A moving tiny house is all fun and games if you are buying it pre-made but if you want to build your own moving tiny house, the task can be a little daunting. Going down the DIY house on wheels building route and building a house on wheels from scratch (all by yourself) can be a tough nail to hit.
You’ll have to consider your available space, the building cost, your budget and you’ll also have to source your materials. You’ll also have to be aware of the rules you have to maintain and be opened to accepting professional help, when necessary, otherwise, your attempt to be hands-on with your house on wheels building might backfire and make things worse.
To make your task of building a house on wheels easier, we’ve come up with a guide to DIY house on wheels building. Read about everything you need to know about building your house on wheels below.
The process of building anything means there has to be caution and care involved, and this is even more true for building a moving tiny house. Since this will be your living space and a place you’ll call home, you should take your time and do your research before you jump in and start the building process.
But where should you start your DIY house on wheels building, and what should you know about building a house on wheels? Let’s start with that question first and talk about things you should know or consider before you start doing everything else.
In most states, your moving tiny house will be considered as an house on wheels for legal issues. This means that you’ll need a driving license and other necessary documents to own and drive around your house on wheels. You’ll also need to know the rules for parking for your house on wheels and any regulation that might come with it.
Tiny houses, moving or not, also need to meet a minimum number of available square footage and must have a specific number of windows. The windows are supposed to be emergency exits in case of incidents like fire or earthquakes. You’ll also need to know if there is any restriction on the maximum/minimum height of your house on wheels. In the USA, the maximum measurement for an house on wheels is 13.5 x 8.5 feet (height and width) but some states allow it to be 14 x 8.5 feet.
One of the key details you should know for DIY house on wheels building is the estimated weight of your trailer and everything you want inside your home. Your building method, material, license, and other documentation will depend on this so the closer your estimate will be to the actual weight, the better. Always remember that your moving tiny house is more of a vehicle than a house while building a house on wheels, and make your decisions based on that.
Your trailer/towing truck capacity needs to be more than the estimated weight of your tiny house. If your trailer’s working weight capacity is lower than your house’s estimated weight, you can get ticketed for it and be restricted from moving until you get the weight capacity issue fixed.
Other than legal issues, your house on wheels will also go through mechanical issues if your trailer’s capacity is lower than your home. Low capacity can cause major blowouts among other issues.
Another important detail you should figure out before starting anything. Your cost will mostly depend on whether you want to put in the physical work or would you prefer professional involvement. Professional involvement will push the costs higher, but you can cut back on it if you use recycled or reclaimed building materials.
For an average tiny house, your cost will be somewhere around $30,000-$60,000. This will increase if you want to include more luxurious options in your tiny house. This estimated price is done assuming you will be using new materials straight from the stores but if you want to use reclaimed material for your house, the cost can drop down to $8,000.
The Sophias built their tiny house completely by themselves using reclaimed materials and their total cost for the house was $15,000. As you can see, the main factors are the physical labor and the material you want to use.
Estimate your cost depending on what you want and then look at your budget. If you can fund the full amount yourself you’re good to go, but if you see any shortages you can try tiny house lending options to fund your cost.
Since there is a limit on the maximum possible height and width of the house on wheels, you will have to consider the possibility of not having enough space for your dream layout.
For a tiny house design, it is wiser to put down the outline for bigger segments first. You should figure out whether you’re going to do a loft-style layout or not, what your roof type will be, your plumbing and electricity plan, the toilet placement, your living space, and your insulation method. After you’re done with laying out your plan for these, you should turn your focus to extras like appliances and furniture.
You may have a plan for your tiny house when you begin but it might not stay the same after the primary layout.
The first step of any DIY building is the planning and it’s the same for your house on wheels. Having a plan and a clear vision of what you want can save you from extra costs later during the building process.
Think about how many people will be living in your tiny house, the living space will depend on the number of people. What are you looking for in your house? Is there any feature you must have? Do you need to babyproof your tiny house? Think about these and try to answer these questions. Note down what features you think are must-haves, and what are secondary features you can wipe off of the board if necessary.
Your house plan, especially insulation will depend on what state you live in and how frequently you plan to travel. Consider the weather and the possible toll traveling might take on your house over a few years.
Another important thing you have to think about early on is the utilities. How will you access electricity, and what happened to the source when you’re on the move? What about your plumbing, and where will you get your water from? These are the things you have to take more seriously because you’ll need backup sources for the times your tiny house will be on the road.
Consider every little thing you can think of, then make a list of things you need. Make a rough plan of your house, think about the materials you’re going to need, and start doing your research. Don’t hesitate to ask your fellow tiny house owners for tips.
This will act as your reference and manual book later. Draw up a rough building plan based on the key features and points you brainstormed, you can look on the internet for design inspirations. This is going to tell you whether what you want is realistic or not. Study your rough plan and look for any change you might need.
Think about your building process as a whole, figure out how you are going to get your materials there, and create a rough timeline of when you are going to need what material.
The real building process starts here. Your trailer is the most important part of the house on wheels because it will be acting as your foundation. Make sure your trailer’s weight capacity is higher than the estimated weight of your house you got from your rough plan.
You will have 4 trailer options to choose from. You can have a bumper pull, a gooseneck, a drop axle, or a deck over the trailer.
The bumper pull is the most common type of trailer you will see. Bumper pulls are attached to a tow hitch with a ball hitch. This tow hitch is located at your vehicle’s back. Bumper pulls are common because of their availability. They’re easy to find, come for a cheaper price and you’ll only need basic tow training to drive this.
Gooseneck trailers are the easiest to control and they’re called the fifth wheel because of that. Goosenecks can attach to a ball hitch or a sliding plate in the bed of a truck. Goosenecks are more expensive than the other options and have a little less flexibility, but they will let you tow more weight than any other options.
The drop axle trailer comes in both gooseneck and bumper pull style and can add up to 4 inches of extra height to your house on wheels. This will give you more options for your roofing and a little extra space, the only problem is the drop axle is on the more expensive side.
Deck over trailers let you use your full 8.5 feet space, but they will raise your floor’s height. As houses on wheels have height restrictions, a deck over a trailer isn’t a feasible option for them.
This is the foundation of your tiny house. Attach your floor to the trailer (this will be your foundation) and sheath it with plywood or OSB. For your flooring, you can use standard lumber. Make sure you’re insulating your floor, otherwise it will just be a big thermal bridge and make your life harder during winter.
Your floors will have a simple structure with 2x4s aligned with your trailer’s metal beams. Add your metal flashing to anchor the house, use your preferred insulation material and use a vapor barrier if necessary.
Framing the walls for your tiny house can be a little tricky because you’ll need to know the exact measurements of your windows (and doors) for it. Once you know the measurements, you can start framing your walls. Our tip is to frame the tallest wall first, that way you can raise it without other obstacles when it is done. You can follow traditional framing structures or you can follow advanced framing methods that can get the job done with fewer frames.
Your next task will be keeping the walls straight and square. You can use metal braces to keep them square (these will be hidden later with your sheathings, don’t worry) or you can just place a lumber piece vertically on each wall to keep them straight and square.
Framing your roof is less complicated than framing floors. Your roof framing and style will depend very much on the material you’ve chosen. Once you’re done with framing your roof, move on to roof support. Consider the weather you’ll be living in. If your area’s weather is prone to rain or heavy snowing, consider getting extra roof support or using bigger roof rafters for protection.
You probably started thinking about doors and windows while framing your walls, and now you can start installing them. It is better to get professional help for this so they are all level and square, even the slightest mistake will make you end up with leakages.
Lay down your plumbing and rough electricity plan before you insulate your house.
Follow your final plan for your tiny house and decide where your lights and fans will connect, and where the electrical outlets will be coming from. Pay special attention to the places you’ll be using appliances in, like your kitchen and bathroom. Make sure you read your area’s electrical code before starting.
After you’re done with electric wiring, you can start insulating your house. Insulations are hard to replace (you’ll almost have to deconstruct your whole house) so be very careful and take your time doing it. Insulate your roof, floor, and walls properly; and if you’re a beginner at either electrical wiring or insulating, call in professional help because it is better than risking accidents later on.
You’re almost done with your tiny house construction, now it is mostly finishing touches. Sheathe your interior walls with your material of choice. You can use wood for your walling and other interiors, but drywall is cheaper and comes at a cheaper price so our pick would be drywall.
This is where you let your creativity out. Finalize any electrical or plumbing issues you saved for later. Finish flooring your subfloor (the top layer of your floor) with a material you like, paint your walls, and figure out your heating system.
And that concludes our DIY house on wheels building guide. Make sure you take maximum caution while building your house and as we’ve said before, be open to calling for professional help. If you have any more questions about building a house on wheels, feel free to ask us.
You can also read: Tiny House Window Ideas in 2022