Over the last several months, I have been searching local sale sites for an RV for our family–not to live in full time, but for regular camping trips and an easy “head out of town” for the weekend option (and to reduce our hotel costs, as we now have a family of 7, and vacationing is pretty expensive for us). As I’ve been searching for RVs, I’ve come across several “Tiny Homes,” and the whole subject has sparked my interest. My first question was, why would people buy or build a tiny home rather than purchasing an RV? After all, isn’t tiny-house living and full-time RVing pretty much the same thing? Well, I’ve learned a few of the pros and cons, and I would like to share them with you.
The Pros of Tiny Houses
- You can live “off-grid” in a tiny home. If you don’t know what I mean by “off-grid,” you may want to pick up a book like Simple Solar Homesteading: Off the Grid to learn more. Basically, you can set up your tiny home so that you do not require your city’s electricity at all. No electricity payments = cheaper and more sustainable living. If you’re considering an RV vs. a tiny home, you can also purchase a solar kit to power your RV. It is possible, but not as simple or inexpensive to create an off-grid lifestyle in a larger home.
- They’re cozy. Because they’re stick-built, they can be insulated and therefore warm inside. An RV is typically built with a steel frame, and then aluminum or fiberglass siding. RVs are insulated, but not well enough to stay comfortable through the winter. There are plenty of tips and tricks out there for surviving in an RV in the winter. A tiny home would be cheaper and easier to keep warm than a larger house.
- They can be built with little or no toxins. Because these homes are so little, the cost of materials is less overall, and purchasing eco-friendly materials might be more affordable. Adding eco-friendly flooring to a 300 square foot home is much cheaper than adding it to a 3,000 square foot home, for example! Stick-built homes and RVs are typically full of toxins–from the adhesives used, to the flooring, counters, paints and fabrics. It is possible to renovate a large stick built home or an RV to be mostly eco-friendly and non-toxic, but costly.
- They’re cheap. On Craigslist in our area, these tiny homes are going for around $30,000, finished and ready to live in. The cheapest house for sale in our town is currently $120,000, and it’s a major fixer-upper and a little over 600 square feet. That’s a big difference in price. Also, if it is off-grid, a tiny home would have cheaper monthly costs. RVs are also cheap, ranging from $1,000 for a major fixer, to $10,00 for a decent small trailer, on up to $200,000+ for a decked out class A motorhome (that’s not cheap).
- A less cluttered life. We are a cluttered culture. From $1 made-in-China purchases to the things we “might use” some day and can’t get rid of–we have too much stuff in our homes. Downsizing to a tiny home can be a liberating experience.
The Cons of Tiny Houses
- You have to have land. While the houses are initially cheap to buy or build, you’ll need a place to park it. Wherever this ends up being for you, you will need to manage your sewage (A septic system? A composting toilet?) and water (A well? Will you bring in water somehow?).
- You’ll need to drive further to get supplies. While I have seen tiny homes being built on city lots, most likely you will need to rent or buy some land that is on the outskirts of the city, possibly quite a ways away. While the tiny home itself may be eco-friendly, driving long distances for water, food, toilet paper, and other necessities will take up fuel, time and money.
- Less storage space = more trips to the store. Let’s face it: these tiny homes have little-to-no storage space in them. You’re not going to be able to buy a month’s supply of toilet paper or a case of food. This means, if you live in a tiny home, you will need to factor in more trips to the store–more drives into town.
- Less storage space = more expensive grocery bills. I personally save a lot of money by buying in bulk. If you divide out the cost per ounce, item, pound, etc. most bulk purchases save quite a bit of cash in the long run. Buying in bulk would not be an option in a tiny home. Unless, of course, you built a shed to be used as a “pantry”–but that would kind of defeat the purpose of having a tiny home.
- Less room for a family. I saw one tiny house for sale by a man & his wife who intended to live in it for 5 years, but then surprise! they had a baby. The open loft concept with ladders and no railings just isn’t safe, or practical for a family with a baby or toddler. And, while the tiny home may feel big enough for a family with little ones, as those little ones grow larger (like our 13 year old who is currently about 5’6″!), the tiny size of the home will suddenly feel claustrophobic. How many 5′ tall people can really, comfortably fit in a 300 square foot home? In this regard, a tiny home is not a sustainable option for a family with children.
- Less room for hospitality. This one is a deal killer for me, because I really enjoy hosting people in our home. In a tiny home that fits maybe 1 (futon or jack-knife bed style) couch and a tiny fold down table with 2 chairs, there is no room to entertain. Think: no Christmas dinners with extended family, no birthday parties for your children, no inviting over co-workers or neighbors. Unless it’s sunny out (we are in Oregon, so sunny days are limited), the only way to enjoy other people’s company would be to go out to public places (which costs more and would require driving), or to hope for invitations to other people’s not-so-tiny homes. Living in a tiny home could potentially be a lonely lifestyle.
- No escaping the people you live with. If you’re an introvert, and you like to get away to write, or read, or simply think, there is nowhere to go in these tiny homes. This could also be seen as a pro–perhaps forcing you together with the people you live with will create better relationships. Or not. Forcing an introvert to be with people all.day.long wouldn’t magically turn them into an extrovert. It might just make them angry or depressed.
- Most tiny homes are on wheels but not mobile like an RV. If a tiny home is on wheels, you will have better luck financing it. And yet, they are not built to be like an RV–meaning, you can’t pick up and move it to the next campsite, or travel along the Oregon and California coastline on highway 101. You can’t explore the Redwoods with it, or drive to the Grand Canyon or through Yellowstone National Park. Tiny homes are meant to stay put. If you like the idea of being able to vacation with your home on your back (or, on the back of your tow vehicle), you may want to consider purchasing an RV instead.
Tiny homes are a fascinating way of life, but they’re not the right fit for everyone. Before making a tiny home purchase, it’s probably a good idea to “try before you buy.” In Portland, you can stay at The Tiny House Hotel for a tiny home experience. You can also rent an RV for a period of time through Cruise America. Check it out–see if you can do it. Can you simplify, pair down your belongings, live with less, and survive in a tiny living space? Find out by experiencing it for a week or so before you spend $30k on a tiny home.
- Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building and Living Well in Less than 400 square feet
- Simple Solar Homesteading: Off the Grid
- Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America
- How to Prepare Your RV for Winter Living
- Tiny Homes on the Move: Wheels and Water