(Tiny) Homeward Bound

Designing and Building My Tiny House

Foundation vs. Trailer

OK, so I know I want a tiny house, but immediately, there are all of these decisions to make.  Which is the fun part.  And the scary part (what if I decide the wrong thing).  Anyway, some are decisions that need to be made up front and others are things to mull over.

The first big decision is putting my tiny house on a foundation or a trailer.  Here are the things I’m considering with this decision:

  • Build considerations:  Trailers have weight limits (based on trailer axle ratings and how big a truck you want to use to move the trailer).  Also, they are subject to some serious wind and vibrations while being driven down the highway so have to be built super-strong.  Both of these means there are definitely some extra building considerations for trailers, which is a concern given my basically non-existent building experience.  On the flip side, there are lots of good online resources for building your own trailer.   Foundation takes the lead.
  • Size limitations:  Trailers can only be so wide (8 ft without requiring a wide load permit) and so high (13.5 ft), which generally leads to a long skinny house with limited loft space.  And, I don’t think I’d want a trailer longer than about 20 ft.  A house on a foundation has a lot more flexibility in design (except when you consider the next issue on the list).  But, the goal of a tiny house is to go small – so size limitations may not be a bad thing (although I’d like to make sure I’m not going so small that I can’t live comfortably in it).  Also, I can cheat a little on storage by stashing some stuff in my parents’ basement (not exactly the goal of a tiny house…but I’m a believer in cheating a bit at the beginning and working your way to the end goal).  Still a preference towards a foundation.
  • Permits: Depending on the location, houses on foundations over a certain size (usually 100, 120, or 200 square feet) require permits.  And basically any building with bathrooms or kitchens require permits.  Permits are expensive and likely would mean bringing in an outside contractors.  Tiny houses are often under the minimum size requirements for zoning so require variances in order to get permits.  All of this is a major hassle which I would like to avoid.  Trailers for the most part do not need permits, so that’s a major plus on the trailer side.  And things tip heavily towards a trailer.
  • Water/Composting/etc: I’m not quite sure what to call this category, but a fixed foundation house has the advantage of having land around it.  Which makes it much easier to think about composting, using greywater irrigation, and harvesting rainwater as well.  All of these are possible to do with a trailer, but it requires a little more creativity (I think).  Another plus on the foundation side…but not a huge one.
  • Location: Clearly, a tiny house on a foundation is at a fixed location.  This means a) I have to know where I want to be for many years because I don’t want to build a house and then decide to move 3 years later and b) I have to own land there.  Which is definitely an added expense.  My life is a bit nomadic these days.  I spend 9 months living out of a backpack, followed by 7 months living in North Carolina, and I don’t know where I will be for the next 4 months.  So, living in one location for the next 10 years is very hard for me to fathom.  This is really the tipping point for me to decide to go for a house on a trailer.  If 4 years down the road, I know I want to be in one place, I can buy land and park my trailer there for good.  I can even potentially add on a small shed to act as a studio/office if I need some additional space.  And putting my house on a trailer wins!

P.S.  I am far from the first person to have this debate.  See other musings on this topic at: http://smalllivingjournal.com/issue-16-how-to-design-build-a-home/ryanmitchell/trailer/

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