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Tiny Houses vs. RV Living: What’s the Difference?

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March 17, 2024

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Did you know that a Tiny Home on Wheels (THOW) is actually considered a type of Recreational Vehicle (RV)? THOWs are certified to the same code as an RV and are classified as vehicles in the eyes of many government agencies, even though they can’t move under their own power like a motor home. THOWs are often insured under an RV insurance policy, and they even have VINs.

RVs and Tiny Homes on Wheels are both alternative housing options that have gained popularity in recent years. While both options have some similarities, they also have significant differences that can make one more suitable than the other depending on individual needs and preferences.

This article will look at tiny house living vs. recreational vehicle living. We’ll talk about what a tiny house is, and how it differs from an RV in terms of living space, building codes, local laws, and movability. We’ll talk about who might prefer to live in a tiny house vs. RV, and what full-time living is like in a tiny house.

What is a tiny house?

In the last ten years, the tiny house movement has exploded into the mainstream. As finding a traditional home in today’s housing market has become less attainable, more and more people are becoming interested in tiny living, off-grid living, and downsizing. Tiny home living is also desirable for those who wish to live a simpler, minimalistic, more sustainable lifestyle.

A tiny house is a small house, usually built from sustainable and economically lightweight materials, that can be built on-site, on wheels, or modular (permanently installed on a plot). Not all tiny homes have wheels, but many do, as many tiny home dwellers are interested in mobile living. Tiny homes built on-site or modular tiny homes are not considered or certified as RVs

Are RVs and tiny homes the same size?

The answer to this question depends on the type of RV and tiny house. Although tiny homes are typically larger, many RV manufacturers make very large and luxurious RVs that can dwarf some tiny houses. However, RVs often feature slide-out mechanisms that increase square footage when parked.

RVs are designed to be compact and lightweight, and their size typically ranges from 16 to 45 feet. They are usually built on a chassis with aluminum framing and offer limited living, sleeping, and storage space. Most RVs are intended to be used as temporary living spaces, and for leisure.

However, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that 20% of leisure travelers have worked remotely from an RV in the past 2 years and that the number of people buying RVs with the intention of living in them full-time has also increased.

THOWs generally have more square footage than RVs, ranging from anywhere between 100 to 400 square feet, not including lofts. They are built on a trailer or a custom chassis, which allows for more significant customization and larger living spaces.

Can a tiny home be moved as often as an RV?

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While both RVs and THOWs offer mobility and the ability to travel, they have different capabilities. Although many in the tiny home movement emphasize a nomadic lifestyle, the reality is that not all people who live in tiny houses have the freedom to move a lot.

THOWs, although mobile, are not designed for touring and should remain more stationary than RVs. A tiny home might only move once when delivered or twice a year at most if someone has property in two locations or decides to move in the future.

The major difference between a tiny house on wheels and an RV is that an RV is a vehicle first and a house second, while a tiny house is a house first. A tiny house does not have its own engine, steering, brakes, lights, or other things a standard RV has. They are also significantly heavier, which could require a CDL license to move or even oversize permitting for highway travel. Tiny home transport is best handled by professional logistics companies.

What costs more? A tiny house or an RV?

The cost of both RVs and THOWs can vary significantly depending on factors such as size, customization, and features.

As stated before, many RV manufacturers offer high-end and luxury RVs at a much higher cost than their base models. The price of an RV can range from anywhere between $30,000 and $300,000 depending on the brand, model, and features you choose.

The cost to build a tiny house can vary just as widely depending on the materials used, the amenities included, and the size of the tiny home. DIY tiny home build costs vary greatly from contracting a tiny home builder. Remember to consider the cost of the trailer or foundation, as well as any permitting fees and site development costs associated with the final placement of your tiny home.

What offers more customized options? An RV or a tiny home?

While both RVs and THOWs offer some level of customization, THOWs are more customizable than RVs. THOWs can be designed and built to meet specific needs and preferences, with options such as solar panels, composting toilets, and custom storage solutions.

Some people opt to build their own tiny houses because they are driven by a desire to create their perfect dream home. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to build anything you want, as long as you are obeying local regulations like building code laws.

RVs come with pre-determined features and limited options for customization. The dealer or manufacturer will be willing to work with you on adding the features you want, but an RV simply can’t have as many added features as a THOW due to the constraints of being designed for mobility first.

Are there different regulations for tiny homes and RVs?

Both RVs and THOWs are subject to different regulations and laws, depending on the state or county in which they are used. There are usually restrictions around living in an RV full-time since they are not designed with this in mind. THOWs are usually built to ANSI code 119.5 and certified as RVs or Park Model RVs, meaning they often face the same restrictions on where they can be placed and lived in full time. Building code is where the Venn Diagram of RVs and THOWs overlap.

“Tiny home” can cover a handful of different building categories, so before reaching out to your local planning agency to inquire about placement, we recommend reading our step-by-step guide to Navigating Zoning Ordinances for Tiny Homes on Wheels. In general, ANSI code 119.5 includes requirements similar to traditional building code. Some things to consider are:

– Common space and bathroom ceiling height often have minimum requirements.
– Emergency exit (which may just mean your entry door) and ingress/egress point requirements.
– Septic requirements: some municipalities require a septic system to be installed for any full-time dwelling, so composting toilets may not be an option.
– Accessibility requirements: stairs, ladders, and porches all must meet certain specifications.

Is a tiny house right for you?

RVs and THOWs offer unique housing options for those looking for mobility, flexibility, and a reduced cost of living. But a tiny home isn’t for everyone. Living in an RV can be a good way to test the waters before committing to building or purchasing a tiny home on wheels.

While RVs are more compact and maneuverable, THOWs offer larger living spaces and more significant customization options. Your tiny home could be the home of your dreams, while an RV will only ever be an RV.

Ultimately, the choice between tiny house vs. RV living will depend on individual needs, preferences, and lifestyle choices. If you’re looking for a mobile lifestyle for travel and adventure, opt for an RV. If you’re looking for a down-sized, customizable dream home, a tiny house may be exactly what you need!

Curious about what Wind River has to offer? Check out our tiny home models starting out at just $86,900. Questions? Contact us or check out our FAQ page.

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