If you look at the essential elements of a tiny home on wheels, it could compare with an RV. In fact, when you get down to brass tacks, a tiny home on wheels technically qualifies as a recreational vehicle since the living space is built on a chassis. So what’s the real difference between the two? Let’s examine the factors.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Tiny Home on Wheels?
- How Is a Tiny Home on Wheels Built vs. an RV?
- Are Tiny Homes on Wheels Bigger Than RVs?
- How Much Do Tiny Homes on Wheels Cost vs. an RV?
- Can You Take a Tiny Home on Wheels Camping?
- Full-Time Living: Tiny Home on Wheels vs. RV
- Which Option Do You Prefer?
What Is a Tiny Home on Wheels?
A tiny home on wheels–often called a THOW–doesn’t have a single textbook definition. Generally speaking, a THOW is less than 600 square feet but can be as tiny as 80 sq. ft.
A THOW is built, first and foremost, to be a home. The fact that it’s on wheels doesn’t mean it’s designed to travel consistently. The wheels of the THOW allow builders to avoid strict home-building codes and regulations regarding the minimum home size. Since the home technically qualifies as an RV, you could custom-build it to a less regulated standard.
How Is a Tiny Home on Wheels Built vs. an RV?
The most significant difference between a tiny home on wheels and an RV is that an RV handles constant and consistent travel with grace. The building materials are light and aerodynamic. They also have water and electric hookups that are well suited for travel.
Although a THOW is mobile, too much movement can compromise the effectiveness of the structure. Often designers create hookups for municipal plumbing and electric systems, which means that you cannot simply roll into a campsite and hook up water, sewer, and power the same way an RV can.
The electrical systems also vary. Most appliances and electronics in a standard RV require 12V power. On the other hand, tiny homes might use residential appliances that require a constant shore power supply.
Construction & Materials
When it comes to construction and materials in a tiny home on wheels, customization is the name of the game. A THOW is almost always fully customized to fit the desires of the homeowner. So a THOW could use greener materials and run on alternative energy sources.
Much like a traditional home, a THOW thrives in a stationary setting. The materials are heavier, stronger, and more stable than those found in an RV. This makes a THOW more weatherproof and often more eco-friendly.
RVs are supposed to be ready to move at any time. Because the builders use lightweight materials, you can easily tow or drive an RV at the same speeds as most other vehicles on the road.
RVs are also usually mass-produced, making them efficient to build, cost effective and easy to acquire. While some aren’t as customized, RV manufacturers have had decades of experience creating the most practical and sophisticated vehicles for mobile lifestyles.
Trailer Chassis, Axles, and Wheels
When buying an RV, there’s not much you need to know about the actual RV chassis. Manufacturing regulations ensure that the structure’s weight isn’t too much for the chassis. A tiny house on wheels is a bit trickier, especially considering how many people undertake the THOW construction themselves.
The most common choice in trailers for a tiny home on wheels is a simple flat-bed trailer, which is widely available for purchase, new and used. While we highly recommend a double-axle trailer, the most crucial consideration is the intended size of your THOW. This will obviously affect your trailer size as well as the load on your axles.
Each axle can typically hold 3,000-7,000lbs, giving it a towing capacity between 6,000-14,000lbs. Carefully selecting a suitable trailer for your specific THOW will take time and research, so consider all your options and choose wisely.
Appliances & Furniture
Like any home, appliances and furniture will take a noticeable chunk of your budget. Ironically, anytime you buy appliances that are smaller than standard sizes, you’ll be looking at a higher cost for base models.
Many THOW owners circumvent this by opting for mini-fridges or cooktops without the oven range. Space-saving will be as crucial as your budget, so each homeowner should assess which appliances are essential and which they can do without.
Most commonly, THOW builders opt out of having dishwashers, washer/dryer machines, and microwaves. Tiny house living is so naturally minimalistic that it drastically cuts the number of dishes and clothes that need washing anyway.
Furniture requires creativity. Most living spaces of a THOW are dual-functioning, so you can make furniture pieces pull double duty or easily tuck them away. Thankfully, the customization of a THOW means you can make many of these furniture pieces built-ins.
Floor Plans and Layouts
Floor plans and layouts for a tiny home on wheels vary as much as your imagination. Outside of tiny home building companies that frequently offer buyers different floorplan options, there are many free resources for finding pre-made plans. You can even design your own plan if you have specific ideas or limitations to accommodate. Without the standard structure building codes, the sky’s the limit.
Well, that and the trailer ceiling.
Manufacturers & DIY
Although tiny living is relatively new, the trend has a significant enough impact that tiny home manufacturers are popping up everywhere. And, because a THOW can travel, you’re not limited to finding a manufacturer near you. You can order from virtually anywhere in the U.S. and have your tiny home delivered.
Many opt to DIY their tiny homes, either for the sake of saving money or because they already have specific components that they’d like to upcycle into a home. Some people simply have a passion and a drive to create themselves. Any or all of these reasons might inspire a DIY tiny home, and there are plenty of resources to help any DIYer along the way.
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Are Tiny Homes on Wheels Bigger Than RVs?
RVs are generally larger than tiny homes. While the customizable nature of tiny homes creates a broader window for size variance, most THOWs are between 100-400 sq. ft. Unless you have a CDL, most trailers are only road-legal with a maximum width of 8.5 ft, height of 13.5 ft, and length of up to 40 ft. While these are the legal limits, most tiny homes average 20 ft long.
The same vehicle size restrictions that apply to tiny homes on wheels also apply to RVs; however, an RV has expandable slide-outs that increase the width and square footage once parked.
How Much Do Tiny Homes on Wheels Cost vs. an RV?
There’s a pretty large price window for THOWs. Depending on your budget and priorities, it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000. The higher end of the spectrum will get you a lot more luxury and high-end finishes, while the lower end will probably require some creative DIY solutions. The most common price is closer to $60,000.
RVs have much more variety in cost. Since there are more RVs in general, it’s easier to find deals on used RVs. The highest price point for RVs is significantly more–double in fact. For $300,000, you can get all the bells and whistles you can hope for. More modest RVs, when purchased new, can cost as little as $35,000.
Can You Take a Tiny Home on Wheels Camping?
Technically, yes. But realistically, most are not well suited for itit. Unless you plan on camping for longer periods, it’ll likely be more effort than it’s worth. Tiny homes on wheels should generally stay in place, and finding a place to park them can be tricky. They don’t use power and water the same way RVs do and some campgrounds may not allow them. So you can’t simply roll into every campground and expect to hook up to a power pedestal easily.
Full-Time Living: Tiny Home on Wheels vs. RV
Tiny homes on wheels are great for full-time living, as long as you’re mostly staying put. There are a couple of factors to consider if you plan on settling into your RV or tiny home for the long haul.
The laws and regulations about where and how to park your THOW will differ by state and sometimes even by county or park. For example, some national parks don’t allow tiny homes on wheels to park in their campgrounds.
Tiny homes on wheels can also be tricky to insure. The structures exist in a bit of a grey area, which offers a win for avoiding building codes but less of a victory when you’re comparing insurance.
An RV will be much easier to park and insure. Because the manufacturers must comply with safety regulations, they’re objectively safer in the eyes of insurance companies. This is the same reason why RVs have more options when it comes to parking and camping locations.
Trying to compare the comfort of RVs to tiny homes on wheels is a bit of an apples to oranges game. While budget plays a prime factor in your comfort options, so does your lifestyle.
Relocating your THOW is a bit of a hassle, so if you’re more of a vagabond, you’ll likely be happier with the ease of relocating an RV. If you prefer settling into a homestead, a tiny home might offer you more comfort. With a residential build, a tiny home may offer more cold-weather comfort and a cozy residential space.
Which Option Do You Prefer?
Although there are plenty of similarities between an RV and a tiny home on wheels, they’re fundamentally different in functionality. We would venture to say that they’re more like cousins than siblings in the world of minimalist lifestyles.
They may share the metaphorical “grandparents” of mobile living, but an RV’s “parent” is primarily a vehicle, while a THOW’s “parent” is more of a home.
Would you rather live in a tiny home or an RV? Let us know in the comments below!
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