The question has been raised many times, and there are arguments both ways, for why you may choose a tiny home vs RV. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. There are some people out there that are living full time in a RV. I will explain some of the pluses and minuses of each option and then you can decide which would be best for you. For the sake of this post we are only addressing Tiny Houses On Wheels (THOW) vs RV. This comparison wouldn’t really be relevant if we were considering tiny homes built on a foundation.
Tiny home vs RV — Portability
How often do you intend to move? If you are looking at traveling the country and moving on a regular basis you may want to consider a RV instead of a tiny home. Although THOW are trailer based and can be towed, they are not as easy to tow nor as aerodynamic. THOW are typically heavier as well due to their construction methods. Overall, towing a RV is easier than towing a tiny home.
If you are planning on staying put and only moving a few times a year or every few years a tiny home may be just the ticket. THOW are able to be towed on the highway as long as they meet the federal regulations to do so. According to AAA this is less than 13’6” in height and 8’6” in width. The length varies from state to state but most THOW are only in the 28-32’ range and are within the length requirements. If you want to go larger than that, check the laws of the states you want to travel in to make sure you remain compliant.
Tiny Homes And Frequent Travel
There are people that travel frequently with their tiny homes. Jenna at Tiny House Giant Journey spent a year traveling in her tiny home and covered over 25,000 miles. For the most part though, those interested in tiny homes do not intend to travel with them on a regular basis. THOW owners may move them, but not on a daily or weekly basis. Although the fact that they can be moved is a big bonus. If you are in the construction industry and move to new sites for work, a tiny home would be great as no matter where you are in the country, you could take your home with you. It could save you thousands on hotel rentals
Tiny Home VS RV — Customization
With a RV you get what you get. You don’t have much say in how it is designed unless you are willing to spend a small fortune to get it custom built. There are people out there who buy campers and gut them out and remodel them. In this way they are customizing them, but they still don’t have much say in the exterior design of the camper. There is also not really an option to install additional walls or a loft like the THOW have. Also, painting and decorating the interior of a camper is different than trying to paint sheet rock and
paneling like a tiny home has. To try and customize an RV because it is already built is more difficult. Even in regular homes, remodeling is more difficult than building new because of the constraints the existing structure puts on the build.
With a THOW you have complete control over the entire design and build process. You can choose to build from plans available for purchase, buy a kit, buy a complete home customized to you or design one and build something completely unique to you. What materials are used, the dimensions, and the appearance of the home are all up to you. You have unlimited flexibility on what you want your home to be. It can be a basic bare minimum structure or an elaborate finely finished home. When it comes to customization tiny homes rule.
Tiny Home VS RV — Year Round Living
If you intend to live in your tiny home or RV full time, where you decide to live could be a big factor in which one you choose. If you are going to live somewhere that has fairly cold winters keeping a RV warm could be expensive. They tend to not be very well insulated and require a lot of gas or electricity to keep warm. I used to own a RV that boasted being a 4 season model. We stayed in it over Christmas one year, and I used 60 pounds of propane in 4 days trying to keep it warm enough for our baby. Not to say that there are not RVs out there that are better insulated, but to get a true 4 season RV you would easily spend $60,000 or more.
When it comes to THOW they can be better insulated. If done right, the entire trailer is insulated prior to the flooring being installed, then the 2x4 walls are all filled with insulation. Finally, the roof will either have insulation on the inside or the outside. Overall this will make them fairly efficient to heat or cool. Due to the fact that they actually have stick framing they can be better insulated than an RV.
Tiny Home VS RV — Snowbirding
In my area in the Rocky Mountains we have what we call snowbirds. They live up by the mountains during the summer while the weather is nice. When it starts to turn cold they pack up their RVs and head South. They live 4-6 months out of the year in their RV in a warmer climate while the weather is cold and snowy at their home. They are not living full time in their RV but for quite a while each year. In their case, the RV fits their style, and for a retired couple with no kids provides their home away from the cold.
Tiny Home VS RV — DIY Cost —
This area is extremely subjective. It is really hard to make an apples to apples comparison when it comes to cost. According to CometCamper.com Mariah says it is cheaper to go the RV route. She says if you get an old camper and renovate it that it is cheaper than a tiny home. According to her, her entire project cost just $7,000. Her Avalon camper is 8’ x 14’.
This can be countered by an tiny home that was built by Wesley Birch. He wrote an article entitled Building Tiny On A Budget. He and his wife set out to build a tiny home for $7,000. They ended up at $8,000 but had a 8’ x 24’ tiny home that was 13’ tall. In order to do this they had to spend a lot of time on Craigslist and other sites in order to find things for free. Using items that were reclaimed or culled lumber they were able to significantly reduce the price of building their home. They were patient and diligent in order to get this project for that price.
There are many examples of people making both RVs and tiny homes for not very much on YouTube. If you are willing to build using used material and modify your design to incorporate the items like windows and doors that you can get cheap you can make a pretty impressive home for not a lot of money.
Tiny Home VS RV — Build It For Me Cost
If you are considering buying a tiny home insteading of building it, you may be looking at $30-100,000. Some people freak out at that number and say it is too expensive. If you look what a tiny home in that range provides though you can see the value. A tiny home on the high end is built by master craftsmen using only the best materials. They also include high end appliances. These THOW are luxurious to say the least. Granite countertops, full bathrooms, fine woods, fireplaces and other amenities are included in the high end models.
If you want to buy a high end RV that is trailer based that is comparable to a high end tiny home, then you will have to get a fifth wheel as they are the ones that tend to have the higher end amenities inside. They easily run $60,000 plus. If you want to go to a motor home that is comparable it will easily cost you over a $100,000 used, and could go over $200,000 new. Although, comparing a motor home price is a little skewed because they include the means to move the vehicle unlike a THOW or trailer where you still need a tow vehicle.
Tiny Home VS RV — Placement
Both tiny homes and RVs can prove to be a challenge to place if you are planning on living in them full time. Many municipalities have laws that prohibit living in them full time. In the event that you choose to do so, if you want be inconspicuous, a RV would be the better option. A tiny home, because it is so unique, sticks out and would be more obvious that it was being lived in.
If you have land or know someone who has land available on which it is legal to live in a tiny home, then you would be better off. For the most part, if it is legal to park a RV and live in it full time it would be legal to park a THOW there and live in it full time.
The tiny home movement is growing, and with many people being actively involved in it they are convincing some places to allow tiny homes. There are several tiny home communities across the nation and that number will continue to grow as tiny homes become more recognized as legitimate and appropriate housing to integrate into communities.
Tiny Home VS RV — Insurance
In the beginning, obtaining insurance for a THOW on wheels was difficult. Especially if you built it yourself. RVs were easy to insure because insurance companies have been doing it for years. If your THOW wasn’t built by a builder who was RVIA certified some people were unable to obtain insurance. That is no longer the case. There are several options out there now to insure your THOW.
If you choose an RV, it is as simple as walking into any insurance agency and providing them with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and some information about the RV and they can get you a policy. One thing to note, if you are living in your RV full time make sure you disclose this to the agent as it may change what type of coverage you need. Most basic RV insurance does not cover you properly in you are living in the unit full time.
If you are living in a THOW on wheels you have several options. You could try a local agent and see if they can provide coverage. If you do, be careful and make sure that you read your policy so you know if it covers you appropriately. It is terrible to need insurance that you have been paying fort, to find out that you don’t have the proper coverage when you need it.
Resources for Insurance
Some agencies can insure a tiny home as a mobile home. Usually, the catch with that is they are not covered when being transported. If you intend to move your tiny home frequently you will need to make sure that you obtain coverage while in transit as well. Archambault Insurance is one company that has insured tiny homes as mobile homes.
Other options for insurance include Insure My Tiny Home. Darrell Grenz has been working with tiny home builders for quite some time. The form you need is right on the home page linked to this article. I will note though that I have no personal experience with him and according to some comments on Tiny House Giant Journey as recent as December 2016, he was a little slow in responding to people’s requests. Hopefully that issue is resolved now and he will be much more responsive to requests for tiny home insurance on his website.
Another option that some people go for is self insurance. Essentially, you have to put enough money away that in the event of a loss you can afford to pay for it out of your own savings. If you are OK with that then it is an option for you. I personally would not have a tiny home or RV without insurance. Even if it is $903 a year like Jenna’s from Tiny House Big Journey I would take it. Think about it, if you build your own tiny home and it costs $25,000 and something happens to it, you are out another $25,000. This doesn’t even take into account any personal property you may have had inside. If you pay $903 dollars annually, it would take you 27.5 years of paying insurance to spend that much money. I would go with the insurance just in case.
Tiny Home VS RV – Conclusion
Which option is better? I think in all reality it depends. There is not really a right or wrong answer to this question. There are good arguments both ways. The biggest question you will need to answer is how you intend to use your THOW or RV. If you are traveling frequently a RV would probably be the best option. If you don’t move very often and want more of a homie feel, the THOW will provide that.
Home is what you make of it. You can turn any location into a home if you choose to. You just need to evaluate your needs and see which option best fits them. If you are looking into living tiny that is great! There are a lot of great advantages of living tiny. It also opens up a world of possibilities that you can’t have otherwise.
Dream Big Live Tiny!