Archive for the Tiny House Category

10 Tiny House Kitchen Essentials: Small Kitchen Solutions for Your Tiny House

10 Tiny House Kitchen Essentials: Small Kitchen Solutions for Your Tiny House

the complete tiny house kitchen guideNo matter the size of your house, chances are high you spend a lot of time in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house like me, you demand even more from your kitchen, because storage and surface space is at a top premium. Fortunately, I’ve figured out with a few tiny house kitchen essentials, you’ll ensure your kitchen is perfectly organized and functional.

As a tiny house owner, I’ll tell you, fitting everything you needed to cook in a tiny kitchen seems daunting at first (I know it did for me), but don’t give up your cooking dreams! Since I’ve outfitted my tiny house kitchen with many of these essential kitchen tools, I’ve found I enjoy cooking even more.

Cooking in a cluttered space takes time. It’s stressful. You never feel organized or focused. Now that I’ve figured out what worked to keep my kitchen clean, tidy, and in order, cooking becomes something that I look forward to at the end of the day as a way to unwind. Using these tiny house kitchen essentials, I’m able to quickly prepare meals, keep my house in order, relax, and truly enjoy the process.

Whether you’re planning a tiny house kitchen or you’d like to organize the kitchen you’ve already got, there are a few tools to level up your culinary game. I gathered my ten favorite kitchen solutions in this post to share with you today. Here are my favorite tiny kitchen essentials, in no particular order.

1. Slide-out Trash & Recycling Bins

A slide-out trash, and recycling bin is handy when you need it and hidden when you don't. These pull-out bins are great space savers for tiny house kitchens.

True confession time—when I was planning my tiny house kitchen, I forgot to include a spot for my trash and recycling. Now, I don’t generate a ton of garbage, mainly because I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle. Still, space for trash and recycling is one thing I wish I’d included when I was drawing up my tiny house plans. It was so easy to forget!

If you have full-depth counters, take advantage of the space in your tiny house kitchen with a slide-out cabinet for your trash bins. You could also include slide-out storage for items in the pantry (cans, boxes, and non-perishable items). These simple solutions maximize narrow spaces and help you fit all the things you need in your tiny kitchen.

2. A Hanging Rail for UtensilsUse a rail system like the IKEA Grundtal to keep your utensils and kitchen tools off the counter and within reach.

It seems like a lot of people keep a telltale overflowing crock on their kitchen counter, stuffed to the brim with cooking utensils and other kitchen essentials. While these crocks are (somewhat) functional, they take up counter space, which is already limited in a tiny house kitchen. Instead of the crock option, save valuable kitchen real estate by hanging your utensils and tools with S-hooks.

Before you lock yourself into a utensil storage solution, start by first eliminating as much as you can. Truth be told, you only need a few essentials. I know for me I might make mashed potatoes a few times a year, so I just use a fork instead of cluttering up things with a masher. Adopting this mentality will let you reduce the amount you need to organize in the first place.

The Grundtal, while being an excellent name for a disgruntled bridge troll, is actually a rail system from IKEA that is affordable and very popular in tiny house kitchens. One word of caution before you start hanging all your kitchen tools—pare down and assess which items you truly need and use regularly. I’ve found a knife set, cutting board, and a few measuring cups are almost all I need in my minimalist kitchen. Just because you can store it, doesn’t mean you should.

3. A Hanging Dish Rack and Paper Towel Holder

A hanging dish rack is a great space-saving essential in a tiny house kitchen.

Continuing the vertical storage theme of kitchen organization, you may want to consider a hanging dish rack. A hanging rack keeps your drying dishes from taking up valuable counter space. They are also used to store and display dishes, freeing up cupboard space.

Over-the-sink dish racks are very popular in minimalist and tiny house kitchens. Use the racks to dry your dishes as well as to hold frequently used items like dish soap, olive oil, salt, and pepper, keeping your kitchen essentials within arm’s reach. Think about things you use every time you cook, position those in a place that’s easy to grab. Mount the rack above your sink or your stove (depending on how you plan to use it) for quick and easy access.

A few space-saving kitchen racks to explore are:

4. Over-the-Sink Cutting Board with Strainer

This over-the-sink cutting board creates extra counter space with built-in drainage thanks to the handy strainer. This tiny house kitchen essential, maximizes your space.

When you’re cooking up a storm and in need of some extra working room, this space-saving idea is so pretty handy. I have an undermount sink, which makes this over-the-sink cutting board perfect for those moments when I need extra room to work. Not only does the cutting board extend the counter space over your sink, but you can conveniently slide your chopped vegetables right into the strainer for rinsing. Genius!

You could also use a regular chopping block (like a Boos block) to extend your counter space. The extra space is helpful if you’re entertaining guests in your tiny house. Turn the kitchen counter into a buffet, and then simply remove the block when you’re ready to do the dishes.

5. Vertical Dividers for Flat Items

Vertical dividers, like these dividers made from tension rods, are a kitchen organizing essential for keeping trays, baking sheets, and cutting boards in order.

Even if you rarely cook or bake, you know the pure misery of stacking and re-stacking cookie sheets, muffin tins, or cutting boards to find the one you want. Small cupboards in a tiny house kitchen become hazardous disaster zones, with piles of pans rattling around.

Solve this common kitchen problem with this simple kitchen space-saving solution: use a bakeware organizer or vertical divider. Storing pans on their sides with vertical dividers solves the space problem handily and keeps the pans from clattering around. The photo above shows how to use simple tension curtain rods as dividers for a DIY solution or buy a divider made especially for this purpose. Either way, vertical stacking will keep your cupboards organized and accessible.

Here are a few organizers to help you get a handle on those clunky pots, pans, lids, and trays:

6. Square-Shaped Storage Containers

Square-shaped storage containers are easy to stack and organize in a tiny house pantry or small kitchen.

Among the tiny house kitchen essentials you MUST own, are quality, uniform and modular stackable containers. I can’t tell you the difference proper containers make when it comes to organizing and maximizing your tiny house kitchen (or any small space).

Avoid the knee-jerk instinct to get a bunch of mason jars. Aesthetically, jars are appealing, but circular objects are a space-saver’s nightmare. Square-shaped storage containers, however, come in all sizes and stack up neatly in your pantry or fridge. This stackable feature is critical if your refrigerator is particularly tiny because every nook and cranny counts!

There are many great square containers sets out there for an affordable price. A few sets to consider:

7. Collapsible Silicone Measuring Cups and Spoons

Collapsible measuring spoons and cups, really help you sort your dry ingredients before they go into the mixing bowl. Store these measuring cups and spoons away easily, when you finish cooking.

I own a set of collapsible silicone measuring cups and spoons in my kitchen, and I love them. I can store four measuring cups on their sides in my drawer in about 2 inches of space. They’re easy to clean, too, making them a tiny house kitchen essential.

There are all sorts of other gadgets that collapse as well – colanders, washing buckets, top hats, and more. (Okay, so no one really needs a collapsible top hat in their kitchen, but the rest of these items are convenient space-saving solutions.)

8. Adjustable Measuring Spoons

Adjustable measuring spoons and cups are a tiny house kitchen essential. Sets like this stainless steel and black set, take the place of multiple kitchen tools.

I like having numerous measuring cups and spoons if I measure several ingredients at once. That said, I don’t do a lot of baking (where proper measurement is essential). In fact, the more I cook, the better I am at simply eyeballing most ingredients. Measuring cups are still handy, but storing several sets, takes up way too much space.

If you think having too many gadgets and tools in your kitchen is a hassle, then a set of adjustable measuring cups and spoons could be perfect for you! Three adjustable spoons take the place of eight or nine measuring cups and spoons, which means more space saved in your kitchen drawers. I’ll stand behind any tools that streamline a job and take up less storage space in a tiny house kitchen.

9. Wire Under-Shelf Baskets

Make the most of extra cupboard space above your dishes, with organizing wire under-shelf baskets.

In most kitchen cabinets, there’s often a lot of unused space hovering above the stacked plates and mugs. I usually recommend when people are planning a tiny house kitchen, they should gather all the items they want to store in their cupboards. Lay the elements out and measure exactly how much space they take. This step saves you from installing shelving that’s way too deep or high.

But, if you didn’t plan your space or build it yourself, you can still make the most of the extra room in your cupboards. Put the area to good use and avoid precariously-stacked cups, plates, and bowls with under-shelf baskets. Find these at the Container Store, Walmart, Target or other organization specialty stores.

A few under shelf baskets to look at:

10. Magnetic Spice Containers

Magnetic spice containers help you easily see and store your spices on a fridge or any metal surface.

In my tiny house kitchen, I have a specially designed spice drawer. I keep the uniform jars lined up in the drawer, where I can quickly see each ingredient. If you don’t own a dedicated spice drawer, use this space-saving kitchen hack for organizing your spices.

The biggest challenge with spices is they all come in different sizes, so it’s hard to organize them with so many form factors. Decant your spices into magnetic tins or other uniform jars and eliminate the mismatched jumble of spice jars cluttering up your pantry. The transparent lids also show you when it’s time to buy more turmeric or tarragon (you may also want to label the spices on the back so you can easily tell what’s what.) Line the magnetic spice jars up on the front of your tiny fridge to put otherwise unused space to work!

Cooking in a small space or a tiny house kitchen doesn’t need to be a hassle. With these easy organizing tiny kitchen essentials, you’ll have a clean, orderly kitchen where cooking is easy and enjoyable. I highly recommend using these space-saving tips and tricks to maximize your storage and workspace in your tiny house kitchen. Happy cooking!

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your favorite space-saving kitchen gadgets?
  • What’s the one kitchen essential that you can’t live without?

How To Set Up a Tiny House Loft Sleeping Area: 5 Challenges + Solutions

How To Set Up a Tiny House Loft Sleeping Area: 5 Challenges + Solutions

how to setup a tiny house sleeping loftBack when I built my tiny house, sleeping lofts were (and still are) very popular, but they all had a similar look. Like most tiny house layouts available at that time, my tiny house loft features an angled ceiling and a ladder. Yes, my tiny house loft is a small space, but it works fine as my sleeping area.

Looking back, there are several challenges of setting up a tiny house loft that I wish I’d addressed before I built my house. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the space, but there are a few tweaks that would have made my sleeping loft more comfortable and cross-functional for other uses and activities.

Lately, I’ve been looking for a new mattress for my tiny house loft, so it’s been on my mind quite a bit. So, I’ve been looking for solutions to some of these tiny house loft challenges and figuring out ways to create a more comfortable, functional sleep space that’s easier to maintain.

Here are the five main challenges of tiny house loft spaces and what I suggest for addressing these issues for a better (more comfortable) night’s sleep.

1. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Finding a Perfectly Sized Mattress for a Tiny House

how to find the perfect matress for a tiny house sleeping loft

While your house may be tiny, you are still adult-sized. A small, low-quality mattress will leave you uncomfortable and wreak havoc on your sleep.

small house loft with skylightsWhen people move into a tiny house, they often have visions of a truly minimal life. You may think all you really need is a small sleeping mat and you’re good to go. This approach may work for a few years in your early twenties, but by the time you hit thirty or older, chances are you no longer love sleeping in uncomfortable places. It’s tough on your back, your joints, and your overall energy level.

There are so many mattress options out there, all geared toward people who DON’T live in small spaces. One of the best rules is to build your sleeping loft to accommodate a standard-sized mattress.

In my house, I started with a fluffy queen-sized mattress, which works fine for one person. The loft area essentially becomes one big bed, but since the edges run right up to the ceiling, you’re only able to sleep in the vaulted center. You could fit two people, but I found it was a tad too cozy (even when you really like the other person). This issue led me to decide to downsize to a smaller and less lofty mattress.

tochta matress foam in boxThe trouble was finding a mattress that was the right size, but also long enough. I’m a big guy, and on a regular queen mattress, my toes hung off the bottom by an inch. The other bigger issue was that mattresses today are very, very thick—think pillow and foam tops and built-in springs. Many older sheet sets don’t even fit over the top of a newer mattress. This fluffiness works great in a regular-size house, but in a tiny house loft, it’s a whole other story.

A tiny house’s sleeping loft doesn’t have a ton of vertical room. If you want a mattress that’s thick enough to be comfortable, but still fits in your tiny house loft, you’re going to need to shop around. In my loft, I can sit up in my bed, but just BARELY. There are about three inches between the top of my head and the ceiling.

tochta logoThat’s why I was so happy when I found Tochta. Their mattresses are custom-made, almost any size (length, width, and thickness). When I stumbled upon Tochta, I finally found the perfect solution to my tiny house sleeping loft problem.

SOLUTION:

The Tochta Mattress


Tocha matress uptopia

Visit Tochta at: Tochta.com

2. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Changing the Sheets on a Loft Bed is a Major Issue

How do you change the sheets in your tiny house loft bed? Prepare for a workout! Remember the break-dancing move, “the worm”? Well, you soon will, because it’s about the only way to change a regular sheet set.

Unless you’re a tiny house person, it’s hard to understand the pain that is changing a fitted sheet in a tiny house sleeping loft. The challenge is that you actually have to be on the bed itself to put on the sheet. By the time you’re done flailing around trying to keep all four corners of the fitted sheet tucked in, you’ll be ready to tuck yourself in for a nap!

Changing the sheets is something I’ve struggled with for so long. Since I’m not a huge fan of doing laundry already, I absolutely dreaded changing the sheets…but I’m quite particular when it comes to cleaning, so I’d wrestle the sheets regularly.

quick zip logoWhen I discovered QuickZip sheets, it was a gamechanger! These easy-to-use sheets make swapping out your fitted sheets a breeze. Regularly having fresh sheets helps me feel like I actually have my life together like a real adult!

making bed with quick zip sheets

The way these sheets work is so simple, but smart. There’s a fitted component that goes around the edge of your mattress. Then there’s a fresh topper layer you zip onto the side. You can keep extra top layers on hand so they’re always ready to swap out when one is in the laundry. It takes about two minutes to change the sheet and put on a nice fresh one.

This company is excellent, and I can’t recommend this product enough for solving one of the biggest challenges of having a tiny house loft bed. They also sell nice duvet covers with clips in the corners, which is yet another lifesaver. The clips are great because the duvet doesn’t slip down and get bunched at the bottom of the cover.  You unzip the extra-long zipper across the bottom and up the side and lay the comforter inside, clip the corners – so simple and so smart. Everything stays right where it’s supposed to go.


SOLUTION:

The QuickZip Sheet Company


Visit the QuickZip Sheet Company at: quickzipsheet.com

3. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Fitting Two People (Comfortably) in a Tiny House Loft

can you fit two people in a tiny house loft to sleep

Oh, if I had it all to do again, I would have absolutely put dormers in my tiny house loft. Dormers are the small areas that jut out on the roof. The roof is still pitched, but straighter than a typical triangular gable of a vaulted ceiling. These dormers really maximize your tiny house loft space and let a lot of light into the space.

Tiny house with dormers for more room in sleeping loftHere’s the deal: it’s not hard to include the dormers in your design (again, they were less popular years back when I built my house, but I see them more often now). It’s much more of a challenge to remove your roof and add dormers later, although it’s not impossible.

The other easier solution is to measure the height of your mattress very carefully and select a smaller, shorter mattress (less loft). Totcha is an excellent option for this problem, as well. While it doesn’t solve everything, especially if two adults are sleeping in a very snug space, some options will give you at least a little breathing room.

I also recommend you keep your space as neat and tidy as possible. Living a minimalist lifestyle with less clutter will really help you keep your loft space from feeling claustrophobic. If you pile in pillows, dirty clothes, dishes, and hobbies in your tiny house loft, it will undoubtedly feel cramped and frustrating. Keep the space as clear as possible.

If you’re still planning your tiny house layout, then I strongly recommend you consider the dormer option. It will make a massive difference in the long run. My next house will definitely include dormers to expand the sleeping loft!

SOLUTION:

Maximize space wherever possible and plan ahead with dormers.


cozy loft in a tiny house with dormers

4. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Climbing Up a Ladder to Your Loft Every Night

tiny house loft ladder, stairs or ground floor bedroom

A loft bed isn’t for every tiny house owner. Building your tiny house taller helps you maximize space, which is why it’s often the preference. But not everyone loves the idea of climbing into a loft every night. Many people opt for tiny houses with ground floor beds or completely single-story tiny houses. Others use their tiny house loft for storage, while still keeping the bedroom on the ground floor.

Even though I could have done stairs, I opted not to. Stairs take up a lot of space. Yes, they offer storage space, and many people have turned their stairs into bookshelves, storage trunks, and more. However, at the end of the day, I wasn’t hurting for storage space and I really didn’t want to give up the room to a set of stairs. In my mind the aim should be less stuff, not more storage.
how to design the perfect tiny house
A ladder isn’t without peril. If you’re older, have mobility issues, or you’re not feeling well, climbing up and down a ladder each night isn’t quite as fun as it was when you were a kid. If you’re trying to carry anything up to bed with you, it’s more challenging.

If you’re still planning your tiny house, look for floor plans with bedrooms on the ground level, or single-story tiny house floor plans. These will help you figure out a climbing-free solution for your bedroom. There are lots of great options I’ve seen, where they either turn the loft area into extra storage space or omit the loft space all together and put the entire house on a single floor.

ground floor bedroom in a tiny houseLook for ranch-style tiny house plans or single-floor tiny houses to get ideas. There are plenty of ways you can maximize your horizontal space, while still keeping everything on the first floor. Consider storage solutions under the bed, tucked inside furniture, or built into the wall. Many trailer homes and RVs already feature single-floor layouts, so that may be an option to consider as well (or at least a source of layout ideas).

One of the interesting solutions I’ve found online is building an elevator bed for your tiny house loft. Surprisingly, you can create an elevator bed for around $500. In the blog post linked here, the owner explains they originally planned to build a loft bed with the ability to sleep “low.” The owner wanted to accommodate guests on the sofa bed (be sure to check out the day, night, and guest photos at the end to see examples). The elevator bed is a neat solution and a great option if getting up and down a ladder each evening isn’t for you.

SOLUTION:

Ground floor bedroom layouts for your tiny house.


get into bed easily without a ladder

5. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Maximizing the Space Under Your Loft

maximizing space beneath your sleeping loft in a tiny house

The need for space under your loft completely depends on your lifestyle and preferences. Most tiny house floor plans with a loft only feature a partial loft with a higher ceiling in most of the living space. The portion of your home underneath the loft tends to have lower ceilings and less headroom.

storage under a sleeping loftIf you’re in the design process, there are several options. The first option is to play with your layout so you’ve planned sitting activities underneath your loft space. The space under the loft is a great spot for couch, a lounge space, or a home office. You can tuck a full workstation underneath a lower ceiling and you’ll barely notice. If you’ve positioned your windows and lighting well, it will still feel roomy.

There are modular storage spaces and designs (similar to what you see at stores like IKEA). One Swiss designer, Till Könneker, created The Living Cube, which features a sleeping area up top with a dozen storage spaces on the sides, including openings for a TV or clothing (you could even have a walk-in closet). As I said before, I’m not in any need of more storage space, but for a family, this may be a possible solution.

You could also opt for one of the ground floor bedroom layouts as discussed above, and turn your bed into a platform bed with some storage underneath. This storage is a practical option if you choose a daybed or plan to convert your couch to a bed at night.

SOLUTION:

Plan carefully & include plenty of storage to fit your lifestyle.


loft in a tiny house

The truth is, tiny house loft beds are a fun way to sleep. There’s something that reminds me of being in a treehouse or a fort as a kid. A small, lofted sleeping nook is cozy (sometimes a little too snug in hot weather) and mostly comfortable. There are certain challenges though, and loft beds aren’t for everyone.

Small spaces are very livable. With some strategic planning and wise purchases, there are plenty of ways to outfit a comfortable sleeping spot for your tiny house that you’ll be very happy with.

Your Turn!

  • What is your biggest sleeping space challenge?
  • Do you like sleeping in a loft bed?

Shipping Container Homes: Hard-Learned Lessons from Those Who’ve Done It

Shipping Container Homes: Hard-Learned Lessons from Those Who’ve Done It

shipping container homesI get asked a lot about shipping container homes when people learn that I’m into tiny houses, and I do have some experience working with shipping container homes. My good friend, D.I. built his own container home here in Charlotte, using a 40-foot container. It was the first one I’d ever seen built out in person and it was neat to watch as D.I. built it over two years, learning along the way.

Living in a shipping container may sound a bit … unconventional. You may envision an old, rusty boxcar or simply a big metal box.

shipping container home living room

Surprisingly, shipping container homes are quite beautiful and economically friendly. Many are drawn to their affordable nature and modern lines. They do require a fair amount of work and preparation (and there are a few quirks to be aware of), but with effort, you can create a beautiful home from something ordinarily discarded and save thousands doing it.

 

What Is A Shipping Container Home?

what is a shipping container home

If you aren’t familiar with shipping container homes, they’re quite interesting. Charlotte happens to be home to one of the largest fabricators of shipping container homes, and I was invited to take a tour of their facility. It was really eye-opening to see how much work went into prepping the containers, so they were ready to build with. The common perception is, “it’s easy because the box is already there.” I learned both from watch D.I. and from my plant tour that’s far from the truth. There’s a lot of effort that goes into turning a container into a home.

Shipping containers are big metal boxes (like a boxcar or the box atop the trailer of a semi-truck), sometimes referred to as Conex boxes. These containers are typically built overseas (usually in China) and are used to ship goods all around the world. Shipping containers are widely available, and many are used only one time on a one-way trip from China (since the U.S. receives more goods than it sends back).

stacked shipping containers

These metal (aluminum or steel) Conex boxes are used to ship all types of materials—some hazardous, but mostly benign. Once they’re used and retired or put out of commission, they’re often stored near ports around the United States. Shipping containers are inexpensive to procure and readily available.

Shipping containers have been used to transport goods since the mid-1950s, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the first shipping container was patented for use as a converted home (although people used them as homes and buildings years earlier). Because the modular containers are easy to combine, there are large buildings built from multiple containers, including a mansion made of 31 containers and a hostel large enough to house 120 people!

Most people who live in shipping container homes, however, opt for the tiny house version, using one or two shipping containers as their home. Thanks to the availability, sturdiness, and modern look of Conex boxes, they are customizable.

Why Build A Shipping Container Home?

why build a shipping container home

Admittedly, I’m drawn to the idea of shipping container homes. My one hesitation is that I have no experience with metalworking. I’ve never used a plasma torch or welder before. It’s definitely one of those things I want to learn on my bucket list, but from seeing people actually do it—before you build a shipping container home, you need metalwork experience.

Due to the metalwork, shipping container homes are a little more advanced in terms of building and modifying. They aren’t always the right fit for the typical hobbyist or DIYer who doesn’t have prior building skills because there is quite a bit of technical work required (the obvious metalwork, plus other skills like concrete, engineering, etc.). The big appeal of shipping container homes really comes from the modular design and the modern look.

container home kitchen

That said, there are many other reasons why a shipping container home is an appealing option. The biggest draw of building or buying a shipping container home is that it’s often quite inexpensive. You can find single-use shipping containers for under $5,000 and you instantly have a shell to work in.

Shipping container homes are very strong and sustainable. They’re built to last with a tough exterior that holds up to hurricanes and earthquakes. It’s also nice to give life to the used containers that would ordinarily go to waste. Many shipping containers are used once and then sit empty in ports (or get melted down).

Shipping container homes are also fairly easy to transport intact. Yes, they’re extremely heavy, so they aren’t exactly a tiny house on wheels, but moving a shipping container home to a new foundation is doable without disrupting the structure of the home itself. The containers can be stacked to expand into multi-story homes or configured in interesting modular designs.

The Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Homes

pros and cons of shipping container homes

There are a few drawbacks to living in a shipping container home. One of the biggest challenges is that metal is conducive to heat and cold. Shipping container homes require insulation and ventilation for comfortable living.

Unlike wood, concrete, brick, and stone, metal is a little trickier for temperature and condensation control. They are also loud in windy climates. Thermal bridging is a huge issue in a shipping container home; the metal skin acts as a heat sink, drawing the heat out in the winter and bringing the heat in during summer. This all adds up to a less efficient building and can lead to moisture and mold issues if not properly managed.

welding shipping container homes

Shipping containers also require welding abilities to modify. Unlike wood and other home construction materials, you can’t simply create a window or cut a vent in your home without planning carefully. Welding takes time and is costly, so you’ll want to be cautious as you plan. It’s also a bit more difficult in remote locations because they don’t make battery-powered welding units.

Obviously, planning windows, vents, and other modifications means you need to be aware of load-bearing and structural elements before you make a change to the container. Openings cut in the skin often lead to you needing to reinforce the structure because each cut you make weakens the whole structure.

Shipping containers also require a concrete foundation or, at minimum, piers. You can’t simply put your container house on the ground unsupported and I’ve seen many novice builders attempt to skimp on their footings.

Laying a foundation takes time and adds to the expense associated with the project; it also means you need to be certain exactly how you want to plan the layout of your property. A shipping container home should be viewed as a more permanent construction (although they can be moved intact to a new foundation). It is a cost that you should make sure to budget in for expenses.

shipping containers in a row

Work with a contractor or someone with previous shipping container home-building experience, especially if you’re new to the world of tiny home building. Shipping container homes tend to be one of the more advanced tiny home options. Although they’re ultimately a simple structure, there are certain quirks and issues to be aware of.

Of course, you can find pre-made shipping container structures, but they’re often quite expensive. Creating a shipping container home by yourself is less expensive, but you’ll still need to enlist the help of experts. Even to procure the shipping container and move it to your foundation is a big undertaking. You’ll need a crane to deliver the container and set it atop your foundation. Shipping containers are extremely heavy. Depending on the length (20 foot or 40 foot) they weigh between 5,000-8,000+ pounds. You aren’t going to move a shipping container yourself.

When I worked with my friend, D.I. on his 40-foot container home build, the need for welding skills was a big issue. He didn’t know how to weld or use a plasma torch at all when he started to build his container home, so modifications were a challenge for him. It was important to plan ahead so he could have a contractor do all the welding at once (rather than paying him to return over and over again).

The other challenge D.I. faced was his container home was so immobile. You really need a crane to even move it a short distance or adjust it slightly on the foundation. This means when you get the container installed, you need to be certain of the exact placement you want.

container home bedroom

Finally, another big barrier is that local building code enforcement officials are often unfamiliar with shipping container homes. As a result, it can be tough to get the proper permits for them.

Although there are building challenges, the final look of a shipping container home is really appealing. They have a modern, architectural quality which I find really appealing if done well. They’re inexpensive, extremely durable, and are easily customized.

Here are a few reviews and honest takes on the pros and cons of living in a shipping container home:

 

How Much Does A Shipping Container Home Cost?

how much does a shipping container home cost

Shipping containers themselves, depending on size, cost anywhere from $3,000-$5,000+. It’s much less expensive to buy a shipping container that’s been used for a single ship than to buy a brand-new container. As long as you do your research and ensure the container didn’t contain any dangerous materials, the use is almost always undetectable. You can work with scratches or dents to cover them (or remove) as part of the design, even a little rust can be ground out and repainted.

The biggest mistake I see people make is not factoring in expenses of building a shipping container home to include transportation and placement of the container itself. The second biggest mistake is the foundation build, too often people skip or skimp on this step.

Even if you take the DIY route, chances are you will need to enlist expert help on factors like solar, electric (remember, metal is conductive), plumbing, and modification, especially if you don’t have much welding experience.

shipping container home room ideas

As I said before, because aluminum and steel are conductive, they must be insulated and ventilated carefully to prevent the buildup of condensation and to simply make living more comfortable. So, expert insulation, heating, and cooling will need to be configured into your cost as well.

That last area where I see people get tripped up is that you will also need to consider fees for permits, architectural designs, and plans. As far as permitting goes, as I said, there are many cities without much familiarity with zoning for shipping containers used as dwelling structures, so you’ll need to work with your local officials on the proper approval. This often will include hiring an engineer to work out plans to make officials feel comfortable signing off on it.

The question of cost really comes down to how much planning you will need to do, what you can DIY, and what you’ll need to outsource. Once you’ve procured the container itself, the other pieces can either add up or be done on the cheap.

Here are several outlines of storage container build-outs with pricing:

As you see, the costs vary greatly depending on your plans and the level of architectural design you want to put into your shipping container home. If you’re most concerned with functionality, then a single shipping container buildout is an inexpensive tiny home option.

how to find and buy a shipping container home

How to Find and Buy A Shipping Container

If you’re ready to find and buy a shipping container home, you need to start researching the size you want. Shipping containers typically come in two standard sizes: 20 foot and 40 foot. The best containers for homes are listed as “HC” or High-Cube containers. HC containers are 9 feet “tall” (as opposed to the standard 8-foot container). That said, shipping containers come in many other sizes as well; you can find them ranging from 8-53 feet. The next most common size is 45 feet, but again, 20- or 40-foot containers are standard (and the easiest to find).

When choosing a size, don’t forget that you’ll be building inwards. You’ll need to frame out the inside and insulate it as well. Depending on your choices for these, you could be eating into your interior by 6-8 inches off each wall.

Shipping containers are graded by condition. “A grade” means the container is good quality with a clean interior and watertight with in-tact seals. The container grades go down to “C grade,” which usually means rust is present, and the container is 10-14 years old. The prices vary by grade but for living, chances are you’ll want to pay a little more for a higher quality container.

container home rooms

Shipping containers are also graded by the following: “One-trippers” meaning new containers that contained only one shipment. “Certified Cargo Worthy” meaning they’ve been used for multiple shipments but are in good condition. “Wind and Watertight” (WWT) indicating they’ve been used but are still in decent condition. “As-Is” means the container may have rust, doors that don’t seal or pinholes in the metal. Containers graded “As-Is” should probably be avoided for dwellings.

The other factors to consider are the land where you plan to place your container (and if you already have a foundation or will need to pour one). You’ll need to ensure the land is accessible for large trucks or cranes so your shipping container home can be placed.

To buy shipping containers check out:

  • Shipped is the biggest new and used shipping container marketplace online
  • BoxHub is another big new and used shipping container marketplace
  • Craigslist and eBay are also options for finding shipping container homes

Before you buy, you’ll want to review these resources and guides for buying a shipping container home as well:

 

Building Your Own Shipping Container Home

If you decide you don’t want to take the DIY route to building, there are certainly options for fully designed and built-out shipping container homes. These are, of course, going to be more expensive, but because the modular design is favored by architects, you can find really beautiful “pet projects” for sale. The design and build quality of these homes are often excellent.

Resources for pre-built container homes are:

Like most of us in the tiny home world, though, chances are you enjoy putting in the sweat equity. (I know I do!) Shipping container homes are a more advanced project and they require certain skills, like metalworking. Building the internal walls, insulation, plumbing, and electrical can all be completed yourself, but there are considerations so follow expert resources and instructions. It takes quite a few manhours to complete a DIY container home build.

building container home

Great examples of people who successfully DIY-built their container homes are:

Before you start your build, you’ll need floor plans and a strong idea of how you want your finished container home to look. As with any tiny home build, the planning portion of the process is vital.

For great shipping container home floorplans, you may want to view:

The fact that shipping container homes are pretty straightforward (one 20- or 40-foot-long container by 9 feet high and across), means configuring floor plans isn’t terribly challenging. Considerations like plumbing, window placement, and access to grid services are really all you need to keep in mind in terms of layout. If there are any dents or areas of your Conex box you need to cover, figure that into the design as well.

designing container homes

As you design your home, consider the needs of each person who lives in the home. Some shipping container homes are built in sections. One container may serve as the main living area, another container may become a guest area, and another container serves as the office. It depends on the functionality, amount of space you desire and how many containers you can afford or access. The good news about shipping containers is you can always add more, expand, and build out in the future.

After seeing the amazing floorplans and designs of shipping container homes out there, I’m sure you’ll feel inspired too. If you’re looking for a strong structure with a modern look and feel, a shipping container home might be the right type of tiny home for you.

Your Turn!

  • Do you prefer the modern design of shipping container homes?
  • What skills would you need to learn for your shipping container home build?

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

teardrop trailersI’ve been wanting to build my own teardrop trailer for years now, having seen my first teardrop trailer “in the wild” during a visit to Yellowstone National Park. We’d stopped to take some photos of elk and noticed an older couple happily fixing lunch under their pop-up galley hatch. Much to the embarrassment of my friend, I walked up to them and struck up a conversation. (I even got invited to join them for lunch!) Since that moment, I’ve been in love with the simple design of the teardrop trailer.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time living option or a weekend away, a teardrop trailer is a fun and functional tiny living project to take on.

yellowstone national park travel

What Is a Teardrop Trailer?

what is a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers originated back in the 1950s and 1960s when they were featured in Popular Science Magazine as a weekend project. They caught on like wildfire as Americans came home from WWII and Americans began to buy cars for the first time. People began to explore all that the US had to offer all from the comfort of their personal cars.

This led people to want a way to camp in a way that was a little bit more comfortable than a tent and campers hadn’t even been invented yet. Picture dad packing up the family for a weekend camping trip. He’d want a trailer he could hook to the back of the car and pull along. Often, these small popup trailers featured storage, perhaps a cooking grill or fold-out dining area (referred to as the galley), and in many cases, a small sleeping area.

This nostalgia explains the popular resurgence of teardrop trailers in the last few years. These trailers are popular with the Boomer Generation (and Millennials looking for an affordable way to camp with a little luxury). With enough space and utility for simple outdoor living, and enough comfort so campers aren’t exactly roughing it, teardrop trailers are a nice weekender solution.

teardrop-trailer-towing

Teardrop trailers are definitely small, they’re somewhere between a step-up from tent camping and a step-down from a typical tiny home, skoolie, conversion van, or traditional camper. There are, however, people who live in teardrop trailers full time (like this teardrop trailer couple on YouTube).

I personally like teardrop trailers because they’re the perfect balance of the creature comforts of home with a great kitchen. Yet, the trailers are small enough to easily tow behind most cars. Having towed my tiny house before, I have a newfound appreciation for smaller trailers—there’s not as much to worry about when you go out on the road.

Because teardrop trailers are meant to pull along behind a car, they’re built with an aerodynamic “teardrop” shape. Which not only saves on gas and makes them way easier to tow but looks great too.

towing a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers are an “all-in-one” camping solution. Simply pack in your goods, attach the trailer to your car, and head off on your next adventure. Many people keep them fully stocked so all they have to do is add their fresh groceries on the way out of town and they’re on the road fast.

They weigh very little (most less than 800 pounds), making them easy to tow along without effecting your gas mileage or speed. For camping, they leave a minimal impact, barely touching the ground with two wheels and stabilizing bars. Once you’re ready to move on, in just a few minutes, you fold everything back up and leave no trace. Having a comfy bed and a way to cook meals saves you thousands in hotel room costs and expensive dinners out.

oregon travel

The compact teardrop camper trailer can be used for part-time or full-time living. There are teardrop trailers that function as tiny homes. Some teardrop trailers are large enough to feature a bathroom, kitchen, and shower. Other, smaller teardrop campers simply provide an area for sleeping, storage, and the back galley for cooking. They usually sleep two people comfortably and are perfect for a camping trip.

I like that it’s a small package I can tuck away easily. Since it’s a smaller build, versus building an entire tiny house, it’s an approachable DIY project for almost anyone. That’s what attracted me to them, it was a challenging project that was still achievable and save thousands in the process.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

Why should someone choose a teardrop trailer over a camper/RV?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“They are quick and easy to set up at the campsite as well as lightweight where just about any vehicle can tow one. They can usually fit into a standard garage which is great for those with HOA restrictions. They tow easy for folks that have little to no towing experience.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Teardrop campers are the easiest camper to tow and can be towed with the average automobile. This saves having to own larger tow vehicles just for camping. They are also less stressful to tow, great for people with limited towing experience. They also are easy to store and maintain compared to other campers and RVs.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“People who value the ability to spend more time outdoors, have less maintenance, less mechanical complications, and more maneuverability will appreciate a teardrop trailer.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“There are many reasons to choose a mini-camp trailer, but only the individual can determine if it is a suitable option. Some of the benefits of a teardrop over an RV include: affordability; ease of maintenance and storage; and fuel efficiency.”

What Are the Types of Teardrop Trailers?

what are the types of teardrop trailers

There are several types of teardrop trailers. Because teardrop trailers are a great DIY project that’s easily customized, the varieties are practically endless. There are options for different sizes, shapes, and skins. Typically, though, most teardrop trailers fall into a few categories.

The three most popular teardrop trailer options are:

  • Traditional style: aluminum outside, insulated inside.
  • The Woody: Made from layers of wooden panels and a natural wood finish on the outside.
  • The Foamie: Made from insulation foam with an overlay.

teardrop trailer design

There are also various shapes of “teardrop” trailers. The classic teardrop shape is the most popular, but there’s the reverse teardrop, square, and several other shape options. The classic teardrop offers an aerodynamic quality that’s easy to pull along with a car without lag (but most small camper trailers are lightweight enough to pull along without impact) that looks great too. There’s also the canned ham shape trailer, which isn’t as popular but is a fun option as well.

No matter what shape camping trailer or which skin you choose—metal, wood, or foam—most teardrop trailers consist of wooden ribs connecting the two walls resting on top of the floor and anchored to the frame of the trailer. The trailer then sits atop a two-wheel base trailer with a hitch to tow along behind you. The walls are usually made up of layered materials—wood, insulation, and/or aluminum sandwiched together using epoxy or liquid nail.

national parks travel

Teardrop trailers are relatively easy to build and take minimal woodworking skills. Teardrop trailer kits and parts are so readily available, so it’s easy to piece together a part-DIY and part store-bought version of a camper trailer. The most challenging piece of a teardrop trailer to build is the hatch for the galley kitchen (depending on the size and shape of your trailer). But overall, a teardrop trailer is a fairly easy project even for beginners and a simpler design can make it manageable for just about anyone. Many teardrop trailers even feature a small table that folds out for eating, a covered space for food preparation (or relaxing), and a sleeping spot. Basically, it’s an all-in-one camping solution, a home away from home.

A teardrop trailer is perfect for a weekend away, to supplement as your tiny home when you travel, or with the right build, a full-time dwelling. It can even serve as a guest bedroom if you live in a tiny house!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What do most people get wrong about teardrop trailer camping?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Underestimating what their true needs and abilities are. We have had customers who went smaller only to find out they needed larger because of physical limitations.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“The struggle we see with someone new to teardrop camping is trying to use their decades of tent camping experience as a reference to how to teardrop camp. Just because you are used to doing something one way while tent camping does not mean you should continue exactly the same in a teardrop camper. Teardrop camping should be easier than tent camping. For example, a teardrop with a sink and built in water system. This is much simpler than using tent camping methods.That can take a little bit to get one’s head around that after doing it the tent camping way for decades.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Many assume they cannot go off road. many teardrops are now able to go wherever any 4wd can pull it.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“It’s not RVing, it’s CAMPING! Most of your time should be spent outdoors; your mini-camper is a comfortable place to sleep at night.”

How Much Is A Teardrop Trailer?

how much is a teardrop trailer

If you’re DIY-ing your trailer, you can get away with the buildout budgeted anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, but it seems like the sweet spot is $2000-$4000. Buying a teardrop trailer or mini camping trailer readymade will run you between $10,000-$20,000, so opting to DIY is a cost-saving endeavor. As with all DIY projects, your budget is determined by how complex or simple you choose to make it.

Here are a few cost breakdowns of DIY teardrop trailers:

In the debate of DIY vs custom made camping trailers, there are a few different options to choose from. You could buy a teardrop trailer kit or follow a DIY tutorial/guide and source all of the materials and labor yourself. You could also go out and buy a custom-made trailer (the most expensive option). Most teardrop trailer enthusiasts choose to DIY because frankly, it’s a fun project to show off!

national park

For teardrop trailer kits, check out The Teardroppers, which offers an array of teardrop trailer kit options. The Chesapeake Light Craft kit is also a fun and unique teardrop trailer kit option, so beautiful it almost looks like a piece of sculpture.

As for pre-built custom trailers, if that’s the route you choose to go, there are many options out there ready to buy (and to have customized to your preference):

If you decide to build it yourself, the most important thing is to have fun with the project and find a camping trailer design you’re excited about. Teardrop trailers are all about carefree camping and enjoying the mobility of taking your home on the road.

For the cost of a few nights at a hotel, you can build a teardrop trailer and take your bed anywhere you want to go!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If you were to buy a teardrop trailer, what three things would you look for when evaluating a model for sale?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Price point, quality of construction and materials used, and features for the money.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“1) Intended years of service. For some a teardrop camper is a stepping stone to larger campers. In this case an older used teardrop or a basic “entry level” model is ideal. For those who plan to travel well into their retirement years going to a more refined durable would be more practical in the long run. 2) Features and options. Our experience is the only regrets most teardrop buyers have is not getting enough options and accessories when they get their teardrop. Buy right the first time. 3) Reviews and owner feedback. Find an online forum for the brands you are looking and participate on there beforehand. Find out how happy the owners are when using their campers. Be apprehensive about asking input on forums about options and accessories, the unique configurations are often the most vocal.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Fit and finish, aerodynamic profile and ergonomic layout”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“The company’s/brand’s reputation for quality and service. Will the size be adequate for my needs. Can options be easily added later.”

Ready to Build? Here’s How to Start Your Teardrop Trailer Project

how to start your teardrop trailer project

Just like I harp on planning with any tiny house build, a great teardrop build begins with planning too. I’ve found many tutorials and build walk-throughs online to get a feel for both the project and the lifestyle associated with teardrop trailers.

I recommend beginning with the Teardrop Trailer Build post on planning to get started. You may also want to explore the resources at Oregon Trailer. Teardrop trailers can be outfitted with water access, electricity, ventilation, heating, and even plumbing (again, depending on the size and your plans for the trailer).

oregon travel mount hood

There are many teardrop trailer plans and building guides out there. A few to explore are:

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What advice would you give to someone who wants to build their own teardrop trailer?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“When you build something the first time that is when you make the most of your mistakes. It usually takes 3-4 to work out the problems. If a person is highly skilled in construction and does a lot of research then I say go for it. Although the old saying that you can’t beat a man at his own game still holds true.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Plan to be involved in this hobby for years to come. Most teardrop home-builders will typically end up building at least three campers in time before they are truly satisfied with their creation.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Use a welded frame that will outlast the top structure, use kiln dried lumber for the cabin, apply aluminum skins to the undercarriage, apply three coats of spar varnish to the exterior before applying sheet aluminum.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“If you have a target date you’d like/need to use it, be honest with yourself about the skills and time you have to invest to finish the project to the level of your own satisfaction.”

Choosing a Camping Trailer Base, Parts, and Accessories

choosing a trailer base and accessories

If you plan to build a teardrop trailer, finding all the parts and accessories is a big step in the process for your build. I’ve spent hours researching and selecting each item that is going to go into my build. The biggest item you’ll need is the trailer itself.

Trailer bases for teardrop trailers are generally available in 4 x 8 foot or 5 x 8-foot sizes, but some people make their own custom sizes. As long as your trailer meets DOT requirements and it can hold the weight of your build, you can make it any size you want. Look at various teardrop trailer plans to decide on the size base you want. For those who don’t want to build their own trailer, many big box stores (like Home Depot, Harbor Freight or Northern Tool) sell towing trailers to use as the base of your teardrop trailer.

teardrop trailer for building

From there, you’ll need to figure out what the materials are needed for the outer shell of your teardrop trailer. Your two main options are to skin it in a stainless steel or aluminum cladding or go with a more natural look like the “Woodie” style. My plan is to go with stainless steel as it’s the most durable option and looks great too, the downside is potential for “tin canning” which causes ripples in the metal as it expands and contracts in the heat.

The interior structure can be built from your standard materials whether it’s standard 2x4s or a skeletonized piece of plywood or MDF. The two big considerations to take into account here is what tools you have available to you (plus your ability to use them) and weight. Options like MDF can add several hundred pounds to your build, so make sure your trailer can handle the weight.

oregon coast travel

The galley is the most difficult but iconic element of the teardrop. Even after years of woodworking and building my own house, I’m intimidated by its complex curves. To lift and hold open the galley hatch you’ll need struts, the hydraulic component for opening the back door.

Another consideration is that you’ll need to balance structural integrity with insulation in the walls. Many people “skeletonize” the walls with a router on MDF or plywood, allowing a ridged frame while still keeping you warm inside. My plan is to create my wall panels by cutting them with a CNC machine to create the cavities for the ridged insulation foam.

exploring with a teardrop trailer

Finally, many people want to have some basic power in their teardrop to charge their phones, run a few LED lights, and power a Fantastic Fan. Some even go as far as having AC in their trailers. For most people, a pretty simple power system and a couple of batteries will meet your needs, if you have a solar panel to top up along the way. You also should make plans to connect to shore power because many campsites will have an outlet for you to connect to.

The best places I’ve found for compact appliances, trailer parts, and accessories are below, but Amazon and eBay also offer a big selection of teardrop trailer parts and accessories, like fans, doors, and appliances.

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend the weekend or explore the world, then a teardrop trailer is a great DIY tiny life project to take on. I would suggest trying a smaller trailer as your first build to see how you like it, then expand from there.

roadtrip with a teardrop trailer

As I said, you may even decide to design your teardrop as a tiny house, or as a “vacation tiny house” for camping. Teardrop trailers certainly beat roughing it, offering you a nice, comfortable bed, a place to cook, and storage in a small, easy-to-tow package.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If someone wants to get into teardrop trailer camping, what advice would you give to someone starting out?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Don’t over think it but don’t under think it either. Look at several different models and make a list of essentials and start there. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff that you might not need just because of the excitement of doing something new. The camping industry thrives on people over spending on cheap made stuff that they may not need simply because they are excited about their new adventure.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Look at how you travel, in distance, time on the road and type of camping venues. Take this and double, maybe triple, it all because once you go from tent camping to a teardrop camper you will travel far more often, far more distance and in locations you never thought you would. Use this increased travel potential for determining your teardrop camper needs.”

timberleaf-teardrop-experts
Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Make sure their tow vehicle is rated for at least 50% over the actual weight of the trailer. Many buyers assume their little car can tow a 1500 lbs trailer if their rating is 1500 lbs. They should factor in gear, water and supplies and weight of car passengers.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“Keep it simple to start and don’t go all out buying every camping accessory that looks cool. After several times out, you will discover the things you need the most, and won’t have wasted time and money on the things you may never use.”

Your Turn!

  • Would you like a teardrop trailer for fulltime living or just camping?
  • What’s your favorite teardrop trailer design?

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

living the van lifeAre you ready for the ultimate in freedom lifestyle? Van life has the potential to be as romantic as it sounds—just you (and maybe your significant other, or your pet … or both) on the open road.

I met Van Lifers Wesley and Savannah (and their pet hedgehog Hermie, who has more Instagram followers than I do) at our Portland conference. I got to check out their fantastic van and I just fell in love with the whole idea of living the van life. I can totally see myself driving around the U.S. seeing all the national parks in a van like theirs. After meeting them, I’ve been very tempted to hit the road and become a YouTuber as I tour around.

Living in a van as an alternative or “less-traditional” approach to the tiny life is certainly an awesome option. Van life lends itself to portability like nothing else, which is why this lifestyle is perfect for many outdoor enthusiasts and those who have wanderlust. After all, if you love spending time mountain climbing, biking, or surfing, living in a camper van provides the perfect way to take your home base right into the outdoors.

What is Van Life?

what is the van life

Consider it a step up from camping. With van life, you’re converting a van into a camper or a tiny home. Van life offers a nice cozy shelter, plus the ultimate mobility of a car. It’s perfect for singles or couples looking for the pursuit of Instagram-worthy adventures on the open road.

You may scroll through the awesome pictures of #vanlife on Instagram or watch YouTube videos of people who make living in a van work well. It’s the ultimate in simple, minimalist lifestyle options. Most converted camper vans offer significantly smaller square footage than a traditional tiny house.

The biggest factor about living the van life is asking yourself if you can handle living (and driving) in your tiny house. This is especially something to consider if you’re taking your relationship on the road. While tiny living itself presents logistic issues in terms of privacy and space, van life takes those challenges to the next level.

van life on the road

But for many van lifers, freedom, and adventure are worth the sacrifice. Besides, as I learned more about the van life, I realized it’s really not far from living in a traditional tiny house like mine. It’s all about learning to simplify and owning only what you need to survive. Minimalism isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it and let go of your attachment to owning “stuff.”

Most people who live the van life do it because they love travel, exploring, and adventure, and they love being outdoors. This makes van life an especially popular option in warmer, outdoorsy areas like California, Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

Van life has been around for decades, in fact. Think back to the images of VW vans decked out with shag carpeting and custom murals as they journeyed to Woodstock. Eventually, van life gave way to the more practical, family-style camper van that was popular in the 80s and 90s. Over the last two decades, however, there’s been a return to the original love of the free and easy lifestyle of van life. Young couples realize taking their lives on the road (and sharing their adventures online) is exciting, fun, and yes, even comfortable.

ask the experts

Advice you’d give to someone just starting the van life?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Try the life out in your car for a while. Go on road trips in your car or SUV before you fully commit to the lifestyle. There are a lot of ups and downs, and pros and cons, in vanlife, just like in life. While the freedom to do as you please is appealing, there are still so many chores vanlife requires on a daily basis, like, finding where you are going to sleep for the night, every night.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Learn to minimize and prioritize the necessities but also things that you love. As you are minimizing, keep high quality multifunctional things.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Try it first. Hire a similar vehicle for a week or more and try to get a feel for vanlife. Create different scenarios, sleep in different environments try to replicate real van living, source water from various places for example and be honest with yourself.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“If you’re taller than 5’10” make sure you double check the width of your van!”


The Pros & Cons of Living in A Van

pros and cons of van living

The challenges of van life come from living in a very small space, of course, which is an issue for tiny lifers as well. Vans being vehicles present other challenges too, such as weather that’s too hot (vans have AC, but when you’re stopped, it gets very warm) and too cold (most vans aren’t awesome when driving in the snow). There are ways to insulate your van, which will help with temperature control, as can connecting to an alternative power source. There’s also general car maintenance that’s necessary, but the cost of caring for a van is typically lower than caring for a more traditional dwelling.

Most people who live the van life are young with mobile careers, allowing them to work from anywhere. Some earn a living as social media influencers living the van life and sharing their gorgeous photos online. Some are sponsored by companies who support their outdoor lifestyles (surfing, skating, climbing, running, etc.).

the van life

But not all van lifers are Millennials and younger folks. Van life is also a great option for adventurous seniors. After all, many original “hippie” Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age and they still have a fondness for the freedom of van life. What better way to see the world than traveling around in your camper van, living the original van life dream?

Are you wondering if living in a van is right for you? Here are a few great resources I’ve found with honest takes on the pros and cons of van life:

The greatest aspect of van life is that you can go anywhere! Settle in any spot for the night, camp out in your van and move to the next spot tomorrow. Van life is always an adventure. With many options for DIY van conversions and customization, you’ll have a comfortable bed, kitchenette, and storage added to the van, making it essentially a very tiny house on wheels.

So, if you’re ready to pack up and hit the road, consider van life a great option. Check out these van life photos to get inspired!

ask the experts

Best thing about the van life?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Surprisingly, the community. The people and the connections we’ve made on the road feel like we have a pretty extended van family. Sometimes we catch ourselves van-pooling for months at a time with strangers, but it feels like we have known each other forever. We trade stories and skills like climbing and surfing. We connect with each other and make lasting relationships. We always say we have friends all over the world because of vanlife.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“The freedom to bring your home to many amazing places in this world and often have the best views right out of your bedroom window.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“It’s the perfect balance of comfort and freedom.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The freedom, and the low cost of living.”

What Are the Best Vans to Live In?

what are the best vans to live in

There are several vans that appear on almost everyone’s van life list. These conversion van options range in price, performance, and details.

The most popular vans for living the van life, seem to be:

  • Mercedes Sprinter
  • Mercedes Metris
  • Classic VW Bus
  • VW Vanagon (with or without Westfalia pop-ups)
  • Ford Transit Connect
  • Dodge ProMaster
  • Nissan NV 200
  • Converted Cargo Vans (like Chevy)

What it really comes down to is whether you plan to go with used/pre-owned and do the buildout yourself (unless you find a conversion van that’s already outfitted), or you buy a newer camper van. Obviously, much of this question comes down to a matter of your budget and your preference for DIY van conversions and customization (which is one of the aspects of van life many find appealing).

Most van-lifers recommend going with a used van and converting it into a camper. This is especially true for many of the classic vans like the VW Bus, which is no longer manufactured (although rumor has it, they’re releasing an electric version in the near future). If you buy used, you’re limited by your budget and the availability of a conversion van that suits your needs.

vintage vw bus

Like any car purchase, you’ll want to shop around carefully, unless you find a great deal you can’t refuse. Think about what you’re looking for in a van. Read reviews, consider gas mileage, cargo room, headspace (if any), and options.

Explore these resources to help you figure out which van is best for you:

Once you get an idea of what you’re looking for, I recommend you start shopping around. There are many vans for sale out there, but you want to purchase one suited to your lifestyle and plans.

ask the experts

What van did you choose?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“2007 Dodge Sprinter (used)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“2014 Mercedes Sprinter 170 wheel base passenger van. We bought it used.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Mercedes Sprinter – used”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“2006 Dodge Sprinter Van – used”

How Much Does It Cost to Convert A Van into A Camper Van?

how much does it cost to convert a van

Much like any used vehicle purchase, cost varies depending on a lot of factors; mileage and condition of the van, where you buy it, and how picky you want to be.

As you’re shopping for conversion vans (or vans to convert into camper vans) you’ll want to check your local listings as well. I’ve seen great vans on Craigslist, third-party seller sites, and even eBay. You can find affordable vans priced between $2,000 and $8,000. Factor in the history, age of the vehicle, and the number of miles. You can always do an engine rebuild, but it’s not cheap. So, if you’re new to the van life, search for a van that runs (or plan a repair in your budget).

Building out the camper van interior is an additional expense too. The cost completely depends on the materials and equipment you plan to use and the overall look and functionality you’re seeking. Converting a van for full-time living will look different than weekend warriors seeking short term travel with a camping option.

van life conversion cost

Here are a few very different van conversion cost breakdowns from people who completed the van life conversion (Some include the cost of living on the road month-to-month as well!):

As you see, it definitely depends on many different factors. There’s also the possibility of finding a VW Vanagon Westie or another conversion van that’s already got a portion of the build-out included. The VW featured a popup tent top with plenty of standing room, a small kitchenette, fridge, swivel seats, and fold-down bed in the back (roomy enough to sleep four). These are out of commission but finding a classic may mean you simply need to make updates and cosmetic customization.

ask the experts

How much did your van conversion cost?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“$22,000 (Van and Build)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Our materials were under $25K. We self-converted our van so this cost does not include the labor.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“£12,000 gbp”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“5k”

How Do You Convert A Van for Living?

how to convert a van for living

The short answer is it completely depends on how particular you are and how much time you plan on living in your van. If you plan to live on the road full-time, then there are the basics to cover: sleeping, cooking, hygiene, electricity, heat, and water.

Many older vans are very roomy in the back, so it’s pretty simple to put down a mattress or a sleeping bag and sleep in your van. While it isn’t the glamorous “influencer version” of van life that you’re imagining, it’s certainly an option in a pinch.

Most van lifers want their van to feel comfortable, clean, and homey, so they start doing a little updating and customization. This is where the conversion van idea factors in—you’re converting the van for sleeping/living. Some vans come with built-in conversion accommodations, like the aforementioned VW Westies (with seats that fold down into a bed), others require a little more attention.

traveling in a van

If you’re looking to really deck out the van for living, you’ll want to consider your options, just like you would when building a tiny house. You can install solar panels on the top of the van (it’s fairly similar to the way I installed solar panels on my tiny house). You can put in a fridge, an additional battery source for power, water for washing and cooking, and even build in storage.

One of the drawbacks of most vans is they don’t have a built-in bathroom. With a space that tiny, it’s not so pleasant or practical to live (and drive) close to your toilet. The obvious answer is you need to stop at rest stops and truck stops on the road whenever you need to use the restroom. (Note: Many van lifers also keep empty bottles on hand as nighttime/emergency urinals.) For washing, consider a solar shower, gym showers, or taking advantage of campground showers wherever you go. For some people, this is a drawback, but others don’t mind.

As for other issues like heating and insulation, there are advantages to van life. Being in an inconspicuous traveling home means you can park and sleep almost anywhere, including indoor parking garages (but you may need to pay, of course). There are heating options, like small indoor-friendly propane heaters with oxygen detectors, crucial for sleeping in a small space.

If you’re wondering about the other logistics of living the van life, there are many great guides online with step-by-step van conversion information. These resources feature in-depth product reviews and other information you’ll need. Some are also specific to the make and model of your van.

If you’d like to live the van life but you’re not quite ready to take on a full van conversion/buildout yourself, simply look for a used conversion van. You can also get a custom van built for you (although they’re quite expensive).

Here are a few van customizers:

ask the experts

What was the hardest part of converting the van?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Getting started. It always seems pretty overwhelming, like you are never gonna finish and see the fruits of your labor. But, the more you chip away at it, project by project, the more you see it start coming to life. You see places in your framing that you don’t want to go to waste and you get creative and come up with ideas that can really blow you away. It really is a fun process.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Shower / bathroom was the hardest part of the build and it took the longest but it was definitely worth it, we love having it in the van. When building a bathroom, it is important to waterproof everything and know where your grey and black water going to go.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“I think the hardest part was the design. We spent months planning our layout as we wanted something bespoke to us and our requirements. Drawings or sketches on paper or computer can be really beneficial but a simple trick that helped us the most was getting a roll of masking tape and a tape measure and lay an outline of the plan inside the empty van. This really helped us visualize the overall layout.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The electrical and battery. I recommend hiring someone to do it for you!”

How Do You Earn Money on The Road?

how do you earn money on the road

The biggest question most van lifers (and anyone who lives a nomadic lifestyle) face is how to earn a living. Granted, van living offers more freedom and less expense than many more conventional lifestyles. Still, there’s always gas, car repairs, parking expenses, maintenance, food, and general living expenses that will arise.

Living a minimalist lifestyle is no question if you’re living the van life. In such a small space, you’re really faced with paring down to the most basic items you need. Most van lifers report it’s a little isolating and claustrophobic at times, so they put in the effort to get out often, find personal space (if they’re living with a partner), and keep their van very clean inside. When you’re living and also working in your van it becomes extra important to stay aware of your mental health needs.

As for making money on the road, earning money in creative ways seems to be a millennial talent, which is probably why millennials adapt to the van life so well. There are many ways to earn money on the road, but most involve working online (so Wi-Fi is important)!

van life roadtrip

Many van lifers document their journeys in the form of monetized blogs, YouTube channels, or social media accounts. Others create and sell products like DIY van conversion how-to-guides, using affiliate links and sales to earn money off their books.

Van life is also favored by outdoor enthusiasts, so many van lifers are sponsored by lifestyle brands and outdoor products they promote on their social media accounts. They may also be professionally involved in sports like surfing, mountain climbing, running, or snowboarding, and secure sponsorships from equipment brands.

One thing is for sure—creativity is the key to earning money on the road…along with the ability to live and survive on a shoestring budget. While a 9-5 might not work with a nomadic lifestyle, there are always temp jobs, seasonal work, and other options for those who want to live the tiny life in a van but need to take a break from the expenses of life on the road.

road by ocean

Here are great resources from van lifers who’ve learned how to earn money on the go:

Living the van life is the ultimate freedom lifestyle. Pick up and travel anywhere at any time. Everything you own is with you. It’s just you and the open road (and maybe a sidekick or two). If this sounds like the lifestyle for you, you may want to consider your van life options. Share your adventures on YouTube and you just might end up inspiring others to join the van life!

ask the experts

How do you earn money while traveling?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“While we dabble in design (graphic and web design) projects, photography, and videography, as side hustles, we also have been dabbling in flipping vans. There seems to be a lot of people trying to get into the lifestyle, but are overwhelmed with the entire process of learning and researching, and then doing. Plus, people don’t have the time. We do. And, we enjoy the process, as well as, sharing our tips, knowledge, and our mess-ups via our Vankookz YouTube Channel.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Currently, we don’t live in a van full time but go on extended trips. We custom build vans for new van lifers and travel in our self converted Mercedes Sprinter between projects. We are working on expanding our YouTube channel to potentially allow us the financial freedom to travel more.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Any way in which we can. We’ve done all kinds of work from labouring to web design, pertinent to temporary, there’s always work available. Use it as an opportunity to learn new skills along the way.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“I’m a freelance writer.”

winding road

Your Turn!

  • What would you like about living van life?
  • Where would you want to travel if you lived in a van?