How to determine trailer weight for your Tiny House

by andrewodom on December 6, 2010 · 11 comments


Perhaps there is no Tiny House subject (or trailer subject, in general) that causes more arguments and confusion than that of weight. Between the cryptic way that RV weights are reported by the manufacturers, the lack of clear standards by the DOT and the often deliberate misinformation spread by dealers; trailer weights are confusing at best. Because of our recent trailer purchase I have been motivated to try and really understand this often mystifying issue. The following is what I learned, and in my humble opinion, an authoritative explanation of what the truth really is.

Now, our trailer got its beginning as an RV, of sorts. So much of my research has a travel trailer/RV bend to it. If you purchase a trailer from a specific trailer/hauler dealer they should be able to give you specific weights for the axels, trailer, tongue, and hitch. If not, immediately turn around and go see someone else. For our purposes though, I am going to walk you through our process (and one that is becoming more popular with each small home.)

Let’s start with the 2 stickers that are required by law on every RV sold in America. The RV manufacturer is required to include a Weight Sticker on the RV that details all the important weight ratings and maximums. This sticker is usually located on the inside of one of the kitchen cabinet doors. If your trailer has no camper portion (let alone cabinets or cabinet doors) you can simply forego this step and hope the other steps lead you to the same result.

The other sticker required by law is a tire capacities sticker. This is usually outside the RV, somewhere near the hitch (as ours was) on towables. It can also be on the inside door frame, near the engine compartment or on the inside of the service door for motor coaches. In addition to these 2 stickers on the RV, you’ll also need the ratings from your tow vehicle if working with a towable. Now here is where it gets rather tricky. The acronyms.

The RV’s weight sticker displays all of the most important weights as they apply for your RV. The information on this sticker has changes over the years, but it should contain at least some combination of the following:

  • GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating). The maximum gross weight that the axles will carry. This is independent of the weight rating of the tires.
  • GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). The maximum weight that the axles and/or the tires will carry. It is the lesser of the axle carrying capacity or the tire carrying capacity
  • UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight). The total weight of an RV as it was delivered to the dealer. It does not include any dealer installed accessories.
  • NCC (Net Carrying Capacity). This is the actual amount of cargo allowed. It is in simplest terms, GVWR – UVW = NCC. This is sometimes listed as CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity).
  • GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating). This is the maximum weight of this RV plus any towed vehicle combined. This is listed on the RV for motor coaches, but not towables. For towables you can get this rating from the sticker on your tow vehicle.
  • Hitch Weight. The maximum weight the hitch can support. In the case of a towable this is the maximum weight the RV’s hitch can support and has nothing to do with the hitch rating of the tow vehicle. In the case of a motor coach this is the hitch rating of the hitch used for towing a chase vehicle.
  • GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight). See GVWR
  • CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity). See NCC
  • Gross Dry Weight. See UVW
  • Dry Axle Weight. The weight of the trailer when the RV is on the hitch. This can be calculated as UVW – Hitch Weight = Dry Axle Weight.

All of these may not be on your sticker since some only apply to certain RV classifications. In addition, there may be other weights listed. In addition to the RV’s sticker, you’ll need to understand the weight rating of your tires. For towables you’ll also need to get the ratings from your tow vehicle. This sticker is usually found on the door frame of the driver door, or can be located in your owner’s manual. It contains many of the same ratings as they apply to the tow vehicle only.

By this point I was already beginning to feel the effects of information overload. Did I really need to fully understand all of these numbers as well as the mathematics involved? Was it possible to reduce this down to a manageable level and make intelligent, informed decisions? I finally worked it out to a few basic formulas that allowed me to fully comprehend all the important information.

Let’s start with the gross weights since these are ratings that are difficult to modify. It’s easy to adjust the amount of cargo you’re carrying or the weight of your Tiny House building materials. The gross weights are fixed however, and short of making major modifications to your design, are absolute barriers.

The most important weights to anyone considering a Tiny House are:

  • GVWR of the trailer, the
  • GAWR of the trailer, the
  • Hitch Weight of the trailer, the
  • Hitch Rating of the tow vehicle, the
  • Load Ratings of all our tires and the
  • GCWR of the entire rig as noted on our tow vehicle’s sticker.

These are the ratings that cannot be negated or exceeded regardless of the finished build or the contents of your house. There are very good engineering and legal reasons for not exceeding these ratings, no matter how you slice them.

If you pay the most attention to your gross weight ratings, the rest of the capacities seem to take care of themselves. Not that the others aren’t important, it just seems easier to deal with the gross ratings and let the other level out as needed.

Stay tuned for more weights such as vehicle weight, tongue weight, hitch weight, etc. For now though, my brain is fried. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post or found it helpful consider sharing it on Facebook or Tweeting the link!


  • James Klik

    Great article on determining trailer weight. I wish I had read it when I was looking for a trailer, but the people at trailer dealer at Golden Gate Trailers helped me out. http://www.goldengait.com/

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com anotherkindofdrew

      Great! I am glad that they were able to help. I’ll remember them if looking for another trailer soon and will certainly recommend them to my NC friends.

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

    Thanks for the article, I’m a few years behind you in starting my tiny house journey and step 1 seems to be the trailer. 

    As a result I am keeping an eye on local ads for trailers, travel trailers etc hoping to pick up something big enough and strong enough (and cheap enough) to let me start moving onto step 2 which is the designing (or choosing a design) stage that fits the trailer.Is there anywhere that lists ballpark weights for tiny homes so that I can get an idea of what rating my trailer will need to have if I am to build a tiny house on it? 

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Hey there Andy. Thank you so much for joining us in the r(E)volution. A good guide would be the Tumbleweed Tiny House blog. All of the tiny house trailers list a dry weight on that site. For instance, the Fencl (probably their most popular design) weighs in at 5700 lbs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/abel.zylzimmerman Abel Zyl Zimmerman

        I just weighed my 20′ house, the Azavela. With a laundry washer on board, and a tank of propane: 6100 lb

        • Andrew Odom

          We are actually planning to weigh mid-week next week at our local truck scales (at the local landfill). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/abel.zylzimmerman Abel Zyl Zimmerman

    It can be confusing to read all those numbers and also try to determine how heavy you will be when complete as well! 

    If you are looking at old trailer frames (there are alot out there), there may not be a placard on many of them! You can still start somewhere:

    Look at the hitch: 1 7/8″ balls are rated for 2000 lb, 2″ balls are generally rated for up to 5000 lb (occasionally more if specially designed as such,) and 2 3/16″ balls up to 7500 (or more.) Does the hitch lever lock appropriately? Make sure you bring safety chains, theirs may be nonexistent or inadequate. 

    Look at the axles: They are often stamped with a load rating. Sometimes people switch out entire axles… so keep in mind that they may not match the capacity of the trailer.

    Look at the tires: there should be load ratings on each tire, appropriate when they are fully inflated. Tires are often very old. If there are cracks all around the treads or sidewalls, expect them to need replacement if you are taking your tiny house on the road.

    Electric brakes: It is a chore to remove the wheels, then drums for inspection. If people have stripped a frame to use it as a utility trailer, they often seem to cut the wires to the brakes. Bummer. But if the wiring is still there, bring a vehicle with a brake controller. Once you hitch up, you can easily test the brakes by engaging the ‘manual’ switch and looking for all four wheels (on a double axle trailer)  to lock up. 

    Wiring: Geez, any wiring on a vehicle takes it hard during a decade or so in the weather, used or not. EVERY time I have obtained a used trailer frame, ive had to rewire it! Not by choice, but necessity. So, if you have lights enough to tow it home, consider yourself fortunate!

    • Andrew Odom

      Thank you so much for speaking up Abel. I truly appreciate it. Would you consider being a guest on our podcast one week and talking specifically about this subject? I would be very appreciative. If so, please just send me an email at andodom at gmail dot com! Thank you so much. And for the record, yes, checking the electric brakes can be an exercise in patience! HAHAHAH

    • tinyhomemaker

      Abel, you rock my tiny house world. Thanks for posting this! Between you and Drew’s wonderful info, I’m feeling super ready to start this trailer search :-)

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