Are you considering taking your life on the road, but can’t decide between an RV and a tiny house? There are a few essential facts to know when you’re researching these two small-living modalities. You may be wondering – can a tiny house be an RV?
As a rule, tiny houses are just as livable as RV’s are. Tiny houses have the same amount of space in them as most RVs and have similar amenities. However tiny houses are more customizable than RVs because they’re usually hand-built or commissioned while RV’s are mass-manufactured. Tiny houses also aren’t designed for long-term travel while RV’s are.
Tiny houses and RVs have distinctive qualities that have both advantages and disadvantages. For more information on both, read on.
Tiny Houses: An Overview
The tiny house trend has officially taken over eco-friendly communities all over the world. The idea that people can live in a home that’s a fraction of the size of an average US home is astonishing. Still, devotees of the tiny house movement believe that it’s one of the most effective ways to live a more sustainable and travel-friendly life.
The measurements of a “tiny house” vary, but the general definition of a tiny house is any small home under 400 square feet (37 square meters). This makes them generally smaller than the standard apartment, and far smaller than the average condo or household.
These homes have all the major trappings of a standard-sized home, including sleeping space, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a lounging area, but can fit them into a much smaller space through skillful architecture and storage.
The History of Tiny Houses
Though it may seem like a 21st-century trend, tiny houses have been around for much longer. Though they’re Instagram-able and marketable through social media, people have been living in minuscule houses for hundreds of years without much acclaim.
According to the Wikipedia article on the tiny house movement, flickers of the tiny house trend began in the ’70s, when Lloyd Kahn wrote his book “Shelter” about using sustainable and earth-friendly methods for building a home and developing land. Another book mentioned on the Wikipedia page is Lester Walker’s “Tiny Houses,” published in 1987.
In 2002, proponents of lower-impact living formed the Small House Society, which exists as an advocacy group that champions the use of eco-friendly housing alternatives over traditional, carbon-heavy, and potentially toxic home construction.
Today, the tiny house movement can be seen all over social media. Tags on Instagram, such as #tinyhouse and #tinyhome, have millions of followers and posts attached to them, and thousands of blogs and websites are dedicated to how to design and build them. The movement becomes bigger every day.
The Pros of Tiny Houses
Most people don’t just live in a tiny house because they think it’s cute – there are more serious reasons people choose to live small instead of paying a mortgage or rent on a larger house for them and their families.
The first reason that people choose tiny houses over traditional housing is that tiny houses are inexpensive. Because they’re a fraction of the size of a standard house (which generally will run you a few hundred thousand dollars), tiny houses rarely cost more than $50,000. This means that many people who build tiny houses can pay for them outright instead of taking out a mortgage.
Along with being a relatively affordable option, tiny houses are easier to customize than standard homes. It’s difficult and expensive to renovate an existing home, let alone have one built for you.
Tiny houses are far easier to customize because most people either build tiny homes or hire someone to build it for them. Because there aren’t many tiny homes that are already up for sale, you have plenty of custom options.
The second major reason that people decide to live in tiny houses instead of larger homes is that tiny houses have a smaller carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is the cumulative amount of carbon emissions leached into the atmosphere through your everyday activities.
Actions that produce more carbon emissions include using dishwashers and washing machines and leaving the lights on and using air conditioning or heating systems.
Tiny houses naturally have a smaller carbon footprint because they take up less space. Picture this – you’re a single person living in a 1500 square foot home.
In the summertime, it takes a massive amount of energy for an air conditioner to cool all 1500 square feet of your space. This electricity is distributed by a power plant powered by natural gas or coal, both fuels that emit climate-destroying amounts of carbon.
Because you are using electricity that was generated at a plant that uses fossil fuels and which subsequently emits carbon, you are directly contributing to carbon emissions, even though you’re not burning coal in your own home. When you run your A/C in the summer, you’re contributing to carbon emissions.
Imagine that 1500 square foot home was now a 400 square foot tiny house. A big change, but your carbon emissions are cut by almost 74%. For people interested in saving the planet from the devastating effects of climate change, adopting a more carbon-neutral lifestyle should be a priority, and living in a tiny home makes that easy.
The Cons of Tiny Houses
Though there are many “pros” that arguably outweigh the “cons” of living in a tiny house, the “cons” exist nonetheless. The first big downfall of living in a tiny house is probably the most obvious – tiny houses are small.
To live in a tiny house, you must be able to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. Minimalism is the philosophy that encourages people to live with fewer material goods to prioritize mental and emotional well-being.
Though many people believe that, to be a minimalist, you can’t have technology or collections of things you’re passionate about, minimalist philosophers suggest that people only keep in their lives whatever brings them joy. Even so, the minimalist philosophy discourages many people from pursuing the tiny house lifestyle.
Another reason that tiny house living may be difficult, especially on the road, is because they are not designed for long-term travel. This is where tiny houses and RVs diverge in their uses. Though they serve similar purposes – compact, relatively affordable housing – RVs are far more equipped for going on the road.
While many tiny houses are kept on wheels, this is usually only a last-resort resource, as well as being a method to avoid difficulties with local housing laws. Because tiny houses are such a new concept for many municipalities and cities, local officials often have a hard time determining if tiny houses should be determined as RV’s, mobile homes, houses, or apartments.
The thought behind building tiny houses on trailers is that, if you’re still on wheels, in many states and towns, your tiny house is still just a trailer, even though it looks and acts like a house. If you were to take your tiny house off the trailer and leave it permanently, many towns would charge taxes.
You might feel that because a tiny house is built with wheels that it is made for travel, but that is not the case. Tiny houses are not designed for being hauled on the road long-term. While it’s generally safe to take your tiny house from one part of the country to another, they are not designed to be kept mobile.
RVs: An Overview
Many people have sweet childhood or teenage memories of being taken on camping trips in their family’s little pop-up camper or a larger van-style RV. If you haven’t been camping or traveling in one yourself, you’ve almost definitely seen one in a movie, TV show, or social media.
There is a wide variety of RV’s available. Some campers – ones that you’ll often find around people’s yards in New England and other wooded states – hitch onto the back of your truck and are compact in a style that you can either squish flat or that pop out on the sides.
These campers are great for a single person or a couple. Other campers are massive and include bedrooms, a bathroom, and even a kitchen and living room. They usually have multiple beds and other amenities.
Another style of RV are ones that you can drive on their own without the need to connect to a vehicle. These are the RV’s you imagine might imagine when someone uses that term. Some RVs are the size and shape of a utility van, while others are the size of a school bus or even larger. Many of these larger styles have full kitchen and bathroom setups.
The History of RVs
RV’s such as trailers and campers are likely older concepts than you might think. According to an informative article by Smithsonian Magazine, the first bus-sized RV hit the road over a hundred years ago in 1915, built by a Long Island, NY family named the Conklin’s. They drove their large retrofitted school bus across the country to California and were followed by press the whole way.
It’s believed that the Conklin family inspired the entire country with their tenacity and innovation. This can be marked as the beginning of the camper, trailer, and RV movement in the United States.
The next big innovation in RVs came in 1928 when a man named Arthur Sherman took it upon himself to create an accessible and easy-to-use camper that attached to the back of a vehicle. This made it easier for people to detach the camper and not drive a bus-sized one-unit RV.
Many of these older RV styles had the same amenities that RV’s have today, including pull-out beds, refrigerators (though they were iceboxes back in the early 20th century), couches, small kitchens, and lounging space. However, they were less streamlined than those products are today.
The Pros of RVs
There are a vast number of perks that come with living out of an RV, even temporarily. The first big advantage of living in an RV is that you have the ultimate form of mobility. When living out of an RV, you can drive almost anywhere you’d like, and you can park your vehicle wherever the city and state allow.
Unlike tiny houses, RVs are meant to be taken on the road for hundreds and thousands of miles. RVs are technologically designed to be aerodynamic, which means that they are engineered to streamline air around them. One of the world’s most famous and well-loved campers, the Airstream, is a perfect example of this characteristic.
Along this same line, RV’s are designed to last on the road. They are specially engineered to carry extra weight on their axles with the number of supplies, people, and space that they hold. Tiny houses don’t have the same advantages – they are designed to act as a house when they’re kept in one space, but as a housing unit that’s taken on the road, they’re not so effective.
Another advantage of picking a traditional RV instead of a tiny house is that RV’s have been engineered for decades to be as compact as possible, meaning that everything you need out of an RV is likely already manufactured into the vehicle when you buy it.
In comparison, tiny houses are usually either self-built or bespoke from a company, meaning that the design is likely new and may vary in special efficacy.
Finally, people living in RVs have an easier time finding a permanent place to live over their friends with tiny houses. While people in tiny houses often struggle to find a place to park their home, people in RVs can afford to rent a space in an RV park for as short as a weekend or as long as months.
The Cons of RVs
While going camping in an RV can be great fun for a week or two, living in an RV full time may not be the best option for many people.
For one, RVs aren’t as environmentally friendly as tiny houses. Tiny houses are often built specifically to adhere to certain carbon-neutral and eco-friendly guidelines (think natural wood and metals). At the same time, RVs tend to be built with toxic chemicals and solvents.
RVs are also often not as comfortable as tiny houses. Many tiny houses have the advantage of being built like a standard house, meaning that they have specific spaces for sleeping, cooking, and lounging while living in an RV might feel more artificial and cramped.
Finally, as mentioned in an Ask Umbra article from Grist.com, tiny houses have better temperature regulation than campers do. Since campers are usually only taken out during the summer, they are not well-insulated, while tiny houses are built for all seasons and can be built with more customization and insulation.
RVs vs. Tiny Houses: What’s the Difference?
Tiny houses are generally built to stay in one place. They are designed to mimic the comfort and look of a standard-sized house, but they have a much smaller space to work with, which means that they have a smaller carbon footprint. They are a great option for people looking to live an environmentally friendly life.
On the other side, tiny houses are also not easy to take on the road. Their boxy shape and style of construction isn’t designed for airflow, which means that they’re hard to take on the highway, even if they’re constructed on top of a trailer.
RVs are great for people who want to be mobile. If you’re someone who sees themselves traveling throughout the country with a friend or spouse, an RV (either a single drivable unit or a camper that attaches to a truck) might be a great option. They are relatively easy to maneuver, and you can find ones with amenities that you like.
On the flipside, RVs aren’t environmentally friendly. They have a similar carbon footprint to buses, which emit massive amounts of carbon waste. These RVs are often built with toxic chemicals and solvents and can be dangerous to inhale, while tiny houses can be made with entirely earth-based supplies like metals and wood.
To answer our main question: yes, a tiny house can technically serve the same purpose as an RV, but they are very distinct styles of “mobile home.”
Tiny houses have the advantage of being eco-friendly and super cozy but aren’t so good for being taken on the road. RVs are aerodynamic and built to last on the highway, but they burn a lot of fuel and can be built with hazardous materials.
Tiny houses are usually built on wheels for ease of transport from one semi-permanent place to another, but majorly to avoid housing laws in places you intend to park. While they can serve the purpose of an RV and act like one on the road, they don’t nearly have the same efficacy as a true RV.