Minimizing your ecological footprint isn’t a new idea, but building specially designed tiny homes certainly is.
RV’s are similar in that you can live in them full time, and they offer greater mobile comfort than living out of a tent or hotel room. While they weren’t originally designed with full-time living in mind, many RV’s are just as big as tiny houses.
It’s a clash of new ideas and old ideas. Both styles of small footprint living have advantages and disadvantages. Each can work, but they have some important differences you should take into account before you invest in either.
But, with television and social media parading the benefits, both personal and environmental, of small footprint living it’s hard not to want a tiny home or RV for yourself. Even couples and established families have begun to make this lifestyle change, so the size of your family doesn’t have to hold you back.
This article will help outline the key advantages, disadvantages, and differences between standard RV’s and tiny homes, so you can make an informed switch.
Tiny Houses – Good, Bad, and Itty Bitty
For many people, one of the biggest advantages of a tiny home is that it looks more like a traditional house than an RV or trailer. The interior looks and feels more like a house or apartment in miniature, and less like you’re on an extended camping trip.
While appearances might seem unimportant, familiar surroundings can make a huge difference in your overall comfort.
How Tiny Are We Talking?
Most tiny homes fall somewhere between 100-400 square feet.
That’s enough space to fit all your necessities, a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, usually with enough room for a dedicated entertainment area.
Larger tiny homes might have multiple bedrooms or other specialized spaces custom-built for your needs.
Foundation or Wheels
You shouldn’t be surprised to see tiny homes built on wheels. They can be built on standard foundations, but since the tiny home movement began, it’s been common to build them on trailer beds so that they could be legally considered RVs.
That doesn’t mean you should plan your next great road trip from the comfort of your new tiny home. While a tiny home on a trailer bed might technically be considered mobile, it isn’t a good idea to move them around too much or too often.
Tiny homes aren’t designed the same way RV’s are. They are, on average, heavier, harder to maneuver, and not designed to withstand the stress of a long road trip.
Finishing Touches and Custom Choices
One often-overlooked advantage tiny homes have over RV’s is that they tend to be better insulated. You can also build your tiny home to accommodate the climate you live in, while RV’s aren’t usually designed for cold weather and wintry climates.
But the real joy in a tiny home is in the customization. While there are more standardized tiny homes available, most people choose to design their own.
That means you can choose the layout of your home, and pick the finishes, colors, and textures of every space, and much more.
Plus, since the design is specific to you, you can build in whatever shape, size, and general aesthetic you want.
But… Your Local Municipality May Not Like It
One big hiccough in the tiny home movement is that it’s too new for there to be strong common-sense regulations. What tiny home regulations do exist often change.
Depending on where you live you may need to build to specific standards, which may change during or after construction.
A lot of people get around this uncertainty by instead calling their tiny home an RV, building it on wheels, and meeting RV regulations instead. But this may not be an option depending on your plans for your new tiny home.
However, tides are turning, and municipalities that allow tiny homes to be hooked up to utilities and function as normal properties are getting more and more common.
Insurance is also a big problem for many tiny homeowners. While insurance is easier to get if you buy a pre-fabricated tiny home from a licensed builder, it’s no guarantee.
Your insurance company will likely have additional, and potentially different, requirements before they will insure your new home.
Tiny House Pros and Cons
- Tiny homes are highly customizable
- They are usually better insulated
- You won’t need RV hookups (unless you choose to)
- The finish, design, and aesthetic are under your control
- Tiny homes are often difficult to insure
- They aren’t designed for a lot of travel and mobility
RV’s or Recreational Vehicles
Recreational vehicles, from here on RV’s, are typically a vehicle or trailer designed to provide some living space, but without size limitations or requirements.
Unlike tiny homes, which have specific size boundaries, RV’s can be just about any size you can reasonably fit on the road.
They’re also much more mobile than most tiny homes. Your RV can go just about anywhere on the same landmass, and you can generally count on the RV hookups and other necessities being available.
You Can Go as Simple, or as Complex, as You Want
RV’s come in a wide variety of sizes and designs. You can get RV trailers that are little more than mobile bedrooms, all the way up to fully-functional homes with separated rooms, multiple sleeping areas, and convenient bathrooms.
You can even get a good-sized, fully-functional kitchen if you want one.
Since RVs are well-understood and well-regulated, it’s also easy to buy insurance. Your insurance company will have a good understanding of your coverage needs, and will likely have several plans available for you to choose between.
Always Home, and a Mobile Community
Since RVs are significantly more mobile, you can travel across the country without ever leaving the comforts of your home.
Boondocking, big road trips, and job travel requirements can all be done in comfort and style from an RV.
Plus, since many people live in RVs either part or full time, you also have a mobile community that understands both the appeal and the drawbacks of your lifestyle.
RV’s are also common enough that they tend to blend in. Unlike tiny homes, which can attract gawkers and even media attention, you can achieve some anonymity living in an RV.
While tiny homes might once have been the cheaper option on average, that isn’t always the case anymore. You can often find used RV’s still in pristine or near-pristine condition for significantly less than their original retail.
Buying used usually brings the cost of an RV down close to or below the cost of a custom tiny home.
Recreational Vehicle Pros and Cons
- Bring your home with you while you travel
- Easier to insure
- RV hookups and service stations are easy to find
- Don’t require special permitting from local cities and municipalities
- Poorly insulated, takes a lot of energy to heat or cool
- Hard to customize, and often made from cheap, lightweight, materials
Tiny Houses vs RV Head to Head Comparison
RV’s are an easy winner when it comes to mobility.
While tiny homes are often built on wheels… the motivation behind that trend is more a matter of legal convenience than utility. RV’s are designed for travel, and can go almost anywhere there are roads.
RV’s also come out on top when it comes to meeting legal and insurance requirements. Tiny homes often fall into legal gray areas that make them hard to legislate, and vulnerable to regulation changes. RV’s are well regulated, and regulations are largely consistent from state to state.
While comfort is largely determined by the individual, we’d give a slight advantage to tiny homes in this category. Tiny homes feel more permanent and more like a real home. They are also less likely to rock in the wind or shake while people move around.
Tiny homes win this category hands down. While RV’s can be retrofitted to be more weatherproof, tiny homes are often designed specifically for your home climate. Heating and cooling can be combined with clever architecture to be efficient and energy saving.
RV climate control is difficult and takes a lot of energy, either from electricity or propane.
There isn’t a clear winner for this category.
Tiny homes can cost as much as $100,000 for more intricate customized builds, but RV’s can be similarly expensive. Both can cost much less, depending on your preferences and willingness to buy second hand.
Tiny homes may be less expensive in the long run, since you won’t need to buy gas and will save money in climate control. But, your initial costs depend entirely on what you’re looking for in your new home.
Ultimately, it’s up to you and your situation which housing style will work better. If you travel quite a bit, an RV may serve you better than a stationary tiny home. But tiny homes can be more comfortable and feel more traditionally safe and secure.
Think carefully about what features matter most to you and your family, and don’t let anyone convince you that either tiny homes or RV’s are inherently superior to the other.
They can both be loving, comfortable, beautiful, family homes.