Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

The difference between a tiny house a mobile home or trailer?

I have thought of this question, what is the difference between living in a tiny house and living in a mobile home/trailer?  It’s hard to put into words but I’ll give it a try.

First off a Tiny house doesn’t need to mobile, they can be built as a traditional slab foundation.  The purpose of having your home on a trailer, is that it allows you to get around many building codes due to the fact that people at city hall scratching their heads saying “its kinda like a trailer”.


I feel there is a much larger push for aesthetics than your typical RV, Trailer or mobile home.   The cost per square foot of tiny homes, is often much higher than your standard built homes.  The limited space means you much pain painstakingly maximize every inch.  The use of high quality building materials, meticulous design and some style are a huge departure from the quintessential mobile home.  I would even go a far to say they are often built with these tenant (materials, meticulous design and style) more so than most traditional homes today.  I live in Charlotte, NC which has see and continues to see huge growth.  Thousands of new homes are being built every year and they lack these things.


A big driving cause for people wanting to live in these homes is because they want to downsize.  They have been buying into the notion that bigger is better for most of their lives and have come to realize, well maybe its not better or maybe it is not for me.  In our world of consumerism, our culture of ownership, we have come to see that materials things are not the most important things in our lives.  While we still  participate in this consumer economy, it is at a much lesser degree. We have changed the focus of importance from things to people, relationships and free time for pursuit of things which hold intrinsic value to us.  The key thing to realize is that we choose to live in a small house because of the lifestyle it affords us.

Environmental Impact:
There is a very strong underlying trend which is associated with living small.  By doing so, you contribute much less in terms of emissions, waste, etc.  A tiny house requires allot less materials to build and can be built of renewable resources.  At present the average construction of a home yields over 4 tons of waste to build.  While you may not be a “hippie” or a card carrying member of Greenpeace, you know that because of you, the earth will be a little bit greener and that’s not a bad thing.  In addition to using less resources, it takes less resources to run and keep up.  When you are heating and cooling a tiny house it takes the same amount of energy as small bedroom.

Tiny homes are built to generally be a normal house quality, often better.  While many trailer/mobile homes and RV/campers are not.  One thing of note is the insulation, these homes are well insulated and often better than a traditional home.  This results in a greater return on energy spent on heating and cooling.  This is one example, but in general, you see better efficiencies across the board.

The financial benefits are astounding, from no mortgage, to less costs of renovations, maintenance and initial building costs, you save allot of money.  The average home price (before the economic downturn) was around $230,000 by conservative estimates!  Tiny homes have been built for as little as $5000, much less than many of us pay in rent or mortgage in a give year.

Time and time again I here the woes of neighbors who are in financial trouble, who were laid off and had no way to pay their mortgage.  I have seen people be slave to their homes, forcing them to get a second job and spend more time away from their families.  Is it worth it?….maybe not.  While being smart with your money and having a budget are concepts that should be used by anyone, you begin to see how its much easier to stay in the black during hard times.

The average person will spend a third of their income over their lives on housing.  Crunching the numbers on the typical home in America, based off the US income average for a single person, we will typically spend $465,000 in our life time. (based off US census 2007 information)   I personally would rather allocate that money to travel, education, hobbies or charity.

DIY and the Renaissance man/woman spirit:

Now this will not apply to all of you, in fact, it may not be any of you, but a large appeal is creating something with your own two hands.  The costs savings are obvious where labor cost of construction often amount to about 40% or more, but its more than that.  In America there many of us whom would be classified as white collar or have specialized trades/skills.

There exists a conflict within me which I find unsettling, that is:  If our way of life were to cease to exist tomorrow, what good am I?  I specialize in human resource consulting, where does that fit into things, if the grocery store ceased to exist, if the power was never going to come back on. While this probably won’t happen, the idea of knowing that I have no real worldly skills (carpentry, metal working, farming) is unsettling.  What is more, these things interest me as hobbies as I like to tinker.

The notion of a Renaissance man, originally from the latin phrase “homo universalis” translating to Man of the world, was a phrase used to describe a person who excels in many areas.  This is something that I feel is missing from modernity and perhaps creates a conflict in our world which focuses on specialization.  Perhaps building a tiny house help address this….but that might be a reach.

Going against the status quo:
The paradigm of what makes you successful, a big house, job, spouse, 2.5 kids and a dog all with white picket fence sounds nice, till you realize its being shoved down your throat.  While you can certainly be happy and seek this life, it isn’t for everyone, infact, I don’t think it is for allot of us.  It is not that they are wrong and we are right, that their plan is flawed or drives some agenda, its that it is what society tells us we want, when we should be the ones who decide what we want.  There are many socialized pressures that tell us what to do, what to buy, how to live, etcetera etcetera.  This doesn’t come out of wanting to be deviant, to get back at something or someone, or to be a rebel, it is being what we want to be.

Ok that was long but it was fun lol comments etc.  are welcome :)

  1. test comment!

  2. Pretty nice post. I just came by your site and wanted to say
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  3. Loved your latest post, by the way.

  4. This is a great summation of the reasons for spending more time and money to build your own tiny house on wheels than to buy a pre-made mobile home. For Arlene and I, aesthetics and the renaissance spirit were big motivators, but nearly all the others apply too.

  5. Have you ever looked at a trailer? I mean, really looked at one? They were cutting edge, modernist architecture at one time, the 'Modern Prefab' of 50 or 60 years ago. Somewhere along the way, they became poor people's housing. Why?

    They're impermanent. They're mobile. They're small. They're built with lightweight, poorly lasting materials. They're inexpensive. They depreciate in value, not appreciate in value. The small/tiny house movement is well on it's way to repeating all of these mistakes, especially with the various mobile tiny houses like those made by Tumbleweed and it's competitors.

  6. What's wrong with impermanence, inexpensive, lightweight, small and mobile? Those are the goals of this movement. As to "poorly lasting materials," that only makes sense if one chooses to use, poor-quality materials. The small/tiny housing movement isn't about gaining market value nor about cutting-edge/modernist architecture.

    You have entirely missed the mark.

    • I know those are the goals of 'the movement'. My point was that it's being doomed to the same fate as trailer homes because of it. You can write all sorts of essays explaining why your tiny house isn't a trailer, but in end, most tiny houses (at least the mobile sort) will almost certainly end up the same as the trailer homes have- crumbling, rotting, poor people's housing with a stigma attached to such a degree that people feel the need to write lengthy essays explaining why their house isn't really a trailer.

      My point was, 50 or 60 years ago the 'trailer home movement' if you will, was in the same place the tiny house movement is today. Many of the goals are the same, the construction is the same, the problems are the same… and the fate of the movement (and the houses) will be the same.

      Impermanent, inexpensive, lightweight, small and mobile sounds good to certain people at certain points in their life, but it does not last, you're essentially building disposable houses. It's short sighted to the extreme.

      • Large houses are wasteful. They encourage accumulation and packrat behaviors. They may be seen as a symbol of wealth because they cost more to build and maintain. People that are purchasing large houses for that primary reason have bought into the "whoever has the most toys wins" philosophy of America. Above the foundation, per square foot, a Tumbleweed tiny home weighs as much as or more than any other timber framed house. It must be nice to predict the future with such certainty regarding the fate of these well built tiny houses. They are heirloom-quality structures that can stand the test of time and weather far more abuse than many more traditional dwellings. My particular home design is modular so if I marry and have children, I can add to the house easily and grow as I need, rather than feel forced to purchase and maintain something more than what I need.

        • Well, there are also people – like myself – who don’t like to be squeezed into tiny spaces, and who have children. I can’t seen the appeal of having a tiny house when there are to be 5 people living in it. A modest-sized house fits my needs perfectly.

  7. Whomever wrote this article is really misled. First, a small house is a small house and whether it has wheels on it or not is really irrelevant. Actually, many newer park-model trailers are every bit as nice and materials as "upscale" as a stick-built home. This article came across as very snobby to me, because the topic of interest here is enjoying and relishing small spaces and examining how others have done it so we can hopefully do it one day; not in debating that a trailer has less expensive parts. I think whomever wrote this article misstated many facts. I hope most folks will continue "the cause" and explore small spaces OF ALL KINDS – including those with wheels on them. Think small and be small and don't be led astray by writers like this one that are apparently hung-up on stereotypes.

  8. Has anyone checked out The Venus Project? http://thevenusproject.com
    I would really really like to see a "tiny house" on wheels built to Venus Project standards.

    PS – I live in a "vintage" 50's trailer that I fixed up very nicely. But I don't like the metal walls and lack of insulation. It's pretty well planted where it is and won't be going anywhere soon, so I consider it a "tiny house".

  9. As I see it small is small. Our 240 sq ft retrofitted travel trailer, with added insulation, Euro-made front loading washer-drier, energy-efficient dishwasher, bath tub, queen-sized bed and apt-sized kitchen appliances is very liveable for two and a large cat. In it we have been able to reduce our resource consumption to 15% of average. Of course it is not "chic" to live in a travel trailer, and I admit they are not nearly as "cute" as Jay Shafer's tiny homes, but is "cute" the issue? We have neighbours whose live-in RVs are 35-40 years old. They are pensioners who couldn't begin to either build or buy a "chic" tiny home, but who live very well and consume few resources. The people here take pride in their places. Most have lovely gardens and flowers, attractive decks, and are meticulously maintained. Why the snobbery? Isn't the purpose behind the small home to enable us to live sustainably, or does it only count if you are in a "Tiny House" which looks like a child's playhouse? Our "Tiny House Village" is called an RV Park. Twenty-five year round residents, and 50 summer residents. We live on the beach, we have a community garden, composting and recycling programs, and social activities, and there's always someone with a helping hand nearby.

  10. A lot. Not allot.
    This is not meant to be shown on the website. It’s just a note to the author.

  11. The pros and cons are important to me…..enlightening and adding necessary information to make a decision..my first comment in response to construction of a tiny mobile tiny house…..or a tiny house on a traditional concrete slab.

  12. I found this article looking for the reason why the tiny house idea is so different from mobile homes. I have to say, I think the article lost the focus of its original subject matter.

    First off, how do you start with Aesthetics when through the article you slam “keeping up with the Jones’ type of thinking?” Yes, tiny houses are prettier on the outside than trailers. But doesnt that just put you in the same conforming to nonformance category that those hipster glasses do? You are not special if everyone else is not special in the same way. So, contradiction number 1: Tiny houses are for those who do not believe in keeping up with appearances but would like to keep up appearances.

    That brings us to Efficiency. While I agree that a smaller home is more efficient (and I own the smallest house in my area), the tiny home is not the model of efficiency. All you have done is shift consumerism from you, to those you depend on. Yes, you do not have land, but you are parked on someone’s land. Yes, you do not use as much energy, but you are using someone’s energy. Or if you are not, then you use generators that burn petroleum based products or you use solar panels that are inefficient and again are made using a lot of resources. If you want efficiency, bury your home in the ground. You will need next to nothing to heat and cool it, but then that is not really all that “cool” looking is it? Contradiction #2: Use materials that require a lot of energy to produce so that you can feel better about how much energy you are not using.

    Then we get to financial. You will not have a mortgage payment, or high rent, great. What you do have is a depreciating, throw away structure that has used all new materials and costs you about $20,000 to build. There are thousands of used mobile homes in this country for sale for half that. Where does the recycling and reusing factor into this. Why would I not buy an aging mobile home for $10,000, use the extra money for a battery bank, panels, wind turbine, and composting toilet, and really live the dream. Why by all those new materials, isnt that consumerism. Contradiction #3: Tiny homes are much cheaper than other housing situations and yet, they are not.

    DIY, my favorite. You are not going to build a tiny house that meets your expectations. A tiny house is harder to plan and build than a traditional house. The engineering and planning that goes into it is far more complex due to the space restrictions. If you can not build a full scale house, dont think you can build a tiny house. You will end with bad plumbing, bad wiring, a leaky roof, or worse. Then you will need to purchase more materials and hire someone to fix it. There goes your efficiency, finanacial, and environmental impact gains.

    I guess that leaves us with going against the status quo. Isnt that the only thing you are really doing here? You can write article after article about the “movement” but it is not any different than every generation’s movement before you. Listen to Eric and study history before you repeat it. We have enough rotting mobile homes junking up the country, we do not need a new wave of rotting tiny house junking up more space in 15 years.

    My advice, as an engineer, is to buy an old mobile home, bury it in the ground, and plant wind turbines on top of it. It may not be pretty but it certainly accomplishes the goals you are trying to achieve.

  13. As I see it, a tiny house on a trailer is basically a mobile home you’ve made yourself. There is nothing wrong with a tiny house, and nothing wrong with a mobile or trailer home.

    It is whatever you want it to be.

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