[dropcap type=”type1″ letter=”M”]ost Tiny Houses are built on trailers of some sort. It’s the foundation that allows us to keep our houses portable (for the most part) and still give us the stability and assurance that our house will be strong. This post is written for those of you building a Tiny House on Wheels (a THOW, for short). If you’re planning on building on a more traditional foundation, this post might not be as helpful.
So, what type of trailer should you use for your THOW? Choosing the right trailer can often be a big stumbling block, keeping folks in an endless loop. How big should it be? What weight should it carry? What kind of axles? There seem to be hundreds of questions to answer before selecting the foundation of your Tiny House. That’s why we’ve simplified things to help you as you choose your trailer.
Jacks and Tires: Will Your Tiny House Move or Not?
The first question that’s critical to answer is whether or not you plan to travel with your Tiny House, or park in a single location for a long period of time before moving it again.
Why does this matter? This one decision alone affects everything to how heavy your trailer should be, what kinds of jacks your house will need (to keep things level), and tire longevity.
If you’re going to move your Tiny House pretty often, you’ll want to go with a lighter weight trailer than a heavy one. Combined with house weight and trailer weight, you’ll be pulling a lot with your vehicle. The less you have to pull, the better.
Another question answered by how often you’ll move is what kind of jacks you’ll need. If you want to move frequently, stabilizing jacks are the best because they’re attached to the house itself. These make it easier to level your house each time you move. With stabilizing jacks attached to the house, you save yourself time and headache when leveling your newly parked THOW.
However, if you’re going to park your Tiny House in one place for a good long while, you need a different type of jack. Stabilizing jacks are NOT a long-term weight solution. Instead, heavy-duty lift jacks are the safest option. These jacks are designed to support weight for longer periods of stress. You set them once and you don’t have to worry until you move your house again. However, these kind of jacks are not attached to your house.
Another thing to be aware of is the lifespan of your tires. Whether tires are used on the road or not, they only have a 3-4 year life span. And a tire loses one-third of it’s strength in a single year. Over time, the rubber integrity continues to weaken. Keeping your Tiny House in one place for long time on it’s tires can strain them beyond their capacity.
It’s a good idea to prepare to replace your tires once your decide to move your house. If you’re moving your house to a new spot on the property, or just going a few miles down the road (hopefully, to get new tires), you’ll probably be fine. But don’t take your house on a long road trip after parking it for a long time. You run the risk of tire blowouts. And if you’re moving your THOW more frequently, you’ll need to replace your tires every few years too.
Deck Height and Frame: How High And How Wide Will Your House Be?
Depending on the trailer design you choose, your deck height will influence how high your interior ceilings will be. Most Tiny House builders try to keep their houses no taller than 13 feet to avoid oversize vehicle restrictions. But if your trailer deck is 3 feet off the ground to start with, and then you add a foot of flooring, you just decreased your interior ceiling height to less than 9 feet (don’t forget to add the roofing structure thickness to the top).
The frame of the trailer can be a weight factor too. Will you build over the edges of your trailer, gaining valuable width? Building beyond the width of the trailer will also add weight. If your choose to build this way, it’s easier to start with a trailer already outfitted for this build type. Otherwise, you’ll need to do a lot of retrofitting before you can start building.
Frame length will also affect weight. A 12 foot-long trailer is much lighter than a 20 foot-long trailer.
Another factor to consider with your trailer is whether or not you’ll be outfitting it to RV Standards. RV Standards allow your Tiny House to have a legal license plate number and makes it easier to insure. This is essential if you’re building a THOW. When building an RV Standard Tiny House, you need to make sure all your connections for water, waste and power are on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
If your Tiny House will be parked, RV Standards might not matter as much, but they do make portability, even for the rare instances, easier.
Then there’s the choice of axle design. Axles design this influences build height and overall weight. Traditional axles restrict build interior height because the deck is so high. Less materials means less weight but a lower ceiling. Drop axles callow for a lower deck height, allowing for more interior space. But the trade off is more weight. And how much your THOW will weigh is the big question.
Materials and Axles: How Heavy Can You Go?
If you’re not planning on moving your Tiny House often, you might not need to worry so much about keeping the weight down as much as possible, but this still affects what trailer you select. For both THOW and semi-permanent Tiny Houses, your trailer must be able to support the weight of your house. If not, your foundation can crumble and take your house with it.
This is another critical area influenced by your answer to the portability question. Portability affects what materials you’ll use to construct your Tiny House with and what kind of axle design will work best to accommodate your weight goals.
A THOW is best built when it’s as light as possible. The heavier your building materials, the heavier your house will be. There are many different building material options for your Tiny House, ranging from how thick your housing studs will be, what you choose for insulation and siding, and the materials you use for your roof.
Axle choice also can contribute more weight to your THOW. And there are really two options here: traditional axles or drop axles. Traditional axles have a higher deck height and limit the overall interior height, but they can help contribute to a lighter Tiny House. Drop axles allow for a deeper subfloor structure and lower deck height, gaining valuable interior ceiling height. But they can add more weight because you can add more building materials.
Drop axles can also allow you to better insulate water pipes if you bring them into the subfloor. This is particularly useful for water pipes and grey water waste. Building these into the subfloor can provide insulation to prevent freezing. If you build with traditional axles, you’ll need to figure out how to protect your pipes if you run them underneath the house, especially if you plan to live in a place that experiences below-freezing temperatures.
Ideally, you want to over-build the decking for your floor as well as the sides of your house. Over-building contributes more weight, but it provides a stronger THOW. For everything else, under-build to compensate for over-building.
While there is still no calculated average for the weight of a THOW, in our experience here at DIY Tiny talking with our neighbors and visitors, it is easy for a Tiny House to come in at 8-10,000 pounds. Almost everybody agrees that their Tiny Houses weigh “too much” more than they expected. When it comes to how heavy can you go, every little bit can contribute or subtract from your overall Tiny House weight.
How you want to live and use your Tiny House is the critical factor to all your other building decisions. We can’t always have everything we see in our Tiny House dreams, but we can make the best informed decisions that will help us match our dreams to reality.
A questions we get asked from time to time is, “where can I find a trailer that meets all these needs?” Thankfully, there are a few good places we recommend for your Tiny House trailer:
Tumbleweed: Tumbleweed was one of the first Tiny House trailer manufacturers and is still one of the best. And with good reason: their trailers are designed by Tiny House builders for Tiny House builders. They have a variety of length and axle options and are made based on your build specifications.
Jim Campen Trailers: This local, Asheville, NC trailer manufacturer designs and builds custom trailers. These handcrafted trailers can be made to you exact specifications. In addition, they’re subfloor ready, meaning you can attach your deck directly to the trailer.
Nu-Way Trailers: This company is relatively new to the trailer building scene, but their designs are excellent for THOW designs.
But wait! What about utility trailers?
We get this question too. A lot of folks look at the price of a custom trailer and balk. And understandably. It’s one of the most expensive Tiny House components. Compared to an utility trailer from Harbour Freight or Home Depot, it seems to be a no-brainer.
Here’s why we recommend against an utility trailer: they’re not designed for the weight. With most of the Tiny Houses we’ve seen coming in at 8-10,000 pounds, you need a trailer that can support the weight. You also need a trailer built out of quality materials that can take a beating and still survive.