In part one of our tour of the mobile living movement and its close cousin, the tiny home, we introduced the concept and the controversies around it. We discussed the types of homes typically included when discussing the topic of mobile living based on the purpose they were designed for. For a recap of that information please follow this link.
In upcoming installments, we’ll explore the lifestyle and potential ways these “newmads” are supporting themselves. For now, let’s delve a little deeper into the types of homes. For our purposes, let’s divide the list into stationery tiny homes and vehicle-based living quarters.
Stationery Tiny Homes (STH’s) Definition:
I’ll define STH’s as dwellings under 500sf, either built in place or manufactured elsewhere and then placed on a permanent or semi-permanent location. Major types of STH’s include Park Models, Shipping Container Homes and most custom-built Tiny Homes (even if they’re on wheels).
Vehicle-based Living Quarters (VLQ’s) Definition:
I’ll define VLQ’s as vehicles designed with living quarters or dwellings that were made to be pulled by a vehicle regularly. Major types of VLQ’s include RV’s (Class A, B, C, or 5th Wheel), and certain Ultra-mobile Tiny Homes.
Notice a couple things about these definitions? I didn’t mention whether or not these homes have traditional residential hookups for utilities, RV style hookups, or are built to work off-grid. This is because you’ll find all of the above in either category.
You’ll also notice that I listed the major types as examples but there are quite a variety of uncommon types of home in either category. An example of an uncommon STH would be a yurt or an earthbag home, but we’ve encountered homes made out of everything from concrete pipes to fuel containers. Examples of uncommon VLQ’s actually aren’t uncommon at all, just not thought of frequently. Economically disadvantaged nomads often choose an urban off-grid lifestyle and find it easier to do with a vehicle that they already own such as a car, which has the added bonus of not looking so obvious that someone is living in it.
What’s not on either list is manufactured homes, which are just non-traditionally built homes with slightly more potential to be transported a second time. It’s not mobile enough to bother with in a blog devoted to commuting and transportation.
So why bother with stationary tiny homes? Well two reasons. 1st because we’ve got some awesome pictures of some unique ones, and 2nd because the minimalist lifestyle enables one to relocate more easily—which is many peoples’ definition of mobile living.
Stationery Tiny Homes (STH’s)
I don’t want to spend too much time on these since most people are familiar with the concept.
Park Models Features:
As discussed in part one, Park Models are made by Manufactured Homebuilders for the purpose of being more portable and less expensive. If you need to live onsite at a campground or construction site this could be your answer. The downside, and it’s a big one, is that you can’t get a certificate of occupancy or a vehicle license so you have a really tough time with Johnny Law if you leave it someplace for more than a year. On the bright side, it’s larger and more comfortable than most custom-built tiny homes.
Shipping Container Homes:
As geo-arbitrage became a way to do business overseas manufacturing created a glut of used cargo containers in the US where goods are imported more than exported. Some ingenious home builders have managed to create very modern homes out of them.
Their advantages are that they can be transported easily to the build site and be customized relatively easily with grinders and welders. They have big double doors and wooden floors (which must be removed because they’re treated with chemicals to repel exotic bugs). One need only see some pictures of what people are doing to appreciate why you someone might want one.
Many shipping containers homes have a square footage that really doesn’t qualify as an STH as we’ve defined it, but the idea of creating villages of them to replace garish apartment complexes gets bantered about continuously as a possible solution to the housing crisis in America. We’ve yet to find anyone who’s doing it, but we’re always looking.
Custom-built Tiny Homes (even if they’re on wheels):
Tiny Home manufacturers are springing up around the country. What isn’t keeping up is the number of places you can locate that will let you live in one. Zoning laws can be stricter some cities than others but very few really welcome tiny homes. It is sad because they provide an opportunity for more fiscally responsible living that is less impactful on the people and environment around them.
The big difference between tiny homes and other towable living options like 5th wheels is the building materials and design. RV’s were never meant for year-round inhabitation and it will ultimately become obvious to anyone attempting to do so. Tiny homes have incredible insulation and offer monthly winter utility and heating bills as low as $50. They’re also designed with some unique features that reduce the feeling of being in a small space and they’re built to last decades longer.
Starting with Drivable VLQs where lots of options abound. Sources include (https://www.expeditionmotorhomes.com/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-class-a-b-c-motorhomes/) and (https://rv-roadtrips.thefuntimesguide.com/rv_class/).
Vehicle-based Living Quarters (VLQ’s)
Class A RV’s Features
Typically built on a bus chassis, Heavy Frame and Large Wheels, bad fuel economy (8 to 10 mpg), and measure up to 45 feet in length. Advantages include lots of storage, homelike feel, and ability to tow up to 5,000 lbs. A big reason some owners select Class A’s is that up to 8 passengers can converse while in transit. Disadvantages include fewer places to sleep overnight guests and did we mention the bad gas mileage because it’s worth saying twice.
Class A’s typically market well with couples and serve best as luxury touring coaches and as such tend to be pricey (starting around $75,000). One more thing worth noting about Class A’s is that some have diesel engines (diesel pushers) which are desirable and retain value a little better than gas equivalents.
Bus Conversions Features
Do it yourself bus conversions are on the rise alongside tiny homes. A surprising number of first timers to both construction and mobile living have decided to wing it. Some of them spend quite a chunk of change.
A few custom bus conversion specialists have thrown their hat in the ring, but not as many as van conversionists. Here’s a link to one a site where you can buy bus conversions at various stages of conversion. Here’s a link to a basic how-to take on a project like that. Notice at both of these sites, the intimate connection between bus converting and tiny houses.
Class B RV’s Features
Built on a van frame but modified to allow someone to stand upright inside. They are self-contained, meaning they have bathroom and kitchen facilities although typically very modified and lacking features—for example, they commonly use a wet bath where the toilet and sink are inside the shower. Advantages include good fuel economy, easy to drive/park, less expensive than other models. Disadvantages include low livability for more than one person for more than a few nights in a row.
Van Conversions Features
People have been doing there own van conversions for decades, the most famous of these being the VW van. Most recently, however, is the kit conversion which allows a cargo van owner to install the Class B features onto a standard Cargo Van. Many dealerships offer to professionally install the conversion on your new van purchase and can sometimes finance the entire purchase on a 15-year loan instead of a typical five or six-year auto loan. Here’s a link to a website with more information.
Class C RV’s Features
Class C’s are built on a cargo van chassis, with an attached cabin space. They are visually distinct because of the cab-over space much like campers have, which adds a lot of storage or sleeping room. If they look like a cross between the class A and B…it’s because they are. The fuel economy, storage, sleeping and towing ability right between the two other types of motorhome, however with just enough extra room to allow better common areas which vastly increase the ability for more than one person to live in them for a longer term. This could be a better option for the typical family size looking for more extensive travel than just the occasional camping trip.
It’s also worth noting that they tend to be shorter than class A’s (20 to 33 feet long) which means they’re easier to maneuver and can fit into most campgrounds. Also, a big plus is that because they’re made from standard cargo van lines like Econoline, Ford or Chevy Express it’s easier to get parts and mechanical than a big diesel bus.
A final word about the difference between Class B and Class C, because both are built on a cargo van chassis. Plan to spend about as much on a Class B despite getting less room and cramped amenities, but what you’re getting in exchange is ease of maneuvering and fuel economy. With a longer Class C, one with a rear bedroom, for example, your rear-end is overhanging the wheelbase by a lot and that can make cornering tricky. It can also be an issue to store a Class C when not in use, while a Class B fits anywhere a large van does.
Shifting into towable living spaces lets look at three options. Sources include (https://www.hensleymfg.com/travel-trailer-vs-5th-wheel/) and (https://rv-roadtrips.thefuntimesguide.com/rv_trailers/). There’s a myriad of layouts and features in either design so here are some basic differences that may not be initially obvious.
Travel Trailers Features
Have the biggest variety of size and features to fit your needs. They start around 8ft long which can be towed by anything, and go all the way up to 40 feet to rival 5th wheel for space and comforts. The ability to be towed by almost anything with a trailer hitch makes this much more versatile option for most people. However, larger trailers require several things beyond just a bigger engine. The wheelbase of the vehicle (the length between the front and back tires) greatly affects the length of the trailer it can tow. Also, larger trailers are much easier in high winds and corners when your vehicle is equipped with sway bars and other stability options specific to vehicles built to tow.
Trailer weight plays a big part also, with both fuel economy and stability on the road. Regardless of the type of trailer, you’ll need to consider what the trailer weighs when loaded with the things you need to live, work and play. Most trailers now come with either a raw weight or a burdened weight so that you know if the number includes typical extra weight or not.
5th Wheels Features
The weight of the 5th wheel lands in front of the rear axle which allows the weight to distribute onto all four tires instead of connecting at one single point at the rear. This radically increases the stability while in transit. It also puts some of the living space over the truck bed minimizing the overall length of truck and trailer combined. That factor makes it possible to back the trailer more easily which is what allows 5th wheels to be longer. It also means there are stairs in a 5th wheel, which bothers some RV owners.
Ultra-mobile Tiny Homes Features
Ultra-mobile tiny homes are the ones built to be towed around the country. They include all the features of STH tiny homes only the size is typically even smaller and great pains were taken to use the lightest materials available. For example, if you’re building a tiny home in a large barn and then towing it once to a plot of land where it will stay, you might not worry too much if it nudges over 15 high at the peak. Ultra-mobile tiny homes need to stay below 14 feet with the tires inflated so they can go under bridges and overpasses. Ironically, you’re more likely to see RV hook-ups on ultra-mobile style Tinys because it can be harder to locate a good off grid location as you travel around the country. The unique features you can build into one of these makes it interesting to some freedom seekers who just don’t want to live in an RV.
While you don’t technically tow a camper, you carry it, this is the closest category for it to fit into. There are several sizes of camper, which must be matched to the bed size and carrying capacity of your truck. Like a trailer, you can store it easily at your single family home when not in use and regain the full use of your truck. Campers come in two main varieties, self-contained and not. This refers to the amount of bathroom in the camper. Given the tight amount of space and availability of bathrooms at campgrounds, rest areas, and truck stops many people like the option of not having to deal with hauling a stinky bathroom with them everywhere they go. This saves a lot on maintenance too, as things can go wrong with plumbing and the minimum you’ll have to do is drain your holding tanks.
If your wife doesn’t mind a little hike in the night to pee, a non-self-contained camper can be an affordable option, that still keeps you warmer, off the ground, and more bear-resistant than a tent.
Regardless of the type of Towed VLQ there’s an advantage to having a separate living space from the vehicle in that once you arrive at a location you’ll be able to unlink the two and drive around normally. If you need to grab some groceries in town, it’s hard to decide if you’ll try to find a store with a big enough parking spot for your motorhome or if you’ll pay for a rideshare into town.