What kind of trailer to buy for a Tiny House

by andrewodom on October 15, 2010 · 26 comments


When we decided to build a Tiny House on a trailer the most obvious decision we were faced with is….well, the trailer. What kind do we look for? Where do we even look for one? How much can we expect to pay? How do we know it will be sturdy enough? Do we need a special license to tow one? And the list goes on.

The majority of tiny house building sites recommend a very simple, flatbed trailer as shown to the left. You can find them at almost any trailer and/or RV store. They are referred to as lowboy trailers, utility trailers, or just flatbed towing trailers. 95% of these trailers comes with sides or even ramps. Those will ultimately need to come off to allow for a maximum tiny house build. But when looking for a trailer you shouldn’t let those railings hinder your options.

Trailer sizes are listed as the size of the actual trailer bed. The measurement does not include the hitch or the wheels. For example, a 7′ x 14′ trailer would be 7′ between the wheels. Almost all trailers are 8′6″ wide when you include the wheels; and as it turns out, this is the widest possible width for road travel without a permit. So, in short, use the outer wall of the tires as a guide to how wide you can build your own tiny home. Keeping with the aforementioned numbers, the bed of the trailer would be 14′ long, and when you add the hitch, it would probably measure 17′ long.

The majority of the portable homes and plans currently on the market require a flatbed trailer where the wheels are taller than the trailer bed. This is the same for our proposed Tiny House. It is important to note however that the maximum legal road height in the US (without a permit) is 13′6″. This doesn’t mean to build right up to 13′5″ but rather be very cognizant of ever inch beyond 13 ft. More important than the legal road height though is the height of the bridges. That last thing any tiny house person wants to do is decapitate their home somewhere on I-95. Luckily, most bridges are in fact much taller than 13′6″.

Most trailers come with a double axle. Usually, each axle is rated to hold 3,500 lbs. However, some axles are rated for 5,200 lbs each. Therefore, a double axle trailer will have a total rating of 7,000 lbs or 10,400 lbs. (as I understand it) This rating will have a large impact on the price. It is referred to as “GVWR”, which means Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Keep in mind that the GVWR includes the weight of the trailer. So if the trailer is rated for 7,000 lbs and the trailer weighs 1,000 lbs, you can put 6,000 lbs on it.

As you would expect, trailers usually include brake lights, a license plate, and a braking mechanism. The lights and brakes attach to your car/truck, and when you use the brakes, it will also apply the brakes to the trailer.

In order to tow you need a hitch and ball. Now, there are a number of sizes for hitch balls, but almost all are either 2″ or 2 5/8″. The hitch ball on your car/truck is easily changable, and costs around $12 at your local auto parts store.

Because the trailer is roughly 18% of the material cost on an average tiny house build, saving money on the trailer is the easiest way to control construction costs. Consider buying a used trailer. In fact, do what we did.

Make a daily stop to Craigslist. Be broad on your search and extend your radius as far as possible. After looking for nearly a solid month Crystal found an excellent 30′ trailer for $450. It had been a “traditional” travel trailer in its past life and is constructed of solid, welded, I-beams, with 2-3500 lb. axles. We had to drive an hour and a half to view it but once we did we realized that we had cut our overall budget by $1500 on our first purchase. It was an exhilarating feeling to say the least!

Lately, I have seen a number of threads and comments on the trailer buying process over at the Tiny House Forum. It too has become an excellent resource.

While we have only had our trailer for a week now and have had to do some work on cleaning up the remains of the old travel trailer, it has provided a great opportunity to really adjust and begin to fine tune our actual Tiny House plans. For a sneak peak of where our mind are you can take look here.

IMAG0126

And this beauty above? This is our future. Meet the Tiny r(E)volution!

If this post has helped you or inspired you or just peaked your curiosity be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you and happy trailering!

  • Renee’

    Congratulations!

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much Renee’. Thank you.

  • Justin

    That looks like it will be a great starting point. Make sure you check out the bearings on the wheel hubs and all of the structural parts of the trailer. Congrats on having the first physical piece that will turn this dream into reality.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thanks for the encouragement Justin. You mentioned something I have not even posted about yet. But to answer your questions. The trailer is structurally sound; welded (as opposed to bolted) I-Beams with gussets in several of the corners. The axles are currently 3500 lb and the hitch at 8000 lbs. We are going to swap out to 5200 lb axels (including matching leaf springs) which will take us to a 6-lug rather than the current 5.

      • Rebecca

        I am curious what it cost you to swap out the axels and upgrade to a 6-lug? I am looking to build a 26 ft home and there is a =n uber cheap travel trailer, but the axels are only 3500….so it won’t hold a 10,000+ lb house on it.

        Thanks! :)

        • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

          We ended up not switching out the axels. Our trailer has had the same axles since I first posted 2 years ago. We did replace the leaf springs and the hubs. It wasn’t all that expensive but you may want to look at my budget page to be sure.

          • Rebecca

            Thanks for our reply! Really? How did the trailer hold up to the weight of your house? Was there a reason you didn’t switch them out?

          • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

            The trailer held up just fine. Our house (even at 30′) only came out to 6900 lbs. The reason we didn’t switch them out is because we didn’t have to once we sandblasted them and got a good look at what was paint rust, surface rust, and a real potential problem.

  • Scisorsanddrumsticks

    Looks good Drew. You have a clean slate as far as not having to strip any of the old structure that once stood upon this chassis. Keep us posted

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you sir. We are pleased with our starting point, for sure!

  • Dusti Arab

    Yay!!! I’m so excited for you guys! I hope you continue to have such amazing luck!

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you Dusti. We do too. I tell you, finding the trailer for such a low cost and not having to do any structural work on it has really sat well with our budget. Our savings to date are just at $1500 so things are looking great.

      Thank you so much for following our little adventure. Talk soon!

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  • http://www.smashyourtelevision.com Laura M.

    Amazing. :)

  • Henryasisler

    I have a Denali  5th wheel over 1200 pbs. but axles rater 5200, Ahhhh 2009 , that in Nov. Dec. 2009. have been recalled, for  wrong size tires and Axles, that are missed labled with 5200; that in reality are 4400, axles, Mine in less than 3400 miles. ripped the rt. wheel right off the axle and damaged, to the Back of my uni, at now a cost of $11,075.00 so far, I`m in for $42,000.00, Lippert Axles Componets, makes over 80% of all  for the industry. , and they don`t  want to pay, under the warrant that we have with Dutchmen, that made the Denali  I been now 7 wks, waiting for the repairs, looking at 9wks.. at my cost , I`m 1000 Miles from home.

  • Henryasisler

    Yes I had to get my Insurance to cover the cost, as Lippert said they would not pay. for the damaged, Its all their fault .. They build a inferior product, putting people in danger of their life, while traveling the roads,
    and the crooked dealer that sole me a recalled unit, by the Federal Gov. Now what, I got to get home to fight for my rights, Sons of Bit…..you know what I`m thinking. The CEO of Lipperds made 3.20000.00 MI. last year,DUD Poor guy, :) I`m under warranty. not a yr. I bought in Aug 2010

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576916498 Andy Hawkins

    So I’m guessing  your 30 x 8 trailer with 2 x 3500lb axles means your tiny house will have to weigh less than 7000lbs right?

    Do you know that it will?

    My reason for asking is an ad for a 20′ trailer with 2 x 3500lb axles. Its within my budget and if you can build a 30′ house within that weight limit I should have no problems building a 20′ one.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      You are correct. Well, sort of. Add the tongue weight to that. We have up to 12,000lbs. Even if it is were only 7k we don’t truly know it will or won’t weight that. Part of building a tiny house is really scrutinizing your materials; planning and double checking. You can’t just set out to build a 2,000 sq. ft. home in 1/10 scale. You have to make modifications here and there. No, you shouldn’t have any problem at all staying under 7k.

      • Jack

        If you have 2 x 3500lb axles for a GVWR of 7000lbs you have to minus the weight of the trailer…  So if you trailer weighs 1000lbs for instance, then you can only load an additional 6000lbs on the trailer…

        • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

          As I understand it, yes sir. I want to say now though that I do not sell trailers, I have never sold trailers, I am not an authorized trailer builder. I have just read alot about them and asked probably a pesky amont of questions!

    • abelzyl

      Just to help build the information heap: My 20′ tiny house, with appliances, weighed in at 6100 lbs total. It was also built on a reclaimed double-axle rv trailer frame. Tongue weight seems to be 600+ lbs.

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  • John Mauldin

    I suggest you take your frame, before you build on it, and go to a truck scale and weigh it. You can find the weights online for building materials, etc and come up with a more accurate guestimate of the finished weight. After construction, I would weigh it again to get an accurate weight in case you need it for licensing and/or insurance purposes. 

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much John for your comment. While you can certainly weigh your trailer prior to building (and I also recommend doing this) the weight after building would be more for mindsake and towing sake than anything else. You will be hard pressed to get any sort of insurance on your tiny house trailer other than RV and even then you will have to itemize the build products in order for them (the insurance company) to put an amount on the trailer/house since there is no said sticker price. 

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