • Cost: I’ve seen tiny house owner-builders report spending anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000 to build their home. Labor costs can be offset by doing a lot of the work yourself. Materials costs can be cut by making frugal choices.
  • Fit & Finish: It’s up to you to choose what kind of custom finish your put into your home – and the quality of the work. Many tiny houses are finished off with a lot of natural wood but anything you can imagine is possible if it’s in the budget.
  • Year-Round Living: Many tiny house homeowners live year-round in their homes. They are built like real houses with materials that typically do a much better job of keeping the weather outside.

When you boil it down camping trailers are better for those who need more mobility and are content with giving up comfortable year-round living and some aesthetics. Tiny houses are better for those who intend to mostly stay put, need the year-round comfort from the weather, and want a custom home.

Both solutions can help you find a way to live more simply, untethered from some building restrictions in the gray area between rentals and normal homes. Lastly, they can also both provide a safe, mortgage-free home to those needing or wanting to downsize their lives. In questionable economic times having the added security of owning one’s own home – no matter the size – can provide that needed safety net.

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