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!

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