RV’s – the Original Tiny Houses
As an RV dealer, I have seen many fads in the camping industry come and go. Recently however a show on HGTV caught my interest showing the new tiny houses phenomenon. I watched a few episodes, and after hearing the prices on these tiny houses, I was in amazement that someone wouldn’t be looking into a nice travel trailer or fifth wheel instead. So I went on a quest to answer all the questions that popped up in my mind some educated, some silly.
After doing some research, I found a lot of misleading information out there. Several sites described RV pricing being an average of $125,000. What that tells me is that they are among the majority of non camping individuals who only think of an RV as a motorhome. The articles were skewed to make full time RVing look unattainable and unaffordable. After shaking my head and reading more entries, I realized that these people are completely in the dark as far as the legality and safety of what they are so happily building, as well as the practicality of this particular lifestyle.
In my mind, what they are doing is actually building campers that look like houses, but without the safety net of the RVIA and RVDA and their vast knowledge of best building practices. I worry about the weights of these houses. Do they have a GVWR? How does a tiny house owner determine the weight of the house once they have moved in all their personal items and household goods? Do they bother to weigh it to make sure that the axles or tires aren’t compromised? I see all the wood paneling, the 2nd floor additions, the residential style kitchens, and I just wonder at the weight…
I saw entries online where people were spending between $10,000 to $80,000 for these tiny houses. That made my eyes pop. Some of these houses were only 85 square feet total, with the largest measuring at 400 square feet. That would equate on the small end roughly to a travel trailer in the 19’ range that retails at $13,000. (Still trying to figure the logic here). The larger one would equate to a larger fifth wheel, but with no slideouts to add to the comfort level. On the high end of the cost, you can purchase a high end fifth wheel with thermal pane windows, all the extra insulation, 23 cu. ft. residential refrigerator, an office, a walk around queen or king bed, a luxury bathroom and a kitchen that would make some suburbanites wish they could have one for the $60,000 to $70,000 range. With the slideouts, the interior feels massive, and it is road safe and easily towable with the proper tow vehicle. (Still looking for the logic)
There have been full time RV’ers for decades, and the popularity of this lifestyle has boomed in the past decade or so. We are seeing more millenials as well as retirees who leave the permanent home and hit the road. It saves people thousands of dollars every year by not paying the property taxes, the house upkeep, the utilities, landscaping, keeping all the equipment necessary (need I say snowblower?). With so many more jobs not being dependent on working out of a brick and mortar building and the advances in mobile offices, this lifestyle is fitting in with more and more non-traditional campers.
The next question is where do these tiny houses go? Do they have to buy a property to park on which would lead to having utilities added to the property as well as a land title and taxes. Are they legal to park in the RV parks? How does the plumbing work on these tiny homes? Are they designed to hook into city utilities or are they using tanks like an RV? They say that they can be built either way RV or residential – what happens if you move and the utilities aren’t the same at each spot?
After watching the show, I started thinking again about being my advanced age, being built in a curvy style, and trying to climb into a loft at night, and then the inevitable 2 – 3 middle of the night bathroom runs. The logic here is that I am not a candidate I guess. Bad knees and a bad back do not a tiny house buyer make.
I also started thinking about inviting friends over – where to put them? How to prepare a dinner for 6? Where do the guests sit? The questions just keep popping up, and the answers don’t seem to be on the blogs or TV shows.
What happens if you have kids? Where would they sleep? Where would they play on a 3 day rainy weekend? Where would you store all the toys and clothing? You can say that you are going to downsize, but when you look into the eyes of a 7 year old girl and tell her that the Barbie collection has to go and see those tears well up in her eyes – well, could you do that?? At least in a camper such as a travel trailer or fifth wheel they make bunkhouse layouts with slideouts that offer plenty of storage and room for even the rowdiest family. I have found over the years that no matter how much you love your family, you need to have enough room to separate so that you aren’t climbing over each other all the time.
Where do you hang your artwork? What about all the family photos? Where do you store your mother’s wedding gown waiting for the day that your daughter will wear it down the aisle? How do you keep clothing for 4 seasons? Is there a closet big enough for winter coats? Is there a built in vacuum or do I need to find a place to store that as well? From my point of view, you can downsize, but there comes a point where you can’t lose it all and need to put the most precious items into storage which is another cost. Is there outside storage at all in a tiny house?
Why do people go tiny?
- Reduced carbon footprint
- Off-grid capabilities
- RV with year round comfort for all weather / locations
- To use as temporary housing, guest home or a vacation house
- Survivalist house in case of emergency
- Exemption of property taxes
- Non-toxic or chemical free home
- Ability to design an artistic home with quality materials
- Ability to build your own home in short amount of time
Above is a list I found on the internet listing the reasons for a person or family to go into a tiny house. Below are my responses to their reasoning. Keep in mind I am doing this all tongue in cheek and trying to have a little fun at the same time.
This is where the RV comes into play – more affordable than a tiny house.
Reduced carbon footprint
With today’s RV manufacturers and their awareness of the carbon footprint that they make, the advances in recycling and types of materials are making the RV industry more “green” nearly every day. Some manufacturers boast of no waste. Others of using only green approved materials. However if you find an older camper and renovate it, you are preventing it from going to waste and giving it a new life.
Mobility and flexibility
Again – RV. Already designed to be mobile and flexible enough to go off road if necessary, today’s modern camper is ready for anything that you can throw at it. Tiny houses are extremely heavy and much more difficult to tow than a traditional camper. There is no thought process as to aerodynamics, balance or any of the multitude of things that go into engineering a movable “house on wheels”.
How much more minimal can you get than a camper? With only the basics, it is still very livable.
Off grid capabilities
Can you say truck camper? Motorhome? Fifth wheel? Travel trailer? All are capable of operating off of a generator and with the self contained style of plumbing – off grid is what they are built for.
Year round comfort
Choosing the right camper for your needs will give you the same option. With the advent of heated tanks, thermal pane windows and insulation packages that will rival some traditional homes, RV’s are my choice.
Use as temporary housing, guest home or vacation house
Campers have been used for these purposes for decades. Nothing new here….
Survivalist house in case of emergency
Exemption of property taxes
All full time RV’ers enjoy the same benefit but are much more mobile.
Non toxic or chemical free home
All RV’s are built to a high standard and with non toxic materials. How do you build a tiny house without glues or plastics or chemicals of any kind? Just wondering. As a side note, see answer to Reduced carbon footprint
Ability to design an artistic home with quality materials
I’m not sure what their version of artistic is, but quality materials abound in the RV industry. Solid woods, residential furniture, high end finishes…The artistic side comes in with each distinct personality and style. A lot of fun can be had decorating. After all, they are all homes on wheels. Here again, purchasing a pre-owned camper will give you the ability to let your hair down in the renovation area. You can paint it pink if you like (which I have seen), make your own curtains and upholstery and even customize the kitchen area.
Ability to build your own home in a short period of time
Here I am forced to ask – why? I can order out an RV with custom options, the décor I choose, and know that the quality is of the highest caliber. I can get that unit within 6 to 12 weeks. On top of that – does your work come with a warranty? Once again, I am forced to counter with RV.
All in all, I will need to come to the conclusion that the RV industry beat the tiny house industry to the punch as early as the 1930’s. Check out the RV/MH Industry museum in Elkhart if you don’t believe me. Even Mae West had an RV for the road.
I guess that no matter what, I will always be pro RV – the innovations that I have seen in the past 30 years has been breathtaking – both on the good side and on the bad, but overall, you just can’t beat them. It doesn’t matter if it is brand new or 20 years old. An RV is one of the best investments on the road today.
The RV industry always has been and always will be ahead of its’ time. Now all we need to do is change the perception of the general public on their uses. Some of the RV related TV shows only show the biggest and most expensive for a shock factor, but never get into the meat of the RV industry which is the towable. There is a world of camping that has yet to be explored. From off road to resort, today’s RV is designed for whatever you want it to be.
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This article was originally posted here.