Summer is almost upon us, having spent the last six months tapping on winter’s shoulder and asking if it was quite done yet. With the warmer weather comes the itch to escape the city for, well, the itch of mosquitoes and blackflies, but if your idea of communing with nature involves retaining the use of running water, you might be considering buying an RV.
There’s something liberating about hitting the road with all the comforts of home with you: no need to pack and repack, no risk of hotel bedbugs or mysterious vanishing reservations, no riding around Niagara Falls in a taxi at 2am trying to find a convenience store that sells bottle openers because the front desk inexplicably doesn’t have one (why no, that has never happened to me, why do you ask?) You, my friend, are never without your bottle opener because it is safely stowed in your travelling kitchen, along with your corkscrew and a set of those plastic picnic-grade wine glasses.
A well-stocked RV affords travellers the conveniences of home… but the traditional fibreglass box can also feel less than homey with their lightweight (and often flimsy) materials, cookie-cutter layouts, and outdated interior design.
In recent years a more stylish alternative has hit the road: the tiny house.
Just what is says on the tin, a tiny house is an actual house, built out of wood and steel instead of plastic and fibreglass, with a trailer base for mobility. Typically they are between 100 and 400 square feet (though the larger sizes run the risk of needing an A license to move). Many tiny-home owners are choosing to reside in them over a traditional house, whether for environmental or financial concerns, or just the desire to downsize and simplify.
But if you’re not ready to give up your two-car garage just yet, these homey trailers can also make a great alternative to an RV.
Tiny houses hit all the right trends: they’re custom, green, and very cool. RVs are just the opposite, with their flimsy plastic, cheap particle board, and bargain basement discount fabric from 1993. However RVs are ubiquitous for a reason–they offer unparalleled freedom and comfort. As for the tiny house, it’s too soon to tell if they are a trend or a new tradition.
For the time being, here are a few things to think about if you’re considering a home for the road.
While RV interiors have certainly improved in recent years, and they can be remodelled or ordered custom, they simply can’t compete with a tiny house for options, from the ceiling height to the size and number of windows. Tiny homes come in all the styles a regular-sized house does, from traditional to ultra-modern, while RVs seem to only come in three kinds: Retro Chic, Retro Ick, and Snowbird Supreme. Sorry, RV, but a custom build will always win a style fight.
The winner: tiny house.
RVs are designed to be moved, and moved frequently. All that plastic is there for a very good reason – it’s lightweight and aerodynamic, and decades of refinement have this down to a science. Tiny houses can certainly be mobile, but you may need to compromise on size and materials if you’re planning on attaching it the back of a half-ton and carting it around the country. They are usually built to standard building codes, which makes them much heavier to tow than a similarly sized RV, and they are far less aerodynamic, so expect to guzzle more gas on your trip.
The winner: RV.
Luxury RVs, particularly when you start talking a Class A motorhome, can run six figures. For the sake of comparison, a new travel trailer can cost $20,000 to $60,000 (and up if you get really fancy), while a well-built tiny house starts at around $30,000, with the only limit your imagination. You certainly can trim the price tag of a tiny house if you have the tools, the time and the know how to do some or all of the work yourself, but there are additional costs to consider.
Besides the aforementioned increase in fuel consumption, tiny houses are so new that in many areas insurance companies haven’t yet caught up to the market, and local regulations may make finding a place to park a hassle.
The winner: Considering the large market for used travel trailers under $20k, RV takes this one.
Sure, some RVs are winterized, but a tiny house is just that: a house. And a properly built one will be just as snug as the full-size version. Tiny takes this for the same reason as style – when you are building from the ground (or in this case trailer) up, you can customize away, and that includes insulation, weatherproofing, and a climate-appropriate heating system.
The winner: tiny house.
Again, the custom build factor all but hands this one to the tiny house – it can be as renewable-materialed, low-carbon-footprinted, off-the-grid eco-friendly as you desire. However, if you were planning to buy used, there’s always the original green go-to: recycling. Choosing an older RV keeps those materials out of a landfill.
The winner: Tiny if buying new, RV if used.
The right choice for you comes down to how you plan on using your vacation home on wheels. Want to go somewhere different every weekend this summer, or take the kids across the country? Go RV. But if you have a plot of land out in cottage country to park it, or if you want to use it in winter (assuming it actually gets cold this year), a tiny house might be the way to go.
And remember, if you want the best of both worlds, you can always buy a vintage camper and give it a tiny house makeover. A custom look and high-end finishes can turn a hot mess on wheels into a home you’ll want to spend all summer in. Just make sure you pack a bottle opener.
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