Tiny houses, easily built on a trailer, sound like a great idea. Having lived in a travel trailer, I’ve got some experience with the whole house-on-wheels thing. I can also safely say that the travel trailer has ranked as one of the worst designed small spaces (at least for us) I have ever endured.
Travel trailers are designed primarily for occasional short term occupation, not as a full time home. They are also designed with the consideration of being frequently towed on the open highway, something else that we don’t usually do with a full time home. Even in our case, our 30′ travel trailer can’t be towed by our vehicle, forcing us to rent a truck any time we intend to move it. Logically speaking, moving it isn’t something we do often then because of the expense of the vehicle and fuel.
These tiny houses that are designed on trailers are not designed to be pulled at highway speeds frequently. Looking at them, I’d hesitate to get over about 55 mph actually. But, for someone who doesn’t move their home more than once or twice a year at the most, it may be an opportunity to have a much more aesthetically pleasing and pleasant home.
There is one problem though.
Sleeping arrangements in these homes are typically that of a loft situation accessed by a ladder. That’s fine if you are twenty-something or thirty-something, but as we age, we are much less mobile, agile, and inclined to want to sleep in a loft. What then?
The first option that comes to mind is a futon or convertible sofa in the “living area” of the home. There again, that’s a physical challenge for some people, to pull out, lift, or lower uncooperative and heavy components to make and then disguise your bed. In the designs typical of such companies as Tumbleweed Houses there are a number of designs, but none of them are suitable for the senior crowd who are interested in downsizing to a home on wheels. Aesthetically speaking, they are fabulous, until bedtime…
That’s another thing…these kitchens are designed for a minimalist cook. I’m not a true gourmet cook, but I do cook…real food. I’m trying to have a healthier, more natural diet made up of food that is produced via sustainable agricultural methods. I try to use, and preserve for later use, locally produced foods. I also make jams and jellies to give my less culinary inclined friends and family members as gifts. That means I don’t want a two burner cook top with no oven or counter space…or a pantry. I am a firm advocate of that Boy Scout motto too–Be Prepared. That means I also advocate keeping more than a few days food on hand at all times, just in case of everything from a hurricane to an illness preventing a trip to the store.
I’ve also learned that the micro-sized shower and tub typically found in a travel trailer is not to our liking and won’t work permanently. Adding a full size shower with a tub is also not feasible in these ultra tiny house plans for a home on wheels. We may typically use the shower to bathe, but there are occasions when a soak in the tub is really more than nice, it’s almost necessary! We also would like to add some features typically found in handicapped bathrooms such as grab bars, as I sometimes have balance issues due to medications. Grab bars will make the bathroom a safer place for me.
Just like the tiny porches on the tiny houses are more than just a cute feature. If you are challenged with balance issues, walking up steps and entering a door, all at the same time, in the pouring rain or blowing wind can turn a simple act into a dangerous challenge. That small landing space, especially if it has a grab bar or convenient railing, can become a much safer doorway for me.
We would also need work space, and we need two of them, as we have also found that sharing computers is not an option. We both use them in unique ways, with different software and apply that software in unique ways. We also tend to be on the computer at the same time, which makes “sharing” tough. For that workspace, we don’t need a lot of space, but we do need a small surface to hold the computer, some shelving for things like dvds, cds, and books, as well as a writing surface. Some drawers or bins to hold typical office supplies such as ink, pens, pencils, erasers, paper clips, etc are also needed, although these could be shared. We also need space for a printer.
Then, despite our living small or in a travel trailer, we need storage for our camping gear. Over the years, I’ve learned that storing it in a shed is pointless–it gets ruined at light speed. A loft would work for this…as long as it’s not a completely vertical ladder (maybe a pull down?) we could store bulky items such as the camping gear in it. That would also work for seasonal items such as winter gear, tools, etc.
With all of that, looking at the concept of another home on wheels, none of the designs from Jay Schafer will work for us. That doesn’t mean that we need to discard the idea, however. His designs are extremely compact and quite ingenious. I like them, I like many things about them, but for us, it would have to be an “influencing design” and we’d have to work on our own design to make it a bit more friendly to mobility issues than his are.
Unfortunately, it would also be more expensive, as a 30 foot flatbed trailer, the foundation for the entire design, would run about $6000-$7000 for a new trailer.
Since our budget is also as micro-sized as our home is, that’s not going to happen in the immediate future. It also has me questioning whether revamping our current travel trailer would be a more viable option, however…that’s not easy when you are also living in it. We’d essentially starting by gutting the back third of the trailer to start over. In addition, we would have to consider the weight of the components we add…and take away, as in a travel trailer, we already have x amount of weight distributed through the trailer. (Our model has bunks and bathroom at the rear 1/3 of the trailer, with a bedroom at the front, living quarters in the middle.)
Then, there are site-built tiny houses. These aren’t designed to be moved, and are built to meet the Universal Building Code, although some areas may have covenants or other regulations that may require other modifications in order to comply. Some areas also have minimum size requirements that completely preclude the possibility of any small house ever being built on the site, so be sure to research the covenants on any property you are considering buying and do not rely on the realtor to disclose all of them! Tumbleweed Houses has some of these designs, and many include the majority of the features that we are considering as important.
In particular, the B-53 model appeals to us. Its exterior fits the region we live in (the South) as well as the interior design is somewhat feasible. We don’t like the “booth” for dining–it’s not a great idea for seniors who are looking at increasing mobility issues over time to choose a booth design such as that. We really don’t need two spare bedrooms, but the downstairs bedroom is an important feature for older adults. That downstairs bedroom is also a bit small to make moving around a bed easy, whether it is just to get in and out of bed or to make the bed. Ten feet is really about the minimum dimensions for easy access to the bedroom with a queen size bed. The downstairs bathroom is also a bit too compact to consider–it would need expansion as well, in order to accommodate a larger shower or a tub/shower combination.
Obviously, that design is not going to be any more than an source of inspiration for us.
But, we’re still in the planning stage. We’re working on the entire downsized idea, we’ve been working on it and living it for about eighteen months now. We don’t know everything yet. We have a LONG ways to go to achieve that state!
We have some priorities. We need a piece of land on which to live and garden. We need a roof over our head and utilities. We need to establish a stable income. We need a reliable vehicle for transportation. Those are our basic needs. Right now, we haven’t achieved “all of the above.”
So what is our goal?
We want a small, affordable and efficient home. We want a sustainable lifestyle that also acknowledges the fact that we are not as young as we once were. We want to enjoy where and how we live, most importantly.
So we just keep working away on it.
Good things happen when you work on it, plot, plan, and connive, right?