Jeff Flowers on January 19, 2015 29 Comments Photo Credit: MHarriger / Flickr A lot goes into building a tiny house. While each home is unique, building them on trailers has become increasingly popular over the years. As this trailer will be the foundation for your new house, there’s plenty you need to consider before you start building. 4 Popular Trailer Options As far as different types of trailers go, there are probably too many to name. For building a tiny house on one, though, you have to go with a flatbed. This will give you both the size and the surface you need. Let’s take a look at the four different models these come in. 1. The Deck-Between Trailer This trailer features the flatbed between the two wheel wells. The bed, therefore, sits a little below where the summit of the wheel well reaches. For this reason, the bed can be no wider than how far apart the wheel wells are. Nonetheless, the advantage with a deck-between trailer is that it sits nice and low to the ground, making it easy to build a taller tiny house. Learn How to Join the Tiny House Movement 2. Deck-Over Trailer As the name suggests, with this model, the bed actually sits above the wheel wells. Without the wheel wells getting in the way, the trailer can be as wide as eight feet. However, though it gives you a little extra room on the sides for your home, it’s too high off the ground for you to consider a tiny house that features a loft, meaning you’ll need to stick to one-story designs. 3. Dovetail With this trailer, you can actually have either a deck-over or deck-between model. The main difference between a dovetail trailer and those other two is that it features a section at the rear that angles towards the ground (hence the name). You usually find this feature on trailers that are used to haul around cars, trucks or other vehicles. With the dovetail section, it’s much easier to load these vehicles than with some other type of flatbed trailers. Unfortunately, this aspect also makes it awkward for building a tiny home on the flatbed. If you wish to do so, you’ll need to apply additional welding and further modify the dovetail before building can even begin. 4. Gooseneck Goosenecks can also be either a deck-between or deck-over model. Its name comes from the special hitch that it employs. In order to haul this type of trailer, you need to have a pickup truck. In the bed of the pickup truck, goes a ball hitch. The gooseneck of the trailer then reaches over the truck’s tailgate to attach to the hitch that’s been installed. These trailers are just fine to build tiny houses on. Gross Weight Vehicle Rating No matter which trailer you decide to go with, it’s important that you know what its Gross Weight Vehicle Rating (GWVR) is. This is essentially how much weight the axles are able to carry. Your axles—in case you don’t know—are the parts of your trailer that attach the wheels. So you can see why it’s important to know how much weight they can handle. For example, you may find a trailer that has two axles, both of which can carry 3,000 pounds. Your trailer, then, can hold 6,000. However, you absolutely must factor in how much the trailer itself weighs. Two axles good for 6,000 pounds holding up a trailer that weighs 2,000, can only support a tiny house of 4,000 pounds (and it would actually be less than that because you need to factor in occupancy, furniture, appliances, and other belongings). 6 Other Things to Consider There are other matters to consider with your trailer too. It should absolutely have a spot for your license plate, for one thing, and feature brake lights too. Otherwise, you’re not going to make it long on the highway. You also need to make sure there is a braking mechanism connecting the trailer to the towing vehicle, so when you brake, the lights go off for the person behind you. 1. Size of Your Trailer It’s probably best to decide on the design of the tiny house you want to live in before choosing a flatbed trailer to build it on. However, there are some restrictions in terms of trailer size that you should know about. Legally, your trailer can only be 8’6″ wide. The majority of states will also only allow a tiny house that is 13’6 inches off the ground, though some Western states permit 14’. No trailer can exceed 53’, unless you have a special permit. That being said, most tiny houses don’t need trailers any larger than 28’. Keep in mind, too, when you’re deciding on the length of your trailer that you need to think about the length of your hitch too. This will make the entire setup a good four or five feet longer at the very least. Photo Credit: RowdyKittens / Flickr 2. What Kind of Hitch Will I Need? There are five classes of trailer hitches available for your vehicle. However, no matter which type of trailer you choose, the only kind you can use for something as large and heavy as a tiny house is a Class V trailer. These hitches max out at roughly 17,000 pounds, which should be more than enough. Hitches also have their own capacity for weight, generally called the “tongue weight.” It refers to how much weight the hitch can shoulder, as opposed to the wheels. Be sure you factor this in to your final trailer weight calculations. Before you can do that, though, you also need to know that too much or too little tongue weight will cause issues when you try towing your home. Once you know how much your tiny house will weigh, ask the manufacturer of your towing vehicle (more on that later), what the right amount of tongue load is. This means you must also have a ball mount and hitch ball that are rated for Class V as well. Fortunately, you can find these at just about any auto body store and they are incredibly cheap. You’ll also want to have a weight distribution system. 3. Your Towing Vehicle While it doesn’t need to be connected to the trailer at all times, you’re going to need a truck to move it around if you hope to have a mobile tiny house. For the most part, a full-size truck should be sufficient. Most large SUVs will have enough power under the hood as well. However, if you’re going with a gooseneck trailer, your towing vehicle must be a pickup truck. When it comes to picking a vehicle, there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation, because it will have a lot to do with how heavy your trailer is, combined with the house and your other belongings. Fortunately, there are definitely some generalizations we can make to help you choose a vehicle. Light-to-Medium Duty: This refers to light trucks (and actually some sedans and minivans too) that can handle up to 3,500 pounds. Frankly, it is unlikely most tiny houses and trailers will come in under this amount, especially when you consider a trailer so small would probably only have a single axle. Medium-to-Heavy Duty: These trucks and SUVs should be able to handle up to 5,000 pounds. So now we’re talking about sizable trailers with dual-axles or simply one large axle on its own. The problem with this classification is that you have so many other variables at play. Medium-to-heavy duty vehicles could differ in towing capacity from one another by as much as 3,000 pounds when you consider gear ratio, transmission and engine. Extra-Heavy Duty: At this point, we’re really no longer referring to anything but commercial vehicles, excluding some exceptions. These vehicles can haul up to 10,000 pounds behind them; however, you’ll want to ask the dealer about the equipment you’ll need in order to control this much power and such a large trailer at the same time. Super-Heavy Duty: If your trailer and tiny house weigh over 10,000 pounds, you’ll need a super-heavy-duty vehicle to make them mobile. The good news is that knowing how much your vehicle is capable of towing really isn’t that much of a guessing game. With the above information, you should have an easier time narrowing your choices, but knowing how much it can really pull will be on the manufacturer’s website or something the dealer can tell you. Keep in mind, too, that you don’t necessarily need to buy a truck. What you could do, in order to save money or just keep life simple, is rent the truck you need with a hitch. Obviously, the trailer will need to be purchased, but you can then tow it to wherever you plan on living and then return the rental. Whenever you feel like moving again, simply go get another rental truck to do the job. You could just hire a tow truck driver for the job too. This will also save you the trouble of having to learn how to operate a vehicle with thousands of pounds attached at the back. Photo Credit: RowdyKittens / Flickr 4. Cost Hopefully, by now, you can tell that it’s difficult to nail down any certainties when it comes to generalizing tiny houses, especially where trailers are involved. Still, it’s a very common question to ask about how much a trailer will cost. On average, most flatbed trailers will run you around $3,000. Just like with your vehicle, though, you can stand to save a lot of money if you buy a used trailer and/or know how to modify one. Opinions are somewhat mixed on this matter, however. Seeing as how the trailer is basically the foundation of your home, many people would advise that this is one area of construction you splurge on. There are other elements of your tiny house that you can cut corners picking out materials for. 5. Tiny House-Specific Trailers Keep in mind, too, that nowadays you can also find trailers that have been custom made for tiny houses. This will ensure heavy-duty steel construction and axles. Unlike most other trailers you’ll come across, you also won’t have any wood decking. Instead, these custom trailers provide steel beams for you to attach your home to, providing a much more secure connection. There are a number of companies that now build these trailers. Aside from the aforementioned benefits, they can also help you understand many other aspects of the trailer you need for your tiny house and flesh out any of the sections we covered above. Examples of these companies include: Tiny Home Builders Tumble Weed Houses Tiny House Trailers by PJTrailers.com 6. Where to Park Lastly, no conversation about tiny house trailers would be complete without talking about where you can actually park it. The answer will have to do with the specific zoning laws at play wherever it is you want to live. As these can differ from one part of a city to another, it’s important you always look into these laws before moving your home or you could be dealing with a serious fine. For the most part, the laws you need to look into are: Is there a minimum square footage amount that designates a structure as a permanent home? Can you legally park an RV on the property in question? If so, can you park it on the property without a permanent dwelling being present there too (obviously, this won’t apply if a permanent dwelling is located there)? If so, can you live in your RV full time? If you want to park somewhere that will also allow you to have a nearby studio, office or guest house on the property, do the local zoning laws permit accessory dwellings like your tiny house on a trailer? If so, are there minimum requirements for square footage? If so, does the accessory dwelling need to be built on a permanent foundation? Although this may seem like a lot to take in, it’s essential that you comprehend the ins and outs of your tiny house’s trailer. Even if you do decide to have someone build your home or go with a custom-made trailer, it will still be helpful down the line if you understand the above.